Monday, December 15, 2008

TV Winter Clearinghouse

Been quiet on this site for a few weeks, because mainly...nothing much to write about. Most shows I love are either being cancelled (I'll miss you, "Pushing Daisies"!) or are otherwise going to bed until January.

But a man needs to write about TV from time to time, so here's what I can offer:

1) Speaking of "Pushing Daisies," the lone bright spot of that show wrapping up is that creator Bryan Fuller will be returning to his old stomping grounds at "Heroes." And what's more, he seems to know what the hell is wrong with that show (something about "it's focused on half-assed mythology, rather than characters people could give a shit about," or some craziness).

Now, granted, last year around this time, it seemed like series creator Tim Kring also understood where the show had gone wrong, but the difference this time is, Bryan Fuller is a good writer, and also not an idiot with a grudge against his show's fanbase. So it is possible I'll check out a few episodes of the upcoming arc when it returns next year. It's the least I owe Fuller for 23 episodes of "Pushing Daisies."

2) "Dexter's" third season finished off strong, pitting our hero the serial killer up against Jimmy Smits, a loose cannon who could've been his friend and maybe even his partner if he wasn't also a power-mad lunatic.

This show is at its best when it explores its recurrent theme of how grown men deal with absent father-figures. Last season ended with Dexter's feelings toward his foster father Harry (who had given him a strict "bad guys only" code through which to channel his murderous urges) colored by new information about Harry's indescretions. This one ended with him making peace with Harry's damaged reputation, as Dexter prepares to become a father himself.

Which is all great, but makes everything non-Dexter-related that much more of a chore. In the end, the only way to view Deb, Angel and Quinn's annoying stories is that they all tie into a "nobody's perfect, not even cops" theme, but man, that's stretching it. Hopefully next year they can finally figure out how to integrate the cop stories into the Dexter character arc. But it's been three seasons, so I'm not holding out hope.

Still, I am looking forward to next year.

3) So, "Leverage," huh? Yeah! No? Nobody watched it? Hm.

I watched TNT's new caper series for two reasons: 1) Showrunner John Rogers developed the lamented "Global Frequency" pilot, and 2) Timothy Hutton's cool. Hutton is an actor who really should get better material, and there are a few sparkling lines of dialogue (Hutton's casual threat to a man making overly-personal observations about him: "You know that part of the conversation where I punch you in the neck nine or ten times? We're coming up on that real soon!").

But ultimately...was anyone clamoring for a new "A-Team" series? I mean, it's okay, but when there's so many better shows on, and TNT usually blows their budget on a show's pilot, thus ensuring subsequent episodes will look pretty crappy...who has time for this?

4) Rather than try to come up with halfway decent shows to run at 10pm, NBC has decided to give Jay Leno a pre-late-night show, presumably to ease the transition into absurdist Conan O'Brien humor old folks just ain't ready for. Good for you, NBC. Because trying is just so damn difficult.

Granted, after all the effort you put into "Knight Rider," "My Own Worst Enemy," "Journeyman," "Raines," "Crusoe," "Kidnapped," "Studio 60,", we're really putting together quite a list here...okay, you sold me. Who wants to bother with anything new that costs more to produce than "Deal or No Deal"?

5) Okay, so all's quiet until January, when...holy jeebus. "24," "Lost," "Burn Notice," and "Flight of the Conchords" all return, along with premieres of potential curiosities like "Castle" (Nathan Fillion's new ABC show), "Kings" (NBC's 'David and Goliath' in modern times series with Ian McShane). You can forgive me my rest until then.

6) Okay, not exactly. I've been watching "24" from season 1 to view the series on the whole, a la the "Lost" retrospective I did during the summer. Now, apples and oranges, obviously, but it's still interesting to watch the show, knowing how it'll evolve over time (what with most of the cast being killed off and all). So: expect that.

(Also expect this site to move over to Wordpress at some point, because holy crap, can I not abide the shittiness of Blogger anymore.)

So that's it for I Speak TV until after the holidays.

Merry XMas! Ho Ho Ho!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"24": The Deadly Bauer Genes

I think the producers of "24" knew pretty early on in the series that Kim Bauer may be the most dangerous female alive. Not only is she a heady mix of stupid and self-absorbed, she's got Jack Bauer as a father – who tries to make up for his shoddy parenting by basically letting her do whatever she wants.

As a result, she Mister Magoo's her way through life, somehow surviving through sheer luck while, oh, say, Valencia, CA gets nuked.

So it's a testament to the character that in last night's pretty solid season-7 primer "24: Redemption," she can somehow kill a man while being thousands of miles away.

Let's backtrack: Jack's friend Benton steps on a landmine while trying to keep a young African boy from doing the same. Which he was about to do, because he wandered away from the rest of the group to go get a scarf that was snagged on a bush. This is a scarf he was allowed to keep by Jack. A scarf that Jack had bought with the intention of giving to his daughter. So: Because Jack bought Kim a gift, a good man died.

Despite being a continent away (and entirely off-screen), Kim Bauer Blew A Guy Up. If you ask me, out of all the messed-up things Jack Bauer's done (cutting off a guy's head, chopping off his partner's hand, shooting another partner in the throat, torturing his girlfriend's innocent ex-husband)…by fathering Kim Bauer, Jack may have doomed us all.

Which just goes to show you: Every atom of Jack Bauer is dangerous. Even - no, especially - his sperm.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"'Pushing Daisies"' Beautiful Corpse

(Written at Noon on 11/20)

“Did you hear ‘Pushing Daisies’ isn’t doing so hot in the ratings?”

“Boy, I hear that ‘Pushing Daisies’ is close to cancellation.”

“Hot dang, that there colorful show ‘bout the pie guy ain’t long for this world, do it?”

Yes, I know, everyone. I know. STOP TELLING ME, I KNOW!

And yet, oddly, I’m not too horrified.

I love “Pushing Daisies” unreasonably. It makes me laugh at puns. The more absurd it gets, the more gushily sweet it gets, the more it makes me smile. But if it doesn’t get picked up after its 13th second-season episode is complete, I won’t be mad. I’ll be bummed, and upset, but not mad.

I was mad when “Firefly” got cancelled, because it seemed to get shafted from the start. It never had a chance to be anything other than a cult hit.

I was mad when “Arrested Development” was cancelled because…well, looking back, I feel like it was part of a broader “red state, blue state” argument: “Nobody will watch ‘Arrested Development,’ but ‘According to Jim’ is still on the air?! THIS is why the country’s in the shitter!”

But if “Pushing Daisies” goes this year, I’ll understand why. It wasn’t for a lot of tastes. It’s not ABC’s fault – they promoted it heavily, they actually kept it on the same night, the same time, for two seasons. They made sure the season 1 DVD set was available before premiering season 2. They did everything right.

Usually when a show gets cancelled prematurely, it bugs me because like most fans, I get attached to the actors. For instance, I feel bad for 90% of the casts of “Buffy” and “Angel.” It’s just a fact of the acting profession that in most cases, the cast goes on to crap guest-starring roles or featured roles on inferior shows.

But most of the “Pushing Daisies” cast come from well-regarded Broadway careers, and that’s where they’ll go back. They’ll be okay.

The other sticking point with early-death on shows like this is there will almost certainly be unresolved storythreads. I’m not sure if they can take care of both the Ned’s Father and Emerson’s Daughter stories in the next seven episodes.

But even there, I’m covered. Bryan Fuller has said he’ll finish the story as a comic series if he can’t wrap it up on the show. And with the right publisher and artist (I’m thinking Oni Press), it’ll be a delightful package.

Frankly, if it goes now, the only bummer is we won’t get a full musical episode, and given the talents of the cast, that will be a real shame.

So if “Pushing Daisies” is a goner after 26 episodes, I’ll mourn it. But it’ll join “Arrested Development,” “Wonderfalls,” and “SportsNight” on my DVD shelf as another Beautiful Corpse series – killed long before it could decline in quality.

Which is not a bad way for a TV show to be remembered. Particularly one about a guy who can bring dead things back to bold, technicolor life.

(UPDATE, 8:55 PM: Well, damn it. Good thing I spent time writing this at work, huh? Anyway, I stand by it. I'm bummed, but not mad. If they don't bother airing the last seven episodes...THEN I'll be mad.

