Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Watch It Or Drop It? Also: Aliens In America = Awesome

And it's Wednesday - one day closer to the weekend and overall a pretty good day so far. So I watched Larry Craig interviewed on NBC last night ... it was one of those weird interviews where you're kind of half-listening to him speak but mostly going all Larry David and giving him the squinty-eyed "so, did you do it or not?" look. The fact is that Craig came off very well in the interview, which was a stark contrast to most of his TV appearances where he comes off like a passive-aggressive idiot. However, aided by Matt Lauer's fairly soft-ball line of questioning, Craig and his wife were the perfect picture of down-home elderly gentility, and their "oh, gee golly I was oh so surprised by that mean old policeman!" strategy certainly seemed to pay off - the two came off as befuddled grandparents rather than as devious liars (which may very well be what Senator Craig is ...). The fact is that the truth will eventually come out one way or the other, especially in this day and age, so if Craig is temporarily getting away with deceiving the public, I doubt it will last for long.


So, it's about that time where I realize that I am but one man, and I can only watch so much TV on a regular basis without going insane. Therefore, it's time to start dropping shows, which is at times a painful process and at times fairly liberating. I mean, there's shows like Journeyman that I really WANT to like, but after a few episodes I just realize that, while it may be a well-done show, it's simply not for me. Same goes for Life - I really like the acting and the main character, but I am just not a fan of most procedural shows in terms of format, and find it hard to commit to watching them on a weekly basis. So of the new Fall shows - here's where they currently stand with me:

DEFINITELY WATCHING (for now, at least ...):

- Pushing Daisies: An amazing show that is like nothing else on TV, I've loved the first two episodes and can't wait to see where it goes from here.

- Chuck: A fun, funny show that really appeals to my particular sensibilities, even if it seems to be quickly falling out of favor with the hipster crowd (see the slew of negative comments on The Onion). I really like the style of Chuck though, and feel like it's the best of this year's crop of slacker / geek comedies.

- Gossip Girl: This one really surprised me as I wasn't expecting to like it this much. Now, I don't know how long it will hold my interest, but for now, count me in as being hooked. A great enemble cast and particularly smart writing doesn't hurt.

- Aliens In America: The best sitcom of the season, Aliens is growing on me more and more with each episode. It has a great point of view and is legitimately very funny - I hope more people watch!


- Bionic Woman: This one is more in the "will keep watching" category, but I need some reassurance that this one has some direction and promise. After a few creative shakeups, I'm hoping things stabilize enough to pick up some positive momentum. But the concept is cool enough to keep me watching for now as I wait to see if the show can find its legs.

- Reaper: I really, really want to like this show, and hearing how enthusiastic some others are about it makes me want to keep giving it a shot. I just feel like it's already so predictable and formulaic after only four episodes. With Chuck, I get a lot of enjoyment out of Chuck's spy missions being played out. With Reaper, I enjoy the smaller, in-between moments, but the actual monster-of-the-week plotlines leave me very disinterested. This one is closer to the "dropping it" category for me.

- Dirty Sexy Money: Here's one that I really like in all respects - great cast, smart writing, fun characters, and an intriguing overarching mystery. The problem? I'm just not sure if I have time to keep watching it, and despite all of its stengths, the show is not SO good that it has that "must see this now!" feel. Part of it may simply be that as good as this is, the subject matter is simply not all that interesting to me in and of itself. I'll have to wait and see on this one.


- Back To You: At first, I was pretty high on this show and saw it as a rare gem in TV land - an old-school sitcom that was actually funny. However, turns out I was wrong on the funny part. Actors like Kelsey Grammar and Fred Willard are all very much capable of being hilarious, but the fact is - watch this and the ultra-lame Till Death back to back, and you realize the only real difference between the two is the pedigree of the former's cast. Considering that this is on opposite the stellar Pushing Daisies, I won't be coming back to Back to You.

- Journeyman: Like I said, Kevin McKidd is great, and I am predisposed to like any show about time-travel. Except, turns out this show is not about time-travel, it's a procedural / soap opera that happens to use time-travel as a plot device. That isn't to say that this is not a very well-done show, just not necessarily for me.

- Life: Again, it's simply a matter of not having time to watch and not being a big fan of procedural shows in general. I would encourage anyone to give this show a try - it's well-acted, has a great lead character, and is a nice twist on the procedural cop drama. But it is still a procedural cop drama ... which just isn't my cup of tea (I don't like tea, but you get the point).

- The Big Bang Theory: I thought this show had some potential, but I quickly grew to really dislike its cartoonish characters and ham-fisted humor. Sure, I used to love Steve Urkel back in the day, but Big Bang is no Family Matters.

