Thursday, August 31, 2006

Numbing the Pain

In my search to find some way to spend my evenings, last night I watched SciFi Channel’s Painkiller Jane, a repeat of one of their Saturday night made-fors. These “B-movies” that SciFi makes have virtually become a genre unto themselves. There are better examples and worse examples of them, and Painkiller Jane is solidly in the middle of the pack. I’d joke about it being a sedative in and of itself, but that seems far too easy, thus I will attempt to go for the long con.

It’s not a terribly well-plotted movie, I’d call it something a murky jungle if it weren’t for the fact that it’s actually more like a desert in its sparseness. The entire movie has the feel of a backdoor pilot. So much time is spent establishing the premise that there is little left for anything else. The film opens with Jane’s getting injured in a botched raid of a drug factory that turns out to be the home of terrifying biochemical experiments. A long time is then spent on her (and the army) discovering her abilities (she has a superhuman metabolism and therefore a superhuman ability to heal herself, run quickly, etc.). By the time the maguffin terrorist storyline unfolds it is half-baked, half-hearted, and half-dead. Of course, if this is meant as a backdoor pilot, that’s far more acceptable, the entire point then is to establish the characters, more in-depth plots will take place in later episodes.

By their very nature storylines like the one concocted here, in which a deadly terrorist with no recent pictures is uncovered, require that suspicion of guilt be thrown from one person to another and possibly back again; ought to be more twisted than a jungle vine. That twisting takes place here, with suspicion first falling on Jane’s doctor then her mentor and then back again, but the accusations are made within 5 minutes of each other and within the last 15 minutes of the movie. It makes for a very short, unsatisfactory vine for the movie to swing on. It actually felt as though they realized that it would be impossible to introduce a new character for Jane to find and facedown so the writers decided to just use an already established character as the villain.

The performances are all adequate, nothing outstanding and nothing terribly deficient. Certainly they’re far more credible than the plot to which they are attached. The slime and mud that oozes from virtually every character and in which they find themselves entangled is palpable, but completely expected.

It’s a sad little jungle that the folks at Painkiller Jane built for themselves and their characters. The trees are sparse, the vines are short and the mud is in carefully orchestrated, well marked places. If only they’d made it a little more substantial maybe Tarzan could have come along and saved the picture.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rescue Me Needs Some Rescuing

I won’t lie, I’m easily disappointed. I’ll still be disappointed and watch a TV program, but it’s the disappointment that lowers my rating from rave to raving mad. Last night’s Rescue Me season finale falls somewhere in between, maybe “good, but beginning to unravel.”

The good: the cast is excellent, the writing is funny and touching at turns, and intentionally so. Dennis Leary is able to do both ends of the spectrum wonderfully well and is great to watch here, doing something he really cares about. John Scurti handles the vast majority of the humor and is able to turn the most mundane moments into pure hilarity. From time to time, Scurti is given the opportunity to make the emotional, moralistic plea, and it was true last night as the crew was standing in front of the Firefighters Memorial at Ground Zero.

However, that scene at the memorial highlights one of the problems with the show. It feels as though when the discuss 9-11 they use it as a way of excusing their bad or odd behavior. Unquestionably there are still open wounds and I in now way intend to minimize anyone’s pain or suffering, which is clearly real, often however in Rescue Me, it seems to serve as an excuse for doing the wrong thing

This though, was a minor upset for me. The major upset was the deus ex machina way in which they wound up all the plotlines this season. Everyone seems to be leaving the station house. It’s been talked about all season long, several episodes have been used to convince the audience of three different people’s desire to retire or transfer out. Each of these three people’s desires ended in single scenes in the finale. Turns out Kenny Shea doesn’t have “sea legs” and so he can’t be the first mate on a boat. Franco Rivera decides he was only trying to become a lieutenant for his daughter, and since she’s now gone he doesn’t want to do it anymore. Mike Silletti is simply called on his bluff of transferring. It’s all too pat; it’s all too simple.

And then there is Franco’s problems with his daughter being semi-abducted by Alicia (Susan Sarandon). Mainly the problem here is that Franco doesn’t confront Alicia, or at least he does not do it on camera and doesn’t discuss it with anyone else either. I would have to assume this is because they couldn’t get Susan Sarandon to come back for another episode, but if the story arc couldn’t have been wrapped up it shouldn’t have been done.

While it’s often gritty and usually well made the season finale of Rescue Me was a letdown. The storylines for the entire season were wrapped up in far too abrupt a fashion to satisfy the viewer.

My rating? I’d give it an: as long as you’ve come this far you may as well watch the finale too and it’s certainly not bad enough to stop me from watching next season as well.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The End of the Summer Season & Entourage

Forget the summer as being the slow television season, that’s simply not true, there are tons of great (and not-so-great) summer series to watch, from Eureka to Rescue Me to The 4400 to Hell’s Kitchen & Treasure Hunters to Entourage, Monk, & Psych it feels like on any given night of the week there was something I was tuning in for. It is now, that we’ve hit the doldrums. Virtually all of them are finished and yet network TV doesn’t start in earnest for another 2 to 3 weeks. I really don’t consider Prison Break and Vanished having begun as meaning that the whole new season is starting.

