Friday, September 23, 2011

The Brainer - Anticipation Tastes Like M&Ms

And I make my victorious return to the blog place, after a summer of depravity and corruption.  Okay, so that’s a lie.  I just liked the sound of it.  In reality it was a summer of writing, resulting in a first draft of a screenplay for a rock opera and a first draft of a YA novel co-authored with my friend Nikki.  The latter was completed in 72 hours over Labor Day weekend for the annual 3-Day Novel Contest, and I’ve spent the rest of September magically regenerating the brain cells that leaked out through my ears during that experience.
Now, don’t think this means that I have nothing to say about summer television.  It wasn’t all pen and paper, or fingers and keyboard.  I’ve watched my share of shows, and I look forward to discussing my experiences in great detail, regurgitating my disappointments and delights all over this laptop. 

Today, however, is a day of anticipation.  Last night was the season premiere of The Brainer (that’s The Mentalist, for the uninitiated).  I haven’t watched yet, but that’s my plan for later this evening, and I’m interested to see how they keep Patrick Jane as a main character while he’s serving time for murdering a man in a shopping mall.  (Or, more likely, what angle they play to plausibly keep him out of prison…)
Several issues come into play here, not the least of which is that someone is going to have to prove that the man that Jane shot is actually Red John.  Considering how careful he’s been in the past, odds are low that they’ll cruise by his home/apartment/hotel room and find a big banner proclaiming his identity for all the world to see.  There’s also the fact that Patrick Jane, who has never shown any interest in guns, just happened to be carrying one with him on this particular occasion.   The jury ponders why he would do that, unless he suspected that he’d be meeting Red John that day.

Of course it’s possible that the CBI will have more luck working backward than they did working forward, and they may find links tying this stranger to the Red John case.  It’s also possible that a prosecutor would be unable to prove that Jane didn’t carry a gun on other occasions.  Then, there’s the remote possibility that Director Bertram is tied to Red John (he did quote William Blake last season, and could be the reason that Red John knew to go to the mall) and he’ll spill the beans and help with Jane’s exoneration…   Hell, maybe the governor will grant a pardon.  Who knows?  Well, the people who watched the premiere last night do, I suppose.  And the cast and crew of the show know.  And a psychic who didn’t watch the show might know anyways…

Ahem.  So, these are the things I’m thinking about as I wait patiently for the fateful moment to arrive.  Part of me wants to see Jane in prison again.  He’d totally rule the place, and the CBI would have to come visit him for help on cases.  That’d be a good episode or two, but it would be a different show without his interaction with the suspects and victims.

Before I go hunt and forage for my dinner, let me just express my excitement about Bradley Whitford as Red John.  Come on, you felt it too.  That first moment when you noticed him in the foreground of a shot and went, ‘Holy crap – is that Bradley Whitford?!’  It takes me back to the ‘90s, and Profiler with Ally Walker.  There was a similar story line, with a serial killer that had ties to the main character, who we never saw.  There were hints – the partially obscured face, the phone message – but the big reveal was when they finally met face to face in confrontation.  By the time it happened, I was part of an underground movement (I mean, a group of friends…) that was pretty sure that Dennis Christopher was the big bad guy.  Boy, were we so right, and that was awesome.  Now, there wasn’t any tease about who was playing Red John, but the reveal was just as satisfying.  I bow down to Bradley Whitford.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Battlestar Galactica (2004) - Frakkin' Amazing And Not Just SciFi

I recently asked a friend if she had watched Battlestar Galactica (the reboot).  She replied, "No, I don't really watch scifi."  After smacking her repeatedly about the head and shoulders, I grabbed the opportunity to express how much she'd love the show, and how much it really isn't scifi.  Let's take advantage of this moment to redefine the Battlestar Galactica reboot as a drama that just happens to take place in space.  (I love my scifi, but I know what needs to be done to bring it to the mainstream.)

For the reboot, in addition to wiping out most of the campiness, the writers cleverly scrubbed the more science-fictiony elements from the show.  In the original series, the cylons were part of an alien race.  These aliens didn't exist in the reboot.  People created cylons, who then created more of themselves.  The original show focused on fighting cylons and finding the occasional alien life form on the planets they passed.  The reboot maintains focus on fighting cylons, with the aliens completely gone, replaced by a surprising depth of characters and stories that focus on the issues of trying to hold together the remnants of humanity and make decisions that are in the best interest of the very different groups that make up this new society.  There's political intrigue, military action, radicals on both ends of the spectrum and, in one of the many notable episodes, there are terrorists - suicide bombers - who represent the 'good guys.'  All of these story elements could happen in any setting - it's incidental that they're happening in outer space.  The cylons, many of whom look human, could be any standard wartime enemy.

