Sunday, September 30, 2007

The All-Pilot Project: Moonlight

Moonlight
CBS, Friday, 9 PM

THE PREMISE: A vampire private detective. You know, exactly like Angel, which was exactly like Forever Knight. So it’s a second-generation rip-off. Imagine my excitement. Especially since I didn’t like Forever Knight or Angel in the first place.

THE PERSONNEL: We’ve got two former cast members of The Shield, somebody from Veronica Mars, and Marshall from Alias. It can’t be that bad, right? Oh, it can.

THE REVIEW: You know, this is my thirteenth review in seven days. Earlier in the week, I had a lot more enthusiasm for making fun of crappy TV. This show is just godawful. So just to mix things up, here’s a list of Five Things I Hate About Moonlight.

1. Hey, you know how they sort of tell you that the professor is the killer, like ten minutes into the episode? You’re probably expecting some sort of twist at that point. Nope, professor is the killer. And the detective is still surprised. He’s not just a vampire detective, he’s a shitty vampire detective.

2. Let’s see, vampire literature is full of clichés. Detective fiction is full of clichés. Mix them together, and you’ve got so many clichés that they actually bleed into the commercials a little bit.

3. The lead character’s name is ‘Mick St. John’. That may not be the worst name for a character on network television, but it’s pretty close.

4. OK, the villain actually refers to ‘dimestore novels’. Seriously? Is this show set in 1880? That’s such lazy writing.

5. Shannyn Sossamon as the female lead? Crap on a cracker, she makes Kaley Cuoco from The Big Bang Theory look like Helen Mirren. Does she realize that acting involves pretending?

Oh, and as a bonus, the opening scene is of Mick explaining his vampiric powers to an unseen reporter. First off, try to steal Garth Ennis’ take on vampire mythology a little bit more. Geez. Second, it’s a scene that can’t possibly take place in the context of the series, since vampires are unknown to the general populace. If you can’t figure out exposition, just have him look into the camera and address us directly. At least it’s more honest.

THE VERDICT: We’ve got a bad show here, people. Really bad. Feel free to go out and do stuff on Friday night. Nothing to see here.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The All-Pilot Project: Big Shots

Big Shots
ABC, Thursday, 10 PM

THE PREMISE: There are four guys, all executives or business owners, who…talk. And stuff happens to them. And, uh…. Did I mention there are four guys?

THE PERSONNEL: So, these four guys are Michael Vartan (Alias), Christopher Titus, Dylan McDermott, and Josh Malina (Sports Night). I like three of the four actors. Dylan McDermott has a little bit of an Australopithecine vibe about him, though.

THE REVIEW: All four guys have their own stories, and then they talk about them. Sort of like Sex and the City with dudes, and without the annoying voiceover. And really, it’s sort of a mixed bag.

McDermott plays Duncan Collingsworth (yes, that’s his name), the president of a cosmetics company. He’s got a lousy relationship with his daughter, and a reporter is on the trail of his recent arrest. Duncan went and got a blumpkin from a transvestite hooker in a public restroom, and things went downhill from there. (Two notes about that. First, that’s two transvestites on ABC in two nights. Second, the word ‘blumpkin’ was actually accepted by my spellcheck. I can not remember when or why I went to the trouble of adding it as an accepted word. Have I been writing porn in my sleep?) It looks like that’ll be a running story. It’s pretty hard to sympathize with Duncan.

Then there’s Karl Mixworthy (Where do these names come from?), played by Josh Malina. He’s cheating on his wife with a woman who’s a little bit unstable. He’s also unlikeable, but at least his mistress is played by Jessica Collins, who once played Andy Richter’s racist girlfriend.

Christopher Titus is Brody Johns, who’s henpecked, but not a scuzzball. He’s actually my favorite part of the show. Brody comes off as a decent guy with a demanding wife, and it’s clear by the end that he really does love her. He’s just delightfully put-upon, and it’s fun to watch. My single favorite thing in the episode was the response to his ringing cell phone: “What fresh hell…?” Hee.

Also likeable is Michael Vartan as James Auster. In his first scene, the CEO of his company fires him. Then said CEO dies before he announces the firing. He finds out that his wife was having an affair with his late boss, and then becomes CEO himself. His confrontation with his wife was well-done, and sort of belonged in a different show altogether.

So you’ve got two likeable characters and two unlikeable. That’s balance. Besides my distaste for half of the cast, there’s another problem. Any scene with all four men together just dies a slow painful death. In those scenes, it’s thuddingly obvious that they want to do a penis-enriched version of Sex and the City, and it just doesn’t work. It’s not how men talk, and it’s not even a stylized version of how men talk. Those scenes are weird and poorly executed. It’s unfortunate, because I really enjoyed the scenes with Titus and Vartan. I’ll just have to hope that they end up in a better show soon.

THE VERDICT: Despite some good bits, it just didn’t work. I might give it another chance when Rob Thomas joins the writing staff (Rob Thomas the Veronica Mars writer, not the musician. But wouldn’t it be weird if they were actually the same guy and I've just been incorrectly assuming that they weren’t?), but it’s just not sharp enough to carry me past the fact that two of the characters are dirtbags. And I don’t get the scheduling here. The shows on ABC’s Thursday lineup just don’t fit together at all. I can not imagine that there is any crossover between the Big Shots audience and the Ugly Betty audience. I think those audiences would probably fight if they met each other in public.

The All-Pilot Project: Life

Life
NBC, Wednesday, 10 PM

THE PREMISE: Cop Charlie Crews is sentenced to life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. When he’s exonerated after 12 years, he returns to the force with a new lease on life.

THE PERSONNEL: Adam Arkin and Robin Weigert have supporting roles. You can only imagine my excitement at seeing Calamity Jane again. Granted, she wasn’t drunk and lying in her own waste, so that threw me for a loop.

THE REVIEW: There’s a surprising amount of good stuff here. It’s a really strong and unique premise, which as the eleventh of thirteen pilots that I’ve watched and reviewed this week, is definitely a bonus. And while the Zen Detective angle is a little heavy-handed (Plus, there’s only one Zen Detective, and his name is Tim Bayliss.), it’s still relatively amusing.

Damian Lewis, who stars as Charlie, does some pretty good work in a quirky role. Just imagine losing all contact with the outside world in 1995. E-mail was for nerds and college students, cell phones (or ‘cellular telephones’) were the approximate size of a toaster, and there was no such thing as Google. That culture shock is well-handled. (Charlie reading an “Internet for Dummies” book and being astonished by the most basic knowledge made me laugh.) He also tends to stand too close to people and stare at them for too long. My immediate reaction was that an ex-con would behave in just the opposite way, but now I can see that maybe he’s overcompensating now that he lives in a world where he won’t get shanked. It’s a winning, quirky performance.

He’s partnered with Dani, who’s got some issues of her own. She’s 21 months out of rehab, but she’s still way into booze and anonymous sex. I think that revelation would have been better saved for a couple of episodes down the line, when we’re more emotionally invested, but that’s me. I can’t decide if I like her performance or not. It depends on the degree to which the character is supposed to be deluding herself. (Almost nothing I say makes sense anymore.)

The only real problem for me comes with the actual police work. That feels a little rote and predictable. Know how they catch the criminal in the first episode? Fingerprints, that’s how. If the individual episode plots could live up to the originality of the premise, it could be a really good series.

An interesting element that pops up at the end of the episode is Charlie’s obsession with solving the case that sent him to prison. I got the impression that his actual reason for rejoining the force was to get access to the files and date he needs. Charlie’s got an actual crazy guy wall of pictures and flowcharts where he’s tracking everything, and most of the supporting characters are somewhere on that wall. We don’t really have any details on the case, other than that it was a brutal murder, but that’s the kind of thing where you can have a nice slow burn. I have to say it’s a good move to have a meta-story with self-contained individual episodes. Other than Lost and Heroes, serial dramas have been failing left and right for the last year or two.

THE VERDICT: Much better than I expected. I think it’s something I’ll follow casually, since I like Charlie. If the plots improve, this could make it in to the regular rotation.

The All-Pilot Project: Dirty Sexy Money

Dirty Sexy Money
ABC, Wednesday, 10 PM

THE PREMISE: A lawyer goes to work for the wealthy society family that employed his father. I realize that doesn’t sound awesome, but bear with me.

THE PERSONNEL: A lot of big names in the cast. Peter Krause, Donald Sutherland, Jill Clayburgh, and William Baldwin are the most notable, but you’ll know most of these people. There’s sort of a dream team of producers, including Greg Berlanti, Bryan Singer, and creator Craig Wright (who’s written for Six Feet Under and Lost.)

THE REVIEW: You know, most of the shows I’ve like this season were ones I sort of expected to like. I had no expectations for Dirty Sexy Money. I didn’t know anything other than that Peter Krause starred. And you guys? It is fantastic.

The Darlings (you can already tell what kind of show this is) are a wealthy family who are the sort of awful people that you’d like to think dwell in high society. Like if the Bluths hadn’t lost their fortune. Nick George’s father worked as the family lawyer for decades, and Nick grew up alongside the privileged. And oh, does he hate them.

When his father dies in a plane crash, Darling patriarch Tripp (Donald Sutherland, who I once met in a gift shop and then couldn’t think of a single movie or show he’d ever been in. The worst brain fart of my nerd career.) asks Nick to come on board as the family lawyer (and moral center). Tripp throws enough money into a charitable foundation to convince Nick, and the fun begins.

Let’s just run down the Darling children, so you can get just a whiff of all the awesomeness. Patrick (William Baldwin) is a married candidate for the Senate who’s secretly having an affair with a transsexual. Karen is working on husband number four, and can’t stop talking about how she lost her virginity to Nick. Juliet is an aspiring (terrible) actress, and the kind of self-obsessed twit who plans suicide attempts specifically to conflict with family events. Jeremy’s a drunken wastrel with a gambling problem. And then there’s Brian, a minister with an illegitimate child. That’s right. GOB would totally get along with these guys.

The think I like is that Nick is basically a regular guy who’s fully aware of how awful these people are. He knows that they’re dicks, so we as the audience are not asked to ignore that fact. That means we can have fun with the whole thing.

Being the lawyer to the Darlings is a full-time job. Paternity suits, affairs, and human smuggling, all on the first day. There’s a funny running joke where each member of the family has their own ringtone, which is not only well-executed, but also how I run my own life.

There’s a darker subplot introduced at the end, where Nick learns that not only was his father having an affair with Tripp’s wife, Letitia, for forty years, but the plane crash that killed him may not have been an accident. So there’s a mystery, but we also get a racehorse in the ballroom and a Dan Rather cameo. Dan Rather, people!

THE VERDICT: I loved this show. It’s sleazy but fun, and fully aware of its own sleaziness. We’re not expected to sympathize with the Darlings, which means the bad behavior is pure comedy. Excellent actors and sharp writing send this bad boy straight to 'Record All'.

