Posts tagged geekdom
Having watched a number of the new shows that debut this fall, here are some thoughts:
My Generation: I was interested in this show in no small part due to the fact that the main characters, nine students from the class of 2000 at an Austin high school, are nearly my age-peers. I graduated in the class of 2001 (we did not play Space Odyssey, I’m sad to say), and am far away from where I thought I would be at that time.
This show takes the mocumentary style and applies it to a drama, where filmmakers followed nine students throughout their senior year, and is now checking in with them ten years later. The characters are introduced with their High School clique labels, such as “The Nerd,” “The Brains,” “The Jock,” etc. and then shown in their current lives, often very far away from where they’d expected to be. Circumstances in the characters’ lives bring many of them back to Austin, re-connecting with those who had never left or already returned.
The pilot clearly set the stakes, established the characters and their current trajectories vs. their self-professed worlds that they had imagined for themselves in 2000. It’s not fantastic, but it’s compelling so far and I’m likely to keep watching for a little while, if for no reason than the degree to which it makes me think about what has been happening in my own life vs. what I expected when I was a senior in HS.
The Event — This is the new The New LOST. The Event uses mosaic-style storytelling, jumping between characters and time frames in a fairly jarring manner, though over the episode, the rhythm became less distracting for me. The focus on Sean Walker (Jason Ritter) in the first episode brings the audience into the middle of The titular Event, balanced with POV sections from President Martinez (played by Blair Underwood — no relation) and others.
For me, much of my level of ongoing interest will depend on the truth of the Mt. Inostranka facility. Who are these people, and how are they connected to The Event? Once we know more about that, it’ll be easier to decide how much I care. There are several options that are yawn-worthy, and some others that could prove quite compelling.
Undercovers — The new sexy spy offering from Alias-creator J.J. Abrams is cute and fun. It’s not fantastic, but it does show a happily-married african-american couple as series leads, which is still noteworthy for network TV. It’s Sexy People Doing Sexy Spy Things, but it’s pretty well-done, and the leads are both gorgeous and likeable. I won’t stay home for this one, but I’ll probably catch up via Hulu every so often.
No Ordinary Family — The Pilot of this one hasn’t actually aired, but I got to watch a preview last month when they had it in limited availability. No Ordinary Family is very nearly a Live Action The Incredibles, with an origin closer to the Fantastic Four, who were an obvious inspiration for the Pixar film.
Michael Chiklis is Jim Powell, police sketch artist and under-appreciated dad. He feels fairly powerless and disconnected from his family, including his Bigwig Scientist Wife, Stephanie Powell (Julie Benz). Their children are Just-Trying-To-Fit-In Daphne (Kay Panabaker) and Undiagnosed Learning Disability Kid Brother JJ (Jimmy Bennett).
Jim convinces the family to take a vacation, which leads to their plane crashing into the Amazon — their trip is ruined, but shortly after their return, the members of the family begin manifesting super-powers. Jim gains incredible strength and toughness, Stephanie gets super-speed, Daphne becomes telepathic and JJ gets a massive intelligence boost.
The show’s formula seems like it will include Jim using his powers and police connections to fight crime while the rest of the family goes about their lives trying to deal with their powers — there are also hints of a larger super-world which will likely play a role as the show goes forward.
Of the new shows this season, I’m probably most excited about No Ordinary Family — it’s fun, doesn’t take itself to seriously, and seems to be respectful of its genre roots.
Hawaii Five-O — The joys of remakes. I didn’t really watch much of the original, as it was mostly before my time. However, the new show keeps what some say is the best part of the original show — the opening theme.
Alex O’Laughlin plays Steve McGarrett, who is brought out of the Middle East and offered a position heading a new state police unit in Hawaii, with no red tape and vast resources, tasked with bringing down TV-worthy criminals across the state.
He crosses paths with Danny “Danno” Williams, a divorced father who moved to Hawaii to be near his daughter (who primarily lives with her mother and step-dad), and also recruits Chin Ho (Daniel Dae Kim), a disgraced cop who worked with McGarrett’s father. Rounding out the cast is Grace Park, playing Chin Ho’s cousin Kona “Kono” Kalakaua, a hotshot rookie policewoman. McGarrett recruits her right out of the academy, as she’d have trouble getting respect in the normal force due to her familial connection to the disgraced Chin Ho.
The exotic locale, nostalgia, and charming cast are likely to be the show’s best assets, at least to begin with. I admit that if the show finds a way to highlight Grace “Boomer” Park’s gorgeousness on a regular basis, that will help by willingness to watch.
I watched the Stargate film back in 1994 when it came to theatres, and then when Stargate: SG-1 came around, I didn’t bother watching it. I watched a season-and-a-half or so of Stargate:Atlantis, and was usually amused. But I have many friends who swear by various parts of the Stargate-verse, loving SG-1 and trashing on Atlantis, loving-but-criticizing-Atlantis and not caring about SG-1, etc.