What am I going to do? I’m resorting to TiVoing ABC Family Channel made-for movies just because they star Charisma Carpenter and Nicholas Brendan. I’m in no way impugning a product I haven’t yet send, I’m just saying it’s not where I’d normally head for regular programming (though I was vaguely intrigued by the 3 Moons Over Milford promos). And, I am a consistent fan of their 25 Days of Christmas programming that they run on a yearly basis (how can anyone not like such classic wholesome fare). I just feel like I’m really reaching at this point. I’m still looking forward to the movie, but am going farther a field than I normally would. I say all this not because I didn’t watch anything good (or bad) last night that I can discuss, just because I am fretful about next two weeks. Eureka, tonight’s Rescue Me, next week’s Nip/Tuck and repeats of Veronica Mars will just have to keep me going.

But, before I sign off for the day, I need to briefly touch on the season finale of Entourage. Poor Ari Gold. He’s got everything he wants, save Vince Chase. Does Ari truly have a heart, I’m undecided. It was a relatively solid episode, considering how this season has been (good but not up to snuff). The final scene at Ari’s agency didn’t seem though to hold true to his character. I don’t believe that Ari would’ve pitched Vince in that way. I get that he’s an agent like all the other agents, but I still think it’s not quite true to what was happening in the story at the time, it didn’t seem like the appropriate way to confront an angry client.

I also think that folks in Hollywood talk way too much for Vince to have seen three different PowerPoint presentations that all compared him to a corporate brand on the same day. How did Lloyd’s “gay assistant mafia” not get that Vince had already received that pitch twice? I guess that sums up one of the main problems for the season, the show doesn’t hold true to itself. How is it able to get around town the Ari has cancelled one of Vince’s meetings pretending to be Eric? Surely if that’s happening the pitch gets around too. And, as for Bob’s (Martin Landau) flip-flopping on his position with the Ramones project…also unbelievable. He goes against Ari, goes back to Ari, and then goes against him again. It was just all too sudden a series of changes for a character that we didn’t get to find out that much about.

My rating for season finale? It gets a: yeah it was fun, but doesn’t quite hold up to logic, definitely a good time with friends and/or a few beers.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Emmys

I can’t imagine what I could possibly add to the coverage of last night’s Emmy Awards, which much to my chagrin I did in fact watch. I say “much to my chagrin” because I typically don’t enjoy watching award shows, but Conan was hosting so I figured I might as well check it out (Conan is a funny man after all). He didn’t let me down, nor did Stephen Colbert who, with Jon Stewart, was hysterical when presenting. Though, there clearly was a way to get “truthiness” into the bit, which they opted against.

The progression of the show seemed to run smoothly, despite various camera glitches, and wardrobe malfunctions. I will say that the in-segment Ipod & smartphone (was it a Treo?) commercial that they aired was not only in poor taste, but ill-conceived and inane. All it did was to highlight how small the screens are on portable devices and how difficult it actually is to watch TV on them. Of course, maybe I’m entirely wrong and it was genius. Were the Emmy folks (or would it have been NBC) smart enough to realize that not only could they get loads of money for showing a product during the telecast, but they could at the same time show exactly how inadequate the product is in comparison to their own fare? Did someone realize that they could not only show-up Apple but also take some of Apple’s cash at the same moment? Nah, not possible, it was just poorly produced.

So, outside of some funny and some sad (pathetic), it was a relatively uneventful show. I do believe that there ought to be some sort of higher threshold necessary for an Emmy win for a departing television series. You can’t just hand out an Emmy because a show was really good for a number of years, then kind of coasted but you’re feeling nostalgic for the olden days. It is hard to regulate that sort of thing, and while everyone that won did do a good job, there may have been some favoritism for the departing.

But, if those are the worst complaints about the telecast and “oh my lord, why did it have to take 5 hours” isn’t there, I’d call it a success. I’m just sad that we’ll have to wait another 4 years before Conan comes back.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Upside's Downside

Don’t agree with the below, that’s just fine, but I’m sticking to it.

Yesterday I sat down to watch The Upside of Anger. Initially it seemed like a well-made movie, with interesting characters and a relatable plot and something that should be very likable. In actuality, it’s not. For a long time while watching it I couldn’t quite put my finger on what didn’t work for me and why, but eventually I worked it out. The problem, in short, is that I didn’t feel any sort of connection to the characters. The story felt as though it were told as a series of vignettes, and it was difficult to judge the amount of time passing between the scenes. The whole affair seemed so disjointed that I was forced to spend more time on figuring out the amount of time separation between scenes than paying attention to what was taking place with the characters.
When I was able to spend my time examining the characters I found them to be incredibly one-note. Joan Allen’s anger went on, and on, and on, with no growth for an incredibly long period of time. At one point it seemed as though Mike Binder sat down and thought to himself “how would a cruel woman react in this situation…how would a cruel woman react in that situation” and then proceeded to string together several scenes playing his various thoughts out.

