From Dusk till Dawn: The Series

“The film was the short story, the series is the novel.”     Robert Rodriquez

 

That quote from Robert Rodriquez is probably the best answer to the question, why make a TV show from the movie From Dusk till Dawn.  The movie, a combination gangster-vampire-martial arts film, had a great cast and as horror movies go, was pretty entertaining.  But I wouldn’t have thought it was ripe material for a TV series.  And I should say, although making TV from movies is a practice going back almost since the dawn of television, its unusual when the TV series takes the movie plot and stretches it out over 10 to 13 episodes.  It’s a much fuller retelling with more detail, more back story, more characters, in fact, more everything.

I was first clued in on this by a post on another blog promoting the show.  The show runs on the El Rey Network, which I confess I’d never heard of.  I did a little research and found out it was a new cable network started by Robert Rodriguez that intended to focus on the type of films that Robert Rodriquez liked:  Grind house, Kung Fu, and cult horror flicks.  I’m not sure if there is a market for Rodriquez’s personal preferences, but part of the uniqueness of the movie From Dusk till Dawn is that it combined all three, so who knows.

As for the From Dusk till Dawn TV show:

 

Having seen a couple of episodes already, I have to say the show is fulfilling its promises.  This is a high quality production with a great cast and I love the gradual movement from crooks on the run to the supernatural elements, with a much deeper look at the peculiarities of Mayan Vampires.

So if you actually have El Rey on your local cable provider, I would recommend giving this show a look.  They are having a back to back marathon of the show starting with the pilot on April 30th, so it’s not too late to catch up.  Set your DVR and enjoy a Vampire show that pretty much has it all.

 

 

The Lena Dunham Demographic

Lying in bed watching Saturday Night Live last night, imagine my surprise when Lena Dunham was highlighted as the guest host.  Dunham, really?  I thought to myself.  I was curious if the typical SNL viewer even knew who Lena Dunham was.  Star and head writer of the HBO series Girls, it’s hard to gauge how much pop culture cred she has.  Despite the phenomenon of buzz, of which this show has plenty, it is on HBO, which is a limited universe of viewers.  However ratings have gone up.  The show has improved in its current 3rd season from season 2’s average of 632,000 viewers to 1.1 million for season three.

Why is this important?  I have no idea, and that’s part of the fascination I suppose.  Lena Dunham and her show would normally have been something that would never have come to my attention.  She is a millennial writing a show about millennials for millennials.  As either a tail end baby boomer or post boomer, however you want to count it; I should have no interest in this group.  And I don’t.  That is the Pajama Boy generation.

But when Girls premiered in 2012, my universe of blogs that I read, that generally lean right, blew up about the show.  I could not figure out what the interest was from the right side of the aisle. So I set aside time to watch the first season.

My first observation, which apparently is the same as virtually everyone else’s is, what’s up with all the nudity?  Of course there has been so much written about the nudity on that show it’s pointless for me to rehash it (although that’s a tricky search string if you want to Google it), since I share some of the criticism of the show’s nudity.   But much of that criticism seems to be mean spirited.  As if the criticism is being used as a way to insult Lena Dunham on the sly. I mean, how often do you hear TV critics berate a show and its star because the show has too much nudity?  In fact, in a rather well publicized incident in January, during a panel discussion a TV critic made a comment critical of the amount of nudity on the show.  Of course TV critics are not complaining about the nudity of other premium cable shows, just this one, since Dunham is pudgy and covered with some fairly hideous back and arm tattoos.  When people constantly tell you that they hate seeing you nude, that’s gotta sting.

On last night’s SNL, the over the top nudity was mocked in one of the few funny skits of the episode.

My second and frankly my last observation on the show are the incredible self absorption and narcissism of the characters.  To me, virtually all of the characters are unlikable.  And honestly, I can’t tell if Dunham is writing the characters that way because she is mocking her generation, or if it’s because she is so inculcated into the introspection of her generation she can’t see what horrible human beings they appear to be on the screen.  Then again, to another millennial, these characters may seem perfectly normal.  So after watching the first season of the show, I could judge that I found the show interesting, but totally devoid of entertainment.  I was interested in why the characters were presented the way they were, and why lines were written a certain way, but I could care less about the characters.

The only way these horrible creatures could be redeemed would be if there was a mash up with some other show.  I would like see all of the Girls characters on The Walking Dead.  A one episode special in which they all suddenly had to deal with real survival issues rather than texting on their phones would give me the closure I crave.  None would survive the episode of course.  Now that’s entertainment!

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What I Watched Last Summer

I didn’t spend the summer traveling around the world.  I neither toured the Grand Canyon, getting lost while chasing an Indian kid, nor did I go to Hawaii and find an old Tiki idol and get cursed.

