Saturday, December 27, 2008

Reliving Those Days of Thunder

Watch a Tom Cruise movie – be it from the present day or two decades ago – and you get the indefinable essence of a movie star.  Be the film good, bad, or somewhere in between, there's Tom Cruise, shining and larger than life.  There are certain aspects of his performance, of his personality, which bleed across from one film to the next.  There are few performances in which Tom Cruise's character doesn't have a cocksure attitude, in which his character doesn't defy death. 

This Tuesday a classic Tom Cruise performance will wend its way to Blu-ray as Cole Trickle from Days of Thunder makes his first appearance in the high-definition format.  For those of you who can't instantly recollect which Cruise vehicle that was, think Top Gun, but with cars.  Or, thought of another way, it's the one where he first worked with Nicole Kidman, the one that started it all.   

Days of Thunder takes place in the world of stock car racing and Cruise, naturally, plays the blessed-with-enormous-amounts-of-God-given-talent-but-naïve-to-the-ways-of-the-world-and-more-than-a-little-scared-inside young hotshot.  Trickle is mentored by the old-hand crew chief Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall), learning the ins and outs of NASCAR, and a little bit about himself along the way. 

It's the perfect sort of Tom Cruise vehicle; the story was even developed by Cruise (his one WGA story credit) along with Robert Towne, who wrote the screenplay.  Directed by Tony Scott and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson the film has the definite feel of a big-budget summer blockbuster. 

Happily, the film does separate itself out from the average blockbuster by having the main villain in the piece be Trickle's own fears.  Trickle does have enemies on the track, Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker) and Russ Wheeler (Cary Elwes), but they are always secondary.  Wheeler and Burns are present only as agents by which Trickle is able to learn about his fears, confront them, and eventually overcome them.  No, I didn't just spoil anything, you know exactly where the film is going to end the moment the opening credits roll.

Helping Trickle on his path to greater self-knowledge is not only Hogge, but also Dr. Claire Lewicki (Nicole Kidman).  She arrives in the narrative following a crash that leaves Burns and Trickle in the hospital, and quickly finds herself involved with the egotistical and flawed Trickle.  Watching the film one is never quite sure what Lewicki sees in Trickle, except, of course, that he's Tom Cruise. 

If that description sounds moderately unenthusiastic, I have misrepresented the film.  It is exciting.  It has some pretty good race scenes, a few decent crashes, and, did I mention that it stars Tom Cruise?  Swap out cars for planes, Nicole Kidman for Kelly McGillis, and instead of having a super-fast guy who should-be-a-team-player-but-isn't named "Trickle" call him "Maverick" and it's Top Gun, and Top Gun was a really good movie.  Additionally, the work of the supporting characters, most notably Duvall and a relatively early performance by John C. Reilly, definitely add to the flavor of this movie.  Duvall, even when he's glossing over racing techniques that you wish the film would actually explore instead of obfuscate gives the role his all.

The new Blu-ray release of Days of Thunder finds itself terribly lacking in its technical presentation.  The print used to produce the film is full of imperfections, particularly early on when the piece should be trying to draw viewers in.  There are numerous white splotches that appear on screen, perhaps the result of degradation over time or perhaps scratches to the print, but either way terribly distracting.  While the film is presented in 5.1 channel sound, it rarely makes use of the rear speakers.  Cars can be heard whizzing by from time to time, but during big accidents on the track, when one would expect to hear noise all around, there is a noticeable lack of sound in the rear channels.  As for special features, the film contains nothing more than the original theatrical trailer.   

The apparent lack of effort put into this Blu-ray release leads one to wonder whether the studio is planning on putting out a fully-loaded "special edition" down the line.  Or if, perhaps, they believe Cruise's box-office power has waned to the point where people are even uninterested in work from the star's heyday.  Whatever the case might be, the result is that this particular edition of Days of Thunder is disappointing.  The film may not be Cruise's best work, but it is certainly enjoyable enough that it deserves better treatment.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Getting Inspired by Top Gear

I spent many hours last night watching car shows. Okay, maybe one car show and one movie. We'll be talking about the movie, Days of Thunder, in an upcoming review. Let's talk about the car show instead. Now, here's how this conversation usually goes:

"Gee Josh, what car show did you watch?"

"Actually, amazingly, shockingly, oddly, I watched Top Gear."

"You did? What did you think of the show?"

"I liked it, I really liked it. You may know that in the past I've called it 'quite possibly the best show on television.'"

"Huh, 'quite possibly the best show on television' you say? Really, why's that?"

"Well, you see, the show has this incredible way of mixing smart and stupid to create utterly hysterical, very informative programming. Beyond that, the style of the production is just so intriguing. Watch a car show on cable and you're likely to see a couple of burly men standing in front of some dirty junker that they're trying to make pretty once more. The guys will succeed in their task, and you'll be amazed, but it'll all be very static. That's not Top Gear."

"It's not? But surely I've heard you say that Top Gear airs on BBC America, that's definitely a cable network."

"Ah, you see, Top Gear is the exception that proves the rule. Top Gear manages to convey a love and knowledge about cars and is incredibly dynamic. The show doesn't just focus on old junkers, it also explores the supercharged and superfast. When the presenters go into the shop, they're far more likely to ruin a car than do anything worthwhile with it. Plus, did I mention it's smart and funny?"

"Yes. Yes, I believe you did."

Okay, that's how these conversations on Tuesdays usually go. But, not today. Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm still completely infatuated with the show, and if there was a Top Gear channel that aired Top Gear all the time I might never leave the couch (particularly if there were episodes I hadn't seen on). I'm just not going to talk about that.

Instead, I have an idea. An awful idea. I have a wonderful, awful idea (apologies to Dr. Seuss for that, but it's the right time of the year). Top Gear regularly puts stars into their "reasonably priced car." Forget stars. Put me into the car, let me run a lap on the track.

Before you turn away in shame and disgust, just hear me out. It doesn't actually have to be me in one of the reasonably priced cars. I mean, I would like it to be, but I'm actually very curious as to how the average Joe would do going around the Top Gear track. Sure, I want to see how David Tennant and Gordon Ramsay and Simon Cowell do; but I want to know about the average guy. This could be the average guy's chance to stick it to Simon or to get Gordon to hand over his chef's jacket. It could be fascinating. This season, the show is doing two stars every week; I think that next season maybe, just maybe, they should do a star and an average guy. And, who is more average than I?

See, think about it -- they could totally do it. Run a contest on the website, select winners. I know that I probably wouldn't be eligible, what with me living on the wrong side of the pond (and never having driven on the left side of the road), but it would still be interesting to see. Wouldn't it?

Monday, December 22, 2008

The House Bunny Hops its way Right Past My Heart

The story of the ugly duckling that eventually becomes a beautiful swan is one that Hollywood tells over and over again with varying results.  As such stories go, the recent Anna Faris comedy, The House Bunny, falls somewhere short of satisfying, but not in the complete disaster range. As a social commentary the film is far closer to disaster.

