Saturday, September 29, 2007

Three Times To The Well

Sometimes you wonder about where TV producers get their ideas. At least I do. I recall reading a supposedly humorous story about a writer who wrote TV scripts based on working his way through a book like Leonard Maltin's Movies on TV and adapting the synopsis to whatever project he was working on at the time stripping off whether it was a comedy or a drama. I can't help but wonder if producers sometimes go through a guide to previous TV series and saying "there's a good idea for a new show. We can tart it up a bit take away some elements and add others and we've got a great new show." I mean sometimes it's pretty blatant; the source of the new series Bionic Woman can't be more obvious if you used the title of the old show – oh wait, they did – but at the same time they managed to knock off some aspects of the old show and graft on others. But this isn't about Bionic Woman (I'll get to that show before it's cancelled, I hope) it's about Moonlight and about how I think the producers managed to shave off the key elements of two shows that I really liked, in my mind to a less than salutary effect.

Moonlight is the story of Mick St. John. Mick is a private detective. Mick has a secret. Mick is immortal but not in a good way (like John Amsterdam on that show that Fox decided to postpone New Amsterdam). Mick is immortal because he's a vampire. Mick is pretty young in vampire circles. He's only been undead for about 60 years, which to his vampire friend Josef Constantine means that he's barely past infancy; of course Josef is 400 and one of the oldest vampires in Los Angeles even if he looks like he's not quite 30. Mick is a private detective who helps people because... well, the because part is one of the elements of both Angel and Forever Knight that the producers of this show decided to shave off. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We meet Mick in a dream – his dream to be exact – where he tells us the basics about being a vampire in this show. The dream is in the form of the interviews that have been used to promote the series. He sleeps in a freezer, not a coffin. A stake through the heart doesn't kill a vampire, neither does holy water, and garlic only repels his dates, not him (it's good on a pizza though). He doesn't like sunlight, but it doesn't make him burst into flames either. The only way to kill a vampire is with fire or by cutting their heads off. He personally doesn't take the blood of women or children or innocent people, but if you're a bad person, around him you're fair game. Of course he can't say that. The ordinary people would regard him as a monster and if there's one thing Mick doesn't want to be thought of it's as a monster. Something happened about 22 years ago and since then he's been protecting the mortal ones from his own kind. He has an interest in an online journalism site and it's on that site that he finds out about a woman who has been killed in a manner that seems like a vampire. He goes to the murder scene where he meets up with online journalist Beth Turner. Beth seems to recognise him but she doesn't know from where. While Beth goes off one way to investigate, Mick checks in with Josef. Josef is concerned that a vampire attack where the victim's body is found by mortals will cause people to believe that they do in fact exist, which will in turn lead to their destruction. Josef wants the news coverage to stop. Mick's next stop is the city morgue where morgue attendant Guillermo supplies him with information on recent murders...and blood. The supposed vampire victim has puncture wounds in the neck all right, but the woman bled out and the evidence suggests that it was a needle that punctured her neck, not fangs. Instead of a vampire this is the work of someone imitating a vampire.

Meeting up with Beth at the murder victim's funeral Mick discovers that the young woman was taking a class on ancient mythology and lore from a professor who claimed to be a vampire though Mick's heightened senses detected nothing of the vampire about him. Beth learns more about the professor and his class from a former friend of the victim's. Mick talks to the professor and his wife in his job as a private detective. He discovers that while the professor claims to be a vampire his definition tends to be different from either classic definition of a vampire or real vampires like Mick, although from the man's wife he discovers that the vampire angle is a very good way for the professor to get his female students to have sex with him. Meanwhile Beth has decided to find out more about the Professor and his "vampire sex cult" by joining his class as a late enrolling student and getting invited to the professor's special study sessions. She's brought to the study session by one of the professor's male students. They arrive late, just as the class is finishing, all the better for the professor to seduce her. Which is what he tries to do right up to the point where he discovers that she's wearing a wire in her bra. She manages to escape and asks the male student if he has a cell phone. What he has is a hypodermic with some drugs to knock her out. He's the vampire killer, a misogynistic disciple of the professors who believes that the vital "Pranic Energy" (it's a real concept – it apparently means life force) must be gathered and stored not "wasted on women." In other words while the professor is basically pushing the idea that he's a vampire to get laid by nubile young college students, his male disciple is killing the women he's doing it with. Maybe there's just the slightest hint of a bizarrely realised homosexual crush perhaps? Mick of course is focussed on the professor; he's found the body of the woman that Beth had spoken to before along with an artefact from the professor's collection. He arrives at the boiler room where the professor was holding his study group and for the first time shows his true face to a mortal. It's not overly impressive – his eyes get a sort of bluish white glow and his incisors grow into fangs – but it's enough for the professor to say that this can't be happening. Mick replies, "You're right; vampires don't exist," right before he throws the professor across the room into a wall. Having determined that the professor isn't the killer and that Beth isn't there, Mick comes back to the street where his hypersensitive sense of smell picks up her scent. He chases down the car – apparently not only do vampires have all their senses heightened beyond mere mortals but they are also able to run faster than the posted speed limit. He manages to get the car to crash but is stunned as a result. The killer is able to get a knife, presumably to kill Beth, but before he can do anything like that Mick grabs hold of him. The killer stabs Mick in the belly, which he expects is enough to kill him. It makes it all the more shocking when Mick not only stands up but smile before hurling him about 15 feet up against a light pole.

In the denouement we finally learn the details of Mick's relationship with Beth. Years ago a child was abducted by Coraline, Mick's ex-wife and the woman who made him a vampire on their wedding night. She took the child in an insane effort to get Mick back, to create a family for them – with a child – just like mortals. In a fight that had some definite sexual overtones Mick subdued Coraline and after taking the child left her locked in the room...which he had set on fire. The child was Beth.

Where to begin with this show? I think at its heart there might be something here but I don't think it's well realised in execution. We've seen the "good" vampire fighting crime in the past. Forever Knight was a serious romantic drama while Angel took the brooding "vampire with a soul" from Buffy The Vampire Slayer and giving him his own quirky supporting cast. What both shows had in common – besides the good vampire working against crime/evil – is that both Nick Knight and Angel were both seeking redemption and to restore their humanity. They were penitents trying desperately to exorcise their remorse for the acts of evil that they carried out for most of their existence as vampires. With Mick St. John I have absolutely no idea why he made common cause with the "mortal ones" (as Josef calls them) anymore than there's a real reason why one wouldn't want to be a vampire. I somehow get the feeling that the producers wanted to somehow create a film noir (or maybe neo-noir) detective who just happened to be a vampire; the voiceover being a frequent element of the genre. That, I think, could be a really intriguing jumping off point for a series. I'd like to see someone do it sometime because it's not what we got from Moonlight. The characters aren't particularly well formed and the dialog was less than sparkling. There were occasional moments – as when Guillermo wonders why Mick likes the A+ blood when the Type O has a much nicer finish – but they were few and far between.

The two leads, Mick and Beth are played by Australian actor Alex O'Laughlin and British actress Sophia Myles respectively. Neither particularly excited me. It didn't seem to me as though O'Laughlin was showing much in the way of real emotion while Myles was more animated as Beth. I fell know connection with either of them, nor did I feel a real connection between them. The most animated and interesting of the characters was Jason Dohring as the young looking 400 year vampire Josef. He had the energy and authority that I thought was lacking from either O'Laughlin or Myles. In the scene were Mick goes to talk to him about the first killing there's a moment that shows his total amorality. That's when he offers a Mick a drink of the "'84" – "it" is a young woman who seems to be quite content to let Josef feed off of her. Josef can't understand why Mick, or any other vampire for that matter, would want or even prefer to drink blood recovered from corpses or taken from blood banks rather than "the good stuff." The problem is that I don't get any sense from O'Laughlin about why it's bad to be a vampire beyond the fact that people would think you're a monster. Certainly there's no real sense of menace or evil from Josef; there is from Coraline (played by Shannyn Sossamon) in those moments when we see her, but it seems fairly obvious that she's insane (or perhaps just a delusional woman scorned).

