Category Archives: Feature

SHOWDOWN: The Dark Knight Rises vs. Skyfall

Inspired by my own feelings on what are arguably the biggest movies of the past year and related debates I have now had with a variety of people, I bring you an admittedly ambitious Big Screen Brain twist on the Showdown category. I considered making this a three-way contest including The Avengers, but decided I was inviting more than enough nerd-rage as is. Besides, I saw The Avengers three times. It wouldn’t be fair to compare with movies I’ve seen only once each. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) PS – I figured out that you can add polls to blog posts, looky!

THE SHOWDOWN: TRILOGY-CONCLUDING BLOCKBUSTERS DESIGNED TO COMPLETELY BLOW YOUR MIND (AND ALSO POSSIBLY WIN SOME OSCARS)

MOVIES: Christopher Nolan‘s THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and Sam MendesSKYFALL

POINTS OF COMPARISON: THE EXHAUSTED AGING PROTAGONIST, THE VILLAIN, EFFECTIVENESS AS A TRILOGY-ENDER

The Exhausted Aging Protagonist:

Both these trilogies are, essentially, new looks at the origins of long-established franchise characters. When they started their respective journeys as Batman and James Bond, both Christian Bale and Daniel Craig had considerably fewer wrinkles and scars than they did by the time part-three rolled around. The trick for these films is a balance between admitting that change and maintaining action-movie awesome.

The Dark Knight Rises: When the film begins, Batman (Christian Bale) is letting Gotham move on without him. He is not only tired and showing age, but broken. The suit back comes back on only in the face of absolute desperation – for himself and for his beloved city – , and the results aren’t pretty. Bruce Wayne in his weakened state is clearly no match for the berserker-force of Bane (Tom Hardy), and even Catwoman manages to run a few circles around him. Talia al Ghul (Marion Cotillard) ran the biggest circle of all, landing him out of commission in a far-away prison for an awfully long portion of the movie. Of course Batman has his victory and saves the day, that’s never a question. But the manner of the victory reveals the true struggle: saving Gotham is only part of the plan, sharing equal footing with saving the soul of Bruce Wayne. The story ends with retirement, halfway across the world with a really hot girlfriend and not a superhero-appropriate care in the world. We are left with only the vaguest hint that there just might be somebody to take up the cape sometime down the line.

Skyfall: The story begins in franchise-typical fashion, with an epic chase sequence that ends with James Bond (Daniel Craig) being shot. And not just grazed. Shot in the chest, over a waterfall, missing-presumed-dead. He embraces his opportunity as a dead man to become a layabout on a Mediterranean beach who gets his kicks by playing what is unquestionably the Worst Drinking Game Ever. Until MI6 gets blown to bits and he returns to protect his country, his boss, and his job. And he does so, injured, tired, and gadgetless. The final showdown is just James Bond, a head start, some guns, and the will to survive. Which he does, of course, in spectacularly primal fashion. There is no hint that this is the end of Bond – as an audience we know that this is Daniel Craig’s goodbye and that the next time we see James Bond his face will be new. But the final note on Bond, both character and franchise, is absolute certainty that he will live on in a new age, that though his methods and thinking are old school, he can adapt and the world will not outpace him. (For more on James Bond in Skyfall, I suggest Paul Constant’s review-sum-character-analysis.)

Winner: I’m giving this one to Skyfall. If you look at the overall goals and mental states of the two characters over the course of these films, the difference is clear. Bruce Wayne intends to die, either a false death in victory or a true death in victory or defeat. James Bond intends to win, death be damned. And he does.

The Villain:

The Dark Knight Rises: The obvious disadvantage to this film is that no matter who the villain was, they were going to be following in the footsteps of Heath Ledger‘s Joker and, well, you know. That said, the combination of Bane and Talia al Ghul is a formidable one. Especially since you don’t even know they’re in cahoots until the eleventh hour. That is, their relationship isn’t revealed until then, but easily half of the film is spent hinting violently. As a result, the “big reveal” isn’t so much that as an “oh god, FINALLY we can move on and get back to the story.” Part of the immense power of the Joker was his total anonymity beyond the twisted persona.Bane has that power for most of The Dark Knight Rises, but once his back story is filled in, the secret to defeating him becomes equally clear, and all that remains is a rather less-than-suspenseful wait. By contrast, Talia al Ghul starts the film as a completely different and apparently innocuous character. Then her insanity grows exponentially over the final hour and transforms her into an unpredictable and dangerously desperate adversary. Both these villains, together and separately, present Batman with opposition powerful enough to put his final victory until at least some temporary doubt. What they do lack, however, is the sort of unnerving personal connection to Bruce Wayne that made the Joker and Raz al Ghul both great foils and formidable opponents.

Skyfall: Let me begin by getting the obvious out of the way: Javier Bardem KILLED IT. As in, if-I-hadn’t-known-it-was-him-I-would-never-have-known-it-was-him levels of killed it. Silva is, for all intents and purposes, the only villain in the film. He is enough of a threat on his own that there is no need for a second, direct combative adversary – the henchmen are just there to add volume. All other antagonists (M-to-be Ralph Fiennes and cabinet member Helen McCrory) are non-villainous, and couldn’t hold a candle to Silva even if they wanted to. Once he is introduced, even extra-sexy French-Asian Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe becomes completely uninteresting. His persona is made of a powerful duality: an unspecified but supposedly complicated backstory and a brutally simple but specific mission. Silva’s power as a villain comes from his similarity to Bond, and even more from the lingering question of whether he or Bond is the dark side. His face says everything. For all that the chic, queeny, bleach-blond exterior fits, there is no question that the sinking, blackened, cyanide face is the true one. Ultimately he loses, because he is the villain, but he does fundamental damage and that is what really counts.

Winner: Silva. No question. If he were pitted up against the Joker I don’t know who would win, but in this case it’s no contest.

Effectiveness as a Trilogy Ender

The Dark Knight Rises: There is no question that this film is the conclusion of an arc. Batman Begins followed very closely the heroes-journey process that led to the realization of Batman. The Dark Knight provided climax that can only be described as truly epic. And now in The Dark Knight Rises themes and storylines are wrapped up more-or-less neatly in a conclusion both loud and quiet. There are hints that the story of Gotham and Batman continues on. But the sense of finality is absolute, and the result is widely satisfying. (It was not my favorite ending, and I could definitely have done without that cafe scene at the end, but then again I only like endings where everybody dies and nobody is happy, so.)

Skyfall: The tricky thing is that this film does not truly belong to a trilogy, but to an extensive franchise. It feels like a trilogy because there are three films, and they fundamentally changed the way that many people look at James Bond. (Well, Casino Royale and Skyfall did. Quantum of Solace mostly just confused everyone.) Daniel Craig is his own Bond, a separate character from all the previous generations, and as a result of Casino Royale‘s mission to revivify the franchise, he has an individualized storyline underlying all the action. Skyfall completes his personal arc, and it completes Judi Dench’s longer arc as M. But, the primary function of the film is not to conclude, but to complete a new beginning. Very literally, Skyfall acknowledges that James Bond as he has been is out-of-date and thus reinvents the franchise. Q and Moneypenny, missing elements from the two previous Daniel Craig Bond films, have been reborn and Skyfall ends not with a sense of finality, but an enthusiasm for continuing on.

Winner: The Dark Knight Rises has this one in the bag. Christopher Nolan has created a third, powerful film that completes his story and his vision, and good as it is, Skyfall just can’t touch that.

Final Tally: Skyfall – 2, The Dark Knight Rises – 1

I knew as soon as I stepped out of the theatre after The Dark Knight Rises that it wasn’t going to be my favorite film of the year, nevermind one of my favorite films ever like The Dark Knight was. Skyfall was a total surprise to me. Of course it was going to be a fantastic action film, of course Daniel Craig was going to go out with a bang. But the artistry of the film-making and the unexpected elegance of the story made it truly excellent. It has its faults, but it might be my favorite film of the year. And yes, that includes two Joss Whedon movies. Whoda thunk.

FALL IS FUN: New Series for 2011/2012 – CBS

LAST ONE!!! I’m doing this in a bit of a rush, so please forgive any insane errors or typos or whatever. Thankfully for my time crunch, there are only three new CBS shows I care about. (For other Fall Fun, see my posts on the new series from ABC, NBC, FOX, and miscellaneous networks.)

