Friday, September 30, 2005

TV On DVD - September 27,2005 (edition)

I get the feeling that this particular post has been ill-fated from the start. On Tuesday I hit my head and then lost all of my work. Wednesday I had the second part of a two day headache and got hardly anything done. Thursday I managed to get quite a bit done - until I got a call from my brother asking me to look after my nephew while Greg worked overtime for a few hours. That few hours turned into about seven hours, much of it spent watching the same Thomas The Tank Engine video. The horror, the horror!

The Amazing Race: The First Season
- For the hard core Amazing Race fan, Season 1 is the benchmark by which later seasons of the show are denigrated (the hard core really hate this season's "Family Edition" because it's got some kids on it and isn't travelling around the world or apparently even leaving North America). They feel that the personalities were bigger, the game cleaner, and the clues "clue-ier". I can't say I entirely disagree on some of that but there were some kinks that needed to be worked out of the game. It is not a good thing when two of the last four teams are a day behind the first two teams or when the third place team wakes up in Alaska to find out that the Race is over. Still it's an excellent season to start with.

Are You Being Served? Christmas
- The British have a Christmas tradition called "panto" which isn't pantomime but which takes a story and tells it as almost a parody. This DVD has the four Are You Being Served? Christmas episodes which usually end up with the staff performing a "panto", complete with songs and costumes, for one of the Messrs. Grace. These are actually some of the show's most enjoyable episodes.

Beverly Hillbillies, Vol. 1: Ultimate Collection
- I'm not a huge fan of the way that the DVD release of The Beverly Hillbillies is being handled, any more than I'm a fan of the way that the release of Petticoat Junction was handled. There are some nice extras here including an introduction by Linda Kaye Henning who was not only Paul Henning's daughter but provided the voice of Jethro's twin sister Jethrine (the face and body were all Max Baer though). There are 26 episodes in the set and most seem to come from the first season (although the listed times seem a bit off in some cases), which is at least better than what happened with the Petticoat Junctionset. However none of the episodes has a commentary track.

TV Favorites: Cheyenne
- Three episodes from the legendary series featuring Clint Walker. I'm trying to figure out what Warner Home Video is trying with these "TV Favorites" packages. My suspicion is that they're trying to determine which series it makes sense to release in season sets. For the most part the Warner releases in other areas are worthwhile and for the price it might be an idea to pick one of these up if you're interested in the material.

TV Favorites: Chico and the Man
- Another set from the TV Favorites series, this time from the comedy series featuring Freddy Prinze and Jack Albertson. The episodes on this DVD were all taken from before Prinze's suicide and while Prinze is the nominal star, watching Albertson and series regular Scatman Crothers work is, for me at least, the real joy.

Corner Gas: The Complete Second Season
- The best comedy in North America that's not eligible for the Emmys. While Corner Gas reminds some people of Seinfeld it always strikes me as being closer to Northern Exposure with perhaps a touch of Green Acres - a town full of quirky personalities and a person from the big city who doesn't really fit in. Just don't mention Wullerton (ptui!)

Creature Comforts: The Complete First Season
- Creature Comforts is a rather interesting concept from Aardman, the people behind the Wallace & Grommit films as well as films like Chicken Run. The "Great British Public" is credited as providing the voices for the show. What they do is to interview people about various things, and then take the interviews and create an animal in claymation which suit the interviews. As an example a man talking about his work and how it wasn't entirely pleasant but need to be done (he worked in a mortuary) was given to a maggot. Definitely an interesting concept.

Dark Shadows: DVD Collection 20
- More episodes of Dark Shadows being shipped out to the fans. How many more episodes are there anyway?

Dr. 90210: The Complete First Season
- A reality series about plastic surgeons in Hollywood, a town where - as the tag line on the DVD cover says - "Everyone accepts plastic." Okay.

Due South: The Final Season
- One of my favourite series comes to a close in this set. The show's production history is a bit odd. The first two seasons were produced by Alliance-Atlantis for CBS and CTV in partnership. When CBS cancelled the show several things happened. CTV decided to go it alone but foreign sales were strong enough that the BBC and a German network became partners in funding the production. At about this time Paul Gross replace Paul Haggis as show-runner and head writer. CTV shot 26 episodes but released 13 episodes a year for two years. Not everyone followed that procedure - TNT which bought the series for syndication in the US actually showed all 26 episodes at once, before the fourth season was released in Canada. There are some good episodes here including one episode which was initially intended to be a musical based on Romeo and Juliet (the music couldn't be completed in time), one in which Frasier meets a half-sister he never knew he had, and of course the season finale which "revealed" the fate of the major characters. A truly great series.

TV Favorites: The Dukes of Hazzard
- Here's what I don't get: if the Television Favorites series is meant to test the market for boxed sets of old series, why are they releasing episodes of The Dukes Of Hazard, a show which is already being released in season sets?

TV Favorites: The F Troop
- For some reason F-Troop is a show which left an impression on me despite the fact that as far as I can recall it was only seen here for about one year. The truth is that when I think of Ken Berry or Forrest Tucker, this is the show I think of. A single disk with six half-hour episodes. Well the price is right at least.

Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story
- Eighty minutes of all new never before seen material from The Family Guy focussing on everybody's favourite baby homicidal megalomaniac, Stewie Griffin. Oh did I mention that it was also uncensored. Actually it comes with a censored and an uncensored soundtrack on the same disk, as well as commentaries from Seth McFarlane, the cast and the writers.

Gilmore Girls: The Complete Fourth Season
- I rarely watch The Gilmore Girls, although I have enjoyed every episode that I've seen. There's a wit to the conversation that you don't often see and the mother daughter relationship is enjoyable. The fourth season sends Rory off to Yale but somehow she keeps coming back home at any convenient opportunity.

Hogan's Heroes: The Complete Second Season
- The second season DVD of this series contains at least one commentary track from Sigrid Valdis. She came onto the series in the second season as Klink's secretary Hilda to replace Cynthia Lynn (who played Helga) who left the show when she decided to break off her affair with series star Bob Crane. Valdis herself became involved with Crane and eventually married him. The show itself? Not much change from season one although they seemed to react a bit to the whole controversy about setting a comedy in a POW Camp.

Stephen King Presents Kingdom Hospital: Making the Rounds
- When the first two disk set of this low-rated series came out I questioned why it was being released, given that the series only ran 13 episodes and has already had a complete series DVD set available. I'm still wondering.

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit - The Second Year 2000-2001
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit isn't a show that I've spent a lot of time watching. Actually I've never watched it. There were a couple of changes in the second season, most notably being the addition of Ice-T in the role of Detective Odafin 'Fin' Tutuola. Still didn't get me to watch it but then I pretty much gave up on Law & Order years ago, the exception being the Criminal Intent show because of Vincent D'Onofiro.

Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp: From Ellsworth to Tombstone
- Not sure what exactly is on this. It doesn't seem to be a season set, but this show ran from 1955 to 1961 - a total of 266 episodes - so I don't know what episodes they're picking and choosing and I don't want to make assumptions. One of the legendary series, it was probably the first of the adult westerns on Television.

TV Favorites: Maverick
- Maverick is one of my strongest childhood memories. I remember Jack Kelly, Roger Moore and of course James Garner (but not Robert Colvert as Brent Maverick - maybe CFQC stopped showing the series before he arrived). There are three hour long episodes from the second and third seasons on this DVD, including the episode in which Garner plays the Maverick Brothers father (and Jack Kelly plays "Uncle Bentley" as well as Bart. I beg of you Warner Home Video - put this series out in season sets!!!!!

Quads, Vol. 2
- The series that looks at physical handicaps in a way that skewers political correctness with outrageous humour. Really has to be seen to be believed.

Rugrats: Tales From the Crib - Snow White
- A direct to DVD release, this is a Rugrats take on Snow White with Angelica - of course - as the Wicked Queen. There are also a couple of stand alone episodes on the disk.

Sigmund and the Sea Monsters
- Okay, I have to confess ignorance and admit that until I saw this on the TV on DVD list, I had never even heard of this Sid and Marty Krofft product.