Moonlight is disappointing. It's not that it's a bad show. That would be fairly obvious. Rather it's disappointing because it's mediocre; someone at CBS settled for mediocrity now rather than really good later and then clung to it even after the mediocrity was noted. With the exception of O'Laughlin the major characters were all recast – Myles replaced Shannon Lucio as Beth, Sossamon replaced Amber Valletta as Coraline, and Dohring replaced Rade Sherbedgia as Josef. David Greenwalt (who was the co-creator of Angel) was briefly associated with the project before leaving for "health" reasons (I suppose one has to wonder whether the "health" in question was the health of his career after seeing this). I get the sense that with more time in development and with the right people in charge this show's concept could have been better realised than it is. And the worst part (well besides the fact that CBS cancelled Close To Home which was
relatively successful in terms of ratings to put this show on) is that while there's a sense that some of this season's shows will improve, this show won't get much better than it is. As I say, it's a shame because I think a well crafted show about a vampire who happens to be a detective in the Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe mode has the potential to be a bigger success than this show is likely to be.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Life - The One I Didn't Have A Title For

I have to confess that one of the shows I was really looking forward to this season was Life. It's not that there aren't a lot of attractive shows on Wednesday nights this season. Between Back To You, Private Practice, Bionic Woman, Kitchen Nightmares, and Dirty Sexy Money, not to mention some of the returning series on the night (Criminal Minds and yeah, CSI: New York) Wednesday night has become one of the most VCR intensive nights on my personal schedule. But through it all, the show that I wanted to see the most was not Bionic Woman (it's really high on the list but as I type this I still haven't watched it yet) or Kitchen Nightmares (which is vaguely disappointing given some of the changes in format from the original British series), but rather Life. I knew I wanted to see it because I liked the lead actor (Damien Lewis who I enjoyed tremendously in Band Of Brothers) and I found the premise of a cop restored to duty as part of a settlement after being exonerated for a murder he did not commit to be fascinatingly original, or at least something not seen in a very long time. For me the show was sort of like that special package under the Christmas tree back when you were a kid; the one you couldn't wait to open even as you dreaded the possibility what was inside couldn't possibly measure up to what you were expecting from looking at the outside. So, did the reality of Life measure up to what I was expecting? To a large degree, yes. There are rough patches to be sure but with time and a little recognition of what needs to be tweaked, this show could really shine.

The writers of Life were wise enough to use a framing sequence to get the basic story of Charlie Crews. The sequence is a documentary about the Crews case – bad lighting and all – that is used to reveal the key points that we need to know. He was an ordinary cop who was intent on doing his twenty and out until he was convicted of a triple murder. He spent twelve years in prison where for the first year he was regularly beaten by other inmates because he had been a cop (and it looked as though at least one of the guards also got in on the action), before his new lawyer managed to get the evidence re-examined and the case against him collapsed. While he was in prison his wife divorced him and (based on the name displayed during her sequence of the documentary) remarried. A lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles not only resulted in him getting an undisclosed (but very big) cash settlement but also restoring him to the police department as a detective. That description probably took longer for me to type than it took to show on the screen (admittedly that may be because I was playing Poker online as I write this paragraph) but the sequence does a very effective job of introducing Charlie without us seeing him and gets his personal details out of the way rather than spend most of the episode revealing them to us. And it's important because the important parts – for the viewer – of Charlie Crews are all tied to what happened after that triple homicide. This means that the bulk of the episode is not spent discovering the principal character but in solving a case and starting to know the people who surround Charlie.

Of these people the most important is his new partner Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi). Charlie knows there's something bad in her past that is the reason why she's partnered with him, but she's not in a mood to open up. As far as she's willing to let him know it was all "luck of the draw." Part of her reluctance to confide in him comes from not knowing if she can trust him. As another cop puts it later puts it in a later scene "How do you know he's going to be there with you when you go through a door?" Dani undercuts this by pointing out that the cop's partner is Charlie's old partner, the one who didn't stand by him during when he was first accused of murder, but you know that she has to be wondering something similar herself. This question of whether or not to trust plays out in the episode. When confronted by her commander Lieutenant Davis (Robin Weigert, looking totally different from her last role as Calamity Jane in Deadwood) who wants something that she can use to get Charlie off the force she gives up something. After all she doesn't know Charlie, doesn't owe him anything and doesn't know if he'll be there for her going through a door. Her attitude changes when he does do the equivalent of going through a door for her and helps her a shotgun blast results in her being covered from head to toe in cocaine. Dani's a drug addict you see, in rehab and clean for almost two years. In the scene after Charlie showers the drugs off of Dani no words are spoken but each partner knows where the other stands.

I'd like to say that the case that Charlie and Dani were investigating was somehow deep or significant, and if you're someone who thinks that any crime involving a child is deep and significant, then it was. However the investigation itself was yet another way for us to get to know Charlie and to develop the relationship between Charlie and Dani. The two meet at their first case together. A young boy has been shot to death though there's no sign of any sexual molestation. The boy's dog, a golden retriever, is lying down on the ground some distance from the boy, something which immediately piques Charlie's interest. He soon discovers that the bullet that killed the boy lodged in the dog. He also discovers why the dog is so far from his master – he bit off the finger of what is presumed to be the killer. Charlie and Dani next go off to interview the boy's mother and step-father. Charlie almost immediately detects that the step-father is a recreational user of marijuana and also that he is almost certainly not the killer – for one thing he still has all his fingers and for another he is clearly feeling grief. He makes a very clear suggestion that the man flush his pot down the toilet – flush twice to make sure. The interview with the mother doesn't go nearly as well. It is discovered that the boy's natural father was heavily involved in drugs and when he went to prison the second time she divorced him. Charlie says "You just dropped the papers in the mail." It tells us a bit more about Charlie and his demons – his wife divorced him while in prison – but it upsets both the mother and Dani. He apologizes to Dani – he wasn't in the moment, he was thinking about where they had to go next. Where they had to go next was prison, to talk to the boy's father. The man is bitter at cops but knows that his enemies in prison wouldn't go after his son. Charlie explains it – everyone in prison has family so they're off limits. The prison scene is more important because we find out something more about Charlie. The guards are giving him a real hard time and we learn that while he may have been innocent of the crime he was convicted of he wasn't entirely a choir boy while he was in prison. There was an incident with a guard in the Pelican Bay Federal Prison that the guards in this facility still feel anger over.

A major break in the case comes when one of the boy's friends is interviewed. Both boys belonged to a Boy Scout troop made up of the children of cons and ex-cons. The child Dani is interviewing is scared, intimidated and unwilling to talk. Predictably it is Charlie who breaks through his defences – first by getting him to laugh by hugging and extremely reluctant Dani and then by telling him that he knew there was something that he was bottling up and that he wanted to tell. He tells the detectives that someone claiming to be a lawyer had IM'd the murdered boy, who wanted to get his father out of prison, claiming that for a certain amount of money he'd reveal some technical and procedural errors in the father's case, which would be enough to get him out. Talking to the boy's mother again, and making up for his earlier behaviour, Charlie discovers that the boy had stolen money and some jewellery from his parents in order to pay for the information. The only someone with ties to the scout troop would know what his online identity is. So it's somewhat surprising when the finger that the dog bit off comes back to a crack addict with no fixed address. They track him down and during a gun battle with Dani and Charlie (which leads to the situation with the cocaine) he admits to being there but that someone named Artie killed the boy. Dani and Charlie both agree that the addict, who Charlie shot and then comforted as he died, wasn't smart enough to pull off the scam. There is a parent named Arthur on the boy's Scout contact list, and while they can't prove that he committed the murder, his contacts with the crack addict are enough to get him sent back to prison on a parole violation. Charlie and Dani get him sent to the same prison as the boy's father and let him know it; the fear is enough to get him to confess.

