Friday, July 28, 2006

Hello, Rotiart

No time to write very much, as I have writers block in every direction but one (this is a good thing).

That said, Who Wants to Be a Superhero? is not very GOOD, per se, but it's certainly goofy and executed with a certain elan that makes it fun to watch. When I first heard about the show, I assumed that the contestants would be writing weekly comic books and presenting them to Stan Lee. While that might, conceivably, have been a good "creative people doing creative things" reality show, it had every chance in the world to flop and flop big.

But, instead, this show goes for the literal. The competitors literally are competing to BE SUPERHEROES. And that means running around, having altruistic motives and saving little girls. It's like Comic-Con blew up all over your TV screen.

Part of what makes it work is Stan Lee, someone who always seems to be having a blast (I want Stan to be my roommate -- he'd throw the best parties ever). He really gets in to the role of the secret superhero overlord, shouting down a dance party, explaining the meaning and origin of the word excelsior and calling out people for being on the show just to sell action figures and make lots of money (this information gleaned by his secret spy Rotiart).

Most reality shows build the twists in to the editing, but at least in its pilot, Superhero builds the twists right in to its structure. There's a traitor. And someone gets kicked out in the first 15 minutes of the show. And then the task isn't really the task they thought it was. I'm sure the contestants will wise up (making future seasons of this show unlikely), but for one pilot, it was a great time.

Who's my favorite you ask? Well, my father would kill me if I listed anyone other than Cell Phone Girl, but I personally also enjoyed Major Victory.

I don't know if this show will work over the long haul, but for now, it's a late summer treat. Just the thing for the dog days.

Now go forth and write!

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hey. Get off your head.

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Okay. I'm completely biased because I know someone in the band, but I'm busy tonight and still want to get something up, so here's something to put on your "driving to the beach" mix CD (even if Kenny over at Herbie the Love Blog thinks that songs of summer are dumb).

Anyway, Those Transatlantics (who have been linked to since this blog began) have an album, and it's pretty great, if you're in to summer-y, California-y pop (and who isn't nowadays?). It helps that the songs are pretty uniformly earworms. If you're a try-before-you-buy type, the whole album can be streamed at the band's Web site. Or you can listen to samples on iTunes. I don't care.

If you need full tracks, three are available from the band's label Suburban Sprawl of the Deeeetroit metro area.

First, check out Boys and Children Sing for Summer (from a Christmas compilation, curiously). It's sort of dreamy and ethereal and even features a cameo singing appearance from my friend (he's the Chris you hear warbling).

If that's not your speed, you can try sort of a country ramble type tune, The Other Cheek.

And if you really need a song to cap off that CD before you rush out to eat sandy sandwiches and frolic in most-likely-contaminated ocean water, In Your Neighborhood is just the thing you need. Four minutes of pop bliss.

If you like any of this and live in New York City, the band is playing there Wednesday, July 26 and Thursday, July 27. Probably worth your time. Tell them Todd VanDerWerff sent you, and they'll probably get a little freaked out.

See, this is why I didn't start an MP3 blog. Because I sound just like every other music critic out there.

Stick around. More TV stuff on its way, as well as reviews of a number of films.

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I will hold this blog together with my TEETH if I have to

Some random TV thoughts for a lazy, late July evening (well, lazy unless you actually work IN television or are a TV critic -- if that's true, then you're busy tonight or sleeping):

  • Rescue Me is a huge frustration to me right now. It has scenes that work on all sorts of levels (like that one with the school counselor last week that concluded with Tommy realizing he has survivor's guilt). It has some of the funniest stuff on TV right now (Garrity's sleepwalking, complete with some sort of dried dip all over his face, was maybe the funniest thing I've seen on TV since the episode of The Office where they opened the complaint box). But it also has some of the most frustrating stuff on TV. Tommy's punishment for his rape (or borderline rape, if you will) of his wife is to have his wife become sexually aggressive with him in return? And then to have his ex-girlfriend drug him and rape him because she just NEEDS HIS LOVE so much? AND Marisa Tomei (of all people) can't keep her hands off of him? I'm willing to go with the flawed protagonist thing. I'm willing to go with the idea that this is a guy's show, through and through. I just wish that it didn't feel like such a boy's club. Despite all of these queasy moral issues (I know, a big caveat), this season has had a lot of fine work and solid performances. I just worry that Leary may have lost the Emmy (like he cares) with his recent comments to TV Guide.
  • Deadwood's third season was not, apparently, going to be its final one until HBO and David Milch forced it to be. But it's probably the show's strongest, most consistent season yet (it, of course, could go very, very wrong as it heads to its denouement). And what's more, it feels like a final season, its thematic concern with death and the end of things hanging over all of the proceedings. Gerald McRaney is as good as he's ever been, and Ian McShane makes even some of the show's clunkier writing (some of his recent monologues haven't been as spot-on as they were in seasons one and two) shine. The writers have even figured out how to make Timothy Olyphant simmer believably before bursting out into rage. This show is shaping up to be one of the few true masterpieces in the history of the medium.
  • It sounds like ABC made all of the right moves to fix Desperate Housewives. While I was never that high on the show, I'm glad that those who loved it might get their dream show back. Hiring Joe Keenan was a good first step, and opening season three at the point of maximum dramatic impact was an even better second one.
  • The Television Critics' Association award winners are better than the Emmys can possibly hope to be, even with only one acting category for comedy and one for drama.
  • That teaser for Battlestar Galactica aired during Eureka's pilot was gloriously overwrought and heartpounding immediate, just like the show itself. Starbuck meets her daughter? Lee has to do something he should have done a long time ago? Baltar wants someone to kill him? Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos are still in the show? Sign me up, Sci Fi!
  • I was over in LA the other day, and the billboards and bus ads for The CW are everywhere. Honestly, the "Free to Be" campaign is probably a very smart one because of how dumb it seems. It's insidious in that way. And I dare you to not start describing everything you encounter with "Free to Be" in front of it. This Coke can before me is Free to Be Red.
  • Reno 911! just isn't as funny as it was in its first two seasons anymore, but it's still a pleasant enough way to while away a Sunday evening. I wonder if, as more and more cable networks jump on the summer TV bandwagon, we'll have to make calls about what we watch in the summer, like we do in the rest of the year. Right now, for example, I kind of halfheartedly watch The 4400. I would NEVER do that in the regular season. And how much more TV will it take to push that one off of my radar screen?
  • I'm impressed that Entourage fired Vince from his Aquaman gig, possibly creating a situation where he'll have to reflect on. . .who am I kidding? This is just a momentary setback in the overall season structure. Eventually, I have to believe, Vincent Chase will get what he wants.
  • I don't watch ads (TiVo makes that possible). Which networks are promoting their new shows the most effectively? I've heard that NBC is doing so, but I haven't seen any of the spots.
  • A lot of the critics were not impressed with the episode of Nightmares & Dreamscapes called The End of the Whole Mess, but I thought it was the best of the series so far. Ron Livingston and Henry Thomas' performances really grounded an eerie, potentially unbelievable situation, and it was one of the best (and most unusual) apocalypse scenarios TV has had the temerity to air.
If you absolutely must have more news, go to The Futon Critic and read their ComicCon coverage. Lots of great spoilers and the like.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Like they made a show for me and nobody came: Eureka