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Complete Third Season
- Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? A cartoon character with a bipolar marketing plan. On the one hand the people selling SpongeBob SquarePants are selling single DVDs with a few episodes with a tenuous connection, and on the other hand they're selling complete season sets with limited special features. Hey don't get me wrong, I don't think it's a bad marketing plan, just that it's not focused in the way that marketing for videos for adults often is. Then again there is the Dukes Of Hazard in the TV Favorites line.

Star Trek Enterprise: The Complete Third Season
- The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise was in many way the season where the series turned a corner and actually started to get better. The introduction of the Xindi menace with a pre-emptive strike on Earth wasn't a bad starting point, but the early episodes in the season-long Xindi arc weren't that promising. As the season progressed and Manny Cotto became a major figure behind the scenes of the show it improved measurably. Unfortunately viewership and UPN's confidence in the show didn't so that the fourth season face the menaces of reduced budgets, and a deadly timeslot, but still managed to be even better than the third season - to the point where fans were actually sad and angry to see the series end.

Tales of the Unexpected Set 3
- I remember seeing some of these stories hosted first by Roald Dahl - many of whose stories were adapted for it - and then by John Houseman when they aired on the CBC. Unfortunately they were never on at a consistent time. Stylish tales of murder and secrets, usually with a twist, but done in a British manner. Very enjoyable.

Vicar of Dibley: 10th Anniversary Specials
- The fish out of water story, in which a seemingly normal person finds herself in a town full of loonies (at least from the normal person's perspective) is fairly common. In fact this week has the Corner Gas set which could be described in just those terms. The Vicar of Dibley gave that a twist. Dawn French as Reverend Geraldine Granger is the "normal" person (well as normal as any Dawn French character) but she seems to have fully settled into her little community of loonies. This is a single disk with two hour long specials done for the series' tenth anniversary in 2004. There's also a mini-episode done for the British Comic Relief involving the Antiques Roadshow (the British one - aka the good one).

X-Files: Mythology Collection, Vol. 3 - Colonization
- This is the third of fourth box sets dealing with the X-Files mytharc. These come from seasons 5 through 8 and span the transition between Agent Mulder and Agent John Doggett. The alien plan is becoming clear and it leads to Mulder's disappearance. This whole series of DVD focussing on the mythology is a brilliant idea.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

18th Skeptic's Circle

The 18th Skeptic's Circle is up at Wolverine Tom's Blog and I was rather surprised - and not a little pleased - to see that something I wrote is included. Surprised because I didn't submit it (I suspect that Orac did). It's the piece I did in an attempt to at least partially debunking something written in The Huffington Post linking Star Trekand Pedophilia. There are other postings in this round of The Skeptic's Circle which I dare say are probably more worthy than my own and definitely well worth reading.

An Off Topic Anecdote

Mark Evanier has a little tale in News From Me about trying to get what he ordered from a fast food restaurant. I think we all have these stories about bucking the robot like mindset of the people behind the counter. Here's mine.

We went to MacDonalds a couple of weeks ago after a morning of trainspotting - my nephew at age 2 1/2 is nuts about trains and my brother knows all the right places to see them - and as usual I am responsible for ordering for my mother and myself. On this particular day I had the Oriental salad but my mother, who isn't a heavy eater wanted a cheeseburger with onions but none of the other stuff they slather on it, fries and a drink. I ordered a cheeseburger Happy Meal (which has everything she wanted plus it's cheaper and there's a toy involved which I though would go to my nephew; it's a rather nice cast figure of Donald Duck and it's now sitting on top of my computer because Brian doesn't like those according to his dad). I told the server that I wanted "a Cheeseburger Happy Meal with nothing on it but onions". Unlike Mark we weren't eating in so it wasn't till we got to my brother's house that we discovered what had happened. The cheeseburger had no cheese on it, just the onions - and a pretty pathetic sprinkling of them at that. Obviously I am too stupid for MacDonalds. I believed that when I said that I wanted a cheeseburger the clear implication was that it would have actual cheese on it. How after all can you have a cheeseburger sans cheese? Back when I was a kid we called that a hamburger with onions, which if I'm not mistaken MacDonalds also sells. Apparently the people at MacDonalds believe that believe that if you say you only want onions on a cheeseburger you mean that you want onions and no cheese.

Last weekend I went to Wendy's instead.


I am not having a good week so far and it's only very late Wednesday night. Tuesday morning I managed to cut myself over the left eye in a manner so bizarre and unbelievable that I honestly don't want to talk about it. I've been battling a two day headache - only part of which is related to my banged up head - with limited success. I managed to get about 2/3s of the way through the TV on DVD list and then managed to lose all of my work. I have a couple of shows I want to review but I may not get to either one until next week. Hopefully I'll be able to get back on track over the next couple of days but right now all I want to do is get a longer than average night's sleep.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sometimes They Get It Right

Most of the time the producers of situation comedies don't really push the envelope that much - they've been doing variations of the husband-wife-two-kids-and-a-dog format since Ozzie And Harriet. On rare occasions a new idea will emerge, like a baby alligator incubated by a chicken. If the idea doesn't work it drives others back to the same old ideas, but if it does work others will jump on the bandwagon...and usually produce crap. Sometimes however the imitators produce something that's not too bad. That's what happened with How I Met Your Mother.

The premise of the series is fairly simple. In the year 2030 Ted (played in the future by the voice of Bob Saget) is telling his son and daughter the story of how he met their mother in, as the son puts it "excruciating detail". Back in 2005, Ted is introduced to this gorgeous girl by incredibly obnoxious friend Barney. For Ted, who has to deal with his two best friends - Lilly and Marshall - getting engaged to each other, it is love at first sight. It just gets better as he gets to know her. Unfortunately he makes the error of telling her that he loves her and that derails everything. Still we the audience expect true love to run its inevitable course, with Ted marrying the woman...until the end of the first episode when "Future Ted" tells his kids "And that's how I met your Aunt Robin."

In the episode I watched on Monday night, Ted was still trying to connect with Robin, largely because she and Lilly had become friends. Lilly told Ted a little more than she promised Robin that she would, namely that Robin wanted a sort of casual relationship and that telling her that he loved her had driven her away from Ted. So Ted decided to set up a casual meeting, despite a warning from Barney that it wouldn't happen. He decided to invite her to a party but the night he had set it up for was wrong for her, so he set it for that night. She didn't show up so he told her the party had been held over to the next night and when she didn't show up then he extended it for a third night. When she finally did show up the party was virtually dead (it was a Sunday night) and although Marshall managed to get Robin to the most romantic spot he knew - the apartment building's roof - she hit him with the "let's be friends" line to end the evening.

There were a couple of interesting B-plots in this episode. Lilly, in a fit of post-engagement horniness, was trying to do Marshall at just about any opportunity while, between the sex and the parties Marshall wasn't getting much of a chance to write a 25 page paper for Law School. The other subplot involved Barney finding the girl at the party who didn't know anyone and taking her up to the roof for sex, expecting never to see her again. Then she showed up at the second party... and the third, much to the discomfort of the relationship phobic Barney.

Why do I like this show as much as I do? The first big thing is the casting. Both Cobie Smulders, who plays Robin, and Josh Radnor, who plays Ted, are essentially unknown to TV audiences - Smulders is a former model while Radnor may be most famous for playing Benjamin in the 2002 stage version of The Graduate opposite Kathleen Turner and Alicia Silverstone. The two have a definite attractive quality, to the point where you're really rooting for Ted but can sympathise with Robin. Jason Segel, who plays Marshall is better known, having had a recurring role in Undeclared and a starring role is Freaks and Geeks. He comes across as basically a lovable schlub who has just happened to snag the perfect girl. If this were a typical family sitcom and Marshall and Lilly were fifteen years older with a couple of kids we'd be asking how in the world did he get her and talking about how unrealistic it is, but seeing them as they are when they've recently fallen in love we begin to understand. Of course the big guns in the series are Alyson Hannigan as Lilly and Neil Patrick Harris as Barney. As always Hannigan is wonderful a Lilly. She has a certain innocent sexiness to her as well as a perceptiveness which indicates that she's really in touch with her friends. Barney may well be the role that makes people forget Doogie Howser. He's obnoxious and overbearing with a huge - and undeserved - ego. Lilly describes Barney as a huge dork but he basically doesn't care. The Barney-Lilly dynamic is a fun one to watch, primarily because Lilly sees Barney for what he is, an overgrown teenager who always wears a suit because - "suits are cool" - except when he's playing Laser Tag.