The All-Pilot Project: Private Practice

Private Practice
ABC, Wednesday, 9 PM

THE PREMISE: It’s a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff. At this point, you’re either sold or not.

THE PERSONNEL: Well, there’s Kate Walsh, pretty much the only Grey’s star who didn’t get involved in last year’s controversy. The cast also includes Taye Diggs, Amy Brenneman, Tim Daly, and Chris Lowell (on whom I still unfairly blame the cancellation of Veronica Mars).

THE REVIEW: I’d like to thank the producers for the awkward scene at the beginning. It recounts Addison’s resignation from Seattle Grace, and she takes the time to tell her old boss all about her new co-workers. This is not something that would ever happen. I would have to assume that any potential viewers of Private Practice have already been introduced to these characters. It’s not as if there are people who said “I’ve never seen Grey’s Anatomy, but if they start a less well-regarded version, I’ll give it a shot.” Thus, I have to assume that scene was meant for bloggers who are reviewing all pilots.

And then the very next scene opened with Addison dancing naked in her living room. With windows. Because a successful obstetrician can’t grasp how light travels through transparent services. It’s that sort of forcedly quirky stuff that I can’t stand, and I think it’s because that in real life you sometimes encounter people who would do that, and they are absolutely unbearable. Those people spend a lot of time thinking about how to be free-spirited, which is the opposite of free-spirited. If you really want me to think Addison is that person, I will hate her.

The setting is what appears to be a fertility co-op, and I don’t even understand that at all. Do they grow their own vegetables? I would think that they’re limiting themselves by sticking to fertility and pregnancy as medical topics. There are really about four stories: Couple can’t get pregnant, difficult childbirth, man masturbates into cup, babies are switched. They’ve got two of the four in the first episode, and one in the second. (Sidenote: I guarantee that I will get traffic from people Googling ‘Man masturbates into cup’. And as a sidenote to a sidenote, it was a truly sobering moment when I learned just how close to the top of the Google rankings I am for ‘jack off her’. Top 20, people!)

(EDIT: Apparently, the setting is actually a ‘wellness center’. That wasn’t clear to me, given that all of the medical plots involve fertility. And nobody ever used the phrase ‘wellness center’.)

There’s a good supporting cast, but their histories are so entangled and yet, apparently, resolved by the end of the episode. I know I’m not the audience for this, so it’s really hard for me to review. I would be interested in hearing what Grey’s Anatomy fans thought of it, though. Swear Jar Buddy Lana is a big fan, and she was not exactly crapping her pants with delight over the episode that launched the spinoff. (I will also get Google traffic from ‘crapping her pants with delight’.) I was just kind of bored and lost. I felt like I wasn’t getting in-jokes, which is really weird on a pilot.

THE VERDICT: Meh. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t actively dislike it. Thanks to CW Now and The Big Bang Theory, it takes a lot for a show to actually make me mad. I’ll be interested to see how it fares in the ratings. I know the people love their Grey’s Anatomy, but I’m not sure that’ll carry over.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The All-Pilot Project: Journeyman

Journeyman
NBC, Monday, 10 PM

THE PREMISE: In a show that is totally not Quantum Leap, a man is forced to travel, or ‘leap’, through time to set things right. Oh, and his travels through time are limited to his own lifespan. But it’s not Quantum Leap. For one thing, Dean Stockwell’s not it. What do you think of that?

THE PERSONNEL: (EJ is watching the credits) I’ve never heard of any of these people. Nope, not him. Not her. No… HOLY SHIT! Reed Diamond is in this! You guys, Reed Diamond!

THE REVIEW: I’m biased because Reed Diamond was Mike Kellerman on Homicide, but I have to say, they did a damn good casting job. Kevin McKidd, who plays time traveler Dan Vassar, and Reed could actually be brothers. (By the way, Reed’s character is a police detective. I’m having such pleasant flashbacks.)

OK, so Dan starts slipping through time for brief periods. 1989 for two days, 1997 for several hours, that sort of things. (I like how they indicate the exact time using movie billboards and Today Show hosts. Those are the touchstones I would look for, I think.) As time travelers are wont to do, he starts affecting things. (Dude has learned nothing from Hiro.) There isn’t any explanation given for why he’s suddenly skipping through the years. I assume that, like Billy Pilgrim, he simply became unstuck in time.

For me, the most interesting part of the show is between those time slips. Dan has to explain to people where he went and why he was missing for two days. In a clever bit, everybody assumes he’s got a drug problem and they stage an intervention. That sort of thing was my favorite part of the show.

Now, there’s all sorts of dark backstory being hinted at. Dan’s fiancée (an actress with the first-rate name of ‘Moon Bloodgood’) died some years back, and she still casts a shadow over his marriage. I’m a little bothered by the impression they’re giving, that Dan’s wife was his second choice. It’s hard to care about him saving his marriage when that marriage is an afterthought.

Eventually, we find out that Moon Bloodgood (that’s so much better than her character name) is alive, and also traveling through time. Or maybe she’s God. There’s a lot that’s not clear. Bizarrely, she advises Dan that he has to help things along, but since he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do, he might make the wrong choice sometimes. Oh, and he’s not supposed to change anything. It was a poorly thought-out speech, really.

Here are my problems with the basic premise. First, with no explanation as to why he’s traveling through time, the entire show is a deus ex machina. He travels through time because that’s the plot. Second, when he goes into the past for two days, he’s gone from the present for that same amount of time. Wouldn’t he return at the moment he left? As it is, it indicates that past and present are occurring simultaneously, and he’s physically moving between them. I don’t think that’s what they want to indicate. And any time somebody’s fixing the past, I always find myself thinking that the past has already happened. Fixing it would entail making sure things happened the way they did. And since they already did happen, you can lay low because your work is done. The paradoxes irritate me.

I could probably get past all that, but it’s just not clicking for me. I feel like everybody tried their best, though. I think I'd really like it if it were a show about a time traveler trying to pick up the pieces of his life in between adventures.

THE VERDICT: You know, this just isn’t my show. I can sort of see people’s parents watching it, though. Like, if I met somebody who really dug Journeyman, I wouldn’t think less of them. And I might have it on in the background when I’m writing about Heroes, but I can’t see actively watching it. When there’s no reason for anything that happens, there really isn’t a story. Still, watch an episode or two so you can talk to your parents about it and make their day.

Just Checking In

I won't be able to write about returning favorites until Pilot Madness has calmed down a bit, but I just want to say that Earl and The Office were excellent last night. And on Tuesday's House, the bit where the janitor suggested lupus as a diagnosis cracked my ass up. That's all. Dirty Sexy Money ain't gonna review itself, you know.

The All-Pilot Project: Cane

Cane
CBS, Tuesday, 10 PM

THE PREMISE: It’s been described as ‘Dynasty with Latinos’. (I can’t tell if that’s offensive or not. If I’m not supposed to be using the term ‘Latino’, please let me know.) It’s the story of the Duque family and their sugar business. (Hee. ‘Dookie’.)

THE PERSONNEL: Stars include Jimmy Smits, Hector Elizondo, Rita Moreno, and Nestor “Richard ‘Batmanuel’ Halprin” Carbonell. Also appearing in the first episode is Lee Tergesen of Oz fame, one of my favorites. (Two Oz-ites and a Lostie. They’re really stacking the deck here….)

THE REVIEW: I am a little miffed that nobody liked my joke about how this show is a House spinoff . The early ad campaign was sort of hilarious, because they portrayed it as being The Sopranos in the sugar industry, which really is sort of funny. (And also, I automatically associate the sugar industry with that episode of The Simpsons where Homer finds tons of sugar on the ground and tries to sell it.)

It turns out, Cane isn’t really about a sugar-themed mobster, which can only help. It’s actually more of a family-centered drama, not unlike Brothers and Sisters or Six Feet Under, and it’s really quite good, with one of the best casts of the season.

Jimmy Smits stars as Alejandro, the adopted son of the Duque family. The first episode centers on his ascent through the family business. Based on the ending of the episode, he’s got all sorts of interesting stuff going on, but we’ll get to that later. I’m a big Jimmy Smits fan, and he does an excellent job here.

Nester “Richard ‘Batmanuel’ Halprin” Carbobell plays Frank, a natural-born Duque. He’s in bed (literally) with one of their sugar competitors, and it remains to be seen where his true loyalties lie. I liked his reaction to being passed over by his adopted brother. They’ve got a lot to play with here. (And if I write about this show again, I will be obligated to always call him 'Frank "Richard 'Batmanuel' Halprin" Duque'. I might have to set up a hotkey.)

There are about a dozen more Duques (hee), which is where the problem comes in. That’s a lot of characters and a lot of backstory. I’ve got nothing against large ensembles, but between the number of characters and the elaborate history, it’s overwhelming at first. I feel like the premiere should have been a two-parter, as a better understanding of certain past traumas would have lent the story a little more emotional resonance.

Still, it’s interesting, reasonably well written, and well acted, if not quite engaging. The bit at the end where Alejandro has a thug in the employ of a rival murdered was jarring. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to be surprised at how well he’s been hiding his dark side, or if it was a sudden emergence of same. (Does that make sense? I’m still trying to figure out why a doctor doesn’t have the sense to pull the shade when she’s dancing naked in the living room. My mind is addled by Pilot Week.)

By the way, I really hope that the Samuels, a rival sugar family, continue to appear. Not only because Lee Tergesen is awesome, but I think having clearly defined antagonists will help cement the series a little.

THE VERDICT: You know that episode of The Simpsons where Homer becomes a food critic, and everybody in town gets fat because they hadn’t realized that everything was so good? That’s how I’m starting to feel here. I would have passed on Cane, simply because my Tuesday viewing is already overstuffed. But here I am. It doesn’t rate a ‘Record All’ just yet, but it’s not worth kicking to the curb. I’ll give it a few more episodes to see if it really grabs me. I feel like it's right on the line between gripping and dull. Let's hope for more gripping. (Hee. And also, Dookie. Hee. I am 11.)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The All-Pilot Project: Bionic Woman

Bionic Woman
NBC, Wednesdays, 9 PM

THE PREMISE: She’s a woman who is bionic. This is one of the more self-explanatory titles of the season, really.

THE PERSONNEL: This series has so many producers that I have to think I might be on the list somewhere. Katee Sackhoff, better known as Battlestar Galactica's Starbuck, is in the cast. And there’s Miguel Ferrer, who has been in just about everything.

THE REVIEW: Hello. This is special guest reviewer Bobblehead Dwight Schrute. EJ left this review distressingly unfinished, so I’ve decided to step in and clean up his mess. Again. To make a commitment and not keep it, that is not the way of the Bionic Woman.

I spend most of my time on the shelf of EJ’s DVD collection devoted to Baltimore-based crime series, so I see a lot of television. I am quite comfortable saying that Bionic Woman is the best series that I have ever seen.