But as I said earlier, the first episode of this show was about getting to know the character of Charlie Crews and to a lesser extent Dani Reese. Both characters are damaged by their experiences. Dani compensates for no longer being on drugs by drinking too much (apparently) and engaging in anonymous sex. There's a scene in which she gets out of bed in and dresses in an apartment littered with beer bottles, and the man in bed with her comments that they don't even know each other's names. Her reply is "If you don't know your name you can't contact me." Charlie's quirks are a lot easier to understand. His adherence to the principles of Zen, if imperfect, is what helped him survive in a prison – apparently the Special Handling Unit at Pelican Bay – where inmates spend virtually their entire day in isolation. His seeming addiction to fresh fruit, a fast car (a Bentley – probably a Flying Spur or a Continental GT), a big house, and sex with very attractive women are all probably a reaction to being denied the simple pleasures that even an ordinary cop would take for granted. Now that he's wealthy, because of the settlement from his wrongly conviction he can afford to go overboard with exotic fruits (and an orange grove), an exotic car, and a huge house. At the same time being in prison has hurt him. It is obvious in the fact that he doesn't understand certain aspects of technology – cell phones that are smaller than a Star Trek communicator and not only take pictures but can send and receive them as well, Google (which is nine years old today – in other words was created three years after Charlie went to prison), and instant messaging (AOL Instant Messenger debuted the year that Charlie went to prison). It's less obvious in some of his behaviours. He seems to talk incessantly – probably a response to extensive time spent in isolation – and his palatial house is largely unfurnished. While he has the big house he seems to restrict his presence in it to a fraction of its actual size. And he holds grudges. His response to his father's decision to remarry is to not attend the wedding; he holds his father responsible for his mother's death because she was forbidden from seeing Charlie in prison by his father. As he tells his lawyer Constance, "No Zen for daddy." No Zen either for the people responsible for putting him in prison for a crime he didn't commit. In what is going to be a major ongoing plot feature, Charlie has a room of his house devoted to connecting the people who are involved in the conspiracy that put him in prison. And while he may be very well be right – indeed is probably right if the behaviour of Lt. Davis – that doesn't necessarily mean that he isn't also suffering from paranoia. The old saying is that "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean you don't have enemies," but surely it is equally true that just because you have enemies doesn't mean you're not paranoid.

Life has an excellent cast. Damian Lewis is great as the somewhat manic and frequently strange Charlie Crews. Not only is there no trace of his British accent but his accent and manner are very different from his previous role as an American, Major Richard Winters in Band Of Brothers. Lewis's skill as an actor shines through in the role of Charlie, which in turn is the key element of the show. As Reese, Sarah Shahi hides her incredible beauty except in the scene where she is getting out of bed after her one night stand. For the rest of the episode her hair is pulled back severely and she comes across as a working cop. As a cop her character is more than competent and yet she is truly playing Watson to Charlie's Holmes. Robin Weigert hasn't had a chance to show much as Charlie and Dani's boss; as yet she hasn't had a scene with Charlie, though her two scenes with Dani have had a sort of veiled menace to them. Adam Arkin put in a fairly nondescript performance as Ted, a former CEO who was convicted of stock fraud and whose life was saved in prison by Charlie. Ted is now Charlie's financial advisor and lives in a room above his garage. I suspect that Ted, at least initially, is there to provide a certain amount of comic relief. Finally there's Brook Langton as Charlie's lawyer Constance, the woman who reopened his case and got him exonerated. Again she doesn't get much to do in the first episode; a couple of scenes in the "documentary" and one scene in her apartment where they talk about Charlie's attitude to his father but where the unrequited feelings that Constance has to her client. (Of course some of this might have to do with Langton replacing Melissa Sagemiller as Constance after the pilot was shot.)

Life is one of those shows where there weren't a lot of expectations going in. NBC did a rather poor job of promoting the show and a number of reviewers have lumped the series in the "police procedural" bin. It's better than that. This is a show that rises and falls on just how intrigued we are by the initial premise and the lead characters. The premise is novel enough to be intriguing but not so farfetched as to stretch credibility beyond the breaking point – I can't help but thinking of an ABC show called Blind Justice which did
just that. It's not perfect. It does try to provide us with a ton of information about Charlie and Dani too quickly. It does emphasise Charlie's various quirks and annoying habits. It does use the first case they work together more as a bonding experience and a way for them – and us – to get to know each other. I have a sense that a lot of these elements are going to be toned down in future episodes. The strength of the show is Lewis. He's an outstanding actor and truly a delight to watch, quirks and all. While there are things that need work in this show I sincerely believe that for the most part it succeeds and is a remarkably enjoyable contrast to the other crime show airing at the same hour, CSI: New York. I'll definitely keep watching.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I’ve Been Plagiarized – I Think

See I'm not really sure if the story that follows qualifies as plagiarism. I might have served as someone's muse, or it might just have been a case of slightly greater than average brains thinking alike. Here's the story, you decide.

I used to enjoy sending letters to the editor of the local newspaper. It's an interesting challenge to muster arguments and craft them clearly and concisely for the public in a forum where they'll probably get more readership per day than this blog (sorry but it's a fact). I did it a lot back in the days when my instrument for such things was a Remington that had seen better days or some cheap Japanese made electric rebranded by Eatons as one of their store brands (the Remington still works by the way, but like the company that sold it the Eaton's store brand typewriter has ceased to function – broken belt). I went on about any number of subjects but I think my proudest moment was when I had a brief letter published in the international edition of Britain's Express newspaper, correcting a story that claimed that if Prince William were to come to the throne under his given name (they don't have to you know) he would be William IV – he would in fact be William V; apparently I knew the history of the English monarchy better than the English.

In the days after I started my old Diplomacy zine (Making Love In A Canoe – it would also be the name of my first attempt at blogging) my output for the newspaper dried up. I was my own editor, not bound by the newspaper's restrictions on length or content. However the other day I saw something in the paper that was enough to get me to write. The city has a program to honour veterans by allowing them free parking. Currently this is tied to a special license plate that is issued by the provincial government through its insurance agency SGI to qualified people. The problem is that the government's criteria includes anyone who has ever served in the Canadian military or the reserves regardless of time of service or whether the person had ever been stationed overseas. City Council voted on Monday to ask the city's parking officials to come up with a new parking pass that would be issued to surviving veterans of the First (!?) and Second World Wars and the Korean War.

For a variety of reasons – not the least of which is the current Canadian military involvement in Afghanistan this seemed unfair to me so for the first time in a long time I wrote a letter to the newspaper. In my letter I claimed that restricting the parking reward (for their service) to veterans of the World War II and Korea was to denigrate the actions of others; men in women in the armed forces, including reservist, who are currently serving in Afghanistan, who had served during the Gulf War (mainly Air Force and Naval personnel), or in a host of peacekeeping missions from the Sinai, Cypress, and the Congo to Croatia and Bosnia. I even mentioned Canadian soldiers who were deployed to Germany during the Cold War. I pointed out that the risks they faced – including actual deaths and permanent injuries – were equal to the risks faced by veterans in the World Wars and Korea. I sent the letter by an email form on the newspaper's website on Tuesday morning and received a phone call to confirm that I had in fact written the letter.

Today (Wednesday) the newspaper ran an editorial called "All true veterans deserve parking" (not sure if this link works if you don't have an account with the newspaper) in which the collective editorial brain of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix came out with the exact same proposal that I made in my letter. Here are three paragraphs from the Star-Phoenix editorial:

While it's a good idea to de-couple the issue of free parking for veterans from SGI's special poppy plates, it makes no sense to treat the contributions of some uniformed men and women who risked their lives on foreign missions as of lesser value than that of people who did it in two world wars and Korea.