And that's where I stand as of now ...

But about Monday's ALIENS IN AMERICA ...

- I loved this episode. I thought it was hilarious, and featured the most well-rounded portrayal of the characters yet, with the parents starting to feel a bit more likable and Justin having some of his best moments yet. I thought the main plotline was pretty smart and very hilarious - Justin has long been part of his school Rocket Club, the only catch is, there is no Rocket Club, it was just an excuse for he and his friends to sneak into R-rated movies and such without having to worry about what to say to their parents. So when Raja joins the club, the innocent Pakistani finds himself unable to lie about what's going on, thus blowing the kids' cover, and forcing them to start a real Rocket Club as penance. So when Raja goes to buy parts for his model rocket, he is of course suspected of some kind of terrorist plot, and an investigation begins, meaning that his computer is confiscated. Justin jumps to Raja's defense, and launches a campaign to stop the computer from being examined. However, the real reason for this is that Justin has been using Raja's un-password-protected computer to look at porn, and he's nervous he'll be exposed. Okay, that is semi-brilliant right there, and what we got was a tightly-constructed, hilarious story that brought to mind the likes of Malcolm in the Middle or Arrested Development - absurd, over-the-top, yet with a genuine quality that made all the characters come off as very real despite the random circumstances they're thrown into. Great stuff, watch ALIENS!

My Grade: A

- Alright, I'm out for now. PEACE.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

PUSHING DAISIES = Magically Delicious, plus: BIONIC WOMAN goes commando

Just want to say ...

- PUSHING DAISIES has an AMAZING second episode last night. As much as I loved the pilot, I may have enjoyed this one even more ... everything just felt 100% spot-on, and man, this show is just so well-done, so well-written, so unlike most everything else on the air ... I can't say enough good things about this ep. The whole cast was pitch-perfect, the fanciful plot about the Dandy-Lion cars that run on dandelions ... well, how great is it to see this type of IMAGINATION on TV ... it's like almost contradictory lately to do anything original in primetime television, so it's just so, so great to see something that is so wholly original. The dialogue is a pure pleasure to listen to, this ep alone had about 7 or 8 instant-classic quotes (loved the exchange about skeletons in the closet). And hey, bonus, Patrick Fabian, who I thought was awesome last year on VERONICA MARS, showed up as the guest star / villain. Sweet! Pushing Daisies is basically must-watch, genre-redefining stuff, and hey, has there been a primetime show that manages to be this overwhelmingly feel-good yet still go down like a hot fudge sundae? I am still kind of shocked that this show is pulling in the ratings that it is, though it's all relative in this new world where a show getting a 6 rating is considered enough to deem it a hit. But hey, if America embraces this show and drives Cavemen into early extinction, then there just might be hope for us all.


- BIONIC WOMAN, I thought, had another episode that had plenty of entertaining moments but still felt exceedingly jumpy and all-over-the-place. There remains a lot that feels off here - from Jamie Summer's slightly cold, bratty demeanor that makes her disturbingly difficult to root for, to her grating, teen-stereotype younger sister, to training montage sequences that felt recycled from last week ... there was a lot here that gave me reason for concern. On the other hand, there was some cool action, and an increasingly intriguing plot developing focusing on OG Bionic Woman Sarah Corvus. Right now, Katee Sackhoff and her character arc is basically carrying Bionic Woman on her bionic back, and you get the feeling that it's all well and good for right now, but that the stakes need to be raised soon, or else as soon as Katee leaves the picture, things could get ugly. Let's see Jamie act more heroic and less dumbed-down - maybe some humor that is actually snappy and not cloying would do the trick as well? And plot-wise, business needs to pick up in terms of episode-by-episode scenarios. I mean, I get that Jamie is still in training, but babysitting a bratty heiress doesn't seem to be a task befitting of a high-concept sci-fi action show. We need big stakes, high action, and a little bit more ... gravitas. Still, I'm on board with this show for now and you can practically feel its overabundance of potential scraping to get out. This is, potentially, an awesome show in the making, and its that feeling of infinite possibility that is keeping me intrigued. Let's hope the writers and ever-changing production staff can up the ante.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007


- Sooo, so much to cover today. I think I'm going to have to scale back my TV reviewing soon though, because it's just way too much to write about in the limited time that I can devote to the ol' blog. This past weekend though, I saw some movies that I definitely need to write about. So, submitted for your approval:


