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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Scrubs, Chuck & Lost: missing persons

     Three of the best shows on television will be returning soon, but this time they will be down a few cast members.  Is it the economy, scheduling conflicts, or creative decisions?  I don't know, but it certainly won't be the same without them.

     Chuck returns in January, and Anna Wu, played by Julia Ling, will no longer be at the Buy More.  This is hugely disappointing to the fans, especially those rooting for her character and Morgan to work out.  Chris Fedak, co-creator of the show, gave a glimmer of hope, however, when he mentioned to Ausiello that although she is not in the original order of thirteen episodes this year, six more were picked up and they are still being written, so there's always a chance.

     Scrubs has undergone a complete makeover, and will be missing practically the entire cast.  Only Drs. Cox (John C. McGinley) and Turk (Donald Faison) will be starring in the new year, which is moving to med school, with only an occasional visit to Sacred Heart, the hospital the show has taken place at up til now.  Judy Reyes, who played Carla, only wanted to return full time, and because of the new setting, it was decided not to honor that.  She is not currently signed to return at all.  The show will even get a new narrator, with Zach Braff being reduced to a handful of appearances.  Fear not though, most of the former cast will pop up from time to time, and there are plenty of new faces that will hopefully continue on the very funny tradition.

     The most disturbing shakeup has been for Lost.  Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond) and Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet) are out, the latter currently starring in V.  They are both set to appear a little, along with former cast members Ian Somerhalder (Boone), Rebecca Mader (Charlotte), Dominic Monaghan (Charlie), and the recurring Katey Sagal (Helen), and likely more.  But Desmond was arguably the best character on the show, and he already had only limited screen time last season, being off the island but not with the Oceanic Six.  Also, he was added later in the show.  Very disappointing.  The enjoyable Jeremy Davies is also gone, and not yet signed to return at all.  The bright spot, however, is who was added.  Joining Jack, Sawyer, Kate, Locke, Sun, Jin, Hurley, Ben, Miles, and Sayid this year as full time cast members will be Jeff Fahey (Frank) and Nestor Carbonell (Richard Alpert).  Emilie de Ravin will also star, after taking last season off, as will Zuleikha Robinson, who played Ilana last year.  This final season is a complete mystery to fans, but it should be nothing if not interesting.

Monday, November 23, 2009

New Moon turns new page

     Before I even begin my review of the second movie in the Twilight saga, I'd like to admit outright that I expected this movie to suck.  Here's why.  I read all four books, and while I enjoyed the story, I believe that Stephanie Meyer is a terrible writer.  Her writing style is uneven, and many of the characters are two-dimensional.  I feel like that series is a great idea, but would have been handled better by another writer.  Thus I was excited to see the first film, hoping someone had fixed her mistakes.  Sadly, I was disappointed.  The entire thing felt poorly executed, capturing the book exactly.  Add to that, even fans of the series have trouble getting through that overly depressing second book (until Edward comes back), and I almost didn't even make the trip to the theater this weekend.

     Boy am I glad that I did.  New Moon was fantastic!  Kristen Stewart proved her acting chops, making me regret doubting her as Bella.  Taylor Lautner similarly delivered as Jacob, showing that he did not need a recast.  A slightly expanded role for the wonderful Billy Burke as Charlie was welcome, and I delighted when Ashley Greene's Alice returned near the end.  I wish there were more of the vampires, especially Rachelle Lefevre and Elizabeth Reaser, who proved themselves to be quite capable in What About Brian? and Grey's Anatomy, respectively.  The action was great, the effects flowed seamlessly, and the story didn't drag like the book did.  Bella's moping was done artistically, instead of torturing the viewer.

     I did, however, figure out what was wrong with the first movie, and this is going to be a very unpopular revelation.  It's Robert Pattinson as Edward.  He was wooden and lacked chemistry with any of the other actors during his thankfully abbreviated screen time.  I now realize it was his fault the first movie was so bad, as Kristen can act when taken away from his talent-sucking pout.  I am strongly against recasting movies, but I beg the producers to reconsider in this case, although I know they won't.  Perhaps Robert could enroll in some acting classes?  Or simply be tutored by a few of his costars, each one a worthy teacher?  New Moon was a great piece of cinema, but I worry about the upcoming sequels if Edward remains unchanged.  I know that's the point of his character, but come on!  Learn from your success.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Project Run to L.A.

