Friday, August 29, 2008

More on What I'll be Watching This Fall

Earlier this week you and I discussed my fall viewing schedule… in part.  We'd already, as I'm quite sure you recall discussed Mondays, and now we've taken care of Tuesday and Wednesday as well.  Those were pretty easy days, because, for some reason, the networks have decided that my wants and desires are wholly irrelevant.  Wholly irrelevant, I don't understand why, but I am on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Thursday, apparently, I'm back in their good graces.  There's My Name is Earl, 30 Rock, The Office, and Kitchen Nightmares.  There is also the potential for my watching Life on Mars, Kath & Kim, and ER

I know what you're thinking – "ER?!?  You're contemplating watching ER… again?  You gave up on that show like a season and a half ago, and now you're thinking about watching it again?  Why?  Why would you do that?  Are you some sort of glutton for punishment?"  Outside of the fact that I am (a glutton for punishment, I mean), NBC is airing these promos for the series that feature Noah Wyle.  Noah Wyle is back.  John Truman Carter III is heading back to the emergency room.  I haven't looked yet to find out (mostly because I'm afraid to know the answer) whether he's back for good or whether he's just going to be doing another handful of episodes this season.  Plus, it's the show's last season, and I watched it for so many years that it feels right to watch it all end.

On the other hand, and, let's not kid ourselves, there's definitely (still) another hand, the show has been so disappointing for the past few seasons that if I tune back into it, I'm probably going to just remember the reasons I expunged it from my TiVo.  They were legion.  The reasons I deleted the Season Pass were myriad.  My anger and disappointment with the show towards the end of my time watching it knew no bounds.  For years, I thought it was the best show on television, I even defended it once it started to go downhill.  I told people it was still worth their time right until it became all too clear that it wasn't.  But, Noah Wyle.  He's coming back.  What to do?  What to do?

I know!  Let's move on, and not to Kath & Kim, because if I end up watching that I think it'll just be because it's on after The Office.

Life on Mars.  The show has had some pre-production issues, there's been reshooting, recasting, and a few firings and hirings here and there.  Usually that spells serious trouble for a show.  On the other hand… well… it's based on a British series and I'm a big fan of those British series.  And, truth be told, the idea is kind of interesting – there's this present-day cop that gets knocked unconscious, and finds himself living back in the 1970s.  Is he really there?  Is he just unconscious in a hospital back in this day and age?  Will the viewers ever find out before the show gets cancelled? 

And then there's Friday, the beginning of the end of the TV week (unless you go by Nielsen and their kooky Thursday to Wednesday week).  There, I'm thinking there's only Crusoe, NBC's Robinson Crusoe reimagined dealie-o.   Worth it?  Who knows, we'll find out, plus that island show that ABC airs is really good.

Now, just for completion's sake, there's Sunday night.  I have no idea what they're thinking with this whole leap into the future on Desperate Housewives, but I'm absolutely going to find out.  It's either the last gasp of a desperate series trying to reclaim its former glory, or a brilliant scheme cooked up by the show's producers that will pay off in spades.  Plus, The Simpsons are still on, so I'll be watching them.

Looking back on my TV schedule for the fall, I'm completely unenthused.  There are shows here and there I'm excited about, but there's nothing that makes me want to do a happy dance.  And, yes, I like to do happy dances. 

Sigh, at least there's still Top Gear, that always inspires a happy dance.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Does One Eleventh Hour Plus One Eleventh Hour Give You Twenty-Two?

This fall, CBS will premiere a new, semi-sci-fi series in which one man (with some help, of course) thwarts mad scientists (sort of, anyway). Entitled Eleventh Hour, the series is actually a remake of a British series of the same name.

Currently available on DVD, the British version stars Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Ashley Jensen (Extras). Stewart takes the role of Professor Ian Hood and Jensen is his police protector, Rachel Young.

Consisting of four independent episodes, Eleventh Hour sees Hood investigate human cloning, global warming, fake miracles, and pox-like viruses. All in all, it's a pretty diverse set of things Hood tackles, and, as it's a television show, he's something of an expert in each area. However, Patrick Stewart still somehow manages to remain believable in exploring each area. A lot of this is due to the fact that he's not presented as super-human; he is clearly a fallible individual who doesn't know everything about everything, but rather just enough to be considered an expert in all things science.

While much of what happens as it relates to the science is worst case scenario/beyond the scope of possibility today, Hood seems relatively unfazed and ever curious no matter what is taking place. And, for her part, Young functions as the perfect stand-in for the average viewer. She is not a scientist and consequently Hood gets to explain to her (and therefore the viewer) exactly what is taking place and what he thinks can, or should, be done about it.

The viewer is never truly given much background into Hood and how he ended up in government employ. His relationship with Young is clearly a new one, and one with which he is not entirely comfortable. She is his "minder," and clearly relatively new to the experience as well. Perhaps due to the series' short length, the audience is never fully given the scope of Hood's work and both his and Young's reasons for ending up where they are.

While each individual scientific area that Hood examines could be interesting, as a whole, the series takes a long time to get on solid footing. It isn't until the third episode that it finally seems figured out, and the fourth episode, which is finally wholly compelling, is sadly the last one.

Between this fact, and the viewer never getting the lay of the land vis-à-vis Hood and Jensen, the series as a whole, while good, disheartens the viewer due to its lack of fulfilled potential. There is so much there that could have been done, that could have been explored, that could have been examined, and yet it never happened.

However, there is still good to be had. One of the best aspects of the series is the fact that it tends to deal with the outlandish science in wholly believable ways. The show never opts to go over the top or just plain silly in its solutions. Hood always simply plows ahead, asking questions, getting answers, and putting together the pieces of the puzzle. It's perhaps the best aspect of the show, and one which its U.S. counterpart would do well to emulate. With Jerry Bruckheimer producing the U.S. version however, whether the show will be understated remains in serious doubt.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I Wouldn't Exactly Call This Raising the Bar

Legal procedural dramas are not exactly a new species of television show.  Law & Order guru Dick Wolf himself tried to get two series about the NY district attorney's office off the ground in the L&O universe (or at least next to that universe), neither of which lasted more than a few episodes.  Another super-producer, Steven Bochco, who is also not entirely unfamiliar with the terrain having produced L.A. Law and Murder One (and NYPD Blue too) is about to premiere his new, NY-based, legal drama on TNT.

Entitled Raising the Bar, the series stars Bochco vet Mark-Paul Gosselaar as well as Gloria Reuben, and Jane Kaczmarek.  It's an ensemble drama which also features Teddy Sears, Natalia Cigliuti, Melissa Sagemiller, Currie Graham, Jonathan Scarfe, and J. August Richards.  Half of the group works for the public defender's office, and the other half for the district attorney.  Save Kaczmarek, Reuben, and Graham, they're all young and almost all are friends outside of the office too. 

Gosselaar is at the center of everything as the tried-and-true public defender Jerry Kellerman who puts all of himself into each and every one of his cases.  The premiere episode features him getting misty-eyed and being on the verge of tears more than once and less than believably.  He's young, brash, will fight tooth and nail for his clients, and is completely uninterested in politeness and tact.

