Catching up

I’ve been a hectic boy lately, writing, editing, supporting Licensable BearTM, cutting deals, fulfilling my duties as a would-be juror, discussing my private measurements with Peter David, and making love to any beautiful lady who insists. Admittedly, that last doesn’t take up a lot of time. (No, wait… that came out badly. It would, if they did, but they don’t, so it doesn’t!) So if I’m posting infrequently, chalk it up to a combination of that and the fact that all of the shows of the new TV season have launched, and thus the core goal of this blog has been fulfilled. In fact, we’re already coming up on mid-season replacement shows. Just saw an ad with David Paymer playing a mob boss. There’s some interesting, unobvious casting, but Paymer has such strong acting chops I’m sure he’ll make it work.

    Other TV things worth noting:

  • About the only thing truly worth laughing about on this week’s Life With Bonnie was when Bonnie said something about how she would never kick anyone out of her house. Really makes you wonder what happened to the daughter she had last season!
  • I have trouble believing that Joan of Arcadia, which has been embraced as a life-affirming show, will seriously start playing with the thought that it is the devil, not G-d, who she is talking to (despite hints in that direction). As such, the last couple episodes where she followed G-d’s requests that she act in destructive and disloyal manner look to be merely poorly thought-out episodes. In the lastest episode, she gave someone hope, but if you pay attention, the hope is false, and hardly worth the destruction she caused by not standing up for what was right.
  • Karen Sisco is off the schedule for a while, to return in March. I’ll miss it in the interim (despite a bad last-episode-before-hiatus; the whole all gay folks are fabulous spate that’s on TV now is getting quite tired, and the gay killers on this show just pushed it over teh top. Only Will &ampl Grace‘s thoretically homosexual lead is fighting against that, and that by merely being mostly fabulous rather than completely so.
  • The BBC America version of Faking It is back, yay! They started off with an episode looking at the effect that having briefly faked a career had on their first season players, just hte update I wanted. If you have yet to discover this show (particularly in the BBC America version, which is superior to the U.S.-produced version), do.
Published in: on November 23, 2003 at 10:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Show status

Just some thoughts about current shows. Some of these contain spoilers for recent episode, so if you’re behind on your viewing, be warned.

  • Life With Bonnie has slipped in quality from last season. It’s not just the absence of the daughter and the injection of David Allen Grier into the home atmosphere. There’s some change in tone or at least effectiveness in reaching the tone. This is no longer on the must see list, although it is still watchable.
  • Angel has had robots or robot mentions in the last two episodes. Don’t be surprised if those two events are linked and serve as part of the larger story.
  • Ed — I’m saying this before watching last night’s episode, having just caught last week’s episode. I find it interesting that they have Carol moving out of Stuckeyville at the same time as Molly just broke up with her beau. In the past on this show, there was a brief but genuine mention of Molly’s interest in Ed. If I didn’t know the texture of this show so well, I’d think they were setting up Molly making a play for Ed, but I have trouble seeing them do that to the Carol/Molly relationship.
  • A Minute with Stan Hooper — just a quick note that I noticed that the first two episodes aired were #101 and #104, which suggests that they skipped some of the first episodes they made, holding them to later in the season. They may recognize that they’re just finding their pace.
  • Frasier didn’t have Valerie Mahaffey this episode, but I think we’ll see her again. Then again, just about every actress that I would specifically want to see on this series has shown up at least once. (Well, it would be nice but unlikely to have Emma Thompson reprise her roll from Cheers, where she played Frasier’s first wife.)
  • Karen Sisco continues to be the perfect modern show for the Rockford Files audience, without being a Rockford ripoff in any way. Sadly, last I heard it had not yet been picked up for the full season. This is good stuff, folks!
  • Las Vegas continues to be cheesy, unimpeded by logic or reality, and yet still something I gotta see. Having shed any pretense, I think we can file this as my official current “guilty pleasure”.
  • Malcolm in the Middle is not off to a dynamite start. I don’t think we’ll be getting as good a season as we got last year, although still perhaps better than the year before. They’re lucky in one regard: the kid who plays Dewey has aged well, going from a weird-but-quiet presence to a weird-but-vocal one.
  • Two and a Half Men is holding up and actually getting better. This week’s may have been the best yet.
  • The West Wing seems largely devoid of passion. The characters are all locked in politics, rather than in concerns. It looks to be entering the same kind of bland dreariness that has afflicted ER for oh so long. Given the success of that show, Law and Order, and CSI, perhaps that’s what the audience wants these days, but I’d rather have some upbeat material mixed in.
  • Tarzan is off the schedule. Won’t miss it.
Published in: on November 13, 2003 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  