In the film, Faris plays Shelley Darlingson, a Playboy Bunny who has never made Playmate of the Month.  Following Shelley's 27th birthday (which is 59, we're told, in "Bunny years"), she is summarily dismissed from the Playboy Mansion.  Somehow, someway she manages to find herself at a local college and gets hired as a housemother for a down-and-out sorority.

On their last legs, the girls of Zeta Alpha Zeta are sorority misfits.  They are led by Natalie (Emma Stone), and while they all seem to like the notion of service and helping the community, they subscribe to none of the other common sorority tropes.  Enter Shelley, who teaches them all about dressing sexier, wearing makeup, attracting boys - the sort of frivolities one would expect from a Playboy Bunny.

Part Revenge of the Nerds, part Can't Buy Me Love, part umpteen other films you've seen before, The House Bunny offers little, if anything, new and different.  It's not a bad film for being an amalgam of several others, but it certainly does fail to stand out. 

Faris is funny as Shelley, but even after her final transformation in which she allegedly has grown into a new, different, better person does the audience really get the sense that anything is different about her.  There is never really any sort of doubt in the audience's mind that she will end up with Colin Hanks' affable, boring, love-interest character, Oliver. 

Of course, what is most concerning about the film is not its predictability; not it's been-there, done-that sensibility; not even its inability to create any single new joke. No, what's most concerning about the film is its incredibly negative stereotype of women.  Natalie, Harmony (Katharine McPhee), Mona (Kat Dennings), and Joanne (Rumer Willis) are all at least initially hesitant of Shelley giving them a makeover, but they soon give in and turn off their brains with reckless abandon.  Mona, the most hesitant, headstrong, and feminist of the girls, give in just like the rest. She seems utterly thrilled with the notion that boys might talk to her (despite her pretending to be above such things).

By the end of the film, the girls of Zeta and Shelley are able to find a happy medium between smart, unattractive, and unpopular, and ditzy, attractive, and popular, but it's all rather simplistic and an odd set of choices to force the girls to make.  Additionally, it is the character of Mona who should be telling them the entire time that they don't have to dress sexy and flirt ostentatiously to be popular, but she gives in.  That fact by itself seems to make the film's entire message that feminism and attracting boys are mutually exclusive and that even the most staunch of feminists would rather have a boyfriend than stick to her ideals.  It is, at best, a very uncomfortable message to send (I don't want to enter into a discussion of what it represents at worst, but it's not pretty). 

In the face of such a criticism some will unquestionably suggest that the film isn't trying to enter into such a discussion, that the film is trying to be nothing more, or less, than a perfectly innocent (rather chaste, when one considers the Playboy Bunny aspect) film.  That may be true, but it does enter into the discussion nonetheless, and once the discussion has begun, the film's problems become all too apparent.

The Blu-ray release of The House Bunny contains an assortment of deleted scenes and several short behind-the-scenes featurettes.  The special features all appear in high definition, but never really get beyond the usual superficial promotional sort of piece.  This is particularly true when the focus of the featurettes is on the women of The Girls Next Door, a series about three Playboy Bunnies who also have bit parts in the film. 

In high definition, the comedy is bright and colorful with the copious amounts of pink really popping off the screen.  As this is a light comedy, the TrueHD 5.1 channel mix only gets a few scenes to really show itself off, including a few party scenes and some good sound effects when the door to Shelley's beater of a car has its door opened or closed. 

The House Bunny certainly looks and sounds great on Blu-ray, but unfortunately there just isn't much there beyond that.  As a comedy it is perfectly mundane, but its discussion of gender and gender relations is more than a little distressing.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The 3rd Annual National Forget Your Family, Love Your Television Day

I can't tell you my excitement. I am overjoyed, I am overwhelmed. I am astounded, I am flabbergasted. I am shocked and pleased. This truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Oh, not for the reason you think, but it is.

You see, this Sunday is my holiday. I know, most of you figure that the real upcoming holiday is the 25th, and, you're right, that's a great one, but that's not my holiday. My holiday is this Sunday.

This Sunday (in case you didn't know -- and I think you did, I think you were just playing coy) is the 3rd Annual National Forget Your Family, Love Your Television Day. I'm giddy, I'm positively giddy.

You see, as I've explained in years past, you work hard. Every day. Every single day you work hard. Even in this economy. Forty hour work week? Yeah, in what world? You probably clock 50 to 60 hours a week at the office, then you come home, and as much as you love your family, as much as you want to spend time with them, there are just sometimes when you want to sit there in front of your television, relax, and enjoy yourself.

That's what the 3rd Annual National Forget Your Family, Love Your Television Day is all about. It's the one day that's socially acceptable for you to tune out your loved ones and tune in a great football game (Panthers vs. Giants in primetime in a battle for NFC supremacy), or Million Dollar Password, or the New Orleans Bowl, or any number of shows that you have sitting there on your TiVo that you haven't had the chance to watch yet.

National Forget Your Family, Love Your Television Day is, contrary to what our critics believe, not about shutting out your family. National Forget Your Family, Love Your Television Day is about taking a few hours (24 to be specific) for yourself so that you're more relaxed and prepared to deal with your life (and your family is a part of that life) come Monday morning.

I'm really excited that this holiday has been brought back for a third go-round. I quite honestly believe that the holiday does a lot of good. Let other people wrap presents for a day, let other people fix dinner for once. Take a few hours for yourself. You deserve it, your family deserves it.

Our lives are filled with so much clutter, so much junk, so much useless, wasted time. Everything is packed together, you run from one thing to the next never able to stop and smell the roses.

No, smell-o-vision hasn't been perfected yet, but I promise you, you sit there in front of a 50-inch plasma, pop-in your latest, greatest, Blu-ray (or the Giants game, I'm going to watch the Giants game), pump up the volume, and blow the clutter right out the window.

The 3rd Annual National Forget Your Family, Love Your Television Day is this Sunday, December 21st. This is not just a Hallmark holiday. Go out and celebrate… check that, stay in and celebrate!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

If Pushing Daisies Has Pushed its Last Daisy are we Satisfied?

Pushing Daisies may just have pushed its last daisy. As we've discussed, the show was incredibly popular with a small segment of the population but it now seems to be gone from our TV screens… possibly. You see, they filmed 13 episodes this season and last night episode 10 aired, and future episodes aren't quite yet scheduled. The real questions now are whether those episodes will air, and if they even have to.

The first question I don't really have an answer for. Quite obviously, as a fan of the series, I'd love for them to air. I want to know what happened. However, last night's episode definitely had a sense of closure about it. Not complete closure mind you, but closure.

In what felt like a very tacked-on, odd second-to-last scene, Ned swore off touching dead things. I imagine that The Pie Hole will be a whole let less profitable now that Ned has to buy fresh food instead of being able to buy old, slightly decrepit ones. Despite eating into the bottom line, that's pretty much an ending.

