Tuesday, May 31, 2005

TV on DVD - May 31, 2005

A rather slow week, with some items delayed for a week or two. On the other hand there are a couple of real gems in this weeks listing.

Combat: Season 4 - Conflict 1
Combat!: Conflict 2: Season 4

- Combat! was one of the great series of my youth and it holds up. Season 4 was the last season shot in Black & White. In my opinion B&W was the right style for World War II series like Combat! and 12 O'Clock High but the nature of the television at the time meant that every series was going to go into colour or be cancelled. The DVDs contain a number of extras including commentaries, but the episodes don't appear to be in order on the disks. Still it's always fun to see Rick Jason and V*c M****w. (Special joke just for Tom Sutpen.)

The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Complete Series (All 5 Seasons)
- This is a massive package consisting of all five seasons of what was on of the seminal series of the 1960s, all of which have already been released on DVD, but wait. If you haven't bought any of the earlier releases of single season boxed sets, this might indeed be the way to go. Based on the Amazon.ca price of $194.95 (Canadian) for the five season set and the price for each of the single seasons - $79.95 (Canadian) - this five season set is priced at slightly less than two and a half single season sets. Of course if you are a fanatic for the Dick Van Dyke Show you've already trudged to the store to get each set as it was released.

Danger Mouse: The Complete Seasons 1 & 2
- Okay, this is another one that I never saw. In my defense it was a little later than my prime cartoon watching era and I don't know if it was even shown on a station that I had access to. Now Secret Squirrel I remember.

Dark Shadows: V18 Collection
- I live in a part of Canada that is rather unusual: it is more than 100 miles from the US border. Most Canadians live within 100 miles of the US border and as a result in the 1960s had easy access to cross border broadcast TV signals. They saw Dark Shadows, I didn't. The series only lasted from 1966 to 1971 but it developed a cult following (appropriate term that). It spawned a rather tepid 1991 remake starring Ben Cross which ended up as a casualty of the Gulf War (or more likely poor casting and network weasels), and there was talk of another remake on The WB in 2004 which didn't get off the ground. But the fans are loyal to the Jonathon Frid version with the sort of devotion that you'd expect of followers of a cult. Certainly it is likely the only daytime drama - soap opera really - that is likely to be released on DVD. Volume 18 collects the episodes from December 5, 1969 to February 2, 1970 on four discs, with bonus interviews on each. Now if only someone would do something with The Edge of Night (my favourite soap opera).

The Dukes of Hazzard: The Complete Third Season
- Here's a bit of trivia. Of the main actors on The Dukes of Hazard - John Schneider, Tom Wopat, Catherine Bach, Denver Pyle, and Sorrel Booke - none was born in the south. That's neither here nor there. The Dukes of Hazard was fluff, never meant to be taken seriously but just good clean car jumpin', cop humiliatin' fun. There's little to distinguish most season from each other except for the 13 episodes where Schneider and Wopat sat out for a raise and were replaced by Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer as Coy and Vance Duke. It took that long for the producers and the network to realise that Dukes weren't interchangeable. The show featured a lot of country singers in performance and this season was a gem for that, including Tammy Wynette, Hoyt Axton, Dottie West, Freddie Fender, and Roy Orbison. Whether music clearances will allow those performances to be included on the DVDs is another question.

Moonlighting: Seasons 1 & 2
- The series that marked the supposed revival of Cybill Shepherd's career and also the breakout role for a guy named Bruce Willis. It very quickly became apparent that the series wasn't just an ordinary detective show. It should also have become apparent that it wasn't going to be a smooth run. The first season consists of just six episodes while the second season had 18. Which may not seem like a lot but it was the most episodes that the show would ever produce in a single season. What made the show work was the personal chemistry and sexual tension that existed between David & Maddy, which is ironic given that Shepherd and Willis hated each other. Just one down note on the set: it is brought out by Lion's Gate Films and while the company has a good reputation as a film maker they have a rather poorer reputation when it comes to DVDs of TV series. Apparently they release shows which have been cut for syndication without restoring the cuts and this appears to be the case on this set.

Rifleman, The Set 4 Rifleman Box Set Collection 4
- Another blast from my childhood. Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain was one of the great western heroes. The series was created by Sam Peckinpah and had a distinguished list of directors including Peckinpah, Ida Lupino and William Conrad. An IMDB reviewer described it as a "Western noir". I'm not sure about that but that may be because I haven't seen the show since I was 6.

This Is Your Life: Ultimate Collection
- This Is Your Life was one of the legendary series of the 1950s which lasted nine years in its first incarnation, and was revived a number of times since it left the air in 1961. Amazingly the British version which started in 1955 lasted until 2003. This set of three disks features 18 episodes of the American series from 1953 to 1987 and includes guests as diverse Milton Berle, Johnny Cash, Shirley Jones, Jesse Owens and Betty White. Perhaps the gem of the disc is the episode featuring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Stan didn't want to talk much because he didn't want to make their first TV appearance on an unscripted show; he wasn't going to put on "a free show for them." However Stan suffered a stroke soon after the show was broadcast and by the time he was able to perform again Oliver Hardy's health had deteriorated. Thus, this one episode of This Is Your Life is the only TV appearance they ever made. (Thanks to Mark Evanier's New From Me for this story.)

The Tomorrow People: Set One
- This is a British Science Fiction series from the 1970s about teens with superpowers including telepathy and teleportation. It's classified as a "children's series" but apparently it's a children's series in the same way that its contemporary Doctor Who was a children's series. I've never seen it although apparently it was shown in the United States on Nickelodeon. Produced by ITV it reportedly was done on an even smaller budget than Doctor Who if you can believe it.

Hell's Kitchen - The Apprentice For Chefs

There is one thing that makes Hell's Kitchen worth watching and that is Gordon Ramsay. The format is very much taken from The Apprentice. You have two teams of people all competing to become the one winner. In this case the prize is their own dream restaurant. There are challenges to face and at the end of each episode one team wins and one team loses. The best person on the losing team gets to pick two of their teammates for the boss to send home. We have seen the format before, and heaven knows we'll see it on several other shows this season. What makes this show worth giving a second look to is Ramsay.

Gordon Ramsay is a culinary superstar. His British restaurants have a total of seven Michelin stars, he has been the subject of two documentaries - Boiling Point and Beyond Boiling Point - on Britain's Channel 4 in which his yelling and swearing at his kitchen staff were revealed. He has also hosted his own Channel 4 series called Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares in which he showed up to try to turn failing restaurants into successes, all while yelling and swearing at staff. Reportedly he has banned his four children from watching him on TV so that they don't pick up his "colourful" language. He's also written a number of books on cooking. It's a long way from his beginnings. Born in one of the rougher parts of Glasgow, Ramsay was signed at 15 to a football (soccer) contract with Rangers. His career was cut short by a major knee injury at 18 and he studied cooking in Britain and in France. In 1998 at age 32 he opened his own restaurant, Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road in London. His empire, with partner Marcus Wareing and protege Angela Hartnett now includes seven restaurants in and around London including the Savoy Grill. Hell's Kitchen in Los Angeles is (supposedly) his attempt to crack the American market. That's where the show is set.

In addition to Ramsay the staff are his Maitre d' Jean Philippe, and his two sous chefs Scott and Mary Ann. While Jean Philippe deals with the customers, Scott and Mary Ann are there to advise the contestants but not to participate in the cooking. The contestants are a diverse lot. They include four professional chefs and a culinary student, and seven non-experts, people who like to cook. As soon as they arrive at the restaurant, before they're even introduced to Ramsay they are told that they have 45 minutes to prepare their signature dishes. That's how they will introduce themselves to Gordon Ramsay. It is not a pleasant experience. The first dish he tries is immediately spat out. He describes it as "dog *bleep*" with not only his word but his mouth obscured so as not to offend the sensibilities of lip readers. Then the teams are split into a red team and a blue team and sent to their respective dormitories to settle in. It won't last.