Kevin Costner, now too old to be a ballplayer, plays a retired one. I felt as though he just imagined what Crash Davis might have turned into 15 years after Bull Durham. He was perfectly enjoyable to watch, but I felt as though I’d seen him do this role before…several times.

As for the supporting cast (and this is really mostly just the daughters), I’m indifferent. They jump quickly from happy to sad, from nice to mean, and though they display a complete hatred of their mother still wish to remain under her roof. I assume we’re supposed to believe that Erika Christensen is in high school (hence the discussion of her not wanting to go to college), but it’s simply not believable. She was roughly 22 when the movie was filmed and absolutely looks it and it makes the movie that much harder to understand.

I believe that had I been more engrossed in the movie the ending would come as something of a shock and cause me to rethink any small doubts I had about the genius of the film. But, as it stood, I actually decided that Joan Allen’s character deserved to feel even more wretched than she did at the beginning of the film; I had no sympathy for her. And, that’s not a slight at her acting, she and Costner tried their best to hold my interest, and were completely believable in their roles, the story just let them (and me) down.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Veronica Mars

That Veronica Mars, she sure is a little spit-fire, and the shows not half-bad either. From an intriguing over-arching mystery to single-episode contained story-arcs I’ve had a great summer watching it (a show that until June I hadn’t seen a single episode of).

It tends to be another well-written show with outdated (‘80s) pop-culture references that I like. Of course, that’s one of the problems with the show too. I absolutely believe that Kristen Bell herself gets the references she makes, though I tend to doubt Veronica would. This is especially true given the fact that she seems to spend every waking minute involved in solving a mystery or making out with a boyfriend. When did she find time to watch so many hours of TV Land and to rent the Brat Pack’s greatest hits?

I almost must quibble with the way her father has raised her. It’s not that every parent doesn’t make wrong or weird choices, it’s just that he sees his daughter doing blatantly wrong things ALL the time and tends not to get overly agitated about it. He of course has moments when he decides to parent, but way too often let’s his daughters transgressions pass as though they were unnoticed. Take last night’s repeat episode…her dad finds Veronica hiding in a closet in the principal’s office and never mentions it to her later. It’s as though he only fleetingly cares for her well-being and upbringing. I almost must quibble with her Dad answering his cell phone when he was breaking and entering into Kendall Casablancas’s (Charisma Carpenter) house.

And, as long as I’m mentioning Charisma Carpenter, I may as well mention Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, a show which this certainly does have the feel of, from the writing to the mysteries, to the teenage girl hero taking on more than she can handle. It’s absolutely a worthy successor of that mantle, and even if its stories are moderately more down to earth than Buffy’s were, it’s still pretty fantastic.

The show is definitely on my fall schedule, even if they’ve decided not to do a season long arc and will instead be dividing it into 3 different mysteries. But, I don’t really feel like I have a right to complain, they think that this change will drive viewers to the show, and it could certainly use a larger audience if it’s to be picked up for a fourth season.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Losing the Hunters & Entourage

I sat down last night at 10 all ready to watch the last episodes of Treasure Hunters, remember that I spent 2 hours with Hell’s Kitchen last week and so had to catch-up on my Hunters this week, only to discover that my TiVo failed to switch channels and I had two episodes of Wife Swap instead of Treasure Hunters. I cannot express to you my disappointment at that moment…I promptly deleted Wife Swap and watch Sunday night’s episode of Entourage.

I like that show. There, I said it: I like Entourage, even if this season isn’t quite up to last season’s truly excellently fun level. I think that Vinny’s ripping into movie-making and money juxtaposed with his (and his friends’) lifestyle and the fact that the lifestyle is made both available and affordable due to his star status which only exists because of the Hollywood machine makes for good television. I think that someone should point out the inherent hypocrisy contained therein more openly, but it’s definitely there. Granted, Vinny does try to make up for it by doing prestige projects, but that really doesn’t quite fully make up for it, especially if he’s doing superhero pics. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Yes, yes, Jeremy Piven is great, and everyone loves his character, but, all the supporting characters are really well portrayed, not just Piven. He’s, obviously, the most over-the-top (and maybe true to life) outrageous, but the entire group of friends and everyone they come in contact with seems well-conceived (I particularly like Martin Landau the last two weeks). I like to see myself as an Eric, but with even less power and without the rich friend that can buy me anything and everything that I want, but I like to think that’s my mindset, whether it is or not.

It’s fun…fun, fun, fun.

And, if you disagree with that can we at least come to a consensus that it’s better than a Paris Hilton CD?

Monday, August 21, 2006

TV & FG's Weekend Round-up

So, I saw the movie, and I gathered this much from it: there were snakes, there was a plane, and the snakes were on it. It was perfectly fun although nothing terribly special. It’s not quite in the Harold & Kumar so bad it’s good range, and it’s repeatability may be low, but I enjoyed my time.

