The coronavirus shutdown is starting to have another TV impact – shorter seasons and quicker finales.
It’s a subtle change — two or three fewer episodes, before the reruns begin – with a redeeming factor: This week, two of NBC’s season-finales – “New Amsterdam,” at 9 p.m. Tuesday and “Chicago P.D” (shown here with Jason Beghe) at 10 p.m. Wednesday (April 14-15) – are terrific. Two others – “Chicago Med” and “Chicago Fire,” 8 and 9 p.m. Wednesday – are so-so, but we’ll settle for two out of four.
Many of TV’s shutdown effects came quickly: Award shows were postponed; so were key cable series, including a “Walking Dead” spin-off and a new “Fargo” edition. “The Amazing Race” was suspended and will be a summer show, starting May 20.. Talk shows switched to video chats and/or reruns; topical humor – opening monologs, “The Daily Show,” Samantha Bee, and one episode (so far) of “Saturday Night Live” – was done at-home.
But now comes another factor: Shows suspended production, then gradually realized they won’t be able to resume in time for this season.
Certainly, some shows choose short seasons; “This Is Us,” “Empire” and “Modern Family” shot 18-episode seasons. But most series have gone for 22 … until this virus-shortened year. Last week, “The Resident” ended its season at 20; “Grey’s Anatomy” (which usually does 24) ended at 21. This week, “New Amsterdam” ends at 18, the Chicago shows at 20.
That brings a bunch of season-finales to NBC this week. Two – “Chicago Med” and “Chicago Fire” – are sort of adequate, rushing through lots of stories.
But the other two are different: They have smart scripts, plus a rare commodity – subtlety.
Shows have often gone for weeping and wailing and such. TV doctors have a hard time doing their jobs, with screaming kinfolk in the way.
But that doesn’t seem like real life. As times get harder, real people often tighten up and focus. That’s what we see in both episodes.
In “New Amsterdam,” Max (Ryan Eggold), the medical chief, tries desperately to get a boy with a degenerative ailment into a clinical problem; Iggy (Tyler Labine), the psychiatrist, must testify on whether a man – in the midst of an angry divorce – can have a gun. In “Chicago P.D.,” Atwater (LaRoyce Hawkins) has a crushing moral dilemma; he gets layers of imprecise advice from his boss (Jason Beghe) and from a former alderman (Wendell Pierce) who’s in prison.
The beauty of this is that we have no idea how any of those stories will end. And each is delivered with quiet and subtle intensity. We can credit the actors (including several guest stars) and the directors.
Interestingly, the “New Amsterdam” episode was from a newcomer, Dinh Thai, straight from NBC’s Emerging Director Program. His TV career is off to a splendid start.