Friday, March 24, 2006

Character rehabilitation

It's always an interesting thing when a television show finds itself with a clearly important character that the viewing public can't really stand. In most cases, this is a new character that has been thrown into the mix at the start of a new season, especially after a season where the viewing public fell in love with the ORIGINAL mix of characters.

The Internet has exacerbated this. Maybe everyone hated the frequent cast changes on M*A*S*H, but those reactions have been lost in the mists of time. Now, all we know is that Harry Morgan was pretty good in his role.

Thanks to Television Without Pity and other Internet TV forums, we get to know EXACTLY how everyone feels about EVERYthing. And this means that shows often have to engage in character rehabilitation. That, or they have to write the characters out. But we'll talk about that option another time.

Two of my favorite shows on right now are trying to rehabilitate characters through two very different tactics. Let's take a look.

Lost brought on the character of Ana Lucia (played by Michelle Rodriguez) earlier this season. She was supposed to be the leader of a small band of plane crash survivors who had constantly been at war with the mysterious Others. When she was introduced to us, she dominated the storylines for a good six episodes, taking time away from cast members the audience had grown to love in season one. Because of this (and because of how the character was written and performed -- as an almost stereotypical tough chick), the audience turned on her. Ana Lucia almost made the show lose a lot of its viewers.

After the Ana Lucia flashback episode (which came midway through November sweeps), though, the producers cannily kept her to a line or so per episode (this led to rumors that Rodriguez was a pain on set and would soon be written off). Ana Lucia was a lot more tolerable as another supporting player in the huge cast than as a lead thrust upon us.

Finally, in Wednesday's episode, the B-story focused on Ana Lucia's search for a balloon hidden somewhere on the island. Since she had had so little to do for so long, it seemed almost refreshing to have her go on an adventure (paired with two other characters who haven't had a lot to do this season). The producers were even canny enough to give her a speech about how "no one likes me." To be sure, it was meta, but it also served to deepen the character. If no one has ever liked her, she would put up defense mechanisms, which would lead to us not liking her, etc.

Will this work? It's already helped my opinion of the character (though I'm easy to please). More specifically, though, I think the producers made the right move (whether it was one thrust upon them by circumstance or not) by keeping her in the background until these recent episodes. It kept her well hidden enough so that we wouldn't realize just how much our strings were being pulled.

Veronica Mars, on the other hand, has made no bones about its string pulling. Early on in the season, the show introduced a character named Jackie. She earned the audience's enmity by questioning Veronica and her motives. Up until this point, Veronica had been someone you couldn't question. Though her methods should have led to discussion, a new character was not the person to begin that discussion (it would have been better to give this role to Logan). In addition, Jackie was treating fan favorite Wallace poorly. It was almost as if the producers were daring the audience to hate Jackie.

Then, Wallace left for a string of episodes. Since she didn't have a reason to be in the story anymore, Jackie disappeared as well. When Wallace came back, Jackie came back too. But by this point, everything in her life had changed. Her dad was accused of killing many, many people in a bus crash (he was dating a woman on the bus). And the school had ostracized her. In other words, she was in a position VERY similar to the one in which Veronica began the whole series.

The show then began a concerted effort to make Jackie likable. She held her head high in the face of adversity. She turned to Veronica for help, not snide comments. And, most importantly, Wallace forgave her. When stripped of the things that made her snobbish in the first place, Jackie turned into someone worthy of the audience's respect. And the whole metamorphosis fit in with the shows nonjudgmental themes.

Sure, it was manipulative. But it was well done.

Fox preview tomorrow. This disease seems to be ending!

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

South Dakota Index

Since I'm rapidly approaching 100 posts, and I seem to be gaining new readers by the day (most of whom come here looking for that post on the old Homicide episode about the araber I did, strangely. . .well, except for the guy who came here looking for "south dakota mushroom club." I wish I had found it when I was living there too, bud), I thought it would be as good a time as any to direct you to some older posts I did that seem sort of worth reading (don't listen to me though; ask my mom).