Kellerman alternatingly does battle and drinks with the folks from the district attorney's office.  While his compatriots do their best to leave work at the office and in the courtroom, Kellerman is unable to, which routinely gets him into fights with his friends. In short, he's a character we've all seen over and over again.

In fact, through the first three episodes there is little in any of the characters that the audience won't instantly sense as already being very familiar.  This is perhaps most true for J. August Richards' Marcus McGrath, who works for the district attorney.  While some will recognize Richards from his starring role on the Joss Whedon series Angel, others might remember that he's played a prosecutor in the NY district attorney's office before… on Dick Wolf's Conviction.  Richards plays his part well, he's also very charismatic and compelling on screen, but there certainly is a sense of déjà vu that accompanies his role here. 

Through the first three episodes of the series, the most interesting of the characters is Kaczmarek's Judge Kessler.  She's the sort of hard-nosed stickler that the audience will be familiar with from any number of David E. Kelley legal dramas.  What makes her interesting is that unlike most court shows, we actually get to see behind the scenes on who she is and what makes her tick.  At this point, there doesn't seem anything unusual behind her motives, but it is still a slightly different viewpoint, and Kaczmarek seems to relish the role.

What then to make of this series?  It's a legal drama in the vein of so many other legal dramas.  It features a good cast doing a solid job (Gosselaar stops tearing up by the second episode), but none of the plotlines feel remotely new.  Actress Natalia Cigliuti is introduced in the second episode as Roberta Gilardi and everyone watching will instantly spot where her story seems to be headed (and I for one will be greatly disappointed, but not in the least surprised, if the show travels down that well-worn path). 

Yet, despite its feeling of familiarity, the show is somehow intriguing.  The cases in the first few episodes are moderately interesting, and there are plenty of characters running around doing plenty of different things which helps as well. 

Perhaps it is the very sense of familiarity of Raising the Bar that works for the program.  Despite being a legal drama that purports to explore our broken (or at least slightly bent) justice system, it requires very little of the audience.  The cast is a good one, they're attractive and enjoyable to watch, and one has to pay very little attention to the story to know exactly what is taking place.

Raising the Bar premieres on TNT September 1 at 10pm. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Well, You'll End up Being Blue if You Watch This Elephant

If one picks up a copy of the new DVD release The Blue Elephant, one instantly gets the impression simply by looking at the front cover that the movie is meant for kids of all ages.  After all, the cover depicts a drawing of a bright blue elephant squirting water from his trunk.  The water is supporting a cute little blue bird and in the background is a pink elephant with a yellow flower tucked behind her ear.  It's a cheery scene, with a little frog in the foreground and the blue elephant smiling from ear to ear.  A quick check of the back cover reveals the tag line "a little elephant on a big adventure" and the little promo paragraph sates that this is "fun family adventure."

Looking a little more closely, one might notice that the film is rated PG,  it seems perplexing, but perhaps the review board was overly cautious or the fact that the little elephant gets separated from his herd has something to do with.  Either way, the back clearly states that the story has an "uplifting message."  What harm could possibly befall this bright blue CGI little elephant?

As it turns out, someone thinking those things while looking at the case of the DVD will be shocked and disappointed.  Massively shocked and disappointed.  Yes, the bright blue elephant named Khan does get separated from his herd, and he does meet a kooky group of friends, but the message is actually entirely about the glory of war and how great it is to spend one's life preparing to battle to one's death for freedom.

The movie deals with a series of battles between Burma and Siam (Khan is on the latter's side and the former group is painted as a series of unmitigatedly bad people).  Khan, who loses his herd when he goes to look for his missing father (who is a great warrior) and the rest of the group are forced to flee from the invading Burmese.  While lost, Khan meets a cute little pink elephant, Kon Suay, who takes Khan back to her village.  There, Khan witnesses first-hand how evil the Burmese are (they even use weasels and tigers to attack the helpless villagers), and how to fight back.  It is in the village that he grows into adulthood and learns the art of war. 

Eventually, Khan is brought before the King of Siam, recognized for his greatness, and learns the truth about what happened to his father.  Khan is energized by the story and heads out to do battle with his king against the Burmese army. 

The Blue Elephant features crude CGI animation (it seems as though the final scene in the movie isn't even fully animated), but that concern is secondary to the tale itself.  The entire movie has lines and scenes that feel as though they are playing off of other works, and the final battle reminds one of the climactic battle in Braveheart.  Less blood is spewed here, but glory is only to be found in fighting, possibly to the death, for freedom.  How that makes this movie a "fun family adventure" with an "uplifting message" is impossible to discern. 

The characters in the film are all entirely one-dimensional, and while the voice cast features some impressive names, like Carl Reiner and Martin Short, there is little for them to truly do.  The entire endeavor leaves one moderately perplexed as to what message the producers of the film (including The Jim Henson Company which I usually greatly respect and admire) thought they were imparting.  Death during war hasn't been depicted in such a positive light since some of the propaganda films of World War II. 

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Little Bit on a Lot of Things - The Olympics, Politics, and My Fall TV Schedule

Happy days are here again… almost. The Olympics are finished, and, as you know, that pleases me to no end. No longer will I have to deal with watching athletes see their "lifelong" dreams shattered due to an inglorious fall. No longer will I have to hear people complain loudly -- and do nothing -- about China's human rights violations. No longer will my television be occupied with hours and hours of Olympics coverage (I think it may have been possible to watch more Olympics than there are hours in the day, and yet never the events I wanted and even if I caught a glimpse of the event I wanted to see it was never shown in full).

Instead, for the next two weeks my attention is going to be completely focused on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions (even if the networks aren't focused on it, I think my TV will be). Now, like the Olympics, I'm going to acknowledge the importance of the events – it's critical that we understand our world and what is taking place in it, if we can never really understand anything. It's just that it's all so heavily choreographed and that nothing real will actually be discussed (kind of like elections as a whole).

Plus, all the while, some guy in a room somewhere is yelling something like, "You drop those balloons when I tell you to drop those balloons or there'll be hell to pay. I swear to you if I see one piece of confetti drop before I tell you to drop that confetti, I'm going to turn you into confetti. Don't test me. Don't you test me. I will end you. I will end you." If they showed that guy and not the speeches, I'd be absolutely glued to the set. Probably it's the choreographed nature of the event and the lack of that guy in the room having a camera on him why the networks don't show that much coverage of the convention, why you have to go to PBS or a cable news network to see wall-to-wall coverage.

But, I keep telling myself that it's all okay, that the start of the new television season isn't all that far away. There are only a few weeks left until some of my old favorites return and new shows arrive to please and/or greatly disappoint me.

We've already talked a little about Monday nights this fall (and since then I've added My Own Worst Enemy to my list of shows to watch), and Tuesdays are pretty empty (save for a double-dose of FOX shows) and Wednesdays don't look much better. Right now, Wednesdays might only be Pushing Daisies and Knight Rider. That's right, I'm going to be watching Knight Rider. I really don't have that much faith that it will stay on the air for too long, so I don't feel like it's a huge commitment.