Our story begins with a woman who is not in any way bionic. Or is she? I’ve thought a great deal about what I would do if I were bionic, and I believe I would use my powers for good, but there’s no way to know. For humanity's sake, I hope I'm right.

Since I am a Bobblehead and incapable of taking notes, I’ll have to rely on EJ’s childlike scrawls. I believe this says ‘irritating sister’, which shows his complete lack of knowledge as to the true workings of heroism. If Jamie Sommers doesn’t have a child to care for, in this case, her younger sister, she has nobody from whom to conceal her identity. No secret identity, no hero.

When Jamie is gravely injured in an auto accident, her scientist boyfriend uses nanotechnology to repair her body, making her a cyborg. A woman cyborg. (Here, EJ’s notes say ‘make a Grant Morrison reference’. Even I don’t get him half the time.) And once she’s been rebuilt, the secret organization that made her starts training her to be a soldier. In the future, of course, all wars will be fought by cyborgs. And vampires. And possibly Scanners.

Eventually Jamie encounters the original Bionic Woman, who’s gone rogue. She’s played by Starbuck, which would indicate that Jamie’s nanotechnology will eventually mutate into the Cylons’ sentient technology. (Not for thousands of years, of course. Sentient technology can’t possibly mutate that quickly. That’s ridiculous.) And then these two bionic women face each other in heated battle. I watched this scene multiple times, to really take in the subtleties of their comparative fighting styles.

At this point, EJ’s notes say ‘Starbuck looks weird in lipstick’, and ‘Unclear motives – is that mysterious or sloppy?’ Honestly, I don’ know why you people read this site. There are literally countless websites devoted to the topic of bears. Can you afford not to be an expert?

THE VERDICT: (Bobblehead Dwight) A triumph of storytelling and production. As a non-bionic man, I can only guess at the struggles of a Bionic Woman, but I will try my best to understand.

THE VERDICT: (EJ) Hey, thanks for stepping in, Bobblehead Dwight! I thought Bionic Woman was entertaining, and basically well done. Some of the plot points and motivations were sort of vague, and I’m not sure if that’s because they’re poorly thought out, or if they’re supposed to be guessing. They could stand to either crank up the intrigue, or else just go for balls-out action, as the first episode was sort of an uneven mix. Still, I’ll stick around to see where it’s going.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The All-Pilot Project: Reaper

Reaper
CW, Tuesdays, 9 PM

THE PREMISE: Sam, a likeable slacker finds out on his 21st birthday that his parents sold his soul to the devil. Satan enlists him to track down souls who’ve escaped from Hell. I did not make this up.

THE PERSONNEL: Missy Peregrym, better known as shape-shifting Candice on Heroes, has a supporting role as Sam’s love interest. Ray Wise from Twin Peaks plays the Devil. Honestly, most of the actors look familiar, but I can’t place them. The pilot was directed (and executive produced) by Kevin Smith. That’s sort of a weird choice, because he’s not a very good director. I like his work (“Clerks 2” excepted), but the guy’s a writer who sort of directs.

THE REVIEW: Now, to be honest, I’m sort of miffed. At one point, David Cross was tapped to play Sam’s friend, Sock. Obviously, anything with David Cross is better than anything without David Cross. That said, I liked Reaper a whole lot.

It’s quick and clever, with well-developed characters. When the premise hinges on parents trading their firstborn to the devil, you’ve got to gain back a lot of ground right off the bat. And to its credit, Reaper really sells that point. Sam’s parents do a ridiculously good job in small roles and ground the story in the emotion it needs.

Sam’s pre-Satan life is well-observed. He seems like a guy you’d know. He interacts with his friends and co-workers in the same way that an actual young person would. The cute flirtation with Andi is handled well, and Sock is damned entertaining. (Just between you and me, I’m sort of glad they went a different way with Sock. I’m not sure I’d buy David Cross being friends with a 21-year-old Home Depot clerk.) You could actually have a pretty good show with just those basic ingredients.

And then Satan shows up. Ray Wise is terrific as the Devil, clearly devious and sadistic, but basically affable. He assigns Sam to bring back the souls who’ve escaped from Hell. Obviously, this sets up a nifty ‘monster of the week’ premise to keep things moving. Our first monster is a deceased arsonist who’s come back as a fireman. If you’ve got a show where guys have to fight a flame demon, you have my attention.

Chuck’s got some ill-defined powers as a result of his new job. Sporadic telekinesis is probably the best way to put it. (We are truly living in a Golden Age, here people. Our forefathers never got to use phrases like ‘sporadic telekinesis’ when discussing I Love Lucy or Dragnet.) Just enough to turn the tide in a fight, but not enough that it’s a story-killer.

Oh, and the portal to Hell where Sam drops off his captures? The DMV. You have to admit, that’s funny.

THE VERDICT: There’s a surface similarity to Chuck, with a young underachiever suddenly in over his head. Luckily, both shows are high quality and different enough in their execution that neither feels superfluous. We’ve got another ‘Record All’. A lot of fun.

The All-Pilot Project: The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory
CBS, Mondays, 8:30 PM

THE PREMISE: A hot girl moves in across the hall from two nerds. Premise Beach!

THE PERSONNEL: Created by Chuck Lorre, the guy who brought you Dharma and Greg and Two and a Half Men. He’s working outside his box by creating a series without ‘and’ in the title. Johnny Galecki, who you may remember as Darlene’s boyfriend on Roseanne.

THE REVIEW: Wow, another multi-camera comedy with a laugh track. At least this one isn’t filmed before a live audience. That helps it move faster, without all the awkward timing. And Big Bang needs all the help it can get.

You know you’re in for a rough ride beginning with the title. Unless of course you find the word ‘bang’ inherently hilarious. See, it’s a science thing, but it’s also a euphemism for sex. Sit there and stew in it for a few minutes. You’ll get it. It’s what they call a ‘way homer’.

The jokes just flat out aren’t funny. There’s just some basic comedy writing that’s missing, and it’s the kind of things that makes me die inside just a little bit. More frustrating, though, is the way the lead characters are handled. If you read my review of Chuck (and if not, why are you not reading everything I write?), you’ll see I liked the way that he felt real. Writing nerds, and in fact, writing ‘book smart’ characters takes a certain touch, and that touch is missing here.

Sheldon and Leonard feel inauthentic and flat. There’s no knowledge of, or affection for, nerds. In fact, they aren’t really even nerdy. Mostly, they just like math and science, which apparently is hilarious in and of itself. Let’s not even get started on the disturbing anti-intellectual implications there, or we’ll be here all day. Basically, if the writers don’t care about the characters, why should we?

At least the performances are halfway decent. Galecki and Jim Parsons try their best to give their characters some dimension. But then there’s Kaley Cuoco. Even her name irritates me. She’s just not a good actress. Like, I’m not sure she’s ever even seen anybody act in her life. It’s weird and depressing. Just watch the ending scene, where she’s supposed to be laughing about the hilarious antics. That is not laughter. She’s being poked with a pin by a stagehand just to get a reaction. She creates the impression that she’s unfamiliar with the act of laughing. She is a bad actress.

I don’t even have the necessary level of interest to start on the crummy “My shower is broken, can I use yours, new neighbors?” story point. Three’s Company was a long time ago, man.


THE VERDICT: Just bad. It’s not even like Back to You, where it just didn’t work for me. This isn’t dated or a throwback, it’s just poorly written and not funny.

Dancing with the Stars: Week the First, Night the Second

And now, it’s the men. I only know three of them, but that has never stopped me before. I’m going to charge right in so I can get this posted before the results show airs. Let me just say that it was not cool the way the camera would cut to Josie Maran ever time Tom Bergeron mentioned somebody getting eliminated. Come on, cameramen; cut the girl a break.

CAMERON MATHISON – OK, he’s a soap star. That means I have no idea who he is. He seemed a little simple, but pleasant. I honestly can’t remember much about his dancing, which is not a good sign. Forgettable is worse than bad on this show. (Billy Ray Cyrus made it to fifth place, for God’s sake!) He’s partnered with Edyta, the only professional to appear on all five seasons. Damn. I can’t think of anything to say about him at all. Oh yeah, his legs were screwed up when he was a kid!

FLOYD MAYWEATHER – Oh, that wasn’t good. The weird thing is, he was quick on his feet. They just weren’t going in the right place. Plus, he really comes off as an arrogant SOB. And yes, I know he’s a Grand Rapids native, so I run the risk of getting my ass kicked if he Googles himself. I hope he gets over himself, because he really could be fun if he realized he was on Dancing with the Stars and not The Floyd Mayweather Show starring Floyd Mayweather. Partner Karina already looks like she’s done with him, and she put up with Billy Ray! (I often invoke Billy Ray Cyrus to make a point.)

HELIO CASTRONEVES – Hee. I don’t know who he is, but he’s funny. I wasn’t in love with him the way the judges were, but he really did do the best of anyone last night. Now, I think this will come off more negative than I mean it, but I really got a Borat vibe off of him. He looks a little like Sacha Baron Cohen, and he’s got that indeterminate accent; but really, it’s sort of his tone and excitability. I kept thinking he was going to offer to make romantic explosions on Julianne’s stomach. I think he’s a serious contender, especially if people know who he is. I understand there are people who know things about auto racing.

ALBERT REED – The guy’s a model, and he referenced “Zoolander”. That’s a point for him. And then he came right out and said he was the least famous person on the show. That’s like five points! I liked his performance, especially for a first week. And apparently the ladies like him. Best of all, his partner is my crazy dancing girlfriend, Anna Trebunksya (I’m guessing at the spelling)! I love her. I’ve missed her these last seasons – we haven’t seen her since Jerry Rice in Season Two. And she is a crazy, crazy lady. Just watch those facial expressions – she’s playing all the parts in a stage production during every interview. I’ll dial the number to vote for Albert, but really, I’m voting for Anna.

MARK CUBAN – Man, I’m already done with him Completely charisma-free, and basically a douche. He’s just boring and irritating, and he thinks he’s hilarious, which makes it all worse. I actually thought his dance was pretty bad, but the judges gave him a pass for whatever reason. I don’t really need to see him again. I bet Kym is really missing Jerry Springer. “He was old and creaky, but at least he wasn’t slimy to the touch.”

WAYNE NEWTON – This is actually kind of awesome. His dance was the standard ‘old guy’ level of quality, but he’s the most famous person ever to be on the show. I’m not a huge fan, but it’s hard to not like Wayne. Plus, he really seems committed to doing well. Which is good, because Cheryl tends to kick her partner’s asses with the practice schedule. I’d like to see him get better, because I’ll get irritated if he coasts through the season. And I tend to support Cheryl, regardless of her partner. (Two-time champion, people!)

I don’t know who’s going home – I don’t get what’s going on in America’s heads. You people freak me out, quite frankly.

The All-Pilot Project: Chuck

Chuck
NBC, Monday, 8 PM

THE PREMISE: An action-comedy wherein a nerd ends up with the contents of a supercomputer burned into his brain.

