Posts tagged tv
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.
Behold, NBC’s intended successor to LOST. It’s tightly-paced, unfolds in a mosaic narrative style, with interlocking character arcs, mysteries abounding, and a plane.
The plane is important. It increases the LOST resonance, and is important in the plot.
Only one episode has premiered, but sofar, I’m intrigued. Go below for Spoiler-ed discussion.
I posit that Glee is a fantasy television series, in that it can be fruitfully evaluated using a focus on its non-mimetic narrative style to both comment on the traditions of the musical genre (especially the Hollywood Musical) but also in discussing “Music as Magic” and the way that said magic can be transformative, liberating, and revelatory.
From the ubiquitous piano player — “He’s always just around” to the fact that in Glee, seemingly everyone can instantly learn arrangements and choreagraphy and the elaborate fantasy sequences which bleed in and out of the diegesis, we have what could be described by some as Slipstream, some as Urban Fantasy, and possibly even Magical Realism (though less so on that one, given what I see as a lack of a definitive tie to the fairly culturally-specific tradition of Magical Realism).
Why does this matter?
1) If Glee is a fantasy series, then the places/times when it diverts from realism can be seen not as a violation of believability inspiring a rolling of the eyes, but a demonstration of the times when life is not enough and extra-normal storytelling is required. This brings back my beloved Etienne Decroux quote:
“One must have something to say. Art is first of all a complaint. One who is happy with things as they are has no business being on the stage.” — Etienne Decroux
And to paraphrase my former professor John Schmor, Musicals are a complaint that life should be more marvelous — why don’t we just burst into song when mere speech can no longer contain our emotional intensity?
2) It allows Glee to be more easily analyzed in the context of other SF/F musicals such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Once More With Feeling,” Fringe’s “Brown Betty” and so on.
3) It allows the use of the scholarship regarding the metaphors of the Fantastic to be applied t the series. It also enables scholars to bring to bear Samuel R. Delany’s notion of SF/F as a literature that allows for the “literalization of the metaphor” — music is soul-healing, music is empowering, music enables people to express themselves in ways they had previously/traditionally not been able.
These are merely preliminary thoughts. Look for more in time, as I believe this approach is the one which allows me to most effectively analyze the series.
New Doctor, new Companion, new look.
In “The Eleventh Hour” Matt Smith steps into the role of The Doctor, one of the most recognizable and longest-running figures in science fiction television.
I’m not much of a Whovian. I’ve watched occasional old episodes and chunks of episodes, the whole Eccleston series, chunks of Tennant’s run, and now the first offering by Smith. The New New Who is run by Steven Moffat and co-stars Karen Gillian as Amy Pond.
“The Eleventh Hour” starts out with The Doctor, freshly regenerated, hanging out the edge of the TARDIS as it careens through the atmosphere and sky of Earth. He crash-lands the TARDIS and spends several minutes running around very manically with a little girl, Amelia Pond. I wasn’t a big fan of the cravings/food preferences sequence, but it was a change for Smith to start to feel out the role. Smith is clearly drawing influence from Tennant’s impressive run, but there are shades of other doctors as well.
Smith is only a couple months older than I am, but doesn’t come across as “young.” He seemed more to me as energetic, refreshed/renewed. If anything, he’s a very old soul in a new and lively body.
The episode wasn’t the strongest I’ve seen in Who-history, but it was well-carried on the dynamic between Smith and Gillian. Karen Gillian plays Amy (formerly Amelia) Pond, who met the Doctor as a young girl when the TARDIS crash-lands, and builds a whole mythology around him when he disappears and doesn’t come back for 12 years. (Twelve years, four therapists, and countless hand-made dolls). The Doctor next sees Amy as a policewoman when he’s trespassing. Amy Pond, as a character, is very well-established throughout the episode, and has a history more intertwined with The Doctor than most season-long companions (to my knowledge).