But, now I'm depressed by this too. I'm looking at five-and-a-half hours of TV on Mondays and then a mere two on Tuesday and two on Wednesday. Why can't it be a tad more even than that? You know it, and I know it, there's no way that I can watch all of that TV on Monday night and so some will bleed into Wednesday and Thursday. Thus, in the end, it will be more even, but it all just shows that the networks aren't planning with me in mind. And, I just don't understand why that is. Seriously, I don't. I'm a male aged 18-34 and I buy all the household odds and ends, surely I matter.

Those, as I indicated, are worries for another day. First, we have to get there.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Talking Tools and Fairy Instruments - There's More Handy Manny and Little Einsteins on DVD

One of the most important things in children's programming is that it be enjoyable (or at the very least, inoffensive) for adults.  One of the great failings of much children's programming is that the adult watching it with the child (and I am certainly a proponent of the adult being well aware of the entirety of the content that a young child is watching) wants to scratch their eyes out and stick their fingers in their ears they hate it so much.  At that point, it doesn't matter how enjoyable the program is for the child, most adults will be sure that it does not air in their house.

The recently released to DVD Handy Manny – Manny's Pet Roundup, may not be the most enjoyable show for an adult, but it certainly isn't offensive.  There are six 13-minute-long (or so) episodes included on the DVD are mostly ones that have aired on television and all feature standard Handy Manny tales.  Manny, a handyman, who has a set of talking, extremely anthropomorphized tools goes to various jobs fixing things and along the way teaches his tools worldly lessons.  They learn about responsibility, keeping promises, the difficulty of having pets, etc.  They also always manage to succeed in their various fix-it tasks (it wouldn't be a children's show if Manny were incapable of fixing huge plaster spinning pretzels).

The tools, while very child-like, are amusing enough, as are the songs that they sing (the same ones every episode).  My daughter was certainly pleased to sit and watch episodes, and I was quite thrilled that she identified the screwdrivers (flat and Phillips) as the ones that help with "lefty loosey, righty tighty."  So clearly, despite their having huge eyes and being able to talk, they are still identifiable as tools.

As the title indicates, the vast majority of the tales included on the disc involving pets or animals of some kind.  There doesn't seem to be any particular reason for that, at least any more than the producers of the series having enough pet episodes (almost) that could be packed on to a single DVD (one of them did not air on TV previously).

The same basic notion has also just been used in packaging a series of Little Einsteins episodes for DVD as well.  Entitled, Little Einsteins – Flight of the Instrument Fairies, the DVD and series as a whole does not work quite as well for adults as it does for children.

Little Einsteins represents an extension of the Baby Einsteins brand which, depending on how you see it, is either a way to hook your infant on television watching or help educate them (I subscribe to an in-between theory of the series, own many of the DVDs, and allowed my little one to watch them on a regular basis).   Little Einsteins features four characters who, over the course of a 24-minute-long (approximately) episode (four are included on the disc) perform various missions, from rescuing instruments who happen to be fairies to delivering soup to their rocket ship's ailing grandmother.  Each episode contains a different piece of classical music as well as a classic work of art.  Refrains from the musical pieces are repeated throughout the episode, while the art is used as a background in a scene or two.

The episodes feature animated characters and a combination of animated and live backgrounds.  Between classic art pieces in the background, actual live-action backgrounds, and animated ones along with animated characters, the show appears as a hodge-podge of disparate styles and keeps the adult viewer slightly off-balance.  Additionally, the chipper nature of the four main characters is vaguely off-putting. 

The show is also one of the terribly popular call-and-response animated shows, which ask the viewer to "actively" participate in the program.  In Little Einsteins this means that the characters ask the viewers to pat their knees, belly, and shoulders in order to help their rocket, named Rocket, fly "superfast."  Viewers are also encouraged to point at things on the TV screen and respond to the characters' questions. 

I'm not against such programs in general, but the things that children are asked to do in this one is, more often than not, simply annoying.  Mostly this is attributable to the obnoxiousness of the characters as they ask for help. 

All of this being said, while I did not enjoy Little Einsteins in the least, if given the choice, my daughter would, without a doubt, choose to watch Little Einsteins over Handy Manny.  However, that is not a choice I will be giving her. 

Both Handy Manny – Manny's Pet Roundup and Little Einsteins – Flight of the Instrument Fairies are currently available on DVD.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Boy, That Gavin & Stacey Sure do Get Along Better Than Ned Did With Her

The course of true love never did run smooth.  Such is certainly the case in the new ("new" in that it hasn't aired in this country yet) BBC America comedy Gavin & Stacey

Premiering on August 26, the series follows the relationship 20-somethings in the United Kingdom, one in Wales and one in England.  As the series opens, Stacey (Joanna Page), who resides in Wales, and Gavin (Mathew Horne), who lives in England, have been having a long distance relationship for several months without ever actually meeting one another.  However, that is all about to change as the couple (along with one friend each) have agreed to meet for a day in London. 

Gavin and Stacey's friends, Smithy (James Corden) and Nessa (Ruth Jones) respectively, think the couple is slightly odd, and are just as trepidacious as the couple about the meeting, but go along anyway.  As for the couples' families, they are, surprisingly, very supportive of the meeting.  Though it is somewhat obvious (the show is, after all, entitled Gavin & Stacey) things go well at that first meeting and the relationship continues. 

Though they play second fiddles in the show, it is actually Corden and Jones who are behind the entire endeavor.  They are the creators of the series and the writers of all 13 episodes.  That may explain why theirs are two of the funniest characters on the show.  They are, however, by no means the only funny ones.  Each character, even if they're not quite three dimensional gets their share of funny lines.  Most notably in the first two episodes, Bryn (Rob Brydon), who is Stacey's paternal uncle, proves truly hysterical. 

In one of the funniest moments in the first two episodes, Bryn patiently explains to Gavin how to use the internet to find directions from Stacey's house (where they currently are) back to Gavin's.  Bryn refuses to acknowledge the fact that Gavin has actually made the round-trip before and is well aware of the route.  Gavin, trying to not make waves with his girlfriend's family briefly suggests that not only does he not need the map because he knows the route, but that he has a rough idea of the internet and the ability to create maps as well, before settling in for Bryn's lecture.

There are other, more lewd and almost equally funny, moments in the show.  Some of them certainly may make it uncomfortable for teens to watch with their parents (or vice versa), but they are undeniably funny.

In fact, there is much in the first two episodes to find amusing, from Gavin and Stacey themselves, to their friends, family, and the situation they find themselves in.  Though they may just be "regular" people, everyone's actions in trying to help the relationship keep going are just over-the-top enough to be funny without ever losing plausibility (usually). 

As with so many comedies these days, Gavin & Stacey doesn't just attempt to be humorous, it has a serious core around which the comedy is built.  Forming long distance relationships over the internet or phone are relatively commonplace today, and to have a show explore the difficulties with such relationships certainly makes for a different sort of comedy. 