Okay, maybe I'm a little mad now. Just a little. I mean, really, ABC. You're cutting this one, but keeping "According to Jim," "Private Practice," and actually RENEWING "Scrubs"? What the HELL does Jim Belushi have on your executives, that he's proved so invincible?!)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tuesday Throwdown: "Fringe" Vs. "The Mentalist"

Last week’s “Fringe” featured an “Audrey II”-esque plant thing squeezing a man’s heart. What did last week’s “The Mentalist” have? Its lead character explaining the concept of a memory-tower to his co-workers.

You might be surprised which I found more interesting.

It’s all about the successful execution of a procedural. “The Mentalist” aspires to be nothing more than an engaging detective show, and as a result, everything it does above-and-beyond – things like character development, personality, and understated visual and tonal style – make it that much more impressive.

By contrast, “Fringe” seems to think it’s a lot better than it is. It’s so sure people get that it’s “not just” a mere procedural – by dropping increasingly annoying “Larger Forces At Work” hints and allusions to upcoming Stories To Be Told (including a rather smarmily-titled episode called “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones”) – that it seems to have ignored the fact that it has so far told basically the same story five or six times in a row now.

In fact, it seems a bit arrogant about that fact, having Lance Reddick irritably inform his subordinate that she’s always going to have more questions and basically, she should consider that just a part of the job, because she’ll know more when he’s ready to tell her.

This is the producers momentarily hijacking a character to tell viewers to stop whining about repetitive stories, and stop complaining that being deliberately obtuse isn’t the same as telling an engaging story. Because it’s all Part of The Bigger Plan, you see. And the producers erroneously assume we care about The Plan.

By now, viewers are extremely savvy to the precarious scaffolding that is “Big Picture Storytelling.” We’ve seen when it goes right: “The Wire,” and perhaps “Lost.” And we’ve seen when it goes wrong: “Heroes,” and off-seasons of “24.”

My advice to “Fringe” is to take up a page from “The Mentalist”: don’t worry about the Big Picture. It’s less important to viewers than you think. What viewers like is engaging weekly stories. If they actually build to something more, great. But it’s never the reason to watch a show.

Meanwhile, instilling a rigid “freak-of-the-week” format – to get viewers used to seeing weird crap by redoing the same story with minor variations each week, while also draping a larger picture – is actually a bit insulting to the viewer.

Unfortunately “Fringe’s” problems are wider-spread. While “The Mentalist” has a cast that starts with the beatific charismata of Simon West and is uniformly enjoyable overall, “Fringe” is kneecapped with the presence of Anna Torv and Jasika Nicole, two frankly terrible actresses in underwritten roles.

The worst part? Neither character is actually necessary for the main plots. And Anna Torv is the ostensible lead character!

(And for now we’re ignoring the patent silliness of the “science” involved in the stories. I don’t need it to actually be plausible. It’s helpful when it sounds plausible, but even that isn’t really necessary when you’ve got the amusingly loopy mad scientist explaining it. I only need it to sound interesting. Which is iffy from case to case.)

Anyway. Both “Fringe and “The Mentalist” have scored full-season orders, so I’ll follow each through until May, hoping from the best from each. But while “The Mentalist” has actually delivered more than expected each week, “Fringe” currently has quite an uphill climb.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

How To Make Fun of Our First Black President

Sure, there's been a lot of pansy-ass, lilly-livered-liberal outpouring of emotion over the election of Barack Obama to the highest office in the land (I just love that phrase - it's so "Dungeons and Dragons," and yet normal media folk use it all the time!). People all over the globe seem so beside themselves with enthusiasm over something as pedestrian as America's first black president.

Being that I'm an embittered political cynic, I wouldn't know anything about that enthusiasm. Ahem.

But now the real question remains: How Can American Comedians Make Fun of President Obama?

The question seems built on Fred Armisen's portrayal of the president-elect on "Saturday Night Live." Ignoring the whole "half-blackface-issue," the big problem seemed to be that Armisen's Obam isn't all that funny on its own.
These complaints seemed to ignore the fact that the featured Obama sketches were really just ways of making fun of John McCain (played by Darrell Hammond as a borderline psychotic). The joke only works if there's a straight-man - Obama - to respond to McCain's increasingly nonsensical deviations.

Now that SNL will have to develop skits exclusively featuring the Obama caricature, I offer this - and frankly, I'm disappointed I even have to say it, since it seems so frickin' obvious I can't believe any media concern has been spent on it.

In essence, it's "Barack Obama: Our First Superspy President."

How does Obama respond to every problem put in his path? Just like James Bond: by being cooler than cool about it. Even if the logical response is something closer to "Complete Freakout," Obama approaches problems like he's going to seduce it into submission.

This routine will easily cover the next few months, until Obama has actually shown what kind of president he'll get to be.

Something tells me no 007-president can smoove the economy into behaving...though it'd be nice to see Armisen-Obama try.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The CNN/Star Wars Connection: More Than Just James Earl Jones

Ahh, election day news coverage. The one time of year when The Daily Show/Colbert Report’s potent blend of absurdity and silly pomposity is somehow less funny than actual cable networks.

CNN and MSNBC seemed to be having a Star-Wars-Off.

There’s Wolf Blitzer, talking to a hologram of a correspondent. Why? Because CNN likes to imagine the future of news the only way they know how: through the lens of a child's imagination in the 1970's.

Wouldn’t it have been cheaper and less goofily bizarre to simply do a satellite interview like they do every other day of the year? Of course. But on Election Day, audiences expect something new. Something with "zazz."

Or something that’ll at least make audiences instinctively answer, “Obi-wan? D’ya think she means ‘Old Ben’ Kenobi?” to their TVs.

Not to be outdone, MSNBC stuck their people on a set that was made almost entirely out of CGI effects.

You know how the Star Wars prequels were kind of hard to watch, like, on a conceptual level? It was because your eyes were constantly telling your brain to pretend that something that simply wasn’t there was real and interacting with the actual humans standing in front of it?

You shouldn’t have that happening while trying to hear some election results.

And if you’re asking, “Well, what did Fox News have?”, the answer is: an existential crisis.

Monday, November 3, 2008

ISTV Special Report: Romance No Longer In The Air

Why is TV so against hurried coupling?

“How I Met Your Mother” and “The Office” have both plowed through their Big Relationship stories in record time, and it’s…well, it’s damn weird, and yet totally expected.

“How I Met Your Mother” walks an odd tight-rope balancing the audience’s expectations. There’s a frame of mind that thinks once lead character Ted meets the titular woman in question, the show’s over. That the series should end with the line, “…And that’s how I met your mother.”

Another line of thought is that the audience should actually get to know the mother, which would mean she could be introduced well before the show is over.

(This is the line of thought that, despite the best efforts of the creators to dissuade it, leads some conspiracy theorists – like, say, me – to conclude the mother is Wendy the Waitress, who’s been around since the start of the series.)

Still, the dismissal of Sarah Chalke’s character after a hurried wedding attempt felt like the writers realized they’d written themselves into a corner, and their breakup (by bringing in old flame Jason Jones) felt arbitrary and rushed. Ideally the breakup is a gateway to a larger story, just as Ted and Robin’s breakup at the end of season 2 informed Ted’s behavior during the strike-abbreviated season 3.

But the difference between the Robin break-up and this one is, we knew from the first episode how Ted and Robin’s relationship would go down. Teasing a wife for Ted and then backing off smacks of writers trying to stretch a story-arc past its expiration date. Not a big deal on this show, since the rest of the cast easily carries the weight – and Barney’s interest in Robin creates a slow-burning secondary romantic spirit – but it’s a weird thing for a sitcom to promote “Lost”-levels of continuity irritation.

Meanwhile, “The Office” had to figure out how to get rid of Holly, Michael Scott’s perfect girl (read: totally adorable dork). Now, I don’t believe this was a half-assed decision – they knew when they got Academy-Award nominee Amy Ryan that she probably had some other stuff coming up, job-wise (like, say, a Clint Eastwood movie).

But after a few episodes teasing the relationship and one of them actually getting together, Holly and Michael (due to her corporate-mandated transfer seven hours away) split quite suddenly (though narratively, it made total sense – Dunder-Mifflin clearly recalled the last time Michael dated within the company, so…probably a smart move on their part).

