TV Cancellations: ‘Agent Carter’ Killed, but ‘Good Wife’s’ New Life Offers Hope

It’s tough to love TV, and there’s no tougher time than late spring, when the several waves of broadcast network cancellations herald the arrival of Upfronts. I have a few thoughts on the most recent round of TV cancellations, spinoffs and renewals:

  • Among the cancellations announced in recent days: “The Grinder,” “Grandfathered,” “Galavant,” “The Family,” “Bordertown,” “Second Chance,” “Marvel’s Agent Carter,” “Nashville,” “Castle” and “Containment.” For me, the toughest losses were “Agent Carter” and “The Grinder.” More on the former in a moment, but I have a few thoughts on the latter. “The Grinder” was something of an odd duck, and I do get that it was a niche show (hence its low ratings and Fox’s desire to axe it). But given that it was a knowledgeable and meta-obsessed show that lovingly mocked TV cliches, that particular niche was designed to appeal to TV nerds like me. As I noted in a recent column, Rob Lowe was pitch perfect as a narcissistic TV star who moved back home to be among the “normal” people, including his lawyer brother, but whose ego intruded into his halting attempts at self-knowledge (and his efforts to acquire legal information not gleaned from a hit TV show). Dean Sanderson’s relationship with a pompous and insecure showrunner played by Jason Alexander was full of insider references and very delicious satire, and the rest of the cast was stocked with an array of fine comedic actors. If nothing else, “The Grinder” has a place in my heart forever for the episodes in which Timothy Olyphant guest-starred. Watching Olyphant and Lowe’s characters trying to one-up each other as vain, oblivious TV hunks was extremely entertaining. I’m sorry it’s going away, but at least (and I am looking into the middle distance meditatively as I say this), “The Grinder” rests … in peace.
  • Given that NBC increased its Chicago portfolio again by adding “Chicago Justice” to its array of Dick Wolf Windy City shows, I have a couple pitches for the network. How about “The Grinder: Chicago”? “Chicago’s Agent Carter”? Just think about it, that’s all I ask. 
  • On Thursday, Variety broke the news that CBS is considering a spinoff of “The Good Wife” starring Christine Baranski (who played Diane) and Cush Jumbo (who played Lucca). If the project goes forward, of course I’d be glad to see more of Baranski and Jumbo. Not only are both women terrific actresses, their characters were ill-served in the last season by distractingly inconsistent choices on the storytelling and characterization fronts. They deserve lead roles that would do their characters justice, and I’d like to see some supporting characters from “The Good Wife” shared universe again. That said, as I wrote a few days ago, nothing about the series finale of “The Good Wife” helps me understand how and why these two women would continue to work together. At Alicia’s prompting, Lucca tore apart Diane’s personal life in open court (and none of how that played out made the slightest bit of sense to me). Lucca humiliated her boss in public, and even if it wasn’t her idea, Diane is a proud, powerful woman who wouldn’t quickly forget a moment like that. All things considered, if this potential spinoff had been in the works for some time, which was apparently the case, you’d have thought “The Good Wife” would ensure that both characters not only got more meaty and logical concluding arcs, you’d have assumed that closing run of episodes would have done a much better job of setting up a future in which it makes sense for Lucca and Diane work together. No doubt some explanation will be offered if and when the spinoff happens, but it’s hard to think of a plausible, character-based scenario that would be easy to accept.
  • The toughest loss of the week, by far, was the cancellation of “Agent Carter.” I wrote recently about ways in which Marvel could keep the property alive in some way or other, and I still think it can and should. Of course, Hayley Atwell has a new ABC show arriving in the fall, and that will take priority for her (and I very much hope “Conviction” is a worthy vehicle for the actress, whose talent and charisma leap off the screen in everything she’s done). But it would be a mistake for Marvel to let “Agent Carter” fade into the background again. Every time it showcases Peggy Carter, the Marvel Cinematic Universe demonstrates that it isn’t just paying lip service to the idea of having memorable female protagonists — and of course Peggy shouldn’t be the only one, or one of a very few (“Agent Carter’s” second season also prominently showcased characters of color, which the MCU also needs more of). The Peggy Carter following is real and that fandom has a palpable loyalty, plus Atwell is just perfection in the role. It just seems wasteful and wrong to kick all of that to the curb. If Atwell’s “Conviction” doesn’t stick around, or the actress has any time in her schedule, Marvel should find a way to continue Peggy’s adventures — and why not make the Howling Commandos part of a really fun period-piece adventure? A TV movie? Something? (And by something, I mean a live-action project. As much as I love comics, I want to see Atwell play this character again, full stop.) There are any number of ideas to bat around when it comes to the inimitable Peggy Carter, and it’d be a crying shame to let the character lapse into obscurity. As a Twitter correspondent put it, “If Netflix could greenlight that Adam Sandler Western, an Agent Carter movie should be a no brainer.” Exactly.