BBC America will be airing the two UK seasons of the show together as one single season of 13 episodes.  Gavin & Stacey begins Tuesday, August 26 at 8:40pm and is well worth a look.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Eureka Goes All Bill Murray

Have you ever seen Groundhog Day? No? Well, how about Eureka last night, because it was, essentially, the same plot device… not that there's anything wrong with that. Last night's episode featured Sheriff Carter reliving the same day over and over again. Now, unlike Groundhog Day, there were freaky science-based reasons for Carter's repeating himself.

I half think that they did the whole repeating day in order for Carter to keep putting on Degree deodorant (remember, Degree sponsors the show). Eventually they eschewed the deodorant scene, but not until the fourth go-round.

Actually, I was moderately disappointed that Carter didn't pick up on when the first blue flash of light appeared (the blue light that hearkened the time loop Carter found himself stuck in). I guess weird science occurrences are an everyday sort of thing for him, but I still think he should have recalled the first blinding flash of light. You knew that was a big clue, didn't you? Of course you did.

I should take a step back and be fair though, the episode wasn't quite like Groundhog Day. Here, Carter was able to take stuff back with him on his repeated trips and even ended up with a few broken bones due to the time loop.

Last night was actually one of the best episodes of Eureka this season. It had gobbledygook science, tugged a few emotional heartstrings, and slyly advanced the season-long plot (remember that bit with Carter following Eva during one of his repeated days, I'm thinking that comes back around in a few weeks). Stark even showed that he had a heart and was almost a good guy last night, and him I've always disliked so that's saying something.

Have we never talked about that? Stark rubs me the wrong way. I know, he's supposed to, it's the point of his character – tool with an itty-bitty heart. And now, it's time for a spoiler, so if you don't want to know how it ended, stop reading. Stark allegedly died last night. He was able to fix the time loop, but he sacrificed himself in the process. We saw him turn into itty-bitty bits of light and float off somewhere. So, allegedly he's dead. But, there's no actual body, is there? He could just be trapped in some ray of light somewhere off in the universe and come back in a few episodes or in time for the season finale or really at any point in the future.

It should also be noted though that with the addition of Eva Thorne, the woman who has been brought in to clean up Global Dynamics, the show already has almost replaced Stark. She is hugely focused on her work, runs the show at Global (as Stark once did), and doesn't get along so well with Carter. She represents only a slightly changed dynamic from what Stark brought. She doesn't have the science skills Stark had, but the show can do without that, there are enough science geeks around, there will always be someone who can know the things Stark was supposed to know.

But, let me step back (again) from the replacement for a minute, I'm still not convinced that Stark is gone. Until I see a body, I'm just not buying it… at least not 100 percent.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Top Gear Uses My Name (But Not in Vain)

What do you want me to tell you? What can I possibly say to you? I've waited four long months to be able to tell you this. Every Monday night I've sat down, turned on the TV, watched my favorite show , and hoped against hope that they would, again, quote me. Well, they did. I'm happy to be able to come to you this very morning and tell you that Top Gear again quoted me in one of their promos. Oh sure, they used the same quote as last time, but they used it in a completely new promo.

Now, at this point you're probably asking yourself why you care that Top Gear had blurbed me. Well, you're a good person and so you want me to be happy. That's at least one reason, isn't it? Aren't you a good person? Don't you care about the happiness of others? Well, I should hope so.

Is that the only reason you should care? Certainly not. You see, while I usually watch television with 100 percent of my body, soul, mind, and spirit, Top Gear I watch with 120 percent. I am more focused in on it, more attuned to what is taking place, I am more critical of it. You see, if I come to you and I say that "Top Gear is… quite possibly the best show on television," I want that to mean something and not just the blurb. If I say such a thing, I want to be right about it. I'm going to sit there and watch the show with all the intensity I can muster so that I can instantly, and I do mean instantly, come to you and take back my praise -- and I will if I thought it was misplaced.

Happily, I don't have to do that with Top Gear. Before even seeing the promo for next week's episode (where the blurb in question appeared), I was exceedingly pleased with this week's. It featured Jeremy Clarkson driving from London to Oslo in a race against May and Hammond who flew and then took a ferry. It's crazy, it's a 1300 mile drive, but it's great fun to watch.

Clarkson did manage a short rest in his ridiculously expensive Mercedes McLaren, but that may have been the car's one failing – the driver's seat didn't seem like a great place to spend a few hours getting shuteye. The rest of the car did seem pretty spectacular though. It looked phenomenal, apparently can do 208 miles per hour, and has over a 20 gallon fuel tank. Okay, I'll never need any of those things, but it sure sounds like fun and that, as I've said to you before, is what Top Gear is all about.

After watching dozens of episodes, I've concluded that it's these "challenge" episodes that are really where the show is at its best. The producers convincing the guys to do dumb things with cars (drive across the desert in an old beater, determine the fastest way through London during rush hour, this London-Oslo drive, turning cars into boats in order to sail the English Channel) always leads to a great hour of television. What I'd really like to see, though, are the behind-the-scenes machinations – the producers pleading with the presenters (if that actually happens); Clarkson, Hammond, and May grumbling about the idiocy of the task; that sort of thing.

Who knows, maybe we'll get that in the future, but even if we don't, I'll keep tuning in. And, I hope that by now you believe me that you should too.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Is It Me, Or Is It Primeval?

There are times when I watch a television show that has all the elements that I usually enjoy, and yet something fails to click. Despite my being able to check off all the boxes I use to determine whether or not I should spend my time on a program, the show doesn't draw me in. Something is missing.

I'm always disturbed by these moments. I always want to know if it's me - have I changed, is the face staring back at me in the mirror that of a person who no longer enjoys semi-mindless, pseudo-scientific, vaguely self-aware television? Boy, I hope not. I'd much rather think it's the show that's at fault and not yours truly.

It is at these times when I try to convince myself (and I don't think wrongly) that the whole of a show is much greater than the sum of its parts.

I've been struggling with this very problem recently with the BBC America show, Primeval. It's got dinosaurs, rifts in the space-time continuum, pretend science masquerading as pseudo-science, and lots and lots of people with British accents. What more could I possibly want from an hour of television? I don't know, but there's definitely something missing.

Part of the problem with Primeval probably lies in the poor computer effects -- the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park looked and felt far more real than anything Primeval has offered in its first two episodes. I know Jurassic Park was a high-budget Hollywood film, but it's also more than a decade old and we've seen better CG on television specials since then. In Primeval, I never have the feeling that anyone is actually in any sort of danger because I never believe that the opponents are really there. I keep waiting for the actors to look at the camera and ask the animators to draw something different. That tactic worked every single time Bugs and Daffy used it.

For a show like this some major suspension of disbelief is always necessary, and I really feel as though it's not asking too much that the folks creating the creatures help us out with that. It's much easier to accept that these are temporal disruptions that allow people and things to pass back and forth between present-day England and umpteen points in the past if the things coming from the past look vaguely plausible.

But, is that it? Is my only problem with the show the fact that I can't believe in it because the creatures don't look real. Has my imagination become so horribly jaded? Sadly, I think it may have, but in this case, there's more to the show that doesn't work. I'm still going to give it a few more weeks, but right now I need to see more from them. They're using the old "professor's wife disappeared years ago and has been thought dead but it turns out she's just probably gone back in time through a rift" plotline, and they're going to have to wrap it up pretty soon. At least, they're going to have to create some sort of interesting twist or turn in the story, because we've all seen that plot used over and over again.