The teams are about to face their first acid test. They have to master five appetizers, five entrees and five deserts. Oh yes, and the restaurant is opening tonight! Each team has its own complete kitchen and it's own half or the restaurant to serve. And this is where Hell's Kitchen veers away from the model of The Apprentice. While "The Donald" usually shows up only to give his little wannabes their assignments then disappears until it's time to find out who won the task and later to do the firing, Ramsay is there all the time and it is a real pressure cooker. It is his reputation at stake and nothing goes out without it meeting his standards. Who be unto anyone who doesn't meet his standards. Or anyone who gets in his way for that matter. In one case a pair of customers who have been waiting an hour for their food come to Ramsay to complain. He drops a rather choice obscenity at them and tells the staff not to talk to "these bimbos". Shortly after, when their friends come up to say that Ramsay has hurt the feelings of one of the women he instructs Jean-Philippe to take these ladies back "to plastic surgery." But it's the apprentice chefs who bear the brunt of Ramsay's ire. When one makes risotto so sticky that he can turn the plate on its side and not have anything slide off he chucks plate and all into the trash. One has his plated lamb chop pushed into his jacket. Finally, after two hours of not being served some of the guests start to leave. Soon after Ramsay closes the kitchen down and tell Jean-Phillipe to ask the patrons who are still there to leave.

In the postmortem, he tells the tams that their section will be judged by customer reaction cards. They aren't pretty and as Ramsay tells the teams it isn't so much that the Blue Team won, rather they did less horribly than the Red Team. Finding one of the Red Team - the risotto lady - whose food was actually edible after the first error to be the least bad on the team he gives her 30 minutes to select two team members for Ramsay to consider firing. The one that he does fire - a woman desert chef who hadn't really pitched in to work with her team - is sent packing, her chef's jacket impaled on a meat hook.

Hell's Kitchen is so *bleep*ing derivative of The Apprentice that it could actually be sued for plagiarism if others hadn't already done the same schtick, and would certainly be unwatchable if it weren't for Gordon Ramsay. One contestant compares Ramsay to Simon Cowell from American Idol. It's a comparison that is about as apt as comparing Rhode Island with Texas. Ramsay and Cowell are both Brits who can be insulting, like Rhode Island and Texas are both states. That's where the comparison ends. Ramsay is driven into rages. He is a perfectionist with his people and there is a quintessential reason for it: it is HIS reputation that is on the line; HIS name is on the restaurant, no one else's, certainly not the 12 - now 11 - wannabe chefs. Simon Cowell doesn't have that. In reality Donald Trump doesn't have that; the people if Trump's apprentices screw up a task it isn't going to make Turmp look any worse to the people he sends them out to. But if the food at Ramsay's restaurant isn't good, it is Ramsay who is going to be hurt. I have to give this show a mild recommendation simply because of Gordon Ramsay's rage and passion.

Monday, May 30, 2005

The Summer Season Part 2

So having gone through Monday and Tuesday's new shows for the 2005 summer season (and having completely missed a couple of Canadian shows - see below) we move on to the rest of the week. (At times like this I wonder if the pains of being an amateur TV critic are adequately compensated for by the fame and fortune. The I remember I don't have fame or fortune.)

Dancing With The Stars (ABC, starting June 1): Six "stars" (the biggest names are probably former heavyweight champ Evander Hollyfield and supermodel Rachel Hunter) participate in a live ballroom dance competition partnered with professional dancers. This international hit under the title Strictly Come Dancing is making it's North American debut and oddly enough looks like it could be fun.

Brat Camp (ABC, starting July 13): Six real life families with out of control teenagers send them to the Sagewalk Wilderness Therapy Camp in hopes of getting back the kids they knew and loved. Another show that originated in Britain.

The Inside (Fox, starting June 8): A drama concerning rookie profiler Rebecca Locke (Rachel Nichols) selected to join the FBI's Violent Crimes Unit in Los Angeles by its Supervisory Special Agent Virgil "Web" Webster (Peter Coyote). Each of the team's five agents has his or her own personal baggage which makes them ideal for their job.

Beauty And The Geek (The WB, starting June 1): Take seven beautiful but not particularly bright women, match them up with seven brilliant but socially inept guys and see them try to rub a little of their skills onto each other. The guys have to try to make their partners smarter while the women have to make their partners a bit more socially graceful. From Executive Producers Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg.

So You Think You Can Dance (Fox, starting July 20): The search for America's best dancer. What makes me think that neither the Waltz nor Ballet will qualify you for this American Idol style competition?

The Cut (CBS, starting June 9): Tommy Hilfiger play Donald Trump to a group of 16 style-savy contestants in an effort to find America's next great designer who will get a contract to design for Hilfiger's label.

Hit Me Baby One More Time (NBC, starting June 2): A three episode series in which five "veteran hit-makers" perform one of their old songs and something new, with the winner decided by viewer votes. First week's artists are "Flock of Seagulls", "Arrested Development", CeCe Peniston, "Loverboy", and Tiffany. Based on a British series and hosted by the British host Vernon Kay.

The Law Firm (NBC, starting July 28): Produced by David E. Kelly this "alternative drama" features real lawyers trying real cases with the results binding on the parties involved.

Welcome to the Neighborhood (ABC, starting July 10): Seven diverse families compete for one dream house on the perfect suburban cul de sac (called Wisteria Lane ... oops sorry, wrong show). The prospective neighbors get to judge each family and in turn have their own assumptions and prejudices challenged. But no one gets killed by being hit with a blender.

Princes of Malibu (Fox, starting July 10): Brandon and Brody Jenner, the lay-about sons of Bruce Jenner and Linda Thompson are driving their step-father (Canadian) music producer David Foster nuts by living in his house, spending his money and partying day and night. He wants them to take a little responsibility for their lives - like growing up and moving out.

In addition there are new seasons of Average Joe on Tuesday nights, and UPN will have R U The Girl with T-Boz & Chilli, in which the two remaining members of TLC try to find a young singer to join them on a new album and concert tour.

CTV will be debuting the third season of Canadian Idol tonight, and the Canadian sketch comedy series Comedy Inc.will be returning to the line-up on Tuesday. Canwest-Global has Scott Thompson's reality series My Fabulous Gay Wedding starting June 1.

The Summer Season: Part 1

Long ago in a galaxy not unlike our own, there were three American broadcast networks, and two stations in Canadian cities ... if you were lucky. In those days (which I vaguely remember) many series ran for 39 weeks and to bridge the gap between the end of one season and the beginning of the next there were 13 week summer series. Most of them weren't all that good but they were scripted comedies or dramas. Later, when the number of episodes of a series decreased to 26 episodes, simply repeated series during the summer months. This was the trend through much of the period between the 1960s and 1980s. There were few summer replacements, and sometimes all you could count on was that the networks would air pilots for series that were picked up for the new season. The advent of sweeps weeks and the reduction of the number of episodes for most series to 22 meant that the networks were showing reruns of that season's shows through much of the years. Networks had to run new episodes during sweeps weeks and because the season usually starts in the second or third week of September it means that many series have used up almost half their new episodes by Christmas, and have at most only five or six of their 22 episode order available for January March and April. Those months and December tend to see a lot of reruns, or miniseries for the increasing number of shows that "don't repeat well". Suddenly new summer programming becomes attractive - if it can be had cheap.

I would like to suggest that the first modern summer season was the summer of 2000, when CBS premiered a couple of new shows for the summer. One had been a big hit internationally called Big Brother. The other was a little show about a group of disparate people dropped off on an island in the Pacific. CBS had big hopes for Big Brother based on all of the publicity, including attacks saying that the show was "degrading" and "junk TV" but it was a mild success, while that other show, something called Survivor, caught the attention of the nation and graduated into the big time by being shown during the regular season. The next year there was more summer programming from all six of the networks. This summer, the networks will be showing 17 hours of new programming (mostly reality shows) as well as burning off previously unseen episodes of two series. Every night except Saturday and Sunday will see new shows. Here's the list which will serve either as a reminder or a warning. (I was going to do this as one post but the list is just too long.

The Scholar (ABC, starting June 6): Ten high school seniors from across the United States compete for a full ride scholarship to the university of their choice, a prize valued at $250,000. They must demonstrate skills in the areas of academics, creativity, leadership and community service as well as coping with "sudden death oral exams" and defending themselves before an Ivy League admissions committee.

Hell's Kitchen (Fox, starting May 30): British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, probably best known for his British series Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares comes to Los Angeles to open a new restaurant and find America's newest culinary star from the group of hopefuls that Fox has selected. If you know anything about Ramsay you will expect the series to have a lot of bleeping, because Ramsay knows all the best cuss words, and uses them on his hapless staff.