There’s plenty of frenetic running around, a little bit of technobabble (impressively little technobabble, actually) and creepy aliens. The new TARDIS interior is very posh, combining futuristic with retro. (Steampunk? Maybe a little). Plus, by the end of the episode, this new Doctor has found himself, stood up to a fleet of aliens, and channeled the “I’m old as hell and more dangerous than a fleet of Daleks. Do not F@&# with Earth. It’s under my protection and I’ve put a lot of effort into it” awesomeness of the previous Doctors. One of my favorite bits in the episode shows a montage of each incarnation of the Doctor (all ten previous actors), with the fully-composed Smith stepping through the hologram to deliver the final line of his “Go away” rant — a great touch and a fine introduction to the finalized new Doctor.
The rest of the season seems to have a great deal of promise, including a return of the super-creepy Weeping Angels from “Blink,” Daleks, Cybermen, World War II dogfighting, and more.
This is a great time to get into Doctor Who, as the episode is a more-than-passable pilot for new viewers. It’s a good idea, especially for a series that has an history that dates back almost fifty years and more than 700 episodes.
This is one of the two kinds of reality tv that I like. The first kind is where competent people excel at doing awesome things, shows like Project Runway, So You Think You Can Dance, etc.
The other is shows where activism and social change are made accessible and exciting.
In Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (ABC, Fridays at 10/9 Central), Celebrity British Chef Jamie Oliver (The Naked Chef, Cook With Jaime, etc.) comes to Huntington, West Virginia to begin a revolution in public school food (presumably, he’d like to reform all eating in the USA, but the show focuses on schools). The choice of Huntington is prompted by a CDC report listing Huntington as the unhealthiest town in the country, with the highest instances of obesity-related illness and death.
Three episodes have debuted so far, garnering strong ratings (The Friday at 10PM slot isn’t a great slot, so it’s perhaps not as hard to win).
There is a bit of inflated drama, but overall, the series is a depiction of a sincere pursuit by Oliver, who has already revolutionized the British public school food system.
One of the clips used to promote the show comes from a segment where Oliver is trying to hype up excitement for his test-run doing meals in an elementary school. He goes into a 1st grade class and asks them to identify vegetables such as a tomato, a cucumber, and a potato. The students were unable to identify any vegetables correctly when prompted. This is how separated from real food many children are, and how separated they are from the process of cooking and food-making.
Oliver begins with a test week in an elementary school, competing with dietary regulations that call french fries a vegetable and require 2 servings of bread/grain per meal, but only one serving each of veggies and fruit. Oliver struggles with the dietary requirements, a combative head cook at the school, as well as a obstinately skeptical local DJ.
Oliver opens “Jaime’s Kitchen” as his base of operations to host demonstrations, teach families/kids how to cook simple, healthy meals. As the series goes on, he’s worked with a particular family, recruited a group of high-school students to be his spokespeople in school and help him raise money for a county-wide training to help their school cooks be able to prepare Oliver’s healthy fresh meals on time and budget.
This series is a frank and powerful look at Oliver’s diet/cooking activism in a place that most desperately needs some kind of revolution/reform. Oliver’s sincerity is clear at all times, as he sets himself for an incredibly tough uphill battle (if he’d picked a less challenging setting, it’d doubtlessly not make as good television — they do have to get ratings to survive, after all).
The easiest way to understand this series is to go ahead and watch it. It lacks the artificial drama and competitive greedy backstabbing of The Biggest Loser and is far more grounded in reality than a show like Dance Your Ass Off. It focuses on fresh, real food, rather than artificial/additive-laden and greasy food, showing that it can be beautiful, delicious, and isn’t too difficult or expensive to prepare. Real food may take longer and cost more than box microwave dinners or highly-processed crap, but it’s an investment that’s worth making for nearly everyone. It’s easier for me to say this as a privileged middle-class guy, but the fact remains that real food in reasonable portions is demonstrably better for your health, and in a nation where diabetes is prevalent and weight-related diseases and deaths are scarily high, it’s hard to argue on any basis other than money.
A note for the Fat Studies community: Weight by itself is not vilified in Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution. The show focuses on instances where poor eating habits and weight have lead to demonstrably negative health effects. A Teenager likely to develop diabetes before they turn twenty. A highschooler with liver spots that may cap her life expectancy in the early twenties. A girl who lost her father and uncle to weight-related illnesses. Being fat is not the problem — eating unhealthily in a way that creates weight-related illnesses and death is the problem.