So when I saw that there was a new, supposedly stand-alone Stargate series, I took notice. The casting of Robert Carlyle in the lead went a long way towards getting my attention, as did the concept.
For those not already in the know, here’s the breakdown: Stargate Universe is about a group of people who get trapped on an ancient spaceship made by a predecessor species only known as the Ancients. The ship was designed to tour the universe, and from time to time opens up a dimensional portal (the Stargates, natch) to a habitable planet in the surrounding galaxy. The Stargate remains open for a finite amount of time, and the ship is on auto-pilot, preventing the heroes from taking control of its route. Using the gate to get back to Earth or to get from Earth to the ship (called the Destiny) is tremendously-plot-says-don’t-do-it difficult. The tone seems to be substantially darker than previous Stargate series, prompting people to dub it Stargate Galactica or BattleStargate, likening it to the critically-acclaimed 2004-09 Battlestar Galactica.
The overall formula seems to be (Stargate + LOST) x (Sliders + Battlestar Galacatica) = Stargate Universe — which is certainly not a bad mixture of inspirations.
A more detailed and spoilery review follows:
“Let’s keep it that way.”
So ends the first issue of the comic series Planetary, script by Warren Ellis and art by John Cassaday, published by Wildstorm comics. Planetary started in 1999, and I’ve been reading it since about 2001, just in to the second trade’s materials. The 27th issue and series epilogue was released today, and now the series is officially complete.
For those who don’t know it, here’s the premise: John Elijah Snow is recruited by the Planetary Organization, a rich and influential group that acts as Mystery Archaeologists, uncovering and documenting the secret history of the 20th century. In the first six issues alone, they find 1) the sole survivor of a pulp-era superteam who just barely stopped a cross-dimensional Justice League analogue from conquering our planet 2) A Hong Kong ghost cop seeking vengeance 3) the Monster Island where the remains of Godzilla-style monsters are treated as sacred relics by a Japanese terrorist and his sychophants, 4) Radioactively mutated people and giant ants, and much more.
Part of why I love this series is the way it interfaces with genre. The series takes the popular literature/culture of the 20th century and says ‘what if this were all true, but it was secret?’ A sense of wonder and deep fascination with the past permeates the book, and in this case, the past is our cultural heritage, and most specifically the cultural heritage of the superhero genre (since the series is published in the medium associated with supers, by a publisher known for superhero comics) — even though in the world of Planetary, superheroes don’t exist in the public eye (Well they kind of do, as Kevin says, but that depends on how much one considers it to be in synch with other Wildstorm continuity). Snow and the other members of the Planetary Organization go around the world and discover the wonders that were and those that could have been. Popular literary genres are positioned as thrusts and ripostes of cultural warfare to control the earth.
Each issue tends to focus on one of those genres, with a cover stylized to match. Atomic SF here, Hong Kong action there, and then over to silver age superheroes and back to pulp mystery.
So if you haven’t read Planetary, you might give it a chance, especially if you like any of the following: 1) genre studies, 2) superheroes, 3) deeply intertextual literature.
I received no free copies of anything from this series, so don’t bother trying to fine me, ok FTC?
This is going to be two reviews: The one without spoilers and the one with.
I first started seeing material for Pandorum late last year, where it looked like a film in the space horror tradition. The previews also suggested the possibility of a Big Action Movie element as well.
Pandorum is a German/American production directed by Christian Alvart and written by Travis Malloy. It stars Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster as crewmen on the Elysium, a long-term colony ship bound for Tanis, the only habitable planet identified by a humanity on the edge of annihilation — in the 24th century with a population of 24-ish billion people. Their memories return to them only in chunks after extended hyper-sleep, heightening the initial tension as they discover the power is comprimised and the proper rotation of crew is very very off.
The film maintains tension quite nicely, parceling out information in chunks. Though there is some “As You Know Bob,” it’s more like “As You Should Remember, Bob” with the two leads reminding one another about things drawing from their fuzzy memories. The title, Pandorum, comes from the term given to extended-space-travel sickness. Remember one of the theories about Reavers (from Firefly), how they were people who traveled too deep into the nothing and it consumed them? Kinda like that. There are creepy monster people doing creepy monster people stuff. There’s some fighting, but it stays as more of a horror/thriller than an action movie most of the time.
The film was very freaky, and notably original in several places. Yes, it seems apparent that Alvart and Malloy are familiar with films like the Alien Series, Event Horizon, and the like. Many critics whose reviews are collated at Rotten Tomatoes calls this being ‘derivative,’ but for me that just means Pandorum is a continuation of the discussion that is the Space SF-horror genre.