Rock Star: INXS (CBS, starting July 11): Also seen on Tuesday and Wednesday, this is another Mark Burnett series. A group of aspiring singers will compete to become the new lead singer for the band INXS and will be part of their new album and concert series.

Empire (ABC, starting June 28): This six hour drama is a fictional account of the life of Octavian, the adopted son and designated successor of Julius Caesar, and the disgraced gladiator who is assigned to protect him during his time in exile.

Fire Me Please (CBS starting June 7): A four episode reality series in which contestant try to get fired from their new job as close to, but no later than, 3 p.m. on the day they're hired as possible. Hidden cameras follow their efforts at getting canned.

Big Brother 6 (CBS starting July 7): Also seen Thursdays and Saturdays, the Big Brother house is again filled with 16 exhibitionists from diverse backgrounds who have to live with each other 24/7 for three months under the constant gaze of cameras and people who shell out to watch online, all for a $500,000 prize.

Meet Mister Mom (NBC starting August 2): In which we follow the comedy that ensues when Mom is whisked away to a spa for the week leaving Dad to cope with the kids. There are two families each week with the Dads in direct competition to see who can cope best and being watched on closed circuit TV by the Moms.

Tommy Lee Goes To College (NBC starting August 16): The University of Nebraska Lincoln welcomes new student, Motley Crue founder Tommy Lee in this series which lasts six half hours.

I Want To Be A Hilton (CBS starting June 21): Kathy Hilton, mother of Paris and Nicky, attempts to instruct 14 young contestants on etiquette, haute couture and how to deal with the press. The winner gets a year of living the Hilton style high life.

Britney & Kevin: Chaotic (UPN started May 17): Britney Spears and her husband whatzisface. Ends June 14.

The Bad Girl's Guide (UPN started May 24): A scripted comedy starring Jenny McCarthy, Marcelle Larice, and Christina Moore as three modern "bad girls" (as defined by the Cameron Tuttle book of the same name as a woman who is "sassy, provocative, questions authority and knows what she wants from life and how to get it with style, confidence and humor". I suppose it's like Sex and the City but this time the city is Chicago.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Battle of Paris

It's been a while since I did a piece on the PTC. They're annoying but there's only so many times that you can rail against them without it becoming rather boring. The trouble they are such an easy target. They are on one hand stupid, and on the other hand reminiscent of school yard bullies who scream that they're being bullied when someone stands up to them. In this post we'll confine ourselves to the stupid part.

The stupid part is relatively easy to illustrate with a recent incident. Having mobilised the hordes in an attempt to force CBS to renew
Joan Of Arcadia - an attempt that failed since CBS was uninterested in renewing a show that was #50 in the ratings despite the pleas of the faithful - the PTC turned its righteous wrath on an easier target, CKE Restaurants Inc., the owners of the Hardee's and Carl's Jr. fast food restaurant chains. They charge the chain with "a sneak attack on parents" with their new ads featuring Paris Hilton washing a car and eating a hamburger. I'll let the PTC "E-Lert" signed by Tim Winter, Executive Director of the PTC explain what has their bloomers in a knot:

The vehicle for the sneak attack is a sexually charged, adult erotica TV commercial for the chains' "Six Dollar Burgers" in which actress Paris Hilton, wearing an extremely revealing few square inches of leather, is shown sponging and hosing a car and -- mostly -- herself, complete with erotic play with the hose and the sudsy sponge. It concludes with her taking a big bite of a burger and mouthing the tag line, "That's hot!"

CKE has invested a huge ad budget in running the commercial repeatedly -- in versions for both Carl's Jr. and Hardee's -- including on sports programs that parents and grandparents might understandably assume would be free of sexually offensive content.

And despite an almost immediate nationwide uproar of protest -- led by the Parents Television Council's denunciation of the commercial as "the ultimate example of corporate irresponsibility" -- the company's CEO, Andy Puzder, has defended the commercial on the explicit ground that he says it will help the company make more money.

And he told critics -- like you and me -- to "Get a life." Quote unquote.

Well, we need to tell Mr. Puzder to get a conscience.

He said: "This is an attempt to sell hamburgers." Asked if he would hire Hilton again, Puzder said: "If this ad increases sales, I would choose her again.... It's all about the sales."

In other words, anything that sells hamburgers is OK with Mr. Puzder.
Later he writes: The one-million-members-strong Parents Television Council (PTC) is sending this message to CKE Restaurants:


And if we have any say in it, the price you will pay for this outrageous display of corporate irresponsibility is that you will sell fewer burgers!

Well guess what Mr. Winter, you just helped him sell hamburgers.

Because I'm sure that people who wouldn't have paid much attention to the ads will now because your group has told them that they're dirty. And not only do those people have minds and eyes they also buy burgers. I know that if I were anywhere near a place where there was a Carl's Jr. or a Hardee's I'd spend six bucks on one of those burgers just to spite the PTC.
When you look at the ads, you have to ask if the PTC would have been so indignant if it wasn't Paris Hilton in those ads, if it were some no name model not the star of The Simple Life and those notorious amateur sex videos. I doubt it. The PTC cites the fact that the ad has been run on sports programs "that parents and grandparents might understandably assume would be free of sexually offensive content" but it's a fact that the commercial in question is no raunchier than a lot of beer ads that have been a staple of TV sports for decades. And they were costumes that are a lot skimpier than what Hilton is wearing. They are, if I'm not mistaken, called bikinis. In addition the earlier ads for the Carl's Jr. Western Bacon Six Dollar Burger (featuring a "no-name" model riding a mechanical bull in slow motion while eating a burger) is arguably just as sexy. Both ads are on the Carl's Jr. website.

(Oh and by the way, it's a cloth bathing suit of the type that most members of the PTC couldn't hope to afford.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Eddie Albert 1906-2005

Eddie Albert passed away of pneumonia on Thursday, a few weeks after his 99th birthday, in was announced on Friday evening. According to his son Edward Albert, Eddie Albert had suffered from Alzheimer's Disease for the past 10 years.

Eddie Albert's life was an eventful one, both inside show business and outside of it. Before World War II he provided intelligence information on German activities in Mexico while working for the Escalante Brothers Circus as a trapeze artist. During World War II he served in the US Navy as a beachmaster and salvage expert. During the Tarawa landings he rescued a number of wounded soldiers from the beaches in the small unarmoured boat he was provided with for salvage operations. For this he was awarded the Bronze Star. He was later assigned to a unit making training films and after the war he took this experience and used it to form a company producing educational films. He was involved as an activist for a number of causes, notably malnutrition - he travelled to the Congo to discuss the issue with Albert Schweitzer in the 1950s - and refugees. However he is most readily identified with the environmental movement. He became an activist in publicising the effects of DDT which led to the eventual ban on its use in the United States. He was also involved in conservation activities, being the chairman of the Boy Scouts of America's tree planting and conservation programs.

Eddie Albert's career in t he entertainment industry began in the 1930s. He started as a singer in night clubs and on the radio. Indeed he dropped his family name - Heimberger - because radio announcers constantly mispronounced it as "Hamburger". He later appeared on Broadway starring in Brother Rat. When the play was made into a movie he was brought to Hollywood to appear in it, and the sequel Brother Rat and a Baby, opposite Ronald Reagan. He went back to Broadway from time to time, including replacing Robert Preston as Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. In his Hollywood career he appeared in over 100 theatrical and TV movies. Among his most important roles were Roman Holiday in 1953 and The Heartbreak Kid in 1972. He earned Oscar nominations for both roles. Other major roles included Ali Hakim in the movie version of Oklahoma, the cowardly officer in Attack!, and the prison warden in the original version of The Longest Yard, a character he reportedly modelled on Richard Nixon. Robert Aldrich, the director of The Longest Yard as well as Attack said of him, "There's no actor working today who can be as truly malignant as Eddie Albert. He plays heavies exactly the way they are in real life. Slick and sophisticated." He was also a veteran television performer. In fact his first television performance occurred in 1936 when he participated in the first private TV broadcast by NBC to its radio licensees in New York. He made a number of guest appearances on dramatic anthology series such as Studio One in the 1950s and was active in TV movies and miniseries as late as 1995 (and did voice work for animated series as late as 1997).