But I did watch television.

Back in, what is euphemistically called,” the day,” there was one television season.  It started in the fall, and ended in the spring.  And as a kid, you were expected to go play outside all summer because what else were you going to do, watch reruns?  But now, the new shows never end.  There are at least three TV watching seasons now, the traditional fall season, the mid season replacement, beginning in January through February, and of course summer.  With cable, there is never a time when there isn’t a run of new shows.  So this summer, I gave two summer shows a try.

Siberia

Although this show has been described as a mocumentary; that’s not really accurate.  It would be fairer to say that this is a faux reality show that gradually turns into something like a thriller, and it could probably be said to go in other directions. The design, music, first person filming, and graphics are all that of a typical reality show.  Sitting down watching the first episode, if no one told you that this was anything other than the normal, run of the mill reality show, you would have no reason to think otherwise.

That fades quickly as the series move on.  From a survival contest in the Siberian wilderness, the show gradually comes more urgent as odd things happen and the contestants aren’t sure if they are being messed with by the producers or if there is something else going on.  Eventually the show’s production camp is discovered abandoned with all the signs of an attack.  The “button” that lets you quit the show and call for transportation out of the area?  Not only does it not work, it was never hooked up in the first place.

Curiouser and curiouser as they say.

It would be giving away to much to say much more, other than the show looks like it could go in several directions, a thriller, a science fiction tale, or something of the supernatural, however don’t expect all, or even most of the questions to be answered by the season one finale.  So whether this show is worth jumping on depends on whether the show is renewed.  Right now, that doesn’t look likely.  But stay tuned.  If the show does get renewed, it’s worth giving a look.

Under The Dome

I’ve not read Stephen King in ages, so I have not read the book this show was based on.  That was probably for the best given previous attempts to translate King’s works to both the big and small screen. Still this show was mildly entertaining, although too kid-heavy, as King’s works tend to be.  I doubt kids are drawn to shows that have kids in them unless the show is about kids, like the shows on the Nickelodeon or Disney.

The show has all the familiar King tropes; only the kids know what’s really going on, crooked ministers and a total misunderstanding of  actual human behavior. In one episode, the evil town councilman “Big” Jim Rennie (Dean Norris) manages to talk virtually the entire town to turn in their guns.  During a time when food, water, and medicine are in short supply, and the police are seriously undermanned, the last thing people would be willing to do is line up and meekly turn in their guns so the town councilman can store them at his house.  Not even people in Maine would do that.

The town councilman character is supposed to be based on Dick Cheney, but knowing that from the beginning of the show, I didn’t see any comparisons between Dick Cheney and Rennie.  I don’t know what they are supposed to be other than Rennie is evil, and I’m sure per King’s thinking Cheney is evil… a thin reed to base a character on.  Frankly, if I was in a town trapped under a Dome, I wouldn’t mind a Dick Cheney there.  At least he wouldn’t try to take my guns.

King’s total ignorance and/or hatred of religion continues in this series in the same vein has many of his other works.  The minister is not only crazy, but he’s involved in some crazy drug manufacturing scheme with the town councilman.  Unlike Breaking Bad, which shows step by step how a good man can go bad, the minister starts off as both crazy and bad, and therefore just doesn’t seem realistic. As was pointed out on the Lion of the Blogosphere blog, the lack of religion on the show seems quite a contrast to an actual small town in the United States. A dome descends on a typical small town USA, and no one thinks there are any religious implications to that, nor do they even think about going to church or seeking some sort of spiritual guidance.  It takes almost the entire first season before that occurs to the townspeople. There may be an atheistic small town or two somewhere in America, but I doubt there common enough for the town’s strange behavior to seem normal to a regular viewing audience.

So there is much to critique on this show, but when it comes back next summer, I’ll probably watch it.

Hey, I want to see who made the dome!

Elementary Is Holmes

When I reviewed BBC’s Sherlock last year, I noted that CBS was planning its own rip-off version of the Sherlock Holmes character, seemingly to ride on the success of the BBC version.  After watching the first season of Elementary, which concluded with a two hour season finale last week, I’m glad I waited to do a review of the show, since my conclusions now are vastly different from the ones that I would have drawn when the show was just a few episodes into its freshman season.

The set up of the show is that Sherlock Holmes lives in New York City (yes he’s still British), while recovering from a stint in rehab after crashing from a serious heroin addiction problem.  Dr Joan Watson is hired by Holmes’s off screen aloof and distant father to be his sober companion, to assist in Holmes’s recovery.  As part of her job she moves in with Holmes and follows him around to make sure he doesn’t relapse.  From that starting point, Holmes resumes his relationship with the NYPD as “consulting detective;” similar to the position he held in London with Scotland Yard.