Speaking of Harold & Kumar, good for Kal Penn. Way to get a new job; I just hope this doesn’t impact the filming of the sequel, because I want to see what happens in Amsterdam.

I like watching sporting events on weekends in the summer, it seems like the perfect lazy thing to do after getting out of the pool while waiting for the charcoal to be ready and trying to get a nice beer buzz on. But, I have to say that I’m getting increasingly tired of the promos for new fall shows. The promos appear during the breaks (fine I can tune that out) and then the announcers have to act as shills too, and that’s where it really gets to me. I just can’t believe or accept that these guys have watched the shows, care to watch the shows, remotely believe what they’re saying about the shows, and aren’t gagging just a little when they promo them. “The most anticipated new drama.” “The most anticipated new thriller.” “The most anticipated new drama-thriller.” “The most anticipated new thriller-drama.” “The funniest show of the new season” “The smartest show of the new season” “The smartest funny show of the new season.” And on, and on, and on. I’d much rather hear some inane statistic about the pitcher throwing to lefties in the bottom of the seventh when he walked the previous batter, the next batter is a switch hitter, and the pitcher’s team is down by four or fewer runs. If they want to eat commercial time by promoing shows go for it, but stop impinging on the actual program.

(This could lead into a whole discussion about snipes and the foolishness that causes snipes to be more than a tiny bit of the bottom of the screen and to have sound and to do other things to stop me from watching the show I’m watching in order to promote a show I wouldn’t watch even if I weren’t being barraged with the suggestion that I watch it which only makes me want to watch it less and makes me contemplate turning off the show that I’m currently watching and stopping watching anything and everything on that particular network in general. But, I won’t do that because it’s Monday and just too early in the week for that sort of thing).

So, to some up, snakes and plane make for good fun and totally worth the price of a matinee ticket (provided it’s a Wednesday and that you’re at AMC and getting free popcorn for going).

Friday, August 18, 2006

Studio 60 & 30 Rock

I am continually digging myself into a hole. Before I called in all the favors owed me (and gave away a few of my future children), and now I owe everyone. On the upside, I’ve seen 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which almost makes up for it.

I don’t care what NBC says, avoiding any discussion of quality, longevity, the audience’s interest level, acting, writing, etc., etc., I can’t avoid the stark fact that these two shows should not be airing on the same network. They just shouldn’t, it’s not right. My pure speculation is that both were in development, the Aaron Sorkin/Thomas Schlamme one was clearly better and worth a spot in the fall lineup, but NBC didn’t want to upset Lorne Michaels and Tina Fey (heaven knows why) and so agreed to air that show as well.

Don’t get me wrong, the Fey one is funny, and I appreciate the fact that they take shots at NBC and corporate parent GE (something which the Sorkin one does not do as directly), and Alec Baldwin is really very good in his role, it’s just not as well written, well acted, well directed, well conceived, or well executed as Studio 60. The absolute funniest thing about 30 Rock is that the deal Tina Fey’s character makes with Alec Baldwin’s at the end of the episode secures a spot for herself and Rachel Dratch’s character on The Girlie Show (the variety show 30 Rock is about), however in real life Dratch has just been demoted to a recurring role appearing as several different characters. It’s too bad Fey didn’t make the right deal with Kevin Reilly to protect Dratch herself.

As for Studio 60…it’s funny, it’s serious, and it’s really good. It’s not great, but it’s really good. The moments at the end of each act of the show are really well executed. Going into virtually every commercial break something truly compelling or outstanding occurred, something that absolutely made you want to see what would happen when the show came back.

If you are a faithful reader you will know that Studio 60 was scheduled to be on my fall watch list and 30 Rock was not. After having seen 30 Rock, I may decide to add it to schedule, I’m going to have to give Jericho a chance to develop and see what happens. I also may end up TiVoing one and watching the other live (something I’d prefer not to do, but I may have to).

Okay, I still maintain that it’s not a bad thing, but I’m addicted to television; I can’t wait for the new season to begin.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

What is Funny?

Today I would like to tackle the question: what makes funny?

The answer is pretty simple actually: if it bends, it’s funny; if it breaks, that’s not funny.

I think the problem comes in that things bend and break at different points for different people. For example, I watched South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut last night, and I firmly believe that to be a funny movie. And that’s not just cause of the incessant cursing. I have seen a couple of other Matt Stone and Trey Parker projects and have not found them quite as humorous as South Park is in general. I think that’s because it’s a solid mix of poking fun at current events/politics with one truly gross-out or patently offensive to everyone bit thrown in for good measure. That plus the fact that there is absolutely nothing sacred to them really puts it all over the top. I don’t mean to say that everything they do is comic gold, some of the stuff definitely falls flat, but on the whole they do a great job, and the movie itself absolutely worked.