UNFORGETTABLE
Premieres Tuesday September 20 at 10pm

Here is a series that definitely falls under that potentially leaky umbrella of “quirky and improbable procedural.” The main character remembers everything. Like, crazy photographic memory everything. And she’s a cop, so she uses that delightful superpower to solve crimes. I’m actually really excited about this show. For one thing, the insane memory thing is a source of endless fascination for me (part of the reason I love Suits so much, truth be told). And for another, This Is The Type Of Show I Hate Prime Suspect For Not Being (see: my rant in the Fall is Fun NBC post). Finally, a procedural about a main character with wacky amazing awesomeness…who just happens to be a woman. As in, where the fact that she is a woman isn’t the point. This series has the potential to be a pretty sweet cop show, and I am definitely looking forward to it.

PERSON OF INTEREST
Premieres Thursday September 22 at 9pm

Michael Emerson. Jim Caviezel. Fighting crime, Minority Report style. Emerson’s character built an email-reading-phone-call-listening supercomputer after 9/11, and the entire purpose of his mission is to stop crime before it happens. To do this, he’s privately recruited ex-CIA agent Caviezel’s character to do the dirty work. I’d be lying if I said I was crazy fascinated by this premise. Because, again, Minority Report. Been there, done that, right? But here’s the punchline: showrunners for this series are J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan. If you don’t recognize that first name, just leave. If you don’t recognize that second name, it’s not entirely your fault, it’s because he doesn’t always get the spotlight cred he deserves. Yes, he is the brother of Christopher Nolan, a writer of the Batman films, and, oh yeah btw, he didn’t just write the script for Memento, he also wrote the short story it is based on.

I don’t really know what to expect from this show, other than Michael Emerson playing a character even nerdier and socially inept (but probably significantly less terrifying) than Ben. I do expect to be impressed. I will be very very disappointed if the pilot doesn’t knock my socks off. LITERALLY.

A GIFTED MAN
Premieres Friday September 23 at 8pm

This is another series I don’t quite understand. Patrick Wilson plays a brilliant surgeon who, for some unknown reason, suddenly starts hallucinating his dead ex-wife. And, supposedly, after the initial period of insanity she starts being helpful or something. Emphasis on the “or something.” It is very possible I won’t stick with this show much beyond the pilot. Sad but true: 90% of the reason I’m watching at all is the actors. I enjoy Patrick Wilson for sure. And, like any self-respecting person who has seen the 1995 A&E Pride and Prejudice, I LOVE LOVE LOVE Jennifer Ehle. I mean really.

Feel like I missed something? That’s probably because I have absolutely no interest in seeing it. If you want a full Fall/Midseason schedule, I suggest Zap2It’s nifty interactive chart, which will provide you with a nifty little interface and handy links to check out the titles you don’t recognize.

PHEW. FEELS NICE TO HAVE THAT ALL OVER WITH.

FALL IS FUN: New Series for 2011/2012 – Other Networks

So if my original plan had worked out, this fourth Fall Is Fun would have been about CBS. But time has moved quicker than I have and one of my most-anticipated new shows is actually premiering tomorrow, and so what was intended as the fifth and final post, series “other” non-Big-4 networks, has been moved up. (Check out posts 1, 2, and 3 – FOX, ABC, and NBC for more Fall Fun!)

RINGER (the CW)
Premieres Tuesday September 13 at 9pm

This is the show that premieres tomorrow. I am not going to get to watch it, and that is making me Very Upset. Because holy crap does this show look exciting.

The most important thing about Ringer is that Sarah Michelle Gellar Is Finally Back On Television. She’s had a good break after her seven-year stint of Being Buffy. And now she is returning and ready to remind us exactly how ridiculously phenomenal she is. Not only do we get one Sarah Michelle Gellar, we get two. DOUBLE THE FUN. And since each twin she is playing seems to come with her own insanely twisted plotline, DOUBLE THE AWESOME. Plus, as if Sarah Michelle Gellarx2 wasn’t enough, the cast also includes Ioan Gruffudd* and Nestor Carbonell.

I’m almost confused that this series is on the CW. It seems way too…legit. Yes, there are certain network-typical elements already obvious in the preview, e.g. way too much designer clothing, way too much glitter, way too much everybody having sex with everybody (and probably a CW-standard horrible pop soundtrack). But so far, all of the characters appear to be adults. And the general theme appears to be rather…dark. And not mopey vampire dark or tweens on drugs dark. Mob hits and druglords and sororicide dark. I almost wonder if Ringer would work on one of the major networks…

Possible production flaws (and by “flaws” I do mean “it’s mostly a matter of taste”) aside, there is one definite upside to this series being on the CW: less ratings anxiety. The CW does not compete for ratings on the same level as the four major networks, so this series doesn’t need to draw quite the same numbers in order to survive. Not that I think finding an audience is going to be a problem, because the show does look pretty damn intriguing and, again, Sarah Michelle Gellar Is Back On Television.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY (FX)
Premieres Wednesday October 5 at 10pm

Apparently, this show is what happens when the creator of Nip/Tuck teams up with the co-creators of Glee. Which, personally, I find incredibly confusing. I never watched Nip/Tuck, largely because when it was at its prime I was way too young for watching it to be even remotely appropriate (but also because depictions of plastic surgery tend to make me want to barf – see: The X-Files S4e6 “Sanguinarium”). I do watch Glee, which is primarily why I find this confusing. I’m hoping the total genre shift is just going to prove that Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy are actually as good as the early days of Glee implied they were. One show writer who doesn’t have to prove a damn thing: Tim Minear. His involvement means I would watch this show purely on principal, nevermind who the other writers or the cast are (Zachary Quinto, Dylan McDermott, Jessica Lange, anyone?).

I say “would” because I don’t know for sure that I’m going to be able to watch this one. I am not a horror movie girl. I will readily admit that I don’t have the stomach for it. Usually, I acknowledge that thriller/slasher/horror films are a prominent feature in the landscape of American-grown entertainment and leave it all well enough alone. Time was, I could have been assured that TV content limitations would keep me moderately safe from being plagued from nightmares but, well, yeah. Those days are gone and you’re allowed to say “shit” on Suits. My curiosity may outweigh my fear at least as far as the pilot episode. The only preview I can find for the show is thirty seconds long and pretty much embodies the term “teaser trailer.”

I GREATLY ENCOURAGE OTHER PEOPLE TO WATCH THIS SHOW. Because it will probably be awesome, and because I will feel less bad about chickening out. And because it may not last very long. (Sorry, Tim Minear but you did choose the Twitter handle @CancelledAgain for a reason…)

HELL ON WHEELS (AMC)
Premieres Sunday November 6 at 10pm

I think I am more fascinated by the idea of this show than I will be by the show itself. Post-Civil War America? Awesome. Building of the Transcontinental Railroad? Awesome. Classic Western vibe? Awesome. Cast including Colm Meaney and Tom Noonan? Awesome. And then I remember that I don’t actually like Westerns all that much, nor do I tend to care about AMC shows. When the reality that I’ll need to prioritize and cut some things out of my viewing schedule sinks in, this will be one of the first things to go. So once again, I ENCOURAGE OTHER PEOPLE TO WATCH THIS SHOW. It will probably be good. It’s just not really my taste. (Which may mean, more than anything, that I ought to expand my horizons…)

HOMELAND (Showtime)
Premieres Sunday October 2 at 10pm

When all I knew about this show was that it starred Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin and Damian Lewis, it was the new series I was most excited about. Now I know it also stars Morena Baccarin, and I know that Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa of 24 (and other awesome things) are involved, and I’ve learned a bit about the premise, and as a result the impossible has happened: I am Even More Excited.

Homeland dissects the chilling possibility of the rescue of a hero turning into the aiding of a terrorist. It combines the oh-so-current flavor of fear of American homeland security with the pulse-pounding excitement of a conspiracy thriller, and tops all that off with the heartbreaking flavor of human ability to cope with the most extreme abuse (mental, emotional, and physical). I sound like a talking point dictionary or something, but seriously: there are some big, scary, brilliant story elements at work here. And some big, scary, even more brilliant production and performance elements putting them together.

I want this show to be The Next Greatest Thing from Showtime. I want it to succeed and flourish and lead to massive amounts of well-deserved recognition for everyone involved. (If this doesn’t end up being as good as I hope/expect it is, I might cry a little bit.)