But, as an ending, it's kind of a bad one. It had, as I said, a very tacked-on feel. Consequently, it was less than satisfying. On the upside though, that scene was the second to last scene, not the last one. The last one featured our narrator telling us that it wasn't Chuck's dad but Ned's who saved Ned and Olive's lives. Plus, that last scene showed us that Ned's dad (played by the almost always fun George Hamilton) was sitting right there in The Pie Hole with a slice of deliciousness (okay, I don't remember if he had pie, but how could anyone go to The Pie Hole and not get pie?).

See, that's an ending. It's not a tidy, picture-perfect, airbrushed beautiful one, but it's an ending. Actually, I would characterize it as a real-life beautiful one and all the more perfect for that reason. There's Ned's dad, the man who abandoned Ned, sitting right there in Ned's pie establishment after saving Ned's life. That's nice. That's sweet. That's a good place for the show to finish up.

Now, before you shout and yell at me, there were definitely other moments left untidied, and other things that I'd like to get answers to before the series disappears from our radar once and for all. Most prominent among those questions is that of the watches and why they were so important to Dwight Dixon and, who knows, perhaps Charles Charles too. Seriously, there's a story there. There has to be a story there, and I want to know what the story there is. And, no, I don't want to have to read it in a comic book.

I do wonder though, I do. I wonder whether even if the series ever airs those final three episodes if that question, and one or two more that I have lingering (like if there's a "CC" and a "DD" watch if there are also "AA" and "BB" ones), will be answered. I wonder if, should those episodes air, the ending they deliver will be as good, as satisfactory, as the one we have. Oh, I still want to see them, but that doesn't mean that it'll be nearly as good as what we have.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Another Look at Leverage

Last week I wrote a review of TNT's new drama, Leverage. It was, on the whole, a positive review, but I did note a few concerns. Chief among those was that the twists weren't really twisty, they were all a little obvious. Even so, I figured that the characters were interesting enough, the humor clever enough, and, as previously pointed out, I'm a fan of Timothy Hutton.

Last night I watched the third episode, and my opinion pretty much remains the same, only, perhaps, more resolutely so. It's clever enough to be enjoyable, but the twist was still pretty obvious.

That's okay, it really is.

It's okay because of just how fun the characters are, because of just how good the dynamic between everyone is. As an example, take a look at last night's "briefing" for the mission. In the middle of Alec's delivering his presentation about the horse, trainer, and investor in question, Parker asks to be let out of the mission. Why? Because, as she says "I once saw a horse kill a clown." Definitely weird, but Parker is weird, that's her thing. The show then explains exactly what happened, it flashes back to Parker's past and her witnessing (at a party) a man in a horse outfit killing a clown. And that, my friends, is just one of the reasons that Parker is weird, you'd be weird too if your childhood was filled with horse killing clown moments. You know you would.

The other element I really liked about the episode was the introduction of Jim Sterling, a man doing Nathan Ford's old job with, quite possibly, fewer scruples than Nate. Sterling was described last night as sort of an evil version of Ford, and that's just the sort of perfect nemesis the show really needs. Our doppelganger doesn't need to appear in every episode, but if he pops up every so often to confuse the issue, sometimes work with our team and sometimes against them, it should work really well.

Any good guys versus bad guys-type show seems to do a nemesis thing eventually, and very often it's those nemesis stories that are the most remembered. Frankly, even comedies often resort to recurring nemesis storylines – think Sideshow Bob, Gary's Old Towne Tavern, and Newman – with great success. Who is MacGyver without Murdock? Who is Mulder without the Cancer Man? If you setup a great hero, there needs to be a great villain on the opposite end of the spectrum. It's just one of those rules, and if it hasn't yet been codified, I'm doing so now. Done. Consider it codified.

What I'm not saying is that Sterling is the Leverage team's nemesis, just that he stands out as a potential one and was introduced with all the necessary characteristics of a nemesis. An evil Nathan Ford, it's like introducing the bad guy in Clear and Present Danger as "a Latin Jack Ryan," there's a pretty good indication of where things are headed.

Lastly, the third episode of Leverage was far less preachy than the second, which was a distinct concern of mine. A little bit of preachiness is okay, and if the show does a "message" episode every once in a while I'm fine with that, but I'm really happy to see that it's not going to be an every episode thing.

So, I still don't find the show perfect, but it is all still headed in the right direction, and with good shows disappearing left and right, that's like a holiday dream come true.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My Own Worst Enemy Goes Out with a Whimper

I'm seeing this as something like finale week. Heroes aired its final episode of "Volume Three" last night, My Own Worst Enemy put out its last episode, and Pushing Daisies is doing its finale on Wednesday night. While I imagine that Pushing Daisies will make me sad, I definitely didn't feel that way about My Own Worst Enemy.

I really liked My Own Worst Enemy when it began, but after the cancellation was announced, a couple of things have become more apparent to me -- while the overarching story was interesting, the single-episode ones weren't, not at all. They were all pretty much the same, and, worse than that, all too often they resorted to dropping the viewer into the middle of an action scene at the start of the piece only to flashback to how we got there later. That's a perfectly good device to use every once in a while, but can get old really fast.

Beyond that, I could forgive the basic single episode stories being the same if they were vaguely interesting, but they weren't. By last night's episode the show only had two things going for it: the Henry/Edward story and the Tom/Raymond one. The Henry/Edward one wasn't really advancing though – they both just wanted things to go back to how they were before. It was still interesting, and it was the only reason I kept watching the show once the cancellation was announced, but until last night the dynamic had remained unchanged for several episodes.

In the end, it was the Tom/Raymond dynamic, the struggles in Tom's personal life (created entirely by Raymond's superspy ways), which made for the most compelling storyline. Even last night, in the show's final episode, an episode which had Edward and company work out a way to solve the personality switches among Henry/Edward, where the Tom/Raymond story proved more compelling. Learning about Raymond's past, his reasons for joining Janus, his trying to mop up past problems and settle down Tom's life was great. We may have learned about where Edward came from over the course of the series, we definitely found out bits and pieces of his family history, but he never really felt as three-dimensional as the Tom/Raymond character, and that's even without us having known anything about Tom/Raymond's background until last night.

I really enjoyed My Own Worst Enemy when it began, I thought it was new and different and fun. Frankly, I stand by that sentiment. The basic problem that I ended up having with the show is that what was new and different in the first few episodes quickly became dated.

I'm very curious about how many episodes the show had filmed prior to finding out about the cancellation. It definitely appeared as though last night's episode was filmed knowing it would be the show's last (at least the final scene of the episode was), but I'm not quite sure about previous episode. I wonder if the writers had other ideas for where to take the story but ended up not using them knowing that things were winding down, or if they didn't have that many big ideas once the initial problem was set forth.