I’ve quickly become very passionate about this show. I watched the first two episodes with my girlfriend, who is a big foodie and cook. I come at it from a developing love of diverse food and cooking, but also as someone who had weight issues as a teenager due to a sedentary lifestyle and a terrible diet (not helped in any way by the public school food system). We ate decently at home, but I was given the freedom to make unhealthy eating choices (massive soda consumption, junk food, etc.) and only later developed a real awareness for how bad those foods were for me, as well as learning the skills of and appreciation for cooking for myself with fresh, real food. I’m still learning those things. When I’m at home from a selling season, living alone, it’s harder to work up the motivation to cook real meals for one. To that end, I bought the companion cookbook, Jaime’s Food Revolution, and will be trying to host friends/join friends for family-style meals of real, healthsome food.
Knowing that certain foods are bad for you, on an intellectual level, is one thing. But it takes an accessible and realistic alternative and the means to transition your habits to make a real, lasting change in your life. Oliver’s show is trying to show that process with one school, leading to a school district, with Oliver’s ambition being to revolutionize school food and general eating habits in the USA, a much larger task than his already-impressive feat in his homeland.
All of the episodes are available on hulu, and there’s information and recipes on the website here: http://www.jamieoliver.com/campaigns/jamies-food-revolution
I hope you give the show a shot, and even if you don’t like the show, I think it’s sentiment and agenda are commendable.
I was too young to watch/remember the original V miniseries/ongoing series, but I learned the basic premise growing up as a geek. I’ll be talking about stuff that constitutes as spoilers, but not really, as ABC is foregrounding the ‘Big Sekrit!’ of the V’s identity even in the previews. Most of what I’ll talk about is the not-hard-to-find Vs = Obama reading.
The leader of the Vs is played by Morena Baccarin, a Brazillian woman whose looks are easily pushed past beauty to the edge of the uncanny valley, her mixed-ethnicity background easily positioned as ‘exotic’ from a US-American gaze. All of the Vs who are seen in the public eye would count as attractive, and even in the pilot, the Vs are leveraging attractiveness into manipulation (one sub-plot features the FBI-Agent lead’s son being attracted to a female V played by Laura “Supergirl” Vandervoort).
The Pilot episode gets all the way to the ‘Vs are actually Lizards and trying to take over the world’ stage, with Elizabeth “LOST Juliette” Mitchell and Joel “4400″ Gretsch as FBI Agent and Pastor who are witness to a V attack on a word-of-mouth group spreading word of the Vs’ real agenda.
A note — unless you go in looking for the Obama = V reading, it may be rather easy to miss/not think of it. It’s not that the show pounds you over with it. The show’s pacing is strong (stronger than the original miniseries in the equivalent section that I watched), and goes quickly to the ‘The Vs are tricking people, time to fight back!’ stage of the story, where our two adult leads will develop a resistance, with assistance from another lead — how quickly he’ll connect with the group is hard to tell. Interpersonal conflict will come from the FBI Agent’s son getting deeper in bed (literally) with the Vs and refusing to accept mom’s warnings/explanations of the V’s villainy. This is exacerbated by the fact that until the resistance can get a V corpse to show the lizard under-parts, they don’t have a very strong case.
It was great to see Alan Tudyk in the show, though I don’t think he’s listed as a full series regular. He brought a great balance of seriousness and levity to the show, remind us how awesome an actor he is (as if we needed any more reminding after “Briar Rose/Alpha” in Dollhouse.
The new version of V seems to be written and executed in a way that invites an anti-Obama reading. The rhetoric of the pilot episode includes mentions of Hope! Change! Universal Health Care! and features a charismatic leader of mixed ethnicity. There’s an interesting degree to which this version of V is a dream come true for the Fox News Opinion Show crew. Many of the most outrageous fears about Obama are made manifest in the series — The Vs come with a message of hope and change, with people flocking to them, clamoring to be saved. The Vs insinuate themselves into people’s hearts, but are secretly not who they say they are and will take over and destroy the world.