Go see this movie if you missed Event Horizon in the theatres and then discovered it years later to great enjoyment. Go see this if Alien took your breath away with Ridley sneaking through the corridors of the Nostromo hoping to never see that black-glossy carapace again. See it if the idea of a psycho-thriller-slash-horror-movie-with-some-action appeals to you. Chances are this is going to bomb in the box office and then sell well over several years in DVD/Blu-Ray, but if any of the above sounds appealing, do yourself a favor and see it in theatres.
And now the spoilers (as in stuff that’s farther than 15 minutes into the film and not given away by trailers).
Glee: I really like that the show is continuing to build an argument for its thesis, seen in the epitaph for Irene Adler in the Pilot. “Glee, by its very definition, is about opening yourself up to joy.” We’ve seen Glee/musical theatre/dancing help a variety of the primary and secondary characters express themselves, find unrecognized talent. In “Preggers,” we see Quinn’s pregnancy introduced, which will allow for the classic narrative technique of using two problems to resolve one another. Terri needs a baby (or thinks she needs one to keep Will), and Will doesn’t want to be a dad (and Quinn would probably rather not have to raise a child at this time). The questions now are when/if Will and Finn discover their respective partner’s lies.
Something to keep an eye on is that most of the antagonism in the show is being conducted by female characters — Terri’s lies, Rachel’s tantrums, Sue’s schemes, Quinn’s plots to reclaim her boyfriend. I hope that we don’t continue to see the women in the show as the ones causing the problems for the cast. However, we do have Sandy’s meddling, Ken acting as a obstacle standing between Will and Emma. Luckily, we also have Emma, who is probably the most unquestionably positive character in the show. The attraction between her and Will is antagonistic to Will and Terri’s marriage, but Terri is still marginally likeable at best, even if it is now easier to empathize with her.
The real winner of this episode, however, was Kurt and his story. After coming out to Mercedes last episode, Kurt comes out of the gates with the “Single ladies” dance in a unitard, rocking out in his fabulosity. He lands the kicker gig and then helps the football team break their losing streak. And why, how? Through the empowering force of dancing…to a music video from a female performer, talking about being a single lady. The best moment of the episode for me, and one of the best of the show so far — seeing the football team break out into the dance, and one of the opposing team’s players getting into it as well. The power of dance compels you!
Eastwick: Desperately Magical Housewives. A re-make/sequel to the Updike novel and/or the earlier TV series, this brings us three women of Eastwick who are stuck in their lives, wishing for a change. A powerful sexy dark man whisks into town to fulfill all their dreams — sex, control, power. The show didn’t really grab me despite some respectable performances. I’m clearly not the intended demographic, and it may appeal to hardcore fans of Housewives and/or Sex and the City, Lipstick Jungle, etc.
Accidentally on Purpose: This one is basically Knocked Up: The Series. Woman in her thirties has a one-night stand with boytoy. One-night stand becomes several week stand, and then she gets pregnant. Boy is homeless and Woman invites him to stay with her while he gets on his feet. Clearly, they will fall in love over a course of stumbling back and forth romantic comedy follies. The performances over the series will determine whether the show is worthwhile or just more execrable crap. How I Met Your Mother works as a romantic comedy series for two big reasons: The amazing work of the actors, and the ridiculousness of the stories involved. Time will tell if Accidentally on Purpose can achieve those reasons or find some of its own. This is also one of two ‘Cougar’ TV shows, along with “Cougar Town.” Cougars are bi now. I know because MTV told me so.
FastForward(preview): I’ve only seen the first 17 minutes of this, since the premiere is tonight on ABC. This adaptation of the Robert J. Sawyer novel has the whole world blacking out for two minutes and 17 seconds, with a vision of 6 months in the future. Our leads so far (from the preview) are two mae FBI agents, one agent’s wife (a doctor), one of the doctor’s colleagues, the doctor and agent’s daughter, and that family’s babysitter. We have John “Harold” Cho as one of the agents and Joseph Fiennes as the other. Sonya Walger (Penny from LOST) plays the female doctor.
ABC seems to be trying to make this the next LOST, but this show’s concept is actually far more contained, since there’s only so long you can go before hitting the six month mark and seeing how people’s futures have changed (or not). The larger question of “why” can provide the show with some longer-term legs, but as with any serial character-driven show, it comes down to the execution of the characters’ arcs.
Castle: This was one of my favorite new shows last year: Fillion is a fantastic comedic/dramatic lead, and the Castle/Beckett dynamic is dynamic and story-productive. I was happy to see the famous-writer poker game come back, and was appreciative of Beckett’s quick change to Russian Girlfriend Mode to get in to the underground game. Here we saw flashes of Beckett as taking a cue from What Would Nikki Heat Do? — It’ll be interesting to see if Nikki Heat as a character influences Kate Beckett as a character. I’m imagining that investigating Kate’s mother’s murder will be the arc-plot for the first season (if not longer), and we’ll continue to see Castle and Beckett become increasingly reliant on one another. Whether this leads to them connecting romantically remains to be seen, ala television convention.