The writing is reasonably good. There are some gimmicks (besides the narration from "Future Ted") such as scenes where Ted imagines what's going to happen as he sets things up or how they've progressed set in metaphorical terms, and of course the ever popular excerpts from flashbacks. Moreover there's a certain wit to the approach in that the characters aren't doing the sort of obvious jokes that you so often hear.

An obvious comparison exists for this show. In fact the Canadian edition of TV Guide stated "We don't dare utter the word 'Friends' but we hop it has staying power." I would like to offer a different assessment of the show. We all remember the fiasco which was the American version of Coupling which was badly cast and attempted to transplant the British scripts for the show into the mouths of the badly cast American actors. I would like to suggest that while NBC made a total mess of Coupling, I would like to suggest that in creating How I Met Your Mother CBS and 20th Century Fox Television have managed to do an American version of Coupling - and do it right - even as they quite rightly avoid slavishly copying it. I certainly like the result and coming from someone who dislikes most sitcoms as much as I do, that says a great deal.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Don Adams - 1923-2005

I hate writing obituaries. I particularly hate it when it's an obituary for an actor who has a special place in my memories. Don Adams was one of those people.

Born Donald Yarmy in the Bronx in 1923, his father was a Hungarian Jew who ran a number of small restaurants, while his mother was Irish. During World War II he served with the Marines and contracted malaria on Guadalcanal. Later during his Marine Corps service he was a Drill Instructor. Following the war he worked as a commercial artist during the day while working as a stand up comedian in clubs at night. He took the professional last name of his first wife, singer Adelaide Adams (born Adelaide Efantis) because his own last name tended to get him in at the end of auditions. In 1954 he won on the Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts series using a routine which he wrote with his boyhood friend Bill Dana (who would gain fame for his own routine as Jose Jimenez). This led to appearances on Ed Sullivan's Toast Of The Town and eventually a regular appearance on Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall, and then costarred with Dana in the latter's own series. He had also started what would become another aspect of his career - voice work for animated cartoons such as Tennessee Tuxedo and later Inspector Gadget.

Of course Don Adams is probably best known for the role of Maxwell Smart, Secret Agent 86 of CONTROL. It was an ideal match of man and part. Get Smart was both witty - thanks in no small part to a huge group of writers which included Buck Henry, Pat McCormick and Adams himself (although Mel Brooks is credited as one of the series creators, Buck Henry has said that he didn't contribute that much after the initial episodes) - and had a considerable amount of physical slapstick comedy in the mix which made it the best satire of the "James Bond" style secret agent movie that could be found. It was certainly more cutting about the absurdities of Bond than either the Matt Helm or the Derek Flint movies (although I have a personal fondness for James Coburn's Flint movies). The character spawned a number of catch phrases including Would you believe..., and of course "Sorry about that Chief" all made more enjoyable by Adams' clipped style of speech which he picked up during his time as a Drill Sergeant. There were also a host of visual gags, like the security systems at Max's apartment, the fact that CONTROL's answer to Q was a woman working as a stripper, and Max's shoe phone (a 9D Florsheim if you're interested). The show ran for only four years on NBC, and after the network dropped it it was picked up for a single season by CBS.

Like Bob Denver, Don Adams never really caught another role as big as the one that made him a household name. He had a single season series called The Partners in 1971, and 1985 he appeared in the atrocious Canadian series Check It Out with Dinah Christie and Gordon Clapp, who would later go on to play Detective Medavoy in NYPD Blue. He also did a number of revivals of the Maxwell Smart role. One was a 1980 feature film The Nude Bomb which tossed out just about everything about the character and the original show (Barbara Feldon was nowhere to be seen and was replaced by Sylvia Kristel - yes Emmanuelle herself) - Don hated it. There was also a 1989 made for TV movie with Barbara Feldon which thankfully ignored The Nude Bomb, and finally a 1995 Fox series with Don as Chief of CONTROL and his wife, 99, as a congresswoman. The show was meant as a springboard for Andy Dick, but whenever Adams and Feldon were on screen they dominated. Finally, starting in 1999 Don Adams did some commercials for a Canadian long-distance phone service as Maxwell Smart. For a number of years he had wanted to do serious acting and a part in the revived Alfred Hitchcock Presents was written specifically for him, however the producers didn't believe that he could be anything but funny and the part went to Martin Landau.

Don Adams was married and divorced three times, and was the father of seven children. Although Maxwell Smart wasn't, the actor who portrayed him was a well read amateur expert on both Lincoln and Hitler, as well as a talented painter and poet. He also enjoyed gambling on horses and playing cards with friends like James Caan, Don Rickles and Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion. According to his son-in-law Jim Beaver (who is a frequent poster to various movie newsgroups as well as one of the major characters on Deadwood), Don Adams had been suffering from Lymphoma for a number of years but his health took a serious turn for the worse after his daughter Cecily (Jim's wife) past away last year. According to Jim: "In recent weeks he had declined to continue medications or treatment for his ailments. Following his emergency hospitalization on September 24, he was unable to breathe on his own. As per his instructions, life-support systems were turned off Sunday night. Two of his former wives and three of his children, as well as other family members, were with him when he died."

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Fantasy TV Anyone?

Last year I participated in the Fantasy TV Game where you draft a lineup of TV characters and quirks found on specific shows. Points are allocated for various appearances and activities during an episode. Teams - the lineups selected by players - are matched up each week. At the end of the regular season - usually six weeks - after which the top teams participate in two weeks of "sweeps". It sort of works like a fantasy football league. Last year I participated in three public leagues and won one.

This year I'm interested in setting up a private league with readers of this blog. If you're interested in participating email me and when I get five other people who are interested in playing I'll set up a league and send you passwords. There's no cost, but you do have to register at the website. For the record I've never had any spam problem with them.

Let's see if we can have some fun with this!

New Poll

I've finally launched a new poll: What night has the most shows that you "must see". I have a couple of ideas to go along with this. One is to run the same question at the end of May, at the end of the main TV season. The other is to run the poll at the end of January and at the end of May. This should give a fairly accurate picture of the preferences of the readers of this blog as series are cancelled and the season evolves. Another idea I want to work with as a gauge of audience taste will show up next week so I don't want to reveal too much.

Admittedly blog readers are a lousy sampling of public preferences simply because blogs tend not to be that important or widely read. It may explain why Google has launched a separate Blog search engine, because blogs tend to pollute the results generated by the main Google search engine - and by the way, thanks to Leo Laporte and the gang over at the This Week In Tech podcast for revealing this. With few exceptions blogs aren't widely seen or read, and aren't real journalism. We can talk a lot about how good our blogs may (or may not) be but this tends to self-adulatory. Then again I've never seen myself as anything but an amateur expressing my own opinions, just as I did when I published a Diplomacy zine. This is only a hobby and a way to vent and if people enjoy reading it so be it. And if you do enjoy reading it - or even if you don't - you might want to help make my latest poll more valid by voting in it.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

I Don't Want To See Dead People

So I won't be watching the new CBS series Ghost Whisperer anymore.

I won't say that this is the worst new drama of the year, because I haven't seen all of the new dramas, but what this show was lacking was... well I guess there's no other word for it but drama. The dramatic tension was so thin you could cut it with a piece of cooked spaghetti. Jennifer Love Hewitt plays Melinda Gordon. At an early age she's taken to a funeral and seated beside an older man then she's taken up to look into the coffin where the very same man is. When she goes back to her seat the man tells the young Melinda that only she and her grandmother can see him and that she has to tell his wife that he loves her because he didn't get the chance before he died, and he gives the little girl details to make her story believable.

