The latest and perhaps last Developments

Various sources are reporting that the creator of Arrested Development has decided not to be involved in any continuation of the series, making further episodes far less likely despite the apparent interest of various networks.

That’s a decision I can understand. I hope he recharges a while and finds something else good to bring forth.

Published in: on March 31, 2006 at 3:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

She's the Horribly Feminine Man

The stroller matinee is conceptually a good idea – letting moms (even us Mr. Moms) take their under-3-year-old kids to a showing where others are not allowed, so we don’t need to worry about the screaming kids disturbing folks; we’re all in this together.

And then there’s what happens when they’re showing a poorly-reviewed flick like She’s the Man – it turned out to be just me and li’l Allison in the theater. I talked to her loudly through the entire thing. We danced in the aisles. All was well.

So why did I choose to see this film, knowing its general reputation? Well, the moment I saw an ad for this convetying the plot, and I realized that, goodness gracious, they’re doing Twelfth Night. Now that particular bit of Shakespeare is a bit of a fave with me, one that I always thought could translate via resetting or modernization. In fact, at one point I was working on a comic book adaptation that would have made it a more-explicit sex comedy set in the organized crime scene of the 1920s. So I had to see what they did.

And they did make some changes. It’s been a while since I read the original, but I don’t think the soccer game had the same outcome as in the movie. And the character that Julie Haggerty plays? If memory serves, she was actually dead before the start of the play.

The original play really has two sets of things going on. There’s the central storyline, a fairly straight storyline-oriented romantic comedy with crossdressing. And then there’s the more broadly comic material, featuring such supporting characters as Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby Belch. The film basically jettisons that latter portion (although you’ll still find a character named “Toby”, for example of how they adhere) and adds lots of physical and broad humor to the main storyline, resetting it as being about a girl who disguises herself as her twin brother in order to get on a school soccer team, with the romantic complications that ensue. The plotline grafting is not wholly successful; things that basically made sense in the play don’t necessarily work out in the soccer milieu. The physical humor moments are awkwardly manufactured. The performances are mostly little to write home about (although I do want to give a positive shout-out to Emily Perkins, who brings a nice odd little spark to the small roll of Eunice, the boy-hungry headgear-wearing geek). This is not a film I’d recommend to, well, anyone.

But yet, I had a good time. There was lots of music on the soundtrack, giving Allison and I plenty to dance to in the aisles. And there’s worse things in this world to having the whole theater to yourself. So if you can see it in an empty theater with a happy bouncy 16 month old gal, I guess I recommend that experience.

Published in: on March 31, 2006 at 2:02 am  Comments (3)  

The Cult of Veronica

Tonight’s Veronica Mars had a lot for the hardcore fans, both touches with Veronica past and signs of Veronica future. Plus a lot of good lines.

But it also had another example of the interesting strategy the VM folks are using, the activing courting of the audience of other cult-following shows. It makes sense; Veronica is very cult-compatible. (I introduced the series to one 13 year old lass, who now has all of her young friends watching the episodes repeatedly, quoting lines, gaining fascination with the characters and the bad boys.)

In the past, they’ve gone beyond casting actors from cult shows (most blatantly Buffy, including a scene which was blatantly manufactured merely to bring two Buffy stars together again on screen) to casting cult creators. Both Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly) and Kevin Smith (the man behind the Clerks universe of movies) have appeared. This time, they tried to reel in the Arrested Development crowd, bringing on the actors who played George Michael and Maebe. And the good thing is, there is nothing miscast about these players. She got to do more dramatic work than AD allowed, while he effectively brought the same sort of delivery that made George Michael the heartbreaking character that he was.

The mystery aspect didn’t add up to much, but I don’t mind, because the rest of it was mmmmm yeah!

Published in: on March 30, 2006 at 1:30 am  Comments (2)  

Teachers need learnin'

There are some respectable names at the start of the new sitcom Teachers. Creator Matt Tarses has writing credits primarily on two shows: Scrubs and Sports Night. Them’s good stuff. And the director is James Burrows, who has been the key director on some long-running and respected hits (and some merely long-running), and has often been brought in to direct the first few episodes of a new show to help the cast build a chemistry.

Between them, they managed to turn out an amazingly crappy launch. It’s all sitcom shortcuts that don’t feel like anything real. The central character is a teacher who runs with a pack of slacker teachers… but, in the most trite cliche scene possible, we are shown he is secretly a teacher who really cares and can touch the hearts of his students (he gets the reluctant reader to believe that Hamlet is really about his life, and thus inspires him to go read it.)

The other characters is the guy we’re supposed to sneer at because he takes his job seriously, plus the slacker male teachers. And then there are the two potential love interests for the central character – the hot blonde teacher-who-is-English (I don’t recall if she’s an “English teacher”, if you see what I mean) who is serious-minded and who our “hero” has lusted after for a while, and the hot brunette who is more of a wild gal. And there is our main man, pulled between them like he was Archie Andrews, split between the hot blond serious-minded Betty and the hot brunette Veronica.