A Minute with Stan Hooper

I’ve been chided for not reviewing A Minute With Stan Hooper, Fox’s new Wednesday night sitcom. Admittedly, I put a low priority on catching it, largely because the presence of lead Norm Macdonald is not exactly an endorsement to me, and he’s described as playing an “Andy Rooney type”, which may not be as vile a concept as being Andy Rooney himself but it is also no endorsement. However, it was not an intentional failure of my reviewing intent that made me miss it during its first two weeks, merely some problematic scheduling. In its third week, I caught it.

This is, in effect, an attempt at a modern version of Green Acres – city boy moves to hick town and deals with locals who are not just hickish, but surreal. Now it’s the surreal part that makes this tricky to do. Otherwise, it would be just standard fish-out-of-water comedy. At least off of this one viewing, I’d say they don’t pull it off. The characters in Green Acres felt like they existed in their own ecology. They were surviving just fine for decades before Eddie Albert showed up, and would function fine after he left. I cannot say the same for Waterford Falls, Wisconsin, where this show takes place. No, these people exist simply to do things that make no sense to anyone, except to annoy the outsider. Part of the difference comes from concept, part from delivery, and I think part of it even comes from filming — the shot-on-film look of Green Acres sold you the reality of it a bit more than the standard modern sitcom look of Stan Hooper.

The supporting cast includes such respectable folks as Penelope Ann Miller as Stan’s wife and Fred Ward as a local cheese mogul. I’ll probably give it another shot or two (particularly if it lasts until the rerun season — being up against both Angel and The West Wing hurts a show), but if it disappears before I get to watch it again I won’t feel a sense of loss.

Published in: on November 13, 2003 at 10:52 am  Leave a Comment  

Correcting Neil

Over on Neil Gaiman’s blog, the best-selling author states:

Author Nat Gartler gave me a page of original art from PREZ, on the basis that I needed it more than he did. I’m still grateful.

Now, I’m not worried about the minor typo in my name, but I am disappointed by the misrepresentation of the kindness involved in this act. I did not give him that page. I sold him that page. If memory serves, it was for $35. And it wasn’t even the page I knew he was looking for, since he had expressed a strong desire to have one with vampires in the White House.

Yes, the fact that he deserved it more than I factored into the sale, but so did the fact that I really needed money at the time. This was before my days as a successful compture book writer, back during my days as a struggling comic book writer who earned about enough that year to pay the rent and nothing else. Thirty-five bucks meant that I could eat for a few weeks. I have always suspected that Neil bought that page from me because he knew things were lean, and I have long felt indebted to him for that (among other reasons.)

A lot of people have an odd image of Neil. They seem to think that he is a great and powerful mystic source, that his wearing all black means that he creates his works by burning silver-laced candles in a pentagram on a ley line at midnight of the full moon, and with a chant only known by an order of black monks, he calls up the demon Azrogoth and channels stories from him. When in reality Neil is just a nice Jewish boy who likes to wear black and tell stories, who is successful because he tells stories well and who is beloved because he does that and makes himself accessible to such an insane degree that I and others who know him better are truly worried about the impact all this touring is having on his health.

And if for some reason he needs to call up the demon Azrogoth, he’s got him on speed dial.

Published in: on November 6, 2003 at 4:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cancellations

Boomtown is officially gone, and that’s a loss. I believe they still have a couple episodes in the can. This is the time to find out whether the use of Bravo to air a Boomtown marathon earlier this year was just a publicity gimmick for the show, or whether it really shows some Bravo commitment to good TV. If the lost episodes show up there, that will be a good thing.

Also gone: Coupling and Skin. No tragedy in either case. Some people are calling this a failure of sexy content, but there’s more sexy content on the already-picked-up-for-a-full-season Las Vegas than on Skin, despite the latter’s porn millieu.

Published in: on November 6, 2003 at 9:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Arrested Development

I give points to any show for not going with the standard three-cameras-and-a-laugh-track format, so Arrested Development gets some points right out of the box. Having Ron Howard narrate it? More points. Jeffery Tambor as the dad, points.

The actual content? A reasonable pile of points, not as many as one might hope for, but it’s a start. The show is built around a family that has been living well on corporate money, until the father is arrested for, well, living well on corporate money. Now it’s up to the one responsible (if not completely likable) grown son to take care of the rest of the group.

