A daily newsletter guide to what is happening on your screens - TV, streaming, movies, games, VR, AR
Dan Barrett is an industry commentator & TV critic. He does radio - 4BC & ABC GC and co-hosts the Screen Watching podcast. He's a former Mediaweek deputy editor and content creator for SBS.
Disney+ launches! The Mandalorian reviewed! And Ricky Gervais returns to host.
Always Be Watching is written by Dan Barrett who is sick with Disney+ fever.
Since yesterday’s Always Be Watching newsletter, new streaming service Disney+ launched in the US. An Australian launch follows on Tuesday next week.
Where to begin…
Its flagship show The Mandalorian, the first-ever Star Wars live-action series, debuted. I’ve seen the first episode (it will release weekly). My non-spoiler thoughts:
If you’ve never seen a Star Wars film before, the show should make perfect sense. There was nothing in this that required prior knowledge. Both in terms of plot and emotional/nostalgic resonance. There is *one thing*, but anyone who has experienced pop culture in the past 40 years will be fine.
At 38 minutes, it moves really briskly and doesn’t wear out its welcome. It’s a perfect running time.
The one big problem with the show is how many characters are robots or are wearing masks. It’s hard to feel a connection to most characters when they don’t have mouths. I do wonder if that is by design - if we get a reveal, will it actually be actor Pedro Pascal under that mask?
We knew before the episode that there was some sort of big twist for Star Wars fans. The idea of it being a big twist is overblown, but there is a very fun surprise in it for fans. I got a huge kick out of it.
The show looks gorgeously shot. I’m really looking forward to watching this for the next seven weeks.
There are spoilers in reviews for the show, so beware. A few interesting reviews tho:
Nobody has quite attempted to do a filmed Star Wars story accentuating intimacy. No, not the "Hold me, like you did by the lake on Naboo" kind of intimacy, but the kind where two nerf herders sit on a sand dune, contemplate the moons and converse. I'm talking Waiting for Godot, if "Godot" were the name of an adorable furry mine worker from Mygeeto.
The Mandalorian, which premiered its first episode in the early hours of Tuesday morning (Nov. 12) on Disney+, probably won't be that intimate Star Wars story either, but through that pilot, the thing that struck me first was how small, relatively speaking, it is. The premiere is still fun and packed with technical marvels that devoted Star Wars fans never could have even fathomed appearing on TV a decade ago. It's just small.
Without a backstory or facial expressions, how do you build an audience rapport with a character? In the pilot, The Mandalorian has one idea: General space-Western badassery. Most of the pilot is the Mandalorian showing off his moves in inadvisably risky circumstances—like a Mexican standoff with four stormtroopers at Werner Herzog’s office, or taking off in the middle of an ice field while an ice monster is attacking you. He’s very effective, which is part of the appeal of a character like this, and if you love watching a bunch of armored space soldiers shooting at each other with blasters, you’ll have nothing to complain about. But—sans history, motivation, or facial expressions—it rings a bit hollow, lacking the achingly human element of the Star Wars universe. The finest scene is Herzog’s, who embodies slimy galactic profiteering with an arrogant, nasally performance that I couldn’t get enough of.
One point in the show’s favor is that it homes in on a single story, the better to keep it grounded. It follows a seemingly tireless bounty hunter from the planet Mandalore (i.e. “The Mandalorian”), who spends his days scraping together low-paying assignments that have him ricocheting around the galaxy to scoop up bail-jumpers and preserve them in carbonite before they can wriggle away again. To the tune of Ludwig Goransson’s richly textured score of sparse Western motifs and melodramatic tone shifts, the Mandalorian stalks silently through crowds, drawing wary attention wherever he goes despite his stoicism.
The aspect ratio on The Simpsons is the same 16:9 crop used in current broadcast syndication, cut back from its original 4:3. It’s a shame Disney+ can’t offer viewers a choice between the two presentation styles. Source: Screencrush
Disney+ has a whole bunch of Star Wars movies on it. For the original 1977 Star Wars film the scene with Han shooting first has been replaced yet again. This time victim Greedo mentions some dude named Maclunkey. Source: Indiewire
Frank Pallotta at CNN has a good review of the platform itself: “Disney isn't trying to reinvent the wheel with its user interface and it doesn't need to. One of Netflix's biggest benefits is its ease of use, and Disney understands that if it's not broken, don't fix it.” Source: CNN
Interested to know what the best 50 things are to watch on Disney+? Nathan Rabin has you covered at The New York Times.
Apple’s Kim Rozenfeld is leaving (pushed?) as head of current scripted programming and documentary and unscripted content. Apple TV+ launched last weekend to a slew of unenthusiastic reviews. He’s been given a parachute with a first-look deal signed with Apple and his production company.
RELATED: This week’s Always Be Watching podcast, due later today, has an in-depth look at the Apple TV+ launch.
Yesterday I published an opinion piece on the Always Be Watching site that suggests the unthinkable: The critics are wrong and Apple TV+ shows are actually good.
If these shows had launched on broadcast TV, critics would have gone wild about them… “A return to form!”. Instead, most of the critics were disappointed by the Apple TV+ shows.
If Apple had come out initially and said that they want to stream the sort of high end drama viewers had enjoyed for years on broadcast TV, while also allowing creators the freedom to push the envelope on language and adult situations, I think a lot more critics would have been on board with what Apple TV+ is offering.
Yesterday in ABW I posted a link to a story about a time jump for Days of Our Lives. Today there is news that the show itself may be in jeopardy. As the show awaits a renewal for a new season, the production company has released its entire cast from their contracts. This is a way to save some money in the event that the show isn’t renewed.
The decision to release the cast came from Corday Productions, the production entity on the series created by Ted Corday and Betty Corday. With daytime drama ratings continue to slide, and the current season (through end of summer) of Days already in the can, the company is limiting its exposure in case the series is not renewed for another season while also employing a possible negotiating tactic with the cast.
Worth considering is that on daytime soaps characters are quite often recast - sometimes mid-storyline. So, any actors who opt not to return can be replaced relatively easily.
From today in the US, ABC joins Fox in no longer reporting the live same-day ratings for any show it airs that isn’t a live show. The networks acknowledge that so much viewing happens now with people recording shows to watch at their own time (and streaming them) that the ratings were becoming irrelevant.
In case you’re a cynic….
A ratings release that accompanied Burke’s note revealed that eight of ABC’s season premieres grew or held even With their year-ago averages, including stalwart Grey’s Anatomy, which was up 5% in MP35, 6.5 vs. 6.2 in 2018.
New Drama Stumptown, which has been a strong gainer in Live+3 and Live+7, saw . its premiere adult 18-49 L+SD rating more than quadruple, from 0.7 to 3.2.
Former NBC exec Rick Ludwindied yesterday. Ludwin was the exec in charge of late night and oversaw hosts that included Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, and Jimmy Fallon.
His BIG claim to fame was taking money from the late night budget and using it to commission four episodes of a show that NBC had zero faith in called Seinfeld. Because of that, Ludwin became the exec that oversaw that monster hit show for its entire run.
The new Harley Quinn NSFW animated series (how many people are watching cartoons at work?) debuts Nov 29 on DC Universe.
Ricky Gervais will once again host the Golden Globe awards. This is the fifth time he has hosted and we’re told it will be for the “very last time”. It’s getting to be like a John Farnham tour at this stage.