     Project Runway concluded its sixth season this past Thursday.  This was the first season on Lifetime, after a five year run on Bravo.  It was also the first season set in Los Angeles, the previous five having taken place in New York.  Little about the show changed in its new setting.  Though the contestants were no longer at the Parsons School of Design, the fabulous Tim Gunn was still there to guide them along, offering them his advice and wisdom.  There were perhaps a few more celebrities stopping by, and the two popular judges Nina Garcia and Michael  Kors were unfortunately there a little less, though of course they were present at the finale.  Other than that, it seemed to be business as usual on the actual show.  There was a spinoff series as well this year, Models of the Runway, that showed what happened to the models between runway shows.  It was uninteresting and certainly unneeded, especially the final episode, which featured flashbacks from the season.  This replaced a better idea, which was a reunion show that brought back the designers.

     The talent this season was fierce.  While inventiveness had been prevalent in the past, it was frequently overshadowed by the drama, in fighting in the work room.  There was still a bit of drama this year, but not as much.  Irina, the winner, was a bit harsh at times, and there were a couple of tear eruptions during the runway shows, but for the most part, the talent shined.  As a fan since the beginning, the drama has always been my favorite part, but the show still managed to reel me in without as much of it.  What was truly inexplicable, though, was that Christopher Straub made it to the Top Five.  He placed at the bottom week after week, and yet he kept hanging on.  Thankfully, he did not get to show at Fashion Week in Bryant Park.

     The top three were Irina Shabayeva, Carol Hannah Whitfield, and Althea Harper.  Though each presented a fantastic collection, the judges were a bit harder on them in the final show than they usually are, perhaps because expectations of these three were so high.  Unfortunately, Irina won the day.  Supporters of Irina will note that she frequently placed in the top, and had consistently good designs week after week.  And I don't put any stock in the rumors of Althea copying off of Irina, especially in the finale.  They were states apart working on those collections.  The real shame is Carol Hannah, though.  She was the sweetest of the contestants, and battling her illness in the final days leading up to the runway show, she definitely had viewers rooting for her.  Many of us are terribly disappointed at her third place finish.  True, her collection did not tie together as well as the others, but for goodness sakes, she actually used color!  Irina's was predominantly black!

     This past year and a half, Project Runway has been mired in legal battles, as networks fought over who would air it.  Because of that, fans of the show had to wait over a year between the completion of season five and the start of this most recent one.  The good news to come out of all of that fighting, and the fact that Runway filmed this season quite awhile ago, is that TV's best reality show will be returning in two short months!  Season seven premieres in January on Lifetime.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lock Up The Prisoner

    AMC remade the British classic, The Prisoner, but unfortunately, it was a snooze fest.  For purposes of full disclosure, I have never seen the former version, and though I enjoy the AMC original series Breaking Bad, I find their critical hit Mad Men to be incredibly boring.  So if your opinion of the network differs from mine, you may not be pleased with this review.

     The story centers on 6, a man known only by a number, waking up in some strange desert town called The Village (no, not the same Village from M. Night Shyamalan).  The residents of the Village insist that there is no other world outside of this place, but 6 is plagued by dreams of another life, and doesn't remember being there before, though he has a house.  The mystery deepens as he struggles to find out why an old man has died, and why others dream strange dreams and sketch landmarks such as Big Ben and the Statue of Liberty.  Running The Village is 2, who has a son 11-12, and whose mother is in a coma.  The first major twist is when 6 discovers that 16, who told him they were brothers, was lying, but for what purpose?  Every time 6 seems close to figuring out a piece of the puzzle, someone is killed or disappears or distracts him.

     The problem is, the story is just not that interesting.  James Caviezel (Jesus in The Passion of the Christ) plays a 6 that doesn't have viewers rooting for him at all.  He seems more annoying that heroic.  Similarly, 11-12, who is supposed to have major subplot, just comes across as whiny and cold.  The female love interests are not in the least attractive nor compelling.  And by the time something starts to happen in the 5th and 6th hours, a 2 and 6 duplicate have shown up and made things even more confusing.  Is it all happening in their heads, or is there really an isolated Village?  I don't really care, nor do I care about the evil company behind it.  It's been done before, and with more talent behind it.  Admittedly, this show was made in the sixties, so it predates many of the stories I am comparing it to, but since this is a new miniseries, it faces those comparisons.

