On one of the final days of press tour, FX held a panel with several of its top drama showrunners, including Peter Tolan from "Rescue Me," and I asked him the same question I'd raised in my last episode review a few weeks ago, about how he felt doing 22 episodes this season instead of 13 had worked out. This is what he said:
Well, the advantages of doing a shorter season are you’re obviously much more able to focus on the quality of the individual episodes, as opposed to looking at a very daunting 22 or 24 order (in) which, typically you’re going to have some really wonderful shows in there and some good shows and then a couple of stiffs. Hopefully, when you’re doing 13 shows, they’re all wonderful or pretty good. And when we did the 22 this year on "Rescue Me," it was a big thing because we used to consider the 13 sort of the Bataan Death March, and by the time we’d get to the end, we were dragging.So Tolan seemed pretty happy with how it's gone, as has FX, which has ordered at least 18 episodes for next season (FX president John Landgraf said it was possible they might order a few more).
But for some reason, whatever it was, we were very energized and able to get through those 22 episodes with a great amount of vigor. So I don’t know why that happened. I think it may have been some sort of a human drug, you know, the growth hormone thing that they were putting in the food at lunch.
As I was the last time, my feelings are mixed about doing such a long season. It still feels like the storytelling has been too much on the shaggy side, and also that we've spent too much time focusing on stories that aren't very interesting (Tommy's love triangle, which I guess is now a quadrangle) than on the ones that were more compelling (repressed feelings about 9/11 coming back to the surface).
But the other thing I wrote last time feels even truer after an episode like "David": that having so many hours to fill has given Tolan, Denis Leary and company license to do scenes that are incredibly long by modern TV drama standards. Sometimes, those elongated scenes don't work and then seem to drag on forever, like Tommy's fantasy about adult Connor coming to rob the bar. And sometimes they work but have no connection to anything that came before or after, like Garrity's penile panic from last week's episode, which was funny but felt like it could have been airlifted into any episode that season that was running short.
But when they work, and when they tie into the ongoing storylines -- as in Lou and Tommy argument gradually turning into a brawl whose duration rivaled the Rowdy Roddy Piper/Keith David fight scene from "They Live!", or as in Kelly(*) gradually deciding to give Tommy a shot at dinner -- then they're a tremendous pleasure to watch, and make me think that doing a longer season isn't such a bad idea. Maybe 18 is better than 22 -- long enough to give them freedom for scenes like this, but not so long that the story arcs are stretched out too thin -- but as we head into the home stretch of season five, I'm feeling good about the season again.
(*) How great has Maura Tierney been, by the way? Because she spent so long on "ER" playing a dark and often depressed character, it's easy to forget how funny she was on "NewsRadio," and how vibrant and sexy she can be when given the right material. One of the funnier parts of listening to the commentaries on the early "NewsRadio" DVDs is hearing, time after time, a male participant doing his first commentary track pause at his first glimpse of Tierney to say something like "Wow, Maura was really hot back then!" It happens constantly: actors, writers, and NBC executives all quickly become smitten with mid-'90s Maura. I'm glad she got to play this part before having to deal with her current medical situation, and I hope she has a good enough outcome that she can quickly get back to work on "Parenthood."
What did everybody else think?