- In 1982, director Ridley Scott unleashed a film that did what few others have ever done - it completely changed the film landscape and created a visual style that was like nothing that had ever been seen, serving as the influence for countless films that would follow. The film was Blade Runner, and if ever there was a classic film that begged to be seen not at home but in a theater, on the big screen, this is it. So this weekend, I had one of those true geek-out moments that reminded me why living in LA certainly has its perks for those of us who love movies. You see, in honor of Blade runner's 25th Anniversery, Ridley Scott is releasing an all-new DVD of the film, with a number of tweaks and small changes, and an all new digital refurbishing that ensures that the movie looks and sounds as good as it possibly can. However, the powers that be at Warners also decided to give the new cut of the film a very, very limited theatrical run. And by limited, I mean to say that it's playing, right now, in exactly TWO theaters in the entire country. Why they are giving it such a small release, I don't know, as everyone who considers themselves a fan of film should have the chance to see this. But luckily for me, one of the two theaters with the new cut is here in LA, at the Landmark over on Pico Blvd. So on Friday, the G-Man and I ventured down to the West Side for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of the greatest movies of all time fully restored and on the big screen. And man, am I glad we went, because I was blown away by the brilliance that is BLADE RUNNER all over again.

I remember my first exposure to the movie - I had heard it mentioned in magazines and whatnot in hushed, reverant tones, but one day my uncle handed me a stack of old comics, and one of them was a comic book adaptation of Blade Runner. Excited and curious about this particular issue, I quickly read through it and proceeded to have my mind blown by Replicants, dystopian urban futures, and neo-noir sci-fi. As time went on, I would catch the movie periodically on TNT or SciFi, and then, finally, on DVD. It was one of those films that you coudl watch over and over, because half the fun wasn't even the film itself, but simply the ATMOSPHERE that it created, the world that it brought to life. It was a dark cityscape of monolithic buildings, flying cars, and neon lights - it was a place that was like nothing I had seen, and a place that you couldn't help but want to visit.

But seeing Blade Runner on the big screen, I couldn't help but reevaluate just how brilliant of a visual creation this movie is. It practically explodes off the screen with the sheer force of its ideas. Even now, 25 years later, the power of IMAGINATION that runs through this film makes most of today's f/x-heavy blockbusters pale in comparison. When I saw the opening shots of Blade Runner on the big-screen, polished-up and smoothed-over, but still a relic of the pre-CGI age, my eyes lit up. There, larger than life, was a sweeping shot of The Future - shining black structures lit by towering, fire-emitting silos, flying vehicles soaring through the air, a hellish night sky lit up by neon lights and the flames shooting from below. Wow - this was VISION, this was art, and 25 years later it was still pretty freaking breathtaking.

For the rest of the movie, the feeling of seeing art in motion rarely let up. The way the colors of a futuristic film-noir Los Angeles melded together in a clash of blacks and neons. The way each scene looked like it had come out of an art book, framed to perfection, with the camera lingering just long enough to draw you in, to immerse you in this brave new world. And yet, when the action kicks in, things are kinetic, visceral - you can't take your eyes away.

And then, the visual style mixes with an iconic cast to produce filmic perfection. This is Harrison Ford at his best - ruffled, world-weary, the classic noir detective transplanted into a future where his quarry isn't run of the mill criminals, but Replicants - robotic creations who look much like humans, but whose lifespans are tragically short - a fact that begins to weigh more and more on a particularly advanced group of Replicants who stage a revolt on an off-world mining colony, and then return to earth in search of their creator. Rutger Hauer simply rules it in this movie - Blade Runner is his shining moment that will live on forever - Hauer as the ultimate sympathetic villain, the leader of the Replicant rebels, an artifical being who becomes "more human than human," so to speak. Hauer is freaky as #$%& in this movie. The last act, that sees him in hot pursuit of Harrison Ford's Deckard, like some kind of blood-lusting werewolf, is can't-turn-your-eyes-away cinema at its best. The rest of Blade Runner's cast is, at this point, the stuff of movie legend. Sean Young as a Replicant who learns that all of her memories are artificial, and who finds a fellow lost soul in Deckard. Darryl Hannah as the harlequinn-esque Priis is simply character creation at its finest - a sci-fi icon with racoon eyes. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that you watch a movie like Blade Runner, and at nearly any point in the film, you feel like you could press "pause," hit print, and have yourself a great movie poster. The images and moments in the film are simply that good and that memorable.