Eddie Albert is best remembered for one series of course and that is Green Acres. He had rejected a number of other series - notably Father Knows Best - the role of Oliver Wendell Douglas, the Wall Street lawyer who decided to escape the rat race by becoming a farmer, appealed to the man who turned his front lawn into a cornfield and grew his own vegetables in a backyard greenhouse. At the time the series was regarded as just another rural comedy on a network which was famous (or infamous, depending on what you thought of the shows) for rural comedies. Today it is regarded as gem of surrealist comedy. Douglas might have seemed sane but in the context of the community where he lived - where pigs were treated as children and the show credits were sometimes read by the characters - he was the odd man out. Even though he did several other TV series including Falcon Crest, General Hospital and Switch (I used the only picture I could find online related to that series), it is Green Acresfor which he is and probably always will be remembered.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Best New Show On TV

With due respect to shows like Desperate Housewives and Lost, the best new show on American broadcast television in the 2004-2005 season has undoubtedly been House, or to give it its full title House M.D. (That incidentally is how it appears in the main title, with the M.D. so tiny that unless you are particularly observant you'd never notice it.) It may also provide definitive proof that the Parents Television Council is right about the V-Chip, but I'll get into the reason I say that shortly.

"House" is Dr. Gregory House and he's unusual, both for a TV doctor and a real doctor. Most TV doctors are (and have always been) surgeons or worked in emergency rooms. They look sharp in their white lab coats and heroic in their surgical greens. House is the head of the "Department of Diagnostic Medicine" at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital (based on the University Medical Center in Princeton). He usually looks worse than an unmade bed in a rumpled sports coat, an open collared shirt and running shoes. He doesn't do surgery and wouldn't wear a lab coat to save his job. He is, in fact an unlikely protagonist; an ill-tempered, sarcastic, misanthrope with a disdain for the mundane and a love for solving puzzles. He'd rather watch soap operas, and has to be threatened to get him to do time in t he hospital's clinic. He's walks with a cane thanks to a misdiagnosed embolism in his leg which destroyed much of the muscle tissue while leaving him in great pain. He's addicted to Vicodin, a fact that he admits, but refuses to enter a rehab program because his addiction has not impaired his ability to do his job. In the hands of the wrong actor the character could be such a turn-off that it would drive viewers away. In the hands of British actor Hugh Laurie (probably best known as a comedian, for his work in Blackadder and earlier in Jeeves and Wooster with his friend Stephen Fry) House's bad qualities are tempered with a dark humour and a basic humanity in addition to his brilliance as a diagnostician which, if it does nothing else arouses our sympathy.

The roots of House are apparent - if somewhat obscurely - in his name. The character is based very much on Sherlock Holmes (whose name can be pronounced "homes" - Holmes=House) which is only fitting since Arthur Conan Doyle based Holmes on one of his instructors at the Edinburgh Medical School, Dr. Joseph Bell. Bell had the ability, exhibited by Holmes and by House, of being able to tell things about a person based simply on looking at him or her. In one notable exchange in the series House tells a man, whose skin has turned orange in colour, that his wife is having an affair "because you're orange, you moron, and she hasn't noticed it." It goes further however. Holmes believed implicitly that everybody lies, or at least withholds the truth; House believes that everybody lies and finding out what the lies are and why they are lying is an important clue in the diagnostic process. His diagnostic process goes back even further to Edgar Allan Poe's character August Dupin. Dupin said (and this is often, wrongly, ascribed to Sherlock Holmes) "eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, regardless of how improbable, is the answer." House's diagnostic technique is to look at the symptoms and determine what could cause them, and then eliminate them as the cause. Sometimes this is done by asking questions, sometimes through investigation, and sometimes through experimentation. It is the latter that leads to the greatest conflict. House will order a course of treatment which will cure one possible cause of the patient's illness but be either ineffective or dangerous to another possibility. In this manner he collects and analyses data which leads to the answer. (Incidentally the cases are apparently based on real case files, although the way the details of the actual case are not necessarily recreated) Surrounding Dr. House are his team: Dr. Eric Foreman (Omar Epps), a neurologist, Dr. Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer), an intensivist (a doctor specialising in iintensive care), and Dr. Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), an immunologist. As well there's his best (well only) friend, Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), an oncologist, and hospital administrator, Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein). They are all specialists and so tend to see illnesses from their own viewpoint. Cameron is an immunologist so she tends to focus on infections as the principal case of problems rather to the exclusion of everything else. Similarly Foreman looks for neurological causes. House on the other hand looks beyond the boundaries of specialties to all possible causes.

House has had an interesting history as a series. Debuting in November 2004, following Fox's post season baseball coverage, the show had a major ratings improvement on its lead-in The Billionaire Rebel: Richard Branson's Quest for the Best, increasing the estimated audience from 5.35 million for Branson to 7 million. This still put the show in fourth place however. Viewership slumped by almost a million in the second week of the series. Although it remained mired in fourth place through the rest of the run of Billionaire Rebel, it continued to expand on the audience for that show by up to 87% at one point. Once American Idol became the lead-in for House in February 2005, ratings for the show took off. From being mired in fourth with the Branson series as its lead, House soared into first place when it followed Idol. The February 1, 2005 episode had 12.89 million viewers, and the February 8 episode had over 14 million. In other words the viewership doubled based entirely on having a popular show as a lead-in rather than a show that no one is interested in. This leads me to the obvious conclusion that the V-Chip can't possibly work: people are either too lazy or too dumb to change channels from hour to hour, so how can they be expected to master something as complicated as the V-Chip. (Before anyone complains, I am being sarcastic.)

In describing House as the best new show of the season, I am primarily concerned with the quality of the acting and the writing, both of which are excellent. Hugh Laurie does a masterful job playing the emotionally scarred Dr. House, who finds meaning in his work, and whose personal relationships are next to non-existant. There's no real need for external conflict, although the producers introduced some in the form of Chi McBride's character Edward Vogler. I am convinced that Vogler, a billionaire entrepreneur who buys his way into control of the hospital board and takes an immediate dislike to House because he's not "cost efficient", was introduced as a result of the early ratings. Vogler was intended to make House seem more sympathetic by being a nearly all powerful antagonist. By the time he was introduced however the crisis had ended. Viewers had begun to watch the show and they found the combination of the medical puzzles, House's outward irascibility and internal pain eminently easy to identify with. Credit belongs to the writers for crafting both an intriguing character but also to Hugh Laurie for making the character human and far more multidimensional than many characters on TV shows. All too often all we see of a character is him doing his job, with little detail of his life or personality beyond that. It is commendable.

(I'm getting a bit behind thanks to Sweeps and just the fact that it's May and there's a lot of stuff to do now that the snow is off the ground. I should have written this review of House earlier, but there was a lawn to mow before it started raining. I hope to have a review of Lost posted tomorrow.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

TV on DVD - May 24, 2005

I've been having a couple of delays over the past few days but here is this week's list of TV shows on DVD. A bumper crop as you can see.

Airwolf: Season 1
- An absolute classic. Jan Michael Vincent stars as Stringfellow Hawke, the pilot of the hottest helicopter on TV (because everyone who counts knows that Airvwolf could kick Blue Thunder's ass). Donald Bellisario's casting of supporting roles made this show worth while since I never cared much for Vincent as an actor. Alex Cord was impressive as String's government contact "Archangel" who was always immaculately dressed in white, right down to his eyepatch, and of course there was Ernest Borgnine doing his befuddled sidekick routine. An absolute gem.

Baa Baa Black Sheep: Volume 1
- This is one of the few series that my younger brother was ever totally fanatical over. I never got into it largely for one reason - I could not stand Robert Conrad. Still the show did have a pretty interesting list of supporting cast members including Dan Blocker's son Dirk, Conrad's half brother Larry Manetti, and John Laroquette.

Super Friends: Season 2
- Prime super-hero cheese with Superman, Batman, Robin (voice by Casey Kasem!), Wonder Woman, and that fish guy - oh yeah, Aquaman. This is the season with Wendy and Marvin and Wonder Dog.