Actually, the movie is still funny today, 10 years later, which is a testament to the intelligence of Parker & Stone as the movie was quite topical. Saddam Hussein is still in the news, as are discussions of sex/violence/language influencing our children too much. Of course, problems in the Middle East and concern over the media having too much influence on our children are pretty solid choices for topical issues that will remain in the forefront of public consciousness for a long time to come.

The only sad thing about the movie is that the DVD does not contain as an extra Robin Williams’s brilliant rendition of the song at the Academy Awards (not that it deserved to win, just that it’s truly fantastic).

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

COMMENTS ON THIS SITE

There apparently was a problem with comments being allowed on the blog, that has now been rectified.

Hell's Kitchen Finale

I spent two semi-precious hours (let’s be honest with each other, my time is important but not THAT important) of my time yesterday watching the Hell’s Kitchen finale. All the while I was rooting for Heather to win but completely convinced that of the two finalists she was the only one that stood any sort of a chance. Virginia might have a great palate, but there is no way, at least from how the show was cut, that she should have won. And that brings me to today’s rant…

…The finale was simply not that exciting because the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

They have to have tons of footage that they could use and writers to help the whole thing work into a nice story arc, so why was the tension not ratcheted up for the end? Why did the entire series unfold as Virginia being bumbling and completely inept in the kitchen. I can only assume that the race was never truly that close to begin with. They did make a big point of Virginia being able to win the various challenges that were held, but she found herself on the chopping block on a regular basis.

Perhaps they did everything they could to make it look as though this were a real contest, and that while Heather appeared on TV as being head & shoulders above Virginia in actuality Heather was head, shoulders, torso, waist, legs & feet above Virginia. In which case kudos to the writers and producers for making the thing look as close to a contest as they did.

Some might quibble with the fact that both seasons of Hell’s Kitchen have ended with two actual chefs as the final two contestants instead of one of the other random contestants, but I think that makes absolute sense. There is a skill set involved, and a lot of experience required, in order to be able to do what these people do, so its not surprising that those with a background in it rise to the top. I know, I know, people in our world don’t like this sentiment, but not everyone can do everything, different people have different skill sets and some things actually require innate talent AND experience.

But, on the upside, we are all special deep down inside.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Must Love Dogs

There are films that I see that I want to root for, movies that you just want so much to be good that even when they’re not you mark them down as being “okay.” I watched just such a movie last weekend. I know that it’s not new and that I didn’t go to the theater and it’s not even just out on DVD, but I wanted to see it nonetheless. So this weekend I made some popcorn, turned on the TiVo and sat down to watch Must Love Dogs.

Perchance this is an odd choice for me for a movie, but it does have John Cusack and Diane Lane, two elements that certainly put you ahead of the game. Then it even has an incredibly respectable supporting cast: Christopher Plummer, Stockard Channing, Dermot Mulroney, & Elizabeth Perkins to name a few. I didn’t even expect that much, just to sit and laugh (at least a little) and feel good by the end of it.

The problem? It just falls flat. It’s a romantic comedy, so we all know what the ending is before the opening credits roll, but hopefully the trip is worth it. In this case, it isn’t. Nothing absurd takes place, nothing is truly funny, and even the little side jaunts are not worth it. As I was watching it seemed to me that one of the reasons it didn’t work as a film was that it was all a little too close to life and real world dating. It kind of had a whole Dragnet thing going on: the story you are about to see is true, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Which isn't quite what this type of movie should be providing.

I was forced to pause the movie with seven minutes left (I knew there were only seven minutes left because TiVo told me so), and the plot was nowhere near anything remotely resembling a resolution. And then, all of the sudden, Diane Lane was running after John Cusack in a mad attempt to make up and live happily ever after, the end credits rolled and that was that. Rarely would I argue that movie had to be made longer (particularly a bad one), but this one could have benefited from about 20 more minutes of story-arcing. Cusack and Lane’s characters have barely any relationship, there’s no reason to think that this is some sort of star-crossed love, she just seems to jump for him because there are so many losers out there. Not quite the message I was looking for.

And that solid cast? They’re good, and they try to elevate the material, the really do, there just wasn’t enough meat there for them.

I have no established rating scale yet, but if forced to come up with a semi-quantitative scale I’d put it down as: totally worth it on cable or if you have a free rental somewhere and an extra bag of popcorn lying around that you want an excuse to use.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Kidnapped

Faithful Reader, I know that I usually take Fridays off but today I can’t, today I feel the need to tell you about what happened to me last night.

Last night part of me, my imagination, was taken hostage. It was stolen, and money was asked for in exchange for it’s safe return. That’s right, last night I got Kidnapped. Timothy Hutton, Dana Delany, Jeremy Sisto, Mykelti Williamson, & Delroy Lindo (by now you know that I have a weak spot for Hutton), and numerous others, it’s a pretty solid cast.

Frankly, I’m torn. I have now seen two pilots fort he upcoming season, this and The Nine. While that thrills me more than anything, it hurts that both these programs air at the same time. NBC-Universal’s current plans for Kidnapped seem to include it’s being double-run on a sister network, which may make my choice easier, but that will most likely be just a short term solution.

