These are the breaks

Prison Break, the early entrant for the new season, is a tale of two schemes. One is a conspiracy that put an apparently innocent man on death row for the murder of the vice president’s brother. The other is the convict’s brother’s scheme to get him out of prison by getting into prison and then breaking them both out.

The motivation for the viewer to watch is to see the details of both schemes exposed. The big secret of the conspiracy is “why?”; for the escape, the question is “how?”, and we see the many odd things that the brother does which help build a picture of a very ornate escape scheme. These things have to drive the interest, because in order to keep the surprises surprising, the central characer needs to remain an enigma. As such, despite time spent with various side stories looking at how other people are involved in these schemes, there is no real human concern and no one to root for.

It is fairly common these days to bring a successful movie director in for the pilot, and this is no exception. Alas, they brought in someone successful but not good. Brett Ratner has a track record of films that are less than the some of their parts. They have good core concepts and good casts, but in the Rush Hour films and elsewhere, he shows a lack of concern for plot and storytelling. That same inability to add the pieces together strikes here. Watching this, I ended up with a mild curiousity of how the storytellers would tell the story. This is quite different from actually being emotionally involved in a story, reacting to it as the truth. Everything about this pilot made at least this viewer feel fistanced from all that is going on.

Still, within its problems, smoothly made. Certaily, there is an audience for this, and I will probably continue to watch it until I no longer care what the escape plan is and why it seems so complicated.

Published in: on August 30, 2005 at 1:36 am  Comments (9)  

A light seasoning

To the degree that one can accurately call anything the beginning of a season in this year-round TV world of ours, the first series of the new season starts tonight (Prison Break, which I do have hopes for.) And thus, it is time to discuss my plans for this season.

I’m gonna try to watch new shows. A lot of them. But I’m not going to be religious about it.

Ever since the baby was born, time has been less flexible. Watching anything live is hard, as the baby interrupts. Waching things casually during the day while doing light work on the computer is hard because the baby is there, and we’re trying to avoid turning her into a TV-watching creature. (Yes, we expect her to watch TV in the fullness of time, but we do not want that to be What She Is About.) What time I have needs to be focused on other things. So expect fewer reviews, and often briefer reviews. These days, I often only get around to blogging something a week after it’s in the brain, since there are so many things that want t0 be done when I have uninterrupted computer time.

Really, I’ll watch things sanely. I won’t miss the returning must-sees or traditionally-watched shows (with the key returning network shows being Veronica Mars, Arrested Development, Scrubs, and Two-and-a-Half Men, in that order, with things like Malcolm in the Middle and The Simpsons filling in the no-longer-as-compelling-but-traditionally-watched category.)

Life, with television in it. Not a bad idea, eh?

Published in: on August 29, 2005 at 7:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

A trend that needs a replacement

I hope that folks in the ad game take to believing this study (or, more correctly, this overly-simplified description of a study). It’s not that I assume it’s correct that product placement. It’s just that if it gets believed, then we’ll see less product placement, and fewer cases of movies and TV shows being warped into ads.

It really bothers me in movies, where I am paying to be the customer, not the product being sold to an advertiser. (And let’s not get into the history of cigarette placement in movies leading to cigarette placement on TV, where tobacco ads are not allowed…)

Published in: on August 24, 2005 at 8:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Some Kind of Show

My Kind of Town is an odd kind of show. There are some game show trappings, but largely it involves bringing in 200 people from a small town somewhere, taking them to New York (I think it’s New York), then showing them footage of odd things going on at home. Their favorite pickup truck being attacked by a fire-breathing robot dinosaur. Someone’s double-wide missing from its original spot and heading down the highway. Somebody’s dryer being catapulted.

They make some interesting choices. The host is British; I don’t know if he was the host of some British edition of this, but in any case it makes it clear that he is not one of the people he’s interacting with, he’s an outside observer, and that’s to their benefit.

There is some fun silliness in it, and some misfires (largely, when the crazy antics aren’t met with surprise from the relevant audience member), and one central problem: most of the big gags are given away in the ads.

