tv 2016: stranger things through westworld
tv 2016: final notes

return of the karen sisco award

[The introduction is largely copied from previous years.]

In 2010, I started a new tradition. I called it the Karen Sisco Award, named after the short-lived television series starring Carla Gugino. Sisco was the character played by Jennifer Lopez in the film Out of Sight, and the series, which also featured Robert Forster and Bill Duke, was on ABC. They made ten episodes, showed seven, and cancelled it. Gugino was ridiculously hot (no surprise there) and the series, based on an Elmore Leonard character, got about as close as anyone did to Leonard’s style until Justified came along.

When I posted an R.I.P. to the show, my son commented, “Every year there is a new favorite Daddy-O show that gets cancelled mid-season. … You have some sort of fixation with doomed shows, did it start with Crime Story or does it come from your upbringing?” (In fairness, Crime Story lasted two seasons.) The Karen Sisco Award exists to honor those doomed shows.

Previous winners were Terriers (2010), Lights Out (2011), and Luck (2012).

And then I stopped. There weren’t any proper candidates in 2013. I attributed this in part to the emergence of mini-series that were always intended to have a short run. To take a recent example, The Night Of on HBO was always only going to last for one short season. Shows like this could not be Sisco-ed, because they never stuck around long enough.

I have not given a Karen Sisco Award since 2012. But I think I’m going to pull it out of the closet again in 2016, while breaking one of the rules of the award.

Peggy Carter is one of the bazillion characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She first appeared in 2011 in the film Captain America: The First Avenger. (In comic books, I believe the character dates back to the 1960s.) An aging Carter makes brief appearances in two other MCU films, and then, in 2015, she got her own TV series, Agent Carter. The first season was shown during a mid-season break for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and lasted just eight episodes. It received good reviews, and returned for a second season, also during a break for Agents of SHIELD, in 2016. This time there were ten episodes, bringing the total to eighteen. Critics still liked it, but ratings were low, and Agent Carter was cancelled after those eighteen episodes.

Agent Carter had some similarities to Karen Sisco, far more than previous winners of the award did. The title character first appeared in (comic) books and then movies. Gugino, who I called “ridiculously hot”, was in her early-30s during Karen Sisco ... Hayley Atwell, who played the title character in Agent Carter, was in her early-30s and, yes, is an eye-popping knockout.

Agent Carter was never a great show, but Atwell was perfect, the show moved along nicely. As is often the case, Maureen Ryan got it, placing Agent Carter among her Top 20 shows for 2016:

Some cancellations you just never get over (“Enlightened,” sob), and this is one of them. “Agent Carter” was a lovely concoction of action-adventure, superhero aspirations and retro delightfulness, and it hit its stride in its second season. Hayley Atwell was always perfect as Peggy Carter, but the show’s supporting cast and storytelling was even more fun in Season Two. This was a show that did everything right and got cancelled anyway, and I’m still sad, partly because I think many people assume it’s easy to create something this joyful and jaunty — but of course, it requires as much or more craft and creativity as bleak and doom-laden fare.

Agent Carter was one of those shows with a small viewership that was nonetheless extremely loyal. It’s all the worse because Atwell quickly signed on for another series, Conviction, which stunk and has already been cancelled. (Come to think of it, 2016 was a bad year for popular characters moving to other shows ... see Lexa/Alycia Debnam-Carey and Fear the Walking Dead.) Agent Carter wasn’t quite doomed in the way of the previous Sisco Award winners ... Terriers should have gotten another season, but at least the final episode gave some closure, same with Lights Out, and Luck lacked everything its title suggested. Meanwhile, Agent Carter got two seasons, even if they were truncated half-seasons. Still, no series in recent years has so much reminded me of why I came up with the Karen Sisco Award in the first place.

And so, the fourth winner of the Karen Sisco Award goes to Agent Carter.

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