I think what makes the film so iconic too is that it is really about the simplest of ideas - what is it to be human? - but that idea is never really pushed at you, per se, instead it lingers and lingersand hangs over the whole movie. A lot of people look at the film and disect its plot and look at instances where things don't feel logical or necessarily make for a cohesive plot. But this is a movie about ideas, told fairly abstractly. We never know Deckard's backstory or his lineage or his origins - this is a movie that simlpy drops us into a particular moment and runs with it, and that's part of the reason why it works as well as it does. Seeing it on the big screen, Blade Runner is also as much of a tour de force as ever - a movie whose visual style influenced countless stories and ideas about what the future may hold. I won't go into exhaustive detail about how this cut of the film differs from the original or the 90's Director's Cut. Suffice to say it still lacks Deckard's opening narration from the original cut, and keeps the more abrupt, bleaker ending of the Director's Cut, as well as the much-analyzed unicorn dream sequence, which serves to subtley impy that Deckard is not exactly what he seems. The only change I really took note of from the Director's Cut was a key line of dialogue from Rutger Hauer, in which his language is toned down - when he meets his creator, Tyrell of the Tyrell Corporation. The original line didn't exactly make sense, but was cool as hell, so it was jarring to see it taken out. But the scene probably makes more sense now.

In any case, if you live in NYC or LA, this is something you need to see. Blade Runner on the Big Screen. A masterpiece of a movie, one of if not THE greatest scifi films ever made, a landmark that now looks better than ever.

My Grade: A+


- You've got to love the current Western revival occuring in Hollywood. A few weeks ago, we got a great action-Western in 3:10 to Yuma, and now we've got JESSE JAMES, a sort of Western biopic told with an artful eye and a stylistic flair. This film is slow, deliberately-paced, and lengthy, but to me these qualities helped rather than hurt - because JESSE JAMES turned out to be one of the most absorbing, character-intensive, and thought-provoking movies so far this year.

There's two main things to note in this movie - one is the great cast, the other is the spectacular cinematography. To start with the latter, this movie has a quietly-absorbing yet ultra-intense pacing that, if you are in the right mindset for it, will completely suck you in. The cinematography is wonderful in terms of evoking the last days of the Old West - picturesque and sephia-tones, JESSE JAMES has a number of long, lingering shots that draw you into the moment, that paint a picture of a time when the frontier dream lived on, but the myth of the West was slowly dying as were its greatest legends.

And that's what we have here - a look at the last days of a legend, an outlaw who was on one hand a cold-blooded killer but on the other a sort of folk hero who was immortalized in his own time in dime novels and songs and in the dreams of young boys. Bradd Pitt is perfect in his role as Jesse James, and the role suits him as Pitt is usually at his best when he can tap into that slightly insane side, the unhinged, unpredictable persona that gets to shine in many of his best movies, like Fight Club or 12 Monkeys. Pitt brings that slightly crazed side of himself into play here - his Jesse James is a man wel laware of his own legend, to the point that his own myth is almost too much for the man to handle. The movie shows us a Jesse James whose glory days have passed - most of the original James Gang members have been arrested or killed, and so the great outlaw is forced to work with a second-rate collection of hangers-on and wannabes, and rather than great robberies or ambitious schemes, much of James' time is occupied by simply tracking down those who are plotting against him, taking out would-be backstabbers before they have a chance to enact their betrayals.

Caught up in these post-glory days is Robert Ford. Ford is kind of the Old West equivalent of the creepy fanboy - a guy who so idolized Jesse James as a kid that to him, the reality of his boyhood hero could be nothing but disappointment. James lived in a time when fiction and reality first began to blur - when the exploits of a criminal and murderer were glamorized in stories that painted him as a pulp hero and adventurer. Ford, played by Casey Affleck, is a total sketchball from the minute we meet him - and yet, the thing of it is, that Robert Ford really is, really should be, the hero of the movie, just as he now doubt envisions himself the hero of his own story. And that's what's so interesting about this film - Robert Ford essentially did the right thing in taking down Jesse James, but we begin to root against Ford simply because he goes about his plans in a less-than-heroic manner. In fact, the way Ford reacts to being wrapped up in James' band of outlaws is exactly how many of us would react - in a kill or be-killed world, is there really any room for heroism? And if not, then how did Jesse James end up as the hero and Ford end up as the villain? It speaks to America as a country that rewards style over substance, myth over fact, legend over truth - and part of why this movie is so effective is that it completely resonates with the issues facing modern society, in which celebrities, politicians, athletes - are put on a pedestal for all the wrong reasons.

And Casey Affleck as Robert Ford - it's been written about a lot already, but this is truly the definition of breakout role. Affleck the younger is just phenomenal here, painting a picture of a somewhat disturbed individual, someone unsure of themselves, someone who wants nothing more than to be a part of the same legends he grew up with even if it means killing them off. Robert Ford is somewhat of a loser, a squirmy guy whose calling may be as a writer or actor, but certainly not as a gunslinger. And Affleck does a great job of making us ponder this character - do we root for him? Hate him? It's all shades of gray thanks to Affleck's nuanced performance.

