“The sun will come out tomorrow.”
— Annie, a delusional optimist
“It never rains in California?
But girl, don’t they warn ya?
It pours, man, it pours”
— Albert Hammond; also, Sonny and Cher, Mamas and Papas and others, all realists
A dandy TV tradition finally returned, after a three-year absence.
Twice a year, the Television Critics Association used to gather in Hollywood. For two weeks, critics talked to stars and others. They filled their notebooks with quotes and their bodies with food and drink.
That was a long time ago, apparently. We had notebooks then; TV people had optimism.
Then everything stopped. We left California in January of 2020, unaware of covid; we finally returned this month.
In the interim, the TV world changed. Streaming networks soared; others (broadcast and cable) stumbled. Also, networks learned they can do Zoom-type interviews with little effort or expense.
That left us wondering if the TCA sessions could recapture the old zest. The answer is no and yes.
On one hand, this was no match for the old days:
— The weather refused to deliver sunny joy. California had been in a three-year drought; it was a tricky place to live, but a sunny one to visit. Then, just in time for TCA, the downpours began. Some sinkholes opened up, swallowing cars. This was especially ominous for TV viewers, who have seem people fall into a La Brea sinkhole, plunging back to 10,000 BC.
— Covid restrictions were in place. The TCA “scrums” – rushing to the stage after the regular press conferences – were dumped. So were most of the mixers and parties; everyone kept a careful distance, with mask-wearing reporters asking questions into microphones.
— Half of the big four networks (CBS and Fox) failed to show up. Also missing were key streamers (Netflix and Amazon) and cable networks. HBO and the Turner networks (TBS and TNT) used to dominate the cable days. Now they’re in the Discovery Warner monolith, which skipped the TCA.
But there was also the flip side, networks that showed up big-time. They included:
— Disney had four strong days, with ABC, Disney+, Freeform, FX, Hulu and National Geographic.
— Apple TV+ wrapped things up with a dizzying day that included a dozen shows.
— And PBS had two days stuffed with strong material. Much of it involved non-fiction – from climate change to the lure of “easy money.” But there were other strong moments, from the “Tom Jones” mini-series to splendid Shakespearean work from Danai Gurira, of “Walking Dead” and “Black Panther” fame. And there were great vocals from Corbin Bleu and Nova Payton, offering a sampling for this spring’s “Black Broadway” concert.
Overall, the the sessions had a decent assortment of stars — Jennifer Garner, Patrick Stewart, Bob Odenkirk, Natasha Lyonne, Milo Ventimiglia, Annie Lennox, Tiffany Haddish, etc.) and shows.
I was especially impressed by the sharp scripts of Odenkirk’s “Lucky Hank” (AMC), the “Justified” mini-series (FX) and “Shrinking” (Apple). But there were also great bursts of non-fiction, ranging from National Geographic’s gorgeous “Secrets of the Elephants” to PBS’ personal “Sam Now” and FX’s suberb Tupac Shakur profile, “Dear Mama.”
And TV is even reviving the notion of musicals – from a “Grease” prequel on Paramount+ to the witty “Up Here” (from the “Frozen” songwriters) on Hulu and a delightful second-season twist for Apple’s “Schmigadoon.” With shows like that, we’re glad the TCA tour is alive and well.