Nevertheless, it's the mark of a great show that they could not only create a character as absurd-yet-realistic as Michael Scott, but create a believable love-interest for him. So here's hoping that Holly will return at some point.

In the case of both shows, by removing the love interest, they've reset the clock on a part of their larger narratives. Dramas that do this are (often rightly) lambasted for this kind of reboot. But comedies have a little more leeway, and as said, both shows are pretty clever with their larger viewpoints.

So if you hear anyone complaining about "jumping the shark," I would advise an authoritative, ISTV Global Stronghold-sanctioned slap.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I Speak TV Couples Counseling II

(Continuing our advice column for the staggeringly dumb males featured in commercials.)

Dear, Guy who scopes out women on his cell phone during a coffee date with a lady-friend,

When she catches you taking pictures of girls on your cell phone, and then actually texts you to tell you, "Dude, WTF!" And you ask, "What? What?"

She may be willing to put up with a lot of your crap, and so you may be getting mixed signals. Allow us to answer to your question. Her answer to, "What? What?" is, "I'm thinking I should've dropped your inconsiderate, leering frat-boy ass months ago, that's what."

We hope this has been helpful.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

So getting down to brass tacks: what are we watching this fall?

Sunday: "Dexter" and "True Blood"
Monday: "How I Met Your Mother"
Tuesday: "House," "Fringe," and "The Mentalist"
Wednesday: "Pushing Daisies"
Thursday: "The Office" and "30 Rock"
Friday: "Life"

Let's take a couple posts to look at how my favorites are holding up, now that we're deeper into their new seasons.

Oh, goddamn it. We might be in trouble. As the A-story between Dexter and D.A. Jimmy Smits gets more complicated and interesting, we’re getting smacked in the face by the "Dexter" Curse: increasingly annoying B, C, and D stories.

B! Deb is being lured into a relationship with an informant and an internal affairs investigation against a new detective; C! Angel feels lonely; and D! LaGuerta’s got some case that ties in with D.A. Jimmy Smits. At least LaGuerta’s plot will likely come back to the A-plot, but man, do I not care about Angel’s Lonely Cop Life - and I like Angel!

The problem with “Dexter” as a series is that the only interesting thing about it is the lead character – any time the plot checks in on the supporting crew, it turns into, well, a mediocre cop show.

I thought they learned this in season two, when they tied Deb with the FBI agent hunting her brother, and Doakes was instrumental to the plot's resolution. And this season started its side-plot promisingly, showing how Angel’s promotion has affected his relationship with the cops investigating Dexter’s accidental killing.

Really thought that would cover a lot of ground, but here we are with Angel getting busted by a cop undercover as a hooker, and Deb mysteriously drawn to a couple of dudes we don’t care about.

Come on, show, you’re better than that.

“Pushing Daisies”:
I love how much the characters’ psychological backstories are informing the emotional core of the show, grounding it in believable human needs even as the visual puns go hog-wild with easy nun and clown gags.

While, say, a car in a lake holding the bodies of 17 drowned clowns is wacky and goofy and all that, it’s the emotional themes of absent families and how that dictates the behavior of the characters that makes the show brilliant.

Even though he’s the lead, I still feel like Lee Pace doesn’t get enough credit for his portrayal of Ned the Piemaker. His closed body language and barely-disguised need for affection isn’t just a response to being in love with a girl he can’t touch. He’s becoming aware that his own childhood abandonment has affected him more than he’s realized, and it’s making for great, slow-build storytelling (since the audience has been shown his deadbeat dad will be returning soon).

And I won’t lie – the subtle references to Ned and Chuck’s unconventional sex-life crack me up. On ABC at family hour, no less! Good for you, show!

Quick update: every time I read a new recap of a "Heroes" episode, I feel really good about the decision to drop it. Just putting that out there, for those of you who keep watching. You know who you are. You don't need to feel that sense of shame every Monday at nine, people!

Next time: "Fringe" vs. "The Mentalist"! Stupid scheduling bastards have to make me choose?! Also: "True Blood": Annoying, pompous, or pulpy entertainment? Or is it all three?
Also, also: I'm watching "Life"? Really? I had no idea!

Friday, October 17, 2008

ISTV Couples Counseling

Today, the I Speak TV Global Stronghold presents our first romantic counseling session for TV. It's come to our attention that men on television - particularly in commercials - are portrayed as either thoughtless boobs, or simply retarded (generally when it comes to healthy food consumption).

Never fear, we're here to help. And so, we present our new advice column, "Open Advice Letters to Morons on Commercials":

Dear the guy who sings catchy, Jason-Mrazy jingles about wishing he'd known about his girlfriend's credit rating before trying to buy a house, and ending up living in her parents' basement instead:

Did you, at some - and any - point in your relationship, attempt to have a serious discussion about finances prior to your apparently seat-of-the-pants, wild-hair-up-your-ass decision to apply for a mortgage loan?

Because I'm thinking all the free credit reports in the world wouldn't have made up for that straight-ahead five-minute chat.

Oh, and by the way, Mr. Accoustic guitar, three-day-scruff, uncombed hair, wide-eyed-like-you've-been-awake-for-days, track-jacket-in-the-afternoon-wearing's your credit, hmm? Making (excuse the pun) boatloads of cash at your job waiting tables at a pirate-themed seafood restaurant?

So here's some advice: Don't foist all the blame on the girl whose parents are nice enough to put your penniless ass up in their basement. And how about you back up a bit before you write another cute little ditty about your girlfriend's shitty credit?

We'll be back next week with another column, attempting to help out the guy who thought it'd be a good idea to snap pictures of women's asses with his cameraphone while his lady-friend watches the whole damn thing.
Because we are here to help.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bobby Flay: Food Network Asshole

So let me get the premise of this "Throwdown with Bobby Flay" show straight:

Bobby Flay, TV personality-chef, practices dishes, and then goes to the restaurants of people who have worked hard to build a reputation on these dishes. Where it's a sense of neighborhood pride, like say, buffalo wings in Buffalo.

And then Bobby Flay pops up during a crowded public promotion at the chef's own restaurant, and challenges that chef to "defend his title" regarding his/her signature dish.

Now, I know absolutely nothing about Bobby Flay. I am not a regular Food Network viewer. I just stumbled across this show.

But I have to ask: What kind of asshole is Bobby Flay?

Best-case scenario for him: He wins the taste-off, humiliating the hard-working cooks who have spent a lot of time and hard work developing a specific flavor and style that's earned them recognition. Which makes him a total dick.

Worst-case: He is beaten by the cooks, and he looks incompetent.

I'm sure, behind the scenes, the Food Network contacts all the restaurants and they agree, because hey, free publicity. But nevermind that. Based only on the narrative of the show...what the hell is the point of this show, other than to make Bobby Flay seem like some kind of TV-star egomaniac who thinks he can do better than the local pride?

Honestly...what a jag-off.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pilot Season: "My Own Worst Enemy"

Oh, now that's a shame.

NBC's new spy show, "My Own Worst Enemy," should be good. It's a great (if outlandish) premise, with good supporting players and wide-open mysteries (which may just be plot holes, but oh, what holes to fill)...all totally undone by the need to hire a big-name "star."

The premise: A spy who willingly split his own personality to hide out in the suburbs as a completely average guy finds the conditioning techniques separating the two personalities is breaking down. Hijinks ensue.

The supporting players: Alfre Fricking Woodard! A fantastic actress, in the shadowy-boss role. (Last year's failed "Bionic Woman" reboot had Miguel Fehrer in the shadowy-boss role, and I maintain that this is the best role for seasoned actors. Victor Garber kicked ass in the role during his time on "Alias." It just looks like a lot of fun, standing around complicated computer devices and being condescending to the leads.)

Wide-open mysteries: Why in the holy living hell would any organization blow billions of dollars to put a top operative (let alone, as the pilot suggests, multiple operatives) under a sleeper program, when...seriously, what the hell would the need for this be? Keeping the operative hidden? The guy is apparently a medal of honor winner. He's hardly a spook.