That's one of those things I'll probably never get an answer to. That's okay, though. I'm probably better off not knowing. The answer would probably be far too disappointing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Return to the Sea with The Little Mermaid II? Pass

Perhaps more than any other film studio, Disney has mastered the creation of sequels.  Some go direct to video and some receive theatrical release, but the studio always seems to have yet another story to tell about some of their most beloved characters.  To be sure, not all the stories are told well, but one certainly has to admire the studio's tenacity (the cynical would refer to it solely as a desire to make a quick buck, but I am not among that group).  One of Disney's myriad of sequels, The Little Mermaid II:  Return to the Sea is being rereleased on DVD this week as a "Special Edition."

Little Mermaid II, while having Ariel in it, mainly focuses on Ariel and Eric's daughter, Melody.  The film begins with Ariel and Eric taking an infant Melody to the sea so that Ariel's father, King Triton, can meet his granddaughter.  The reunion is quickly spoiled by Ursula's "crazy sister" Morgana, who is out to get Triton's trident, take over the oceans, and succeed where her sister failed.  As Ursula pegged all of her hopes on Ariel, Morgana chooses to use Melody in her scheme, attempting to kidnap the baby and trade her for the trident.

Morgana fails, but the attempt leaves Ariel concerned for the safety of her daughter.  Ariel tells her father that as long as Morgana is around, neither she nor Melody will be visiting the sea anymore.  Ariel goes so far as to have a wall built between the sea and Eric's kingdom and even hides from Melody the truth about her family background.

The story does a good job about showing the similarities between Ariel and her daughter, as Melody grows into a teenager, she, much like Ariel before her, disobeys her parents and heads to the once place that make her happy.  In Ariel's case it was the land, in Melody's the sea.  Melody, as Ariel did, hides her visits from her parents, fearing that her mom won't understand.  One big fight later however, Melody finds herself out alone on the sea where she meets up with Morgana who is, after all these years, still after Triton's trident.  Unaware of her own history or Morgana's, Melody is fooled into making a bargain with the evil sea witch, one which she soon regrets.

As this is a Disney film, everything works out in the end, but not before new animal pals are introduced, songs are sung, and everyone learns greater truths about who they are and the world around them.  It's all very pat, all very obvious, and all very boring.  There is never any real sense of danger about Morgana, and every viewer that is teenaged or older will become incredibly frustrated at Ariel, her father, and Eric for their blind stupidity at letting events unravel much as they did in the original film. Where the original film was fun for young and old alike, this sequel seems to be directed solely at younger viewers.

All too often, the plot is filled with too many flaws and logic gaps, there are simply too many instances when crisis could, and should, have been averted.  Melody's new animal pals, Tip and Dash, feel like little more than cheap knockoffs of Timon and Pumbaa.  And, where the music in the first movie stayed with one long after the film ended, here one can't wait for it to be forgotten (a task which won't take very long).

Perhaps though the most disappointing aspect of the film is the animation itself.  In most scenes in the film the characters have the oddest highlights on the top of their heads.  They are, perhaps, supposed to be there to acknowledge where light is striking them, but the highlights don't seem to alter at all when the characters move their heads.  Where the original film had fantastic backgrounds and settings, the ones here feel all too flat, and there are even a few scenes where everything on screen, even the main characters, seem to simply be drawings on a piece of paper (one can almost see the paper itself).  Of course, they are nothing but drawings (even if they're not drawn on paper), but they still ought to appear as though they are more.  The animation is far more what one would expect on a Saturday morning cartoon than from a feature length film.

This new DVD release is not without special features.  Chief among these are a deleted song from the film, some brief interactive games, and a "storybook" of the film that can either be read by Jodi Benson (the voice of Ariel) or by the viewer.  While the storybook is the most cute, and may encourage children enthralled by the film to try their hand at reading, none of the extras however are really terribly enjoyable or interesting. 

Perhaps the reason The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea is so disappointing is because Disney has regularly produced better sequels, even direct-to-video ones, than it.  I don't doubt that the creative minds at Disney have more stories to tell about Ariel (indeed there are more than two films featuring the mermaid), they simply need to be presented better.  It was The Little Mermaid that helped launch a resurgence in Disney animation, a new "golden age," it is a pity to see that resurgence lead to such a poor sequel.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Happy Days are Here Again - I'm NOT Dwight Schrute!

Today, I'd like to tell you a story, a true story.  The day before Thanksgiving I was at Costco.  In a woman's cart nearby I saw a Wii Fit.  My wife (trust me it was all her) was desperate to find out where in Costco the Wii Fits were hidden, after all we were standing in the video-game section and there were certainly none there.  The nice lady informed us and I ran off like a mad man, not wanting them to disappear before I got to them.

It took a few minutes of searching, but I found them – someone at Costco figured that it was a good idea to put them past where people actually pay for things (I'm sure there was a logic to it, but even thinking back on it I don't know what it was).  I was at that moment faced with a choice.  In front of me were no fewer than two dozen Wii Fits.  Costco was charging a mere $70 for them, and a quick check of eBay (via iPhone) indicated that a new Wii Fit was going for $125 (Amazon was sold out too).  If I were to buy several I could sell them online and more than pay for my own. 

I quickly grabbed a Wii Fit and stood there contemplating how wrong it might be to grab all two dozen remaining Fits and sell them at a massive profit (it was essential to grab one just in case I was stampeded when others realized where the Fits were).  In the end I opted not to buy more than one Wii Fit.  Sure there was a lot of money to be made, sure there was nothing really illegal about getting and reselling the Wii Fits (perhaps some taxes would have to be paid), but it just didn't feel like the right thing to do.  It wasn't the Christmas Spirit (it may have only been the day before Thanksgiving but I like to get into the spirit of the season early).

Last night, I realized that I made the right decision, or, as Bill Cosby said "I told you that story so I could tell you this one."  On The Office, Dwight bought a ton of Princess Unicorn dolls knowing that they were the hot gift of the season and then sold them to people who simply had to get one for their child for the holidays.

A little bit less than two years ago I was all worried that I was Dwight Schrute.  Tonight proved that I'm not!  Happy days are here again!  My not being the Wii Fits means that I'm not Dwight Schrute!  If I were Dwight I would have bought the Wii Fits; I would have made a small fortune; I could have paid for every Christmas gift I had to buy this season and more.  But, I didn't do it. I stepped back from the brink; I stared into the abyss and turned back.  I won.

Sure, I know that the most fun way to kill a zombie is by stabbing it in the brain with a stick, but that's more of a universal truth than a Schrute-ism.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Disappointment About the Impending Pushing Daisies Finale

Pushing Daisies' all too brief existence is drawing to a close, and as I watch these last few episodes I find myself distressed.  That was too be expected, I've enjoyed the show, but the reason that I'm distressed is less because of all the good stuff that has happened on the show, but because I see so many more possible storylines.  I see new directions that the show has suggested could be explored and other ones that have only been hinted at.  We're not going to get those stories.