I probably shouldn’t watch this. In some ways, it comes close to the realm of reality show I wish to avoid. But it does have a relentlessly upbeat spirit.

(But just imagine what sort of scary paperwork these people have to sign, in order to give the producers the right to do this kind of thing to their property. I mean, they moved someone’s house. And you might wonder why on earth anyone would ever sign that sort of paperwork… but I did once.)

Published in: on August 23, 2005 at 10:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

A brush with fame

Just catching last week’s new Monk episode, “mr. MONK and Mrs. Monk”. About a minute into the show, they give the name of a toothbrush: the Gertler 4000. Woo-hoo! When you have an uncommon last name like this, you notice it. (They actually included this moment in the “coming next episode” scenes, but those scenes aren’t close-captioned, so I had to wait until I watched the episode to make sure they weren’t saying “Gerber” or something silly like that.)

Published in: on August 21, 2005 at 2:34 pm  Comments (4)  

Complete shams

My bud Mark Evanier has a nice piece on the disappointing incompleteness of some “complete” DVD sets. Of particular sadness to me are the ones that use the syndication edits, rather than the several-minutes-longer versions that originally aired; that’s not due to any real problem but sloppiness or laziness.

Published in: on August 20, 2005 at 11:58 pm  Comments (4)  

The Same Ol' Beautiful People

ABC Family launched their new hour-long Beautiful People, about a not-so-wealthy teen faced with the wealthy world (not unlike their other Monday drama, Wildfire.) In this case, it’s a three woman family who just left Mexico (New) to move to York (New). Daphne Zuniga (of The Sure Thing and Spaceballs, and more recently American Dreams) is the only recognizable actress in the batch. She plays the mom, who finds herself taking a job less than what she’s qualified for, to keep ends together now that her husband has left her (ah, but who is that rich old college interest who is reemerging?) She’s got an elder daughter who worked as a model back home, but is finding that modeling success in the big city may require living the uglier parts of the would-be model lifestyle.

But the real lead of the piece is the younger daughter, who finds herself at a new school where she is torn between two groups, the ultrarich, snobbish “beautiful people” clique and the more awkward youth who despise them. Its a conflict that, if you’re over 25, you’ve seen repeated endlessly in school-oriented drama and comedy. And so far, the players aren’t any more interesting than in the typical earlier take. All in all, if you’re clearly a grown-up, this series probably won’t have much for you.

But it is smoothly made. It doesn’t look particlarly cheap. And that just leaves me reflecting in amazement on how much more effective the TV business has become at making money. There can be reasonable expectations of profit for live action fiction series (and not cheap, cheesy-looking things) not only on the three old-time networks and the three johnny-come-last-couple-decades networks, and on HBO and Showtime, but also on myriad basic cable nets. FX is doing some amazing stuff, USANetwork has quite respectable attempts, TNT makes some real stabs, SciFi channel has done some programming that I’m told is riveting (I still have the problem of not wanting to support a network that chose to air a dangerous, twisted con man claiming to speak to the dead, but will have to decide whether to catch things like Farscape and Battlestar Galactica via DVD), and there’s scattered shows on places you wouldn’t expect them, like ESPN. Truly, an age of opportunity; I’d still like to see a little more breadth out of it all. There’s still little that I can’t conceive of being (although often not succeeding) on a network… but there’s much to be said for this state of affairs. And at this point, it’s balancing out the rerun-and-reality slates of the networks.

Published in: on August 9, 2005 at 11:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Pokey McGertler

With my life so full these days, often a lot of time goes by between when I mean to post something to the blog and when I do.

For example, there’s last week’s Air France incident. While my pal Mark was wisely reflecting on the way reporters were assuming a large death toll, and while The Daily Show was going after the incessant reference to the event as a “miracle”, those weren’t the things that most got in my craw. No, what got to me was all the news shows doing interviews with “survivors” of the crash. As opposed to? Really, one should reserve the term “survivor” for situations that have killed some significant portion of the people involved. And even then… if you’re interviewing someone, we can assume they survived. Few shows are daring enough to interview the fatalities.