     The bright spot is Sir Ian McKellen (Lord of the Rings, X-Men) playing 2.  He is always a wonderful actor, and this is no exception.  Surrounded by dullards, he manages to shine even more by comparison.  His is clearly a complicated character, with much motivation hidden eternally, and yet, McKellen manages to convey those secrets.  He is the only reason I still have the 6th hour running on my TV as I write this article, already having given up on 2's plight.

     One final comment, the tone and mood of this miniseries, as well as the score and special effects, lead one to conclude that this show would have more appropriately aired on the SyFy channel.  Previous efforts of their's, Flash Gordon and Tin Man come to mind, were similar.  Though SyFy doesn't always have the best judgment on their programming (Battlestar Galactica excepted), one has to wonder if perhaps they weren't offered the show and wisely passed.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Plan for Galactica

     Battlestar Galactica: The Plan came out on DVD October 27th. For fans of the recent four season series, this was a worthy side story. For the first hour and twenty-five minutes or so, it just seemed to fill in some gaps from the miniseries and first two seasons, but the last twenty minutes made the whole thing worth it and really gave the story meaning. In those moments, the viewer will see certain Cylons in a whole new light, and understand even more what their intentions were.

      The made for tv movie, that has not yet aired, stars Dean Stockwell as Brother Cavil. The whole thing really hinges on him, book-ended by the death of two of his models. Not only do we get to finally see what he was doing before he showed up on screen, we actually see a version of him that is a bit sympathetic. I have always maintained that he is the only truly evil character in the show, everyone else falling in some shade of grey. In this, there is the evil Cavil, but there is also one who sees the perspective of human love, and understands what is happening to the other Cylon models. It gives the part new meaning, and really allows Stockwell an opportunity he didn't have in the series.

      Also featured are Ricky Worthy's Simon Cylon and Lymari Nadal as Giana. You may (or more likely may not) remember Giana from the miniseries, played by Edward James Olmos's real-life wife. She gets a meaty story that combines with Simon's. All of the other Cylons also show up, though Diana and Tori only briefly, and Ellen only slightly more. None of the other Galactica characters appear to have shot new footage, but there are scenes from the series mixed in, cut seamlessly together. If I had not watched the series, I would not have realized that they were recycled, so well it is put together. There are also some awesome new special effects, and fans will love to see planet-side action just before the series began.

     All in all, this wasn't earth shattering. It couldn't have been. The series concluded very satisfactorily. And if you haven't ever watched the show, you'll be more than a little lost. But for fans who craved just a little more, this does a fine job of giving you that. Directed by Edward James Olmos, who played Adama, and written by Buffy's Jane Espenson, I recommend that fans of the show add it to their Christmas list.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

     Comedy Central tends to give most shows only a season or two, and this fall is shaping up to be no different.  Two new shows have premiered, The Jeff Dunham Show and Secret Girlfriend, and neither one is shaping up to be a keeper.  Dunham's standup act is hilarious, but broken into twenty minute episodes with skits that send his puppets to the real world, it just falls flat.  There have been a few laugh out loud moments in the first few episodes, but only a few.  It doesn't appear destined to air for long.  Similarly, Secret Girlfriend, while a novel and original idea, just can't hold interest.  Horny teenage guys may drool over it, but once a boy has had a serious girlfriend, or a few hookups, the show should loose interest quickly.  It's little more than filthy softcore porn.  Traditionally, though, the genre has belonged to women, so it's interesting to see a young male's perspective.  However, one episode is plenty.