From the service people currently on duty in Afghanistan to those who participated in the Gulf War to naval personnel who enforced UN sanctions against Iraq, plenty of others deserve equal recognition. And that's not to gloss over the contribution of soldiers who were stationed in Europe during the Cold War or the countless peacekeepers who served everywhere from Cypress to Sinai, or in Rwanda, Congo or the Balkans, or Mounties who helped out in Haiti.

The risks they faced cannot be discounted any more than the injuries many of them suffered in Answering Canada's call to serve its obligations on the international stage.

It's not bad stuff but you'll excuse me for thinking that a significant portion of it seems familiar to me. And it's not as if I dismiss the possibility that the newspaper came up with this position without input from me – though if they did, why didn't they come up with the idea on Monday night for their Tuesday morning edition (which is when the report on the original proposal to restrict the parking "reward" was published) or that they got more submissions than just mine which served as an inspiration. And it's not as if I don't appreciate the fact that the newspaper has taken what I obviously believe is the right position on this matter, given that an editorial in their pages will have more influence than one little letter to the editor. The problem is that if they run my letter tomorrow it comes across as me saying "me too" when it's entirely possible that the opposite is the case – that they're saying "us too" to me.

Raising Cane

A lot depends on the series, but judging a lot of TV shows by their pilot episodes can be a dangerous thing. For a series like Cane, judging the entire series by the pilot is like judging a novel based on the first page. The show is – or will be if given the time to develop and mature – a family saga and those need time to introduce us to the family.

Pancho Duque and his family came to America from Cuba after the revolution that put Castro in power, and in America they built an empire, first in sugar then in rum. Alejandro Vega came to America as a child, airlifted from Cuba with other children, most of whom were reunited with their families – Alejandro or Alex was not. He was adopted and raised by Pancho and his wife Amalia, and married Pancho's daughter Isabel. Throughout their rise the Duque family which includes two more sons, Francisco (Frank) and Enrique (Henry) have contended with their neighbours the Samuels family, led by patriarch Joe Samuels and his two children, daughter Ellis and son Lamont (though apparently Lamont won't be a regular character in the show).

In the pilot, the Duque family is at a crossroads. Although he hasn't told his family yet, Pancho has been told by his doctor that he has at most a year to live. At the same time the Samuels Family has made a major offer to the Duques to buy the family's extensive sugar cane fields with a promise that the family's rum distillery will be able to buy the molasses needed to make the rum at a bargain price. They even offer to put this down on paper. Frank is all for the deal. His focus – when he's not out chasing women and running his boat full out and whatever other diversions may attract him – is on the rum business and the big companies like Bacardi don't grow their sugar. Alex, on the other hand is vehemently opposed to the deal. He sees things in the longer term and for him the production of ethanol from sugar is the future of the company. It's a future that he is working hard to ensure, lobbying a Senator to build Congressional support for shifting the production of ethanol from Iowa corn to ethanol from sugar. If this comes about sugar becomes the new oil, and not coincidentally trade reopens with Cuba. As for Henry, his greatest concern is finding the money to expand his club and music business. His involvement in rum is restricted to promotion in his nightclub. After a raucous family meeting, Pancho takes Frank aside; he intends to put Alex in charge of the company, though he doesn't say why he's stepping down. Frank doesn't take the decision gracefully and makes numerous complaints about Alex not being a "real" Duque. He takes solace in the arms of his current lover, Ellis Samuels.

Alex and Isabel have three children. The eldest is Jaime, who is supposed to go to MIT but is in love with Rebecca and has plans of his own, plans which reflect his father's own actions at that age. Their 17 year-old daughter Katie is a budding party girl who gets little air time in this episode, while their youngest child is Artie. At a tryout for a Little League All-Star team where Artie is contending for a spot, Alex sees and old man, standing apart from the crowd. He thinks he recognises the man and it brings back a flood of memories about an incident in his childhood when the youngest Duque child – three year-old Lucia – was kidnapped and killed. Through his friend on the police force (because what fabulously wealthy family would be without friends on the police force) Alex discovered that at the time of his sister's death the man had been working for Joe Samuels family. To raise the money to pay for his daughter's ransom, Pancho sold his cane fields to Samuels (it's not clear to me at least if the sale was completed after Pancho found his daughter dead). Later, Alex discovers a man – a recent refugee from Cuba with criminal ties back there – pilfering from the company. Instead of calling the cops or company security, Alex offers him and a couple of his friends a possible job at five times what they're earning.

Things come to a head in several different areas at the Duque family's Fourth of July party. At a family meeting Pancho announces his retirement from the company and splits his control of the business; each of his three natural children will get 30% of his shares while Alex will receive 10%. Because Alex is married to Isabel it means that Alex will control 40% of the shares. Pancho names Alex as his successor but things are set up so that Frank can get control if he can persuade Henry to vote with him. At the party itself, Alex notices that Artie has disappeared searching for the boy he finds him with the man from the ballpark, the one he recognised as one of the murderers of his baby sister. First he goes to confront Joe Samuels to let him know that he knows that Samuels was behind Lucia's kidnapping. Samuels is also told how Alex knew about the man; Alex shot and killed one of the men behinds his sister's kidnapping but only managed to wound the other. If Samuels sends anyone else to harm any member of the Duque family again, Alex will be back. Finally Alex has the criminal that he hired find and kill the man who killed his sister. He heard the shot over his cell phone.

There are some truly impressive performers attached to this project. Jimmy Smits plays Alex while Nestor Carbonell plays Frank. I know Carbonell primarily from his supporting role in Suddenly Susan so his dramatic turn in this show is a bit of a surprise for me, though I know he has done dramatic roles in the past. Playing Pancho an Amalia are Hector Elizondo and Rita Moreno. Moreno is notable as one of only two people to win an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony and a Grammy. Polly Walker, who played Atia of the Julii in HBO's Rome, appears as Ellis Samuels.

I find it difficult to evaluate the writing on this show, primarily because this is the pilot and as such it serves primarily as a platform to introduce us to the characters, and to provide some depth to the major characters – Pancho, Alex, and Frank. We know for example that family patriarch Pancho is dying, that he not only considers Alex to be part of the family but in some ways favours him and prefers his level headedness to Frank's impetuosity. In some ways Alex – the son he "chose" – is preferred to the sons his wife gave him. It may very well be because of that night when Lucia was killed and Alex showed his strength by shooting the killers. Frank on the other hand is hot-headed and impulsive. Not only is he literally in bed with the enemy (Ellis) but he seems unable or unwilling to see the big picture the way that Alex does. Alex is the planner while Frank is the one who rushes in without thought of the consequences. And because Frank realises that Alex is Pancho's favourite he never misses an opportunity to attack Alex directly or indirectly. It is Frank who insinuates that Alex joined the Army to please Pancho and married Isabel to secure his position in the family, an idea that both Alex and his wife dismiss with disdain.

Of course it is Alex that we get the most understanding of. He is devoted family man both to his wife and their three children (soon to be four since Isabel announced that she was pregnant) and to the family which raised him. The biggest thing that we learned is that the man is ruthless in dealing with his enemies. It gives his threat to Samuels an extra menace knowing that as a teenager he killed someone and that he had plans in place for the man who he perceive as threatening his youngest son. His foresight and intelligence in realizing the importance of ethanol in a society where alternative fuels are being sought is indicative of his intelligence. (Incidentally ethanol from sugar is already in use as an alternative fuel in Brazil where 50% of cars use ethanol exclusively. Sugar cane has a higher sucrose content than corn, is easier to extract and in Brazil the waste product is used as a fuel in power generation.) An intelligent, ruthless man is an extremely dangerous man and while it is clear that Alex is not a criminal by nature it is also clear that he is not above breaking the law for what he perceives to be the greater good of his family.