The Andy Griffith Show: The Complete Second Season
- By the second season of the The Andy Griffith Show, most of the elements were in place and settled, although Andy's girlfriend Helen Crump wouldn't be added for a while, and there was no Gomer Pyle yet. What's really interesting in this season is some of the guest stars, including Jean Hagen (who played Danny Thomas's first wife in Make Room For Daddy from which The Andy Griffith Show had been spun-off), Andy Clyde, Buddy Ebsen, Alan Hale Jr., Barbara Eden, Sterling Holloway, and both Rance and Clint Howard (Ron Howard's father and younger brother - even then getting work because of Ron). No Howard Morris (Ernest T. Bass) yet though. They don't make this sort of gentle series - humorous rather than joky - anymore

Batman: Training For Power: V1 Season 1
- This is the current Batman animated feature and includes the voice of the late Frank Gorshin as Hugo Strange. I haven't gotten around to seeing this yet, so I won't comment.

Batman - The Animated Series: Volume 3
- This on the other hand I have seen and enjoyed greatly. Artistically the look they were going for was along the lines of the 1940s Superman cartoons done by Fleischers, but using a cheaper process and more limited animation. The result was not only extremely attractive but as much in keeping with the tone of the comic books as you could get for the audience.

Chappelle's Show: Season Two - Uncensored!
- I've never heard of it, although it has been on the Comedy Network here in Canada. Indeed the first time I heard of Dave Chappelle in any context was in relation to his recent mental health problems.

Everybody Loves Raymond: Series Finale
- In a shameless attempt to wring the last dime out of the fans - or to give the public what it wants, depending how you spin it - Warners and HBO have released the series finale of Everybody Loves Raymond in an affordable one disc set.

Fat Actress
- Haven't seen this show and in all honesty would rather have my wisdom teeth pulled than sit down and watch it, so this is just an observation. Did you ever notice that Kirstie Alley started packing on the pounds after Parker Stevenson stopped giving her "the big one" (and does anyone remember the Emmy speech where that line came from - she thanked her husband Parker for giving her "the big one").

Garfield: Fantasies
- Not sure, but I believe that this is a collection of stand-alone specials featuring Garfield rather than part of the Garfield And Friends TV series.

Law And Order: Third Year
- This third season of Law & Order saw the arrival of Jerry Orbach into the cast, replacing Paul Sorvino (who was embarking on one of his periodic attempts to establish himself as an opera singer) who in turn had replaced George Dzundza from the original cast. It is entirely fitting that Orbach, who was on the series longer than any other actor with the exception of Steven Hill, is honoured on this DVD with a profile and tribute.

M*A*S*H Season 8
- Another case where an item is available from Amazon in the United States but not in Canada. I will be very embarrassed when it shows up at London Drugs, won't I. By this point the series had fallen into its "profound and important" period. The only major alteration in the cast is the departure of Radar, who was the only member of the original movie cast to make the transition to the TV series. (Season 2 of Have Gun Will Travel has finally shown up on their site however).

Nick Jr. Favorites, Vol. 1
- A sampler from a variety of Nickelodeon kids series, including Dora the Explorer, Blue's Clues, and Max & Ruby. Probably worth it if you have small kids around the house, although my 2 1/2 year-old nephew prefers his Thomas the Tank Engine videos.

Nick Picks: V1
- Another Nickelodeon sampler, this time for a slightly older audience. Includes episodes of All Grown Up, Fairly Odd Parents, Jimmy Neutron, and of course SpongeBob Squarepants.

NewsRadio: The Complete First & Second Seasons
- Arguably one of the best comedies of the 1990s, NewsRadio featured stand-out performances from Dave Foley, Stephen Root, Khandi Alexander and Maura Tierney, as well as being a major break for Vicki Lewis, Joe Rogan and Andy Dick. It was however the presence of Phil Hartman as newsman and colossal ego Bill McNeal that made the show worth watching, and his death that signaled it's end even though the network tried to replace him with Jon Lovitz. The first season was only seven episodes long which is why both the first and second seasons are on this set.

Samurai Jack: Season Two
- A Cartoon Network series that I'm not really familiar with. Okay, a Cartoon Network series that I'm not familiar with at all. There's also a set that includes both Season One and Season Two.

Speed Racer: V3
- I never really watched Speed Racer. Can't remember who much chance I had to see it, but the whole Japanese Anime style of it didn't do it for me. There are two versions of the disc, with the collector's version having the rounded top. Since the prices for both versions are equal, if you can get the collectible version, do so.

Spongebob Squarepants: Fear Of A Krabby Patty
- Eight episodes of SpongeBob - three of them listed as "bonus material." If it's going to be on the disc and it's an episode, why not just say so. (Clearly I've seen so little of SpongeBob that I have to get picky about extras. Sorry.)

Voyage to the Planets and Beyond
- What is apparently a highly detailed and entertaining documentary (with dramatic "imaginings") about a manned voyage around the Solar System aboard the mile-long spaceship Pegasus. Narrated by David Suchet, the program explores the complexity of space flight (such as "slingshot maneuvers) and the qualities of various planets. Among the special features is a documentary on real space probes that are currently exploring the planets. Listed in the IMDB as Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

24 Finale - Stinky Bad

I was trying last night to sort out my feelings about the 24 season finale - having failed miserably to sum up my feelings about Desperate Housewives the night before (suffice it to say I'm a late convert but I am actually looking forward to reruns to catch what I missed when I was foolish enough not to watch) - and then today it hit me as I was reading another blog: it was bad! Admittedly it was this review at Blogcritic.org but it crystalised my thoughts on the matter. The finale, and more specifically episode 24, was terrible. (Just promise me one thing. If I ever channel the Comic Book Guy and write a review with a title that includes the phrase "Worst. Episode. Ever." and I'm serious about it, please make an intervention. That phrase has "jumped the shark" (but then so has "jumped the shark) as far as I'm concerned.)

The problem is a simple one. The story was both too rushed and to leisurely at the same time. Too rushed in that the resolution of the main plot occurred without any sort of revelation as to what the motivation behind the plot was. At no point was there any explanation of what Marwan hoped to accomplish or why his plot was so involved that it required trying to melt down 107 nuclear power plants, shooting down Air Force One, and attempting to nuke Los Angeles, not to mention where he got a stealth cruise missile, assemble a huge Terrorist Army (tm), or was able to find a Stealth Fighter that actually carried an air-to-air missile. I mean there's a certain suspension of disbelief that goes along with 24 but in this case a little explanation might have helped. It's like building a thrilling roller coaster which doesn't quite get us to the unloading platform.

Of course it may have been a tip-off when the whole "Mandy and Tony" subplot took most of Hour 23 to unravel. There we were, no closer to Marwan than we had been since the terrorists sprung him a few episodes ago and it's the end of the next to last hour. You have to end the series in the next hour but you've got this great gimmick for the end which is going to take time and so there's no time for any explanations. That means killing the antagonist without finding out from him or anyone why (or how) all of this mess happened. Or maybe the writers just decided that we didn't need any resolution, that we'd buy anything they were willing to sell us and thank them for it.

And then comes the leisurely part. Having successfully saved the world - okay the United States - okay Los Angeles three times running (the first season doesn't count - all he did there was save David Palmer) our gallant hero and his team of intrepid sidekicks returns to CTU. Not quite in triumph of course because Jack has to get ready to turn himself over to the Chinese for his part in the Consulate attack thanks to that weak-willed moron Bern (and forgetting for the moment that the only way they got him was to kill two Americans on American soil) because Jack will always do exactly what the President tells him to do even when the President isn't David Palmer or even John Keeler, but acting President Charles Logan (which is what Logan is - remember Keeler didn't die when Air Force One crashed). Still there's time for Audrey to look longingly at Paul's body bag then give Jack the big "I love you but we can never be together even if you aren't going to be set up as the fall guy for the Consulate operation" speech; for Buchanan to look overly serious; for Michelle and Tony to do log some serious screen kiss time to the point where it would have been better for everyone concerned if they'd just grabbed a quickie in Interrogation Room 1; and Edgar and Chloe pledge eternal geek love - oh sorry, that was my nightmare last night, I meant express incredulity that they're going to give Jack to the Chinese. Plus there was actually time for Jack to change his clothes before the denouement.

