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.

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