To explain it another way, I was upset when Seinfeld went off the air.  I was upset because, for years on end, I had watched the show on Thursday nights.  The characters and their stories were things I had grown up with, to this day they very much shape my perception of certain aspects of life.  I can't wait for a table at a Chinese restaurant without thinking about the show, any time I hear about a silly move the Yankees have made I wonder if George Costanza was behind it.  I can't sit in a diner and not think about the show, contemplate the elderly in Florida, or park at a mall. 

Pushing Daisies hasn't affected me like that.  It hasn't caused me to look at pie in a way that I never have before, it hasn't caused me to see a grave and wonder if I could touch the person in it and bring them back to life.  Perhaps that's why the show isn't the success that Seinfeld was.  But, let's face it, the shows are very different and to compare them in such a way is unfair, it's also not where I was going. 

The more general point – and the one I was trying to make –  is that some shows distress me when they go away because it feels like I've lost a set of friends, other shows distress me when they go off the air because there is so much potential that goes unrealized. 

Frankly, the person I'll miss most of all is Kristin Chenoweth.  Not only is the character of Olive developing far more this season than any of the others on the show, but Chenoweth herself is fantastic.  She's gotten chances (small ones) to sing in the past two episodes and a few others this season.  Chenoweth, I'm sure, will appear in more films and other television shows (this wasn't her first TV role, it won't be her last), but I'm just not sure I want to wait for that next opportunity to come around and I don't live in New York anymore so I can't just head to the TKTS booth and buy tickets to her latest Broadway show. 

Olive Snook has just officially gotten in on the detective game in the past few and it's been one of the best things to happen to the show this season.  She's always been a curious character, she's always been trying to find out other people's secrets and is very interested in what's going on around her, but in the last two episodes she's actually been recruited (or forced her way in) to help solve the cases.  I think the reason that I like the change is that it has made her more central to the show, but that will soon all come to an end. 

It makes me sad, I wonder where Olive Snook would have ended up three years from now.  Perhaps she would have been denied soup for her incorrect ordering technique, I would have loved to have seen that.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jay Leno and NBC Have a Plan (But is it a Good One?)

I fully understand I'm a day behind the news cycle here, but then again, this isn't a news piece, it's an opinion one. 

On Monday it was rumored, and on Tuesday it was made official, NBC will be handing Jay Leno at some point in the future (most likely the beginning of the next television season) an hour of primetime five nights a week, Monday thru Friday. This new show will, apparently, look a lot like The Tonight Show, there will be a monologue and some of his usual comedy bits, plus guests.  Leno was already scheduled to give up his slot as host of The Tonight Show at the end of the traditional season with Conan taking his spot.

There had been rumors that Leno was headed to ABC or, perhaps, FOX to launch a Tonight Show-esque program for them.  The NBC deal prevents that from taking place, so, on some level this new agreement makes some sense for the network.  However, the more I think about it, the less sense I think the deal makes.

I'm not talking about financially, at least not in the short term.  Talk shows like Leno's cost far less than traditional scripted reality shows, so even if the show doesn't do great numbers far less will be spent producing it.  Thus, even if the amount that can be charged for advertising each 30 second spot is a little less, the costs of producing it are small enough that slightly less advertising revenue doesn't hurt the bottom line.  Plus, if Leno does roughly the same number of hours of primetime that he did in late night NBC will have more original programming at 10pm than they could hope for.

As has been well noted, NBC hasn't exactly been a ratings success this year, all the networks seem to be down year-to-year, but NBC has been hurting more than the rest.  This move means that NBC will have to come up with a whole lot fewer shows than they otherwise would.  The optimist would look at the situation and figure that NBC can now put a whole more effort into developing successful programming.  That could, quite possibly, be the case. 

Call me a pessimist, but that's not how I see this move.  I see this move as NBC putting up a big old white flag.  To me it seems that NBC is saying that they can't figure out how to program three hours a night of primetime six days a week, and four hours on Sunday, and that's with them airing almost entirely repeats on Saturday and football in primetime on Sundays for about 17 weeks a year.  Effectively, NBC really only has to program five nights, 15 hours, a week for almost half the season, and they're saying that they can't quite figure out how to get that done.

The optimist would tell me that I'm being foolish, that what NBC is doing is, potentially, genius. The optimist might say that what NBC is doing is looking to the future, that they're doing something incredibly forward-looking that is going to help "save" network television in this age of cable, DVRs, and an ever-fracturing audience.

I tend to think that while it might be a success initially, NBC very well may find themselves in the same position ABC did when it aired Who Wants to be a Millionaire several times a week many years ago.  A show that was once seen as the savior of a network only led that network to an even larger slump when people decided that they didn't want to see Millionaire quite that often.

NBC needs to have a back-up plan.  They need to have a whole lot of shows in the hopper and ready to go if this scheme of theirs doesn't work, but they also need to throw a lot of money at convincing the television viewing public that their idea is a good one.  That's a lot of work for a network that has a pretty poor track record these past few seasons.  I'm not saying they can't do it, but it's not an easy task.

It is, unquestionably true that you can't win if you don't play, and NBC is definitely playing here.  The only problem may be that they're trying to draw to an inside straight and they're playing with a whole lot of cash on the table. 

Whatever happens, whether it's a success or a failure, it's certainly a fascinating attempt and I very much look forward to seeing it play out.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Top Gear Maintains Top Form

Last night Boston Legal finished its five-season (okay, four and a half season) run. The finale was touching, poignant, funny, and perfectly Boston Legal. It was a great way for the show to go out.

But, I don't want to talk of endings (I also don't want to talk about Hiro handing his mom pancakes and calling them waffles, even though it disturbed me). I'd much rather talk of last night's new beginnings. Last night the newest season of Top Gear started. Forget good times, the show is a bunch of great times all strung together.

It's possible that I found the show so wonderfully amusing because I didn't start watching it until well after midnight, was moderately exhausted, and on a sugar high from some pretty swell cheesecake. But, whatever the reason, I found myself laughing until my stomach hurt. That could have been partially a result of the cheesecake, but I think it was mainly due to Top Gear.

The premiere found our three heroes looking at fuel economy and trying to come up with less expensive solutions for British police cars. The fuel economy stuff was less impressive; it proved that the Prius is not a great car fuel economy-wise when driven at top speed. I don't think anyone would be greatly surprised by that, but Clarkson, Hammond, and May did point out the all-important truth that fuel economy is highly dependent on what sort of driving you're doing. The Prius isn't meant for driving at top speeds all the time, plus you'd have to be crazy if you were buying it in order to drive fast -- you can find a lot of cars that are a whole lot more fun than a Prius.

The real genius in the episode was the buying of old used cars and having the hosts try to alter them to be police car-worthy. Now, from the start of the endeavor it was obvious (as it always is) that there was no way the guys were going to succeed in their task; they rarely do.