The answer, of course, is: it's the premise of the show, with it. Everything else is secondary. The pilot delivers no answers, but I'm sure the creators (including producer Jason Smilovic, whose credits include great shows "Kidnapped" and "Karen Sisco," and aforementioned crap show "Bionic Woman," which this one most resembles) have plenty of ideas in their notepads just waiting to be toyed with.

The problems: There are two, so we'll start with the lesser first - the pilot blows its chief gag way too early. Ten minutes in, and we get the joke - superspy and family guy are the same person - but then shit immediately breaks down.
Ideally, the pilot would follow both their lives, concurrently, only letting the two characters realize they're the same person around the last act, creating a hell of a good cliffhanger that would lead into the series proper. It was a stupid move that leads me to suspect this was written as a feature first.

(And it would make a good movie. Or a terrible one, since it feels a lot like the hacky movie pitch featured in Adaptation.)

But nevermind that now, because we've got to deal with Christian Slater.

Somewhere between bad movie choices and certain incidents involving guns and biting ex-girlfriends, Slater's star-power began to dim, making him available for TV roles. So I'm sure when the producers realized they could cast him, they were ecstatic.

Problem is, Christian Slater has only ever played Christian Slater. Asking viewers to accept him in two separate roles, when he can't be bothered to switch up any of his mannerisms, isn't just a problem. It is, in fact, THE problem, and as a result, the show just doesn't work.

A character actor is needed here. An actor who can do two roles: One who thinks this ludicrous scenario as acceptable, and one who thinks it's...well, a ludicrious scenario.Some kind of, say, affordable Paul Giamatti, who can alternate between capable agent and run-of-the-mill everyman, is absolutely essential to sell the premise.

So...not Christian Slater.

It's unfortunate, because this really is a fun, if wholly laughable premise. NBC is currently full of laughable shows (okay, "Knight Rider" and "Heroes"), and it really could've used one that was grounded by a decent enough actor.
If you want to watch a goofy spy show, "Chuck" is still on NBC at 8pm. It's very pleasant, well thought out, has good actors and writers, doesn't try too hard, and could use some viewers. Give that one a go instead.

Friday, October 3, 2008

"Torchwood"...only Canadian?

Let me read you a synopsis of a science fiction show:

"There are creatures that live among us, abnormal offshoots of evolution that live in the fringes, unseen by most. Some are dangerous, but most are benign, becoming violent only because they are threatened by an ever-encroaching world. A mysterious leader of an expert team have dedicated themselves to tracking these mysterious creatures: harboring the benign ones, and protecting the world from the dangerous ones. Using their unique combination of instinct, medicine and cutting edge technology, this eclectic team must take on the creatures that lurk in the corners of our civilization."

This show's mysterious lead character is a transplant from another country, and over 100 years old.

The show's viewpoint character is an underappreciated cop whose investigation into a bizarre case leads to the secret organization's world.

For 300 big boys, WHAT is the name of this show?

You poor bastards went and said "Torchwood," didn't you? You would be right, if you weren't also wrong.

The show is actually SciFi's new series "Sanctuary," which started life as a Canadian web-series.
So...that right there will tell you how good it is.

"Torchwood" takes a lot of flack (often by me) for the fact that all the characters seem to be having sex with all the other characters. It's almost like Captain Jack Harkness hires people because they are bisexual and alarmingly horny (actually, that may be some unspoken fact that never made it out of the series bible). It's meant to be more adult, but it comes off as a bit ridiculous.

But I will never chide "Torchwood" again, because after sitting through a painful half-hour of the "Sanctuary" premiere, I now know what the BBC series would be without all the sex:

Canadian. Very, very Canadian.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Lookit! Good TV!

Ohhh, there's that feeling. The reason I watch TV: new episodes of genuinely good shows. Man, that feels good.

"Pushing Daisies," last year's #1-super-best show ever (granted, pickings were slim), came back tonight after its strike-abbreviated first season, with an episode devoted to...bees. And realizing the whole damn episode would be filled with bee-related puns, I was a bit worried that the show's cloying aspects would overwhelm the re-introductory premiere. (And jeez, ABC, did the first five minutes of the episode have to be a season 1 recap for new viewers?!)

I accept that this is a love-it-or-hate-it show. Either you're on board with the modern fairy-tale Seuss-meets-Burton style of the show, with its cute weirdness and weird cuteness, or you find its super-saturated color-scheme and adorability annoying and sensory-obliterating. This is a show whose success is entirely dependent on how cynical a viewer is feeling that Wednesday. If ever the phrase "not for all audiences" was built for a show, this is it.

But I know I'm a terribly cynical person. And I also know that for the hour that "Pushing Daisies" is on, I'm not quite so cynical. Bee-puns and all. I'm so happy this show is back, and urge everyone to watch it (and also go get season 1 on DVD).


Speaking of introductory recaps, "Dexter"'s new season started with a looooong one. "Previously on 'Dexter'..." has never been such an understatement. Seriously, ten minutes recapping season 2, huh? Okay, fine, whatever.

But if you could slog through that, you got to watch Great Television in Action! The first episode managed to reset things to the status-quo of season 1 (before Dexter was being hunted) while at the same time amp things up into new and unexpected levels of danger.

SPOILER! (Ugh, I hate that term. But I realize some people only watch the show after it's out on DVD, so yeah, tread lightly here if you wanna stay blind for the next three months - and really, good luck with that.)

OK? Ready? Good.

Dexter getting Rita (SERIOUSLY, SPOILER, TURN BACK YOU BASTARDS, AAAAHHH!!!) pregnant is one of those developments that would seriously fuck up a lesser show. But the main theme of "Dexter" has always been how a man deals with an absent father's expectations. And last year, our lead made his peace with his departed dad - learning new things about him, and realizing that while "Harry's Code" is deeply important, doesn't rule his life.

So seeing how Dexter deals with the idea of himself as a father is an absolutely fascinating road to take. That's going to be the B-story, what the meaning of the show is about. But in the meantime, we're also apparently going to get Jimmy Smits as the friend Dexter never ever wanted. It's all looking pretty good.


Speaking of puns (from the "Pushing Daisies" bit, get it?...look, sometimes you have to work a little harder for your segues), HBO's "True Blood" made me proud for the first time in its few episodes with this line of dialogue:

Bill (after Sookie rolls her eyes at the name of the local vampire bar being "Fang-tasia"): You have to realize, most vampires are very old. There was a time when puns were considered the highest form of comedy.

The show's not perfect. There are way too many Southerner-stereotypes, Jason Stackhouse is so astoundingly stupid I don't know how he even remembers to breathe, and the actors' accents venture into Foghorn Leghorn territory at points...but I feel like this show's going somewhere fun, and that's more than I can say for...oh, say "John From Cincinnati" at this point.

But anyway: Good TV! Hooray!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

One Down

Aaaand we're done with "Heroes."

Over at the Entertainment Weekly recap, Marc Bernadin mentioned the phrase "Who's carrying the idiot ball this week?" to ask which character will have to do something unreasonably stupid just to move the plot along.

Watching this show is like watching some kind of high-speed Idiot-Dodge-Ball game being played, where characters launch their idiot balls at each other only to get pummeled in the face by three balls themselves.

Let's run down a partial list - from THE LAST THREE EPISODES:
- Hiro opens a vault his dad specifically told him NOT to open because he "Wants a quest." Because Hiro has the emotional complexity of an exceptionally stupid 5-year-old.
- A strange man in an African desert he hands Parkman a bowl, which he drinks out of without question. THEN he asks, "Hey, what was in this?"
- Nathan survives multiple gunshot wounds and suddenly becomes religious. Even though last year he was brought back from massive burns and had no such epiphany.
- Mohinder drinks a special potion and then is surprised it has dangerous side effects.
- Sylar hangs around the Company to "see where this goes," even though all he's ever wanted to do prior to this episode was to escape the Company so he can keep killing for powers.

I could keep going, or focus on all the bungled plotlines (Clone-Nikki, show? REALLY.) but honestly, why? A clean break, that's what's needed. Besides, "24" will be back on at the same time in a few months, and I'm gonna have my hands full keeping track of all the nonsense on that show.

I mean, they just proudly boasted that they even came up with an ending for this year's arc, like that's a novel new idea to them that stories should have beginnings, middles, and ALSO endings.