The risk that I see here is that the bad family members are largely so over-the-top annoying that they won’t really be funny, but merely annoying. Oh, there are bright spots — Tambor, and the two kids playing cousins flirting at incest, but it’s going to be a balancing act. But it’s one that I’ll watch to see fi they pull off.

Published in: on November 6, 2003 at 9:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Back from Vegas

Well, I’m back from Las Vegas, and catching up on TV.

I only watched a couple TV shows while I was in Vegas. There are other, Vegas-y things to do, you know? But those that I did see had things to comment on.

I watched the first post-Ritter episode of Eight Simple Rules. They were forced into a tricky situation, making an episode dealing with the death of the central character of the series, to show to an audience who has affection for the actor who died. They balanced this by not having any laugh track, and by doing a serious-themed show that still had some moments of sitcom style humor.

And it was interesting to see how the humor worked, or failed to. It was still paced around live audience reactions that weren’t there. Doing humor in that style without a laugh track would work if it were delivered with energy, but the downbeat tone of the piece required low-energy deliveries, making the humor more something to observe than to react to.

It was a good earnest attempt, and I wish them luck in building a workable comedy show out of such a troubled situation.


Frasier did something interesting, and I’d be very curious to know the reasons why. They launched a new Maris-oriented storyline, and there are rumors that Maris will actually appear during this season. Maris, for those of you who have not paid attention, is a never seen (or even heard) character who was important through most of the years of this show, Niles’s now-ex wife. We know the character so well that they once showed a pale, slender, finicky, jittery dog and the audience got that it was supposed to look like Maris.

For years, there has been idle chatter about who would play Maris should the character ever be revealed. Among the truly knowledgable TV buffs, one name has been heard repeatedly: Valerie Mahaffey. She’s somewhat of an obscure actress, probably best remembered as the recurring character Eve (to Adam Arkin’s Adam) on Northern Exposure. Eve was a pale and believed sickly character through most of her run, but also quite attractive. An even better argument for making her Maris comes from The Powers That Be, wherein she played Caitlyn Van Horne, the overbearing wife of the nervous and cowed Theodore Van Horne — who was played by David Hyde Pierce, the same actor who plays Niles.

The odd thing is that the folks who make Frasier chose this episode to use the talented Ms. Mahaffey as an actress — but not as Maris. Instead, she’s playing the temp in Frasier’s new office. I cannot accept that this is mere coincidence. Was this done as a jape, as a laugh in the face of the cognoscenti telling us that we guessed wrong? Was it done because they tried her out as Maris but found that her talents would be more useful to them in another direction? Whatever the reason, she worked well in the role she was given. I do hope that her role is a recurring one, as it appears to be.

Published in: on November 6, 2003 at 9:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Nat's gone

Off to Vegas to ply my trade.

Back in a few days.

Published in: on November 2, 2003 at 7:09 am  Leave a Comment  

Tru Calling

There are stories that are about something. And sometimes they are "just a bunch of things that happened", as the Simpsons described their adventure regarding Mr. Burns’ blood and the stone Olmec head.

The first episode of Tru Calling, the new Fox series in which Eliza Dushku starts working for a morgue handling the bodies rather than simply racking up the body count as she did playing Faith on Buffy and Angel, seems to fall into that latter category. This is a series that strives for the tradition of the watchable Quantum Leap and Early Edition, wherein someone is given special powers to use to solve one problem each week. In this case, Eliza’s Tru sees a body in the morgue and is suddenly transported back 24 hours, presumably usually to save the person’s life. In the first one, there’s a bit of a mystery about who killed the corpse, although it really isn’t an intringuing question; there are some folks who coulda done it, but I was never sucked in enough about the victim or intrigued by the situation enough to care. Tru also uses her first 24 hour transport to try to help her two troubled siblings. One attempt is ineffective, the other is effective only because the writers decreed it so; it was actually a stupid thing to do.

Dushku holds her own, but there’s nothing to hold on to. This series doesn’t have grace, intrigue, or fascinating characters. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened, and it only happened because the writers say it did.

(There was one scene where a guy named Marco left Tru alone in a building full of corpses for the first time, when she expected him to stay. In the empty offices, Tru calls out “Marco!”… and damn, was I waiting for an eerie, ethereal dead voice to cry “Polo!” No such luck.)

Published in: on November 2, 2003 at 7:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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