The point, though, is not to see the hosts succeed; the point is to see them try to succeed. That's where the humor lies. Oh, don't get me wrong, they may not succeed, but it would be hugely wrong to call them failures either. They're not failures; they don't succeed because (if you ask me) they're not given the tools to succeed. They're given little money, less time, and (I'm convinced) they're encouraged to be foolish and over the top. They take their jobs seriously, but they don't necessarily take seriously the task at hand.

The guys have fun with everything they do, and their having fun doing the various tasks their assigned translates to the viewers having fun watching the tasks. As an example, in trying to build their police cars, James May decided to have nozzles on the back of his car that could shoot paint onto the windshield of a car behind him and thereby disable that car. Very James Bond-like, very cool, very fun. Of course, as "Q" could have told James May, if the paint doesn't dry instantly it's kind of worthless as a little windshield wiper fluid would wash it off. The show didn't bother to point out that obvious flaw until May deployed his paint spray and the Stig, in the trailing car, turned on his windshield wipers and washed off the paint.

It didn't take the Stig more than three seconds to figure out how to fend off May's paint, and I'm sure that folks overseeing the installation of the spray paint jets knew it was doomed to failure when they were working on it. But to have stopped May from putting in the jets would have been to destroy the fun of the show.

The show may have said that the task was building a better, cheaper, police car, but it wasn't, as with everything Top Gear does, the task was amusing the audience.

Mission accomplished.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Going After Lynette Scavo or her Family Just Doesn't Seem Like a Good Plan...

It seems to me that of all the people on Wisteria Lane, the one you most don't want to mess with is Lynette Scavo, she will eat you (and your children) alive.  Why then, I must ask, did Dave think it a good idea to tell the police the Porter started the fire?  Dave may be out for revenge and all, but not against the Scavos.  I get that Porter was an easy mark which was why Dave implicated Porter and threw the suspicion as far from himself as he could, but surely he knows that such a move is only a temporary solution, yes?

I guess that it's possible that Dave figures that he'll be able to deliver whatever sort of vengeance he has planned for Mike prior to his getting caught lying about Porter, but it still seems like an ill-conceived plan.  The police, at the time he implicated Porter, didn't even have Dave on their radar, except as a hero.  Handing up Porter as a suspect can only serve to shine the light more on himself.

Plus, like I said above, Lynette is the person you want to antagonize the least on Wisteria Lane.  Attacking that woman's family is just asking to wake up one morning to find your favorite horse's bloody head in your bed.  If she figures out Dave finger Porter for a crime he committed she is going to destroy him.  I can't believe Dave doesn't know that, which again leads me back to his figuring that whatever he's going to do to Mike he plans on doing quickly (and that Dave doesn't care what happens to him once is revenge has been exacted). 

Only two other things really caught my eye yesterday (no pun intended).  First off, Carlos gaining his sight back.  I think it was a good move for the show to not drag out the blindness plot.  There was no way they were going to leave him blind forever, so having his sight come back sooner rather than later seems like a good move.

Second, that bit where Susan mocked Katherine's age and looks.  It's true that Teri Hatcher is about 8 years younger than Dana Delany (Hatcher is actually celebrating her 44th birthday today), but if I was forced to choose between the two women, I wouldn't be going with the one-time Bond girl (though her having been a Bond girl helps her standing).

Okay, to be serious for a minute, I really don't want to belabor the point, but does Katherine really look that much older and/or worse than Susan?  I don't think so.  The line and moment felt really out of place.  Susan is jealous, I understand that, but hitting Katherine on her looks wouldn't be where I would attack her, especially were I Susan and if I had great dirt on her from her old Wisteria Lane life.

But, that's really only going to be a short-term spat, no matter the insults tossed around, and consequently I find myself (like with Carlos's blindness) hoping they resolve it before too long.  The housewives are definitely better when they're taking on outsiders than fighting internally. 

Sunday, December 07, 2008

TNT Finds Some Leverage with Timothy Hutton

Watch enough television or go to enough movies and you get an affection for various actors, actresses, directors, etc.  One of the actors I've come to really enjoy watching through the years is Timothy Hutton.  Hutton originally came to prominence almost 30 years ago for his portrayal of Conrad Jarrett in Robert Redford's Ordinary People.  The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards and took home four, including one for Hutton as Best Actor in a Supporting Role.  Since then, Hutton has worked steadily in both film and television.  His latest role is as Nathan Ford, the lead character, in TNT's newest original drama series Leverage.

Premiering Sunday December 7 at 10pm, Leverage is the story of a good guy, Ford, who has spent much his career working for an insurance company, solving thefts and thereby saving the company millions of dollars.  However, prior to the start of this series, that job has ended, the insurance company refused to pay for Ford's son's medical treatment, causing Ford to lose his family.  He is, understandably, angry, upset, and in a bad place. 

Enter Victor Dubenich (Saul Rubinek).  Dubenich is a high-powered executive at an airplane manufacturer and is desperate to recover plans for a plane from a competitor.  He convinces Ford to lead a team of thieves in the recovery of the plans (which will have the added effect of hurting the insurance company Ford worked for).  Initially apprehensive, Ford is convinced that by doing something illegal he'll actually be doing something good and takes the job.

Working with Ford is a motley crew of thieves, all known for working solo missions.  Ford's got a tech expert and resident comedian, Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge); a thief who not only doesn't play by societal conventions but seems to wholly not understand them, Parker (Beth Riesgraf); muscle with a softer side, Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane); and an actress who can only act while committing a crime, Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman).  Each of them have their own personality quirks and their brief introductions in the premiere are one of the best bits of the show.  In the series it falls to Ford, as the planner, to control the disparate elements of the team, a job he handles with ease (but one could see that going downhill in the future).

Essentially, Leverage is a heist show, with the twist being that they're pulling heists to try and help people.  They still manage to squirrel away more than a little bit of cash for themselves, or, as they explain it when finding clients, they work on an "alternative revenue stream."  The group is a modern day Robin Hood-style gang, if Robin Hood's gang had put away millions for themselves.

While the first two episodes of the series are indeed fun, there is little in them that the audience won't have seen before.  The humor may be a bit more wry, and the technology slightly more updated than in other shows, the plot twists and reversals are all wholly expected.  Some of the elements are definitely clever but the "been there done that" aspect is a little disappointing.

What the show does have is an exceedingly fun cast, even discounting my personal like of Hutton.  Bellman, Kane, Riesgraf, and Hodge all make the most of their parts, moving between funny and deadly serious with ease.  Their disparate personalities and skills make for a good team, and the show is even able to put together relatively plausible reasoning for them to continue working together (well, as plausible as the idea behind the show is to begin with). 