After watching the first couple of episodes, my feelings toward the show was that it was a well crafted TV show, well done in the sense that CBS has long experience with putting together solid television programming, with solid leads in the roles, but that it wasn’t Sherlock Holmes.  Although the Holmes stories are the template of the eccentric detective and side kick, which have proliferated on television since the beginning of the TV era, those shows were not Sherlock Holmes stories.  Psych is a good solid show with witty wordplay and a humorous bent about an eccentric genius detective and his down to earth side kick that helps keep him grounded.  Monk was a good solid show with light fun stories about an eccentric detective and a down to earth side kick… well, you get the idea.  It’s a common TV template that’s been replicated over and over for years; with various degrees of success.

That was my initial conclusion.  Elementary was a good solid show, but there was no need for the characters to be named Holmes and Watson.  They could have any names and it wouldn’t have mattered to the show.

Until it mattered.

The last half of the season very slowly began to explore the reasons for Holmes’s spiraling drug abuse, the murder of his one true love, Irene Adler, and Holmes inability to solve her murder.  In the episode, “M” Holmes confronts murders done in almost identical matter to the one that killed Irene Adler and revealing whom may be ultimately responsible, Moriarty.  From this point, the shows seem a bit less stand alone adventures and more interlinked stories that eventually form a story arc leading to a fantastic and fulfilling season finale.  All of the pieces finally fit.

So that’s why I’m glad I waited to review the show.  It turned out to be much more than I initially thought, and even if CBS is trying to ride the coattails of Sherlock, since it leads to a quality show that deserves to be Holmes in its own right, who cares?

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If Christopher Nolan Did Green Arrow…

…you might get something very similar to the CW’s new Arrow.  It’s not surprising that the new show should take a similar path.  Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of Batman was hugely successful, both critically, and financially.  Batman, the Frank Miller inspired version; the obsessed, little-bit psychotic vigilante, fighting his own demons as much as bad guys, translated well onto the screen.  So if you were looking for another DC superhero property to give the same treatment to, there probably isn’t a better choice than the Green Arrow.

The show looks good on the screen, although the foyer of the Queen mansion looks suspiciously like the one in Lex Luthor’s transplanted castle in Smallville.  As much as I enjoy the miracle of CGI and its ability to bring anything that you can imagine to the screen, there is nothing like good old fashioned stunts.  The pilot has lead actor Stephen Amell demonstrating some fairly impressive parkour skills and in fact Amell did train in parkour to prepare for this role, although many of the stunts are done by stunt doubles.  It’s a smooth enough transition that I can’t tell the difference though.  I was watching and it looked like Amell did all of the parkour stunts.

As originally portrayed in the comics, Oliver Queen was a millionaire playboy who also dabbled in crime fighting as the Green Arrow.  He was an expert archer, acquiring those skills while stranded on an island.  His stock in trade was trick arrows that could perform assorted functions.  He was Batman, without the compelling reason to be a Batman.  Eventually the comics provided a reason, having Queen lose his fortune and discovering the living is a lot harder without lots of money to fall back on.  Green Arrow becomes a crusader for social justice as well as the old fashioned kind.

In Arrow, the CW takes those basics and tries to re-imagine a much grittier, edgier version; a Green Arrow to match the edgier Dark Knight version of Batman.  As the pilot episode opens, Oliver Queen is rescued from his island prison after being missing and presumed dead for 5 years.  However this Oliver has a specific agenda, that’s partially revealed in flashbacks to the sinking of his yacht and the death of his father.  If you’ve not seen pilot, I won’t spoil it other than to say the death of his father gives him a very specific list of wrongs to be righted.

This Oliver Queen is rather morally ambiguous.  Is he a good guy?  It’s not so clear cut, and it looks like the show intends to draw that out.  The outing he was on when his yacht sank has him bringing along his then current girlfriend’s sister for a little cheat-o-rama. That girlfriend, Laurel Lance, despises him for her sister’s death although their futures may be linked since careful comic book readers will note that Laurel Lance is the future Black Canary, Green Arrow’s long time girlfriend in the comics.  But cheating on a girlfriend isn’t that edgy or gritty; killing a kidnapper who is helpless is.

In most superhero sagas, guns are never used and killing is strictly forbidden.  However for this show, we have a superhero that does kill, not in self defense, but to protect his secrets.  That ups the ante in the gritty and edgy department.  Without the normal limitations of the superhero genre, who knows where this show will go?