Bonus Mention:
The Secret Circle (premieres Thursday September 15 at 9pm on the CW). This is based on another series of novels by the same author whose work forms the basis for The Vampire Diaries. So it is probably Not That Bad At All. Plus, it has Thomas Dekker. If there was nothing else good on, I would watch it. Maybe I’ll watch the reruns in a few years or something.

Feel like I missed something? That’s probably because I have absolutely no interest in seeing it. If you want a full Fall/Midseason schedule, I suggest Zap2It’s nifty interactive chart, which will provide you with a nifty little interface and handy links to check out the titles you don’t recognize.

*I never want to have to spell this name Ever Again. OMG BE LESS WELSH.

FALL IS FUN: New Series for 2011/2012 – NBC

And now for the NBC installment! (See my posts on FOX and ABC for more Fall Fun.) Of everything I’ve looked at so far, I’m most anticipating NBC’s new lineup. There’s some good stuff here. Bonus points to any person who picks up on my Firefly reference. It’s not actually that hard to find.

PRIME SUSPECT
Premieres Thursday September 22 at 10pm

I’m going to make the unusual move of starting with the show I am least thrilled about. Prime Suspect is the remake of a hit British series that starred…Helen Mirren. Yeah. You’re feeling that immediate gut reaction of “what dumbass decided this was a good idea?” aren’t you? And you should. Because seriously: as if the rampant remakes weren’t bad enough, NBC now trying to pass off Maria Bello as a suitable replacement for Helen Mirren. I don’t mean this as an insult to Maria Bello in any way but, Bitch Please.

If that were my only objection to Prime Suspect, I would attempt to get over it because the honest truth is that remakes are not always a poor choice (see: The Office, also on NBC). But I actually have an even greater objection, which is the premise of the show itself: woman in a man’s world. I beg the pardon of any turn-of-the-last-century suffragettes who are rolling around in their graves as we say this, but Can We Just Get On With It Already? Perhaps in British society (which I know very little about), about a decade ago (when the original series premiered), this might have been a premise worth spending time on. But in this day and age, looking at the growing number of series featuring female cops without the flavor of sexism, the theme seems outdated and backward to me. Is there a reason we can’t have a show about a badass female cop where the focus is on the badassery, rather than on the femaleness? Or any type of character – doctor, lawyer, private detective, whathaveyou. House is not about the fact that Gregory House is a man being a doctor, it’s just about that he is a doctor. So wouldn’t the truly progressive thing to do be to just make a show about an awesome lead, and leave the character’s gender as an ohbytheway?

I’m sure Prime Suspect will be a perfectly passable crime procedural. It may even include some really great performances from, yes, Maria Bello, as well as the rest of what looks like a rather outstanding cast. It’s a perfectly good show, I’m sure. But I worry about the moral/social forces at work here.

GRIMM
Premieres Friday October 21 at 9pm

The preview for Grimm is disconcertingly awesome. And by that I mean I find it disconcerting that it is awesome. Mostly because it is forcing me to reconsider my initial, even-less-informed opinion of the show.

See, initially, I was very very wary of this idea. Crime procedural based on fairy tales? Come on now. Obviously I was interested and planning on watching, but I wasn’t actually expecting it to last (or even be worth lasting). The biggest concern for me was endurance. For other paranormal-edged procedurals of this sort (see: The X-Files, Supernatural, etc), “the fairy tale episode” tends to be just that. One episode. So stretching that out into a series? Chancy. Sure, you can do the Little Red Riding Episode, the Hansel and Gretel Episode, the Snow White Episode. But eventually you are going to run out, especially if you are limited to Brothers Grimm variety Western folklore stories.

Thus were my concerns, until I heard the three most important words in the preview: spoken by a badly injured woman in a hospital bed, “You’re a Grimm.” What is a “Grimm” and what exactly does that mean? I have no idea. But it does mean Something. And that was the turning point for me, where I veered away from resignation of failure to a cautious sort of hope. It’s hard to explain in brief terms exactly what I mean by “show mythology.” Effectively, it’s what makes The Vampire Diaries actually good, rather than just another shitty CW show with (slightly) more neckbiting. It is a Good Thing. Also a Good Thing: it looks like werewolves might finally be getting some love on this series, and it’s about damn time (but that is a rant for a later date). One last exciting thing, and its a Really Exciting Thing: one of the producers is David Greenwalt (Angel, Buffy).

I don’t know what all of this means for Grimm’s chances of survival. It could still fail miserably. Especially since it’s starting out in the Friday Death Slot. And, for all I know right now, I could be getting all worked up for something that ends up being awful afterall. But oh my dear and fluffy lord I hope not.

SMASH
Midseason

If you loved Glee when it started but have become increasingly disenchanted with its tween-audience-mongering as it has gone on, you are not alone, and you are not without hope. At least, not if you’re anything like me.

Glee celebrates people who love musical theatre, and that’s fine and lovely and commendable. But Smash is a celebration of theatre itself, of the business and the people in it. So, yes, there is a certain amount of narcissism at work here. But when narcissism includes bona fide Broadway star Megan Hilty (who you may or may not know as the only person to out-Galinda Kristin Chenoweth), it is hard to complain. Particularly when she is part of an ensemble cast that also includes Debra Messing, Jack Davenport, Anjelica Huston, and Katharine McPhee. It sounds like I should be making this cast up, but I’m not.

The story of Smash is the creation of a musical about Marilyn Monroe, from inspiration to production. It goes at the process from all angles – actresses are most prominently featured, of course, but Debra Messing’s lyricist character is a close second. The show will feature original songs, and all the wonderful nonteenybopper drama the world of theatre has to offer.

I, theatre geek extraordinaire, am Ridiculously Excited about this show. I worry about it’s chances. Musicals do not survive well on TV, with the one obvious exception. And if Smash is trying to compete directly with Glee, it is going to lose because, well, it is. But if it can capture the folks disenchanted with Glee‘s childishness and also a new audience looking for something singy and dancey but a bit more mature, it just might be able to stick around.

AWAKE
Midseason

The premise of Awake is possibly the most fascinating premise to hit television in the past decade. The main character, a detective played by Jason Issacs (you probably know him as Lucius Malfoy), is in a car crash with his family and afterward finds his existence split into two realities: one where his wife survives, one where his son does. And, apparently, the two realities start to collide. If I have to explain to you how fascinating this is, how broad the potential for craftiness and excellence, then maybe you should just watch the upcoming Napoleon Dynamite cartoon and not worry your pretty little head. Personally, I am going to watch every single episode of this that I can, as it airs. Because its quite possible the show won’t last very long, and I expect every second to count.

And that is pretty much all I have to say about that. I am REALLY looking forward to this show.

Bonus Mention:
The Playboy Club (premieres Monday September 19 at 10pm). I haven’t made up my mind whether I’m interested in this or not. The title is a bit off-putting, as is the getting-tireder-every-second ’60s setting. BUT, well, boobs and dead people and a promised appearance by Sean Maher. I’m having an understandably hard time resisting the pull.

Feel like I missed something? That’s probably because I have absolutely no interest in seeing it. If you want a full Fall/Midseason schedule, I suggest Zap2It’s nifty interactive chart, which will provide you with a nifty little interface and handy links to check out the titles you don’t recognize.

FALL IS FUN: New Series for 2011/2012 – ABC

Next up in the fall premiere rundown, new shows on ABC! (Next after what, you ask? Check out my post on FOX’s new shows here.)

CHARLIE’S ANGELS
Premieres Thursday September 22 at 8pm

Yes, you heard right. Charlie’s Angels is back. Again. Producer Drew Barrymore has convinced ABC to try yet another retro show reboot (despite the rather catastrophic failures of Bionic Woman and Knight Rider in the recent past). The mere fact that this is, in fact, a reboot is a major count against the show. As is the fact that many people who watched the show as it aired the first time are still alive and still represent a fair amount of the overall competitive ratings pool. And you just know that they aren’t going to favor the new series. Especially since, odds are, it won’t be that good.

Certainly there will a group of people that is either large or largely vocal or both complaining that the new series is “not as good” as the original. And that right there is one of the two major problems with remaking anything. The new will always be in disfavor with some people merely on principle. The new is not “not as good” because the original was any good itself, but just because it is new and clearly we just hate new things. Which (second major problem) is why people continue to try and recreate what has been successful before. New ideas are not an assured win. And neither are reboots, really, but there’s a psychology that they are and so they keep on coming.