Plus, I'm still sick, so this is as good a way as any to put off actual work for a little longer. And continue to attract readers from Dreamworks SKG (of all places). Thanks, Extreme Tracking!

Writing stuff:
Grammar fun!
Why getting acclaimed as a teen writer is a bad idea
A model for independent television

TV stuff:
Reviewing "Bones."
Why so much TV criticism sucks
Random Episodes #1
The 20 Best Shows on Network TV in 2005 (with caveats)
Making reality shows more like documentaries
In Defense of Full House
10 Reasons to watch Battlestar Galactica
Random Episodes #2
Farewell to Arrested Development
Perfect Episodes: "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'"
Perfect Characters: Lisa Simpson
The Sopranos: Season 1, Seasons 2 and 3, Season 4 and Season 5
Perfect Characters: Chloe O'Brian
The oddly popular Perfect Episodes: "Three Men and Adena"
Single camera sitcoms that suck
Casts are getting huge
James Burrows and sitcom history
Battlestar Galactica, Season 2
Super TV Preview (in progress): ABC (plus addendum), CBS and The CW
Prison Break thoughts

Other media stuff:
How newspapers work (complete with explanation of how no one knows how they work due to the lack of good newspaper-related TV shows)
Thoughts on EGM's 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time
10 Comic Strips worth reading
Steve Urkel and the Come to Jesus Meeting, parts 1, 2 and 3
Trailer Curmudgeons #1
Oscar Nominations!
Thoughts on The New World
How the public deserted the Oscars, not the other way around (now approved by Stylus Magazine's own L. Michael Foote!)
Oscar show thoughts
Trailer Curmudgeons #2

Unclassifiable stuff:
South Dakota Dark? What does THAT mean?
Opening Ceremonies
S.D. abortion law thoughts, Parts 1 and 2
Lots of fun links

What have I learned from all of this linking? That I need to write more about writing. And unclassifiable stuff, I guess. And I need to get back on the Perfect Episodes train. Which will happen once the TV preview is done, I assure you.

So pick something that interests you and get reading!

In the meantime, assemble your OWN Super TV Preview with this article on pilot trends. And, here! Vaguely left of middle politics that seem to mirror my own.

See you all again when my body rejects this virus.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Unbearable Lightness of Blogging

I have the black death, apparently, so it's all I can do to drag myself from the bed to issue this dispatch, humble readers. There will be very little to tide you over for a while. The Fox preview is ready to go. It just needs to be typed up.

But until then. . .you will not have me. I recommend the links off to the right, if you simply must have blog action.

I shall see you all soon.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Prison Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo

Google tells me I'm the first to think of that title. Somehow, I doubt it.

Despite what its ardent fan base will tell you, Prison Break is pretty silly. It's pretty bad at suspending your disbelief (especially when compared to 24). And I think the show's creators are really overestimating just how much people are in love with their characters when they say that everyone's going to love a second season outside of the prison walls (in a word: no).

But I still really enjoy the show. It's goofy fun, and it works well as guilty pleasure. Plus, it's one of the few shows that actually makes me think it might kill the character who's the whole reason for the prison break in the first place. And I am far from the first to write about how 24 makes Prison Break seem even sillier.

But I keep watching the crazy thing. Why?

I think there are two reasons the show works as well as it does (neither is the writing, which is unusual in TV). And this post came to me in a dream (whereas many TV fanatics dream about their favorite shows, I dream about BLOGGING about a show I can take or leave -- nerd life personified?), so bear with me.

The first reason this show works, clearly, is Wentworth Miller. Don't get me wrong. The rest of the show's players are pretty capable, but their performances vary from episode to episode depending on the quality of the scripts. Miller, however, is one of those rare things: a bonafide TV star. Everyone in the cast has great chemistry with him (especially Sarah Wayne Callies as his doctor/love interest), and he manages to infuse the whole thing with a needed dose of gravitas. Even when the show is being completely ridiculous, Miller makes you sort of buy it. I'd love to see what a truly great TV writer like David Milch or Terence Winter could do with the guy.