After having this conversation, I went back and watched the pilot for the show.  The production values are outstanding (surprising when you remember that this aired on the channel formerly known as SciFi) and the acting is amazing.  It speaks volumes for the quality of the show when you realize that they landed Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell for two of the leads.  The story involves the return of the Cylons after a number of years without contact.  Their return marks the end of the human colonies which fall under the cylon attack.

The pilot is laden with all the exposition that you would expect, but the writers recognize that we are intelligent enough to figure out the people and the plot without having everything spelled out (another surprise, considering the source channel).  The characters on the original show were campy - there were heroic good guys and evil bad guys, but not a real depth to anyone.  The re-imagined characters are so much more...well, human.  There are flashes of brilliance and nobility and there are moments of sheer, cringe-worthy stupidity.  And you may see the entire spectrum from the same character.  In fact, there is more than one example of a character who seems either incredibly heroic or incredibly weak coming full circle over the course of a season.  One main character - who I despised for his weakness - became a favorite by the end of the series.  The pilot, alone, depicts the best and worst of humans.  We see society collapse and witness all the desperation, terror and resignation that accompanies this - people at their best and worst.  Even the smallest characters have importance.  We see a small girl, on her way to meet her parents, who has no idea that the world as she knows it has ended.  Later, we watch the same girl play with her doll, unaware of the cylon missiles that are behind her, about to destroy the ship she's traveling on.  We watch friends reunited after the colonies are destroyed and we see the silent despair of others who are unable to find their loved ones.

Now, I will be one of the first to admit that the finale of the show was a bit of a let-down but, in this case, it is the journey that's important, not the destination.  Overlooking the issues that the finale presents, it does provide satisfactory resolution for the overall story.  And it's the story that is the important thing here, throughout the entire series.  The writers remain true to the story and the characters in a way that is rarely maintained over multiple seasons.  Everyone should watch the pilot and the first two or three episodes before dismissing the show as standard scifi.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Castle - The Taste Of Betrayal

I went back to the season finale of Castle, having - as predicted - forgotten most of the specifics of those final minutes.  I mean, the key points were still with me but, if they managed to hang on this long, odds of my forgetting them...low.

I really thought that the episode was going to be all about that big betrayal at the end.  It turns out, though, that everyone got a little taste of it along the way.  For those that have never experienced it, betrayal tastes like a combination of salt and stale cigarettes, and it feels something like a large animal sitting on your chest - you're still getting air, but you know it's not enough.

Poor Beckett takes the brunt of the betrayals and the slightly less paralyzing disappointments for this episode.  I'm sure she was relieved to get to spend the last couple minutes of the show lying on her back, ignoring everyone.  Let's see...

  • Beckett's Dad, who doesn't even really know Castle, goes behind her back to him to try to get her off her Mom's murder case.  (Sure, it's the old 'just want to keep you safe' gambit - still sneaky and hurtful...)
  • The friendly guard that was buddying up to Beckett turned out to be dirty - taking a bribe to help set up a prison murder.  (She only saw him once a week, although he was supposedly going to ask her out...)
  • Castle goes behind Beckett's back to Captain Montgomery, to try to get her taken off her Mom's case.  (Because, even though he's been working with her forever and is deeply in love with her, he doesn't realize how important this is to her, or how much that betrayal would hurt her.) Montgomery says no, and tells Castle she wouldn't listen anyway. He indicates that Castle's the only one Beckett might listen to, so...
  • Being incredibly dumb... I mean because he's so afraid she'll get hurt, Castle goes to see Beckett at home to talk her into letting this one go.  This is the man that has helped her with the case every step of the way up to this point so, while I understand that he's afraid she'll get killed, it really bugs me that he's suddenly okay with just walking away when they're so close to the murderer.  Apparently Beckett watched the same episodes that I did, as she tells him to go away and never come back, ever.
  • Now Ryan and Esposito get their chance to make prune-faces of disbelief and distaste, as they are the ones who discover that 'boss of the year' Captain Montgomery is 'the third man'.  They get a nice little scene where they don't agree on this and it looks like they might beat the shit out of each other.
  • Beckett, of course, is the one that gets to confront Oh-Captain-My-Captain face to face, and this is where I came in the first time around. Still sleepy and confused, and having missed all that came before, I have to admit that the Captain's motives made very little sense to me.  While I found it much clearer in the light of day with all brain cells firing, I still don't think it was done as well as it could have been.  The writers obviously wanted us to be uncertain as to whether or not Montgomery was going to hand over Beckett, and they obviously wanted Montgomery to redeem himself.  He did, to an extent, but I have to wonder - if he really wanted redemption, why didn't he give up the name of the big bad?  How did a standoff with a bunch of armed guys - alone - seem like a good idea?  The odds were against him and, if he hadn't succeeded, then Beckett would still have been a target.  He also implied that he'd taken care of her - that she wasn't going to be in any future danger.  Talk about an epic fail, huh?  So the intentions were good, the method sucked, the execution was acceptable - he got what he wanted - bad guys dead and no jail for him, and the aftermath was not planned for at all.  Logically, if Montgomery was a good guy who'd made a terrible mistake a long time ago and been working to make up for it through his entire career, and he planned to end the night dead rather than going to jail, wouldn't he have given Beckett the name she was looking for?  We'll call that one last big betrayal...