This was of course a necessary thing to set up the fact that Melinda can actually see dead people and incidentally that her "powers" are inherited from her grandmother. The next time we see Melinda it is at her wedding to paramedic Jim Clancy, played by David Conrad. During the reception she "sees" something. Her new husband is aware of what she can do and not only that, he accepts that it's real. Melinda is determined not to let "work" get in the way of their special day so she ignores the ghost. It's only when the ghost (played by Wentworth Miller from Prison Break in the only really good performance in this whole thing - you can really believe him as a confused spirit who doesn't know why he's still here) intrudes on her new half-renovated home - a definite no no on the part of the spirit community - that she starts working on his case. This one is a Vietnam era soldier who has been lost for a long time and wants to get back in touch with his wife and family. Melinda does some research and finds out where he likely died and where his old house is. At the house she meets the soldier's son, born after his father's death, and sees the son's pregnant wife. According to Melinda, big events in a family member's life can raise spirits. Eventually she connects the ghost with his son and communicates what the ghost needs to tell his son to him. The end.

As you can tell there really isn't a lot of dramatic tension in this one. The greatest tension comes when Melinda tries to tell the son that she has been in contact with his father, and like just about any sensible human being he explodes, calling her a charlatan and a con artist before throwing her out of his house. There's an interlude where she improves her husband's morale (he doesn't like that they're both in the "death business" but she manages to convince him to keep his job because they're really both in the "life business", and soon after the soldier's son comes to house to tell Melinda that he believes her because his wife contacted the Army and her information gave them a clue to finding the father's body. The hard to believe part is that this all occurred in about five minutes of screen time. There was no pace to it. Moreover the show telegraphed some of it's "big" surprises. When Jim's younger brother came to talk to Melinda at the wedding reception and started telling the story about falling off a roof, I can't believe that I was the only person watching who thought "oh he's a ghost too then."

I won't say that there aren't a couple of nice moments, but ironically they were largely comedic. In one, Melinda is having coffee with her friend and employee Andrea, and of course Andrea (Aisha Tyler, who should be back at CSI soon if this show does as well as I expect it to) is asking about ghosts, specifically whether there are any spirits there - she's another one who accepts that Melinda has these powers no questions asked. Matter of factly Melinda says only two and we see a woman trying to convince her son to ask a waitress on a date and a man yelling in Spanish to the coffee shop owner. In a scene at the American Legion Hall where Melinda has gone to find some information about the soldier, she's accosted by a spirit who wants her to tell the man running the hall (Jon Polito) that the key to the safety deposit box is in her blue raincoat. Melinda tries to give him the idea that people leave things in their coat pockets without revealing that she talks to spirits which only gets her a "What are you talking about?" from both Polito and the ghost of his wife.

Inevitably there will be comparisons between Ghost Whisperer and NBC's Medium. By far Medium is the better program - it isn't even close to being a contest. The scripts in Medium have a better dramatic pace, and the Allison Dubois character has to work hard to understand what her visions mean. When you add the details of Allison's chaotic personal life into the mix you find a far more rounded show. Melinda comes across, in the first episode at least, as a cut out who has every detail of her "cases" handed to her on a silver platter and adds little new age style homilies like "places aren't haunted, people are" into the mix. I can believe in Patricia Arquette's soccer mom psychic as a character a lot easier than I can in Jennifer Love Hewitt's rather one dimensional Melinda.

When CBS announced a fall lineup that dropped Joan Of Arcadia and added Ghost Whisperer someone suggested that the network felt that talking with ghosts got better ratings than talking with God. If this is the best that CBS can do with the idea, I hope - and expect - the ratings to prove them wrong.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Sometimes You Need To Think Like Your Prey

Criminal Minds is yet another entry into the apparently overcrowded police procedural market this year, but before you dismiss it from consideration for that you may want to watch it first. While the subject matter might seem to be mined out this series about a team of FBI profilers offers something more than the others.

Mandy Patinkin plays Special Agent Jason Gideon, head of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit - profilers by any other name. Gideon has been away from active control of his unit for some time after a traumatic event in the fairly recent past caused him to have a nervous breakdown - although as Gideon says, that's not what they call them anymore. We learn later that the event was successfully finding a notorious serial killer who in attempting to avoid capture killed six FBI agents in a bomb blast. Gideon feels the responsibility for that event. Since his psychological break he's been on the sidelines and when we meet him he's teaching at the FBI Academy in Quantico Virginia. But now there's a new case and the FBI wants Gideon on it not because he's the best - although he is - but as an assistant director tells his second in command Agent Aaron Hotch (Thomas Gibson) because the FBI needs to know if Gideon can cope with being in the field again. The rest of Gideon's team are Agent Derek Morgan and Agent Dr. Spencer Reid - Gideon makes sure that everyone knows that Reid is a doctor (he actually has three doctorates) because his age would otherwise cause other people to underestimate him.

The case in the first episode is a killer in the Seattle area who abducts women, keeps them for seven days before finally killing them after a period of extreme torture. A new victim has been taken and Gideon's team has been called in. There's a limited time before she's due to die which has most of the team worried that they don't have enough time to do a full profile, but after visiting the last place where the last victim was found and examining some of the evidence in the case Gideon is ready to deliver a profile. As it turns out the local FBI office has a suspect high on their list who fits the profile whom they promptly arrest. Now mind you this all occurs in first twenty minutes or so. You might be excused for thinking that the rest of the show would be spent interrogating the suspect and finding out what turned him into a serial killer - not to mention finding the latest victim who they know is still alive because the suspect said "isn't she the girl" rather than "wasn't she the girl". You'd be wrong. After meeting the suspect Gideon realises that while the pathetic little loser, who has done prison time for minor crimes, is involved with the case he's scarcely the mastermind. After looking at his former cellmate as a possibility - ruled out because the cellmate is slightly dead they turn their attention to a prison guard who took care of the first suspect while he was in prison. Although the guy eventually outsmarts Gideon and a female agent (who will be joining his team shortly if the IMDB listing for the show is to be taken seriously) by swapping cars with another guard, they eventually catch up with him thanks to some information from the first suspect's computer that Morgan and Reid are able to dig up combined with Hotch's skill in interrogating the suspect to make him believe that his partner had turned on him. Gideon and the female agent are able to stop the guard before he kills his victim.

There are a number of reasons to watch Criminal Minds. Before all of the other reasons is the presence of Mandy Patinkin. Patinkin always brings a special quality to characters that he plays and he is never better than when he is playing characters on the narrow place between sanity and mental breakdown, like Jason Gideon or Dr. Jeffrey Geiger from Chicago Hope. There are scenes where he sells the character's combination of brilliance and lack of confidence that he's ready to be back in the field with just a look. His co-star in this, Thomas Gibson (who was also in Chicago Hope although he is of course better known for the comedic role of the uptight husband on Dharma And Greg) is also strong underlining - if it was necessary - that he is primarily a dramatic actor. I'm also impressed with Matthew Gray Gubler's performance as Dr. Reid. He plays a nerdish type character without many of the affectations that most actors bring to such roles - stuttering or behavioural tics - so that the only thing that set him apart are his hair and his clothes. At one point you see him fiddling with a paper clip and figure that this is a nervous behaviour but instead he uses the unbent paper clip as a tool to open the CD-ROM drive on the suspect's computer to reveal a vital clue. It's a nice touch.

The whole thing wouldn't fly just on the quality of the actors alone of course. The writers have to produce the sense not only that the characters are likable but that what they are doing is how they would really work. In the series Profiler Sam Waters worked in a way that implied that her ability to analyse a killer was a "gift" on the same lines as the "gift" that Patricia Arquette's character has on Medium. There's no sense of that here. Gideon's ability is based on his ability to analyse the behavioural traits likely to produce a particular type of killer. While he puts himself into the mind of the killer it is done in a manner that has a scientific basis which he is able to explain.