     These recent failures are not a sign that the network is down for the count.  It has shows like these every year.  It banks on a string of strong, long-running series that continue to deliver.  Jon Stewart has never been funnier, and for anyone who though Stephen Colbert would loose relevance once Bush left office, they were dead wrong.  The dynamic duo keeps late night funny, and still delivers topical political news stories.  Recently, after Walter Kronkite's death, Time Magazine conducted a poll finding Jon Stewart the most trusted newsman in America, beating even Brian Williams, proving that he is more than fluff.  Colbert triumphed again just this month when convincing followers to support the US Speedskating Team.  Not to mention South Park, which after a season or two of mostly duds, which followed some of the best episodes of the series, is fully back to relevance.  Last week there was a great satire on Fox News, among other things, and other recent episodes tackled the meaning of the word fag, dead celebrity ghosts, prostitution, Japanese fishing, and wrestling.  The Sarah Silverman Program should also be back soon, and though Reno 911! has ended a six season run, the network will be bringing back new episodes of Futurama, six years after Fox cancelled it.

     What will be Comedy Central's next big hit?  Afterall, there tend to be about a dozen or two flops in between each successful show.  Luckily, the network seems to have the resources to keep trying, and part of the fun in seeing what they come up with next, even if you have to wade through garbage to find it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

You're Welcome Will Ferrell

    Recently released on DVD is Will Ferrell's Broadway show, You're Welcome America A Final Night With George W. BushWith a runtime of just under an hour and a half, the HBO-produced movie gets a little boring after awhile.  Note: If you get the movie from Netflix, the runtime is listed as two hours.  This is (thankfully) wrong.  The entire show was amusing, but not once did it elicit an out loud laugh.  Not a single one.

     Will Ferrell played George W. Bush on Saturday Night Live and various online sites.  He did so successfully, and often with hilarious results.  The problem here is that the character is stretched far too long.  However, one would think that there would be some gems, but none emerge.  It is more or less a historical walk through of Bush's life, concentrating on the presidency, laced with inane tangents, some true, some less so.  There are actual quotes thrown in.  Sometimes a TRUE flashes on the screen behind him, unneccessarily.  The graphics behind the actor play like a power point presentation, mostly factual and supporting, not a joke.  The one notable exception is the picture of someone's penis, shown three times.  Don't know who's, and don't care to.  The show tries to break things up by having a Secret Service agent (played by Ferrell's brother) dance while Will changes costumes, but even that falls a little flat.

     If you liked the character on SNL, prepare to be disappointed.  Perhaps live, with the robust theater energy, and the novelty of a clever, witty idea, this played well.  Watched at home on the DVD player, it doesn't.  It wasn't terrible.  I sat through the entire thing.  There was just nothing about it that stands out, nor any examples I can point to to recommend the movie.

     As 'Bush' says at the end, "I know you're not going to thank me...", I assume Will Ferrell means as well.  The "You're welcome" is said to himself, certainly not from the viewer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lopez and Sykes: changing the color of late night

     In the past few days, two people who look a bit different than what is expected joined the ranks of late night television.  George Lopez, a Latino man, is now on Monday through Thursday on TBS, while Wanda Sykes, an African-American lesbian, will appear Saturday nights on Fox.  Their shows are called Lopez Tonight and The Wanda Sykes Show, respectively.  But has anything really changed?

     Lopez, according to the show's press packet, is trying to make his series more audience interactive and fluid, drawing from Arsenio Hall as an influence.  To be honest, though it was slightly more edgy (Eva Longoria Parker danced on a stripper pole and audience members tested racist stereotypes), it didn't seem that much different than any other late night show.  He did ditch the desk, and he also asked the audience for questions, but the tone was fairly mild, and many of the traditional conventions were there.  The biggest difference was the cheering audience, but that seemed reminiscent of a daytime show, think Oprah.  Lopez is supposedly going for a party atmosphere, but he is clearly working under a set of restraints that keep him from straying too far off the beaten path.  Either that, or perhaps just the first episode was.  After all, he has said that shows may begin with a performance rather than a monologue from time to time.  In full disclosure, I admit I've never found the man funny, and his show underwhelmed me.  Other than the couple of things mentioned, it seemed like more of the same with a Latino face.  Or faces, as his guests included Carlos Santana and Parker.