Weaved into the plot is more potential “drama” than you can shake a stick at.  His kid sister is using drugs, there is a new stepfather, and mommy dearest isn’t exactly the June Cleaver type; she has secrets of her own.  Not to mention the local police detective is the father of both Laurel Lance and the sister who died when the Queen yacht sank.  Guess who he blames for his daughter’s death?

And for that, I’m enthusiastic about this take on the Green Arrow story.  Yes, I realize there is the potential to go too far; turning this version of Green Arrow from less like an edgy Batman and more like a rich Dexter.  That would be a mistake, and hopefully the producers will put the brakes on any mass murder spree by a DC superhero.

Still, I like what I see so far and am willing to give this show some long rope to see where it goes.

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The Mindy Project

Women are in this year, and thanks to the wonders of on demand I’ve seen the pilot for the new Fox Mindy Kaling vehicle, The Mindy Project.  The show, which premieres September 25th, is pretty clearly a show made by, and for, women.  So what am I doing watching it?  Well I’m certainly a fan of Wendy Kaling from her Office days as Kelly Kapoor.  As a writer on The Office, she has certainly earned her reputation as a funny gal, and I, as someone who spent 20 minutes flipping through her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? in a bookstore without actually buying it,  can attest that she seems to be able to write some amusing anecdotes about her own life as well.

So I felt that was a good enough reason to give her show a try.  But I have to admit, it’s not exactly the type of show I would have bothered with usually.  A female OBGYN; professionally successful but unlucky in love… sound familiar?  It could be a base description of most romantic comedy heroines, and it’s not by coincidence.  Kaling is going for a pseudo romantic comedy vibe as a running theme of her show.  The pilot shows her at various ages, under a voiceover, watching a series of 80’s and 90’s romantic comedies, absorbing their “lessons” to apply to her own romantic life.

Does America really need another romantic comedy sitcom?

We already have Mike & Molly.

Of course, with this romantic comedy, they are taking the long view.  There is no obvious Mr. Right evident the pilot.  The two men in her life in the pilot, Dennis (Ed Helms), the checklist perfect first date and “good” guy, and Jeremy (Ed Weeks), a fellow doctor and “bad” boy.

Guess who she ends up hooking up with?

So give the show some credit for some honesty at least.  Mindy’s weight is mentioned and yes, she is getting chubbier from her Office days.   Also the character is a slut.  That’s a ballsy move in sitcom land.  Yes, sluts are familiar features of situation comedies and TV sitcoms, but as peripheral characters, or “the best friend.”  Not as the main character in the show.  Does America really want to see a chubby slut make stupid personal decisions week after week?  Or do we get enough chubby slut drama at our own workplaces?

Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think the answer is maybe, and I say that as someone who is not sure myself.  Will I get wrapped up in the character and want to keep coming back week after week, or will I just throw up my hands and say she deserves to be alone, start your cat collection now?

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My Netflix Review: Sherlock

Some iconic characters and literature are iconic partly because they are set in a particular time or place which in big ways and small, is part of the story.  The should-have-been-a-blockbuster John Carter, brought to film in 2012, was set in the 19th Century because the main character’s personality was very much set by the standards, ethics, and experiences of that time.  Some iconic characters can be updated, but usually it’s in such a way that there is only the faintest semblance to the original work.  The movie Clueless was based Jane Austen’s Emma, but no one really looks upon Clueless as a movie adaptation of Emma.  Similarly, 10 Things I hate About You was based, loosely, on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It strikes me as weird that the classics inspire so many teen comedies.

Sherlock goes to the Library

Sherlock goes to the Library (Photo credit: Super Furry Librarian)

But sometimes characters just seem to work better in the milieu that they were originally conceived.  Although I admit that’s highly subjective.  My first introduction to the Sherlock Holmes character was through the books of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, not as would be more common today, through film.  So that set my view as to how Sherlock Holmes should be portrayed.  Movies have gone in a different direction however, as most of the classic Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies were set in the period they were made, the 1940’s.  But to me, the more recently made Robert Downey Jr. version of Sherlock Holmes seems more “authentic” because they were set in the Victorian era, and let’s face it, is there a character that Robert Downey Jr. can’t play?

So when the BBC version of Sherlock hit the Netflix queue, I was wondering how I would accept this 21st Century version.  One thing that bugs me about the updating of iconic characters is that they necessarily live in a world that isn’t ours.  We live in a world in which Sherlock Holmes is very much part of the popular culture.  Sherlock takes place in a world where there was no Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and no Sherlock Holmes stories.  But as far as the answer to the question of if I could accept this, apparently, yes I can.  The show works.

One thing I was curious about was how they would portray Holmes, not as a detective, but as a man.  Doyle’s Holmes was highly intelligent but his stand out quality, what made Holmes who he was, was his keen observation skills.   The same skills that allow Shawn Spencer to fake psychic powers in USA Network’s Psych.