There are some neat touches in the first episode script. We're introduced to most of the characters by seeing them in their time away from work - Hotch putting together a crib and talking about baby names with his wife (one of the names is Gideon), Morgan trying very hard to chat up several female trainee agents in a local bar - but Reid is only introduced to the audience when he brings a note to Gideon while Gideon is teaching. Gideon gains insight into the killers when he sees a note from one of the crimes which is a copy of a note that he received in the case that caused his breakdown - he knows the killer is taunting him. In a scene with Lola Glaudino's character, Agent Elle Greenway, Gideon asks her to give good reasons why they should stop the car which supposedly carries the prison guard murderer. For him there has to be a reason, particularly when he's working with someone he doesn't fully trust, who isn't part of his circle. Gideon's own psychological position becomes clear in the final confrontation with the killer, where he uses himself as bait to allow Greenway to shoot the guard. He reveal his complete understanding of exactly why the guard is committing these murders while taunting him, but the fact that he does it in the open offering the man a chance to shoot him, would seem to indicate that although he has mostly overcome his sense of guilt and his nervous breakdown enough to work in the field, he still isn't healed enough to care whether he lives or dies as long as he dies in the line of duty like the six agents who died in the earlier case.

Criminal Minds is an intriguing show which I hope will settle comfortably into its Wednesday time slot. While I don't expect it to topple Lost from first place in the ratings I do think that it is better than Jerry Bruckheimer's series E-Ring on NBC and it should beat Nanny 911 (replacing the "dearly departed" Head Cases) although it may have trouble with the American Idol results show come January. Still, I think that the series is sufficiently different to appeal to that part of the audience which isn't married to Lost and which hasn't found Veronica Mars.

And The First Show Cancelled Is...

Head Cases

Alas poor Head Cases we hardly knew you. I only had a chance to tell the world why I couldn't review you based on the Pilot because I knew you would change once the first episode ended and then I missed your second ep. Your swan song (has anyone actually heard a swan sing by the way?). Your Waterloo. Your "pining for the fjords" moment. In short your death rattle. And I can't even find a picture to go with your obituary.

What killed you Head Cases? Surely it wasn't your cast - Chris O'Donnell is impossibly handsome (even a straight guy like me can see that) and if ever someone was born to play someone who was mentally unbalanced it was Adam Goldberg. The concept may not have been the greatest but other shows have recovered from weak concepts. I think I know what it was gentle Head Cases: you were on opposite Lost which meant that your ratings would never rise above anemic and you were on Fox, a network notorious for shooting shows at a moments notice on Rupert "Bloody" Murdoch's merest whim.

So what's the next sacrificial lamb to head to the slaughter in this slot Rupie boy?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Please Bear In Mind That I Am Canadian

You are a

Social Liberal
(66% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(18% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid Free Online Dating

This is about where I'd expected to fall on this quiz. Most Canadians would actually. A poll taken last year stated that if the ten Canadian provinces were American states, every one including Alberta would vote for the Democratic Party. Which may be one reason why George W. will never invade us.

Start With The Mundane

There are two basic ways to handle scary. You can start off with a really scary situation and then back it off a bit before bringing the scary level back up, and really have a roller coaster effect except that with a roller coaster each hill is a little lower than the one before - a necessary result of the dependence on gravity for momentum - while in this kind of story telling each hill is higher leading eventually to the dramatic climax.The other way, the method that Alfred Hitchcock and other greats preferred, was to start with the mundane and build gradually to dramatic peaks. Threshold took the first approach, while Invasion the new show on ABC following Lost takes the approach of starting with the mundane. The only trouble is that in the first episode at least it seems to only go a little beyond the mundane.

Invasion does start with a scary scene, a televisual effort to let us all know that the people we're about to see aren't hallucinating or anything. A stormchaser aircraft - basically a Hercules transport filled with all sorts of electronic gear intended to monitor hurricanes and the like has made it into the eye of the storm and is taking measurements when suddenly their instruments go all haywire - the only way to describe it - and the wing of the plane is hit by what can only be described as a geyser filled with glowing lights erupting out of the ocean. And that the last we see of the plane - well intact anyway - but then the military isn't the focus of this anyway, it's the dull normal people.

The "dull normals" in this case are centred on Russell Varon (Eddie Cibrian) a Park Service ranger in Everglades National Park and his oddly typical extended family who we meet in a series of neatly linked scenes. There's his new and pregnant wife, newscaster Larkin Groves, her brother Dave (ne-er do well isn't the term for him - he's a classic mooching brother-in-law), Russell's young daughter Rose and his teen aged son Jesse who are Russell's kids with his first wife Mariel. Mariel is married to the local sheriff, Tom Underlay who himself has a teenaged daughter, Kira. The real story - their story - starts as they're preparing for the arrival of the hurricane in Homestead area of south Florida (at one point Dave makes reference to the abandoned air force base which undoubtedly refers to Homestead and in another reference Russell mentions the 1996 crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Everglades). Everyone is doing well except young Rose who, with her brother, are under the tender care of "Uncle" Dave. She's lost her cat and since neither Jesse - who is busy trying to get plywood on the windows of Russell's house - or Dave - who is searching the house for more beer - is interested in helping her look for the cat, she goes out into the storm alone. While out there she sees "the lights", the same lights that took out the storm plane this time falling to earth. Back at home everyone, which by now also includes Mariel, is going nuts trying to search for Rose. There's a moment of post-divorce discord which ends with Russell telling Mariel to go back to town where she's needed Russell manages to find Rose but they're trapped when his car flips. They get home just in time to be confronted by the sheriff who wants to know where his wife is. They find her stark naked on a little islet in a big pond, but somehow she's "different".

Rose can't stop going on about the lights from the sky that she saw. Her father dismisses them as sparks from downed power lines but Dave decides to take her out on his airboat to look for the lights that didn't go out when they hit the water - he's a conspiracy nut and besides it's a good way to get out of having to fix the roof. They find a bit of wreckage which we at least know probably came from the wrecked weather plane and Dave sees some skeletal remains and although he doesn't haul them aboard with Rose along he does come back to get them because there is something weird about them. He shows them to the skeptical Russell and probably because of something he saw earlier when dealing with Mariel, Russell decides to go out in the airboat that night. In the water they see a light moving up and down through the water. Russell dismisses it as bioluminescence - at least until it pulls Dave deep into the water and tries to eat him. The mundane has just become a little bit scary.

There's no need to talk about the pedigree of this series. It is a blatant ripoff of the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1956, or at least that's the way the first episode looks - producer Shaun Cassidy indicates that appearances can be deceiving, that at its heart it is a vamily drama, but we'll have to see. There are cryptic hints that Mariel and a priest who has been rescued from the water have been changed significantly - Mariel "smells" different according to Rose, and to viewers she seems more "serene". There's also a notion that the sheriff has changed too but it doesn't become absolutely clear until the last scene that he has changed as well and before the hurricane. There are a couple of nice moments in the script, as when the sheriff's daughter Kira talks about how her dad thinks TV news is important because "it distracts people from the truth" which at the time seems like a statement from someone who is arrogant modified by someone ill informed but becomes chilling once we know for sure that he was changed at some point in the past and the "truth" is something bigger.

I like the cast, who are for the most part relatively unknown. Besides Cibrian, who was one of the last firemen on Third Watch, probably the best known actor is William Fitchner (the shuttle pilot in Armageddon) as Sheriff Tom Underlay. It's hard to explain but he has the right look for his part. Canadian Kari Matchett who played numerous roles in the Nero Wolfe series from A&E plays Mariel (she grew up in Spalding Saskatchewan) plays Mariel - and trust me when I say that her apparent nude scene, even if it was from a distance, was enjoyable. The question I have to ask is whether the audience is willing to accept what initially at least looks like a TV version of the classic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers on its own merits, and whether the potential audience is willing to let it build to it series of dramatic climaxes. Having Lost as a lead in is an asset since the two series to seem to appeal to similar audiences. On the downside it is opposite Law & Order and CSI: New York. Time - and ratings over time - will tell if this series will have the luxury of the time it seems like it will need to tell it's full story. I have my doubts althought here's no denying that, like Lost it has its own mysterious qualities.