None of this feels real. Much of it feels like it’s supposed to be humorously over-the-top, but they don’t achieve the “humorously” part of that (in contrast to, say, Scrubs, which does the humorous part quite well.) It may be possible to make bad teachers more funny than tragic on an ongoing basis, but these guys can’t even get laughs at the start.

I did laugh once during the episode, at a reference to a “banana factory”. And the brunette does indeed have nice breasts, which I only note because they seem to make it the central attribute of her character so I admit that they got something to work.

And this hurts Scrubs. They are paired together for an hour, while the other key things they’re up against (the attention-getting The Cell, the new Sons & Daughters, the great acting of House, and about to move into that slot, the best thing on TV, Veronica Mars) are all an hour long. So people may choose not to watch Scrubs because there will be nothing to watch afterward.

Ah well. This will likely be a quick death, and go unmourned. But then, I keep thinking good TV will win out. Sometimes it does, but not predictably so.

Published in: on March 29, 2006 at 9:54 pm  Comments (7)  

Who do you love

There are some TV shows that reward ongoing investment, giving a richness that can only be noticed and appreciated by those who are paying attention. The unspeakably long-lived British SF series Doctor Who always seemed to me to rely on that investment. You needed to have that investment to get past back story that was built for and clumsily contrived to bridge from educational kiddie show beginnings (and much of which was inaccessible due to the lack of existing copies of early episodes) and the awkward sets and rubber aliens. I don’t think that I ever knew a casual Who fan; you could watch an episode now and then of Star Trek, but if you watched an episode now and then of Doctor Who, you might have seen some character charm but would have struggled with the rest. (I know that I did.)

But after years of absence, new episodes were recently launched in Britain, and now they’ve made it over to the U.S. The Sci-Fi channel has run four episodes so far; I’ve only watched the first, but it was quite watchable. One could watch the first episode without having even known there were others; we are introduced to a young lady who will be the Doctor’s new assistant, and get to see him through her eyes. There are signs that there are back story, but only a little of which feels different from what one might find in the first episode of any series. We’re not faced with the Doctor’s history of regeneration (ever the cover story for “we’re recasting the lead”), not dragging in Daleks with their long history of conflict. While there may be some backstory for the antagonists of the episode (I honestly don’t know if they’ve appeared before), there is no confusion to be had in watching this one.

The production isn’t cheap, but on the other hand it’s not lavish. There are special effects that aren’t state of the art nor entirely convincing, but they’re fun without being cheesy. There are certainly ways in which I wish they had been more ambitious; this episode has what are basically killer mannequins, but sticks to a single mannequin style; it would have been fun to see some of the other sorts of mannequin one finds today (such as the ones with only the bottom half of the head)

But what it runs largely on is charm. The assistant is lovely and human. The Doctor is stylish in the way he casts himself above the human-level concerns… even as he proves to be misleading himself a bit in that way.

Was it deep? No. Was it something to be taken seriously? No, but it wasn’t meant to be. It’s a comfortable and enjoyable watch.

…and that leads to a dilemma. The series is, as I noted, on the SciFi channel. For a fair while, SciFi was running the John Edwards series, a show in which a “psychic” deceived people into believing he was talking to the dead for them. There’s a great difference in this world between telling a story to those who know its fiction and seeking to deceive (particularly targeting the bereaved, as Edwards did), and SciFi put themselves far in the ethical wrong by choosing that latter side. Well, the show went away a while back, so I thought perhaps it was time to forgive tthe network and move on. However, during the episode they ran ads for some new psychic show that they’re about to start. I don’t know if it will be as reprehensible as the Edwards series, but any show presenting psychics as real without some knowing investigation is doing a disservice to the viewers and to humanity as a whole.

(They also ran ads for the very show that I was watching; thank goodness for my Commercial Skip button!)

Published in: on March 28, 2006 at 12:24 am  Comments (2)  