Published in: on August 9, 2005 at 10:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

It's always funny in Philadelphia

Thursday saw the launch of a new hour-long sitcom block on FX. Actually, it was a 66-minute-long block for some reason, with the first show running long and throwing off those of us who had hoped our hard disk recorders would capture everything. Luckily, I noticed the problem and arranged quickly to record the missing six minutes on a rerun.

Uncomfortable moments can be funny. Carried well, they can be a great source of humor. However, 36 minutes is not a moment.

Desperation can augment humor, but it is not in itself funny. Edginess can augment humor, but again, not funny. The new series Starving is desperate, edgy, uncomfortable, and not at all funny. Taking a look at four friends (three guys and a girl) in an eating disorders group, all of whom are starved for some form of affection, we end up with four people whom we do not want to spend time with. Sure, one could argue that having such a problem makes them “interesting”, but I really don’t think seeing the desperation of Sam digging food out of the trash or his cop pal exhibiting the edginess of on-screen purging makes spending time with the worthwhile.

The second show has the ungainly title of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which accurately reflects its location (and at the moment, I can’t think of another Philly-set sitcom since Angie, which ran in the 1979-1980 season). Again, it’s about four friends, three guys and one gal. This set of friends runs a bar together. If they vomit, they do it off-screen. They are not perfect people, and thus far I have not figured out what they all really want, but they chat in a friendly, humanly flawed way. The supposedly goofy predicaments that they got into (accidentally turning their too-quiet Irish pub into a hot gay bar) weren’t as goofy as the writers seem to have believed, but this is watchable. I will give it a few episodes to show just what it’s trying to be.

At least, I will if they start beginning it at the time they say they will, rather than six minutes later.

Stray thought I was having today: with the Fox-linked FX network airing the Iraq war series Over There, I realized that the only two shows that I know of to send characters into the Iraq war were both Fox network shows: Malcolm in the Middle and Arrested Development. Seemed like a conspiracy. Then I remembered that the lead character in Las Vegas also went oer. Ah well. So much for my freak theories.

Published in: on August 7, 2005 at 12:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Not to be overt here…

I think that Over There is an American TV first. They’re doing a fiction show about an American war while that war is still going on. And as much as we might believe that M*A*S*H was talking about the then-current Viet Nam conflict, it was set in the Korean war (although a version of the Korean war that lasted three times longer than the real one did. No wonder Hawkeye always felt so trapped.)

Any war is a serious topic, and a current and particularly problematic war (not that war isn’t inherently a problem) is a minefield, emotionally. And the show is not designed to make us feel any more comfortable. While the first episode made the conflict between the US and the insurgent forces stark and made no real attempt to question the conflict on that basis, it did show American soldiers at times being badly used by the American defense system. Butmore to the point, the vast majority of it was a battle scene, with American soldiers in the trenches faced with an insurgent stronghold. Every soldier has a nickname and a back story.,.. and they may not all have a forward story. They’re not all going to make it out of Iraq whole.

The series, which airs on FX, comes from Stephen Bochco, who brought a sense of verisimilitude to the cop showwith Hill Street Blues. If anything, this new series feels a bit more like his later series NYPD Blue; tough and dark and not afraid of brief periods of people talking cleverly to keep the viewer alert. Production value is high, and they’re putting style into it. The extended battle period inclueds night scenes shot in green as if through a nightscope, and daytime shots with the heavy orange tinge of a sandstorm.

This show is not for the squeamish,and not for the adamant or the radical on either side of the Iraq war quetion. It is, however, well put together, at least the pilot (I do already have the second episode on the hard disk machine, but have not yet had a chance to watch it, as my wife is among the squeamish.) I do hope its need for drama won’t keep it always on the battlefield, rather than dealing with some of the more mundane activities and even pleasant encounters that are indeed part of being a soldier in this conflict. Worth checking out, if you can.

Published in: on August 5, 2005 at 12:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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