To be fair, there have been some successful and even genuinely good reboots over the past decade. For example, 2003’s Battlestar Galactica, now a major institution within sci-fi, and last year’s break-out CBS hit Hawaii Five-0. So it is possible Charlie’s Angels could surprise us all. My personal hang-up with the series is that it is Charlie’s Angels. If it wasn’t attached to that title, and all I knew about it was the premise (Rachael Taylor, Annie Ilonzeh, and Minka Kelly redeem their criminal pasts by kicking ass in sexy outfits), I admit it: I would totally watch that show. And so, I am going to do my best to suspend my bias.

For all I know, it isn’t going to suck at all. They’re certainly making an effort – Minka Kelly’s character is a new one, a replacement for original Angel Gloria. This tactical decision – and it is a tactical decision on the part of the show-runners – helps immediately separate the new from the old. Plus, it conveniently does away with the most glaringly outdated character name.

PAN AM
Premieres Sunday September 25 at 10pm

The first time I saw promotional material about this show, I was totally uninterested. Probably because I’m not the target demographic. Pan Am is partly riding on the fact it is set in a certain decade not too long ago that has been relaunched into public adoration by way of a certain smash-hit AMC series. Also a decade during which most of ABC’s Sunday audience (or at least, who I imagine is ABC’s Sunday audience, aka the people who watch Desperate Housewives) was alive and kicking significantly skinnier legs than they’ve got now. So, potentially, there is an audience ready and raring to go.

What piques my interest is not the glamour (although that is always fun), or the soap opera-y interpersonal storylines (mostly just a depressing reminder that we are living the end of the soap op-era), nor is it the stylized setting (which promises to be delightful and slick and chic and all those good things). Instead, I am intrigued by an element just barely hinted at in the previews for this show: the little secret side business the Pan Am girls are in. No, I don’t know what it is. I’m guessing probably drugs or stealing things or something of that sort.

Now, if I had my way, this show would be awesome. Because the Pan Am girls would be assassins, or spies, or both. And the series would use the retro setting as an opportunity to explore the idea of “the modern woman” and how that did begin to change starting in the mid twentieth century. If I had my way. Realistically, I’m expecting this to be mostly a fluff piece. A complement to its ABC Sunday cohorts. And that’s fine too, but I probably won’t watch after the pilot.

ONCE UPON A TIME
Premieres Sunday October 23 at 8pm

I’ve got pretty mixed feelings about this series. There are a elements in the premise/preview that make me worry. And that’s just ignoring the fact that this show is kind of weird and probably really expensive to make and putting those two things together usually results in early cancellation. Even if the show is good (which we will have to wait and see, because there are so many elements at work).

One thing that greatly concerns me is that the entire premise rests on a sort of parallel universe scenario. On the one side is the charming but semi-creepy small town, another member of the Twin Peaks wannabe collective. On the other is a straight up fantasy environment snatched right out of a bedtime story, with castles and pouffy dresses and monsters and some wacky SFX makeup (all of which look sick, so immediate props to the production team for that). The exact same individuals exist in both worlds and the exact same scenarios occur, but (supposedly) there is no cross-universe-awareness. This is, in short, a bold move. Parallel universes are a tricky situation no matter what you do or who you are. Ask ten people how they liked the final season of Lost, and I’ll bet you $20 that at least seven of them will complain about The Sideways. And Lost was already fully established. If there is any sort of falter or flaw in the presentation of this new series’ parallel universe, it is doomed. Even if the presentation is flawless, it could still be doomed. Fantasy/sci-fi scenarios like this do not tend to attract wide audiences, no matter how spectacular they are.

Another major worry is perhaps just a matter of personal taste. From what I can surmise, the central character of Once Upon A Time is played by Jennifer Morrison, lately of House. I am not a fan of Jennifer Morrison. She is capable enough as an actor, but I don’t find her intriguing in the least. It may well be that Once Upon A Time is actually more of an ensemble piece – I think it’s safe to assume that Lana Parrilla‘s Evil Queen is going to be the performance of the show, because that’s just how Evil Queens work. But I just can’t see myself maintaining interest in a series that single-mindedly focuses its story on a character played by Jennifer Morrison. It’s just a problem for me.

I will honestly be surprised if this show lasts very long. Airing on Sundays + Unusual Plot + Fantasy = Uh Oh, in simple terms.

THE RIVER
Midsesaon

I’m really interested to see if this series actually works out. It looks like an attempt to adapt the creepy-things-in-the-dark horror/thriller/shrieker movie genre for television. Not a bad plan, altogether. If every person who enjoys this sort of movie could be pulled into watching the series…well, let’s just say that there’s a lot of potential audience out there. And not an audience likely to care if the episodes get repetitive, because that’s kind of one of the major hallmarks of the genre. Not to mention that the Paranormal Activity-type camera work and filtering will be pretty unique among major network shows, another potential draw.

What may or may not work against The River is the fact that it appears to be one of many attempts to fill the void left by Lost. ABC is especially suffering for a slice of the sci-fi fan pie these days, but I am totally on the fence about whether or not The River could be a solution to its woes. The Amazonian setting is a good move, I think. Fascination with that area, which is one of the last mostly-untouched zones of the planet, is a pretty popular thing these days (partly thanks to the fact that a lot of wacky foods fueling the antioxidant/smartfood crazy come from there – society is weird). Plus, even without the paranormal twist, there’s a lot of Really Terrifying Stuff lurking in the various levels of the rainforest. Venus Fly Traps and Big Ass Snakes, guys. What might be missing for some of the floating former Lost audience is the complicated, tricky storyline. I expect that a wider, twistier plot is planned for The River if it lasts long enough. But the initial scenario, family searches for mysteriously disappeared father and gets freaked out by things, looks to be about 90% cheap thrills, 10% anything else.

I’m not a horror movie girl by any means. And I really really hate snakes, no matter how not-real and not-going-to-get-me they are. But for some reason, I’m very interested in this show. At the very least because its got some pretty excellent actors including Sam Neill (appearing in the pilot as the lost father/explorer), Leslie Hope (24‘s Teri Bauer), and Paul Blackthorne (also of 24, but who I am interested in primarily because of my recent discovery of The Dresden Files).

No promised release date on this series yet. It’s one of those coming-in-midseason-but-only-if/when-something-else fails-spectacularly-and-we’ve-got-space-in-the-schedule series. But it will get here eventually, and I’m looking forward to it.

Feel like I missed something? That’s probably because I have absolutely no interest in seeing it. If you want a full Fall/Midseason schedule, I suggest Zap2It’s nifty interactive chart, which will provide you with a nifty little interface and handy links to check out the titles you don’t recognize.

SHOWDOWN: Franklin & Bash v. Suits

That’s right – I have a new  post category (which I’m hoping I can make into a weekly thing). SHOWDOWN, a platform from which to nitpick at the usually excessive, often disturbing, and usually embarrassing amount of similarity between multiple series and all their various elements. The purpose of SHOWDOWNs is partly to point out the lack of creativity in the world of television, yes, but also to examine possible reasons for why, despite rampant sameness, some shows succeed so much better than others. Also I’m breaking down the SHOWDOWN into several Points of Comparison, awarding points to the victor in each of those, tallying up to find an overall winner, and pretending that this practice isn’t totally ridiculous. Go!

THIS WEEK’S SHOWDOWN: LEGAL BUDDY DRAMADIES ON SUMMER CABLE

SERIES:  FRANKLIN & BASH (TNT) and SUITS (USA)

POINTS OF COMPARISON: LEAD DUO, SUPPORTING CHARACTERS, STORY PROGRESSION, TASTE LEVEL

Leading Duo

The success of any buddy comedy lives or dies with the success of its buddies to garner the affection of an audience. Nobody wants to watch a buddy comedy starring Voldemort and Gollum. (OK, lie. I would totally watch that.) The two characters need unquestionable appeal, individually and especially as a pair.