Basically, the premise reads like an unused script from the Glenn Beck show with space-lizards instead of Chairman Mao. The show’s basic premise is much as it was in the 80s series (as far as I know/have read), but it just goes to show that as times change, a story can remain more or less the same but be read very differently. It seems that the new ABC version of V is specifically written to highlight the Vs as Obama reading (the rhetoric about hope and change and universal health care),
Overall, the Pilot isn’t magnificent, but it is a solid start and I’m interested to see how this version continues and develops like or unlike the original.
Now I leave review-land and go into ‘I’m a writer-land’ — I realize that I’d be as interested or possibly more interested in a series where the aliens really were trying to improve humanity’s lot, with conflict coming from paranoia and quibbling over cultural differences/expectations between the Vs and various US cultures. Basically, if it were a script from Keith Olbermann/Rachel Maddow instead of Glenn Beck. A story that highlights the tension between a well-meaning group with technological advantage and an ambivalent community that doesn’t want to bow to cultural demands but does want those technologies. This presents a different metaphor, more analogous to western humanitarian campaigns in the 3rd world/Global South — where cultural imperialism comes part-and-parcel (intentional or unintentional) with humanitarian aid.
Sadly, this would probably not work as a TV show — it would lend itself much less to explosions and gunfights and the like.
FOX’s new offering Glee debuted a pilot episode earlier in the year and made it available online throughout the summer, and responded to initial positive responses with a very strong and pervasive advertising campaign which continues even now.
It’s impressive to think that a weekly musical television show could get this positive a response, but there are a lot of reasons to love the show.
1) If you are a musical theatre fan, the chance to see it on network primetime is inspiring and delightful.
2) If you aren’t a musical theatre fan, the show offers constant laughs with compelling laughs.
3) Jane Lynch portrays the shows main antagonist, the coach of the national-attention-winning cheerleading team (aka the Cheerios). Lynch is given reign to cut loose and portray a vicious competitive scheming selfish heel of a character — and she revels in it. Lynch’s Coach Sylvester is one of the strongest parts of the show.
4) The way that the musical numbers are integrated into the show are mostly diegetic, given the focus on a glee club, but there are some breakout fantasy numbers, such as “Bust Your Windows” when diva-licious Mercedes is rejected by the fashion-forward Kurt, or head Cheerio Quinn’s crazy-go-nuts anthem railing against her treatment by her boyfriend and others in general
5) The showrunners and writers keep on finding new ways of eliciting laughter and delight from the audience. Last week, we had Jane Lynch in a zoot suit, “I Could Have Danced All Night” sung in a dress shop by the adorable Jayma Mays while dancing, and the glorious Slushee War.
6) The show’s musical selection ranges from classic rock “Don’t Stop Believing” to contemporary hip-hop “Gold Digger” and a strong but not overwhelming sampling of musical theatre numbers such as “Maybe This Time” and “Tonight.” Upcoming numbers include “Defying Gravity” from Wicked (not the TV show by the same name — that’s another blog post).
7) Characters originally introduced in an antagonistic role are frequently fleshed out into sympathetic characters, including head cheerio Quinn, coach Tanaka, football bully “Puck”, Will’s wife Terri, and even the dread Sue Sylvester has her pensive moments. Few characters are universally good or universally villainous — our protagonists are flawed, lie and cheat for understandable if misguided reasons, and generally act like high schoolers — even the adults.
8) Despite this ambiguity, it’s very hard not to root for the Glee kids, and most see the dissolution of Will’s marriage as an inevitable precursor to the more-inevitable union of charming Glee coach Will and adorably OCD guidance counselor Emma.
It’s Both Good and Popular! Amazing!
There are more reasons to love the show, and Glee’s popularity is written nearly everywhere — critical praise abounds, it consistently trends in the top 10 topics on Twitter the nights of its episode airings, and most importantly, it’s ratings are consistently strong, consistently earning a 4.X rating and 7 share and a 3.X/9 among the coveted 18-49 demographic. The show was the first new show of the season to (publically) receive an order for the back 9 episodes — and the first DVD set (collecting episodes 1-13) has already been solicited). Another important facet of the show’s success is that the musical numbers from the show are made available on iTunes and consistently reach best-seller levels in that market. The show is another example of Most Repeatable Programming (ala Steven Johnson), where small moments/reaction shots may be missed without multiple viewings, and it’s easy to see why people would watch and re-watch (including Hulu) given the selfless-smile-inducing musical numbers.