Of course the denouement is a good one. Having decided to hand Jack over to the Chinese with the reluctant approval of ex-President Palmer, President Logan's security chief decides that Jack knows too much and will tell all under interrogation. He had previously suggested that Jack have "an accident". Logan tells him no, but the security chief gets in touch with the Secret Service Agent who is going to get Jack and tells him that Jack is going to have an "accident" before he can be delivered to the Chinese. Now setting aside the total unlikelihood of a Secret Service Agent not only committing an illegal act (like murder) but doing it on the orders of someone who is not the President Of The United States or even the acting President, you know this is going happen because of the actor playing the agent. He's Patrick Kilpatrick, and as sure as I've never seen Gregory Itzin (Logan) play any character but spineless weasels I have never seen Kilpatrick play anyone but a hard-ass who will obey any order he's given. Sure enough, Logan is a spineless weasel because he refuses to listen to Palmer when David begs him to make sure that Security Guy calls off the hit (Mike Novick overheard Security Guy's end of the phone call), and Palmer is a resolute enough friend to warn Jack of what's coming. Jack, Tony, Michelle and Chloe (Chloe?!) concoct a cunning plan that lets the Secret Service Agent think he's snuffed Jack and allows Jack to get away scot-free with the clothes on his back, the money in his pocket, a clean cell phone and false papers that will get him into Mexico. Of course they could have set up a retirement fund for him, but you can't have everything and why would he come back for season 5 if he did?

In a season that has led viewers though a series of plot elements that have not only required willing suspension of disbelief but a total detachment from reality - which most of us have been willing to do - the pay-off was disappointing to say the least. And yet the viewers (including me) will flock back in January just to see what is going to happen to Bauer next. Just a guess but I don't think he'll be sipping margueritas on some beach surrounded by bikini clad babes.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Another Quiz Thing

This time I'd like to think it really does reflect my artistic opinions though, although I don't know that I'm that enthusiastic about sadistic humour.

You scored as Drama/Suspense. Congratulations, you scored Drama. You don't need special effects as long as you have great direction, acting and a conflicting story. The inside look at human nature is what makes a movie for you. Check out: 21 Grams, Mystic River, Reservoir Dogs, Tape.









Sadistic Humour


Romantic Comedy


Mindless Action Flick


Movie Recommendation.
created with QuizFarm.com

Two Ties Between Star Wars And TV

Every blogger in the world seems to be writing about Star Wars III - Revenge of the Sith, which is of course Star Wars VI in terms of being the sixth movie made in the series but really, that's neither here nor there. I haven't seen the movie, and I won't. I loved the original Star Wars. I loved The Empire Strikes Back. I liked about half of Return of the Jedi (including Carrie Fisher in the brass bikini) but Lucas lost me forever with those feral Teddy Bears known as Ewoks. I've only seen Phantom Menace on TV and only watched it once, and I have no desire to see Attack of the Clones.

Still thinking about Star Wars takes me back to a couple of TV related things. Did you know that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was delayed by about two years and had the script that it did because of Star Wars? Paramount had decided to go ahead with a Star Trek movie in 1976 and had selected a script which was being rewritten by Philip Kaufman (at the time best known for the script for The Outlaw Josie Wales). At that point Star Wars came out and with all the merchandise, the studio apparently decided that the Sci-Fi fans had spent all their money and wouldn't go to see a Star Trek movie. This in turn led the executives at Paramount to think about starting a TV network built initially around Paramount movies and a new Star Trek series. A pilot script for the series was actually written and when it became apparent that the network idea was a dud, that script became Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Almost 20 years later Paramount started a TV network initially built around a new Star Trek series. Some might say that the idea was still a dud.

The other major connection was the Star Wars vs. Battlestar Galactica lawsuit. Universal Pictures noted the success of Star Wars and thought that they could do something for TV. ABC was interested in a weekly series. Glen Larson, the journeyman writer and producer, envisaged the project as a series of TV movies that might develop into a series, but both Universal and ABC wanted a series. Larson hired visual effects master John Dykstra away from Lucas for the series. They came up with a three hour pilot - which in Canada at least was also released theatrically - which then provided a lot of stock shots for the eventual series. However the whole thing caught the eyes of Lucas and 20th Century Fox, which had released Star Wars. They sued for plagiarism, claiming 34 different ideas that Battlestar Galactica had taken from Star Wars. These included such elements as "Muffet" the robot Dagit being similar to the Star Wars droids, the relationship between the roguish Starbuck and the clean-cut Apollo being similar to the roguish Han Solo and the clean-cut Luke Skywalker, and the similarity appearance of the Cylons and the Imperial Storm Troopers. I don't have a complete list of the similarities cited by Fox, but they probably even objected to the use of the term "Battlestar" as being similar to "Deathstar". I do know that Sharon McCrumb was told to alter the name of her novel Bimbos Of The Death Star to Bimbos Of The Death Sun because of fear of a law suit from Lucas. On learning of the suit, Universal threatened to counter-sue, claiming that Lucas had stolen liberally from Universal serials such as Buck Rogers and the three Flash Gordon series. They also claimed that Lucas stole the idea of droids - specifically R2D2 - were stolen from the three small robots in the Universal movie Silent Running: Huey, Dewey, and Louie. In the end the 20th Century Fox suit was dismissed as being "without merit". Unfortunately by that time ABC had cancelled Battlestar Galactica and were working on the dismal Galactica 1980.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

I Don't Know...

The questions for this thing don't really cover what this blog does or is about but since I haven't written a thing for my other blog in months I tried to answer the questions as they fit this one.

You Are a Pundit Blogger!

Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read.
Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few

On the other hand I do like that two sentence evaluation, but I clearly have an ego.

Friday, May 20, 2005

CSI Season Finale - WOW!

The Thing about Quentin Tarantino is that you either love him or you hate him. If you hate him, nothing he can do will ever be any good, while if you love him, he's brilliant. I may be one of the few people in North America who has no fixed opinion of him, simply because I've never seen any of his movies straight through, and I've only seen a few scenes of Pulp Fiction. The one opinion I have of him, as a result of Thursday's finale of CSI is that the guy is a damned fine TV director.

There's an interesting story about how Tarantino came to direct the episode. He had long been a fan and let various members of the cast who he met at awards shows know it, but it was when an former criminologist named Larry Mitchell who works as a consultant ion the show met him at the food court at the Luxor and invited him out to the set - without knowing who he was - that the seeds for the episode were set. On the set he met Anthony Zuiker and William Petersen, creator and star of the series but both also executive producers, and mentioned that he had an idea for a story, but he'd like to direct it. The deal was done very quickly.

The episode starts innocently enough. Nick Stokes (George Eads) is called to what appears to be a crime scene. A queasy looking uniformed cop is there and it's easy to see what's making him queasy. In the middle of a lonely parking lot is a pile of guts - literally. While the cop goes to toss his cookies (we see him vomiting by his car) Nick follows pieces of evidence set out like bread crumbs, or bait for a trap. When the cop turns back, Nick is gone.

One of humanity's primal fears is being buried alive. In the 19th Century there were actually patents issued for devices that would alert people on the surface that someone had been buried alive. Of course, whether any were actually sold - or more importantly used for their intended purpose - is another question entirely. More recently a handful of real life kidnappers have buried their victims alive as an "incentive" to have the ransom paid, but in truth it has been more often used as a fictional plot device than anything else. Indeed at least one episode of CSI - starring Jolene Blalock in an early acting job - has used it, but no one has managed to make it as chilling as it is used here. Nick is placed in a plexiglass coffin with a gun, a tape recorder, and a bunch of light sticks. He can see the dirt pressing all around him. Worse is to come. Back at headquarters things are going nowhere fast. The evidence collected at the scene tells them little except the size of the truck that Nick was taken in. Then a messenger arrives with a package, apparently picked up outside a random house. It contains a tape and a USB drive. The tape provides a sound track for what comes next because the USB drive provides a hypertext link. There a ransom demand for a million dollars and a button that when clicked illuminates Nick's coffin. What they don't know is that lighting the light reduces the power in the battery that also runs the ventilation system feeding air to the coffin.