Franklin & Bash: The leads of this show fit a classic pattern. Of the pair, one is more handsome than goofy and one is more goofy than handsome, one has family issues and one has romantic issues, both are charming, and both are totally loyal to each other. Jared Franklin (Breckin Meyer) and Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) are both absolutely perfect for their roles and for each other. My disappointment with this pairing is that they are sometimes too similar and that the interplay is minimal. At least in the episodes I’ve watched, they seem to work individually for the most part and come together only to recount and occasionally knock out a kneeslapper courtroom scene. In a scenario rather backward from the usual, Franklin and Bash seem different on a superficial level but grow less distinct the deeper you dig. I enjoy the cooperative comic elements, but I could do with a little more conflict. Any argument between the two is distinctly lacking in heat. There’s no question these guys are fantastic and fun to watch, but they don’t hold up well to critical analysis. Once you look past the hilarity of their banter-y, frat boy antics, they’re actually sort of…boring.

Suits: The leads of this series are more Odd Couple than bromance BFFs. The two are clearly polarized in several ways. Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) is older, handsome, suave, well-educated, and prides himself on being the reason lawyer jokes exist. Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) is the problem-child-with-a-heart-of-gold, supergenius, slightly dorky type. They are balanced beautifully and share equally in both the dramatic and the comedic. The rapport between the two is phenomenal, as is the growing development of their relationship, which leads in turn to development of the individual characters. Basically you couldn’t hope for a pair better complemented, performance- or character-wise. That being said, it could fairly be argued that their relationship leans more toward the mentor/pupil side and therefore they don’t exactly qualify as “buddies.”

Winner: I don’t think there’s a winner here. I definitely prefer the pair from Suits, but I can’t argue that they are the better buddy comedy leading pair.

Supporting Characters:

You can learn a lot about a show by how well-conceived, well-developed, and even well-cast the smaller roles are. Series do not survive solely on the power of great leads alone. (Y’know, unless the show is, say, Moonlighting.) Supporting characters also represent the possibility of sideplots, which in turn represent the possibility of long-term appeal.

Franklin & Bash: I have two names for you. Reed Diamond (of Dollhouse, at his snarky antagonist-but-not-a-bad-guy best). Malcolm McDowell (in what is possibly my favorite role of his ever). If these two were the only supporting characters in the series, Franklin & Bash would be the most hilariously enjoyable show ever. But no. Instead, we are also subjected to Dana Davis (one of the worst things to ever happen to Heroes) as an ex-con private investigator who does all of F&B’s legwork, Kumail Nanjiani as a prissy acrophobic computer research genius prone to vomiting, and Garcelle Beauvais as the sexy older woman who is supposed to be so impressive and intelligent but for some reason still sleeps with overgrownfratboy Franklin. Those latter three are all extremely one-dimensional and even more uninteresting. Pindar (Nanjiani) was the primary focus of the resolution of an episode, perhaps the pilot (I’ve forgotten…), and it almost ruined the entire thing. There are two other recurring characters who I suppose might qualify as “supporting,” Bash’s one-that-got-away Janie (Claire Coffee) and nonspecific-lawfirm-employee Debbie (Alexandra Holden), but neither of them have any personality whatsoever, so they are hardly worth mentioning.

Suits: Just one name for this series, but it is way more important than the two from Franklin & Bash. GINA TORRES. I will be honest, her presence is 100% of the reason I actually watched this show. I saw ads and had little-to-no interest (certainly not enough for me to remember it was happening at all). And then somehow I stumbled across the information that Gina Torres was in the show. And here we are. And of course she totally lives up to her own reputation – elegance, strength, and subtle humor are the words for her always. Another familiar face, although perhaps not a familiar name, is Rick Hoffman, who pulls out the stops on obnoxious assholery and plays that guy you want to hate so beautifully that you love him for it. Meghan Markle is Rachel, The Love Interest, who actually has quite a bit of character and background information already. She is both a useful instrument for story progress and just plain likeable. Finally, Donna the Secretary (Sarah Rafferty). Of all the regular characters, Donna has the least screen time and would be the easiest to marginalize and caricature-ize. And maybe she is a caricature, but I Don’t Care. The woman is hilarious. The one time so far I’ve laughed out loud (and started to tear up) for an extended period at this show, it was her.

Winner: Suits. By a landslide, not even just because of how bad Franklin & Bash‘s supporting characters are. As phenomenal as the lead duo is, I am at least equally entertained by and interested in the supporting characters of this series.

Story Progression

The issue with epis0de-based long-form series is keeping them interesting. It is fairly inevitable that individual procedural-type shows are going to be fairly cookie-cutter in terms of format: problem, conflict, solution, resolution. This is why CSI cases get weirder and more impossible every year – to make sure the audience doesn’t get bored. And so, series also have to make sure there is some measure of progress with the overall storyline, whatever that may be, in every (or at least every other) episode.

Franklin & Bash: I’m honestly not sure exactly what the long-term story arc of this show is supposed to be. I believe it has something to do with the fact that Franklin and Bash are trying to fit their unconventional selves into a distinguished law firm. Which is a great premise. But it would go over a lot better if one of the main schticks was not their super eccentric boss. As in, it would go better if there was any sort of conflict there at all. The other primary, extended plotlines are one emotional/personal conflict per lead character. For Jared Franklin, it is some sort of daddy issue that seemed pretty well established and without chance of resolution at the end of the episode where it was introduced, but this will probably go on for as long as it possibly can. For Peter Bash, it is not-exactly-unrequited love: his ex-girlfriend, whom he still loves, is marrying someone else, but he insists (in one of the most embarrassingly corny moments I’ve seen in awhile) there is still a chance. We the audience are not privy to any information on the history of these apparently doomed relationships and are not allowed any time to make a connection with the non-lead characters involved and so, basically, have no reason to care. As far as the episode-to-episode content of Franklin & Bash, it is well-written and well-acted if nothing else. There’s always a Reed Diamond snark scene, always a Malcolm McDowell wackiness moment, and always a phenomenally borderline ridiculous courtroom showdown. And, y’know, there are worse things.

Suits: The major flaw in Suits‘ plot-related long-term storyline is that it is based on a short-term arrangement. Mike is Harvey’s not-really-a-Harvard-grad intern/protege/underling, and the main conflict is keeping every other character from finding out that Mike is not actually allowed to be doing the job he is doing. So while the illusion maintained, the story works out well. Once the inevitable revelation happens, no matter how creative I get, I cannot conceive of a way for the plot to continue without becoming unbearably stupid. That said, the interpersonal plot arcs in the series are incredibly well-done. Obviously, Mike and Harvey’s relationship is the most prominent, and it is very well-crafted. But also compelling are Mike’s attempted romance with Rachel and Louis’ (Hoffman) relationships with everyone. Even the history of the relationship between Harvey Specter and Jessica Pearson (Torres) inspires a good amount of fascination.

Winner: I’m gonna have to give this one to Suits as well. Franklin & Bash might have more long-term potential with such an open-ended storyline, but I care a lot less about the story and so don’t really care about said long-term potential.

FINAL TALLY: Franklin & Bash – 2, Suits – 0

I guess it’s no surprise I’m giving Suits the win in this SHOWDOWN.

The two series are fairly well-matched in terms of comedy, writing, casting, and production value. The major difference for me is connectability. Franklin & Bash puts the majority of its energies into entertainment value. And yeah, the mere concept of a lawyer shotgunning a can of beer as part of his defense case is pretty damn entertaining, especially when that antic leads to a victory. But even beer and boobs and bravado get dull after awhile. Suits has its own faults, overbearing USA-typical product placement among them, but there is a certain amount of soul to it. There is a human quality, personified in the Mike Ross character, that Franklin & Bash has no chance of matching. If you’re just looking for a fun show to bide the time until that fall season premiere you’re waiting for happens, I recommend both series equally. But if you want to add to your permanent repertoire of shows to track, I suggest you check out Suits.

FALL IS FUN: New Series for 2011/2012 – FOX

I will admit, I’ve been struggling to find the inspiration/motivation to start up here in earnest again. I have found the answer*: NEW FALL LINEUP. There is nothing more energizing than the anticipation of a whole list of new shows. Mostly because of the implied opportunity to both praise and bash. I am Very Excited.

And so Melted Brain begins again. The method of this year’s Fall Lineup Preview is a network-by-network breakdown of the shows I’m going to be watching/tracking. First up: FOX.

TERRA NOVA
Premieres Monday September 26 at 8pm

I have every faith that this series is going to be terrible, but I am totally going to watch it. Why? Dinosaurs. I mean really. What more could a show possibly need…..that said, I have serious misgivings about Terra Nova. For several reasons.