The second episode of the series, "The Homecoming Job," which airs in the show's regularly scheduled timeslot of Tuesdays at 10, is moderately more moralistic in tone.  The episode opts to take shots both at politicians and private security contractors in the Middle East.  It remains to be if the series will be taking stances on the various issues of the day in the future.  Even though the stance that the show took wasn't terribly controversial the episode still felt slightly preachy.

The first two episodes of Leverage definitely show some promise for the series, but are not, in and of themselves, outstanding.  A lot of the reason for this is that, as stated above, the "twists" are all less than twisty.  The cast's amusingness does, to some extent make up for what the first two plots may lack, but not quite enough to fully offset the deficiencies. 

There is a lot to like in Leverage, hopefully as the season progresses the storylines will improve without losing some of the more fun aspects of the show.  The series begins Sunday December 7 at 10pm (following the third installment in The Librarian series) and thereafter will air Tuesdays at 10pm.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sweeney Todd May be the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, But Can He Sing?

Tim Burton is a visionary director. Looking at his body of work from the late 1980s through today, one gets a clear sense of his dark, humorous world view. Burton's films are filled with a sense of the fantastic, the supernatural, and the wondrous. The look of every frame of a Burton film feels as though it has been considered; everything is just where he wanted it to be, the light is perfect, and the colors exact (even if they have to be made exact in post). Unfortunately, there are times when one watches a Burton movie that it feels as though he has sacrificed story for look. Such is the case with the recently released to Blu-ray Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007).

Starring frequent Burton collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, the film has a screenplay by John Logan, working from the musical written by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler (though the story didn't originate there -- it has been adapted from a series of penny dreadfuls numerous times – or possibly some real life incidents, depending on whom you believe). Depp stars as Todd – real name Benjamin Barker – who has recently returned from Australia, where he spent years due to trumped-up legal charges. Todd now longs to get revenge on Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), the man who took away his life and his love, his wife Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly).

Upon returning to England, Todd learns from the woman currently living and working out of Todd's old home, Mrs. Lovett (Carter), that Lucy is dead and that Turpin is holding Todd's daughter, Johanna (Jayne Wisener). Todd, already slightly bent from his time in Australia and his missing his wife and child, quickly loses his tenuous grasp of societal conventions upon learning what has happened to his family. He once again takes up his former profession, that of a barber, but rather than simply providing a close shave, he begins to murder those who sit in his chair. Disposing of the bodies is the wonderful Mrs. Lovett, who grinds them up and puts them in her meat pies.

Awfully macabre stuff, but the musical, and to a lesser extent the film, still managed to find the humanity in Todd, casting him not as a repugnant murderer, but as a poor family man who has been tormented past the point of no return. Both the film and the musical also manage, though it may seem odd, to find humor in the goings-on. Mrs. Lovett's pies and machinations as well as Todd's rival Pirelli (played here by Sacha Baron Cohen) make what could be an absurdly dark tale into something slightly, but only slightly in the film, more lighthearted.

The recent Broadway revival of the musical, which started Michael Cerveris as Todd and Patti LuPone as Mrs. Lovett, was the immediate impetus for bringing forth a movie adaptation (though Burton had been toying with the idea for years). The musical was a pared down affair, with all of the actors and actresses playing instruments. It was quite the task, and it is easily understandable why Burton opted to not do such an interpretation of the work.

Perhaps, however, the main reason this film fails to work is its star, Johnny Depp. Depp has, in recent years, become a true box office star and has managed to move from commercial fare such as the Pirates of the Caribbean films to more art house movies like Finding Neverland with ease. Depp is, unarguably, a wonderful actor and usually a pleasure to watch on screen. However, as Sweeney Todd makes all too clear, he can't sing. Watching him attempt to do so during the film's nearly two hour runtime constantly reinforces that sad fact and makes one question why Burton chose him for the role. Some of the behind the scenes featurettes focus both on Depp's singing efforts and the collaboration in general, and all too often they seem like a case of "the lady doth protest too much," with Burton and producer Richard D. Zanuck talking about their initial trepidation over Depp singing which turned into pure bliss once they heard him. Only Depp acknowledges that perhaps, just perhaps, he is not up to the task.

Carter, however, is a joy to watch; she adds an incredible amount of humor and depth to the role. The rest of the cast too are up to their task, particularly Rickman who is, at turns, both befuddled and strong-minded as Judge Turpin. Equally fun to watch is Timothy Spall as Beadle, who is something of a villainous right-hand man to Turpin.

Unfortunately, with the lead being such a let down, little can be done to bolster the rest of the piece. Burton does try his best however, and the film, particularly in Blu-ray, looks visually stunning. Done mainly in dark hues (save the incredibly red splatters of blood), the film fits perfectly into the Burton pantheon. The film vividly depicts a small little corner of London, England. The set design, green screen work, and general mise en scène is not only fully realized, but appears spectacular on Blu-ray.

The extras included on the Blu-ray are nearly all done in HD, and explore not just behind-the-scenes goings-on for this particular version of the Todd story, but its antecedents as well. Depp, Burton, Zanuck, Carter, and others all get screen time as they discuss their experiences making the film. One of the more interesting featurettes is "Sweeney's London" which is a look at the historical time in London when the story takes place. It examines the different classes of people that lived in the city and the direction of society as a whole. As interesting as the background is, as is the case with so many featurettes on DVDs and Blu-ray, it (and the rest of the featurettes present) is certainly not worth purchasing the disc for.

In the end, there is much to like about Tim Burton's version of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The tale, the music, the design, and direction are all wonderful. It is a fully realized motion picture. It did, however, need someone who could sing in the lead. Even in this role, Depp exudes charisma and charm, but that's not quite enough to carry a musical lead.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Maybe I Have This Whole Fringe/X-Files Thing Backwards...

Last night I sat down and watched the new X-Files movie, the one that was in theaters for all of a week this summer before quickly disappearing from everyone's radar. I was sorely disappointed, massively disappointed, hugely disappointed. I completely understand why it didn't do that well and why the reviews weren't great either.

I do think, however, that the film was great in one respect -- it allowed me to really and truly enjoy last night's episode of Fringe. No, seriously, as I've said repeatedly, the two shows are inextricably linked together, and Fringe, for its entire brief run, has seemed like a poor clone of The X-Files. After seeing the second X-Files movie though, Fringe all of the sudden begins to look like what the summer's reboot of the original franchise could have been.

I think one of the main reasons that I stick with Fringe from week to week is one of the same reasons why I stuck with The X-Files back in the day -- the long-term, crazy conspiracy stuff. On both shows those elements are so completely over the top and yet dealt with in such a serious manner that they are shockingly fun. Not only are the conspiracy elements intriguing, but they're funny -- or, at the very least, the way the characters handle the situations are funny. This second X-Files movie didn't have that; it wasn't over-arching conspiracy-based, and unless I missed him, the Cancer Man (I'll always call him that and not the Cigarette Smoking Man) didn't even make an appearance. How do you try and reboot a franchise that thrived on its over-arching alien conspiracy stuff without doing alien conspiracy stuff?