But we 21st Century types tend to medicalize everything.  So I was curious as to how Benedict Cumberbatch would portray Holmes.  What would be his major malfunction?  It turns out, they did have that in mind and Holmes answered that question in the very first episode, A Study in Pink,I’m not a psychopath, Anderson, I’m a high-functioning sociopath, do your research.”  That’s an interesting choice and I’m not sure why the producers went in that direction, rather than what I thought was a more obvious one, a high functioning autistic or someone with Asperger’s.  The characteristics of a sociopath don’t really lend itself to enhancing a someone’s observational skills.  I can only assume that Asperger’s was just too obvious but they still wanted some personality disorder to justify Holme’s keen intelligence and observation skills.  There has to be some justice after all.  We couldn’t have a normal person have those skills.

The character of Dr. John Watson, portrayed by Martin Freeman, seems much more human and relatable in contrast to Holmes.  Watson, just like the original Dr. Watson that Doyle wrote of, is a returning Army doctor back from Afghanistan (some things never change!).  This updated version of Watson is having difficulty adjusting to civilian life when he comes across Holmes and somehow passes Holme’s strenuous roommate test that is as challenging as Sheldon Cooper’s roommate agreement.

More so than any other version of Holmes, this one treats Holmes and Watson as not just colleagues but roommates, with all of the various conflicts that entails.  But Watson isn’t just a sidekick. This Watson still has very much of the soldier in him and is a man of action when the situation requires it.

So at least through Series 1 (Series 2 isn’t out on Netflix yet), this updated version seems to work well.  So well that CBS, in keeping with their practice of ripping off the BBC is coming out with their own Sherlock Holmes version this fall, Elementary.  Whether this is a pale rip off of the BBC version or an original retelling remains to be seen.  Sherlock Holmes in New York?  Is there even a Baker Street in New York?

We’ll see how that goes.  Sherlock has proven that you can do an updated, 21st Century version that’s very watchable.  So I’ll be looking forward to Series 2 showing up on Netflix.

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My Netfix Review: Lilyhammer

What happens when you take an average gabba goul eating Goodfella; transport him to Norway, and let him try to blend in with the locals?  Well antics ensue of course, and that’s the premise of the Netflix original series Lilyhammer.  Yes I know it sounds preposterous, but the premise of this limited series seems pretty clearly to have come from some late night drinking.

“We take this mafia guy who joins witness protection, but instead of being relocating to Southern California or someplace, he wants to relocate to… I dunno, Norway?”     

Publicidad de Netflix

Publicidad de Netflix (Photo credit: Daniel_Afanador)

“Put the bottle down, you’ve had enough.”

It’s interesting that Netflix, for its first original project, chose this idea over what I’m sure were a multitude of others.  I can only assume that someone among Netflix’s higher ups really missed the Sopranos, since this show has all of the markers of a Sopranos’s sequel, Silvio on Ice.

Steven Van Zandt, who played Silvio in The Sopranos, plays much the same character again, only with a different name.  When he suspects (via an attempted hit) that he’s on the outs with the new boss, he decides to turn State’s witness against him in exchange for relocation… to Lillehammer, Norway.  Why Lillehammer?  Eh, he liked the way it looked during the 1994 Olympics.

Really.

It’s a bit of a bizarre fish out of water tale, but this fish actually adapts fairly well into the community, quickly becoming a successful club owner in a country where proper permitting and licenses can take years, Van Zandt’s character manages it in days thanks to his ability to bring his mob business tactics to the rigid Norwegian bureaucracy.  Naturally, he manages to also attract some unwelcome police attention.

Although that’s part of the cross cultural stranger in a strange land story, the way the show handles the language barrier is also unique.  The Norwegians speak Norwegian and Van Zant’s character, Frank Tagliano, speaks English.  The conceit of the show is that Tagliano, shown listening to language tapes on his way to Norway, can understand the language, but can’t speak it.  So he speaks English, the Norwegians speak to him in their language, and he understands.  It’s a weird way to have a conversation, but it mostly seems to work, if you can accept the premise that a guy can understand the language perfectly, but can’t speak a word; so half the show is subtitles.  Now some people just will not accept subtitles (yes I’m referring to my fellow Americans) under any circumstances, so if that applies, this show isn’t for you.

More interesting than the show is the business model that got this show on the…air.  Netflix intends to use original programming to attract subscribers.  Their logic is that the old advertising model that has funded on the air and cable television is on the way out.  The multiplication of TV channels and the alternative options to regular television mean that the audience is getting smaller and smaller for each channel.  The days of getting 106 million viewers for a single show, like the series finale of MASH, are, with the exception of major sports events, gone forever. As the television audience becomes more bifurcated, the revenues these channels can get for advertising shrinks.