As I've said, this is one of those cases where I'm not really happy reviewing the pilot of this show. Interestingly I've seen the pilot described in some sources as strong and in others as dull. There were parts of it that I felt were weak and that could be accentuated. While I'm convinced that the central relationships in this show will continue to center on the Alex (and Isabel)-Pancho-Frank triangle I would have liked to have seen more development of other characters. Rita Moreno seemed to be almost relegated to the status of set decoration in this episode and at that she was luckier than Katie who was barely noticeable. Much the same can be said about Frank and Alex's brother Henry who at this stage at least seems firmly aligned with Alex. The trouble is that this is about all we really know about him. The thing is that this show is a family saga and one that will develop shades and nuances as episodes pass, even if the plots of the individual episodes are pretty much self-contained. The pilot is lacking that undefinable "something" that will make it a superior show. The potential for significant drama exists – for one thing will Pancho's intentions succeed or will things end up for the Duques the way they did for the family of poor old King Lear. The trouble is that like the first page of a novel the pilot of a show like this is no real indicator of what is to follow. If I were using the Ebert-Siskel thumbs system of rating shows (which of course I'm not because that would mean paying money to the copyright holders or stealing intellectual properties) my thumb would be quivering in an indecisive sideways position, neither up more down. This one, more so than last week's K-Ville will definitely require further study before I can really make any decision about it. For now anyway I am firmly – and uncomfortably – on the fence about Cane.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bow Before Your Kinda Dorky Nerd King

You know how Mondays are for me, TV time is precious thanks to my one major physical activity of the week (Bowling) so I haven't watched Monday's premieres yet and I may not review anything until next week.

Still I did find this test and well I think I did okay on it. Presented for your elucidation and for you to envy a bit. I may not have reached Nerd God status...yet, but this is okay. says I'm a Kinda Dorky Nerd King.  What are you?  Click here!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Poll Results? And The Week’s New Shows

Okay, well that was a bit of a disappointment! Just to review, I asked you which of last week's new shows would be the first to be cancelled. By which I meant which of the six shows that debuted last week would be cancelled before the other five, or would all six complete their runs. Two votes received, one said CW Now the other said None!

So here are the Series Debuts and Season Premieres for this week. As for the poll, well I'll try it again but there's a problem – not enough spaces in Bravenet's polling software for all eleven debuting series. Based on pre-season hype, I'll arbitrarily take NBC's Chuck off the list.

September 24th

  • Dancing With the Stars (ABC)
  • How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
  • Two and a Half Men (CBS)
  • Heroes (NBC)
  • The Bachelor (ABC)
  • Rules of Engagement (CBS)
  • CSI:Miami (CBS)

September 25th

  • NCIS (CBS)
  • The Unit (CBS)
  • House (FOX)
  • Boston Legal (ABC)
  • CANE (CBS)
  • Law & Order: SVU (NBC)

September 26th

  • Criminal Minds (CBS)
  • CSI:NY (CBS)
  • LIFE (NBC)

September 27th

  • Ugly Betty (ABC)
  • Smallville (CW)
  • My Name is Earl (NBC)
  • Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
  • CSI (CBS)
  • The Office (NBC)
  • Without a Trace (CBS)
  • ER (NBC)

September 28th

  • Ghost Whisperer (CBS)
  • Las Vegas (NBC)
  • Numb3rs (CBS)

September 29th

  • 48 Hours Mysteries (CBS)

September 30th

  • American Dad (FOX)
  • Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (ABC)
  • Desperate Housewives (ABC)
  • Brothers & Sisters (ABC)

(Very) Short Takes – September 23, 2007

I haven't got much to write about today outside of taking my regularly scheduled run at the PTC – if I can't make fun of them editorially I am in real trouble. Part of the problem is that we're in a sort of doldrums when all the shows about to pop out are shiny and new and have finally have had their casts and scripts tweaked, and each and every one of them is going to draw a 40 share. It's sort of like Spring Training in baseball, the last time anyone seriously thinks the Washington Nationals have a shot at winning the World Series (I would have said the Cubs but this year they're contenders – it's only been a century since their last Series win, they don't want to be greedy). Harsh reality will assert itself within the next couple of weeks with a couple of shows falling by the wayside at the hands of the evil network weasels and I'll have something to write about.

As it is right now I seem to be suffering from a bit of writers block, or as I'm inclined to call it, literary constipation (because nothing's coming out; of course it could be called literary diarrhea – the only thing coming out is crap – but literary constipation just feels like the right metaphor). That's one reason why the other blog – The Good Old Days Weren't So Bad – is so stagnant. I come up with what seems like a good idea, start writing and after a few paragraphs decide "well that's a big steaming pile of crap" and delete it from my hard drive.

I mean here's an example. One of the things that really bothers me is people writing critical commentary about shows they admit they haven't seen. I mean take this example: "To be honest, I have never really heard much about The Unit. The most that I knew about it was that a guy that I recognized as a character on 24 (and also from those Allstate Insurance commercials) was on it. I had no idea who else was in it or what it was about. After reading up on the show, I can't really say that it sounds like something I'd like to watch, although I'm sure that there's an audience out there for this show somewhere." It's a Cinema Blend Fall Preview of The Unit. Or this one from the same source, about NCIS: "NCIS is one of those shows that I always see getting decent ratings despite the fact that I don't know a single person who watches it. I expect the series appeals mostly to people with military backgrounds or if not, people who have an interest in military shows. I'm all for supporting the troops but my enjoyment of anything even remotely military related is limited to movies like Platoon and Saving Private Ryan and Nelson DeMille books. I have no interested in crime related procedural dramas and even less interest in a series that shows the genre in a military light. That said, the show has gotten good ratings over the last few years so there must be something to it." The writer has never watched NCIS, has no interest in the subject matter but takes a shot at it anyway. These two weren't the only ones either. At times it seemed like Cinema Blend was deliberately assigning people to comment on previewing shows they had never seen and explaining that the show wasn't worth watching. And in righteous indignation I was prepared to take a run at them. And then a little voice (which sounds almost exactly like Tweety Bird) pops up and says "Ooo, what a hypotwite!" Because of course I do that all the time when I write my "TV On DVD" commentaries; I haven't seen all of those shows or even most of the shows but here I am telling my readers what they should spend their money on, sometimes quite vehemently. And since I'm not planning on stopping anytime soon, Delete!

Who does the PTC hate this week?: Well, they don't hate the US Congress, that's for sure. In fact the PTC is ecstatic that Representative Charles Pickering (R – Mississippi) introduced House Resolution HR 3559, a bill similar to that proposed by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D – West Virginia) "that affirms the FCC's ability to restrict the use of profanity and indecent images during times of day when children are most likely to be in the viewing audience." The bill was co-sponsored by Representatives Joseph Pitts (R-Pennsylvania.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah) and Mike McIntyre (D-North Carolina). As usual the PTC is railing against the decision of the Second Circuit on the "fleeting obscenity case." This time though Tim Winter is taking a new tack in his condemnation of the decision. First there's the usual assertion that the networks are plotting to fill their programming with S-words and F-words when children are watching: "No matter what the industry claims, if it had no intention of broadcasting the 'F-word' or 'S-word' during hours when children are watching, then it would not have sued – likely spending much more in legal fees than it would have faced in FCC fines – for the right to air these words and other indecent content." Well setting aside the fact that the PTC is yet again denying the networks the rights that even the most hardened criminal has, that is to say the right to appeal, they're getting their numbers wrong. I doubt that the networks collectively have spent $32.5 million on this suit, which is the fine that could currently be levied by the FCC for an obscenity aired on 100 stations, at the current maximum fine the Commission can levy - $325,000 per station. It's no wonder that some PBS stations have requested a censored version of Ken Burns's new documentary The War. However, as I have said, the PTC is taking a new approach on this issue – that all such language and images are fleeting. Tim Winter states in his press release, "I want to be clear: vulgar, profane language is, by its very nature, 'fleeting.' 'Unscripted' images that are highly sexual in nature may still meet the Supreme Court established criteria for broadcast indecency and are certainly highly inappropriate content for children. The so-called 'fleeting' nature of this type of programming does not absolve broadcasters of their responsibility to protect children from indecent content during the times when kids are most likely to be in the audience." If I'm understanding this correctly, any use of "vulgar and profane" language is fleeting therefore the court decision allows it all and legislation must be brought forward to prevent a person on live TV saying a "rude word" in the heat of the moment because it will allow scriptwriters to fill the screen with the vilest filth. Obviously you Americans are far more pure than we vile and obscene Canadians.