So I get the feeling that idiot ball's gonna be getting a lot of use over there.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"The Mentalist": Not Bad At All

As previously stated: I am not a procedural fan. And so, by extension, not really a fan of anything on CBS. I will take personality over verisimilitude any day. And considering half the science of the "CSI"-style shows is way off anyway, why not focus on the things that make crime interesting: People?

With this in mind, “The Mentalist” was very enjoyable. Which has me on guard, because it’s on a network that tends to cancel their more original fare, and it’s on opposite “Fringe,” which has gotten a crapload more attention.

Anyway. “The Mentalist” features Simon West as Patrick Jane, a former fake-psychic in the John Edwards (no, the other one, think back – yeah, remember that asshole?) mold. After the murder of his family at the hands of a serial killer who didn’t take kindly to the BS “psychic” assistance he was giving the cops, Jane dropped the shtick and started using his keen observational skills in conjunction with a made-up-sounding but actually real California Bureau of Investigation (so just be happy the show’s not called “CBI,” which I guarantee you was the subject of at least one production meeting).

The smartest thing the pilot does is to have a sort of mini-pilot within the first five minutes that succinctly shows what Jane does, how he uses those skills, and his general attitude towards his work (his calm response to police who burst in just a leeeetle too late to stop a suspect’s shooting: “This isn’t as bad as it looks.”).

There’s a level of confidence in the episode that’s rare and appreciated in a pilot. Confidence in the strength of the show, yes, but also confidence in the viewer.

We’re allowed to grasp the specifics of the upcoming series without a lot of spoonfeeding or exposition to beat into our brains What It's About. We get that Jane is talented by watching him use those talents. We get to know the supporting players through their behavior: Cho’s staggering insensitivity, Rigsby’s quiet consideration, Van Pelt’s rookie mistakes, and Lisbon’s…well, right now she appears to be Cuddy to Jane’s House, but the show is basically "What if House actually solved murder mysteries instead of medical mysteries...and also was more pleasant to be around" (or, to address the obvious, "What if 'Psych' wasn't so damn wacky?"), so the taskmaster/babysitter role has to be there.

I also liked that the characters actually seem to know and like each other – which feels rare on investigative shows. They eat dinner together, they tease each other, they disagree without it becoming a major dramatic point. When Jane shows his atheist leanings to the Christian Van Pelt, neither one comes off as stupid. It’s refreshing.

(And there’s also a nice little jab at crime-scene procedurals, when a CSI enthusiastically describes his take on the murder, and Jane responds with mild distain, “You enjoy your work too much, my friend...I find you irksome.” Which is a word that needs to get more play.)

Now: A good pilot does not mean a good series. So, assuming this one doesn't die quickly, I recommend "The Mentalist" with reservations. We’ll just have to follow the show’s magician's-secret tagline advice and “Watch closely.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Be Smarter, TV! (Part 2): "Heroes"

Characters realizing they have some essential skill sets they’re not using – like, say, basic human intelligence – would reeeeallly help out “Heroes,” which just returned with a bombastic two-hour premiere.

There’s a lot to like about “Heroes” – for one thing, there’s nothing else like it on TV right now. It is a full-on superhero soap opera. But that's part of the problem - it seems to be taking a lot of cues from similarly-soapy mid-70’s Marvel comics, ignoring the fact that those stories were based less on logic and more on the limited amount of pages they had to tell a tale.

So the writers have a lot of real live people behaving as stupidly as a hastily-written comic book character might, while hoping real live viewers will accept it.

Let’s take the series’ most consistently stupid character: resident scientist Dr. Mohinder Suresh, ironically enough. The writers seem to be following the character template of X-Men character Dr. Henry McCoy, The Beast.

Way back when, McCoy concocted what he thought was a cure to his mutant genes. When bad guys came to his lab looking to kill him and steal the formula for nefarious ends, he hastily swallowed the potion, and as a result mutated further, growing blue fur and fangs.

Now on “Heroes” we have Mohinder, who – after studying the body chemistry of a girl who is basically a walking plague whenever she gets upset – develops a potion he thinks would give anyone superpowers. Which is all of a sudden important to him for some reason that's never come up before.

Plague-Girl quite rightly points out that this formula at least needs further study, and at best should be destroyed. So let’s play “Choose Your Own Adventure.” Does Mohinder:
A) Dispose of the no-doubt toxic sample in a proper, EPA-approved way, like any half-smart scientist would know how to;
B) Contemplate tossing the sample into New York Harbor despite its potentially catastrophic effects on the local sea life, or
C) Cram the whole thing straight into his veins for no apparent reason?

If you guessed A, I’m sorry, you terribly smart readers. That was a trick - on this show, it was never even an option. No, our genius sticks it straight into his veins.

Then, after an initial high of superpowers, he’s surprised – shocked, even! – to find bits of skin peeling off him. Well, yeah, MOHINDER.

With very few exceptions, every character on the show exhibits highly variable levels of intelligence. This is not rare on TV, unfortunately. Dramatic tension is usually a byproduct of people not asking obvious questions at opportune times (see: "Lost," season 2).

But…come on. This isn’t “Why didn’t Peter use his telepathy to see if a guy’s telling the truth?” That’s the nitpicking you just have to ignore with a show like this.

This is “What self-respecting scientist would inject himself with a chemical even he admitted needed more testing?” It’s a character ignoring basic human reasoning skills for the sake of a character arc.

The well-founded complaint of season 2 was that things moved too slowly, that old characters treaded water while new unconnected characters were introduced haphazardly (see: complaints about “Lost: Season 2”). But in its haste to course-correct, “Heroes” has started season 3 by overcompensating and having its characters Doing Stuff, no matter how poorly-conceived.

I still have high hopes for the season, because, well, I’m an optimist at heart (ha ha). Also it’s got Kristen Bell guest-starring. And lest we forget, things didn’t look so rosy on “Lost” at the outset of season 3, either.

But then, “Lost” didn’t seem to be tying all of its stories into the fact that half the characters were actually related (Sylar's a Petrelli? C'mon, what does that add?) and the grim fate of the world needed to be averted yet a third time (thanks to yet a third nightmarish vision of the future).

There are stories to be told here. Invincible Claire starting to question her own humanity if she can’t feel pain. Whatever arc Noah Bennet is going to go through. The existential dilemma represented by the fact that the mere presence of all these superpowered folk means the world is on the brink of destruction no matter what they do. These all point to a show with a bit of cleverness.

But somehow I’m lacking confidence. It might be because the guy who should have a faint clue as to what’s going on is absolutely confounded why he’s sloughing off skin after sticking Plague-Girl’s blood inside him.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Be Smarter, TV!: Part One

TV shows should be better than they are.

Yes I know that’s a stupid statement to make, but just go with me here.

I first noticed this problem during a recent episode of “Burn Notice” where the lead character, ex-spy Michael Westen, is confronted by another burned spook. As Michael realizes what a desperate and amoral maniac the guy’s become, we get a “There but for the grace of god” kind of story, the end.

Except what that episode really did was point out the “A-Team” problem the show has.

The “A-Team” problem: Here’s a bunch of highly trained special forces guys with nothing to lose, hiring themselves out as mercenaries to people in need. And they have guns and explosives and everything. But when the time comes to run the bad guys out of town, what do they do?

The shoot their M-16s at the bad guys’ feet. Or flip the bad guys’ car over, making sure they can crawl out shaken and deterred, but not exactly damaged.

If the show made any logical sense, the A-Team would’ve killed at least a couple of guys here and there to show they meant business, right?

Same problem with the Michael Westen character. It’s well implied he’s been doing black-ops stuff around the world for years, and yet when confronted with a local drug runner or what have you, he always opts for elaborate cover identities and scams to run the bad guys out of town. Which is weird, because he must know that, more often than not, a little bit of creative violence would do the same job for half the time and money.

I’m not saying the guy maims or tortures every half-tard criminal he’s hired to scare off – because that show wouldn’t be terribly enjoyable – but he doesn’t even seem to realize it’s an option.

It’s moments like this I really wish the show weren’t on USA. Fox, FX, even TNT, there’d be a possibility of real emotional concern: Michael realizing those horrible tools are at his disposal and fighting to keep from using them, because he's trying something new.
But USA’s got "Monk" and "Psych." Characters Welcome, and all that. It won’t ever be anything but light, escapist fare.