Kidnapped is certainly a far more conventional show than The Nine, at least in the construction of its plot. The both do revolve, seemingly, around one specific moment in time, for Kidnapped it is the actual kidnapping, and for The Nine it is the bank holdup. There are antecedents and results as well, but these events are truly the impetus for the storylines. In Kidnapped we actually get to see, at the outset, the event unfold, The Nine keeps it hidden from us. Surely there will be flashbacks in Kidnapped to the event, and new angles will be revealed, but in The Nine the mystery is what exactly happened and that is not the case in Kidnapped.

Both shows also have solid casts, with wonderful character actors in several different roles. While some of my personal favorites are in Kidnapped, I’d have to give an edge to The Nine for quality of cast, but that may only be because there are so many more parts available.

There is absolutely room for two or three successful shows in a single time period, and I certainly hope that both of these shows survive. They are both intriguingly plotted, well designed, with good writing (some may quibble with Kidnapped’s writing, but I thought it well done and certainly sustainable for a season) and acting. I just wish that they didn’t have to air opposite one another. Excluding putting one on Friday nights (which save for Las Vegas I don’t TiVo shows on and don’t actually think either would survive on), I’d happily trade either Veronica Mars or Grey’s Anatomy from my planned fall schedule for either of these programs.

Ah, would that either of these shows had Eric Balfour.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Amazing Disappearing, Reappearing Nature of Shows

I feel as though our society moves too quickly. This is, I’m sure, a common lament, but frankly it is hindering my ability to watch television. Last week, at the last moment, Sci Fi decided not to air Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace as scheduled. This week, at the last moment, they decided to flip when Eureka and Who Wants to be a Superhero. At least, these both appear to be last minute changes because both my TiVo and TV Guide believed the shows to air when they didn’t. I imagine, and this is pure speculation, that numbers came in and people thought they could get a quick boost by switching around the schedule. Whatever happened to giving a show a chance to develop?

One of the truly funny things about this is that the same corporate parent, NBC Universal, famously stuck with two relatively low-rated shows that turned into monster hits: Cheers and Seinfeld. As has oft been remarked elsewhere: that would never happen today. Those shows would have been cancelled in a heartbeat, and, in my opinion, the world would be worse off.

I’ll grant you that these are just time period switches, but ABC recently cancelled both The One: Making a Music Star and One Ocean View after just a few airings. The odd thing in my mind is that these were merely limited run summer series, why not give them a chance to finish out their time? Are the numbers for repeating episodes of Supernanny that much better? Will it result in a sizable boost to their fall audience?

Networks tinker with their schedules obsessively, tweaking here and there without strong proof of a return for their efforts. Surely as many people are frustrated at not being able to find the show that was supposed to be as there are people who are now magically free to watch the show that they didn’t know was on.

How about this for a strategy: create a compelling program, schedule it for a single time period, and sit on that itchy trigger finger for 6 months.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Cable Television's Darkplace

Cable television (or satellite, but for convenience’s sake I’ll be referring to any alternate delivery system as “cable” herein) is a good thing. The plethora of channels that exist allow for an incredible amount niche programming, and an incredible amount of good (if poorly sampled) television.

Take, for example, the case of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. “Completely absurd” doesn’t begin to describe the show, although “absolutely hysterical” does. For those of you that haven’t seen it, the premise is that this series was filmed back in the early ‘80s and that the British government pulled the plug. But, in a desperate attempt to salvage British television as a whole it will now be aired. The production values for the series are incredibly low, but allegedly purposely so. The numerous jump cuts, awkward angles, cheap special effects, and bad dialogue are, allegedly purposeful. Of course, if you’re going for making bad television (and they are), any mistake you can pretend was a purposeful error. It’s actually genius.

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace actually aired in 2004 in England, and has finally made it to American television now. Thank goodness for a myriad of cable channels looking to fill holes in their schedule (though this is on Sci Fi, which is going quite strongly now), otherwise this sort of show might never have hopped across the pond.

As an aside, it strikes me that I have commented a lot on various science fiction programming. I would like to be clear that this is not the only sort of show that I watch, it’s just what happens to be on during the summer. Well, there are also American Idol wannabe shows strewn across every network, but as I have trouble watching an episode of the original I just can’t bring myself to watch some poor knockoff. So, between that and my television addiction I find myself looking for original programming and it just so happens the Eureka, The 4400 and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace all fit that bill. Hell’s Kitchen and Treasure Hunters are still on my scope (as are Monk and Psych). But recently it’s been these other shows that have made me go “hmmmmm….”

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Forget Channel 3, I Have Seen the Future, and it is The Nine

Well, I’ve done it. I begged, borrowed, and stole. I cashed in my chips, my chits and a ton of favors and yesterday evening a little birdie flew down my chimney with something he got from a woodchuck which got it from a gopher, which knows an alligator, which knows a shark. And the shark just happened to have a spare copy of The Nine. And, now the shark tells me I owe a nice man in Malaysia my second-, fifth-, and twelfth-born. Even so, I have seen the future of television. Or, at the very least the future of one hour of television this fall. So today I will move away from what I spout on most Tuesday. I have nothing to say about last night’s Treasure Hunters or Hell’s Kitchen episode, for I have seen The Nine.