Netflix ignores advertisers.  It’s only interested in attracting new subscribers.  Will Lilyhammer help with that?

I’m guessing no.

Although it did garner enough viewers to justify a second season, I doubt the show actually did much to pull in new subscribers to the service.  However for its next show it’s decided to go after an already established fan base.  It’s producing 10 new episodes of the show Arrested Development.  Like Community, which I wrote about here, Arrested Development has an established, loyal fan base that could be tempted to sign up for a Netflix account to view the shows.  Other properties that Netflix was considering, like Terra Nova, did not.  There is even talk about reviving Firefly on Netflix (please oh please!)

When the second season of Lilyhammer comes out next year, I’ll probably watch it.  Hey I’m invested in the story now and want to see where it goes, but I don’t think the potential audience for a show like this is particularly big.

That’s why it’s on Netflix.

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My TV Season Sitcom Wrap Up

Last fall, I wrote about my expectations for the new TV season here and here.  Now that the season finales are all wrapped up I thought I would go over the shows I initially reviewed to see how the shows, and my comments on them, panned out.  I’ll go over the freshman shows at a later date.

The Office:  With the departure of Steve Carrell I still had high hopes that the show would continue putting out the same high quality comedy even though the departure of its main star forced the show to switch gears.  As I said last fall…

Although I have been a loyal Office fan, I admit that my interest has waned a bit the past few seasons.  I mean, how long are they going to film this documentary?  But the addition of James Spader’s Robert California has breathed new life into the show.  Spader showed up in last year’s season finale as an interviewee to replace Michael Scott as Manager.  The couple of minutes of screen time was so compelling, that I would consider it Emmy worthy.  Truly, great acting as Spader’s character shows himself so supremely confident that he intimidates the search committee into selecting him.  As the new season opens Jim’s to-the-camera interview reveals that Robert California immediately drove to Florida and talked the CEO out of her job, a concept that seems totally plausible given how Spader is portraying the character.  I think James Spader is a great addition to the show, and actually may have been the only direction the show could go into that would continue to make The Office worth seeing.

So what happened?  I lost interest.  Spader was not on the show frequently enough to retain my interest, and I stopped making the show a “must see” program.  From what I’ve heard from other Office fans, my opinion is fairly widely shared.  Andy (Ed Helms) taking over as manager struck me as kind of a clunker.  Although the character is entertaining in small bites, I never was enamored with the character and couldn’t care less about his relationship with Erin.  Maybe that’s just me though since the show will be back next fall.  Perhaps my mood will change by then.

The Big Bang Theory:  My theory that Leonard and Penny would get back together panned out, although in extreme slow motion.  I’m not sure a couple who had been together, broke up for over two years, and then got back together would actually get back in such careful, baby steps, and in such a totally unromantic way that these two did, however the romance/non-romance of Leonard and Penny is one of the key building blocks of the show, so if you really want to stretch it out over several episodes, this is the way to do it.

Otherwise the general quality of the show remains strong and entertaining and I’m enjoying the budding romance, if that’s what it is, between Sheldon and Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik).  Although they have been technically dating for two seasons, the relationship has only been one of convenience, to keep both of their parents off their backs.  However now Amy Farrah Fowler (for some reason it feels more natural to use her full name) wants to bring that relationship to the next level via B.F. Skinner-like operant conditioning.  I can see that some fans might have some hesitation that a real romantic relationship for Sheldon could change the character, but my gut feeling is that even aspies need love too and a Sheldon romantic relationship could work.  We’ll see how this plays out next season.

Two And a Half Men:      Since I wasn’t a regular viewer of the show, I probably wouldn’t have even commented on it other than the very public mental breakdown (what else would you call it?) by Charlie Sheen, that lead to him being fired from the show.  It was still a popular moneymaker so CBS wanted to continue it, adding Ashton Kutcher to the cast, in what I felt was as TV-plausible way to integrate him into the cast as possible without hiring some prize winning novelists to carefully craft a high concept season opener.  But high concept isn’t what this network show is about.  Still, it’s not the same show, and the ratings for this show have been steadily declining all season.  Not declining so much that this show won’t be back next fall. But I doubt if it can eek out any more seasons after that, and that’s probably for the best.

Community:  Community is of course my absolute favorite sitcom.  It follows in the tradition of Arrested Development in that the show has a sometimes sophisticated and complicated storyline, requiring the viewer to actually pay attention, and has lots of Easter eggs that will pay off several episodes later.  Also, like Arrested Development it suffers from perennially low ratings.  That’s to be expected of course.  A majority of people are not interested in paying close attention to a sitcom.  They’re popping popcorn in the microwave, and fielding homework questions from the kids at the same time.