The second reason this show works is what everyone calls the MacGyver aspect. The tiny little pieces of the breakout that are clearly going to fit together into a much bigger picture when the breakout actually happens can seem sort of chintzy in the moment, but I think they're a big reason for the show's success. What most shows that follow the 24 model lack is a compelling structural reason to exist (check out Heist tomorrow night on NBC and see what I mean -- better yet, don't). 24 avoids this by just throwing everything in its arsenal at the wall and seeing what sticks (plus, most episodes have a "mission" embedded in them somewhere that serves as the driving force of the plot). Most other 24-alikes either embed themselves too deeply in the ongoing storyline (thereby turning off all but the most ardent cultists) or don't find a way to pay off the ongoing storyline from week to week (the Heist pilot has this problem). Prison Break gets around this by introducing a new little piece of the puzzle every week. Though the puzzle piece is in relatively few scenes, it serves as a compelling enough main story to keep those who are checking in for the first time around for more (how, exactly, is Michael going to use that rat/screwdriver/plaque?). Because no one knows the full tapestry, the individual pieces become stories in and of themselves, sucking newbies into the plot. The interpersonal relationships (such as they are) follow later.

Again, this is all not as good as it could be. But I think that someone like a J.J. Abrams or a Tim Minear could figure out a way to take this format (little puzzle pieces standing in for big stories) and really make it sing.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Trailer Curmudgeons, Vol. 2

Missed the first part? See it now!

Once again, Libby and I have conspired to review the upcoming movies before they're even in theaters! Marvel at our psychic powers and intellectual prowess!

If you're looking for the next volume in the TV preview, that will probably come tomorrow. Fox is a tough nut to crack, so blowing it off seemed like the thing to do.

Libby: No. I'm not doing this. I refuse to go on until you tell them that I was responsible for the UPS thing.

Fine. The headline of yesterday's BRIEF ITEM on Edie Falco was SOMETHING LIBBY SAID. And not all that amusing.

Libby: Now tell them I'm great.

No.

Talladega Nights (Aug. 4): (See it now.) Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams. Amy Adams.

Libby: I can't believe I sat through that entire trailer for two-and-a-half seconds of Amy Adams.

I can.

The Wild (April 14): (See it now.) Let's see. How can I put this elegantly? You know Madagascar? That was like, er. . .how CAN I say this without causing my mother to pass out. Madagascar was like Rocky Mountain oysters, see? Since this is just a Madagascar RIPOFF, that means this is like WARMED OVER Rocky Mountain oysters. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Libby: It's like Madagascar and Finding Nemo had a baby and that baby was Jack Bauer.

Snakes on a Plane (Aug. 18): (See it now.) I mean. . .it's really all right there in the title, right? I mean. . .the SNAKES are on the PLANE. And you KNOW bad stuff is going to go DOWN. "That's it," says Samuel L. Jackson. "I've HAD IT with the snakes."

Libby: *long period of hyperventilation* So many nights, I've laid awake, wondering what would happen if thousands of snakes were loose on a plane. On August 18. . .I'll know.

Nacho Libre (June 2): (See it now.) You know what the kids today are all up in arms about? Mexican wrestling. All I hope is that this buys director Jared Hess' awkwardly named wife Jerusha Hess a new car. She's earned it.

Libby: God. When will Jack Black finally have an outlet for his crazy self? All these years, forced to play a character so unlike himself! I feel bad for his new sister-in-law, Petra Haden, one of the Haden triplets.

Stay Alive (March 24): (See it now.) You know what the kids today are crazy for? No, BESIDES Mexican wrestling. That's right. They're crazy about the notion that the disembodied spirit of blood countess Erzabet Bathory might implant itself in a survival horror video game and kill Anna from The O.C., Malcolm in the Middle and Chandler's non-Joey roommate. I mean, I know I wake up in cold sweats just thinking about it.