In past I have remarked how truly hard it can be to judge the future of a series from the pilot: parts get recast, showrunners leave, time periods change, etc. etc. But, as much as any show can be poised for success The Nine is: the cast is solid, the writing is sharp, it airs after Lost, NBC has moved Law & Order to a different timeslot, and perhaps most importantly I sat there for a full five minutes after I watched the pilot wanting to know what in God’s name happened during the robbery. I do not wish to get too deeply involved in specifics of the episode, but the series does seem to be firing on all cylinders.

Of course, there are concerns. If the bits and pieces of what happened during the robbery are revealed too slowly the audience may lose interest. Perhaps the next few episodes won’t be as good, maybe Kidnapped will be HUGE and suck away viewers. And there is also the universal truth that a good show (and The Nine is a good show) doesn’t necessarily make for a successful show. If networks and studios knew the exact recipe for a successful show nothing would ever fail.

If I had to make a prediction in order to save my second-, fifth-, and twelfth-born from the nice man in Malaysia I’d say that The Nine will make it to season 2. I still may watch Kidnapped instead (I like that Tim Hutton guy, he’ll always be Archie Goodwin to me), but maybe I can alter space and time and manage to fit both into my already over-burdened TV schedule. If I can, I’m sure I won’t be sorry.

Monday, August 07, 2006

You're Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong...and a little right.

I know that I’m less well respected, heck, I’m not respected at all, and for that reason there is absolutely no reason whatsoever that you should accept my opinion over Entertainment Weekly’s…except for the fact that I’m right.

In a review in their August 11th issue they give Sci-Fi’s Eureka a C+. The main complaint leveled against the series is that it should be less quirky and focus “more on exploring it’s X-Files roots.” The series, according to Gillian Flynn, “doesn’t know how seriously to take itself,” and “would be fascinating” if the series properly explored the scientists’ projects. She does note as a positive, the scene in episode 2 where Carter has to apologize to his house for being late for dinner. She refers to this moment as “that flash of confidence and joy when everything clicks.”

To boil it down, it seems as though if the show were funny and light-hearted that would be great, but the funny and light-hearted should not include the scientists. The scientists should be dark, mysterious, smart and totally X-Files-ey (one of her comments remarks that the plots shouldn’t solely revolve around scientist screw-ups). I don’t know if the point is that law enforcement should be treated as comedy whereas science should be serious, but that seems to be at issue in the review.

Of course, while Spooky Mulder did from time to time provide some levity to the show, one couldn’t say that he was a general source of light-heartedness and humor. And in The X-Files the majority of scientists that were depicted were evil, dumb, and/or dead by the end of the episode (and quite often the experiments either went awry or were planned to wreak havoc). So I ask, in my own quaint way:…huh, what exactly do you want Eureka to be cause I don’t get it?

One more than valid comment Flynn makes is that the love triangle between Carter, Stark & Blake isn’t quite believable (please see my other comments on the show for the weirdness in which this was initially presented).

Eureka is funny, smart, and hopefully unlike The X-Files it won’t get so wrapped up in its own mythology, myth-making, and conspiracy theory-ness so as to lose that feel. More moments like Carter arguing with his house would be great, but it doesn’t matter whether it’s Carter or one of the scientists doing the arguing.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

30 Days to Changing Your View to a Whole New Type of Imperialism

Oh boy do I have a lot to talk about today, or, at the very least, I’m quite excited but what I’m going to say.

First up, Eureka…it’s just a barrel of fun and absolutely living up to my expectations, and I’m moderately perturbed that I was a day behind on watching the most recent episode.

This past week the show recognized its own absurdity, with Sheriff Carter explaining to everyone that there had to be some kind of “gizmo” or “device” that was causing time to stop, or people to lose time, or rearranging their brain waves. That’s just the beauty of the series, he kept talking and it kept sounding absurd, but he was right, there absolutely was a “gizmo.” It was funny, it was smart, and it was really enjoyable to sit there and watch.

That being said, I still miss Maury Chaykin, and apparently his character only lost his job because of losing his leg…is that really an appropriate message, especially in a forward-thinking town?

Then last night, I watched 30 Days, the Morgan Spurlock show on FX. I will confess that I’ve never seen the show before, but last night’s episode on outsourcing of programming jobs to India sounded too good to miss. And, my review? It was good, it was bad, and some of it was definitely ugly. I routinely cringe to see people from this country venture abroad. It is scary to see, and it is clear where the term “ugly American” comes from.

There were moments in the show last night where Chris, the outsourced American, made me shudder. He actually started to argue at one point that the outsourcing of jobs to India and the modernization of India was bad because it would change a culture that had existed, in his mind, unchanged for thousands of years. He was upset that the modernization of India was forcing Soni, the wife in the family he was staying with, to want to work. It was altering their culture, where women took care of the home for centuries. Would he ever have said such a thing in the U.S.? I doubt it, and if he had, would we take anything he said seriously? No way.