THE PERSONNEL: Created by Josh Schwartz (Him again!). The writing staff includes a couple of Veronica Mars castoffs, and the cast is almost entirely unknown to me. Joss Whedon fans will be happy to see Adam Baldwin, though I really only know him as the voice of Jonah Hex on Justice League.

THE REVIEW: This episode contained a scene of nerds fighting a ninja, a Batman reference, and a supporting character nicknamed ‘Captain Awesome’. It’s nice to feel like the target audience.

Chuck’s a nerd who works at a Best Buy-type store. (He’s officially a nerd – he’s part of the ‘Nerd Herd’, a reference to Best Buy’s ‘Geek Squad’.) He’s awkward with women and socially inept. (You know what I was saying about the target audience…) He is, in short, a less self-obsessed Seth Cohen with a job.

Then one day, his former college roommate (who, unbeknownst to Chuck has a become an Alias-style CIA Agent) sends Chuck an e-mail that contains the data of an entire supercomputer, hypercompressed into hours of images, just before the bad guys shoot him dad. (The roommate, not Chuck.) As a result, Chuck sometimes gets flashes of information that allow him to identify terrorists, predict danger, and other crazy things a dude’s brain shouldn’t do. (This sequence is actually very cool and works as a straight action scene.)

Long story short, various factions of the US government want Chuck either protected or dead. Hot CIA agent Sarah falls into the ‘protected’ camp, while Major Casey of the NSA is clearly hoping for ‘Dead’. Sarah befriends him, posing as a regular girl who likes Chuck. Naturally, things go horribly wrong. And it is awesome.

Action and comedy are very hard to mix, and this show’s got the right blend. The action is genuinely exciting, the funny stuff is genuinely funny. The best part is that Chuck is really likeable. He’s a nice guy who just happens to spend enough time playing “Call of Duty” that he has to bandage his fingers to prevent bruising. I like how they really get the details right. TV nerds are hard to pull off, since writers tend to just assume that ‘smart’ is nerdy, or else ‘socially retarded’ is an acceptable synonym. Chuck is a real nerd, though. I mean, they have “Zork” references in the first episode! And not only that, the writers remembered that it was, in fact, a “nasty knife”. Can’t forget the adjective, people!

At the end, Major Casey ends up undercover as an employee at Chuck’s store, which should provide all sorts of hilarity. CIA agent Sarah is likeable and also kicks ass. I like her relationship with Chuck, which should provide all kinds of awkward moments and stabbing of bad guys.

As long as they can keep up the blend of action and humor, this could really be a strong series.

THE VERDICT: Dude, there’s a guy named ‘Captain Awesome’. You know it’s straight to ‘Record All’. The fact that it’s on opposite How I Met Your Mother and Dancing with the Stars causes a potential problem. My plan now is to watch Dancing at other people’s houses all season, and let the magic box take care of the rest. This is well on its way to being a favorite.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dancing with the Stars: Week the First

First off, this is my 200th post! Woo! Everybody who’s not me can suck it!

Let me just say that I do not approve of splitting the men and women into separate nights. Sure, it’s only for one week, but it’s very inconvenient. Of course, it means I don’t have to write about twelve dancers in one night.

Samantha Harris had her baby on Sunday, but apparently there wasn’t enough time for her to get wasted and stuffed into an evening gown, because we’ve got Drew Lachey co-hosting. My life has taken an odd turn, as evidenced by the fact that not only can I immediately recognize Drew Lachey, I was genuinely happy to see him there.

JENNIE GARTH – For a first performance from a non-musician, that was really quite good. She really did seem nervous, which is not the worst thing in the world for somebody dancing on live television for the first time. She clearly has confidence issues, which will either go away or be a huge factor. (Yeah, I’m not exactly Jimmy the Greek here.) Her partner, Derek, is one of those new guys. I get the feeling he probably calls her “ma’am” often.

JOSIE MARAN – I’m not clear on who she is. I know depressingly little about models these days. They failed to mention that she played one of Dracula’s succubi in “Van Helsing”. I remember that Sam and I felt one of those succubi was pretty hot, despite the prostheses and wings and blue skin. I have no way of knowing if that was Josie or not. That said, I sort of love her. Her rehearsal footage was absolutely awful. Her partner, Alec, calling her “deceptively unfit” was the best thing on the show. She cracked me up! She didn’t dance as badly as her training video indicated, but I’m worried that her low scores, combined with the fact that nobody knows who she is, will eliminate her first.

SABRINA BRYAN – I honestly don’t know what the Cheetah Girls are, but it made me laugh that they played a Pussycat Dolls song for her. You’d think Cheetah Girls and Pussycat Dolls would be natural enemies. She danced well, but I can’t believe the judges didn’t ding her for not actually doing a cha-cha. First round is way too early to start doing hip-hop interpretations of the dances. That’s the kind of thing that usually makes Len freak out. Just wait for next week when she’ll have to do ballroom. I dare you to pour hip-hop all over a waltz. (Speaking of hip-hop, you guys wouldn’t believe how big a part that T-Pain has played in my conversations of the last several days.) I think this is her partner’s first time on the show, and he described himself as a “Dancing Ninja”. That’s way less scary than a regular ninja, you have to admit.

MARIE OSMOND – I’m not sure what to make of her. She seems like a nice lady (and if you didn’t find her exclamation of “Oh, my heck” endearing, something is wrong with you) but she’s pushing the ‘deliberately wacky’ a little too hard. It’s less irritating to see a woman pushing 50 doing so than a guy in his 30’s, I’ll admit. Still, she danced well enough that she really doesn’t have to try and distance herself like that. Just get into it, Marie! We’ll be happy for you. And she does seem much more pleasant than Jonathan’s last partner, Heather Mills.

MEL B – You know, I really couldn’t care less about the Spice Girls. I can’t even enjoy them ironically. Thus, Scary Spice could not possibly be less interesting to me. I just find her kind of irritating. Her dancing didn’t really make an impression one way or another. I think she’ll end up in the middle of the pack. I sort of got the feeling that Maksim is already tired of her. Last season he had to have his masculinity disparaged on a weekly basis, this season, his partner thinks backtalk is hilarious. Poor guy.

JANE SEYMOUR – I love Jane Seymour, and I thought she did a really good job. She’s not going to be able to do the flashy tricks that a lot of the younger women will pull off, but she’s really very graceful. One of my favorites for the season. Now, her partner Tony has a reputation for banging his partners (I think it really only happened with Season Two’s Stacy Kiebler, but he’s been named in Season Three partner Sara Evan’s divorce. Sure, her husband is pretty much alleging she’s had an affair with every man ever, but it’s not helping his reputation.), and he’s got quite a swagger about him. I liked in the ‘first meeting’ video where Jane Seymour freaked out because Tony was her partner. In Tony’s head, that’s how everybody reacts to him always. (Note: He’s probably a very nice person, but he just gives off this vibe.)

I’m very worried about Josie Maran. Though if she does leave, she’s officially invited to come watch the show with me every week.

Heroes 2-1 -- "Four Months Later"

You guys weren't expecting to see Mr. Muggles again, were you?

For the last couple of days, I haven't really been able to focus on anything that isn't Heroes-related. It's sort of like Christmas Eve, you know?

I've tried to stay clear of casting news and spoilers for Heroes, so my reaction when Takezo Kensei took off his mask was a boisterous yell of "Holy crap, it's Sark!" (He was a villain on Alias, and his character was a lot of fun. Swear Jar Buddy Kelli was also very excited about his appearance.) And in case you didn't notice, the guy who recruited Mohinder was Stephen Tobolowsky, one of the most frequently employed character actors in the business. Most people remember him from "Groundhog Day", but he's been in everything. He was last seen as a creepy lawyer on John from Cincinnati. And now he turns things to gold. Always got a trick up his sleeve, that guy.

Pretty neat trick to jump ahead four months. That's how long it's been since the season finale, which is kind of clever.

From Mohinder's lecture, it seems that the disease that killed his sister and nearly killed Molly is becoming more widespread. Certain things in the episode indicated that he's considered less of a kook these days. He's not completely mainstream, but people were actually listening to his lecture, and Maya had a copy of his book. I wonder if something happened in those four months to increase public acceptance.

Hey, new characters! Maya and Alejandro, and they're wanted for murder. I'm not clear on what Maya's power is, but it kills a lot of people. It seemed like she's infectious or produces plague or something. Her brother probably has powers too, but it's pretty clear that he's never manifested them. I liked the way they looked at it, as a trial from God. That's an angle that didn't come up in the first season, and it could be interesting to see her treating her power as a hardship that she must overcome.

Did you guys miss Hiro as much as I did? "You wear glasses like a doctor." Hee. Anyway, the revelation about Kensei is interesting, to say the least. He's not only not Japanese, but he certainly isn't a hero. Poor Hiro's been inspired by a fraud all this time. And he's learned that it is possible to change history, so this whole thing where Kensei isn't achieving his heroic tasks is a little worrisome.

Man, those Bennetts aren't so good at blending in, are they? Nice touch how Noah used a paper company as a front before, and now he's working at a copy shop. If there's ever a box labeled 'Dunder Mifflin' in the background, I'm going to freak out. By the way, he's seen lugging a paper box from 'Haberkern'. That's an odd name, and it's on screen for quite a while. If this were Lost, it would be an anagram for something, but this might just be a weird name. Have to watch for that.

I liked the scenes with Clare in school. They had sort of a "Mean Girls" vibe, and it's nice to see that she's as accident-prone as ever. Now, the 'Robots and Aliens' boy (Did he have a name? That's the sort of thing I'd look up, but it's almost bedtime. And I know that certain people are going to e-mail me if this isn't done by 9 AM.) is interesting. He flies, which is not as impressive on this show as it would be on, say, Gilmore Girls. However, this is the first time we've seen a repeated power. It seems like that must be uncommon, or else Sylar would have gone after one of the other indestructible people. Is he a clone of Nathan, or are there some genetic engineering shenanigans? Or maybe he's a robot (or an alien). As far as I can recall, and I can't finish the DVD's until I get this week's pilots reviewed, the only cases where we know the powers of parents and siblings alike are Clare, with her flying dad and pyrokinetic mom, and Micah, with super-strong schizo mom and intangible dad. Now, it could be the case that if only one parent has powers, they pass it on directly. Flying dad and normal mom have flying boy. Given that Nathan can't keep in his pants, there could be dozens of flying kids out there!

Yay! Matt's alive! Plus he's back on the force, divorced, and playing My Two Dads with Mohinder. His first scene was nicely set-up – it looked like he'd gone all dark and violent, just like in the "Five Years Later" future. Last season, Molly said that the boogeyman could see her, and here she is, drawing his creepy eyes. And this, I believe, is the first time that the symbol has indicated menace. It was either positive or puzzling throughout Season One.