But the lead character’s a talented ex-espionage agent. So I’m saying there should be a few more dark nights of the soul for him, where he realizes he’s not utilizing his simplest, most dangerous skills.

It would make “Burn Notice” a better show.

(Tomorrow, the reason for a two-parter: The "Heroes" Season 3 premiere.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

RE: The Emmys

1) Yaaaay, "30 Rock"! Yaaaaay!

2) Is there anything cooler than The Smothers Brothers? Unfortunately, considering how politically minded and ahead-of-his-time Tommy Smothers is, I feel bad that his chief influence on me was wanting to learn yo-yo tricks when I was a kid. So much so that to this day, I find those motorized yo-yos that automatically "walk the dog" to be absolutely abhorrent.

2A) Has Steve Martin been botoxed or something? He looked a little...waxy. I suppose all older stars have their HD issues.

3) I'd be willing to bet that if the "House" producers had submitted the episode where House is holding an Emmy and pretending to give an acceptance speech, rather than the dramatically awesome season finale, Hugh Laurie would have actually won. This is how out of it the actual Emmy judges are, I think. Still, Bryan Cranston's cool. Eh, at least it wasn't Spader again.

4) Betty White: Always a pleasure.

5) Once again: "30 Rock"! Yaaaaaay! And Tina Fey actually managed to throw in "Watch the premiere October 31st" before the music cut her off.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sons of Liver Failure

I wanted to give FX's new "Sons of Anarchy" a shot, because, hey! Ron Perlman! Katy Sagal! Biker shenanagans! Why not?

Keeping in mind that I have yet to watch a single FX program - other than "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," of course - that I've stuck with for more than six episodes. It's not that they're bad shows, really. It's just I feel like they're trying too hard to be edgy, so I'm always put off.

We know you're bad-ass, FX. You're like your danger-loving parent company Fox. Except you're so tough you don't even need that pussy-ass "O." We get it.

Short version: it Sagal and Perlman are cool, but you can hear the creator pitching it as "'Sopranos' meets the Hells Angels meets muthafuckin' HAMLET, DUDE!"

But rather than blather on, I instead invite you to play the "Sons of Anarchy Drinking Game."

1) Invite friends over and a bottle of your favorite poison.

2) Turn on the "Sons of Anarchy" pilot. (Comcast subscribers: It's onDemand! In Hi-Def! (Where available!) )

3) Drink every time you see the words "Sons of Anarchy" or hear a character reference the biker club's acronym SAMCRO.

4) Whoever's liver doesn't fail wins.

4a) Alternatively, depending on how BAD-ASS you are, whoever's liver doesn't fail is some kind of nancy who can't handle liver failure like a BAD-ASS!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Death to Vinnie Chase!

Spinning around in a reality just to the left of ours is an alternate Earth. And on that alternate Earth, there’s an alternate HBO, airing a Bizarro-version of “Entourage.”

The Bizarro-“Entourage” would take its plot points from the fact that its main character, Vincent Chase, is some kind of zen asshole, casually indulging in expensive vacations and sex with hot morons because despite his working class roots, he’s become a gigantic Hollywood cliché. And the friends he brought out to Hollywood with him, to keep him “real,” have the unenviable task of explaining to him just how much he’s pissing his career and (supposed) talent away every time he indulges his whims by performing in shitty vanity projects and then acting like the negative consequences are someone else’s problem.

It would be an interesting show. An inside look at how easy it is for a once up-and-coming star to end up headlining direct-to-DVD movies and becoming the butt of industry jokes.

Unfortunately, we don’t live on that alternate Earth. We live with this reality’s HBO, which features a version of “Entourage” wherein Vinnie Chase’s massive fuckups result in him having no problem lounging on a Mexican beach and fucking morons every day while his friends placate his ego and find him another high-paying job he balks at. Which is just fine, because the plots don’t ever delve into just how badly he’s fucked up. Oh, they’ll give lip service to it, but it never amounts to any real lasting change in the characters or plots. Why bother with that? There are a lot of really nice boobs to show instead.

Every time the series threatens to veer into interesting territory (such as last season’s finale, where a Harvey Weinstein analogue buys Chase’s awful film for one dollar), it backs off because…well, I really have no good explanation, other than “Nice breasts need to be filmed.”

I continue to watch “Entourage,” mostly because, well, what the hell else is there to do on a Sunday night at 10 PM? But I watch it because A) I like the Ari/Lloyd banter, and B) because I like to think of Eric’s evolution as the main thematic thrust, even though the show’s ongoing focus on just How Cool It Is To Be Vinnie Chase continually proves me wrong.

In other words, I am a Spite-Viewer. Every time I watch “Entourage,” what I’m actually thinking is, “I hope it all ends with Vinnie Chase starring with fucking Carrot-Top and wondering what the hell just happened.”

Also, he starts losing his hair.

(I'm a very spiteful viewer.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Your Awful Friend, "Saturday Night Live"

"Saturday Night Live" manages to sucker me in at least once every year.

It's nobody's fault but mine. I like to check in, see how it's doing. Like hanging out with an old friend you haven't seen in a while. An old friend whose annoying qualities far outway any good reason to maintain a friendship with them. But you put in your time, hoping like hell maybe this go-around you won't kinda want to punch them.

And so you usually end up with about 10 minutes out of a 90-minute hanging-out session that you can qualify as "Not so bad."

In the interim, you spend the rest of the night:

- Marveling, as Michael Phelps, like all athlete-hosts before him, tries his damnedest to read cue cards properly, while at the same time adding inflection. Bless his heart, he managed to do almost one of those things at any given moment (to his credit, he did it while cracking up less than Jimmy Fallon).

- Staring confusedly, as Andy Samburg performs yet another vaguely science-fictiony, humor-free digital short. Begging the question: is he such a grating presence that Lorne Michaels is using this "digital short" scam just to keep him out of the studio during regular business hours?

- Wondering, just what so many funny actors (Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, et al.), who have all been genuinely amusing elsewhere (30 Rock, Apatowe comedies, etc.), are doing on a show that seems to be crushing their sense of funny.

- Scratching your head at the sad reality that one skit actually cribbed its concept from the often-escruciating Aaron Sorkin dramedy "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."

Not the best old friend to spend a Saturday night with, is what I'm saying.

But we here at the ISTV Global Stronghold have special futurey technology called "linking" (which Andy Samburg CAN NOT HAVE) that allows you to speed through that awful night with your awful old friend, in order to get to those gloriously not-painful 10 minutes.

(We would have special technology called "imbedding," except Blogger's being a bit finicky tonight. Expect a move to Wordpress very, very soon.)

First, Amy Poehler and special guest Tina Fey open the show with the inevitable Sarah Palin/Hilary Clinton bit:

Then, an ad-spoof premise I've often wondered about: In the T-Mobile "Fav-5" commercial where the dad tells his daughter she "shouldn't have such hot friends," what does that conversation turn into?

There. You're welcome. Now you don't have to hang out with this "friend" of yours again. At least until some actor or band you REALLY like shows up. Or Christopher Walken.

And then the cycle of pain will begin anew.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Vampires: Eternal Poseurs of the Night

I’m not a “vampire guy.” Find a new angle on it, and I might be interested, but it’s not an innate selling point. On the negative end of the spectrum, Anne Rice had made the subject silly in its pompous romanticism. On the positive end, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”/”Angel” had pretty much locked in what a TV show with bloodsuckers should be for me.

So I was curious what HBO’s new vampires-in-the-south show “True Blood” would try to do, to make the “monsters are people too” subject interesting.

This is an easier task than trying to make the Deep South interesting. Usually it comes off as mocking, or…no, it always feels like there’s some outdated idea of The South that creators are trying to winkingly play into or subvert.

By the end of the first episode, I found myself enjoying the southern aspect while still being frosty on the vampire side.

“True Blood” starts pretty shakily, pulling the “That goth guy isn’t a monster; the everyday-lookin’ fella behind you is!” trope that’s already pretty old-hat. Then, after a brief bit of exposition/Bill Maher product placement about The State of Vampirism, there’s the introduction to the rural Louisiana town. It’s the standard assortment of twangy, folksy southern types – the slutty townies, the wary bartender who just wants to keep things quiet, the sassy black gal, the waitress who wishes she’d gotten outta this dump.