I actually think there's more to it than that, though. The characters are all pretty much stock ones, the scenarios are only vaguely tweaked from other shows, and I don't feel like the long-term plot (beyond the professor and wife mystery) is headed anywhere good.

After reareading this, I'm still unconvinced. Maybe it's me. Maybe I need a new checklist. Come on, new TV season, you're almost here and I just can't wait.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I Wonder if the Olympics Could Have a Skins Game

Okay, enough with barely pubescent girls describing the pinnacle of their careers and lives and how they've always known this was for them and this is the greatest moment in their whole entire lives. Enough of the incredible phenom (and I do mean that sincerely, he's ridiculously impressive and unquestionably deserving of all the acclaim) who is built strictly from muscles and gills. Enough of that ridiculous NBC "bug" that informs me that something that happened three hours ago is "live" simply because it's the first time it's been viewable on the west coast (thank goodness for my HAVA, which sits in New York and confirms the lie). What I want to talk about today is something totally and completely different. What I want to talk about it is… oh heck, does it even matter?

Seriously, the ratings that the Olympics have put up are fantastic, and apparently people are watching stuff on TV and then watching it again on their mobile phones or over the Internet. I think that's weird, but apparently you are doing it. I'm assuming that you're watching it "live" and then going to a bar and showing your friends just how great Phelps is.

Thus, I pretty much assume that I could say anything I wanted about any television show that aired last night and if it wasn't the Olympics I was discussing, you might simply accept anything I said. I could talk about how last night on Burn Notice, Michael Westen ended up in bad with Sam on his way to deciding that his life was better now that he was no longer a cover agent and how he told Tricia Helfer to take a hike. None of that happened, but you don't know, you were watching Phelps break another record.

Listen, I'm going to tell you a dirty little secret... I was watching Phelps break another record too. I wasn't watching it live -- NBC promised it was but they were lying -- I was however certainly watching it as it was being fed to the West Coast. The genius thing of it all was that I didn't have to delay my watching of Burn Notice. You see, apparently tons of cable networks only send out an East Coast high definition feed, thus, someone in New York watching Burn Notice in HD sees it at 10pm EDT, and it gets fed to the West Coast and into my TiVo at the exact same time. Awesome. Just awesome.

But, of course, that was not enough to fill my evening last night, so I also watched three episodes of the new BBC America series Skins. Billed as "a coming of age story for 2008," the dramedy focuses on a group of teens, with each episode focusing on a different member of the group.

Skins unquestionably falls into the category of one of those shows which "pull no punches." It focuses on teenage sex, drinking, drugs, partying, dysfunctions, and disorders. Every member of the group seems to have huge problems, some of which get dealt with better than others.

The show manages to be both funny and sad, but it also makes me sincerely hope that its depiction of teenage life these days is horrifically unrealistic. Teens do have problems, and some of the problems are incredibly serious, but here it seems as though everyone's problem is enormous. Rather than Skins simply not pulling punches here, I think that it has weighted its gloves in order to get a little extra oomph out of those punches.

The extremeness of the series leaves me a little up in the air as to how I feel about it. It is at times fun to watch, but at others you simply want to wring each and every teens' neck.

Skins starts this Sunday (August 17) at 10pm on BBC America.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hooray for Smart People

Smart people sometimes do stupid things. That tends to be because they're not all-around smart, they're book smart or worldly smart or people smart but certainly not all around smart. In the case of Smart People, the people in question are most definitely book smart, and unquestionably less good with people.

Noam Murro, in his directorial debut, tells the tale of a widower professor, Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid), his two children, and adopted brother. It is a small tale about average people and the day-to-day things that happen in their lives. It is funny and sweet and absolutely captivating for its entire 95 minute runtime.

Wetherhold is a horrible English professor, the kind who cannot remember his students' names (no matter how many classes of his they take) and who can take any subject and suck the life right of it. He, apparently, has been a miserable man for years on end and doesn’t mind sucking those around him into his depression. His daughter, Vanessa (Ellen Page), and his son, James (Ashton Holmes), try their best to avoid getting sucked in, but are not always terribly successful. James does a better job than Vanessa, but that is mostly due to the fact that he is in college (the same one his father teaches at) while Vanessa still lives at home.

The family's life does end up changing though with their arrival of Lawrence's ne'er-do-well adopted brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) and a freak trip to the hospital which results in Lawrence's finding a love interest in his doctor, Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker). From there, the film explores the beginning of the romantic relationship, the dysfunctions of family, and everyday life.

Normally films that explore such topics are preachy, their goal seems to be to "blow the lid" off of quiet suburban life, to show its seedy underbelly and how things are always boiling just below the surface. Smart People eschews that repugnant goal. The film is not about exposing what we all know to be there, but rather about people trying to make their lives better. It is about people struggling to find their way, not always succeeding, but always trying.

Some of the characters, like Thomas Haden Church's Chuck, definitely have a familiar feel to them. Chuck is the freeloader who actually has more to him than most people think. Page's Vanessa is also instantly recognizable as the too-smart-for-her-years teenager. Even Lawrence, as the angry, heartbroken, professor, is too easily identified. It's a slight disappointment in this otherwise outstanding film, but one that is made up for (at least partially) by the performances of the actors in the roles. They all turn in wonderful performances, turning these sometimes less than three dimensional characters into fully fleshed out human beings.

Smart People is currently available on DVD. The release contains a behind-the-scenes documentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, and a commentary track with Murro and writer Mark Jude Poirier.

If you're looking for loud, over-the-top action, this is certainly not the film for you. If you want a simple, down-to-earth, tale of real people and actors delivering solid performances, you will not walk away disappointed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Eureka Goes for Some Good, Old-Fashioned, Rucks

There are certain actors and actresses who are forever associated with certain roles.  Some actors enjoy such association and some don't.  Both attitudes are understandable.  30 years after playing a character for a few short months (in the case of a movie) or a few short years (in the case of a successful TV show), actors and actresses might actually want to be remembered for more than an old character.  They also might simply want to bask in the glow of having brought so much joy to someone.  Tough call.

Alan Ruck.  Every time I see Alan Ruck I think of Cameron Frye.  I think of him lying in bed, I think of him kicking his father's car, I think of him pretending to be Sloane's dad.  He's done tons of other great things.  He's been a starship captain, worked in the New York City mayor's office, and didn't get blown up just because a bus went over 50 miles per hour.  To me though, he'll always be Cameron Frye. 

Last night he popped up again.  He had a beard and was a kooky retired scientist on Eureka, but he was still Cameron Frye.  I was still waiting for him to go off about how his father is always riding him.  That didn't happen and I didn't really expect it to happen, but it would have been nice. 