And speaking of that, we've got the season's big mystery: The mystery man who seems intent on wiping out the older generation of Heroes. Based on dialogue this episode, there was apparently a group of twelve, some years back. That group included Linderman, the Petrelli parents, Hiro's dad, and somebody whose name I didn't catch because of George Takei's accent. I think his first name was 'Charles', and I don't know if we've seen him before. (Edit: It was Charles DeVeaux, Simone's father. Everything sounds clearer in the morning.) One of the 12 is apparently the killer. With the focus on legacies, I think it's safe to assume that many of the 12 are parents of the current generation of Heroes. (Interestingly, of that older generation, we've only seen Linderman's powers. It's been indicated that the Petrelli parents and Hiro's dad have powers, but we don't know what they are.) And poor George Takei. Hiro's going to be crushed when he comes back from the past.

Finally, there's Nathan. Alive and drunk. I'm glad to see him back, as his own moral gray areas provide a nice contrast to the other characters. Now, when he looks in the mirror and sees Peter's badly burned face staring back at him, I don't think that's symbolism. I think Peter is inside him the way Jessica is inside Niki; he picked up her power in the big fight at the end of last season. That crazy feral Peter in the shipping container is Peter's body, but there's somebody else's soul in there. (And what is he doing chained up in a shipping container?) Plus, Feral Peter is wearing the symbol around his neck, and it's clear that means bad news this year.

Or else I'm wrong.

I might be missing something because of all the tiredness, so I may have more to say later. Regardless, Heroes is back, baby!

Ever yours,
Mr. Muggles

Monday, September 24, 2007

The All-Pilot Project: Online Nation

Online Nation
CW, Sunday, 7:30 PM

THE PREMISE: A collection of “the hottest” Internet videos. It’s like YouTube, only stupid and without free will.

THE PERSONNEL: The hosts are three Web “celebrities” and a “Web fan”. Two of them seem to specialize in doing their own versions of things other people came up with first, and one of them is “famous for” a series of videos that appear to be shockingly racist toward the Hispanic population.

THE REVIEW: Well, at least it’s better than CW Now. Marginally.

I’m getting very angry at pilot season, and Cavemen hasn’t even aired yet. Here’s another complete waste of airtime. Here’s the think about Internet videos: A lot of them suck. In fact, I’m guessing the ratio of crap to non-crap is higher than in any form of media ever. I will go so far as to say that something like “The Brothers who Take Things too Literally” is the least-funny idea ever, both in concept and execution. And that’s what Online Nation elects to put in its first episode.

Now, you could make a really good show out of viral videos. There are more than enough good mash-ups, comedy pieces, and train wrecks like “Boom Goes the Dynamite” to fill a series. Unfortunately, Online Nation seems to use only videos that were directly submitted to their site, rather than actually going out and finding things. That means that it’s already turned into America’s Funniest Home Videos with worse resolution.

I question the necessity of such a series. Who is the target audience? People who don’t have Internet access? People who do, but are put off by having all those choices? It would be one thing if they spotlighted something interesting, or maybe found early work by people who’ve achieved mainstream recognition. What about the old stuff from Icebox? Or even Web work from conventionally famous people. The Internet films from Will Ferrell or Michael Cera are so much better than anything they showed in this half hour.

There are so many ways they could have made this good, or even just interesting. And they elected to do neither. There was one video I liked with a guy catching sunglasses on his face, but other than that, it was shockingly lame. People doing ‘Mac vs. PC’ parodies? Not exactly entertainment crying out for a bigger stage.

THE VERDICT: Aggressively lame and pathetic. Luckily, I exhausted all my anger on CW Now, and this just makes me sad.

The All-Pilot Project: CW Now

CW Now
CW (duh), Sunday, 7 PM

THE PREMISE: Theoretically, a half hour of pop culture news – 60 Minutes crossed with Access Hollywood, and then lobotomized. And then beaten with a sock full of nickels.

THE PERSONNEL: Nobody you’ve ever heard of or will again.

THE REVIEW: You guys, this is so stupid.

For those of you put off by the hard news content of Entertainment Tonight, I think I’ve found your show. And for those of you who don’t think Wal-Mart commercials contain enough references to Wal-Mart, you are in luck!

One of the four correspondents goes by the name “J. Boogie”. I think that alone tells you where this is headed.

Anyway, this is a half-hour of thinly veiled ads, with occasional attempts at trendspotting. (My favorite is a spa where a group of masseuses work on each limb simultaneously. There’s no reason a massage should have to be leisurely!)

I can’t bring myself to spend any time on this. What can you say about a show that, in 30 minutes, devoted two segments to the release of “Halo 3”, without ever telling us anything about “Halo 3”? The first segment told us which celebrities are into “Halo 3” (Two points about that. First, Julia Roberts does not actually care about “Halo 3”. Julia Roberts cares about being excited about whatever the majority of people around her are excited about. Second, Linkin Park? Seriously? I didn’t realize that gaming technology allowed “Halo 3” to be simultaneously released on Tuesday and in 2002.), and the second explained why Wal-Mart is the best place to buy “Halo 3”.

In other segments, I learned how to dress like the characters from the CW’s Gossip Girl, the best place to buy knockoff purses, and that men are willing to pay a lot of money for sneakers.

This is a half hour of my life I will never get back.

THE VERDICT: I am actively angry at this show.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The All-Pilot Project: Gossip Girl

Gossip Girl
CW, Wednesday, 9 PM

THE PREMISE: The soap-opera antics of a group of teenagers, narrated by an anonymous blogger. Based on books I haven’t read, because I am a boy.

THE PERSONNEL: Developed for TV by OC mastermind Josh Schwartz, which is a positive. Even more of a positive is that Kirsten Bell, Veronica Mars herself, is the unseen narrator. That’s right, they get credit for having somebody I like provide a voice-over. I’m so easy. Also, Kelly Rutherford (of Brisco County, Jr. fame) has a supporting role. Dixie Cousins forever!

THE REVIEW: I’ve been going back and forth on this one. Gossip Girl kept my attention while I was watching it, and immediately afterwards, I decided I didn’t like it. I started writing a negative review, and then I thought I was being too rough. It may be that leading with Nashville has thrown my critical capabilities into a tailspin, but I can’t quite decide what I think.

On the one hand, it’s one of those setups that drive me crazy. It’s this idea that high school students aren’t technically any different from adults. They can host swanky parties and spend the evening drinking martinis at a hotel bar. That’s such a bullshit artificial construct – this reality where parents and authority figures don’t exist, except as marginal background figures. If those are the stories you want to tell, tell those stories using adults. It’s like watching “Bugsy Malone”, you know? To just substitute teenagers for adults is to rob them of everything that’s interesting about those teenagers.

On the other hand, I do like my sleaze. I need at least one flat-out soap opera in my viewing diet just to balance things out, and Gossip Girl fits the requirements. Spoiled rich girls, good-hearted poor kids, and pre-constructed points of conflict. Hell, the poor kid punches somebody in the face at a party in the first episode. That Josh Schwartz knows a winning formula when he sees it.

A lot of the dialogue is wooden, and the young stars all fall somewhere between Adam Brody and Mischa Barton on the talent scale. Actually, I guess 95% of young actors fall in that range. That is not very descriptive on my part.

We’ve got Serena, ostensibly the lead. She’s back in town after a year at boarding school. Apparently she exiled herself after hooking up with her friend Blair’s boyfriend, Nate, at a wedding. (Remember, they’re teenagers. Do all high school students have drunken hookups at weddings? Was I really that lame at that age, that my idea of realistic behavior is completely skewed? I guess I’m still that lame now. Never mind.) Her brother, Eric, attempted suicide while she was gone, and he’s still in the hospital. Also, her mother is the aforementioned Kelly Rutherford.

We’ve got Jenny and Dan, the poor brother and sister. I’m not sure how they’re attending the same fancy school as everybody else, but there you go. If you start picking at that, you have to ask yourself why all the rich kids went to public school on Veronica Mars. (Also, why the hell do all these kids wear scarves? Is that part of the school uniform? There are scarves everywhere. Maybe they’re all Time Lords.) The budding romance between Dan and Serena seems to be the core of the show. Or else scarves are the core of the show.

We’ve got Rufus (yes, Rufus), Dan and Jenny’s father. He’s in a band that was apparently big in the 90’s, and then forgotten. (Insert Axl Rose joke here.) And he’s got a romantic past with Serena’s mother. They can double date with their kids, I guess. And yes, his name is Rufus.

And we’ve got Chuck. See, Chuck is the villain of the piece. It appears he’ll be in league with Blair to bring our heroes down. He’s the Reggie Mantle of Gossip Girl, if you will. My problem is that Chuck attempts rape not once, but twice in the pilot episode. You’re sort of derailing the show by having a rapist as one of the regulars. I don’t know how much pleasure I’ll be able to take in seeing him foiled, unless said foiling involves chemical castration and a good horsewhipping. This whole character is in very poor taste, I think. (For comparison purposes, Oz had only one rape committed by a regular character in the pilot episode. That’s right, Chuck is off to a worse start than Vern Schillinger.)

Of course, we have Gossip Girl, who writes a blog about the social lives of her classmates. She exists only as a voiceover, though I actually spent the episode under the impression that Dan was Gossip Girl. I overthought something early on, as I tend to do. This will go in my Big Book of Idiocy, alongside such hits as my thinking Wilson was a figment of House’s imagination. As stated before, Kirsten Bell voices GG, which lends a little more class to the whole thing. Or else hearing Kirsten Bell narrate fools me into thinking I’m watching Veronica Mars.

THE VERDICT: I still can’t decide. There are things that profoundly bother me, but the show does have its appeal. If they continue re-airing new episodes on Sundays, I’ll watch another episode or two before I decide.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I'm not even pretending to be cool anymore...

--I’m a little late on this one, but I saw “Shoot ‘em Up”, and it might be the greatest thing ever. It sort of died at the box office, so it might not be playing any more this weekend. Regardless, it’s awesome and you should see it. It’s 90 minutes of pure carnage. It’s cartoonishly violent, and it’s fun and insane and I love it. Clive Owen is almost like a live-action Brock Sampson with his inventive and mind-blowing violence.

Have you ever seen a massive gunfight in freefall? You totally need to. And you know that episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets a gun, and he’s using it to shut off the lights and such? That’s sort of the ethos of this movie. The main character delivers a baby during a gunfight and then severs the umbilical cord with a bullet. It’s the kind of movie where the hero uses his own spurting blood to blind his enemy. And at the end, he does the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in an action movie, which I won’t spoil.

There are homages to Bugs Bunny, “Raising Arizona”, Lobo, and South Park. It’s stupid and great and it’s got some fantastic actors. Besides Owen, there’s also Monica Bellucci (who is so hot that I suspect some sort of deal with the devil) and Paul Giamatti at his sleaziest. It’s all so much fun to watch. On the “Awesome” scale, 0 being not at all awesome and 10 being Batman fighting a cyborg bear, it’s a solid nine.