TV ON DVD - September 20, 2005 - Better Late Than Never

I'm not even sure that "better late than never" covers this. I'm sorry for not writing more, but for the past couple of days I haven't been feeling that great - mainly a bit of a problem with my back. I tried to get back on track on Wednesday but I had some extra work that needs to get done reinstalling some quarter round during the process of which I hurt my left thumb.

Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: Season 5, Collection 1
- I haven't seen the fifth season of Andromeda, in fact I've only seen a few episodes from the fourth season. I think I gave up on the series by the end of season three mainly because what they were doing had changed so much from what the original intent seemed to be. I know that a lot of people blame this on Kevin Sorbo and if that is the case, so be it. One thing is certain and that is that too much of the cast had changed between the third and fifth seasons. I did see the final episodes of Season Four though and it seemed like that shiny red reset button was being pushed which would take care of all the problems.

Batman: The Man Who Would Be Bat (Season 1 Vol. 2)
- I haven't seen the most recent version of the animated Batman so I really don't feel competent to comment beyond saying that I was a fan of the original Batman animated series of a few years ago, but this is from a different production company.

Battlestar Galactica: Season One
- A few weeks ago Best Buy released an "exclusive" version of Battlestar Galactica's first season. At the time I told you to wait for this one. The biggest and best reason is that this version includes the mini-series as well as the thirteen episodes of the first season. There are also commentary tracks for a number of episodes, eight featurettes, about 48 minutes of deleted scenes and a bunch of other stuff. Oh yes, and a trading card. Now given that Battlestar Galactica is one of the five best TV shows on right now - no matter what the results of the Emmy nominations let alone the actual awards indicated - it deserves the absolute best when it comes to presentation.

Clone High: The Complete First Season
- I've never seen this but from what I've read of the concept it sounds truly amazing - the greatest minds of all times (and John Kennedy too) cloned and attending high school together. The show was a Canadian production and aired on Teletoon but rose and eventually fell on the MTV network in the US - when they didn't renew the series and in fact didn't air the last five episodes - the series died.

Crime Story: Season 2
- Oh lord I loved this series, from the rendition of "Runaway" and the scenes of the cities in the 1950s in the opening credits (Chicago for about half the first season, Las Vegas in the second) right through to the end. The casting was absolutely letter perfect. It was the first time most people had seen Dennis Farina, and certainly the first time for the former Chicago cop to have such a big role. There was also Anthony Dennison (who I so rarely see on TV anymore) as Ray Luca as the main villain, Stephen Lang as the Federal attorney working with Farina's character, and such low lifes as a pre "Diceman" Andrew Clay, Ted Levine, and former real life jewel thief John Santucci as the dumb but dangerous Paulie Taglia

Desperate Housewives: The Complete First Season
- I'm not sure if Desperate Housewives really belonged in the comedy categories at the Emmys but what I can tell you is that it is a funny series, that doesn't restrict itself to the slapstick situations that Terri Hatcher's Susan finds herself in or the quiet desperation that Felicity Huffman's Lynette Scavo deals with when trying to be a good mother to her three little terrorists. The show is full of satire, both of the soap opera form - daytime and nighttime - and of cultural concepts, like Bree acting like a local Martha Stewart or the member of the high school's abstinence club having an affair with a married woman. Definitely worth the effort.

From the Earth to the Moon [The Signature Edition]
- I have a theory dating back to the heyday of the mini-series in the 1980s. In those days a mini-series amounted to a four hour movie shown on two nights, usually stuff from the likes of Danielle Steele and Judith Krantz. My theory then and now is that the miniseries needs to have an epic quality about its subject matter. Think of the best miniseries, shows like Roots, Holocaust, Shogun, Winds of War, War and Remembrance and my personal favourite Centennial, and you'll realise that they all had an epic quality. Ironically the epic quality proved too disruptive to viewing habits which is supposed to explain why there are so few miniseries on network TV. Tom Hanks produced two magnificent examples of the miniseries with Band of Brothers and From the Earth to the Moon and he apparently has two more in various stages of production. From the Earth to the Moon is already out on DVD but this version runs five disks rather than four, which promises considerably more extra material.

Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats
- Never saw it, but this was one of a number of attempts to bring the Heathcliff comic strip to television. The Catillac Cats referred to in the title was actually a second segment which didn't interact with the Heathcliff character. This all occurred in a single half hour giving each segment about 12 minutes. The Heathcliff character was voiced by Mel Blanc which is always a plus.

Justice League Unlimited - Joining Forces
- I love this series. Character design is a cleaned up version of the comic book characters (cleaned up to make them easier to animate) and the producers have access - with some restrictions - to a huge number of characters. The second season introduced a major opponent for the League in the form of Amanda Waller and a suspicious US government. There's some intelligent and witty writing and on the whole the series works on several levels. Fans of the comics will definitely appreciate this.

Man Show: Boy and Household Hints from Adult Film Stars
- No idea but I have a suspicion that it's not the sort of comedy I'd enjoy.

My Dad the Rock Star Vol 1: Dad's Debut
- Not listed on and I don't know much about it except that it was on Nickelodeon for 24 episodes

Ned and Stacey: The First Season
- We first got Fox (out of Rochester New York) in 1995 - about the time the UPN launched since the Rochester station was also serving as a UPN station on the weekends and other off hours. As a result Ned And Stacey wasn't exactly on my radar. The series ran for only two years and I can't think of any good reason for putting it out on DVD. I can think of a not so good reason, one of which is the current popularity of Debra Messing from Will & Grace and the other is Thomas Haden Church who earned an Academy Award nomination for Sideways. Reason enough? Maybe.

Penn & Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour
- Like Teller, not so crazy about Penn who can be a loud obnoxious jerk. This was a series that the two did for the CBC in 2003 in which they examine magic in China India and Egypt. I missed it (probably because I can't stand Penn) but it sounds like it has lots of potential and not just for fans.

The Pretender: Season 2
- Another series that I was never able to really get into although a great many people did. It was part of the last real gasp of NBC trying to produce new programming on Saturdays and probably the most successful of the shows, running for four seasons. Pretender fans tend to be rabid about the show so this box set will sell a lot of copies.

Ren & Stimpy Show: Season 5 and Some More of 4
- I really disliked Ren And Stimpy although when compared to my feelings for Beavis & Butthead my dislike for the cat and chihuahua is as nothing. Despite the fact that the show aired on Nickelodeon, I think it is fair to say that it isn't really aimed at kids. There is certainly an argument to be made that the quality of the show went down when the executives at Viacom forced out the show's creator John Kricfalusi (I certainly remember a great deal of anger and bitterness being expressed on the various Animation newsgroups, including comments from "John K" himself). The fifth season was in fact the show's last.

Rides: The Complete Second Season
- A Discovery Channel show about "tricked out cars" and their creators, hosted by Jason Priestley who is most assuredly a "car guy" to the point where he has driven in professional races (and was seriously injured in one). Never seen it.

SpongeBob SquarePants: Absorbing Favorites
- Although the SpongeBob SquarePants shows have been released in full season sets, Nickelodeon has also done what most producers of children's shows have done and released episodes with similar themes in single disk compilations. I have no idea what's on this one, but presumably it maximizes profits.

Taboo Complete Second Season
- I've never even heard of this series before. Apparently produced by the National Geographic Society it examines rites of passage, "body modification", religious practices and other activities that might be considered unacceptable or off-limits in our culture - "taking viewers beyond their comfort zones" as the National Geographic Channel's web page puts it. I gather that some of what they show is way beyond a few viewer's comfort zones. I've never seen it so I can't say much about it.