I don't mean to denigrate Alan Ruck.  He really has been in a lot of things and done a wonderful job in them, but Ferris Bueller's Day Off is… okay, I'm a writer and should, possibly, be able to come up with something more slick, but it's Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  Sure, I like my '80s Brat Pack stuff as much as the next child of the '80s, but, except for The Breakfast Club, I'm more Ferris Bueller.  And, as much as Matthew Broderick (who I also always associate with the movie any time I see him) made the movie, it would have been nothing with out Ruck's Cameron Frye.  Frye was, as Bueller well knew, the ying to Bueller's yang. 

Ruck's scientist wasn't the ying to anyone's yang last night, but he did step up and provide the necessary bits and pieces of information that allowed Sheriff Carter to solve the freak-of-the-week problem. 

Actually, I think Eureka tends to do a good job with its weekly stories and multi-episode arcs.  Mostly, that's because they just don't spend that much time on the multi-episode stuff in any given week and it's not crucial to the goings-on (I say this because last week I railed against Burn Notice for not doing enough with the overarching plot).  It is, assuredly, really important to the characters on the show (or it is when they learn about the truth behind everything), but it's not the characters' sole raison d'être, which is why they can get away with changing around the long-term story over and over and over again. 

But, that really has moved us away from Ruck, hasn't it?  You know, it doesn't really matter to me that I always think of him as Cameron, after that moment of recognition and a fleeting smile, I'm always happy to watch whomever he may be portraying.  So, more Ruck I say, more Ruck.  I have my doubts that he'll be back on Eureka next week (it's not really how the show is structured), but I have my fingers crossed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What a Night, The Middleman & Top Gear Both Talk 007

You know what we don't discuss often enough?  Okay, there are plenty of answers to that, everything from politics to my hopefully nearing an end quest to find my daughter a preschool to the merits of a good hybrid golf club.  But, none of those are what we're going to talk about today, today we talk about (among other things) The Middleman

For those of you who don't recall from the last time we talked about the show (which, I'll grant you, was a while ago), it features this superhero, The Middleman and the Middleman organization, which, as the saying goes, is saving the world so you don't have to.  That slogan by itself should give you a pretty good idea of how much the show is. 

It's a comic-y show (and is based on a graphic novel) which features the Middleman training his eventual replacement, Wendy Watson (who, I gather will become the Middlewoman should she one day step into the Middleman's shoes).  Not only do they battle really weird villains (last night the villain was a man who had a ray which melted everything like candle wax), but they do so armed with pop culture references (and references that aren't pop-y at all).  The references don't tend to be in your face, when needing an alias Wendy will come up with something like "Clara Clayton," or perhaps someone will live on a Ray Parker Junior Ave (the references are usually tied into the weekly plot).  Last night special guest star Kevin Sorbo played a card game which he bought into with "the missing 18-and-a-half-minutes."   They're not going to explain these things they're just going to throw them out.  It means that even if you don't like that week's plot (and they're not all winners) you can just spend your time looking for that sort of thing.

The dialog tends to be fast and funny, the performances strong, and there's always some sort of foolishness present (last night Kevin Sorbo played an ex-Middleman from the late 1960s with the requisite 1960s tropes).  It's really the foolishness that saves the whole thing, the only thing that the show takes serious is the foolishness, and I respect that.  Plus, last night, they referenced James Bond (Wendy wore an Ursula Andress-Honey Rider bikini).  And, as you may or may not know, anyone who references James Bond is okay in my book (until they make fun of my personal favorite superhero). 

Switching gears (but only slightly), you know who else referenced James Bond last night?  Jeremy Clarkson.  Jeremy Clarkson referenced James Bond on a show that I like to refer to (because it's the show's name) as Top Gear.  Clarkson was driving an Aston Martin DB5 (James Bond's car).  It seems as though that car was not all Aston Martin promised it was and that Bond probably couldn't catch Goldfinger's Rolls Royce with it.  I think that Clarkson probably missed that Q would have suped up the car so that it could easily handle anything Goldfinger or anyone else threw at it, either that or he was simply talking about a standard model.

I might suggest that both shows were gearing up for the upcoming James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, except that the Top Gear, while new in the U.S., was filmed a few years ago.  Wendy Watson though… she might be getting ready. 

Monday, August 11, 2008

NBC Redefines "Live" with its Beijing 2008 Olympic Coverage

You know what really, really gets my goat, I mean, what really, really perturbs me? It's declaring that something is "live" when it's not. If I see that little "live" marker on my television screen I expect that I'm seeing what is occurring somewhere else as it is occurring (save for transmission times and any sort of delay necessary to ensure that profanity is not accidentally aired). If that "live" thing is on my screen and I can go online and find out what is going to happen, with 100 percent certainty as it has already happened, then the word "live" is a lie. It's a lie and it's not something you nor I should have to stand for.

You've probably heard me talk about how I don't like the Olympics monopolizing my television for two straight weeks (and, make no mistake, even if it's not on, it's monopolizing my TV). Well, I'm past that. I'm still upset about it, but I'm not wallowing (too much). My problem is that last night I watched Michael Phelps do a semi-final heat in a race and was told that only an hour and four minutes later he would have to take part in a relay race. The announcer was worried that maybe, just maybe, Phelps wouldn't be recovered enough to be at his best for the relay. He was saying all this as that great little "live" statement was there in the upper right hand corner of my TV screen.

It was just a little weird to hear such a statement as I was sitting there with my laptop and my browser was open to the NBC Olympic site, and right there was the result of the relay that I was just told Phelps wouldn't be swimming in for another hour and four minutes. I checked a couple of other websites and saw that they had the result too. The NBC Olympic site wasn't simply exercising some wishful thinking, the result was in.

Clearly what I was watching was not live. I checked again though, and sure enough, it was still being labeled as "live." No, it wasn't a mistake, NBC did the same thing the night before as well.

I figure that it's probably live on the East Coast, and that my watching it on the West Coast means that it's delayed three hours. I'd rather not argue here and now about the merits of tape-delaying sporting events, that's a big long discussion and deserving of a piece (at least one) by itself. If the event is being tape-delayed, as this was (at least on the West Coast), it should not be labeled "live." It just shouldn't. It's a lie. It's not even a clever lie. It's a downright, blatant, offensive lie. Live-to-tape (which is what this was) is not the same as live, it's recorded and played back.

Fine, tape delay it. Fine. I get the desire to get the highest ratings during primetime; when I lived on the East Coast I had to suffer through tons of sporting events that ended well past my bedtime so that more people on the West Coast could watch. So, fine, tape delay it for the West Coast, we'll argue about that at another time, just don't tape delay it and then call it live. It isn't live if it's tape delayed, I'm sorry, it just isn't. Is this a political inquisition? Are we going to start parsing words? Are we going to ask about what the definition of "is" is?

Let's not be foolish, let's just get that "live" off my television screen if we both know that what I'm watching isn't live.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Burn Notice Blahs

For some reason (quite possibly the tides), I am quite down on last night's Burn Notice. I still really like the characters and think the stories are interesting, but last night made the whole thing feel very formulaic, and not in a good way.

The single-episode plot last night was interesting enough - helping a guy who was determined to go straight after finishing his jail time but whose ex-boss was insisting on another job. Sure, they've done similar things before, but that's okay. And, the multi-episode, long term arc about Michael Westen trying to figure out who burned him was present, which is good. But the way it was all pieced together really made me feel as though I've been had by the series.