--I am pleased and surprised to announce that the previews for next year’s “Iron Man” movie look really good. Iron Man is a tricky character, but the previews fill me with hope. However, I actually like the clunky early suit of armor better than the sleek shiny one he shows off at the end of the ads. To me, the big gray suit looks more realistic. The cool-looking armor just doesn’t convey power to me. It’s not like I’m a hard sell for superhero movies, but Marvel has had more than a few that I’ve seen more out of nerdiness than actual enthusiasm. This one, though, I’m actually excited.

--As long as I’ve shed my veneer of coolness, let’s talk about that “Justice League” movie that’s been discussed. George Miller (of “Babe”, “Mad Max”, and “Happy Feet”) is set to direct, and now there’s casting news. For the record, if this movie comes to be, I will not be able to sleep for a week before it opens and then I’ll go see it at midnight, and take the next day off from work, and then see it again. I love the Justice League. The only problem is, I don’t think it’ll work as a movie.

First off, you have the fact that Superman is a member. Why does Superman need a team? In comics, it works. That’s one of the conceits of a shared universe. Everybody has their own book, so you know what they’re bringing to the table. Can a movie convince us that Superman needs backup without making Superman look less, well, super?

On the other hand, why the hell is Batman a member? Again, we know why Batman belongs. Every couple of years in the comics, there’s a story where Batman saves everybody else by being the smartest and meanest son-of-a-bitch in town. That can’t be the plot of a movie, though. That makes everybody else look dumb.

Meanwhile, those two both have their own franchises to worry about. Is Two-Face going to be a viable threat if Batman has a guy with a magic ring on speed-dial? “Damn! He released the virus. Guess I’ll have to call Superman to blow it into deep space.” The current word is that Brandon Routh and Christian Bale will not reprise their roles in “Justice League”, which I think is a good thing. I like both of them in their roles, but a Superman in a world of heroes has to be a different performance than Superman by himself. He needs more of a commanding presence, and he has to be the biggest guy in the film. Similarly, Batman needs to be nastier, probably older. Christian Bale is an excellent Batman, but a Justice League Batman needs to be harder. Less haunted and more of a drill sergeant.

And really, a team of superheroes is a lot to cram into a movie. Sure, we have the X-Men, but their whole thing is that they were born with powers. No origins necessary. In Justice League, you’ve got the King of Atlantis and a guy who got his magic ring from a dying alien. That’s going to take some screen time.

Besides the two marquee names, the movie is slated to feature Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, and Green Lantern. I realize that’s most of the classic league, but you’ve got two characters there with powers mirrored or eclipsed by Superman, and another who is Aquaman. Nothing against Aquaman, but it takes some serious plot manipulation for his abilities to come in handy. Again, this works in comics, but in a movie you almost have to have him in his element just to sell the character.

I don’t know. I have my misgivings. On the other hand, I desperately want to see a Justice League movie. I am a man of contradictions.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The All-Pilot Project: Kitchen Nightmares

Kitchen Nightmares
FOX, Wednesday, 9 PM

THE PREMISE: An Americanized version of a BBC hit, Hell’s Kitchen host Gordon Ramsay travels the country to rehabilitate failing restaurants. And curse.

THE PERSONNEL: Gordon Ramsay! What more do you people want?

THE REVIEW: Awesome!

What, you want more?

I’ve detailed my love of Hell’s Kitchen before, but here’s the breakdown. Gordon Ramsay screams obscenities at contestants and does his best to destroy them. And then, when they get down to the final four or five, he’s just so damn happy for them he can barely contain himself. Also, there are indications that Gordon is actually good at everything, and he just happened to settle on the culinary business.

In the premiere, he travels to New York to visit “Peter’s” – a struggling Italian restaurant. While Tina is the owner, the restaurant is named after her brother, the manager. And Peter is a piece of work, my friends. He’s one of those guys who assumes that being Italian makes him a mobster, which is one strike right there. He’s also a dick, skimming money off the business to buy expensive watches and suits. (Great moment: He brags to Gordon that it costs $3000 to whiten his teeth. Gordon responds with “I brush mine twice a day.”) I know he sounds like a winner, but get this, he’s violent, too. He’s always threatening people, and very nearly gets into an actual fistfight with various “bill collectors”. I personally think they might be “bookies”, but that’s that. The scary thing is that there’s no escalation. Bill collector shows up, Peter grabs a meat mallet. (Another great moment: Peter calls one of his enemies a “fake gangster”. Dear Pot, having a great time. Wish you were here. Your pal, Kettle.)

Gordon is properly horrified by the conditions of the restaurant. The walk-in freezer isn’t really cold, and in fact, it’s leaking rainwater. There’s spoiled food everywhere, and none of the kitchen equipment works. (The chefs store linens in one of the dead ovens.) It’s pretty stomach-churning to see that much spoilage. You can sort of smell the rot.

And of course, Gordon goes to work and turns the place around. New kitchen, new menu, and best of all, he curses out Peter. Having seen Peter resort to violence more than once, Gordon still just tells him where to stick it. And the thing is, you know Gordon would win in a fight, even though Peter’s a big dude. Gordon is good at everything. It’s beautiful to see the reactions of the rest of the staff, because they’re so pleased with the whole thing. Everybody hates Peter.

I actually wish it had been a two-hour show, because the turnaround is a little too abrupt. We sort of get this “Peter thought about what Chef Ramsay said, and decided not to be an asshole anymore” bit to wrap up the episode. Still, if given the choice between seeing Gordon Ramsay berate Peter and seeing Peter take a personal inventory, I know which one I’m picking. Nobody berates like Gordon.

The previews would seem to indicate that some of the upcoming restaurateurs are not nearly so receptive to his advice. Like they’re going to win that battle.

THE VERDICT: Hello, ‘Record All’. My favorite of the season so far, and I realize that sounds like damning with faint praise, but even if I hadn’t given an hour of my life to Nashville, I'd still make that claim.

The All-Pilot Project: Kid Nation

Kid Nation
CBS, Wednesday, 8 PM

THE PREMISE: A group of kids (8-15) run their own society in an abandoned frontier town. Gentlemen, start your lawsuits.

THE PERSONNEL: Like I said, Kids.

THE REVIEW: First off, I’m really hoping Mysterious Don blogs this one, because he’s been so excited about this show.

I can’t really wrap my mind around how this show ever happened. People let their kids go away for 40 days with a bunch of strangers to run their own lawless society? Where did they find these parents?

There’s already a lot of controversy, between violating child labor laws and the fact that some kids were injured during filming. There is a certain level of peril in exposing kids to these situations. I mean, look how “Lord of the Flies” turned out. Kids running society is a recipe for disaster. Still, nothing really traumatic happened in this episode, so I’ll stick to reviewing thing that have actually aired for me to see.

Now, this show isn’t going to get a lot of coverage on the Swear Jar, because half the fun of writing about reality TV is cruelty toward awful people. I mean, just look at recent history for Amber, Josh, and Mary. I’m not going to trash kids. That’s not cool, man. No matter how much a child irritates me, I’m not going to make fun of them. I’m not that guy. (But for the record: Dear producers -- Jared is not nearly as hilarious as you believe him to be. With 38 other kids to choose from, it shouldn’t be difficult for you to severely cut down his screen time.)

Bonanza is not exactly the most convincing frontier town I’ve ever seen. It actually made me think of “Myst” or some other video game that kids like. Everything’s very deliberately placed. If you see a pump, it’s not just background, and it’s not a busted relic. They put the pump there because you need a pump. I’m not doing very well explaining this, so I’ll move on.

After their first night, the Town Council (four kids selected by the producers) divide the populace into four teams. (I sense the producer’s hand in the selection, because there’s no way they knew all forty kids after one night.) Shortly thereafter, the teams compete in a Survivor-style challenge, which leads directly to class warfare. That’s right, the kids are assigned jobs and salaries based on their performance in the challenge. You end up with laborers who do menial jobs for ten cents (A day? That was a little vague.), and the ‘upper class’ who do nothing for a dollar. Way to stir the pot, CBS.

In addition, the Town Council gets to give out a ‘gold star’ at every town meeting. They keep telling us that the stars are worth $20,000 and that’s lovely. Still, I kind of hope that when all is said and done, CBS just gives them the money. How do you pay for your college education with a gold star? I don’t see the Pawn Shop cutting you a great deal on that one.

With all that said, this was actually quite good. Sure, there’s the standard reality show stupidity, and I don’t really much like kids, when all is said and done. That aside, it was really quite entertaining. Besides watching how the kids related (not really different from adults on a reality show, as it turns out), it was really kind of cool to see how they started from scratch with organizing a society.

The seeds are in place for conflict – there’s Greg who could very easily turn from punk to bully, and Sophia (the first gold star winner) who seems intent on overthrowing the Council, and also dancing for nickels. And really, how are you not on the edge of your seat when the kids have to choose between a television and outhouses?

The host is a fellow named Jonathan Karsh, and I get the feeling he’s probably done something before, but there’s no indication as to what. Luckily, he lands a little closer to Phil Keoghan than to Jeff Probst on the ‘not being an asshole’ scale. It’s a delicate balancing act, but I think they’re pulling it off.

There’s still a chance this could all veer into bad taste, but I’ve got high hopes.

VERDICT: I was entertained, and I’m going to keep watching it. It could get boring or offensive at any moment, but I’ll wait and see. So far, the best of the new season. Until 9 PM.

The All-Pilot Project: Back to You

Back to You
FOX, Wednesday, 8 PM

THE PREMISE: An old-school sitcom set in a TV newsroom.

THE PERSONNEL: Hey, it’s Kelsey Grammer! Sure, Frasier was getting pretty tired by the end there, but Grammer is reliably funny. Plus, you know, he’s Sideshow Bob. And it’s Fred Willard, the Roman God of clueless hilarity! A lot of behind-the-scenes names from Cheers, Frasier, Friends, and the like. Oh, and Patricia Heaton, who went from sassy to brittle on Everybody Loves Raymond, and has spent the last several years telling people how they should feel.

THE REVIEW: I like Kelsey Grammer exactly as much as I dislike Patricia Heaton, so that balances out.

Grammer plays anchor Chuck Darling, who’s returning to Pittsburgh after ten years. After swearing on-air in LA, he’s pretty much an anchor in exile. Not sure how the people of Pittsburgh feel about their market being portrayed as the bottom of the barrel. Can’t imagine they’re pleased. Chuck is possessed of the standard Grammer pomposity and swagger, though nowhere near as intelligent as Frasier. That’s an interesting change for him.

Heaton is Kelly Carr, Chuck’s former co-anchor, recently the sole anchor, and now back to co-anchor. They had a fling on Chuck’s way out of town, which resulted in Kelly bearing a child. This is supposed to be a surprise, but it really isn’t. Heaton is exasperated as ever, which used to be funny, but it seems like she’s actually quite a pill, so I feel like the writers are flirting with reality there. (‘A pill’? This review brought to you by my grandfather.)