They are also applauding a class action suit launched against the practice of cable bundling. In their press release the PTC states that "The overwhelming majority of Americans support the notion of Cable Choice, so it is somewhat surprising that it has taken this long for a class action grievance to emerge against cable television's bundling practices. There is no question that a remedy is very much in order to put an end to the wantonly anti-competitive, anti-consumer and anti-family practices of the cable industry – a remedy rendered nearly impossible because of the industry's Washington power brokering. A victory in this court case will be a victory for parents and families – and indeed it will be a victory for all consumers. For decades now the cable industry has successfully dodged the free market by hiding behind a litany of falsehoods and PR spin. They have spent tens of millions of dollars on political campaign donations, on lobbying, and on contributions to a myriad of groups and individuals that have helped them to perfect and perpetuate a system that reliably produces price increases that are several times the rate of inflation." It's a great statement but it doesn't mention any of the details of the suit. For that you have to go elsewhere. The suit was launched by "veteran antitrust attorney Max Blecher" on behalf of fourteen cable and satellite subscribers in various cities. It "asked the court to enjoin the companies from "unlawfully bundling expanded basic-cable channels and ordering defendant cable providers and direct-broadcast satellite providers to notify their subscribers that they each can purchase 'a la carte' (separately) except for 'basic cable,'" basic cable being defined as the stations that the systems must carry per government mandate. The suit claims that the plaintiffs have been "deprived of choice, have been required to purchase product they do not want and have paid inflated prices for cable-television programming." Treble damages are sought, claiming "contracts between the programmer defendants and the cable and direct-broadcast satellite providers constitute a combination among and between the named defendants to monopolize trade and commerce in the relevant product market." In the past, the cable industry has argued that "government-mandated per-channel pricing will reduce programming diversity and could actually raise rates as channels forced to fend for themselves die off or have to charge more to make the numbers work." It is interesting to note that about half of the companies named in the suit - NBC Universal, Viacom, Disney, Fox, Time Warner, Comcast, Cox Communications, DirecTV, EchoStar Communications, Charter Communications and Cablevision Systems – are either content providers or companies which provide content and service (Time Warner, Comcast).

I have stated in the past that I support a la carte or "pick 'n' pay" pricing for cable channels although not for the same reason that the PTC does. I would rather not pay for channels that I don't watch. I am also cognizant however of the fact that bundling is almost essential for analog systems or systems that have not required subscribers to buy a digital box. In digital systems the digital cable box can be programmed to exclude individual stations however for people receiving analog services and using their TV's "cable ready" tuner a la carte service would require manpower intense changes to each customer's connection. The industry is almost certainly correct in their assertion that bundling subsidizes less viewed channels. What I do know from my own experience is that even if Blecher and his fourteen plaintiffs – representing, they say, all cable and satellite subscribers "except the defendents [sic] or their subsidiaries and employees" – are successful it will not mean the end of bundling. My experience in Canada, both with Shaw Cable and with every other Canadian cable and satellite system, including SaskTel which is owned by the government of Saskatchewan as a Crown Corporation and operates in competition with Shaw, is that while they offer "pick 'n' pay" as an option the price per channel is such that buying bundles are actually cheaper than buying individual channels even if you only want half of the channels in the bundle.

It's time for the PTC's Broadcast Worst of the Week. This time around it's a rerun of Criminal Minds, about which the PTC said "simply flipping channels past CBS could have potentially been traumatic for any viewer." The episode was the one in which a serial killer uses an abandoned slaughter house that he owns to torture and eventually kill street people. A significant portion of the episode focuses on a young woman who is taken off the streets anesthetised. She awakes in the slaughter house and is challenged by the killer to escape, a sadistic game on the part of the killer – he's rigged things so no one can escape. The PTC describes her efforts to escape: "In a frenzy she tries to escape, but mistakenly crashes into a room covered in broken glass. The girl falls to the ground where she gains multiple wounds, including several on her face. She cries as she pulls the shards of glass from her cheek. A voice is heard telling her that if she can find her way out of the building she will be set free. Throughout the entire episode the girl is shown running for her life, but only finding rooms with the words 'dead end' written on the walls in blood. A Doberman pinscher is released and chases her into the 'Kill Room,' where body parts hang from the ceiling. The head of the old man from the first scene is shown on a table. The viewer learns that he was killed and cut into pieces with a circular saw. The girl is ultimately put on a gurney and prepped for death, when just in the nick of time FBI agents rush in and save her." While I found her efforts to escape heroic even as the FBI team tried to find the killer (and dealt with the sceptical police captain who didn't think there was a crime) the PTC felt that, "The plot was practically nonexistent. The entire point of the episode was frightening and sickening viewers with graphic scenes of blood and dismemberment." They also said that had it been a movie the episode would "certainly be considered for an 'R' rating due to violence." Hardly. An "R" rated film would have been far more graphic in terms of seeing victims (more than one) being dismembered, with abundant blood spattering in the scenes.

The Cable Worst of the Week (which the PTC still refuses to set up as an archived resource) is It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia on FX, for the episode with the Dumpster Baby. Here's how the PTC describes the show: "Charting the heinously decadent misadventures of Mac, Dennis and Charlie, the owners of a Philadelphia pub, It's Always Sunny premiered its third season on September 13th. Filling out the degenerate gang are Dennis' sister Dee and their father Frank (played by Danny DeVito). And this season promises to pack an even more offensively crude punch to viewers – a punch subsidized by every cable subscriber, whether or not they feel the warmth of Sunny." As usual the PTC is sticking with their assertion that cable subscribers are subsidizing shows. It's not true and anyone with a hint of intellectual honesty will acknowledge this; the shows are sponsored and if they don't draw ratings that the advertisers are happy with (both in terms of total numbers and the specific demographic) those shows will be cancelled, as we saw with The Simple Life. The details that the PTC describes for the show aren't ones that would usually qualify for worst of the week (I think the PTC is desperate). One is the scene in which Mac and Dee try to get a tanning salon employee to let them put the baby they found in a tanning bed to give it a more "ethnic" look so it can be in commercials. The other scene they quote is the one in which Frank's mother tells him that he had survived her attempt to abort him. On the whole pretty tame stuff. In their conclusion the PTC writes "While this macabre humor may appeal to some (2.3 million viewers last week), what about the over 50 million cable subscribers who didn't watch, yet still subsidized this programming? Shouldn't those viewers get to choose whether or not they pay for It's Always Sunny's acerbic and polarizing humor?" By that standard we should probably be asking the companies who sponsor shows like According To Jim (just as an example – I could just as easily attack one of the PTC's favourite reality shows) why those people who don't watch the show but buy their products should be subsidizing that show's polarizing humour.