The episode was bookended by the long-term story, which also featured a little in the middle, which, while moderately interesting, didn't really progress stuff. That too felt kind of typical for the series.

So, there you have it, a pretty typical episode, and that's when it struck me - this was a pretty typical episode. They're all kind of like this. The overarching plot didn't move forward, there was never a reason to suspect that Michael wouldn't accomplish his single-episode task, and he was even lured into the task reluctantly, because the guy had a family.

It kind of made me feel like too many episodes of Burn Notice are done with fill-in-the-blank scripts: The week, Michael will be going up against _______ (insert name of nefarious activity, i.e., gambling, drug-running, grand theft auto ring, here). The case will be referred to him by ______ (friend, ex-friend, ex-co-worker, or family member, etc.). Michael will initially refuse the case due to ______ (date with Fiona, helping Sam with something, too busy with his own problem, etc.), but finally acquiesces when he learns that _______ (client's family is in trouble, his mom will guilt-trip him, the money is too good to pass up). Along the way, this case will jeopardize his learning more about his own problems due to the amount of time the case takes. Eventually though, Michael solves the case. In the end though He does/does not (circle one) progress on finding out who burned him.

I don't know, maybe I'm just having a bad day. Usually I really and truly enjoy the show. Maybe this one episode was just sub-par enough to make me thing about the formula behind the series. A ton of series have a basic plot outline that one can sketch out before an episode begins, but maybe this time the structure was just a wee bit too bare.

Either that, or maybe I'm just getting a little tired of the series. I hope that's not the case, though; up until last night I really liked it, episode after episode. Perhaps the mid-season doldrums are setting in for the series - they managed to get off to a great start and know where they want the season to go, but just don't have a lot to get done in the middle. Kind of like Jack Bauer thwarting mini-threats in the middle of a season of 24.

Here's hoping next week will bring something new and different.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Berenstain Bears Return to DVD

Though it may be hard to believe, The Berenstain Bears have been around for more than forty years and are still going strong. August 12 will mark the release of the twelfth volume of episodes from the PBS kids series based on the beloved characters created by Stan and Jan Berenstain.

Entitled The Berenstain Bears: Family and Friendship, the DVD features six Berenstain Bear stories and runs for a total of (approximately) 82 minutes. As one would expect, the Bear family learns valuable lessons in each one about things such as jealousy, accepting different people, and responsibility, among other things.

Present in the release are all the members of the Bear family -- Papa, Mama, Brother, and Sister -- and, except for Mama, they each take center stage in at least one tale. Mama is never thrust aside, she is always present and often the voice of wisdom, she just seems not to be one of the needy members of the family.

The stories are all lively and entertaining enough and the animation looks very traditional and makes one feel as though the goal was to focus far more on substance than style. This is not to say that the animation is a disappointment in any way, it simply isn't not the whiz-bang sort of thing one might find on Playhouse Disney.

The oddest part of the release is the inclusion of both the tale "The Green Eyed Monster" and "The Bad Dream." In the former, Sister Bear struggles with her jealousy about Brother getting a new bike. Mama tells her about jealousy, the "Green Eyed Monster," that appears when someone else gets something and you decide you want it. Sister then actually dreams about the monster (who looks just like her, but has green fur) and heads down the wrong path before the story eventually reaches its happy ending. In "The Bad Dream," Sister struggles with her fear of a scary-seeming character on a TV show (she eventually learns that talking through your fears is helpful).

There is certainly nothing wrong with putting these two stories together in a single release, but it is a bit odd that the producers of the show recognize that even innocuous seeming characters can be scary to little ones and still choose to put their own monster in an episode. Certainly, at the very least, their monster should have appeared after Sister learned about talking about her fears, it should not have led the set of stories.

Strictly anecdotally, while my child was not scared of the Green Eyed Monster, she did absolutely go around for two days talking about the monster. The character clearly stuck with her, and it's not hard to imagine a world in which, for some children, the character would not only stick, but scare as well.

That odd bit aside, The Berenstain Bears: Family and Friendship represents a wonderfully fun trip down memory lane for adults of a certain age, and still manages to enthrall children (at least the child I tested it on).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Eureka Places Products Precisely

It is said that viewers these days are more savvy than they used to be, that advertising has changed to accommodate today's viewers.  I don't know that viewers are more savvy, but advertising does continue to change, sometimes in very interesting ways.

Look at last night's episode of Eureka for an example of that.  A plotline this season deals with a corporate "fixer" coming in to the town in order to stop wasteful spending.  One of her genius ideas?  Establish a new department for the making of commercial projects.  A good idea, but as someone points out, starting up a new department costs tons of money.  The fixer explains it's no problem, they've received corporate sponsorship that covers the costs.  The sponsor is Degree antiperspirant.  This season's Eureka is also sponsored by Degree antiperspirant. 

It's genius.  It's pure genius.

They're able to talk about Degree on the show, wink-wink, nudge-nudge style, claiming that they're only doing so because Degree is sponsoring the lab.  They actually got their writers to write into the show a Degree commercial.  It's there, it's certainly paid for… it's worked into show content itself.  Do you see, it's pure genius.  I just love it.  Do you realize, they've even gotten me to say "Degree antiperspirant" over and over again. 

The whole thing tonight reminded me of 30 Rock's cell phone sponsorship bit this past season in which Liz talked about some cell phone for a while and then looked at the camera and asked the sponsor for the show's money.  Okay, it's very much like that.  It kind of makes me wonder, as they're both on NBC-Universal networks, if the same bunch of folks didn't have a hand in both things or if someone didn't talk to someone else and point the Eureka folks to the 30 Rock people.

Frankly, I'd kind of be happy if they did have a tête-à-tête.  The first one was clever, the second one was still clever.  Sure, by the time we get to the 18th or 20th it might be less than clever, but it still works.  You know it does.  It is way more fun to watch the wink-wink of turning on an electronic Degree logo on the back of someone's jumpsuit than to watch Simon Cowell sip a Coke while some people that can sort of sing try to do so in front of a Ford pickup truck. 

In the end, here's the way I see it – TV shows are going to continue to have product placements, wouldn't we rather be amused by the product placements than be unamused by them?  I would even imagine that the advertisers like the amusing ones, because they actually cause you to think about the whole thing afterwards.  So, not only are you getting that logo imprinted on you in a way you don't think about, you also actively contemplate the product and how it was worked in.  It's really quite a good advertising tool.

Those nice folks over at Mad Men are assuredly impressed by what's going on.  TiVos probably cause them some amount of agida, but good product placement seems right up their alley.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Here's Hoping Nicole is not The Mole

The recently resurrected (though probably only for one season) ABC series The Mole is down to the final three contestants.  Last night they performed their final missions and next week we'll discuss who the mole actually is.  The big problem?  People just don't seem to care.  The ratings are not good, and, as is the case with too many reality shows, at least one of the remaining contestants is hugely annoying. 

