Anytime you get a group of TV critics together for even a few minutes, the talk quickly turns to the seemingly endless supply of good television shows a viewer has to choose from each week. This so-called "glut" of good TV manifests itself in a couple of ways. First, it makes it difficult for everyone to just keep current with all the shows they're currently watching. Nearly all of us can look at what's on our DVR and see multiple unwatched episodes of favorite shows. You get behind one week and then it's a struggle to ever get caught up.
The second issue is that this crowded TV landscape also makes it a challenge to fit new shows into your schedule. Especially if they're airing on a channel that you don't normally watch. If you're an HBO subscriber, you're probably going to sample nearly every new show that hits the network. But finding those little gems airing on some lesser known channel can be nearly impossible.
I suspect that's one reason why the first season of BYUtv's drama "Granite Flats" went noticed by a lot of viewers (and critics) last season. The show is the first scripted drama on a network not known for its original programming. The channel isn't carried on many cable systems (for instance, on Comcast here in the Twin Cities). And if the casual TV viewer notices the channel at all, it's because it's usually wedged in the digital TV tier with the other religious-oriented cable channels.
Even worse, the show isn't available on any of the streaming TV platforms, though the full episodes of season one are available on BYUtv.com. So the chances of anyone just stumbling across the show and becoming a fan is somewhat remote.
All of this is too bad, because "Granite Flats" is a really strong effort in a genre of television that hasn't had a lot of creative successes in recent years. True family-friendly TV dramas are an endangered species, and most of the recent ones have tended to be bland and not at all entertaining. That trend has certainly been broken with this show, which is as good a family drama as you'll see on television.
"Granite Flats" is set in 1962, in the small rural Utah town of the same name. Located near an Army base, on the surface it appears to be just the type of town you would expect to see. Beth Milligan (Annie Tedesco) is an Army Nurse who is raising her son alone after the death of her fighter pilot husband. They move to Granite Flats for a fresh start, but as is almost always the case with these decisions, it has consequences she couldn't have anticipated.
A mysterious object plummets to the Earth one night, and Beth's son Arthur (Jonathan Morgan Heit) suspects it might be an alien craft of some sort. He makes friends with two kids from school - Madeline Andrews (Malia Tyler) and Timmy Sanders (Charlie Plummer) - and together they decide to form a club to solve the mystery. The mysterious object turns out to have been an advanced Russian satellite and that opens up all sorts of paranoia in town. Sheriff John Sanders (Richard Gunn) finds himself bring drawn into a search for the satellite's wrecked pieces and for a possible Russian spy working at the base. Then there are the not-quite-explained secret tests that are being given to volunteers at the Army base hospital. Add in a Scooby and his friends type investigation of a haunted house by the kids and season one left a lot of unanswered questions.
Season two begins a year later and Sheriff Sanders and the FBI are still in search of the Russian spy. They have a suspect and it seems that they're hunch is a pretty good one since not long after they talk to him, he contacts his handler, the unnamed "Avon Lady" (Finola Hughes). There's a lot of different storylines going on and it's not clear what anyone's end game might be.
Based on the first episode of season two, "Granite Flats" is set to have another great year. The show looks absolutely authentic for the period and while there are moments where it's clear that this isn't a big budget Hollywood production, for the most part the show seems to have put every dollar of the budget on the screen.
If I have a complaint about the show, it's that sometimes the acting or the tone of scenes isn't where it should be in a show that is otherwise so well done. Annie Tedesco is radiant and she steals every scene she's in. The younger folks in the show are also stellar. And not just Heit, Tyler and Plummer. Ethan Ross Wills plays Wallace Jenkins, a former school bully who struggles to find his equilibrium after his father Hershel goes to prison and is excellent. In fact Peter Murnik's portrayal of Wallace's father Hershel Jenkins has consistently been one of the most nuanced performances on the show.
But there are weak spots. As much as I enjoyed Richard Gunn in season one, the increasingly serious tone of the character of Sheriff John Sanders hasn't left him with the opportunity to do much more than show two emotions: serious or more serious. And as good as Finola Hughes can be, her portrayal of the mysterious spy handler comes off almost cartoonish at times and she's a much better actress than that.
Those are small problems, though and they don't take away from the fact that overall "Granite Flats" is a very good show. Yes, it's a family-friendly drama. But don't let that scare you away from watching the show. Gentle can be entertaining too, and "Granite Flats" continues to have an excess of both of those qualities.
"Granite Flats" airs on BYUtv on Sundays. Check your local listings for the exact time.