Finally we come to the PTC's Misrated section. They actually give us two this time around one of which they've mentioned several times in the past. The main one was the Emmy Technical Awards. As you may (not) be aware, these aired on the E! cable channel. The PTC believes that the show should have had a language descriptor. Here's why: "This award show was not live like other awards shows; it had been pre-taped and edited for time — yet the producers still chose to leave in many bleeped words like "f-word," "s-word," "b*lls," "d*ck" and "p*ssy." There were also un-bleeped words like "hell," "damn," and "bastard." In other words the PTC are complaining because "bad" words were bleeped and other words, which can be heard on many over the air shows were spoken on a cable channel. They note host Carlos Mencia's comment about sound editors: "…and a sound editor. He could cut all the bull [bleeped 'shit'] out of his own speeches. I apologize. I was going to say BS. I was back there and I asked Elaine Stritch. I said, 'Hey should I say BS or should I say the word?' And she grabbed me by the [bleeped 'balls'] and told me to 'be a man you [bleeped "fucking"] [bleeped "pussy"]'." And then they add this: "Just to be clear, the words were only bleeped, not blurred, so the viewer could see what words Mencia was actually using." So it's not just children that the PTC is concerned about but lip readers as well. And of course they were upset that clips of the nominated song Dick In A Box were shown: "The producers of the Creative Emmys decided to show clips of the song, during which Timberlake sings, 'One: cut a hole in the box. Two: put your junk in the box. Three: make her open the box…' and later Timberlake sings, 'It's my [muted "dick"] in a box, my [muted "dick"] in a box, girl. It's my [bleeped "dick"] in a box, my [bleeped "dick"] in a box, babe.'" Again, I remind you that if you read either of these quotes out loud you heard more obscenities than anyone who watched the show did. And then they added "Not only are there bleeped words, but there is clear sexual dialogue which would warrant the "D" descriptor." Not in that clip, at least in my interpretation.

The bonus material The PTC crowed in triumph about the airing of the season finale of NCIS which, they claim, includes a scene of "of a drug addict snorting heroin out of the intestines of a corpse." Actually the scene shows nothing of the sort; it simply implies it. In the scene, we see the back of the woman bent over the body of her brother (the corpse in question) and it is indicated primarily by the prior reaction of Tony and Dr. Benoit that she is snorting the heroin off of his body, but we don't see the intestines or indeed whether she is snorting the heroin. What the PTC seems happy about is two things. First, the episode initially ran with a TV-14 rating; in the rerun it ran with a TV-14 V rating. Secondly the episode initially ran in the first hour of primetime; the rerun ran in the third hour. To the PTC these two things indicated "that CBS recognized that the show was misrated, and that the network now took the necessary steps to warn parents of it's [sic] particularly offensive content." While the addition of the "V" descriptor might have indicated that, the show had been moved to the third hour of primetime following the debut of The Power Of Ten while the second hour was devoted to Big Brother which had its season finale on the night in question.

Friday, September 21, 2007

TV On DVD – September 18, 2007

I took last week off on this one simply because I had too much outside of my blogging life to get done and not enough time to do it all in. Something had to suffer and it wasn't going to be the other stuff. So what about this week? Well there are some new series premieres to review – or not but beyond that the decks are mostly clear for some serious writing. As always, while the comments are my own, the list comes from without whose hard and diligent work I wouldn't be doing this piece. By the Way, my links come from In recent days the value of the Canadian dollar has reached par with the US dollar. Unfortunately Canadian prices on merchandise such as DVDs do not at present reflect this, including merchandise sold by In other words, they tend to be priced higher than they would be from

Oh by the way, why is absolutely no one voting in the poll this week? Okay, Toby voted, but where are the rest of you?! I'm asking for predictions or at least wild assed guesses. Or maybe I'm just a little premature on when I'm running it? Is that it? At the very least give me a little feedback!

My Pick Of The Week
Johnny Cash TV Show 1969-1971:

I literally grew up listening to Johnny Cash. In fact the first record I ever owned myself was a 45 of Johnny Cash singing the theme from the TV series The Rebel and a "B" side featuring the Civil War ballad Lorena. (Actually it may have been some sort of bastardized version of an LP because I also remember him singing Remember The Alamo on that record. I'll have to see if I can find it.) The Johnny Cash I remember was the guy who put "Spanish" trumpets on Ring Of Fire (that was the description he used; he didn't know the terms but he knew what he wanted). And who sang "Because you're mine, I walk the line." And a few years later he was also the guy who sang Folsom Prison Blues, A Boy Named Sue, and Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down and with his new wife June Carter sang the line "We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout. We've been talkin' 'bout Jackson ever since the fire went out." That was the guy who hosted what I still consider to be one of the best music shows ever on American television.

I say "one of the best music shows" on American TV because it wasn't just country music nor was it a variety show. The list of people on this DVD crosses genres. There's Johnny's old Sun Records buddy Roy Orbison, but also Bob Dylan and Louis Armstrong (in a duet with Johnny!). There's the Statler Brothers and Waylon Jennings, but there's also Creedence Clearwater Revival, Stevie Wonder, Linda Ronstadt and Joni Mitchell. There's Neil Diamond and Neil Young. Johnny and Chet Atkins even perform a little classical music, "Recuerdos de la Alhambra" by the 19th Century Spanish guitar composer Francisco Tàrega as well as sitting down with Derek and the Dominoes featuring a guy named Clapton who you might have heard of For me, a definite, absolute must have.

And now the rest of the week's DVDs.

Ballykissangel: Complete Series Six
Ballykissangel: The Complete Collection

If I admit that I've never seen Ballykissangel does that make me a bad person? Because I haven't. Series, or Season 6 was the show's last. I can't say much more about it except that it is described by as "one of the best British primetime shows ever seen on British television." Even with the redundancy in the quote, it's a pretty strong endorsement.

Blade: House of Chthon (Pilot Episode)
This is the pilot episode for the abortive attempt to bring Marvel Comics' Blade to TV. The story had successfully made the transition from comics to film in the form of three movies with Wesley Snipes and Jessica Biel. And indeed Snipes and Biel were the first choices to recreate their film roles in the series which was originally intended for the Showtime network. For a variety of reasons the two actor pulled out which led to the series being cut back in terms of budget and distribution – instead of Showtime, a premium cable channel which frequently features more "adult" content, the show went to the basic cable Spike network – and starring a largely unknown cast. Even though this episode was #1 in cable audience on the night it debuted, the series didn't hold its audience and was cancelled at the end of its first, twelve episode, season. This show isn't my sort of thing and the descriptions of cast and the effects of the diminished budget would make me a bit wary if it were a genre I was interested in.

Boston Legal: Season 3
I'm not a Boston Legal fan. In fact I can count in the thumb of one hand the number of episodes of the show that I have watched, but that episode, Son of the Defender is on this set and it is good, making effective use of a 1957 episode of Studio One featuring series star William Shatner and the great Ralph Bellamy. I can't effectively judge the show based on that but that episode at least was worth the time it took me to watch it.

Brothers and Sisters: The Complete First Season
Last season ABC seemed to be all about the relationships. Their new schedule featured shows like 6 Degrees, The Nine, and Men In Trees with nary a police procedural in sight. A lot of these shows died a quick and relatively unnoticed death. Men In Trees survived but was ill treated by the network. The big success from this list of relationship shows was Brothers And Sisters. It deserved to survive. Billed as Calista Flockhart's return to network TV what it actually had was a superb ensemble cast that included two time Oscar winner Sally Field and Oscar and Emmy nominee Rachel Griffiths. Unsurprisingly, both Griffiths and Field were nominated for Emmys while Flockhart was not. The show is concerned with the dynamics of a very complex family but one which rises above their various problems. Worth seeing just to watch Field who as usual is great (as long as she's not making an acceptance speech ;-) ).

The Spooktacular New Adventures of Casper, Vol. 1
When Casper the Friendly Ghost debuted as a cartoon character for Paramount back in the late 1940s he rapidly became one of the most boring and repetitive characters to come out of that boring and repetitive studio (although the studio wasn't anywhere near as boring and repetitive as Terrytoon). I really doubt that the character has changed much over the decades.