Meanwhile, the supporting cast is a lot of fun. Sam Shepard as the older James brother, Frank, was my personal favorite, as he brought that kind of over-the-top Wild West thing to this movie, with lots of fun lines said in a suitably badass cowboy drawl. Jeremy Renner and Paul Schneider to a great job as James Gang Members Wood Hyde and Dick Liddel, and Sam Rockwell is great as Robert Ford's older brother Charlie. Some of the female roles here are played by some pretty big names as well - Mary Louise Parker and Zooey Daschenal, and there are also a number of other great actors sprinkled here and there in relatively small roles, drifting in and out of various scenes. The bottom line is that the cast of this movie is outstanding.

This is an accomplished, deep, absorbing movie that was I found to be completely immersive and extremely thought-provoking. It's one of those movies that is an endless conversation-starter, with numerous scenes that will be recalled with enthusiasm and curiosity. The slow build worked for me, because it gave the entire movie one of on-edge intensity. When the movie's tranquil quietude is broken, it explodes with inspired action and conflict and drama. This one has Oscar-worthy direction and cinematography, a breakout turn from Casey Affleck, and one of Bradd Pitt's career-best roles. And, it is a classic tale of America and of the West - of its legends, its myths, and its slow, inglorious death.

My Grade: A

- Alright - a ton of TV stuff to talk about but it will have to wait for now. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

PUSHING DAISIES = Goodness, CHUCK, and why BIONIC WOMAN is actually pretty good.

Alright, time for one more round of TV reviews ...

My big thing right now is all the negativity surrounding BIONIC WOMAN. Honestly, I just don't get where this is coming from. I understand that the show might not be for anyone, and I totally get some of the complaints regarding pacing, dialogue etc. But as far as I can see, the show is still really fun, features a pretty damn good cast loaded with charismatic actors, and has more than enough "cool factor" to rise to near the top of my list of the Fall's best new shows. Yet all I hear is bitching and moaning from the peanut gallery, and it really sucks because there's now this kind of domino effect where people seem to be jumping on the rag-on-Bionic Woman bandwagon just because. But really, for a show of this nature, can you really be that hard on it for some of its shortcomings? I mean, put Bionic's first two episodes side by side with the likes of Heroes, 24, Smallville (hello!), Prison Break, etc - is the dialogue and so forth really that much worse? I'm not trying to blindly defend Bionic - I'm just saying that the show had a pretty intriguing pilot, had a second episode that added some further twists and turns as the groundwork was laid for the season ... I mean, the show is off to an extremely solid start in my eyes, and all it needs is that one truly kickass episode to cross that that line. It needs a moment akin to Future Hiro popping up on Heroes, or Terry O'Quinn acting his ass off in the "Walkabout" episode of Lost. And it may have that soon - but right now the show is just finding its legs, and it's been pretty entertaining in the process.

So, BIONIC WOMAN, Episode #2:

As for last night's ep, I really enjoyed it. I agree that the plot was pretty jumpy and seemed more designed to simply get Jamie from Point A to Point B. But what this episode did and did well was to establish the supporting cast, which I am really liking thus far. I think the show is surrounding Jamie with a really cool group of characters, from her trainer who has a history with the evil, original Bionic Woman, to her hardass field-commander, to Miguel Ferrer as the world-weary head of the mysterious agency. Isaiah Washington did a nice job in this ep as well, and of course, Katee Sackhoff once again stole the show as Sarah Corvus, even with limited screen time.

Now, I do agree that there needs to be some sharpening-up in terms of the writing. The plotline of the town that had been mysteriously gassed seemed very glossed-over, and I don't think it was ever even mentioned who exactly the guilty party, some kind of ambiguously evil militia group, actually was. And we still don't really know what the deal is with the agency that Jamie works for, why they are experimenting in Bionics, who they report to, etc. I also think the timeline of Jamie going from having just received her bionic upgrades, to doing a cool but brief training montage, to going out in the field was a bit hard to follow, and could have been more tightly-edited. I think the producers of this show should definitely check out some DVD's of the excellent and underrated La Femme Nikita to see an example of how to show the progression of a woman from wrong-place-wrong-time recruit to full-on fighting machine.

But, take La Femme Nikita as a great example here, since it has so many similarities to Bionic Woman. That show was over-the-top, comic bookish, but was pure entertainment to watch from start to finish because it had great characters, a unique style, intense action, and a premise that made for a vast array of fun story possibilities. Bionic is in the same boat, potentially - there are some really fun characters, and a lot of threads being sewn that could make for some really cool storylines down the road. So, I'm not sure why, exactly, the first two eps have been utterly nitpicked to death by the legions of blood-sniffing critics out there, who jumped all over this week's ratings decline as a sign that what they saw as an overhyped remake was in fact a sinking ship. Well here's hoping, and this is only as a fan, that the show stay steady and rebounds, as to me it's a nice action-adventure show so far has only scratched the surface of its potential.