In this case, the culprit is Nicole, but it's not as easy as just identifying her.  The real question becomes, as this is The Mole that we're talking about, if she is the mole.  Nicole has been incredibly obnoxious and certainly the most annoying player throughout the competition, but if she's the mole is that a mitigating factor?  What if that's not her real personality, what if she's just hamming it up as a part of her sabotage? 

Let me first say that I don't think she's the mole, at least, I hope she isn't.  She has repeatedly tried to stop the rest of the players from completing tasks, but she sabotages in the most obvious of ways.  She says things that everyone knows can't possibly be true as a way of slowing down the group on missions. 

The problem, if she is the mole, is that she fails at these terribly unsubtle subterfuges.  One could argue that she's actually operating on two levels, that she's trying to ruin tasks by doing obvious things (which she purposely gets caught at) and that she's actually succeeding in ways that are harder to identify.

While possible, I just don't buy that as a notion.  I don't believe she's that smart, I don't think she can operate on more than one level, I don't think she has it in her.  Which means that if she is the mole, she just might be the worst mole ever.  Consequently, I'm hoping she's not the mole, it would just be a disappointing way for the show to go out.

Hypothetically though, if she were the mole, I think it would be a mitigating factor in her obnoxiousness.  I would then hate the character that she has been playing over the course of the season, but not (necessarily anyway) her.  That would be a shame, because I really do want to hate her, I really, really do.

Next week we'll get our answer, but I kind of doubt that the ratings will be any better for the finale than they have been thus far.  If someone hasn't been watching all season, I don't know why they'd be curious about the ending.  Unless, of course, they've recorded all the episodes and are going to watch the last one first (kind of like finding out whodunit in a mystery and then going back and reading the rest of the book).  But, let's face it, that's a pretty ludicrous way of watching a TV show.   Also, the Olympics will be on, so I don't see a huge lookie loo tune-in factor when the Olympics are on across the dial.  There may be a small bounce, but it's not going to make the finale into a huge deal.

It's actually a shame, because the show is really fun.  The tasks the players have to do are interesting, the guessing game the players are taking part in (figuring out who is the mole) is also one that the audience can participate in.  I'm not surprised at the low ratings for the series, just kind of disappointed, I think that if people had given the show a chance they would have enjoyed it.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Expanding my Who-niverse

As we've discussed on several occasions over the past two months, there's really very little new stuff on TV right now. It's led me to having a hole in my schedule, and I've filled it in the most wonderful way (come on, you knew that I wasn't going to let the empty space lie there unfilled, didn't you?).

I've been spending a lot more time in the TARDIS. I'm sure that in a few years some scientist will state that such an action increases my risk of knee cancer, but for right now I'm pretty sure that the TARDIS is considered a relatively safe place.

Well… maybe not, judging by the fate of its myriad of past occupants. Oh, sure, many of the companions have lived, but none are unchanged by their experiences. The TARDIS (time and relative dimension in space) really can't be blamed for the problems that its occupants find (usually anyway), but the man who controls the TARDIS possibly can be.

The most recent season of Doctor Who ended this past Friday with a whiz-bang 90 minute finale. The Daleks were smote once more, and a great deal of old Who-lore was brought up. And, as the show has been running (with a small break) for decades on end, there is a ton of Who-lore out there (there's probably even a term for Who-lore, but I like Who-lore and am going to stick with it until it catches on).

Thank goodness for me that I recently renewed my subscription to Netflix. A lot of the old episodes are now on DVD, and while one can enjoy the new Who without seeing the old episodes, there's a lot more depth to what's going on today than there appears to be.

The purpose of this column is not to praise Netflix (at least not solely), but they've added a great feature since I was last a member (about 6 years ago). They now, for select titles, allow you to watch the DVDs instantly through your browser. You can watch all the special features and director's commentaries and stuff, but you can watch the main feature, and for me, that's enough (usually).

So, via this Netflix "Watch Instantly" thing, I've been catching up on old Doctor Who (and having discs not available instantly sent to me. It's just fantastic. I've hooked my laptop up to my TV and play the movies out on the TV via my sound system, so it's not like I'm actually watching on the laptop. The quality isn't perfect, but it's pretty darn good.

Because of this setup, I know now more about Doctor Who than I ever did before. I've watched multiple incarnations of the Doctor do their thing and have formed favorites (right now I'm a Tom Baker fan) and favorite companions. I have favorite villains, story arcs, and series writers.

I know, I know, you'd like me to bore you with all the minutiae, all the little bits and pieces of Who-lore that I've learned. That would totally ruin the fun. It, like so many other things, is very different to actually experience than to read about. Okay, "experience" may be an odd term here. But, much like wherever the TARDIS takes me later tonight, I'm just going to have to go with it.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Dragons' Den's Split Personality

I know that I tend to go all out with good or bad, but last night's Dragons' Den was certainly somewhere in the middle.  They still had the whole problem with over-announcing going on, but the animosity between the dragons was ratcheted up and that definitely helped things along.

I commented on it a couple of weeks ago, and it remained true last night, but the announcer that the show is kind of hyperactive.  He insists and saying what is going to happen just before it does and then saying what just happened right after it occurred.  On last night's episode he actually did both at one point.  "Dragon number three is about to bow out."  Dragon number three bows out.  "Dragon number three just bowed out." 

Really?  Is that necessary?  Is my attention span so short that I need the same thing said three times over the course of 45 seconds?  If the show actually required that much filler, if there was actually nothing interesting going on I could accept the repetitiveness.  It would actually make sense – they needed a way to increase the runtime of the show and couldn't do it with content.  That's not a show I'd necessarily enjoy watching, but it happens. 

My problem is that Dragons' Den doesn't need that sort of thing.  It's a better show than that.  Last night the dragons started arguing with one another.  One of them, Simon Woodroffe took it upon himself to argue with each and every other dragon.  He felt as though some of the investors ought to be encouraged rather than simply be slammed by the dragons.  He actually ended up forcing Rachel Elnaugh, another dragon, out of a deal.  He claimed that he did it because he wanted to work one-on-one with the entrepreneur, but his doing it followed so closely on the heels of his fight that one had to be suspicious of his actions.

His actual argument, encouraging investors nicely versus slamming them, brings up interesting idea.  Slamming entrepreneurs in an unkind fashion can make for really good television.  Encouraging and educating can also make for really good television, but a very different sort of television.  Very different, at least I tend to think of them as very different.  One is more high-minded and one is more interested in fireworks.  While they both can be good television, the goal of each show, it seems to me different.

Is the goal teaching others out there about running a business?  Is the goal to teach the entrepreneurs coming to the dragons about running a business?  Is the goal solely to entertain the masses? 

Dragons' Den seems to be trying to do all three of these things and more.  Maybe that's why I find it so interesting, maybe that's why I like it so much.  Of course, that might also be why they feel like they need their voiceover announcer to be overly talkative.  We might be hearing from him so much so that we can stay on the multiple tracks the show is running down.  If that's the case it's nice of Dragons' Den to do that for us, but I think wholly unnecessary. 

And, let's face it, they only have an hour (minus commercials) to do all those things, which makes it increasingly likely that they'll do none of them.