Heist

Spoiler Alert for those who might yet watch the first episode of Heist.
There are things which run suddenly through fiction because it has appeared in fact. If there’s some sort of dramatic development (say, people ejected from Death Row based on DNA evidence), you can be sure that it will quickly show up in the movies and on TV, most blatantly in one of those “badly traced from the headlines” Law and Order episodes.
And then there are things which suddenly run through fiction because, well, they run through fiction. A dramatic idea is reused on various front. For example, there’s the “person forced to pull of a robbery”. In TV, comics, and film, I’ve seen it repeatedly of late – either a kidnapped relative is used to force someone to do the robbery, or a remote-detonated bomb is strapped to the forced robber. I can’t name every place I’ve seen it, it’s the sort of thing that blurs together. But it’s running through fiction at the moment, and to the best of my (limited) knowledge it has no real source in reality. And it pops up again on Heist.
Now, the heist genre has never really relied on realism. It’s about contrived solutions that appear to be intelligent answers to contrived problems. But “intelligent” is the key, and it’s the place where Heist falls down. In the first episode, as the first step to a big heist, the heistmeisters decide to rob a bank to get funds for the series’ main heist. Now, robbing backs is not exactly known as the low-risk way to riches; bank robbers typically don’t get away with it and those that get away with it don’t get much. But to make it stupider, these guys see a bank robbery in progress, figure out that it will be a string of bank robberies, and put a lot of effort and some visible expense into finding a way to divert the money that these other bank robbers (who are themselves using a method that seems to ensure not only that they not get that much money, but that also involves some expense, ensures that at least some of the perpetrators will be identified, and sets them up for charges far more heinous than bank robbery should they succeed… really, a plan that only makes sense if ones goal is to feed the plot of a story.)
In any case, while some of the criminals are arguably acting clever (and never that clever, really), ain’t none of them acting smart.
And while there is some reasonable banter here, none of it has anyone exuding the sort of charm that can endear one to the folks in a heist film, nor do they have some justification as to why their targets deserve to be targets. Heck, we see them pull needless and cruel pranks on someone who has already had a gun to his head and currently has a bomb involuntarily strapped to his chest; these are not nice guys on any visible level. As such, while these folks may be the protagonists, one is neither won over nor convinced to cheer for their activities, and given its lack of realism, it cannot be an “intriguing look”. So the only remaining reason to watch is simply to see the mechanics of the heist and the plot, and the first episode was not enough to convince me that these will be done well.
It’s not painfully unwatchable or anything. It’s just a “so what”.
Apparently, they’re rerunning the pilot tonight, for those who missed it.

Published in: on March 27, 2006 at 12:29 am  Comments (4)  

Heritage

There’s an add for a cholesterol-fighting pill that mentions that it fights both food-based and genetic causes of the problem. In the ad, they say that you get your cholesterol not only from that “frank you eat at the ballpark, but also from your uncle Frank; not only from this Virginia ham, but also from your Aunt Ginny.” Or somesuch.

Umm, guys? You don’t get genetic heritage from your aunts and uncles. Really. They may share some of what you get, but really, you get it from your parents, who got it from their parents, and so on. If you don’t understand that much about genetics, I really don’t want to buy medicines that you make.

Published in: on March 26, 2006 at 4:29 pm  Comments (1)  

Nepture Dreams

I had a Veronica Mars dream last night. No, it was not the sort of thing that you might expect, with Veronica and Logan’s sister battling for the affections of a middle-aged comics publisher/writer. Instead, this was a dream very much linked to current show continuity; I was dreaming about the real estate dealings of Kendall and Beaver, their plans, their presentation to investors.

The thing that stinks about having dreams like these is that over the next few weeks, while watching VM, I’m sure I will suddenly think of some relevant detail, and it will take me a while to figure out whether that German real estate theoretician that K&B consulted was something “real”, or if he existed only in my dream.

Published in: on March 24, 2006 at 9:58 pm  Comments (1)  

Evidence to the contrary

Finally, the mainstream media has chosen to address our nation’s shortage of police procedurals! Yes, there was some risk of seeing light seeping through between the CSIs and Laws & Orderses, so now we have – The Evidence. Two cops, one black, one white (and they let us know that in the opening dialog, in case we missed the fact by looking at them) solve crimes by digging up and considering… The Evidence.

The promotions for this made it sound like a fair-play whodunnit series, where you get all the clues and then can work out who did it before the solution is reached. That’s not really the case… alas, because then it would have given this show a reason for existence. But the show has too much mock realism for the sort of silly fun that a good fair play series has. Yes, this is a sober show. One of the cops is driven because someone killed his wife years ago and he still has not solved the case. This wasn’t even an original gambit when Monk used it as its driving force.

One of the cops is Orlando Jones, who I got to recognize when he was annoying on 7 UP commercials, and he hasn’t really impressed me since. There is one impressive guy on the cast, Martin Landau, playing the forensics expert… but while he brings gravitas, it doesn’t add up to much. The situations are, well, silly, manufactured interest. The number that the dying woman dials on her cell phone to leave a clue just happens to be the number people ring when they want their orgy video taped. Why, how conveniently salacious!

At this point, a procedural better have something magic to get me to watch. This ain’t it.

Published in: on March 24, 2006 at 12:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Maybe I should change my religion

In this Sunday’s installment of “Mallard Fillmore”, the comic strip that newspapers run as conservative balance to supposedly liberal strips despite the fact that it’s unfunny, the title character points out that… he likes Veronica Mars.

Sigh.

After all the props the show has been getting, from King, Whedon, Sherman-Paladino… suddenly the company doesn’t seem so good.

Published in: on March 23, 2006 at 9:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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