1) It is trying so hard to be Avatar but it just can’t. They’re even using the same scary old guy – Stephen Lang – although he appears to be more toward the benevolent end of the scale in this series…although maybe that’s just a trick and he’s actually playing the exact same character. Anyway. 99% of the appeal of Avatar was the technological techniques innovated and utilized to produce it and network television just can’t match that. By a long shot. Also, Terra Nova also seems to be lacking the one minute glitter of moral appeal from Avatar: environmental undertones**. Which leads and expands into my next issue with Terra Nova,

2) The premise of this show breaks my nature-loving, pacifist little heart. No really, I have one, and the previews of Terra Nova are making it cry. I am not generally a fan of post-apocalyptic stories, not least because sometimes I think that I’ll end up living one sometime in the next eighty years or so. But, accepting the fact that post-apocalyptic literature is and always has been a major staple of Western world fiction, I will say that the appealing theme is usually humanity redeeming itself through the practice of basic kindness in a cutthroat environment (and also the creation of really awesome tools from rudimentary and scrap materials). In Terra Nova, humanity’s solution to a broken society is apparently to send humans, guns and plastics in tow, back to the Jurassic so that humans can start wantonly killing the wildlife and destroying the planet a few million years sooner. Even if we totally disregard the time travel paradoxes inherent in this scenario, there is something really wrong with this. If the apparent moral implications of this premise doesn’t worry you, you worry me.

3) The thing that confounds me most about Terra Nova is how it came to be at all. It’s about time-travel and a post-apocalyptic society, but also they fight dinosaurs. Fighting dinosaurs and other forms of violence appear to play a key role, but the story appears to revolve around a wholesome, loving family. And that family is so loving and wholesome and relatable, but apparently they are also those good guys who flagrantly disregard rules (two child limit for an overpopulated world, but they have three) and father figure is apparently that stereotypical alpha male family man who is both the biggest hero and the biggest asshole when it comes to basic law abiding. Basically, there are an awful lot of logic-gaps. And this is even before the story starts.

I keep trying to convince myself that Terra Nova must be better than it looks, because how else could it possibly have earned air time. But then the more I think about what I have seen and learned, the worse it seems. So I’m going to watch the pilot, and a few more episodes after if I find I can stomach it. But I am not hopeful. And I maintain the suspicion that Terra Nova has come to fruition simply because there is still a major sci-fi void on the major networks (because Fringe just doesn’t count for some reason) and everyone is trying desperately to fill it and inherit the ratings-bringing nerdhoards.

NEW GIRL
Premieres Tuesday September 20 at 9pm

I do not want to watch this show. I do not want to watch this show. I do not want to watchthisGODDAMMIT. Even I am hopeless against the powers of Zooey Deschanel. I think she is overrated in so many ways. I think her domination of the “quirky girl” market is ridiculous and aggravating. I think this show is going to be pretty awful but that it will survive at least a full season just because it is Zooey Deschanel. And those three guys who were cast because they’re vaguely good-looking, you’ve never heard of them, and they won’t distract from Zooey Deschanel at all. Mostly this is just going to be a Zooey Deschanel temple disguised as a television show.

Of course, I could always be mistaken. This could end up having the same sort of sneaky charm-coated-clever that makes How I Met Your Mother so damn appealing. (Probably not, though.)


THE FINDER
Midseason

This series has already been premiered, to an extent, in a crossover episode with Bones last season (this is known as a “backdoor pilot”). I didn’t particularly enjoy it then, and I don’t expect a full non-Bones pilot is going to change my mind. Why? Because this series is nothing new. The Finder is going to be just another iteration of That Show. Which That Show do I mean? It could be any of three.

First possibility: TV Procedural Based On A Book Series (primary and obvious reference example, Bones). There is something about basing television series on book series that makes my teeth itch. Because when the television series is good, I wonder how a premise/story so well-suited to TV could possibly work as a book. And when the television series is bad, I just wonder why the television series had to happen at all…and again I wonder how good the book could possibly be. Which is maybe more a commentary on my bias about television series that do get adapted into TV series…anyway.

Another good fit is Quirky Procedural (examples: The Mentalist, Lie to Me, Raines). CSI is old now. We as a general public are no longer fascinated by standard forensic investigation, because we have finally figured out that it’s just a bunch of science nerds pouring chemicals and tapping at computers and that, realistically, the whole process should be a lot more drawn out and a lot more boring than television has trained us to think it is. So instead we get these off-the-beaten-path “investigators” who have superpowers, explicable and believable or not, that we are supposed to be fascinated by. This backfires, of course, when we realize that the reason we don’t understand said superpowers is because They Don’t Make Any Sense, that the writers are basically free to make up random shit, and the entire thing becomes obnoxious. These shows, in an attempt to sidesweep their nonsensicality, often also rely heavily on one other key element, the last category,

Procedural That Revolves Around An Attractive Male Lead. “Attractive” is a general term I use that doesn’t necessarily (although usually does) include the physical. Familiar favorites of this category include House, The Mentalist, and the recently deceased Lie to Me. Basically, these shows rely heavily-to-excessively on the charm of their lead character. Every other character can be boring as all hell and the premise can be totally ridiculous (or, again, boring as hell), just so long as the principal is enigmatic/handsome/eccentric/badass enough to keep the attention and affection of an audience.

The Finder fits into those two latter categories really well, but I have no hopes for it. I don’t find Geoff Stults particularly talented or particularly physically attractive. The “Finder Power” as previewed in the initial Bones episode seems especially ridiculous (Pyramids on the ceiling mean somebody is thinking about dying which means they are dying prematurely of a disease? Because pyramids have a traditional symbolic meaning of soul-immortality which of course everybody knows and…how did we get to that conclusion again?). And even giving some actual screen time to Michael Clarke Duncan is not enough to make a show worth watching. Unfortunate fact. FOX keeps trying to find that elusive new procedural to join/replace House and Bones as they dwindle into old age. But I don’t think this is it. Shoulda kept Lie to Me, guys…

ALCATRAZ
Midseason

Alcatraz is the newest form of awesome from JJ Abrams and supposedly he has promised that it will be Even Weirder Than Lost. Given the preview, I’d say that’s a distinct possibility. Which is, for those of us suffering through a world where great shows we want to watch get cancelled and dreadful shows we would never watch endure Methuselah-style, probably the greatest selling point.

I did a little research into the storyline of Alcatraz, because it’s hard to tell from the preview exactly what the show is going to look like in the long run; what the preview gives us is probably a good half of the substance of the pilot. (For other shows, I’d assume closer to 80%, but JJ Abrams is the king of pilot episodes so there is definitely way more to it than what we’re seeing already.) What you can’t tell from the preview is that the story actually largely revolves around a woman called Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) and her multigenerational family history with the infamous prison. She appears to be the newest member of a well-known archetype, Fairly Dull Blonde Government Agent Female Lead. But she could always surprise us (read: me). Certainly the rest of the cast is spectacularly exciting: Jorge Garcia of Lost, Parminder Nagra (ER and Bend It Like Beckham), Heroes alums Robert Forster and Santiago Cabrera, and Sam Neill (SAM. FREAKING. NEILL.). Also featured in (at least) the pilot, an actor you maybe haven’t seen before but who I have high hopes for, Jeffrey Pierce, who I know as the alcoholic would-be rapist/murderer from Life but who you might know from any number of guest roles. Or not. Either way, I have the expectation that he’ll prove to be excellent.

My general feelings about Alcatraz run somewhat opposite my feelings about Terra Nova. I worry a little that it is going to be a sad knockoff-cum-rehash of previous JJ Abrams projects. What we know so far is that bad people with secrets disappear and then reappear mysteriously on an island and get into fights with other secret-holding morally-questionable persons and there’s a huge conspiracy underlying everything that happens that may or may not ever be explained in a totally logical way. And it takes place on an island. Ringing some rusty bells for ya? Tired-sounding or not, though, we can be assured that the pilot will be spectacular. Because again, pilots are what JJ Abrams does better than almost anyone in the business.

Alcatraz won’t be coming until the midseason, but it’s never too early to create buzz. JJ Abrams projects thrive on two things: anticipation and introductions. (Case in point, the year-and-a-half lead-in to Star Trek and then the first ten minutes of that movie.) So start getting excited. It’s not too early.

Feel like I missed something? That’s probably because I have absolutely no interest in seeing it. If you want a full Fall/Midseason schedule, I suggest Zap2It’s nifty interactive chart, which will provide you with a nifty little interface and handy links to check out the titles you don’t recognize.