Libby: And when you do, I ask you about snakes on planes.

Poseidon (May 9): (See it now.) Look! There's Det. Frank Pembleton! And the Phantom of the Opera's lust nugget Christine! And. . .hey. . .isn't that that guy who turned his mashed potatoes into Devil's Tower? It is! And the coach who integrated the NCAA! Geez! It's like old home week here. There's The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. And the brother of the racist cop from Crash! Ooooh! And that giant wave from The Perfect Storm. Missed you, buddy. The REAL question, though, is who's going to sing "The Morning After."

Libby: My money's on a duet between Emmy "I'm Dead Inside" Rossum and Kurt "The Thing" Russell.

Marie Antoinette (Fall 2006): (See it now.) I mean, if you're GOING to lose your head, you might as well do it to slammin' 80s new wave.

Libby: Ohmigawd! It's so totally Seventeen magazine does Reign of Terror! And Kirsten Dunst looks so uber hot! A million Oscars! Totally!

That's all for now. Just remember. Until next time. . .

There's got to be a morning after
If we can hold on thru the night
We have a chance to find the sunshine
Let's keep on looking for the light.

Libby:
Oh can't you see the morning after?
It's waiting right outside the storm
Why don't we cross the bridge together
And find the place that's safe and warm.

It's not too late, we should be giving
Only with love can we climb
It's not too late, not while we're living
Let's put our hands out in time.

Libby:
There's got to be a morning after
We're moving closer to the shore
I know we'll be there by tomorrow
And we'll escape the darkness
We won't be searching anymore.

There's got to be a morning after
(There's got to be a morning after)
There's got to be a morning after
(There's got to be a morning after)
There's got to be a morning after
(There's got to be a morning after)
There's got to be a morning after
(There's got to be a morning after)
There's got to be a morning after
(There's got to be a morning after)
There's got to be a morning after
(There's got to be a morning after).

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Super TV preview: The CW

The CW is a hybrid monster, stitched together from the still (barely) functioning pieces of UPN and The WB. Neither network has a HUGE number of hit shows, but they both have just enough that some shows are going to get cut. And since both networks cater to younger audiences, the shows they have tend to have pretty big cult followings. So whatever gets cut, expect to hear LOTS of yelling about it.

There isn't going to be a lot of room for new shows on the schedule. At one time, I thought Aquaman was a shoo-in, but it might not be, what with the three times the lead has changed. Needless to say, it's going to be an interesting time.

That said, there are probably only four shows that are REALLY fighting to get on the schedule. Stuff like Related and most of UPN's sitcoms is going to get canceled.

The shows that are confirmed for the fall line-up are:

America's Next Top Model
Beauty and the Geek
Everybody Hates Chris
Gilmore Girls
Smallville
WWE Smackdown

That's six-and-a-half hours of programming right there (five-and-a-half if Geek and Model share a time slot as I suspect they might). Neither network has a lot of sitcoms, but Reba from The WB and Girlfriends should get the call (every network needs a sitcom night) to go along with one new sitcom.

When it comes to dramas, these are probably the four that are on the fence. . .

Everwood
One Tree Hill
Supernatural
Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars and Supernatural are probably safe. So it looks as though Everwood and One Tree Hill will battle it out for that final timeslot. Both have rabid cult audiences that follow them to wherever they go. Both are pretty close to 100 episodes (Everwood would pass that magic mark in its fifth season). One Tree Hill appears to sell marginally better on DVD, but Everwood already has a cable rerun deal worked out with ABC Family (such a deal boosted Gilmore Girls ratings to the heights they're at now). That deal gets a bit of a boost if the show can hit 100 episodes. So, really, there's plenty of money to be made from both shows.