My Grade: B+


- Now, I have got to talk about PUSHING DAISIES, which to me just has an awesome, brilliant pilot. I am so happy, again, simply speaking as a fan, that this show did so well in the ratings last night, because like many, I figured it might be too quirky, too different to win mainstream acceptance. But on the other hand, something inside me was more optimistic than usual this year about the chances for more offbeat shows like Chuck, the returning 30 Rock, and this one, Pushing Daisies. The audiences, I think, are getting younger and more open-minded to shows that stray from the beaten path. But the great thing about Pushing Daisies is, it manages to be witty, stylistic, and fresh, but at the same time it has nearly universal appeal - it is, after all, essentially a classic fairy tale.

It's funny, the first time I saw this pilot, I was immediately reminded of a Tim Burton movie. As many have pointed out - the mix of whimsy with black humor, the slightly gothic, surrealistic sensibility, and the stylized visual flourishes, give Daisies the feel of movies like Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish. But as I re-watched the show last night, I realized something different. What I now saw was this: in many ways, Pushing Daisies is the new Gilmore Girls. And I mean that in the best possible way. I mean, it's so great to hear dialogue that snaps and pops like it does here, to hear people talk in a way that isn't trying to sound cool or real or authentic, but that instead EMBRACES language, where you can feel the care and imagination that obviously went into crafting each and every sentance. To me that is so utterly refreshing and a total joy to watch, and to listen to.

And to see a TV show that has such a bold, unique, imaginative visual style - again, extremely refreshing. You couldn't ask for a better change-of-pace from generic-looking sitcoms, uniformly washed-out cop shows, or boringly bland-seeming action-adventures. Pushing Daisies looks and feels like a storybook come to life, and there is an almost animation-like artistry to the visuals.

As far as the actors go, the cast here is pretty much perfect. The huge standout to me is Anna Friel is our hero's childhood love who he reanimates from the dead with his magic touch, only to realize that another touch from him would send her back to the grave. With Friel, it's easy to see why Ned, the lead character with the ability to bring back the dead, would fall in love with her all over again from the moment he sees her as an adult. Lee Pace does a nice job as Ned as well - he comes off both as innocent and as kind of dark and issue-laden. Everyone else, from Chi McBride to Kristen Chenowerth is also really great - and they all do a great job handling creator Bryan Fuller's literary dialogue.

And give a ton of credit to Bryan Fuller. He wrote an amazing episode of Heroes last year in "Company Man," and its clear that he is a huge talent with a unique voice and a gift for crafting compelling fantasy worlds. He will surely be sorely missed on Heroes, but I'm glad he has this opportunity to craft such a compelling new creation. If anything, my one reservation is that I wonder how the pilot, which almost felt like a mini-movie, will serve as the basis for an ongoing series that can provide fresh stories week in and week out. And can other writers not named Bryan Fuller, and other directors not named Barry Sonnenfeld, keep up the momentum, or will this be a more extreme example of Gilmore Girls, where the Palladino's vision was so unique and specific that it sometime suffered when others tried to emulate them.

As it is though, this is one of the very best pilots I've seen, and a show that makes me think that network television can, in fact, amount to something that resembles art.

My Grade: A

CHUCK, Episode #2:

So about my other favorite new show of the season ...

Here's another one, where, like Bionic Woman, I'm seeing a lot of negativity towards, and I can't figure out why. I didn't get to see this ep when it aired on Monday, and all I've heard this week was how the 2nd ep of Chuck was a letdown following the pilot. Um, what? This episode was great! I thought it was a great "setting-up-the-status-quo" type of episode, and did a nice job of establishing the type of threat posed to Chuck and his friends by all of the various forces out there trying to extract all of the secrets from his brain.

But more so than that, Adam Baldwin ruled it in this episode. Up until now, I have been a fan of Baldwin but haven't really understood why some people are such fanatical fans of his. But okay, now I'm on the bandwagon. This guy was alternatively badass and hilarious in this episode, and I liked the Ash-in-Evil Dead, "Shop Smart, Shop S-Mart" vibe he had going on while forced to pose as a mild-mannered Buy More store clerk. And Sarah Walker, Chucks' beautiful-yet-deadly CIA partner, working in a Wienerschitzel analog? Brilliant. If only the Wienerschnitzel across from me could have someone like her behind the counter ... let's just say I'd eat a lot more Wienerschnitzel.