If Glee is able to maintain its current balance of drama and humor, delightful musical numbers and ridiculous antics, it’s likely to survive for several years. In times of economic and social instability (recession, massive conflict over health care reform, gay rights, etc.), a happy, inspiring show is an easy pick for success.
After all, as the dearly departed Irene Adler, long-time coach of the McKinley Glee Club (inc. during Schuester’s time) saif,
“Glee, by its very definition, is about opening yourself up to joy.”
When I first heard about Defying Gravity, I was surprised to see another space show, following the dead-in-the-water Virtuality which went from pilot to TV-movie backdoor pilot to TV-movie that everyone knew wasn’t going to become a series.
Defying Gravity had a number of similarities to Virtuality – ensemble-sized crew on multi-year mission deep into space, their efforts being made into a reality show for people back on Earth, driving off of interpersonal conflict exacerbated by the enclosed space and mission stress.
However, Defying Gravity has a far milder version of the ‘reality show’ aspect, and lacks the virtual reality material featured in Virtuality. As a result, the show is much more focused — it’s serial SF with episodic interpersonal plot — originally pitched as “Grey’s Anatomy in space” — the show released on ABC over the late summer, but was only aired for episodes before it dropped off of the schedule — ABC has stated that they they are looking for the best time to air the remaining episodes — meanwhile, the episodes have been airing elsewhere, due to the show’s status as a multi-country, multi-network production.
I hope to see the remainder of the season on television, but I have doubts about the show getting picked up. It’s likely rather expensive given the sets and FX required, and the show’s ratings were lukewarm when aired — though that’s far from unexpected from a relatively un-advertised mid-summer show with a high concept. Depending on how its ratings fare elsewhere, it’s possible that even if ABC drops its support, it might continue on.
Here’s why Defying Gravity is cool, for me: It’s probably the best new straight-up SF show (recently) on television. The show addresses advanced speculative elements (deep-space missions, plus other SF-inal spoilery things that are very intriguing). It also sustains and develops strong interpersonal drama, throws in good doses of comedy, and includes the best use of flashbacks since LOST, using a parallel structure depicting the mission crew and other personnel in the years-long training that served as the characters’ introduction to one another and informs their relationship with one another in the ‘now’ segments.
Unlike LOST, the characters are deeply interconnected with one another throughut their flashbacks, meaning that instead of revealing a ‘small world’ setting where disparate characters were more connected than they suspected, the crew of Defying Gravity are shown working through years of interpersonal relationships — it’s two stories that are one and would theoretically come together by the end of the series, when the flashbacks lead up to the start of the ‘now’ part of the show and provide (10-11) years of contiguous storyline.
Back to the title of my post: Why this show needs to not get canceled — Defying Gravity depicts a future where space exploration brings us into a larger universe, valuing both science for science’s sake; also the love of exploration. It also introduces and explains SF-inal elements unseen in television, if well established in SF literature. The SF writing world talks about how film/TV is two decades behind prose. The ideas get investigated in prose, and go from brilliant innovation to discussed and debated trope, and once well known enough, if the materials that lead into the trope are established in the popular imagination, then it can reach a broad audience to be digested. Shows like LOST took several years to build up to and introduce SF elements, and Fringe is popularizing parallel/alternate universe theory. Dollhouse is a possibly-too-complex-for-tv meditation on the possibilities of interfacing with and modifying memories through technology.
It’s all well and good for the SF community to investigate ideas and develop discussion, but it’s a small world, and for those ideas to reach the majority of the populace, either you need a massively popular novel on the level of Stephen King or Dan Brown, or you probably need to make a movie/TV show. And if shows that further the collective understanding of the culture-shaping ideas that SF produces keep getting canceled, it serves as a barrier to that dissemination of ideas.
For these reasons and because I think it’s engaging on an interpersonal level with strong performances by a fairly-ethnically diverse cast, I would really like Defying Gravity to continue long enough to tell its story, to convey its speculation about a possible future.