First off, there are certain jokes you’re required to do in any comedy about TV news. Swearing on-air, rapidly feigning pleasantness when the break is over, a reporter not realizing they’re live, and of course, hilarious vocal exercises. I’m afraid “Anchorman” stuck the landing on all of these jokes. And you, Chuck Darling, are no Ron Burgundy. It just feels a little rote, like they did every joke you would expect them to do in the first episode.

The big problem for me is that it is, as I said, old-school. We’re talking multiple camera, filmed before a live studio audience. They might as well just film it on a kinescope at that point. It’s a dated format that hasn’t aged well. Here’s the dirty secret – most sitcoms before The Simpsons sucked. Glacial pacing, playing to the back of the room, it was quite unpleasant. I’m not saying that there weren’t classics (I will never ever say anything bad about Seinfeld or NewsRadio), but the vast majority were awful. I can’t stand the ‘pause for the audience’ dialogue style. It’s stagey and fake, and it just irritates me.

That said, you can probably tell I’m not going anywhere good with this review. Back to You is stuffed with sitcom stereotypes, to the point where people actually pass through the room for no other reason than to offer “Oh no he di’n’t” style zingers. I feel like this is how my parents watched television, and I don’t care for it.

Also, the plot is alarmingly predictable, and although a decent percentage of the jokes land, it’s not enough to save the show. Sorry Kelsey and Fred, but keep me posted on any new projects. I’ll totally catch up with you later!

THE VERDICT: I can’t imagine watching it again, but I’m not offended by its ongoing existence or anything. It’s just not my style. Maybe it’s good to have a series that’s intended for the casual viewer. Still, I’m done.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Big Brother Report -- Twelfth in a Series

Now, I’m willing to accept the foibles of Big Brother, simply because I love it so. I don’t really complain about editing or manipulation or overindulgence. You just let certain things go in order to keep the peace. It’s like dating a racist. (Note: A Nickel for the Swear Jar does not endorse dating racists. Unless they’re hot. Even then, you shouldn’t marry them.) Still, I have to say that Sunday’s “Dick and Daniele Reminisce” episode was the most boring thing I’ve ever seen.

Sure, most of the clips were kind of awesome, but other than a Jessica and Eric scene, it was all stuff that had appeared on the show already. They were in that house for 81 days. CBS aired 3 hours a week. That means there were 165 hours of unaired material every week. Granted, a lot of that would have been sleeping and meal time, but you can’t tell me they couldn’t scrape together a one hour episode of stuff we hadn’t seen. (Multiple times, in some cases.)

But it will be nine months until I hear another incompetently worded nomination speech. Another nine months until I wonder how anybody lets Julie Chen on network television dressed like that. Nine months without cursing out those who made idiotic strategic decisions, betraying a shocking lack of familiarity with math and/or human nature. (When I am on Big Brother, I promise to always remember exactly how many people are in a majority.)

I found the Jury’s voting discussion to be interesting – I sort of get the feeling there was a strong anti-Daniele sentiment in the house that we didn’t really see. Of course, once they see the show, they will have an even stronger anti-Daniele sentiment. Still, I wonder how it would have gone if it hadn’t been for Eric carrying out America’s wishes. (I think that was actually the best part of the finale – Dick finding out he would have been evicted six weeks ago if it weren’t for America’s vote. Not the master strategist you thought you were, huh? To his credit, you could actually see the realization – a lot of other houseguests wouldn’t even have thought about that. Say what you want about Dick, he really does have a pretty good sense of self-awareness.)

I was actually impressed by Carol and Joe having kind words for their rivals, which further bolsters my belief that Carol and Jessica’s animosity is entirely one-sided. I wish Carol and Mike would have stuck around longer. They seemed all right. As it was, I only knew Mike as ‘The guy who isn’t Zach’. Kail and Nick irritated me as much as ever, though.

Now, the awesome part came with the questions. Eric lobbed Dick such a softball with the “Say something nice about everybody” question, and Dick managed to blow it. He slammed everybody except Eric and Zach. That was the best! Nobody screws up that question! And then there’s Daniele, who actually told Amber “I don’t want your vote”. When there are only seven votes, you can’t really blow off one of them.

The awesomeness continued after the interview. Daniele was actually mad at Dick for giving people a reason to vote for him when specifically asked to do so. The world just isn’t enough for Princess Daniele, is it? I’m sort of hoping Dick realizes that he’s better off if she doesn’t talk to him for another two years.

Bottom line, Dick is an asshole, but I feel like there’s more to him than that. And other than screwing Eric and Jessica, he really did go the whole season without lying to anybody. That’s impressive. I get the impression that he’s probably much more bearable when he’s not competing on TV to win money and get his daughter to love him again. He certainly wouldn’t have been my first choice, but when the alternative is Daniele, I’m ecstatic.

So long, houseguests. I hope most of you enjoy your lives on the outside. Hell, I’m feeling magnanimous. I hope everybody but Amber enjoys life. I hope I never see Daniele and Jen and Nick again, but I wish then no ill will. Amber, oh, there’s ill will. (My dream is that Amber Googles herself and finds this site. It will be a glorious day.)

Good season, all in all. The ‘enemies’ twist and America’s Houseguest worked out really well. See you next July, Big Brother. Even when I hate you, I still love you.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The All-Pilot Project: K-Ville

K-Ville
FOX, Monday 9 PM

THE PREMISE: A cop drama set in post-Katrina New Orleans. All right, FOX, you have my attention.

THE PERSONNEL: Star Anthony Anderson was excellent on The Shield, but he was also in Kangaroo Jack. John Carroll Lynch, as Anderson’s captain, is best known from “Fargo” and The Drew Carey Show, and he also spent the day with the mighty Colleen, who’s down South working on the clean-up. That makes him awesome. Also, William Mapother (Lost’s Creepy Ethan) appears in the pilot as a casino owner / mercenary.

THE REVIEW: With an opening scene set two years ago, immediately following Hurricane Katrina, K-Ville was off to an excellent start. It’s a compelling premise, the people trying to enforce the law in a place that was, for all intents and purposes, wiped off the map.

Anthony Anderson plays Marlin Boulet, a cop who loves New Orleans and will do whatever it takes to restore the city. He takes it as a personal insult when people move out of the Ninth Ward. And for the first ten minutes or so, it’s really very good. I’m always drawn to that sort of almost Quixotic passion, and there’s this overwhelming sense of place. (That’s part of what makes The Wire work so well, the way Baltimore is a character in itself.)

Unfortunately, it doesn’t last. As soon as Marlin makes it to work and meets his new partner, we’re into well-worn cop show territory. Can these two mismatched partners ever learn to get along? I guess they’re not so much ‘mismatched’ as ‘matched’, but that’s beside the point.

From there, every interesting or affecting scene about modern New Orleans is balanced out by cliché. Car chases, cops willing to bend the rules to get the job done, shadowy figures that fire shots into the crowd and disappear behind a corner. It’s a shame, because K-Ville has the potential to be something really special. Simply from the perspective of entertainment, there’s so much to be explored in the post-Katrina landscape. Beyond that, I think it’s important to remind people that New Orleans isn’t all better now, just because it doesn’t make the news.

They had the chance to do something groundbreaking, and unfortunately, they didn’t quite pull it off. The acting and directing are solid, but the writing is just too standard. It feels like it’s written by somebody who learned about police work by watching cop shows, and that just won’t cut it. I mean, just the fact that Creepy Ethan plays a mercenary who owns a casino has to tell you that any attempt at telling a gritty story about modern-day New Orleans has gone awry.

In fact, the criminal’s motivations are straight out of Scooby-Doo, and that’s more than a little nonsensical in this situation. You don’t really have to scare people out of the Ninth Ward at this point. You mostly just have to wait.

I did like the twist that Marlin’s new partner (who I could have sworn is named ‘Cop’, but that doesn’t make any sense) is secretly a convict who escaped prison during Katrina. It’s a cool idea, but they want me to believe that the criminal records were destroyed, so nobody can check his identity. Isn’t there an Internet? I would think a Department of Justice database keeps up on things like who’s a criminal and who has the proper credentials to join the police force. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief, but you have to meet me halfway.

It’s a solid, mid-level show, but it really should have been something more.

VERDICT: The previews for upcoming episodes run a little heavy on car chases and gunfights. My Mondays are going to be kind of full for the next month or so, but I’ll check in again. I’m going to be very disappointing if K-Ville squanders its potential.

Please note that I made it all the way through without making a single Wiggum P.I. joke. You have no idea how difficult that was.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Brief Emmy Words

There are plenty of people recapping the Emmys, and I burnt out my anger long ago. (No, wait… How did Hugh Laurie and Rainn Wilson not win their respective categories? Stupid awards!), so here’s just some things I really liked about the show.

--Locke won! That almost makes up for House getting shafted. Almost. It was really good to see Terry O’Quinn win. He’s been doing great work all over the place for a very long time.

--30 Rock! While The Office is my favorite, 30 Rock really needed the win. They can really use the exposure. Besides, The Office got a writing Emmy, so everybody’s happy. Plus, did you think you would ever see Judah Friedlander onstage at the Emmys? That was weird. Bonus points to Tina Fey for thanking their “dozens and dozens of viewers”.

--There were actually some very funny presenter bits. Most were lame, but Stewart and Colbert made me laugh (right down to the mispronunciation of Steve Carell’s name), and the Wayne Brady bit was well-done. As was Ellen, not knowing what she was presenting. And possibly the funniest thing of the night was Elaine Strich struggling with the TelePrompter and than going completely off script. I thought Stanley Tucci was going to lost it. Sure, I still prefer having a comedian host, but at least we got some good laughs.

--Locke and Benry were seated right behind the Heroes cast. You have to admit, that was awesome.

And this is worthy of note. I want to be careful, because I like Conan O’Brien a lot. However, well, I don’t have HD at home, so I’ve never seen Conan in High-Def. Wow. Dude looks old. I mean, he looks like a contemporary of Elaine Strich. It freaked me out. He could have been Robert Duvall’s dad. In all fairness, there was only one shot where he looked elderly. Through most of the show, he looked like a regular person. But there was that appearance early on where I was actually worried about him. Also, Teri Hatcher looks exactly like C-3PO in HD.

The All-Pilot Project: Nashville

Nashville
FOX, Fridays, 9PM

VITALS: A 'docu-soap' about country music wannabe's.

PERSONNEL: Nobody I recognized, except for (presumably) the hand of Satan.

REVIEW: I am old. I don’t understand this ‘docu-soap’ genre. It’s regular people who are, in theory, allowing a camera crew to follow them, only it’s not actually an honest accounting of what happened? Is that it? I mean, when two characters meet for the first time, but they both happen to have a camera crew prior to the meeting, I’m not supposed to believe that I’m watching a documentary. Or when two guys talk about their feelings, but they have a three-camera setup, there’s no way they expect us to believe it’s anything but scripted, right?