Friday, May 27, 2011

Torchwood - Have You Seen A Blowfish Driving A Sportcar?

Torchwood, that crazy Doctor Who spinoff from the BBC, premieres its new season on July 8 on Starz.  I'm interested to see how Americanized it's been, and I'm curious as to how the remaining original cast members will fit in with the new arrivals.

We all recognize that the month of June marks a serious dip in the number of original episodes that are available for quality shows so, if you haven't already seen Torchwood, I expect you to use this time wisely and commit to watching the first three seasons.  Series one and two (as the Brits call them) are full seasons of 13 episodes each, while season three is ten hours, over five parts.  No excuse for not watching. At all.

While Doctor Who is about a Time Lord, travelling through space and time with his human companions, meeting other aliens all over the place and righting wrongs, the characters of Torchwood are all human (although Captain Jack is a little bit special...) and are generally found in their own space and time, protecting the Earth from alien threats and collecting really cool alien toys.  The connection to Doctor Who is through Captain Jack Harkness, who traveled with the Doctor for part of a season.  The show was originally billed as darker and sexier than Doctor Who, and it certainly doesn't disappoint.

Also, there's a story arc that opens and closes the second season that features James Marsters (Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and is really excellent.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hawaii Five-Abs - It Wasn't Me, It Was The Chairman From Iron Chef America!

So yeah, I finished watching Hawaii Five-Abs, and I just dropped in for a second before bed to say that it was all that I though it would be, which is to say, so much less than it could have been.

Things that are awesome:

1.  Larisa Oleynik is a nice addition, although her expertise is a little murky.  She's an analyst, but she's got an uncanny familiarity with the makings of car bombs.  Yeah, I get that it's the same type of bomb that Wo Fat used previously, but she didn't know that until she started looking, and the fact that she started, well, is she a bomb expert?

2.  The Chairman is the big bad guy.  That's right.  The guy that introduces the secret ingredient on Iron Chef America is planning to take over Hawaii.  And then probably the world!!!!

Things I don't buy:

1.  The governor keeping her enemies close.  I just don't think that she would give McGarrett his own unit and complete freedom to operate, particularly when the only reason he's accepting the job is because it gives him the opportunity to find his father's killer.  Seriously, send him as far away as you can.  She must have had some military strings that she could have pulled - didn't she have to pull them to keep him there?  It's like the writers decided suddenly that they weren't doing enough with Jean Smart, so they did their best to figure out how to make her evil in a hurry.

2.  How scummy was Danny - sleeping with his ex-wife and getting her pregnant while she's still married to (and living with) hubby number two?  Not a very good good-guy...

3.  Sure, your ex-husband slept with you and put a bun in your oven, and now you have to tell your current spouse that you're leaving him.  Is it really necessary to tell him about the baby?  That just seems hurtful and unnecessary to me...

4.  After the big deal in the pilot about McGarrett's dad trusting Chin, I think he's got to be working the inside.  Loyalty is a huge thing for him, so I expect he's going to be pivotal in getting the team back together.

5.  Should there, realistically, be a 'back together' for the team?  Two of them are in prison, one is going back to Jersey, and the fourth has his PD career back.  Plus, their supporter, the governor, is gone.  Who's going to grant that immunity now?  Where's their funding going to come from?  How easy can it be to find a new boss when, rumor has it, you killed your old one?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Supernatural - Home Of The Ham-Handed Reveal

Sometimes it makes sense to pour your guts out at a scenic overlook in the middle of nowhere - those panoramic views would make anyone emotional.