But over the course of the hour, the show did a good enough job of making a few of them feel like actual characters, rather than an assortment of voice-coached accents. In particular, Anna Paquin, essentially playing a sunnier version of her Rogue character from the X-Men films. The fact that our viewpoint character is open-minded, likeable, and, well, adorable, helps us accept the rest of her people.

When an overarching murder plot was introduced midway through the episode, I thought, “I could actually watch a ‘murder in a small southern town’ kind of show like this.”

Which makes the supernatural aspect feel that much more unneeded and intrusive.

So no, I’m not at all sold on the vampire element yet. Vampire-as-vampire has been given up for the most part in pop culture, in favor of vampire-as-metaphor. In terms of the first episode at least, now that readily available synthetic blood has allowed vampires to publicly join society, the metaphor is homosexuality. Which lets the southerner-cliches react to a bloodsucker in town a lot like we’d assume they’d react to having their first Resident Gay. It feels a bit forced.

(FYI: They do, actually, have a Resident Gay, a mildly annoying motormouthed fry-cook.)

Not helping is the fact that the new vampire in town – despite the pedestrian name “Bill” – behaves with all the preening, posing, and glowering mannerisms that make Anne Rice’s material seem so ridiculous. REALLY not helping is that the actor playing him looks like Paul Rudd doing an amusing impression of “menacing.”

The show’s definitely worth watching a few more episodes – I’ve yet to watch an HBO show that didn’t need a few episodes to really make its intentions known – but so far, it’s Anna Paquin’s supreme lovable-ness that’s going to bring me back for the next episode.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Fall TV: It is, as they say, "Time to Face the Hole"

The 10.5 most amazing things about Fox's “Hole in the Wall”:

10) Brooke Burns says everything in the same weirdly halting yet totally excited cadence. “You’re the team captain, right!” and “Introduce me to your team!” sound like the exact same sentence. It’s really bizarre.
9) The two teams in the first episode were made of “Six-Packs” – guys on the shortish side who are “personal trainers,” but from their descriptions sound more like unemployed bodybuilders – and “Beer-Bellies” – radio employees who likely think “The Jerky Boys” was the apex of comedy. In other words, there are no winners here. Only losers.
8) There are actually lifeguards on duty when the contestants fall into the 5-feet-deep pool. At least, I think they’re lifeguards, because they’re wearing Baywatch-style swimsuits and holding those pontoon thingies. Once again: for the 5-feet-deep pool. That a camera man is standing in.
7) Before every…ah, let’s just be charitable and call it “event”…there is an explanation – complete with cute visual aids – of what the next challenge will be. “This time, TWO contestants need to jump through the holes.” In case the whole concept was just too confusing for the average viewer.
6) After every commercial break, there is a recap of the results of the previous jump through the hole. Again, just in case viewers were having trouble keeping up.
5) In addition to Brooke Burns on the sidelines, there’s a host up in a balcony, whose best moment came when he referred to one of the very white, American, Californian bodybuilders as “an Iraqi war veteran.”
4) The grand prize is $100,000. For jumping through a cutout in a Styrofoam wall. Just let that sink in.
3) The show’s attempted catchphrase is, “It’s time to face the hole.”
2) This show is 22 minutes long, when by all rights, it’s hard to make a case for it being longer than 2 minutes.
1.5) Watching this show, you are actually likely to utter the words, "Y'know, I think I'd probably be pretty good at this."

And the #1 most interesting thing about “Hole in the Wall”…

1) There will actually be more than one episode of a show called “Hole in the Wall,” wherein obnoxious people attempt to jump through a cutout in a Styrofoam wall.

Will I be watching this show again? …Possibly. I’ll definitely watch it after it follows the “Fringe” pilot. But if I can’t be bothered to plop myself down on the couch Thursday nights at 8 to watch “My Name is Earl” – a show I actually kinda like – it’s not too likely I’ll make time for this one. No matter how many oddly-shaped contestants they promise to shove through those holes.

Then again, “It’s time to face the hole” is a phrase I’d really like to see used in regular conversation.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fall On My Face (Part 1: Preview Night)

Dear god, the new fall season. What the hell, man. I mean, really. What The Hell?!

"Knight Rider"? "90210"? A shitload of "Gossip Girl" knockoffs (which itself is a "The OC" knockoff)? Come on. You're wrecking all of our important TV/world-domination equipment here at the I Speak TV Global Stronghold.

If you look at last year, there was a lot that was interesting - worth checking out, at least, even if it wasn't actually any good.

Last year, I checked out "Bionic Woman," "Chuck," "Life," "Reaper," "Pushing Daisies," and "Journeyman." Lot of sci-fi/genre choices. Only "Pushing Daisies" was really worth anyone's time, although "Chuck" and "Reaper" were both in their own ways enjoyable light-weight fare.

This year, the new series schedule's pretty bare. So here's what I'll be focusing on in the coming weeks.

- Fox's "Fringe" earns a few weeks to see what it'll become. (Poke around the site and you'll find my review of the pilot.)

- Its thematic competition is "The 11th Hour," based on a solid BBC series. Dark City's Rufus Sewell takes over Patrick Stewart's fringe science advisor role, which is a point for the show. Unfortunately, it's on CBS, which has a certain shallowness to all its pilots, so that's a point against.

- "True Blood" has a premise I already find sort of grating - vampires living in the open among southerners. But it's HBO, so there's no harm in watching at least a couple of episodes, assuming it's not another show about the perils of being a psychiatrist.

- "Life on Mars" was another very good BBC series, so I'm interested to see what ABC does with it. Other than totally retooling the cast, setting, and creative team. Which is always a great sign.

- I want to see if Christian Slater is as miscast in "My Own Worst Enemy" (NBC), a Jeckyll & Hyde/"Alias" mash-up, as I assume he'll be, so yeah, I'll watch an episode or two here.

- "Crusoe" (NBC) - exactly what you think it is - may be the dumbest idea for a series since the WB's ill-fated "Tarzan" series a while back.

- "Hole in the Wall" (Fox)...Well, c'mon. Based on the Japanese gameshow (and that should sell you right there) of people trying to fit themselves into shapes cut out of styrofoam. Proving that Fox doesn't need to ask people embarrassing questions about themselves to show viewers a good time. Because Fox does, in fact, think viewers are that stupid.

In a weird reversal (likely due to the writers strike, which forced networks to greenlight a lot of fall shows without actually looking at them), midseason is the time to get interested in TV, with NBC's modern David & Goliath retelling "Kings," Joss Whedon's new Fox show "Dollhouse," and Rob Thomas's redux of his 1999 ABC series "Cupid" showing up.

Watching TV: Always a weird experience. Always worth the wasted time. Place your faith in the ISTV Global Stronghold. We won't steer you wrong. And if we do?

Well, we've finally built our deathray, so you won't feel a thing.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

ISTV Classic: "Heroes, Season 2"

Since "Heroes: Season 2" has been released on DVD this week, I thought I'd use the opportunity to offer again a post written a few months before this site went active. So this one is for all you new "Heroes" fans just getting into the show via DVD and may not know what you're in for; and all you old "Heroes" fans who, thanks to the blissful haze of passing time, may have forgotten what a fricking slog Season 2 became, and to go into season 3 with eyes wide open:

"I Have Some Questions, 'Heroes' Producers"

Now that I've finished re-watching the first season of "Heroes," and NBC will be airing the finale of "Volume II" tonight, I thought it might be a good idea to pose 10 questions to the producers that, 1.5 seasons in, haven't really been answered. Initially this list numbered in the high 20's, but I then realized asking "Where did Claude go?" is really just asking, "Why couldn't you and Christopher Eccleston's agent come to an agreement?" so I've decided to choose my battles.

1) Didn't Mrs. Bennet have some pretty scary-looking brain damage thanks to the Hatian? Because she looks fine now.

2) Why in the hell would a multinational organization like The Company have a big office in Odessa, TX? For that matter, why don't they have a proper name?

3) So does Kensei's sword have powers allowing Hiro to focus his, or was that just an annoying bullshit plot device to let Hiro waste half the first season? Because he just went to Japan, met Kensei, and came back, and that never really came up.