Overall, I thought this ep was a fun blend of genuinely funny comedy with over-the-top action. Gotta love Adam Balwin vs. Yvonne Strzechowski in a hardcore fight in a fast-food joint. So, I know that I personally am very conflicted, since Prison Break is probably my favorite show right now and a must-see for me on Mondays at 8. But CHUCK is quickly becoming a must-watch, and I'm onboard. It's a show that's good enough to gou out of your way to watch (or download it on Amazon Unbox!!!).

My Grade: A -

Alright - that's it for now. Make sure to watch The Office tonight, as well as 30 ROCK, which features JERRY SEINFELD. It will be hilarious!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

More Fall TV: Aliens In America, Everybody Hates Chris, and Reaper - and MORE

Whaaaaaaat's Up.

Ahhh, so tired today. Not sure what it is but this week is already beginning to drag. Looking forward to what will hopefully be a good weekend though, and also, there's a ton of movies I'm psyched for.

This Friday, I'm really curious to see how THE DARK IS RISING pans out. Oh, I'm sorry, I mean THE SEEKER. From what I have read though, I have a pretty bad feeling about this one, as it seems like an unfortunate case of Hollywood snapping up whatever fantasy license they can get their hands on, with zero regard for the actual source material. As a kid, I looooved fantasy literature and read everything I could. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, the Prydain series (ie The Black Cauldron) by Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis' Narnia books, the Oz series by L. Frank Baum, the Shannara books by Terry Brooks, and tons of others. I loved that stuff. And among my favorite series was THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper. My memory of the books is a tad bit fuzzy at this point, but I remember really enjoying them for their air of relative sophistication and nuance, and I also loved their connection to Arthurian mythology. So, it's pretty disappointing to see that the powers that be (aka moronic studio execs) are randomly changing the name of an adaptation to something that isn't even the title of one of the books. I mean, The Seeker? Are you kidding me? That sounds like the title of some early 90's CD-ROM game. That is so, so lame, and the studio behind this one deserves to be bashed mercilessly for this only-in-Hollywood decision. I can't say enough about how retarded that is. The book is called THE DARK IS RISING - why adapt it at all if you're going to change the name? I mean, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe? Lord of the Rings? Those titles don't exactly scream mainstream Hollywood. Can you imagine if The Fellowship of the Ring had been released with some stupid, generic Hollywood title like "The Quest of Doom" or something. Ahhh what is wrong with these people - Susan Cooper is likely rolling in her grave. Okay, she's still alive, but you get the point. Now, will the movie itself be good - I hope so, but dammit, I am a lot less excited now that it's called The Seeker, a decision that is most certainly the epitomy of lameness. Honestly, I just hate the attitude that all this great material is just out there for some exec to snatch up and do whatever they want with. What's the point of adapting something if you're not respectful towards it?

Also, lots of other good movies opening in wide release this weekend. Can't wait to see THE DARJEELING LIMITED. I'm a big Wes Anderson fan, and always look forward to his films. I also checked out the free short-film prelude to Darjeeling, Hotel Chevalier, which is available on iTunes. Really good stuff, and, um, Natalie Portman fans may want to check it out, especially. But yeah, can't wait for Darjeeling. Also, THE ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES looks great, as does INTO THE WILD. Hopefully will have a chance to see all three sometime soon.



- To me, Aliens in America is up there with the best new shows of the season, and certainly at the top of the list of new comedies. It reminds me a bit of the late, great Malcolm in the Middle, in that, even though it has kind of a warped sensibility, it still manages to capture something very authentic about high school and growing up.

Basically, Aliens tells the story of a geeky high-schooler whose family takes in an exchange student, essentially for the purpose of providing their outcast of a son with a new friend. The family is hoping for someone cool and popular, but what they get instead is the exact opposite - a dorky Pakistani kid named Raja - who is naive, insists on wearing traditional garb at all times, and is a devout Muslim.

What could have been a really gimicky premise instead is really pulled off well, combining the fish-out-of-water comedy of a classic like Perfect Strangers with the hilarious / painful look at high school life of a Malcolm in the Middle or even Freaks and Geeks (though obviously this is very much a sitcom, not an hour-long). I love a scene in the beginning of the pilot, for example, where an obnoxious pair of twins point out to our main character, Justin, how his sister has become quite ... developed over summer vacation. They then ask him if he's "tapping that," and call him gay when he says no, of course not. It's absurd, but kind of hilarious, because it's exactly the kind of ridiculousness that dumb highschoolers are prone to saying.