A charged exchange over the roof of the car - well, sure, they'll be driving somewhere when they're done.

Picnic table by the water... hmm... okay. I mean, people have to eat and it could conceivably happen that they do it in a ridiculously pretty place that serves as a lovely counterpoint to their eruption of angst.

I draw the line, however, at those completely random stops in the middle of nowhere during which two grown men - with or without beer (and, hey, you're driving!) - sit on the front of the car or turn back-to, presenting manly shoulders of pain to the other.  This is the clumsily executed setting where the brothers discuss the stuff that we all know but they've been to manly and stubborn to share.

Don't get me wrong - I love this show. Part of me recognizes that these guys - particularly Dean - have been horribly emotionally damaged by their upbringing, and these moments are painfully awkward for them, so of course they look awkward to us.  But how often do you stop by the side of the road while driving somewhere with a family member and share your innermost feelings?  That can't wait till the next motel?  Now, I see that the decision to open a festering psychological wound (think, Dad is dead because of me) is monumental and can't be approached casually.  On that occasion, the clumsiness of that moment was somehow appropriate.  However, the writers' decision to return to this device for most of the big reveals seems kind of cheap and redundant.  Since the emotional reveal has become almost a weekly device, it doesn't need to appear so clumsy and awkward anymore.  The brothers have been doing this off and on since season two and it loses some of its emotional charge due to the frequency and ham-handedness.  Jensen Ackles continues to be the prettiest man on television and there's a lot of talent there, but the material has really declined in its repetitiveness.  Come on, these guys should be accustomed to sharing and caring by now - they shouldn't continue to be so bad at it.

All this torment and angst, which made the characters very attractive in the early seasons (remember the episode 'Home' from the first season?) has managed to transform them over time into something a lot less appealing.  Remember Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  That character was a great villain in the early seasons, was still interesting as love's bitch in season five, and then got progressively less interesting as the writers forgot for a while that - as a fighter - he should be Buffy's equal, and then made him souled and mopey for most of the final season.

It was announced recently that Supernatural will be around for a seventh season, and I can only hope that the writers will use the summer as an opportunity to review their body of work and try to recapture the original spirit of the show.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Am So Spoiled - The Hazards Of Previews, Recaps and Random Naptimes

I feel like it should go without saying on a blog like this but, just in case, if you don't want to know about the next-to-last episode of Bones or the finales for Castle or Hawaii Five-O, proceed with caution.  And let me  add that all three of these shows were spoiled for me, in three different ways.

First, as previously discussed, I saw a preview for the Bones episode where one of the team was supposed to die.  The ad implied 'main character' so I watched half of the episode fuming about how they'd ripped me off.  It was ultimately a good episode though, so I'm much calmer although still rather sheepish about how I let them play me.  Beware of the vicious, false preview.

Next in this spiral of doom was Castle. I fell asleep in front of the television at an embarrassingly early hour on Monday night, waking up at approximately 10:50pm.  My DVR - tasked with recording both Castle and Hawaii 5-Abs - had tuned itself to ABC while I slept, so my groggy brain absorbed the last ten minutes of Castle before it was able to signal my hand to tune to something else or just turn the TV off.  In a normal week - no big deal.  However, during the week of finales, this was a huge faux-pas.  I watched ten minutes of betrayal, sacrifice, mourning and WTF?!  I'm not sure if my sleep-addled brain was the problem, but the "bad" guy's motivations in those final minutes didn't make much sense to me, and even he didn't seem sure about what he was doing.  I definitely will need to see the whole episode while fully awake and give the writers the opportunity to convince me otherwise.  I'm just giving it a little time in hopes that my notoriously poor memory will forget the whole experience.

Finally - and most unfortunately - there was Hawaii Five-Abs.  I began watching the season finale with few to no expectations other than pretty people fighting crime.  This is a show that I love to watch, but it has the depth of a wading pool.  For this episode though, they apparently threw away style for substance.  I say 'apparently' because I haven't finished watching the episode.  While watching, I happened to read a recap on Facebook about the evil governor and the team breaking up and people being arrested and I had to stop watching because... well, what the hell?!  If the governor is evil then why does the team exist?  Perhaps this is addressed in the episode, but it seems to me that if you don't want someone in the military to interfere in your crime world, wouldn't you just let them continue their military service - probably back overseas?  Wouldn't you...  My list is long and, rather than sharing it now, perhaps I should watch the episode - on the off chance that it provides satisfactory answers - and get back to you...