  • It wasn’t just a grim day for television, it was a particularly dark day for shows that prominently featured female protagonists. “Nashville,” “Marvel’s Agent Carter” and “Castle” were all cancelled, and that’s just the toll at ABC — the network that was recently rocked by the mishandling of the Kelly Ripa situation on “Live with Kelly and Michael.” ABC recently installed Channing Dungey, an African-American woman, as its entertainment president, which is a reflection of the network’s stated commitment to inclusion. That’s to be applauded. However, Dunning’s boss, Disney TV head Ben Sherwood, is also relatively new, and all of these recent brouhahas, all of which have involved high-profile women and female characters, have happened on his watch. He would do well to think about how it looks to have controversies erupting around Ripa, the exit of the female lead on “Castle,” the cancellation of one of the few superhero projects with a female lead, and the cancellation of “Nashville” all in the span of a few months. An observer could make the argument that ABC has had more female-led shows in general, therefore more of them would potentially be on the chopping block there. That’s fair. It’s also reasonable to note that a number of these problems have erupted at ABC in a relatively short period of time, and to take stock of the context in which all of these things are happening. We’re in the midst of a spring in which female characters and men and women of color have died or been otherwise excised from a wide variety of shows, from “Sleepy Hollow” to “Arrow” to the aforementioned “Castle,” which said goodbye to two women — one of them African-American — before its cancellation came down. For a network that prides itself on its female-friendly brand and that frequently talks about its commitment to a diverse array of characters, I merely point out that this is a collection of incidents and trends worth pondering.
  • I’m glad that “Supergirl” is departing CBS for the CW. I watched most of the show’s first season, and despite liking the star and the cast, I remain mostly underwhelmed. Very few of the relationships were built out in ways that ended up making me care about what happened to whom, and the threats and the dangers Team Supergirl faced were rarely all that memorable. I don’t mean to be harsh on the show, which was reasonably OK, but it just felt bland around the edges and didn’t live up to its potential. If it gets more breathing space to tinker and try new things on the CW, the show might be much better for it. Also, the crossover between “The Flash” and “Supergirl” was really fun, so let’s hope the CW figures out how to bring together Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoist again.
  • I’m a little sad that the “Agents of SHIELD” spinoff “Marvel’s Most Wanted” didn’t get picked up, but I’ll be happy if Nick Blood and Adrianne Palicki return to “Agents of SHIELD.” (Sidebar: Nick Blood is one of the all-time great actor names.) Their presence was missed in the last third of that show’s most recent season. Bobbi and Lance, who had chemistry to spare, would have no doubt had some choice insults for Evil Ward. Speaking of that show, it’s more consistently above average and/or pretty good in its third season, but there are a lot of moving parts to it, and sometimes the drama got stretched too thin when it was trying to service a lot of different pieces of mythology (not all of which were deeply compelling). That said, I found it reasonably entertaining in season three, and in the end, I’ve come to really care about FitzSimmons. I’m a couple of episodes behind, but the sweetness of that relationship is making me feel Whedon-adjacent dread as the season finale approaches.
  • Networks are increasingly enamored of the idea of resuscitating and adapting existing intellectual property for new programs, but demise of “The Muppets” is a demonstration of how that idea can go awry. The reboot of the show just didn’t work. It was adjusted in mid-season, but by that point, many viewers had drifted away. IP isn’t the savior that networks want it to be, unless each project is conceived and executed with a great deal of forethought and care. Not to say that major tweaks and new visions should be off the table, but in the case of “The Muppets,” it felt like a rejiggering that didn’t pay enough attention to what people liked about the original. Of course, “The Muppets” was better than Fox’s Frankenstein reboot, “Second Chance,” but not much last season was worse than that lumpy procedural.
  • I don’t pay much attention to new shows ordered for next season until they are in front of my eyeballs, but I’m glad that “Downward Dog” was ordered to series. Allison Tolman was the breakout star of the first season of “Fargo,” and I’m looking forward to seeing her in a comedy built around her many talents.
  • “Marvel’s Agent Carter” is gone but “Dr. Ken” lives on. Every year, we get reminders that this is a business designed to break your heart.

 

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