The two hour running time for the episode allows the writers to show off aspects that we know about the characters. Grissom's knowledge of insects helps to locate the site where the coffin is located while his ability to read lips provides a touching moment when Nick is recording what he thinks is his last words on the tape recorder. Catherine's relationship with her father as well as her devotion to her CSI family is shown in the scene where she approaches Sam Braun for the million dollars that the kidnapper is demanding and which the city won't pay. Warrick shows his temper, worry and exasperation at the chance that put his closest friend in the coffin instead of him while Greg's quick wits and youthful enthusiasm are seen. Tarantino even accomplishes what I thought was impossible - he made me actually like the character of Hodges, who normally comes across as a smug, brown-nosing ass. In this episode he plays a Dukes of Hazard board game with Greg (a pure Tarantino touch as is Grissom's framed Roy Rogers certificate), roughs up the messenger delivering the envelope with the clue to tape and USB drive (on the grounds that the guy was probably destroying trace evidence) and provides a vital piece of information that helps save Nick. It is however Eads who has the hardest acting job of all. He goes through the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance, all mingled with various degrees of terror and a decline into madness as his situation becomes increasingly desperate. It's a tough job and he pulls it off amazingly well.

The Tarantino touches are there as well of course. Besides the bits mentioned above, he uses a comedian (I think it's Bob Goldthwait who previously appeared in a third season episode of the series) as the delivery guy's lawyer. The scene between Sam Braun and Catherine is preceded by a scene with Tony Curtis and Frank Gorshin sitting with Braun and his latest bimbo talking about Old Vegas. While some may think that the scene goes on too long (although it does let Gorshin do his Kirk Douglas, Ed Sullivan and Jack Nicholson impressions - a fitting reminder of what a great talent was lost when he died (the episode also included a memorial note at the end which was another nice touch given the short time available to set it up)) it worked to establish just how secret Braun had kept her and just how tough she is. Finally there is the controversial sequence near the end in which Nick hallucinates his own autopsy, as performed by Doc Robbins and his assistant David "Super Dave" Phillips. Reportedly the scene was so gory that it had to be shot in black & white but it works incredibly well because it was shot that way.

In this episode of CSI Tarantino has crafted a brilliant thriller building tension by the minute. His use of John Saxon as the mastermind of the plot is brilliant. He is the villain but we never see his face and he exits the scene - by blowing himself up - without our discovering the motivation behind what he is doing. Layer upon layer has to be peeled away to allow us to know not just why he did what he did but the significance of seemingly insignificant details. Are there faults? Of course. At one point it is crucial for both the audience and Nick to think he's being rescued but there seems to be no clear explanation of why he's hearing what he's hearing when it turns out that the hope is a false one. In another scene, it is difficult to understand why Saxon's character put something onto the prototype coffin he built, something that allows Hodges to discover a trap and alert the people in the field. Still these are minor points in a series that expects us to suspend our belief for far greater plot points every week. It seems a shame that in syndication this episode will be broken into two pieces - it really is a CSI movie event and should be treated as such but the requirements of television mean that it will probably be cut in two. If this episode doesn't earn at least Emmy nominations for Tarantino as director and writers Naran Shankar, Anthony Zuiker and Carole Mendelsohn, and at least consideration for George Eads as Best Supporting Actor, I will truly be shocked.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Why Keep Watching A Show You Love To Bash?

Sometimes I think that I'm too uncritical to try to write TV criticism. You may have noticed that many of my reviews have been complimentary. Part of the reason is that so far most of the shows I've reviewed have been shows that I watch regularly anyway and if I watch them I usually like them. Come the Summer Season I expect to be sampling a lot of new shows, many of which I probably won't like. I'm easing into this criticism thing.

What got me thinking about all of this is Smallville. I like Smallville mainly as light entertainment and because I'm a long term Superman fan. I enjoy the show. While it's not Shakespeare - or even ER - that's not what I'm looking to it for. But if you spend any amount of time on the alt.tv.smallville newsgroup you would think that most episodes are the biggest steaming pile of manure ever. One can imagine most of the people who post to the group channelling the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons: "Worst. Episode. Ever. I shall write an indignant post to the newsgroup immediately." And yet when you ask these people how they would improve it the answers are usually to kill off Lana (because Kristin Kreuk is supposedly a lousy actress, and also is Eurasian while Lana Lang isn't), have Clark hook up with Chloe because she's the one he's meant to be with, and have Lex turn evil NOW. Oh yes and there's the guys who say that Clark should look deep into Lex's eyes and say "Take me now you bald headed stallion" but we don't pay too much attention them. The point is that they don't seem to have much in the way of concrete explanations of what makes an episode bad. They seem to want a restoration of some sort of "golden age" of the series that apparently existed in in the first season or something. I'm not saying that every episode of Smallville is good, but in my opinion it's not always as bad as the people posting on the newsgroup seem to think.

Wednesday's 80 minute season finale (there was a 10 minute preview of Batman Begins which looks pretty spectacular) wound up the season long "stones of power" arc in a spectacular fashion. The premise was that there were three Kryptonian "elements" that contained the knowledge of the galaxy. When united that knowledge would be transferred to Kal-el (aka Clark Kent). When Lana used one of the elements to stab her ex-boyfriend's mother, Genevieve Teague, to death (in self-defence - Genevieve was trying to strangle her) it triggered a major catastrophe, a major meteor shower headed right for Smallville, or more accurately right for Clark Kent. The voice of Jor-el appeared and castigated his son for not recovering all the elements and informed him that if he didn't a catastrophe would occur that would not only destroy him but also wipe out the earth. Lana seeks refuge with Lex, who knows she has one of the elements and wants to put into safekeeping (because it was the weapon that killed Genevieve - he says). So does she, but here idea of safekeeping is to hand it to the one person she truly trusts - Clark Kent. Lionel Luthor, Lex's father, has the third element, having gotten it from Genevieve who killed Bridget Crosby (assistant to Clark's mentor Dr. Swann) for it. When the second element is added to the first, it sends out a wave of energy that in essence puts Lionel in a coma. As everyone is set to evacuate Smallville, Clark heads for Lex's mansion to get the element which is in his safe, only to be felled by three idols with Kryptonite eyes. He's saved by Chloe(who learned about his powers earlier this season) and manages to get the third element back to the others even as the meteors are hitting Smallville (one goes through his home where his parents are in a fight with Genevieve's son Jason). Lex, who has given in to his dark side, hauls Chloe to the caves where Clark is uniting the elements just in time to get caught in an energy wave that knocks them both out and transports Clark to someplace where there's lots of snow (supposedly one of the poles, but in all likelihood Whistler B.C.). As Lana crawls out of the wreckage of the helicopter that was taking her to Metropolis to discover a crashed spaceship, Clark hurls the now united elements into the air .... at which point we're informed that the story is continued next season.

The season finale of Smallville isn't a typical episode, but it does serve to illustrate a point. So far at least the people on the newsgroup aren't complaining about the acting of Kreuk or Welling (sorry, spoke too soon). In my mind this seems to indicate that such faults as there may be - and these faults tend to be expressed by the fanboys in the newsgroup - lie not solely with the actors but with the way the parts are written. Are there problems with the writing? Yes. There are plot holes that you could drive a tanker truck through - which in fact was one of the big holes in last night's episode; how does a tanker full of fuel end up driving alone down a road in an area where a military evacuation has been ordered - but just about every TV drama has plot holes. There are nit pickers who seem determined to find all the technological errors and law enforcement faults they can in every episode of every series of CSI but that doesn't make it a bad show. The repetition of certain elements, the most egregious of which is the Kryptonite spawned "Freak of the Week" is a problem that the writers have, but remember how many episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer were disconnected from the main story arc and involved Buffy encountering the freaky Monster of the Week. Now I'm not comparing Smallville with Buffy but there are elements of that show in Smallville in the same way that there are elements of Roswell in it (the alien among us must keep his identity hidden from everyone lest he endangers the ones he loves and is subjected to government experiments). Buffy was in many ways a much deeper show. On the other hand, stripped of the "Superman" mythos - including the extraordinary powers - Smallville becomes a typical WB teen-angst series, with enough romantic triangles and quadrangles to drive sane men mad. But of course it is the "Superman" mythos that sold the show and I suppose it's why the fanboys keep watching a show that, by their comments, they clearly don't like. That's what I just don't get - if you think so little of most of the episodes don't watch it; if enough people agree with you it will go off the air and you'll be out of your misery, and more to the point, out of mine. But maybe I'm just not critical enough.