Teen Titans: Fear Itself - Season 2, Vol. 1
- I've only seen a couple of episodes of this and I have to confess that I am of two minds about it. The stories are on the whole fairly good, about what I'd expect from Bruce Timm, who has been producing superhero cartoons for almost fifteen years, starting with Batman back in 1992. On the whole the characters seem fairly close to their comic book realities. The problem I have with the show is the character design. The character design is clearly influenced by anime with an influence on big heads for most characters and disproportionately small bodies. I was a big fan of the comic back when George Perez and Marv Wolfman created it, and have enjoyed some of Bruce Timm's other work, most recently Justice League Unlimited. Character design on this is nowhere near as strong as either - at least not in my opinion.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Thoughts After The Emmys

A few thoughts that didn't occur to me last night as I was experimenting with semi-live blogging.

Item: You either love Blue Man Group or you don't, but I thought the way they were used to introduce the Reality-Competition Emmy was the most innovative thing of the night.

Item: Someone at Media Bistro commented that "When the cameras showed Les Moonves the second time, Julie Chen was clearly seen sitting next to him." Dude, buy a program - they've been married since Christmas, they get to go out together in public and everything.

Item: Who did Patricia Arquette's hair? Seriously I think that hairdo was created in the 1940s and mutated in a lab somewhere. Still, her gown shows why some of us love her - no sign of anorexia there.

Item: Naveen Andrews is getting serious MILF action from Barbara Hershey. Not that I object, but she's old enough for me to have lusted for her when I was a teenager - after I saw the 1972 Playboy pictures from Boxcar Bertha. And how is it life affirming for her to be sleeping with someone 21 years younger than she is but if I did it I'd be a dirty old man (or fashionably rich - or both)? Sorry, just venting.

Item: Guys have it easy at these things. Their basic choices are long tie or bow tie, and if a long tie then what colour. No one cares who designed your tux, what jewelry you're wearing - which is usually confined to a watch and a ring or two anyway - and the business of the colour of the moment is a non-starter. Basic black all the way.

Item: If it matters to anyone Trump and Mullally won Emmy Idol. Do you think next year we could possibly have Dancing With The Emmy Stars instead?

Item: I'm still bummed that Terry O'Quinn didn't win for Supporting Actor In A Drama.

Item: Did anyone catch the look on Trump's face while he was listening to Brokaw and Rather? Was it disinterest, disdain, disgust or dyspepsia?

Item: I like Ellen - remember that bio-rhythm thing I had a couple of months ago that said she was my ideal woman, and hey I don't mind if she brings Portia along (if I were spending any length of time with me I'd want to bring someone else along) - but for some reason she wasn't as funny as I know she can be. Then again a lot to jokes seemed to be lying on the floor having drawn their last breath. Few of the participants had the style of a Johnny Carson to rescue the jokes. Hey Bryce Zabel even agrees with me on Ellen.

Item: I didn't watch all of the late feed of the Emmys just the parts I missed while burning dinner. Caught Pearl Harbor during the attack scenes - even worse than everyone said (they did it better when the movie was called Wings and it was a silent about World War I) - and last season's West Wing finale. Vote Santo-McGarry!

Item: The whole "Eva Longoria didn't get nominated so she's being treated badly" thing sort of worked when Ellen did it, not when the others in the cast did.

Item: You've got to admit that S. Epatha Merkerson losing her speech down her dress was pretty funny; funnier than Alan Alda theatrical ripping up his acceptance speech for another award he didn't win - and another award he really didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning.

Item: Here's some rules about speeches that award shows should probably adopt, at least the Oscars and the Emmys: If the word supporting appears anywhere in the name of your category you get less time than if it doesn't; the moment any actor mentions either their agent or their publicist except in joking terms the music starts playing. Also the Winston Churchill rule should apply to written speeches - he once chided a young MP for his speech by saying that there were three things wrong with it: "You read your speech. You read it badly. It was a bad speech." I can probably live with reading your speech, but any hint of the other two starts the music playing.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've said everything about this year's Emmys I want to say.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Emmy-cast - Hour Three - It Ended On Time!!!

The less said about the poll the better. Of the final six categories the blog readers got ONE right. I don't think anyone even voted for Felicity Huffman (Actress In A Comedy) , Tony Shaloub (Actor in a Comedy) or James Spader (Actor in a Drama). Patricia Arquette may have gotten a vote as Actress in a Drama. but we all dismissed Everybody Loves Raymond as well an truly past it. About the only consolation we can take is that at least we as many right as the professionals at this business.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm going back to watch a second feed to see some of the parts I missed.

Emmy-cast - Almost Two And A Half Hours In

I was wrong about Life And Death Of Peter Sellers - Warm Springs wins as best Made For TV Movie and The Lost Prince takes Mini-Series. Poll is 50%.

William Shatner delivers his best musica performance ever - he reads the "Boldly Goes..." part of the Star Trek Theme while Frederica von Stadt does the Ah Aaahs. I voted for Kristin Bell in Emmy Idol though.

Emmy does tribute to Rather Brokaw and Jennings then Brokaw and Rather pay tribute to Jennings and the need for qualtiy journalism. Take that Fox News.

Final pdate should be in a half hour.

Emmy-cast - Two Hours In

Well close enough.

Poll is now two for three. Geoffrey Rush won for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Movie and S. Epatha Merkerson won for Best Actress - and lost her speech down her dress. I mean who often has that happenned to all of us.

I get the feeling The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers will take any award it's up for.

Everybody Loves Raymond is shut out in Writing and Direction in a comedy by a show no one watches and a show everyone watches - Arrested Development in Writing and Desperate Housewives in Direction.

More in a half hour.

Emmy-cast - Hour And A Half In

Catching up.

Director of XXVIII Olympiad wins Best Vareity Music Comedy direction? Too bad they didn't see the Canadian version - something else would have won for sure. At least the Daily Show won for writing and as best show.

David Letterman did the tribute to Johnny Carson. Only fitting since his tribute after Johnny's death was miles ahead of that idot Leno's.

J.J. Abrams won Best Director Drama for the pilot of Lost while David Shore won Best writer Drama for House - Three Stories. I have a feeling we'll be hearing more about both shows.

Greg Dourdain has an okay singing voice but Macy Gray better.

More in a half hour.

Emmy-cast - One Hour and Ten Minutes In

I charred the steak, and burned half the garlic bread and missed everything about the Reality-Competition Emmy except the name of the winning show - The Amazing Race of course.

Let's see. Blythe Danner wins a Best Supporting Actress in a Drama for Huff??? On the other hand Paul Newman wins Supporting Actor in a Movie of Mini-series for Empire Falls which is justice even if he wasn't there. It would have been perfect if Joanne Woodward had won for Supporting actress but it was Jan Alexanber instead.

Kristin Bell can sing. I'm falling behind.

Emmy-cast - Half Hour in

Got home late and I'm trying to do three or four things at once - barbecuing, writing and watching.

Don't know what the bigger disgrace is: Shatner beating Naveen Andrews and Terry O'Quinn for Supporting Actor Drama or Peter Boyle losing Supporting Actor Comedy. Oh who am I kidding - It's Trump and Mulally massacring the Green Acres theme.

Back in a hlaf hour.

The Emmys - What The "Experts" Say

Just another pre-Emmy posting. Since I did the polls on who you thought should win the Emmys in a number of categories, I thought it might be interesting to see who "real" TV writers though should and would win. I checked 10 articles offering Emmy predictions. Most offered who they thought should win and who they thought would win. Only three writers talked about the movies, and only four offered thoughts on the Reality-Competition category. Here are the results with the predictions offered by those who answered my poll in bold italics.