Will this manage to prolong the lives of either network? I don't know. Their best hope is to boost some of their hit shows to the level of, say, NBC, but I don't know if the network is going to have an identity. When Fox burst on the scene, you knew what they were up to. They were brash and bold. The CW is going to seem a little. . .soft. But what do I know? Maybe the two networks really WERE cannibalizing the same audience and that audience will sign up for The CW.

But enough about that. Let's get on to the predicting.

Check out the many iterations of both networks' schedules here. And look at the CW pilots here.

Sunday:

5 p.m.-8 p.m. EST/PST: Reruns of CW shows (probably Veronica Mars and Supernatural)
8 p.m.: Everybody Hates Chris (new night)
8:30 p.m.: Reba (new night, time slot)
9 p.m.: Everwood (new night)

I think everyone's going to chase the family audience on Sundays (you'll see even more when I put up my NBC schedule). The Simpsons is getting weak, and most of the other networks aren't really tapping into the lucrative audience of people who want to watch something with the kids after football. The three shows I've put in here make a natural progression for families. Chris and Reba may not seem to flow, but Reba fits better before Everwood than it did in any other comedy block I tried to construct. And I think Everwood is going to get the ratings boost it needs on Monday nights to come back for a fifth (and probably final) season opposite the great beast, Desperate Housewives.

Monday:

8 p.m.: Girlfriends (new time slot)
8:30 p.m.: The Game (She Said, He Said at midseason) (new series)
9 p.m.: Split Decision (new series)

Split Decision, again, doesn't fit with these two other shows, but I think The CW is going to take a chance on it as teens need something in that slot (plus, it's never going to be a slot where they can get a lot of traction. Girlfriends does AMAZINGLY well with African-American audiences, so it and its spin-off, The Game, will get a chance here.

Tuesday:

8 p.m.: Gilmore Girls
9 p.m.: Veronica Mars (new night)

The pairing all of America wants. For the first time, the show coming out of Gilmore Girls would make legitimate sense following it. And this would be the ideal opportunity for Veronica to finally prove it can draw an audience.

Wednesday:

8 p.m.: America's Next Top Model/Beauty and the Geek
9 p.m.: Palm Springs (new series)

The ANTM/BatG pairing seems like a natural fit. Palm Springs would be going up against Lost, which would seem to fight against its mystery vibe, but Veronica Mars is doing all right in that slot (as long as it has its Model lead-in), so Palm Springs should do okay too.

Thursday:

8 p.m.: Smallville
9 p.m.: Supernatural (Aquaman at midseason)

This night is working well enough. Why mess with something like that? I think that Aquaman will ultimately find a home on the schedule, but they'll give themselves the maximum amount of time to retool the thing. The story doesn't seem to be a natural fit for television anyway.

Friday:

8 p.m.: WWE Smackdown!

It performs well enough, and they have to put it somewhere, and they're not programming Saturdays. So here you go.

The only other pilot the network has ordered at this time is Runaway. I would not be totally surprised if they put it on at midseason.

Also, look out for the Palladinos (the people behind Gilmore Girls) to re-sign with the network contingent on their detective series getting a midseason order.

That wasn't bad at all, now was it?

Next up: Fox, the network with two personalities.

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It's already on the way to her through UPS. . .

Mary McDonnell? Love you and your work on "Battlestar Galactica."

Kristen Bell? You know you're my one and only spitfire.

But. . .honestly. . .is there any way Edie Falco is NOT winning the Emmy again? She could have NOTHING ELSE TO DO in this season of The Sopranos, and after tonight's episode, it wouldn't matter. She'd have the trophy in hand.

Keep the weird metaphors and dream sequences coming, boys! Los Angeles as Hell/Purgatory? Love it.

Anyway, I've seen a weird outbreak of those anonymous comments that are advertising something. I'm trying to delete all of them, but if you see one, let me know. I may have to turn off anonymous comments for a while to shoo them away.

Furthermore, does anyone know how I can check how many people are reading this thing and/or how I see which links are bringing them here?

Thanks.

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