Eventually, Chris saw that many people in India live in squalor, and that the outsourcing of jobs might help provide running water and electricity for millions in India (this sort of modernization is apparently okay in his mind). Chris finally returns home and says that it is almost like an act of charity for his job to have been outsourced, 3 families in India will be supported by his job having gone abroad.

This of course ignores the fact that his outsourced job didn’t get transformed into 3 jobs. It is still only one job in India, and the company is saving 2/3 of Chris’s original salary.

And, despite Chris’s hemming and hawing about his lack of money and lack of employment (and all of this may be true), he walks around in a Brooks Brothers polo shirt. I’m not saying that he does have cash reserves and is lying, but he does have on a shirt that even on sale is $35 or $40 (and usually at that price you need to buy 3 or 4 of them to get the discount), and often far more than that. It’s not the same as it would be if say Michael Eisner had stood up and declared himself unemployed and therefore broke after his leaving Disney, but it was uncomfortable to watch. Even if Chris is flat broke, and he might be, I am absolutely in no way saying that he isn’t, it’s tough to accept such statements from a man wearing expensive clothes.

I don’t wish to enter into a political or economic discussion here, so let me end with this: outsourcing does improve the conditions of life in India, and Chris did see that (whether it’s good overall for the world I won’t touch), but the way in which his opinions seemed to be shaped, and his final impressions of the situation, represent, in my mind, cause for concern.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Macro Guide to Reviewing Movies

I think that it is crucial when reviewing movies to determine two different macro things: 1) is the movie fun and 2) is it a good movie. These are not necessarily the same things, shlocky bad film making can lead to a fun movie, and not necessarily in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way. Take a movie like the original Clerks, that is a fun movie, but it’s not necessarily well made. Then of course there are the movies that I like to label as being “good for you.” Let’s face it, just because a movie is a “message” movie it is not always fun, it might just be well made and teach you something and thus be “good for you.”

This past weekend I went to see Clerks II. Probably, if I had to categorize it, I’d call it “benign” and not in Microsoft Word’s definition of it, but in the more scientific definition as “harmless” or at the very least “non-malignant.” I know, you’re thinking to yourself how can a movie about interspecies sex be non-malignant? Answer: because it’s just good fun. It’s certainly not a movie for everyone, and people in my house were absolutely upset when I came home discussing interspecies sex, but that’s not the point. I went to a movie where I expected to see people criticize the world in an over-the-top way, to laugh, and to be utterly disgusted by at least one scene in the movie. Clerks II delivered exactly that. If I wanted to watch a great film I would have chosen to see something else, I wanted to see a movie that was going to make me laugh, and I absolutely did.

I would criticize it for not making me laugh as much as Clerks, and for not being Kevin Smith’s finest work. But it was fun, it gave me another look into Kevin Smith’s world, and it made me contemplate the world around me (at least a little). Lawrence of Arabia it wasn’t (a movie I qualify as being both fun and good), but it was certainly worth my time and I would recommend it (though not to children).

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Reality of Friendship

Friendship is a rare thing in reality TV. Let’s face it, Rob & Amber are the exceptions to the rule (and the jury’s still out whether that’s real or a friendship of convenience). The odd thing though is that reality TV contestants don’t seem to recognize it and are always amazed when they get stabbed in the back. Thus it shouldn’t amaze me that Garrett surprised that Keith betrayed him twice last night on Hell’s Kitchen, but it does. Did he not see this coming? And then Keith betraying him a second time must have truly sent him into something more than a tizzy. But how in God’s name was he surprised?!?

Surely the people going on these shows at this point have seen at least one other reality competition at some point. Surely they’ve noticed the backstabbing, lies, and generally deceitful actions that take place on a regular basis. Do people like Garrett genuinely get surprised when people like Keith lie to them? Do they believe that their ‘friendship” is more genuine than all the others on reality shows? Or is it all just an act? I find it baffling.

Speaking of my being baffled, and please write in if you have the answer to this question, last night on Treasure Hunters, the Miss USA team was, briefly in second place, they were then bypassed by three other teams and lost. However, they never knew that they had been passed, the other teams solved the clues without going to the various locations. Does the producer tell the team that they were in second place and then blew it, or do they have to sit at home and watch the whole thing unfold on TV to realize how close they’d come to making it to the next round?

I should also say that I feel vaguely bad for the Miss USA team, the Geniuses and Ex-CIA just seemed to be in the right place at the right time when the Southies figured out the clue. And, while I’m giving my feelings, let me just add that I really like Air Force & the Southies, and that if the Southies ever trusted their own instincts they could be doing spectacularly. Of course, the Southies are still in the hunt and as it doesn’t really seem to matter whether you’re in first or second-to-last it doesn’t make a difference at this point. But will it in the future? Tune in next week and find out…