*The other newfound inspiration for a Melted Brain revival is my discovery of/pending involvement with Personal Arrogants. This is a website and podcast formed around the idea of pop culture and nerd culture colliding. If you like to think and you like to laugh and you like to use the Internet (and if you don’t, wtf are you doing here), I HIGHLY recommend their podcast.

**I remember reading this article when it came out and despairing at the sheer NO SHITness of it all. Avatar has environmental undertones? Really? Avatar might be slightly racist? NO WAY. Perhaps the writer was just trying to adjust to the shock of there being anything remotely resembling substance in a James Cameron megamovie but seriously. I make a hobby of pointing out the obvious, and even I think a Captain Obvious line has been crossed.

Hindsight: The Dresden Files

(Experimenting with a slightly different Hindsight format here, because the precedented format is a bit…excessive for a show that only ran twelve episodes.)

Original Airdates: 2007-2008
Network: Syfy*
Creator: Jim Butcher, Hans Beimler, Robert Hewitt Wolfe

The Dresden Files, based on a series of novels by Jim Butcher, tells the story of Harry Dresden (Paul Blackthorne), private investigator/police consultant and wizard. His wand is a hockey stick – sometimes a drumstick for smaller jobs – , he fries technology with mere touches, and he is a terrible housekeeper. His best friend is the ghost of an ancient sorcerer called Bob (Terrence Mann). He is the go-to consultant for Chicago detective Connie Murphy (Valerie Cruz) for all things wild, weird, and exceptionally disgusting. Other recurring characters include Murphy’s partner/underling Kirmani (Raoul Bhaneja), magical High Council member Morgan (Conrad Coates), and Inarra Serra’s vampire twin Bianca (Joanne Kelly).

The cases investigated by Dresden and Murphy provide the backbone for most episodes and include such paranormal staples as vampires, werewolves, possession, ancient relics, and magically aided petty theft. There are a few series-long plot arcs involving the death of Harry Dresden’s uncle Justin Morningway (Daniel Kash), Dresden’s own flirtation with black magic and its addictive properties, and of course the unavoidable slow-burning almost-romance between the lead and his female “very close friend.”

STRENGTHS:

1) Paul Blackthorne
How good is Paul Blackthorne, exactly? I-was-so-impressed-that-I-went-and-looked-him-up-and-realized-he-is-someone-I’d-seen-before-who-I’d-already-been-really-impressed-by-but-I-didn’t-notice-because-the-character-was-so-different-from-the-previous-times good. He embodies the semi-slobby Chicagoan hero so completely, you’d never know he was actually a Brit. Nevermind the Brit who played the awesomely villainous Stephen Saunders of 24‘s Day 3. Blackthorne has a great ability for both comedy and emotion, physical and verbal. And he has the hallmark ability that assures my admiration for any actor, male or female: he convinces me that he is attractive, even when I don’t particularly think he is. Even when the other elements of the series get dull-verging-on-irritating, Paul Blackthorne’s performance maintains my interest.

2) Settings
The environments for this show are of an immense quality, exterior locations and interior dressed sets both. When the action or writing failed to hold my complete attention, just looking at the details and completeness of sets like Harry Dresden’s lab was more than enough to occupy me. Everything (or everywhere, rather) felt completely formed and perfectly suited to the purpose and mood of the locations and the scenes taking place within them. Neither costumes nor special effects are particularly worth mentioning for this series, but the settings give The Dresden Files a level of visual success worthy of note.

3) Solidity
In a very real way, The Dresden Files hits the ground running. There’s no toddler period where the actors and characters struggle to establish relationships with each other and with the story. You know who Harry Dresden is the moment he introduces himself, and you know that he knows himself as well. Even before you learn that Bob is a ghost, and long before it is explained that he was Harry’s teacher, you understand the relationship between the two of them. The series was lucky in that way, because at least there was no time in only twelve episodes wasted on a concerted effort to make old friends act like that’s what they are in a way that the audience believes. I believed from the beginning, and that’s pretty rare when you get right down to it.

WEAKNESSES

1) Episodes
The biggest struggle for me in watching this series was the fact that, of only twelve episodes, three of them were The Vampire Episode and The Werewolf Episode and The Ghost Episode. And, the really unfortunate part, none of these took particularly creative forms. The vampires are dull and predictable, cousins of the Buffyverse breed but without the teeth, so to speak. And when the Twilight werewolves rank as more inventive and interesting, well… Fact is, the format of American television requires a formula of 3/4 filler and 1/4 story. The story portion of The Dresden Files is great, absolutely. But it fails fairly epically at filler. And you can’t get ratings to continue on for more story when your filler sucks, nor is anyone going to care enough to try and help you.

2) Comprehensibility
This is maybe the unfortunate consequence of a few things coming together in a less-than-ideal way. The original pilot for The Dresden Files was actually cut down into Episode 8, which pushed a lot of exposition so far back that by the time it got to the audience, everyone with half a brain had put the bits together through pure intuition and also the scattered details that were desperately thrown into earlier episodes to make up for the fact that the entire set up of the world and story got thrown off. But even taking those things into account, there was just a lot that needed to be explained earlier and more clearly. Often I complain that series overcompensate for potential stupidity on the part of their viewers. It is the opposite case for The Dresden Files. It would be lovely to just have some linear presentation of basic facts. When Bob says “Did you remember your wand?” I’d like to not have to go “Wait. Is that the hockey stick? Or was it a drumstick? What?” until the object in question starts shooting blue lightning.

3) Fluff
Perhaps the greatest fault of the series is that it does not at any point demand to be taken seriously. If it was not explained that Harry Dresden has a dark past and dark addition to black magic, we would have no idea, simply because the sort of intensity implied in that situation is never presented. We don’t see Dresden struggle with it – or, at the very least, not in any way that for even the briefest moment we worry he might succumb to his sinful side. Asking the audience to worry about Dresden’s struggle with the darkside is like asking someone to be afraid for their life in a lasertag arena. It’s a pretty simple concept that The Dresden Files fails to realize: no risk, no reward (no renewal).

BEST EPISODE: “Birds of a Feather”

http://www.hulu.com/embed/FVkwav-D_WHxPKiDnnCKDg

This episode became the pilot for the series after “Storm Front” was cut in half and shuffled back to the end of the series, and it made a great first introduction. This is the one episode where concrete storytelling and innovation really worked. We see Harry Dresden as an adult and as a child echoed in an adult. We also get not one, but two pretty original magical creatures, the skinwalkers and the anthropomorphized crows (the speaking voice of the latter is possibly my favorite thing that happened over the entire course of the series because it is just so perfectly done). It’s a successful episode, especially as a pilot, because it really does inspire curiosity and induce you to watch more of the series. Not least because it implies a future storyline (one that never comes to fruition, but still).

WORST EPISODE: “Bad Blood”

http://www.hulu.com/embed/qrIMzde6LPevASXoyKGl2w

aka, The Vampire Episode. The concept is tired, the vampires are uninteresting, the end is predictable…as is much of the middle. If there are any great one-liners or jokes to redeem this episode, I’ve forgotten about them. The episode isn’t terrible, but it is pretty boring. If you have ever seen any episode of any series remotely involving any creature vaguely reminiscent of a vampire, you have seen “Bad Blood.” Ditto if you’ve ever seen something involving gang/turf/drug conflicts and scantily clad women.

There’s an uncomfortable dichotomy to my opinion of The Dresden Files. I enjoyed it so much while I was watching, but I wasn’t disappointed when I hit the last episode and that was all. I really struggled to come up with three “strengths” of this show that were in fact strong enough to incorporate into this post. Not because the series is bad, but because there is almost nothing fantastic enough to be worth mention.

The mark of a great series is often that, when it ends, no matter how much there has been of it, you still want more. A few excellent elements aside, there’s nothing to make me wish for more of this show. I’m curious about the books, maybe, but mostly because I’m hoping the television series didn’t do them justice and that they contain the meaty story I was missing all twelve episodes. I don’t say this to discourage anyone from watching; this half-season is worth watching. It lives out its welcome exactly, without leaving too early or staying too long. And maybe that’s the secret to a different sort of great television.

*When The Dresden Files aired, the network was still branded as Sci-Fi.