First, if you're a fan of Joss Whedon's Firefly and/or Serenity, check out this review of an early script, which sounds like it would have been horrible.

Now.

I've watched the pilot for Eureka (the new SciFi channel original series) twice now, and I don't know what to make of it. It's the channel's follow-up to the oft-masterful Battlestar Galactica in the scripted drama department, and on its face, the premise seems tailor-made for me. If I have a secret shame, it's that I like genre drama (technically, every show is a genre show, but in industry lingo, it refers specifically to SF, fantasy and horror productions). If I have a second secret shame, it's that I like small town shows.

So here you have a genre drama about a quirky small town.

VanDerWonderful, right?

Not so much.

Eureka is a show that feels like it's got a lot of good ideas and no clear notion of how to pull them together. It's greatest problem is that (in the pilot at least) too many of the characters feel like an assemblage of quirks rather than real people who have those quirks grow out of them organically (it's the difference between, say, T.J. on Gilmore Girls and Kirk on Gilmore Girls -- one is annoying and the other feels like a part of the show's world). Granted, some of the characters don't feel this way (I like the staff in the sheriff's office, for instance), but too many of the genius scientists just feel like random assemblages of personality traits, as though the writers had opened a book I had as a child called Building Great Characters (featuring a list of every personality trait you could think of) and taken stabs at them at random.

Here come the usual caveats about reviewing a show from its pilot. In short, you can't do it, especially a show that seems as if it will rely on growing its characters over time as Eureka seems it will do. In addition, the ensemble cast here is huge, and at least one of its members won't be joining the show full-time (Greg Germann), so one has to assume that a lot of these characters will take on added dimensions over time. And one also has to think that, freed of its need to explain the central conceit of the show, Eureka will be able to find plots that aren't so cloddingly heavy with exposition. What's more, the two-hour pilot was a bit oddly paced, and that may be affecting my opinions.

Those caveats aside, though, I'm not sure if the good is enough to keep me watching this show. Some of the characters (as I mentioned) are pretty good, and the lead is an appealing enough "straight man in a crazy world" archetype. I'm not sure how I feel about the bad teenage daughter with a heart of gold (been there, done that), but they certainly could have hired an actress who enunciated a bit better. It is fun to see Matt Frewer again, but too many of the other characters blend in to each other.

What's more, the show has a serious gender disparity. The female characters kick ass (the woman who works in the sheriff's office) or provide handy exposition (the DoD contact), but they don't tend to be super geniuses like the scientists who are the focus of the show. I'm sure this can easily be corrected, but it's a tiresome trend.

Finally, we have the dialogue. Some of it is amusing enough (the mention of Felon Spice is the joke that comes to mind), but most of it feels forced. The characters all speak in the same forced, folksy/quirky patois, and it never quite rises to the level of, say, Northern Exposure, which laced its dialogue with allusions and references beyond its own hermetic universe.

There's a lot of potential in this show, though, so I'll watch a few more episodes to see if the problems I had with the show were ironed out over time. I really like the premise, and I love the sets and locations they've found to shoot on. There's a lot to hope for here, but I don't know if it's realistic to believe the creative team could turn it around.

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Too Darn Hot

Nobody wants to write anything (least of all me) because the heat has been almost unbearable from sea to shining sea (and in Britain, if friends over there are to be believed).

So SDD may be more sporadic over the next few days as we lie in hammocks, fan ourselves and drink mint juleps.

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