The thing I admire about this show is that it handles a lot of current issues - racism, prejudice, xenophobia, etc - with smart humor and without pulling punches. At the same time, it remembers that it's basically a show about two outsiders trying to fit in, and does a nice job of capturing that. Like Malcolm, the show really captures the life of an adolescent boy. There's a bunch of scenes in the pilot that made me smile in recognition - like a random sequence of Justin explaining to Raja how he likes to blast rock music and jump around his room as a stress reliever (Raja tends to pray whenever he is stressed out).

It's funny - this show features Scott Patterson, aka Luke from Gilmore Girls, as Justin's dad, a part that was recast from the original pilot. I think the original actor was actually a bit more effective at playing the part of the all-American dad who only warms up to Raja when he realizes that he now has an extra hand to help with the dishes. Plus, it's so soon after Gilmore that it's hard for me to think of Patterson as anyone other than Luke. I guess he just doesn't strike me as a sitcom-y actor, and has a very down to earth style that seems to contrast with the character's more over-the-top portrayal.

Overall though, this is a potentially great sitcom with a unique comedic voice that deserves an audience. It's too bad that it's buried on the CW on Monday nights, where I don't know if it will really get the chance it deserves. This would have been a perfect FOX Sunday night show back in the day, I just don't know where it fits on the current schedule. I wish it was paired with a heavy-hitter (well, relative to the CW), like Smallville so it could potentially build some momentum.

My Grade: A -


- Talk about being lost in the shuffle - this was one of the most hyped shows when it debuted a few years ago, but has since become the victim of terrible scheduling and promotion - in all honesty I'm surprised it's even still on the air. But, this is a show I really want to like - I like it's style, it's humor, and it's cast. So even though I hadn't caught an episode in a while, I made a point to record the season premiere this past Monday.

My impression, upon revisiting the show, was that this is definitely a show that deserves a better timeslot, better promotion, and a bigger audience. At the same time though, I wasn't blown away by what I saw. Some of the humor definitely fell flat, and I'm not sure if it's partly due to his adolescence or what, but main actor Tyler James Williams just seemed a little bit of a wet blanket to me - he kind of seemed to be going through the motions and didn't bring a real sense of comedic timing to the table. Meanwhile, this ep received some hype because it FINALLY featured a guest appearance by series creator Chris Rock. Unfortunately, Rock mostly fizzled as a school guidance counselor, and was given few good lines - in fact, he was saddled with an unfunny recurring joke involving a tendency to make overcomplicated metaphors. To me, the main draw of this show is the hilarious Terry Crews as Chris' cheapskate dad. His line delivery is classic, and he definitely gets all of the show's funniest moments. If there's any reason to watch this show, it's him.

So overall, I'd love to see this show get a little more promotion - it's an underrated little sitcom wthat isn't perfect, but it's heart is in the right place, and it's worth checking out.

My Grade: B

REAPER, episode 2:

Okay, so after a pretty enjoyable pilot, I am starting to have some serious doubts about REAPER. I mean, the humor is there, the cast is great ... but, what is this show? I mean, is it merely going to be a Freak of the Weak type deal? I simply wasn't very encouraged by this week's ep, which felt like almost an exact copy of the pilot episode, following a nearly identical formula. The first half of the ep saw Bret Harrison's character again coming to terms with his new role as the Devil's personal bounty hunter. The second half saw him team up with his pals to take down yet another very generic escaped demon - even the staging and choreography of their showdown felt nearly the same as last week, with the one difference being that the budget must have been drastically reduced, as the f/x used were almost comically bad. I mean, they have got to develop some decent villains for this show. Last week we merely had Generic Fire Monster. This week it was Generic Lightning Monster. Can't wait for Generic Water Monster ... (hopefully you detect my sarcasm here ...).

Meanwhile, Ray Wise continues to be highly entertaining as Satan ... he seems like he was basicall born to play this part. But, so far he's basically a more demonic version of Obi Wan Kenobi. I mean, he's supposed to be evil incarnate, but so far he is a pretty damn likable guy, going so far as to help hook up our hero with the girl he's crushing on. I mean, I'm just saying I feel like, even if this show is kind of a light-hearted comedy, it still needs at least a little bit of intrigue as far as plotting goes. Some hints that maybe the Devil has something up his sleeve? A recurring villain with some kind of grand scheme? Something ... right now the show seems set on Wash, Rinse, Repeat, and I don't know if that's enough to sustain it.

My Grade: B -

- Alright, still have to report back on this week's Chuck, Journeyman, etc. Tonight is also the premiere of one of the best new shows of the season, PUSHING DAISIES on ABC. This is a must-watch - think a Tim Burton movie a la Big Fish as a TV show. It's hard to explain so you'll have to watch for yourself. Plus, BIONIC WOMAN.

- Okay, I'm out for now. PEACE.