UPN's Fall 2005

UPN today announced their Fall 2005 lineup and the shows that have been cancelled. (List and grid of course originally provided by The Futon Critic)

Cancelled: Kevin Hill, Road to Stardom with Missy Elliott, Star Trek: Enterprise, Second Time Around
Retained: One On One, All Of Us, Girlfriends, Half & Half, Americas Next Top Model, Veronica Mars
Moved: Eve, Cuts
New: Sex Lies & Secrets, Everybody Hates Chris, Love, Inc.

8:00-8:30PM One On One
8:30-9:00PM All Of Us
9:00-9:30PM Girlfriends
9:30-10:00PM Half & Half

8:00-9:00PM Americas Next Top Model (Repeat)
9:00-10:00PM SEX, LIES & SECRETS

8:00-9:00PM Americas Next Top Model
9:00-10:00PM Veronica Mars


8:30-9:00PM Eve
9:00-9:30PM Cuts
9:30-10:00PM LOVE, INC.

8:00-10:00PM WWE Smackdown!

UPN also has one hour long series ready for mid-season.

Here's a brief summary of the new UPN series:

Everybody Hates Chris is based on the childhood of comedian Chris Rock. Tyler Williams plays young Chris, the eldest of three children growing up in Brooklyn in the early 1980s. Moved to a new neighbourhood and bussed to a predominantly white school by his strict, hard-working parents, Chris has to keep his younger siblings in line while dealing with the pressures of junior high in a new environment.

Love, Inc.: Denise Johnson (Shannen Doherty) is a full service dating consultant. Her company helps lovelorn men (and sometimes women) present the best image possible to just the right prospects for romance. Of course Denise can't seem to find love for herself.

Sex, Lies & Secrets is about a tight-knit group of friends in the community of Silver Lake who have become almost like family. Of course like any family they have secrets that they keep to protect themselves and each other, some of which do more harm than good. Denise Richards, Eric Balfour, Lauren German, Omar Millar, Tamara Taylor, and James Stevenson star.

Comments: UPN is trying to make a big run into Thursday nights by switching WWE Smackdown! to Fridays and putting three comedies on the night. Love, Inc. might work better as a long form series. Nothing really stands out however, and it's rather depressing (when you remember some of the shows that UPN started with) to think that the high points on the schedule are Americas Next Top Model and Veronica Mars (not that there's anything wrong with Veronica Mars) when you consider that this is the network that cancelled Live Shot, Nowhere Man, The Sentinel, and Legend.

Fox's Fall 2005

Here is Fox TV's somewhat confusing schedule. A number of shows on Monday Tuesday and Wednesday run from September to January and are replaced by shows debuting in January and running through to May. (As usual, list and grid originally provided by The Futon Critic.)

Cancelled: My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss, The Next Great Champ, The Complex: Malibu, Point Pleasant, Quintuplets, Jonny Zero, Kelsey Grammar Presents: The Sketch Show, Life On A Stick, North Shore, Rebel Billionaire: Branson's Quest For The Best, The Swan, Totally Outrageous Behaviour, Tru Calling, Who's Your Daddy, The World's Craziest Videos.

Retained: 24, American Idol, That '70s Show, Stacked, The O.C., Cops, America's Most Wanted, MADtv, King of the Hill, The Simpsons, The Family Guy, American Dad

Moved: House, The Bernie Mac Show, Malcolm in The Middle, Arrested Development.

New: Kitchen Confidential, Prison Break, Bones, Head Cases, Reunion, The Gate, The War At Home, The Loop.

Complete Schedule (New Shows in Capitals)

Starting in September
8:00-8:30 PM Arrested Development (New Day and Time)
9:00-10:00 PM PRISON BREAK

8:00-9:00 PM House (New Time)
9:00-10:00 PM BONES

8:00-8:30 PM That '70s Show
8:30-9:00 PM Stacked
9:00-10:00 PM HEAD CASES

8:00-9:00 PM The O.C.
9:00-10:00 PM REUNION

8:00-8:30 PM The Bernie Mac Show (New Day and Time)
8:30-9:00 PM Malcolm In The Middle (New Day and Time)
9:00-10:00 PM THE GATE (working title)

8:00-8:30 PM Cops
8:30-9:00 PM Cops
9:00-10:00 PM America's Most Wanted
11:00 PM-Midnight MADtv


7:00-7:30 PM Animated Encores
7:30-8:00 PM King Of The Hill
8:00-8:30 PM The Simpsons
8:30-9:00 PM THE WAR AT HOME
9:00-9:30 PM Family Guy
9:30-10:00 PM American Dad

From January On
8:00-9:00 PM House (New Day and Time)
9:00-10:00 PM 24

8:00-9:00 PM American Idol
9:00-10:00 PM BONES

8:00-8:30 PM That '70s Show
8:30-9:00 PM Stacked
9:00-9:30 PM American Idol
9:30-10:00 PM THE LOOP

Fox also has one comedy available as a mid-season replacement.

Here are some brief summaries of Fox's new shows this season. Full summaries are found at the Futon Critic site.

Prison Break: A brilliant structural engineer launches an elaborate plot to break his brother (who he is convinced is incident) off of Death Row.

Bones: Emily Deschannel plays a forensic anthropologist and novelist based on real life novelist Kathy Reich. Dr Temperance Brennan is a brilliant forensic anthropolgist who has a remarkable ability to read the clues left behind in bodies so badly deteriorated that ordinary methods won't work. She works for the Jeffersonian Institutions Medico-Legal Lab with a variety of equally brilliant colleagues, and is frequently teamed with FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz from Angel) who distrusts scientists and science when it comes to solving crimes. They clash professionally and personally...but I'm willing to bet there'll be some of that old debbil sexual tension.

Head Cases: Chris O'Donnell plays superstar lawyer Jason Payne whose life takes a massive turn for the worse when his wife throws him out of the house and he suffers a nervous breakdown. After leaving therapy he finds himself with no job, no home and no support system except an "outpatient buddy" named Schultz. He's a low rent lawyer and eventually the two become partners to fight for the legal rights of the underdog and keep each other sane.

Reunion: The lives of six high school seniors is tracked over a twenty year period. The series starts at their 20th high school reunion where we learn that one of them has been died under suspicious circumstances...but we don't learn which one until the season finale. The episodes in-between deal with important moments in their lives.Will Estes, Sean Faris, Alexa Davalos, Amanda Righetti, David Annable, and Chyler Leigh star.

The Gate: Graham Hale (Johnny Mesner) and Ava Lyford (Marguerite Moreau) are detectives with the San Francisco Police Department's Deviant Crime Unit, under Lt. Matt Cavanaugh (Chi McBride). Hale and Lyford investigate crimes committed by some of the most abberant criminals in the city, but their own secrets and hidden agendas might end up destroying them. The Gate is a working title and might be changed by the time the series reaches the air.

The War At Home: David and Vicki (Michael Rappaport and Anita Barone) figure that if they can get their three teenaged kids safely off to college without a prison record, they'll be ahead of the game. The trouble is that they know all of the stuff they got up to when they were in high school; anything their kids might do, they did - twice. The series adopts a gimmick from reality TV by using "confessional" moments where the characters tell us things they'd never tell each other.

Kitchen Confidential: Chef Jack Bourdain (Bradley Cooper) is a brilliant cook who hit bottom through a combination of booze drugs and women. Now clean and sober he can't get a job until the owner of an upscale restaurant hires him to turn the place around...in 48 hours. Jack hires a trio of renegades from his past (played by Owain Yeoman, Nicholas Brendon, and Tony Cho) to help turn the place around while the boss's daughter Mimi (Bonnie Sommerville from NYPD Blue) waits for him to fail.

The Loop:Sam (Brett Harrison) has just started his first adult job at an airline but the temptation is always there to goof off with his buddies. Sam wants both options. He lives with his brother Sully (Eric Christian Olsen) who survives on a series of odd jobs, and his best friend (and secret crush) Piper (apparently uncast as yet). At work he has to deal with the constant demands of his boss Russ (Philip Baker Hall) and the constant sexual advances of his colleague Meryl (Mimi Rogers).

Comments: Is Fox trying to kill House? It's usually a bad sign when a series is moved around the schedule and they're doing it twice in one season, first from 8 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday then from Tuesday to Monday. A couple of the dramas look like they might work pretty well - The Gate has some of that X-Files feel to it - but of the comedies the only one that really interests me is Kitchen Confidential. I assume that Fox has Nanny 911waiting in the wings, because I have a feeling they'll need it.