My Favorite Guest Actors – Issue 2

I’m pulling this feature out of the deep recesses of early Melted Brain because, well, writing reviews takes thinking and that’s hard so I don’t want to but I do want to post something so this is the best I could come up with. These men (yes, all men this time – I don’t know why, but I have a hard time remembering or getting really attached to female guest actors) are some of my very very favorite guest actors. They’ve all appeared on several of my favorite shows and, I’ll be honest, they all have that capacity to be excellently creepy. I am nothing if not consistent in my tastes. Here we go!

Arnold Vosloo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He tends to be cast as “The Middle Eastern Guy” and it is in that capacity that he has appeared on several of my favorite shows. Most notably, he played the slipperiest, trickiest, most difficult-to-find-nevermind-kill main 24 villain, Habib Marwan, on Day 4. He has also appeared on Chuck and NCIS and, most recently, on Bones (and that role is being reprised soon as the touted “sniper arc” moves forward). Generally, it is versatility that impresses me in an actor. But that isn’t really what gives Arnold Vosloo his appeal. Instead, what most impresses me about his various performances is the consistent steadiness in his carriage. No matter what he is doing or saying, there is always a certain element of…class, I guess you could call it. Nervousness and wavering are just not in his vocabulary and, really, it’s that steadiness that makes him so appealing and intimidating as a villain. And there is nothing better than an effortlessly intimidating villain. Except for maybe an effortlessly intimidating might-not-actually-be-a-villain, which is also an archetype he plays.

Mark Pellegrino

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This actor has a peculiar talent for portraying both innocuous benevolence and brute violence…often in the same character. The two best examples of this disparity are Jacob of Lost and Paul of Dexter. He is totally believable as a loving father/guardian type, as well as an abusive power-hungry sonofoabitch, and somehow he even carries off the transition between those two elements. It is thoroughly amazing. But, it is a little sad that he is being more and more typecast in that sort of role – other recent examples include appearances on Supernatural and Being Human. Though losing the opportunity to seem him anywhere at anytime would be sad, I would love to see Mark Pellegrino get his own show – preferably something that gives him a chance to show off a bit more versatility.

Titus Welliver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving right along to Mark Pellegrino’s opposite number from Lost, The Man In Black. Fittingly enough, he is somewhat the opposite as an actor. Titus Welliver shares the talent for straddling two seemingly incompatible personality traits within the same character. For him, the combination seems to be enigmatic menace and almost sissyish emotionality. My favorite role of his is Kyle Hollis from Life, a murderer-for-hire turned evangelist. It was the brief clip of that character’s preaching hellfire and damnation that really sold me on this man’s talent. That talent is yet another point chalked up on the board for “Reasons Why I Should Start Watching The Good Wife.” Also, he gets major bonus points in my affections for having one of the coolest names ever.

Tony Todd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tony Todd is a bamf, straight up. The man is basically built to play menacing characters. He’s also got one of those excellent, excellent voices. He has played characters on both sides of the moral spectrum, but I definitely prefer his villains. He played General Juma on Day 7 of 24 and was pretty much solely responsible for what I consider to be the best (and by “best” I mean “most terrifying and exhilarating and adrenaline-rushy”) fifteen minutes of the season, possibly of the series. I’ll be totally honest and admit that he’s not my favorite because of his range, or even because of his talent. It’s pretty much just because he plays awesome villains and/or intimidating authority figures and any appearance he makes is sure to be good times.

Callum Keith Rennie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I’m being totally honest, I should probably start off this paragraph by being straightforward and admitting that, yes, part of the reason I enjoy Callum Keith Rennie so much is because he is attractive. But seriously, mostly I love him because he plays excellent creepers. My favorite role of his so far is probably Leoben of Battlestar Galactica because, thanks to the chance to bounce of the sheer brilliance of Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck, he got to dig his heels way deep in and explore that delicious moral gray area. His character from 24 (yes, 24 again), Vladimir Laitanan is a close second, but that’s probably because not only do I love charming-but-terrifying, I really love Russians. I was going to say “He’s another who I’d love to see have his own show.” But then I went to imdb and found out that he DOES – he plays the lead role, a detective with multiple personality disorder, in a Canadian show called Shattered. Guess what just jumped to the top five in my Need To Watch list.

Oh THAT Guy!: Issue 4

Here it is, a fresh new group of people who you’ve probably seen a billion times but haven’t ever really noticed or remembered. There are only four this time because I eliminated one at the last minute. As always, the pictures are linked to their imdb pages.

Dakin Matthews

Selected Appearances:
Desperate Housewives [multiple episodes] as Reverend Sikes (2005-2011)
True Grit as Colonel Stonehill (2010)
True Blood [multiple episodes] as Dr. Robideaux
Gilmore Girls [multiple episodes] as Hanlin Charleston (2000-2007)
Dexter “Father Knows Best” as Dr. Pittman (2006)
House “Damned If You Do” as Marvin/Santa Claus (2004)
Star Trek Voyager “Relativity” as Admiral Patterson (1999)
Flubber as Minister (1997)
The Swan Princess as King William (1994)

…and I’m going to stop there. This man has been in a million different things over the years, on American and British shows. Much of the time he plays, doctors, judges, or religious figures – basically, fusty or fluttery or finicky old man type roles. Nothing so significant that he is a household name, but more than enough comic bits to make him an easily recognizable face.

Hakeem Kae-Kazim

Selected Appearances:
NCIS: Los Angeles “Lockup” and “Harm’s Way” as Abdul Habaza (2011)
Human Target “Taking Ames” as Andre Markus (2010)
24 [multiple episodes] as Colonel Ike Dubaku (2009)
Othello as Iago*(2007)
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End as Captain Jocard (2007)
Lost “The Cost of Living” as Emeka (2006)
Hotel Rwanda as George Rutaganda (2004)
*I haven’t quite been able to figure out how this can work.

According to his imdb biography, Hakeem Kae-Kazim is a classically trained UK actor with a lot of Shakespeare in his resume. On American television, though, he is currently the go-to guy for a very specific role: the scary-as-hell but also really smiley violent dictator and/or terrorist. Oh man is he scary as hell. And really good at it.

Carlo Rota

Selected Appearances:
Human Target “Imbroglio” as Eli Rosko (2011)
Little Mosque on the Prairie [multiple episodes] as Yasir Hamoudi (2007-2010)
NCIS: Los Angeles “Found” as Kalil Abramson (2010)
CSI: NY “Sanguine Love” as Joseph Vance (2010)
Castle “The Fifth Bullet” as Bahir Harun (2009)
White Collar “Threads” as Ghovat (2009)
24 [multiple episodes] as Morris O’Brian (2006-2009)
Othello as Othello (2008)*
Queer as Folk [multiple episodes] as Gardner Vance (2002-2004)
A Nero Wolfe Mystery [multiple episodes] as Barry Fleming/Felix Courret/Spiros Papps (2002)
La Femme Nikita [multiple episodes] as Mick Schtoppel/Mr. Jones (1997-2001)
The Boondock Saints as Yakavetta (1999)
*I find this Othello circumstance only slightly less puzzling than the last.

My first exposure to Carlo Rota was when he played the British comic-relief role of Morris O’Brian on 24. So, it rather confused me when I realized that the majority of his guest roles qualify as “The Middle Eastern Guy,” or at least “The Foreign Guy.” (…I guess British would count as foreign, huh?) Anyway, he seems to spend about equal amounts of time on the sides of Good and Bad, usually serving in small-time-crime-boss or dry-comic-distraction capacities.

Jeanette Miller

Selected Appearances:
The Middle [multiple episodes] as Aunt Edie (2009-2011)
Legion as Gladys Foster (2010)
Four Christmases as Gram-Gram (2008)
Scrubs “My No Good Reason” as Betty (2007)
Dexter “Father Knows Best” as Elderly Neighbor (2006)
100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd [multiple episodes] as Crazy Grandma Taylor (2001-2002)
Friends “The One In Vegas: Part 2” as The Elderly Woman (1999)
The Truman Show as Senior Citizen (1998)
Seinfeld “The Wizard” as Old Woman (1998)
Star Trek Voyager “Random Thoughts” as The Woman (1997)

I’m guessing most people probably recognize her as “the old woman who crawled up the wall and tried to kill a baby in the previews for Legion.” And that is fair enough. As you can see from the small sampling of her resume I’ve provided, she is comfortably typecast and tends to play roles described and named with various synonyms for “aged” and “not all there.”