Corner Gas: Season 4 (3DVD)
Thanks to Superstation WGN, Americans are getting to see what Canadians have known for a while – you can do a very funny comedy based out of a small town southwest of Regina. Brent Butt and his little gang of actors are a talented ensemble who have done a show that is equal parts Seinfeld (its a show about nothing) and Northern Exposure (Gabrielle Miller as Lacy Burrows is very much an urban fish out of water in a town that prefers gas station cookies to fresh biscotti). The show is a 'Rider lovin' comic gem and deserves all of the success that it can get. (That last sentence means a lot in Saskatchewan, trust me.) The season finale features a cameo from Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Everybody Loves Raymond: The Complete Ninth Season
Well strictly speaking no, not everybody loved Raymond. I for example couldn't stand it though I will confess to finding Brad Garrett's character Robert funny and probably the best thing in the whole show. Otherwise I could never muster up much enthusiasm for the series and wouldn't want anyone to buy me this set. That said, I know that I am almost certainly in the minority in holding this view given the ratings that it pulled when it was on and how it does in syndication. I can't recommend it but I am scarcely in a position to tell you not to buy it either.

Family Guy, Vol. 5
Another show that I can't whole heartedly recommend because I don't watch it and the subject matter doesn't really appeal to me. On the other hand the PTC loathes the show which is on the plus side for me. On the other, other hand I do wonder sometimes if the show's producers use the fact that the show is animated to go a bit farther than they might otherwise – the PTC's Misrated section this week brings up a couple of points about violent content in the show not being treated (or at least rated) the same as it would be in a live action show that might actually be valid. On the other other other hand this is the PTC we're talking about, I haven't seen the sequence in question and they do tend to overreact more than a bit. And if I grow any more hands I'll officially qualify for godhood in India.

Playboy: Foursome Season 1, Part 2
It comes from Playboy and the cover describes it as "The TV dating show that shows everything." Offhand I'm guessing this isn't a show you're going to want to watch with the kids on a snowy Saturday night.

Gene Simmons: Family Jewels Seasons 1&2
Okay, I think I've mentioned this more than a few times in this blog and elsewhere: Shannon Tweed, who is Gene Simmons's lady friend and the mother of his two children, and I went to Mount Royal Collegiate in Saskatoon back in the early to mid-'70s. She was a year behind me, I never met her and for the most part we didn't travel in the same circles, although I did know one guy who knew her back then. And that extremely tenuous connection is not why I like this show. Amazingly the woman who I always thought did her best acting when she whipped her top off in all those awful erotic thrillers has at age 50 revealed a real talent for doing comedy or at least being funny – sort of like Pamela Anderson but with brains. Gene Simmons can be funny too. I'm treating this show like a comedy when of course it's a celebrity reality show, but the fact is that this is a funny show about two people who have a reputation for being outrageous but in fact seem very well grounded. I guess you could say I'm something of a fan which surprises and sort of shocks me because I didn't expect it.

The Ghost Whisperer: Season 2
I watched an episode of this show when it first appeared. I didn't like it. I was unimpressed by the acting abilities of Jennifer Love Hewitt and I found the whole "helping dead people to the other side" business to be both boring and opposed to the rational side of my being. It amazes me but I actually liked Medium better than this show if only because that show had both dramatic tension and significant characterization both of which I found lacking in this series. Now things may have changed since I watched that first episode, but it would take wild horses (or the promise of a night of exceptional passion afterwards) to get me to watch this so that I could find out.

The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy: The Complete Season 1
A Cartoon Network show and as usual one that I have no exposure to. Apparently it's popular enough to spawn at least one movie, but I know so little about it that it's really not fair for me to write about it.

Josie and the Pussycats: The Complete Series
Now this one I do know a little about. An attempt to recreate the buzz that surrounded the cartoon adaptation of Archie and the musical group The Archies with another Archie Comics character Josie by making the series about a girl band Josie and the Pussycats. The show lasted two seasons, which in the Saturday animation climate of the early 1970s is a fairly good run. Interestingly it was the first Saturday morning cartoon series to feature an African American character as a regular (apparently it took a lot of persuading to get Hanna-Barbera to accept that, according to the Wikipedia article on the show).

Married... with Children: The Complete Seventh Season
You can't deny the success of Married...with Children. You can try – lord knows I have – but any show that rumbles on for eleven seasons has to have something. Season 7 had Seven who was five. Seven was a character on the show, a child added for no apparent reason and removed from the show after eighteen episodes because 80% of the viewers loathed him. Interestingly, the character was funnier after he left the show than he ever was when he was on it.

Masters of Horror: Sounds Like
Masters of Horror: The Washingtonians

Single episodes from the second season of the excellent Masters of Horror. Don't buy them. You may want them but unless one or both of these are the only episodes you want to see from the entire season, you are better off waiting to buy the complete season set which, if the Season One set is any indication, will undoubtedly be cheaper than buying episodes individually.

Babylon 5/La Femme Nikita: Season One Starter Pack
Gilmore Girls/Veronica Mars: Season One Starter Pack
Smallville/Supernatural: Season One Starter Pack

I have absolutely no idea of what these contain, and Amazon is no help. I assume they are complete first season sets of the series listed (interestingly paired don't you think) but beyond that I have absolutely no idea.

Power Rangers: Operation Overdrive, Vol. 1 - Brownbeard's Pearl
Power Rangers: Operation Overdrive, Vol. 2 - Toru Diamond

You really don't want to know just how much I loathe and despise the Power Rangers in any known version of the series. In my very humble opinion they are and have always been the worst of television aimed at kids and have forced out other better shows. This is apparently the most recent "story" but let's face it, it's probably interchangeable with every other "story" since this show was created.

Smallville: The Complete Sixth Season
Smallville: Season 6 [Blu-ray]
Smallville: Season 6 [HD DVD]

This was for the most part an enjoyable romp of a season though there are a lot of people who disagree. More super-powers than ever with the return of Bart Allen, Victor Stone and the introduction of Oliver Queen, and the creation of The Justice League aimed at bringing down Lex Luthor. There's romance between Ollie and Lois Lane, and Chloe Sullivan and Jimmy Olsen. And let's not even mention the marriage of Lex Luthor and Lana Lang – I mean please, let's not mention it. Lynda Carter, TV's original Wonder Woman, makes an appearance as Chloe's mother. There's a film noir style episode that's a lot of fun, and the season culminates with the apparent death of at least two of the show's major characters. Just remember, we're talking comics here – even if you see the corpse it doesn't mean they're really and truly dead.

Stargate Atlantis: Season 3
I've never been more than a casual follower of the two Stargate series. I've seen some episodes of Stargate: SG1 but far fewer of the second series Stargate: Atlantis which of course is now the only Stargate series. I can't say much about the series though beyond the expectation that if you liked Stargate: SG1, you'll probably like Stargate: Atlantis... eventually.

Superman: Doomsday
This really isn't part of the Superman animated series that ran between 1996 and 2000 though both were created by Bruce Timm. This is closer to a movie for DVD and details on of the most memorable Superman stories of the past twenty or so years, 1993's Death Of Superman. While I haven't seen the movie (but I want to get it) reaction from those who have seen it – many at the San Diego Comic Con – has generally been extremely positive. To quote from Wikipedia, "Many agreed that the first of DC's line of animated films was better than what Marvel did for theirs as the film uses whatever it takes to make a PG-13 rated movie feel like one with the blood, the battles, and it's matured themes and story."

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Season 1 - Part 2
This is the first season of the 2003 series which is closer in tone (dark) to the original comic book version of the characters than the version that ran during the late '80s and early '90s. I've never been interested in any variant of the Turtles ("heroes on a half-shell," which I think probably would better apply to oysters) but then I wasn't the target audience at any time.

Upright Citizens Brigade: Season 2
When I first heard the title of this I immediately thought it was a satire of the Parents Television Council. Obviously I was wrong. It's improvisational sketch comedy held together by a central theme running through the episode. Or something like that. As you can probably guess this is not something that would interest a guy who was brought up watching Wayne & Shuster.