Outstanding Drama Series
Critics Should Win
Lost 4
Deadwood 5
Critics Will Win
Lost 6
Six Feet Under 1
West Wing 1
Deadwood 1

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series
Hugh Laurie (House)

Critics Should Win
Hugh Laurie 5
Ian McShane 3
James Spader 1
Critics Will Win
Hugh Laurie 6
Ian McShane 3
Hank Azaria 1

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series
Mariska Hargitay (Law And Order: Special Victims Unit)
Critics Should Win

Glenn Close 6
Patricia Arquette 2
Frances Conroy 1
Critics Will Win
Glenn Close 7
Frances Conroy 1
Mariska Hargitay 1

Outstanding Comedy Series
Arrested Development
Critics Should Win
Arrested Development 6
Desperate Housewives 2
Critics Will Win
Desperate Housewives 8
Everybody Loves Raymond 2

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series
Zach Braff (Scrubs)
Critics Should Win

Jason Bateman 5
Zach Braff 3
Critics Will Win
Ray Romano 4
Tony Shaloub 2
Eric McCormack 2
Jason Bateman 2

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series
Marcia Cross (Desperate Housewives)
Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm In The Middle)

Critics Should Win

Marcia Cross 2
Patricia Heaton 2
Jane Kaczmarek 2
Terri Hatcher 1
Critics Will Win
Terri Hatcher 6
Marcia Cross 2
Felicity Huffman 1

Outstanding Reality Competition Series

Critics Should Win

Amazing Race 2
American Idol 1
Survivor 1
Critics Will Win
Amazing Race 2
American Idol 1

Outstanding Made For TV Movie
The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers
Critics Should Win

The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers 3
Critics Will Win
The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers 2

Threshold - A Late Review

Somewhere along the line the major TV networks in the United States had the idea that people wanted more scary stories on TV. The result in this TV season has been a rush to to put a number of supernatural or science fiction based series into the fall lineup. NBC has Surface, The WB has Supernatural, ABC has Invasion and The Night Stalker. And CBS has the subject of this review - Threshold - and while I haven't seen any of the other shows yet, I have to suggest that if the rest of the series is anything like the two part pilot episode then CBS has set a high standard for the other shows to try to match. Even if Brannon Braga did produce it. So why is it taking me a day and almost a half to review the blasted thing?

The Threshold Project is the one of a series of protocols written by Dr. Molly Caffrey (Carla Gugino, probably best known for the Spy Kids movies, although I remember her best for the too soon cancelled series Karen Sisco). She deals with responses to worst case scenarios and one of her plans has just been activated. The government has tracked an object entering earth orbit and maneuvering, and we didn't make it. Threshold is the protocol to respond to a visit by intelligent live to earth. Of course Threshold requires that a select team of specialist, the best (or at least the quirkiest) in their fields, be assembled. Brent Spiner plays biologist Dr Nigel Fenway, a sixties radical with a suspicion of government and a thirty foot wall in left field (okay not really), while Peter Dinklage (best known for The Station Agent) is Arthur Ramsay, a brilliant linguist who happens to have a weakness for booze gambling and strippers. Robert Patrick Benedict, who played Richard Coad in Felicity (but who I remember as the extremely odd metahuman Gibson in Birds of Prey) is Dr. Lucas Pegg a brilliant if somewhat insecure astrophysicist and engineer. The final member of the team is the group's military security expert Cavenaugh, played by Brian Van Holt. The group's government liaison is Deputy National Security Advisor J.T. Baylock played by multiple Emmy winner Charles S. Dutton (best remembered for the series Roc).

In the first episode of the two aired on Friday, the team is taken to a Navy cargo ship in the North Atlantic crewed by thirteen civilians which seems to be near where the alien object entered the atmosphere. It's clear that something has happened on the ship (even clearer to us since the arrival of the object was the first sequence that we saw) but events get increasingly weird with cockroaches are moving in a decidedly unnatural pattern and the bodies of six men - often with hideously contorted faces. Only one survivor, Gunneson the ship's first mate (played with is usual degree of creepiness by William Mapother). Gunneson gives them some information but becomes increasingly strange. When Cavenaugh, Pegg and Caffery watch - and more importantly listen - to a video recording of the encounter with the object they start to experience bleeding and facial contortions, until Cavenaugh destroys the television. They seem unharmed but a brain scan shows increased Theta waves. Eventually when the team has to leave the ship Gunneson attempts to escape. He is shot four times by Caffery - who is a very bad shot by the way - but nothing seems to stop him. Eventually he jumps over the side. Later, back in Washington, Caffery has a strange dream in which she is on what seems to be the alien ship, a landscape covered with what looks like glass trees which is what Gunneson told Caffery the captain had said while he was acting strangely. When she wakes it is to a phone call from Cavenaugh, who has had exactly the same dream. Soon after Caffrey is assaulted by Gunneson who is very much alive. He tells her something in what seems to be a foreign language. Escaping, Caffrey manages to trap Gunneson in her cellar. At least that's what she thinks, because when a response team under Cavenaugh arrives Gunneson has vanished. Thanks to J.T.'s decision to bug the homes of all the Threshold Team members, they have a recording of what Gunneson told Caffrey. Listening to it later, Ramsay indicates that it isn't a different language; rather it is like the speech of some stroke victims who suffer from a form of aphasia that make people speak backwards. Listening to the tape played backwards produces the words "You are one of us." (Admittedly it took me several listenings to get it.)

I won't go through the rest of the first episode. It is sufficient to say that they very quickly determined that the aliens who sent the spacecraft were in fact attempting to restructure terrestrial DNA - to make humans and other creatures on earth more like the beings who sent the probe. The sound which the crew of the freighter had heard and which Caffrey, Pegg and Cavenaugh had heard on the video had caused the change, but it apparently hadn't worked with everyone on the ship. The sound had been made up of various subharmonics which had individual effects. One apparently caused those affected by the alien transmission to gather together if they were able to hear it. This allowed the team to try to set a trap for Gunneson in a factory where he had arrived after he had left the freighter. After a considerable effort they managed to capture him, but in an unexpected turn of events over 100 people from the nearby area also showed up at the factory.

As I mentioned I was rather impressed with the debut episode of Threshold. The pacing was enough to hold my interest for the entire two hours of the show. Indeed it sometimes felt as if the commercials were closer together than normally. I'm not sure if this was indeed the case but it says something that the interruptions seemed more numerous than they probably were. The show held my interest to the point where the commercial intrusions were a greater annoyance than normally. While the concept may seem to borrow from The X-Files - probably because in some ways it does - the show offers explanations for its subject matter in a way which The X-Files never fully did. The notion of an alien assimilation of humanity - "bioforming" or remaking us in the image of the alien species - is a fascinating idea. There's a certain amount of technobabble. The explanation that the alien DNA wasn't a double helix but a triple helix (what exactly would a triple helix look like?), and the idea that the alien vehicle was a fourth dimensional object in three dimensional space are just two examples. There are also a couple of major absurdities, notably the idea that the cargo ship had to be destroyed because the North Koreans (!) had dispatched a submarine to capture it (from North Korea to the North Atlantic, apparently in the matter of a couple of days), not to mention the final scene where a traffic jam was revealed to mimic the fractal symbol which had been seen at various points during the episode. Despite this, I thought the show held together reasonably coherently.

Part of what made it effective was the actors. Gugino is an excellent choice to play the brilliant scientist with little or no life outside her work and Spiner is just about perfect as Fenway, a character about as far removed from either Commander Data or the frankly bizarre Dr. Brackish Okun from Independence Day. Robert Benedict is less satisfying as Pegg, perhaps because the character is probably more of a stereotype - the almost socially inept scientist who really comes to life only when he's talking about his work. For me though the most interesting character was Peter Dinklage's Ramsay, an abrasive man who can be reached by alternately appealing to and assaulting his personal vanity. Dinklage particularly works well off of Spiner - their characters seem to mesh nicely.

I do have some concerns. The timeslot that the show has been placed in is not traditionally a good one. I don't know how well Threshold will be served by having Ghost Whisperer as a lead in or having Numb3rs after it. While I don't think there's much to fear from Fox's much renamed Killer Instincts or ABC's comedies, a lot of people may tune into NBC's Three Wishes. Another aspect is that unlike The X-Files there seems to be no possibility fo relief from the "mytharc". Presumably every episode will be built around finding out about what the Aliens want to happen to humanity and foiling their plans. Is there enough material here to accomplish this and more to the point how long can it be stretched before either there's nothing more to say or the audience wants something else. Still, I expect that it will be on my personal Friday schedule ... at least for a while.