4) Why would Isaac Mendez do a series of paintings depicting events that directly contradict his own previously-painted prophecies?

5) Eden, Candice, and now Elle...exactly how many sociopathic pixie girls does The Company have in its employ? Are they particularly reliable? Because two of them are dead now.

6) So remember how you told us Linderman had manipulated every aspect of Nikki and DL's lives to get them to produce a kid with Micah's computer-communicating abilities? A question in two parts, part A) being, Is that like how a Frankenstein and a Vampire had a Werewolf on "The Munsters"? Or is it part B), because you noticed, like I did, that it turns out the characters had virtually no connection to the overarching plot otherwise?

7) Am I to take it that at the end of the season 1 finale, everyone was so transfixed by the pretty explosion in the night sky that NOBODY noticed a grievously-wounded Sylar slowly dragging himself towards a manhole?

8) So if Linderman was in charge of The Company, wouldn't he have a problem with his mentor being imprisoned in one of their facilities for like 30 years? Or did he just not notice? And if he just didn't notice, I have a follow-up: just how stupid is was Linderman, anyway?

9) Exactly who in the FUCK gave custody of Molly to Matt Parkman and Mohinder Suresh? Y'know, the Parkman that got shot point blank multiple times in the chest and would have been recouperating for months and in no condition to care for a child? This would be the same Parkman that had recently been fired from the LAPD for being a total flake, and oh yeah, just left his wife and unborn child. Did they think that these negatives would be offset by Mohinder, who is NOT A CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES, frequently travels giving lectures as part of his "job," and has known both Molly and Parkman for a grand total of like two hours? Seriously. I would like to talk to agency that thought these would be suitable guardians. Is this agency the Department of JESUS FUCK, REALLY?! (The DoJFR?)

10) Okay, let me see if I've got the timeline down. For three months, Nathan Petrelli sat burnt to a crisp in a hospital bed. Once healed, he managed, in under a month, to 1. Get divorced and lose custody of his kids, 2. Become a full-on drunk, and 3. Grow a big fuck-off superbeard in which woodland creatures could nest? I guess my question here is, are we to take from this that Nathan is SO VIRILE, that he hits rock-bottom with more efficiency and accuracy than most men can succeed?

I suppose I have one more follow-up question: Since you guys are gonna have a little time between finishing volume 2 and starting up volume 3, do you think you could spend an extra couple days hashing out story points that make between a dash and a lick of sense? Or perhaps characters that do not routinely make the dumbest choice available to them?

When the scale of smartest to dumbest ranges from Peter Petrelli (who despite having mind-reading powers, does not bother reading the mind of the man everyone keeps telling him wants to destroy the world) to Maya (who speaks fluent English, but yet is completely unable to interpret Sylar's vocal inflections or body language, which say nothing but "Eeeviiiilllllmwahahahahaah!"), you've got some issues to iron out.

Monday, August 25, 2008

R.I.P., Henchman #24

The "Venture Bros." season finale aired last night, and by the end of it, I actually shouted, "Holy Crap! They killed Henchman 24!"

My girlfriend looked up at me and said, "Wow, you're really upset, aren't you?"

"No! No," I answered. "It's just...I didn't expect them to do that. It was a funny gag."

This was a lie. I was, in fact, a little upset.

"Venture Bros." is the last of Cartoon Network's old-school "Adult Swim" shows. It came in at the tail end of the first batch that mocked old Hanna-Barbara shows - "Sealab 2021," "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law," etc. - and just before the newer batch like "Tim and Eric Awesome Show" and "Squidbillies," - shows you'd have to be really, really stoned to find funny.

"Venture Bros." is the apex of the old-school because as it's gone on, its nerd jokes have become more obvious and esoteric all at once. By which I mean, they'll throw a "G.I. Joe" parody out there, and that might be funny for what it is. A newbie might laugh at it.

But by this third season, the joke itself is really more of a capper to a series of other jokes from earlier seasons. And so the newbies might be wondering why the big fans are laughing so much harder.

It's a bizarre turn of events, when a show that started off as a riff on the quick-punchline idea, "What would Johnny Quest be like if we followed him into his middle-aged-failure years?" has actually developed a huge supporting cast, a plethora of important thematic devices, an assload of running gags, and an alarming detailed sense of continuity. "Venture Bros." has officially become the "Lost" of Adult Swim.

As a result of the audience's investment in the characters and mythology, "Venture Bros." can do something a show like "Metalocolypse" can't - it can pull the rug from under the audience and provoke a genuine emotional reaction.

Case in point, the Henchmen. Half-assed supervillain The Monarch has had a giant band of nameless henchmen throughout the series, but two of them - portly, squeaky-voiced #21 and skinny, Ray-Ramano-sounding #24, both audience-surrogates - have managed to survive onslaught after onslaught of absurd violence, though what The Monarch refers to as "that rare blend of expendable and invulnerable."

Until last night, when #24 was accidentally blown up. REALLY blown up - #21 actually caught his flaming head.

That the season ended with Brock quitting his bodyguard job didn't really matter. FUCKING #24 died!

That this is both hilarious and upsetting is why "Venture Bros." is the best Adult Swim series. And maybe the only Adult Swim show where you'd hear someone say, "...Actually, you should just start with the first season. Everything will make more sense after that."

Rest in Peace, Henchman #24.

(Oh, also? Last season, they revealed that the head of the shadowy villainous organization was, well, David Bowie. really should put "Venture Bros." in your Netflix queue, just for that, right?)
"Some Velvet Morning" starts up today:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Olympic Fever, Catch It! (Part 4: Robot Smile)

Things Shawn Johnson Is Probably Thinking, As She Keeps Grinning No Matter What Happens:

"Oh, boy! China!"
"My life's just gonna get better and better after this!"
"I hope NBC thinks of me when they start casting 'Small Wonder 2.o'!"
"This'll be a great way of making friends!"
"If I keep smiling, maybe Mommy and Daddy won't fight so much!"
"I bet I'll live forever!" (Okay, that one stolen from McSweeney's - don't care.)
"Gee, d'ya think they like me back home?"
"It's awfully hard to breathe in this leotard!"
"Puberty? What's that? Sounds fun!"
"I'm cute, but puppies are cuter!"
"Why does that Liukin girl look so mad? We're Olympians!"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Olympic Fever, Catch It! (Part 3: Ladies Night)

Awesome, sometimes-weird night for American Olympian women. They all did great – particularly our terrifying giantesses on the softball team – but at the same time, a strange sense of defeat at the uneven bars and the pole vault.

The uneven bars was an actual sense of robbery – esoteric scoring procedures meant that in spite of a tie, bullshit-she’s-16-year-old He Kexin got the gold, while the U.S.’s Nastia Liukin (arguably with the more even performance) took silver. A clear sense of China kinda screwing around with things in multiple ways.

On the pole vault front (a phrase you are unlikely to ever see on this site again), jetsetting Russian Yelena Isinbayeva got the gold, which meant it was totally worthwhile to watch a little profile about how she somehow is an athlete while also being very attractive and living what appears to be a model’s life in Monte Carlo (and would also not mind a small part in American movies someday).

And it would’ve been totally fine that American Jennifer Stuczynski took silver, on account of she’s only been doing this for about four years, if not for the dismissive chewing-out her coach gave her from the stands – totally mic’d on a global telecast, which is obviously the best time to have that kind of conversation. His passive-aggressive, “Yeah, silver. That’s not bad. It’s no gold, but it’s not like you’re Isinbayeva” scolding really took the (silvery) shine off the whole thing.

So thank god for Women’s Beach Volleyball, is what I’m saying. Our gals pounded the hell out of the Brazilians, a victory made all the sweeter after the commentators mentioned that the Brazilians pulled rank and kicked them off the practice court earlier that day. It’s rare I say this (actually, this may be the first time I’ve ever said this), but: Suck it, Brazil! Go enjoy your losers’ party – which is probably going to be really awesome and sexy, with beads and feathers and such.

In conclusion: USA! USA! USA!

The Summer Olympics: Because Americans Need To Feel Good About Something For a Little While.

(And yes, this may have just been an excuse to post pictures of female Olympians. Sue me.)