The movie actually felt like some of the worst Star Trek movies, you know, the ones that ought to have just been a regular old episode (not even a double-episode), not a movie. The little things we were supposed to find funny with this new movie fell completely flat. Case in point: The X-Files theme playing when Mulder and Scully saw Bush's picture on the wall at the FBI office. I gather that the implication was that Bush's becoming President had some conspiracy elements behind it, but who cares? Why make that joke, what was the sense in it? It wasn't cute and it certainly wasn't clever. It strove to be both, but it failed… dismally.

So, I finished that movie, went directly to watching Fringe, and was just hugely impressed. I even found Walter amusing, and usually I just despise him. Massive Dynamic trying to bring back John Scott to get "the information" was hugely intriguing, and who doesn't like a good reference to the Fibonacci Sequence (okay, so I probably liked that because I recognized what the numbers were)? I did get the weirdest sense of déjà vu however with the going through the wall thing – I swear I just saw that in some other TV show or movie (with equally bad results for the participants).

Really, in the end, Fringe succeeded last night where The X-Files failed because Fringe kept its plot interesting and kept moving it forward; one just knows that all the story elements we saw last night are going to come back again later. The X-Files was a simple one-off thing (yes, there were some moments from the original series that informed it, but nothing hugely important); it was just another random bad guy doing random bad things for some random (never well-defined) reason.

I would love for The X-Files to exist as a movie franchise or even a new TV series (not that I'd place money on either happening), but if the only stories they have left to tell are ones like the one from this new movie, maybe it's better that they just go away quietly. It'll make me sad, but it might be better for everyone.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Heroes' Non-Death - When Throat-Slitting Isn't Enough

As I noted a few months ago in a discussion of the season premiere of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, I have a problem when writers write themselves into situations that they can't get out of without having one of their characters do something against that character's grain. When you're making a show about bad guys and good guys, there's a natural tendency to want the good guy to capture the bad guy; however, doing that means (obviously) that you're going to need a new bad guy on the show, and producers don’t necessarily want to introduce a new character when the old ones are working so well. Consequently, they write themselves into a corner. It's distressing.

It's also, reading that above paragraph, quite confusing if I don't use specifics, so let's take a look at last night's Heroes. HRG (Noah Bennet if you prefer, but I don't), the good guy, wants to take out Sylar, the bad guy. Sylar has terrorized HRG's family, done horrific things to HRG's daughter, and just been a generally bad dude. HRG, in addition to wanting to protect his little girl, actually gets paid to take out bad guys like Sylar, so he has a double-motivation in going after season one's Big Bad on a repeated basis.

Last night, HRG actually caught Sylar. Better than that, there was an eclipse, so Sylar was completely powerless. In a move showing that HRG isn't your 1950s-style good guy, but rather more of a modern day, dark, conflicted hero, rather than taking Sylar back to Primatech's jail, HRG just opted to slit Sylar's throat.

Oh sure, at first blush, that seemed like a perfectly reasonable action – Sylar being an immensely bad dude and all – but it wasn't. Sylar may not have had his powers at that exact moment, but we already knew that Bennet was betting on a return of powers to the superfolks – hence his suggesting that his daughter need not go to the hospital for a gunshot wound (he figured she'd be able to heal herself when her powers returned).

So, a simple throat-slitting wasn't really a reasonable action at all. It, thought of superficially, satisfied the audience's desire to see good triumph over evil, but really looking at the event it becomes clear that it was out of character for HRG to only slit Sylar's throat. There was no way that such a simple single injury would have kept Sylar down in the long term and HRG should have known that. In fact, I'd argue that if the writers had been true to HRG's character at that point they would have had him decapitate Sylar (always a sure-fire way to end a bad guy, provided the head and body are kept a large distance from one another).

However, the writers didn't do that. They tried, instead, to satisfy both the audience's desire to see the bad guy "get it" and a general desire to not have to introduce a new villain when the current one remains so popular (because, let's face it, Sylar is a guy you just love to hate). It simply didn't work. HRG is smarter than he acted last night; he knows far more about folks with superpowers (even when said superpowers are temporarily gone) than he demonstrated by only slitting Sylar's throat.

Admit it, if you were watching you knew that without a decapitation Sylar would be back before the episode's end and you were yelling at HRG to inflict a more permanent sort of death on the villain. It's okay, it doesn't show some sort of bloodlust on your part, just a deeper understanding of the world.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Nitpicking on Wisteria Lane

I'm a nitpicky person, I know that. I can single-handedly suck the fun out of any TV show -- all it takes is a stroke (or 20) on the keyboard. So, with that in mind, let's look at last night's Desperate Housewives.

First the good. I think the show is kind of on the right track this season; they're settling down and settling in to rather non-dramatic storylines. Okay, that may not sound like a good thing, but it is. The first season of the show was fantastic, but subsequent seasons all seemed to need to try and do everything bigger and better than the first one. It was a lofty goal, but one the show never achieved. Consequently, the seasons were all a little disappointing. Don't get me wrong, there was fun to be had, but never quite as much fun and there was always a sense to them that the producers thought the show should have been more than it was.

This season, I feel like the show has backed off the bigger and better. They've had some big moments (like the fire at the nightclub) and still have a big mystery (Edie's husband and his past), but they don't seem to be trying to top themselves. It's a tactic that works well for the show – just settle down, tell us the story and let us judge, don't get all breathless about the shenanigans, that doesn't inspire us to be breathless.

That's not to say that I'm entirely happy with what's going on, but my problems tend to be on the smaller side right now. They're things that bother me though, so I'm going to tell you all about them. You remember that scene last night where Susan went over to Katherine's to talk about Mike? As you may recall, there Katherine was, baking more macadamia nut cookies. Katherine had, prior to the scene's beginning, placed one batch of cookies onto a cooling rack. Row after row, the cookies were perfectly laid out. With the second batch of cookies, the ones we got to see her put out onto the cooling rack, she made a complete mess of them. She appeared to be taking her time and considering her actions, she was flustered by the conversation, but not enough to destroy her cookie concentration (nothing destroys the concentration of Martha Stewart-types when they're doing such a task). However, she just piled the cookies up into one big mess. There were no perfectly neat and organized rows, there was nothing about it that suggested anyone who had ever placed cookies onto a cooling rack before.

Sure, that's a little silly of me to pick on, but it bothered me. It took me out of the goings-on and made me consider Dana Delany (whom I really like as an actress) and not Katherine Mayfair. Katherine would have made sure those cookies were set to cool perfectly, Dana would just want them to cool. There's nothing wrong with Dana's want, but it's just not the same as Katherine's. It was a problem for me.

See? I can suck the fun out of a show just like that, so let me remind you that I'm actually not unhappy with this season (or even last night's episode), there are just some troublesome moments. But, there always are, aren't there?