So if I understand this correctly, ‘docu-soap’ combines the low production values of reality TV with lousy dialogue provided by non-actors? Why in God’s name does anybody watch this kind of thing ever?

With that said, Nashville is a bad, bad series. Granted, it’s a genre that is the unholy spawn of Satan, and it’s about country music. For the record, I don’t hate country music – I am merely aggressively unfamiliar with it. It doesn’t interest me, and all I really know are any artists who’ve appeared on King of the Hill. (I am similarly unfamiliar with hip-hop, electronica, and most forms of pop.) So when they throw names out like Brad Paisley and Tim McGraw, I don’t know if they’re making these people up or not.

Nashville follows several young people at various stages of success in the country music industry. There’s Chuck, who has a contract but has yet to achieve stardom; Mika, a small town girl just arriving in the country music capital; Matt and Jeff, who seem like maybe they used to be successful, but have fallen on hard times (they are maddeningly inconsistent); and Rachel, a newcomer to the scene who has the advantage of being Terry Bradshaw’s daughter. And let me tell you, there’s never been a time when this girl’s parentage was in doubt. She has what anthropologists call “The Bradshaw Face”.

There’s also Clint, who has a poorly-defined job in the music industry, and is a disgusting lech. (If you ever, in your life, have to describe a woman as being ‘legal’, you have made some bad choices.) I hated him instantly. He’s absolutely revolting, and yet I think the producers want us to care about his creepy relationship with Girl Bradshaw. (“Hear me out on this. How about if we play up the romance between the girl with Terry Bradshaw’s face and the sleazy guy who looks like a frog?”)

The production value is absolutely incompetent, without even any pretense at reality. I particularly liked the scene where three “music executives” discuss Chuck’s upcoming showcase. First off, they actually pretend that just happened to come up in conversation. (Good thing FOX had a camera crew there, just in case.) Next, during their discussion, they are actually skeet shooting. And not only do they never hit a skeet, not only do they take numerous shots along the horizon, but they are actually standing underneath power lines the entire time. There’s absolutely no element in the scene that’s not stupid and fake.

There’s sort of a quaint sensibility, like you actually have to physically live in Nashville to make it in country music. Personally, I think that would be the worst place to live since it would be harder to get a foothold in a jam-packed market. Of course, this is also a show that tries to convince us that one friend actually says “What’s the dealio?” to another. Yes, we have to believe that somebody, in 2007, spoke those words in earnest, or else that a writer believed that people could possibly speak those words in earnest. Neither is acceptable to me.

I could go on at length about everything that’s wrong with Nashville, but I’ll just get angry if I think about stupid Clint and Rachel, and it’s just not worth it. Let’s just say Nashville sucks. Hard.

VERDICT: Oh, I'm never watching this again.

Friday, September 14, 2007

It's Emmy, It's Emmy Time

Hey guys, it’s Emmy Time this weekend! If there’s one thing I love, it’s pretty people dressing up and winning trophies!

I’m not going to make any predictions, though. I have serious problems (as I’ve discussed before) with the nomination and voting process, so I can’t even get into the mindset to try and guess who’s winning what. That doesn’t mean I won’t be happy for any of my favorites who may take home an Emmy. Just imagine a night where House, Locke, and Dwight all bring home an award! That would be the greatest night ever!

Conversely, imagine my poor friends who will be watching it with me. Mostly, they're going to be hearing a three-hour monologue on the sheer lunacy of The Wire's snub (Seriously, ZERO nominations? The Class got a nomination, for pity's sake!), punctuated by the occasional delighted squeal. "Look! It's Stephen Colbert!" "Is that Creed? That's totally Creed."

My friends are a patient and forgiving lot.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Big Brother Report -- Eleventh in a Series

Ah, an all-Donato finale. Sort of unsatisfying, isn’t it? Well, by my count, Big Brother has had three unsatisfying finales in the last seven seasons, and in all but one case, the win went to the lesser of two evils. (Mike Boogie over Erika is the exception. Stupid Mike.)

You know what you don’t want to do? Start thinking about the total number of hours you’ve spend watching Big Brother over the last eight years. Talk about a Total Perspective Vortex.

It was interesting this week, despite the inevitability of the outcome. First off, the nomination episode was kind of awesome. It was one week too late for Zach to realize that Dick and Daniele weren’t going to let him past Final Three, but at least he did realize it. I loved the way the nominees flipped out, because let’s face it, the nominations at Final Four could not be less important. Power of Veto is the only thing that matters at all. Still, they flipped out. And I loved Dick’s logic that Zach was screwing himself. If he hadn’t nominated both of them, they might have taken him to Final Two?

Actually, the best thing about all the arguing was that it was two guys who really aren’t all that bright trying to form logical arguments. Sort of like watching a puppy try to play Pong.

Honestly, I’m surprised at how much I was rooting for Zach at the end there. I always felt a little sorry for him, but he really is kind of a weird guy. Still, that got him to Final Three, and that’s not nothing. I mean, in terms of prizes, it sort of is. A lot of dominant players made it to third place. Hardy, Janelle (Twice!), Danielle (spelled correctly) – there’s some honor in third place.

The garden endurance challenge provided one of my favorite moments for the entire season. After listening to Dick’s abuse for hours, standing there the cold spray, Zach sort of flipped out and just started slamming Dick. “I’m so awesome! I have tattoos and I’m old! Don’t I look tough?” That’s so unlike anything that we’ve seen from Zach. I loved it. The single best part: “I have a naked lady on my back! I’m the best!” And then Dick totally broke character to remind Zach, “Dude you have dolphins on your back.” Cracked me up.

I do believe the reason Jameka was so willing to give up five HoH competitions way back when is that she’s not actually very good at them. It’s not unlike me offering to sit out the next five US Opens. Because I will make that offer. Good job, Jameka. As I’ve said, you were the closest one to an actual adult in there, and you made it a long way without embarrassing your loved ones.

It’s hard to believe that there was a time when I liked Daniele. I mean, she was never among my favorites, but she has emerged as an awful, spoiled brat. I can’t stand her! I’m really hoping Dick wins, because he’s at least kind of interesting, and most of his asshole moments were part of an act he could turn on and off. Daniele’s a whiny princess, and the world will never quite be enough to make her happy.

I’m predicting Dick as the winner. America will vote for Eric to vote for Dick, since we as a nation don’t really give a crap about Daniele. Zach will vote for Dick, since Dick at least treated him like a person. Dustin’s going to vote for Dick as some sort of statement, to prove that he’s bigger than all the pettiness. And Eric will talk Jessica into voting for Dick. I think everybody sort of came to the realization that Daniele was pretty much just carrying out Dick’s will every step of the way. It really just depends on how bruised the egos are. I feel like it’ll be close either way, though.

By the way, I have to know what Zach was talking about when he said that he hopes when they have their prize money, they'll remember his invention. What in the name of all that is holy did Zach invent? Doesn't it just kill you not to know?

Not really that much to talk about with nobody left in the house. Big finale on Tuesday!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

No, the OTHER Mysterious Don...

Somewhere, somebody at HBO is kicking themselves for not picking up Mad Men. They’ve been looking for the next Sopranos for years (ignoring that fact that Deadwood actually was the next Sopranos), and now the show they want is actually airing on AMC.

(Sidebar: Why is American Movie Classics running a series that has nothing to do with movies? I realize that the ‘Classics’ part of their name went out the window years ago, but now they’re ditching ‘Movie’? I do believe they’re in the process of rebranding.)

As I’ve mentioned before, Mad Men is a drama about an advertising agency in 1960. While the early episodes were much more about the milieu, more recent installments have really dug into the characters and their relationships. The novelty value sold the series at first, and that carried it through right up to the moment when the characters, who seemed like ciphers at first, suddenly got really interesting. If you check the Swear Jar Archives (which you should), you’ll see that I’ve complained that they tipped their hands too early with both Don and Salvatore, and the last few episodes have proven that I was wrong.

The more we learn about Don, the more mysterious he gets. (Not to be confused with the other Mysterious Don.) Initially, it seemed clear that he suffered from some sort of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after serving in Korea. And then we found out that Don Draper wasn’t even Don Draper. I’m guessing nobody saw that one coming. Last week in the flashback, Don’s father’s wife made reference to Don being ‘a son of a whore’. I can’t wait to find out more about this guy. I think he assumed the identity of an army buddy who was killed in action (known in my circle as ‘Pulling an Armin Tanzarian), but I’m not willing to bet I’m right on that anymore.

A lot of the fun still comes from the surface details – the constant smoking, drinking at work, the casual racism and sexism (not that those things are necessarily fun), but there’s more depth to the storyline with every week. Cooper’s references to Ayn Rand, Pete’s ever-present rifle, Roger’s affair with Joan, Helen Bishop’s scandalous past, even Kent’s second career as a novelist; all these balls are in the air, and we won’t know until the season finale which balls we were supposed to keep our eyes on. (That’s a sports thing, right? I think I sort of combined baseball and juggling there.)

And that’s what makes it the next Sopranos. Beyond the superficial editing similarities that I mentioned a while back, it’s the way they reveal the characters that invokes everybody’s favorite mob drama. It’s such a mixture of absolute surprise (Did you think Don wasn’t really Don? If you claim you did, you are a liar and I will punch you in the head.), and neat little revelations that bring a clarity you didn’t even know was missing. Roger and Joan’s affair didn’t suddenly solve any mysteries, but it made perfect sense.

Best of all, creator Matthew Weiner has brought another part of the Sopranos ethos to his new project. He’s passing up traditional storytelling structure in favor of a more organic development. Literary convention dictates that they should have told the viewer that Kent was a novelist before his short story became a plot point; Weiner’s years on The Sopranos showed him that we didn’t need to know. None of the characters knew about it, so why should we? And when standardized storytelling is out the window, we just don’t know whether that rifle’s going to get fired or not, and that’s much more unsettling. Is it Chekhov’s Pistol or Tony Soprano’s Hand Grenade? Is Pete’s rifle even important? Or will Don’s mistress be the key to the season? Or is it Peggy? I couldn’t even begin to guess where it’s going, and that’s a giddy feeling; it’s how HBO used to make me feel. Mad Men is in the tradition of HBO’s best dramas: The Sopranos (now over), Deadwood (cancelled), John from Cincinnati (cancelled), and The Wire (one season to go). (Sidebar: I didn’t include Oz, not because it doesn’t measure up, but because the storytelling style is in a different vein than the aforementioned series. Lord knows, I love my Oz.)

This is the kind of show HBO needs. Not because the story would be enhanced by nudity and f-bombs, but because it’s the sort of show that built HBO’s reputation. I really want to like HBO, but Larry David and the Conchords are all they have to offer me anymore. Mad Men outclasses their whole current drama slate all by itself.