The low ratings lead to Community being taken off the air in November of last year until finally returning to the schedule in March after a fan protest.  When the show returned in March, it was evident to me that the producers had already decided that they were probably going to be cancelled.  I mean nobody; NO BODY does a parody of Ken Burn’s Civil War unless they know this is their last hurrah.  That episode, awesome as it was, would have been totally impenetrable to an outsider.  And that’s the problem with Community, and similar shows like it.  At a certain point, the inside jokes, self references, and knowledge of the characters become so obtuse that only a hardcore fan would get the jokes.  Any casual user would be flummoxed.  I’m not the only one who’s made this observation.  It’s a real problem for a struggling show trying to attract an audience.  What new audience could sit down to watch an episode like Virtual Systems Analysis, and have any idea of what was going on?  The average guy sitting down on his couch to channel surf would have not understand this episode in the least.  If they were familiar with Star Trek: The Next Generation’s holodeck, they might understand what the Dreamatorium is supposed to be, but the finally detailed psychological profile that the show has built up on Abed for three seasons would be incomprehensible.  And the fantastic acting by Danny Pudi would probably go unnoticed.  Pudi played not only several versions of his own character Abed, but a version of Jeff Winger, not as he was, but as Abed imagines him to be.  That’s not only heavy writing, but heavy acting.  If you know what he was trying to do.

In spite of Community trying to sabotage itself for the last part of the season by doing some of the most brilliant avant garde  comedy on television, it got picked up for another season for a 13 episode order.  How the show can push the envelope any more than it already has I don’t know, but I’m perfectly willing to watch and see.

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Once Upon a Time Season Finale

When the fall season came out with not one, but two TV shows based on fairy tales, I admit I was bit surprised, although I suppose I shouldn’t have been.  Networks tend to poach ideas from each other all the time, so I guess the bigger surprise would have been that there would have been any shows based on fairy tales.   But the one that was promoted the most was NBC’s Grimm.  Grimm was presented as a cop show with fairy tale criminals.  Sort of a Law and Order:  Fairy Land.  I barely caught one or two promos for the competing fairy show, Once Upon a Time.  My only impression from the few promos I saw of that was that it looked stupid and would be cancelled soon.  Still… my wife wanted to give it a try so I committed to watching the show for as long as it lasted, which I assumed would be 6 weeks tops.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the first episode.  Maybe I shouldn’t say surprisingly, but my expectations were rather limited so I wasn’t jumping up and down excited about watching the show. The basic premise is that the familiar fairy tale characters have, due to the evil queen’s curse, have been transported to small town Maine with fake memories; unaware of their former fairytale existence.    The show has many Lost-like elements, which isn’t much of a surprise considering that Damon Lindelof, former executive producer for Lost, has a producer’s credit for this show.  The show follows the familiar Lost template as well.   Each week’s story highlights the character’s motivations via flashbacks to the fairy tale world.  In the case of this show, the flashbacks really seem necessary to understanding the characters, unlike in Lost in which in many cases it seemed a little gratuitous.

So the season has been a neat little adventure as we the audience has tried to figure out which characters have memories of their past lives (4 by my count through the first season), can the curse be broken, and what happens if it is?

Some of my speculation has already been shot down.  Just throwing this out there, but I already thought ahead to the series finale in which it’s revealed that our “real” world was just created by the curse, and eliminating the curse would eliminate our world and re-establish the real, real world, the fairy tale world.  However the Mad Hatter episode firmly established that our world and the fairy tale world are just separate universes, amongst many alternate universes with differing physical laws.  Magic works in the fairy tale universe, but in our universe not so much.

Intriguingly, our knowledge of the fairy tale stories is explained by the Mad Hatter as creativity being some sort of bleed-over from other universes.  We know the Snow White story because some writer picked up the actual events and thought it was his original idea.  That’s a reverse twist on Robert Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast.  In Heinlein’s book, writers create alternate universes by imagining them.

Well, at least they’ve given us a basic idea of the structure of the Multiverse for this TV show; a necessity that isn’t required for most other shows. It doesn’t matter if Mike and Molly exist within a multiverse or not.

