I don’t know what’s harder – trying to find decent new TV shows in August or searching for a sane person in the White House.
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The summer months were always a drought period for viewers looking for new shows, but a few years ago CBS started bucking the trend of wall-to-wall reality shows and reruns. (The cable channels, of course, always marched to their own beat – hence the likes of “Mr. Robot” on USA Network last summer; “Game of Thrones” on HBO this summer; and “Ray Donovan,” just back for its fifth season on Showtime and Yes Oh.)
The only surprise about the CBS summer shows “Under the Dome” (2013-2015) and “Extant” (2014-2015) was that they lasted more than one season. I wasn’t a fan of either, but did watch the entire first season of “Zoo” in 2015.
It was only when I rewatched the first episode of the James Patterson adaptation – about a world in which animals aggressively turn on their human “oppressors” – with my then-11-year-old daughter that I realized the error of my ways. She barely got to the end of the first episode before dismissing it, correctly, as juvenile junk.
Her brutal assessment made me realize it was time to put away childish things, which meant saying farewell forever to infantile shows like “Zoo” and playing the Yellow Car game on long journeys (to be fair, it was starting to affect my Uber rating).
“Zoo” is currently midway through its third season, which is remarkable when you consider that “jumping the shark” is one of the show’s more prosaic plot points. All I can guess is that stars James Wolk, Kristen Connolly and Billy Burke are still presumably doing battle with some very bad CGI and causing the suspension of disbelief with the regularity of a Trump tweet.
Bill Maher did a great piece on his “Real Time with” show in June in which he pined for the return of dumb summer fun – that time when we allow ourselves to read trashy airport novels and watch vacuous blockbusters about city-chomping monsters and comic book superheroes.
The problem, of course, is that this has become our cultural default mode for 365 days of the year. The dangers that come from this brain-dead stance are obvious: First you start watching dumb shows like “Zoo.” Next you’re reading James Patterson’s back catalog. Then you’re keeping up with the Kardashians. And from there it’s only a short step to watching Fox News, voting for an orange-faced sociopath, backing Brexit and thinking climate change is a conspiracy theory by a cabal of white-coated scientists.
Strained and weak
It says something about the state of affairs in the United States that a show about an asteroid on a collision course with Earth is called “Salvation” (Yes Stars Action, Thursdays at 22:45 and VOD). I knew things were bad, but not so bad that the end of Western civilization is now seen as a potential feel-good ending.
Unsurprisingly, you will not find salvation in this 12-episode show. Indeed, such a cheesy series should come with a health warning for the lactose intolerant. It is perfect, though, for those who take their shows as they take their tea: strained and weak.
The most remarkable thing about “Salvation” is that it could have been made at any point in the last 30 years on mainstream American television and would look exactly the same as it does here: a show with all the edge of a circle and even more hermetically sealed (culturally) than the town of Chester’s Mill in ”Under the Dome.”
“Salvation” is inspired – using the word in its loosest sense – by the Chelyabinsk meteorite, which caught the world off guard when it sped through the Russian skies in February 2013, injuring around 1,500 people in the Urals region (and trust me, that’s as painful as it sounds).
Unfortunately, a piece of news footage at the start of the show, featuring U.S. astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson discussing “near-Earth objects,” also serves as an apt description for “Salvation.” “We just don’t know they are there until it is too late,” he said. Earthlings, consider this your warning.
The show is closest in feel to the Mimi Leder-directed 1998 disaster pic “Deep Impact,” in which a comet hurtles toward Earth and – outdated spoiler alert – makes a big dent in Manhattan property prices. Still, we should at least be grateful that “Salvation” doesn’t veer toward 1998’s other asteroid pic, the meatheaded “Armageddon” (you know you’re in trouble when an Aerosmith song is the most subtle thing in your film).
Like “Deep Impact,” this is a show about family relations (this time, between a single mother and her just-graduated daughter); young love (between an MIT graduate, who discovers that an asteroid is set to play marbles with Earth in 186 days, and an aspiring sci-fi writer who has just self-published her debut novel – yes, this is a very middle class apocalypse); an annoying British “tech pioneer” called Darius Tanz (or “Darius Dance” if you happen to speak Yiddish); and an eager young journalist who works for a media organization called Capitol Eyes.
Doing for credibility what Anthony Scaramucci does for the English language, the show’s representation of a well-funded small publication pretty much tops the lot, along with the depiction of a U.S. government department that’s actually fully staffed.
The show features dialogue that’s more on the nose than “Cyrano de Bergerac” (my favorites so far: “This is where rubber meets road – do you want to help me save the human race or don’t you?” and “Try not to spill any wine or any national security secrets”). Twenty minutes in, you’ll assume a “mass extinction event” has already accounted for any decent scriptwriters at CBS.
If you really want to watch some television above the hum of the air-conditioning this summer, avoid this meteor shower and spend the time catching up on any of the year’s top shows you may have missed (such as “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Fargo,” “Broadchurch,” “The Leftovers,” “Feud,” or “Big Little Lies,” to name but six). And then there are powerful network shows like “This is Us,” which is clearly California’s attempt to resolve its drought crisis by collecting and desalinating all those American tears being shed. (Silly summer season casting news: Sylvester Stallone will guest star in season two.)
However, if you really think the best hope we’ve got right now is to go the way of the dinosaur, there is some good news: According to scientists, the “tower -block-sized” Asteroid 2012 TC4 is set to pass “dangerously close” to Earth on October 12. If nothing else, “Salvation” will show you how not to prepare.