But on to the show (spoilers obviously):  Emma takes Henry to the Hospital where he is in critical condition while Emma is going through Henry’s bag she finds the story book which, upon touching it, unleashes some sort of flashback so that Emma suddenly believes everything Henry has been telling her all season about the fairy story characters and the curse, which, upon that realization, drives Emma bonkers to kill Regina who has just arrived at the hospital to see about Henry until Emma grabs her and starts thrashing her around the supply closet until Regina convinces Emma that Gold can help them save Henry so off they go to Gold’s shop where he is only too glad to help, telling Emma and Regina that he installed a back door to the curse and needs Emma to recover a decanter of True Love that’s in a Faberge egg inside…yes a dragon which is underground beneath a shop that Regina owns in the middle of downtown which has an elevator behind a false wall that leads to the underground lair of the dragon which Emma goes down alone somehow believing that Regina is really going to cut the elevator back on to bring her up so she arrives at the lair with Prince Charming’s (her father’s) sword and when the dragon awakes realizes that a sword doesn’t make much sense against a 40 foot high multi-ton fire breathing dragon so she pulls out her pistol and empties a clip into the dragon which actually makes less sense than the sword, forcing Emma to run around the lair dodging fireballs until she finally decides to pick up the sword again and throw it at the dragon which is naturally lesson number one in dragon fighting school because the dragon goes up in flames leaving the egg behind which Emma grabs and heads up the elevator which stops half way up (as if you couldn’t see that coming) with Mr. Gold’s head poking down the hatch with an honest sounding “just toss it up to me dearie,” which Emma believes because, heh, she didn’t really have any choice but meanwhile back at the hospital Jefferson the Mad Hatter releases Beauty of Beauty and the Beast fame from her cell that Regina had been keeping her in and tells her to go find Mr. Gold, who was the Beast in that particular side story so while Gold is back at his store unpacking the egg he just tricked out of Emma, Beauty walks in all confused since she doesn’t have any memory of Gold, but he sure has a memory of her and takes her out the woods to an old well but meanwhile Emma has untied the tied up and gagged Regina and they both rush back to the hospital only to find out Henry has just died, which causes Emma to go say her goodbyes to Henry by telling him she loves him and kisses him on the forehead which anyone who has been watching this show knows will fix anything and sure enough, with a big swoosh, Henry comes back to life and all over town, part of the curse is lifted as the townsfolk get their old, original memories back, which probably isn’t good news for Regina since now everyone remembers what she did to them so back in the woods Beauty remembers Gold is really Rumplestiltskin, her beast, as Rumpie/Gold tosses the bottle of True Love into the well which unleashes a CGI fog much like the original one that established the curse back in the fairy tale world and when Beauty asks Gold “Hey, whats up,” he replies that magic is power or some such which seems to be a pretty bad omen since Regina, back in her house after apparently losing interest in Henry after he came back to life, which is typical of adoptive parents, stares out the window at the purple CGI fog overtaking the town…

…and smiles.

Whew, out of breath!

So, this episode was not only great, it was a real game changer in at least three different ways.  First, Emma now believes in the fairyland characters, the curse, magic; the whole shebang.  And probably more important, everyone in town does too.  They all now know who they are, and bad for Regina, who she is.  Probably the biggest game changer though is the fog.  It’s not unraveling the curse enough to send everyone back home, but it’s suggestive that Gold referred to magic as power, and Regina smiling when she saw it.  That tells me that the fog is probably restoring magic, at least to a limited degree, to the town, and Regina knows that’s what it’s doing.  That also makes me think the whole dragon egg thing was a set up between Regina and Gold, working together to restore magic.  As the town’s two primary former magic users, they stand to benefit the most from getting magic back.  Why trying to establish magic in our world rather than just going back to their own universe I’m still unclear on.  Maybe they weren’t planning on a second season and that was a last minute re-write?

That being said, I did have some quibbles with the episode. I didn’t think Emma’s sudden belief was well earned at this point.  I’m assuming that touching the book brought some magic epiphany to her, but why now?  She has handled the book before with no effects.  There was nothing in the moment that should cause her to believe since she wasn’t witnessing any magic.  The act that brought her to the hospital could well have been quite a mundane one.  She knew at that point that Regina is not just a bitch, but a killer bitch since she now knows that Regina did poison that apple turnover and meant it for her.  But that’s just normal crazy in Snapped, the Oxygen TV show that has women going nuts and going kill crazy. That doesn’t lead one to think that magic exists.  I guess I’ll just assume it was a magical realization and leave it at that for now.

Secondly, why would Emma think that throwing a sword at a massive dragon would have any effect on the dragon at all?  Presumably Gold told her how to kill the dragon after the scene change, but then, why would she throw down her sword and pull out her pistol?  That pistol was only slightly more effective than throwing a bowl of oatmeal.  I suppose she could have just panicked and dropped the sword but she didn’t make a move again for the sword until she was out of ammo.

As season finales go, this was an extremely satisfying one.  Definitely looking forward to season two next Fall with totally re-ordered power struggle.

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