     Sykes, on the other and, showed no sign of the leash.  While airing on Fox, she freely went after Fox News, and her sidekick is a drag queen.  Of course, her show is significantly different than Lopez's.  Hers is a combination of standup and humorous conversations with celebrities.  It could easily have aired on Comedy Central, fitting right in with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert with her biting political commentary.  In fact, a surprisingly large portion of the show concerned her talking about President Obama.  Her humor is quite edgy.  One entire segment involved her trying to make sex toys go green.  Guests got to sit and drink alcohol while chatting at her long table, all of them appearing at once.  I highly recommend tuning in, as I often found myself chuckling out loud.  It truly is a new, fresh show.  On top of all that, Sykes is working double duty right now, as she continues as one of the leads in CBS's The New Adventures of Old Christine.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

V is for ?

     The pilot for ABC's new V was vexing.  I say that, because it was impossible to tell if the series is going to be any good or not.  Pilots can often be decieving, and this one puzzled me.  I am not a fan of the original version, so I can't compare, only write about impressions from the one hour that ABC aired Tuesday.
     On one hand, there was the great cast, led by Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost) and including two Firefly / Serenity veterans (Morena Baccarin and the always fantastic Alan Tudyk), as well as other television stars such as Joel Gretsch (The 4400) and Scott Wolf (Party of Five, The Nine).  It also had wonderful special effects, hints of a mysterious backstory, and potential intrigue.

     On the other, it had cheesiness out the wazoo.  TWO priests assigned to a church that has "stood empty for years", save for a handful of bums?  With the nationwide shortage of clergy, I can't see one such priest staying there, or even the church staying open, let alone two, and it looks well kept up and clean.  Then Elizabeth Mitchell just happened to find her son in the busy city swarming with people?  And speaking of her character, why didn't she notice that Alan Tudyk was ready to give up three seconds after smashing into the shed, despite being a trained FBI agent?  It makes sense to the viewer, because of his twist later, but as far as she knows, he is her loyal partner.  Would the feds really give up that easily?  Even I knew that there had to be some secret trap door down to a basement.  Duh!  I also count casting Smallville's wooden Supergirl, Laura Vandervoot, as a misstep.

     Glaring cliches like those could hold this series back, and earn it a cancellation by February sweeps.  It is a positive sign that ABC is airing it through November.  This was one of the shows I was looking most forward to this year.  By episode two, the loopholes may be fixed, and they'd better be, or else the Viewers may not care to watch the Visitors.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The League will not fatigue

     FX's newest sitcom is The League, and this one works very well.  While the network does good drama, this is only their second enjoyable sitcom, after It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  I admit, because of the sports-themed content, and other failed attempts before it, I almost didn't tune in.  I'm glad that I did, because this one earned a season pass to my TiVo immediately.

     The show centers around five guys who play fantasy football.  Well, technically, one of the guy's takes all his advice from his wife, but the guys are who get together.  Their various lives are different enough to be interesting, but not so much that their friendship seems unrealistic.  Yes, they may be in different places, but there's a strong bond there.

     The main thing this show has going for it is the cast, especially Nick Kroll and Stephen Rannazzisi, who recently appeared in funny, failed shows such as Worst Week, Big Day, and Samantha Who?, each funny, though quickly cancelled.  This show certainly proves the adage about when one door closes, another one opens.

     I only caution the show not to step too far into the tasteless pool, which It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is guilty off from time to time.  There's a fine line between hilarious and gross, and the character who had the kid up in the bedroom asking for tips, while his parents believed that there was something sexual going on, toed the line very closely.  It didn't cross it this time, but I hope they rarely do.  Side note, if it's a bit crass, but makes you spit milk out of your nose, like Taco's birthday song almost did, it gets a pass.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Michael Jackson this is it number one

     The Michael Jackson film, This Is It, was number one at the box office this week, and not because it was a well made movie.  It is apparent that had Michael Jackson not passed away so suddenly, this film would never had been.  The picture quality, though great in some parts, was lacking in others.  The King of Pop's singing voice was often weak, though he commented that he was saving his voice, and the times he did allow himself to sing out, he sounded as amazing as ever.  In fact, the man himself appeared fit, ready to perform at any time.  His dancing was impecable, and he showed no hint of fatigue or weakness.  Clearly, he was healthy before his death.  In fact, during a couple of the Jackson 5 song numbers he looked giddy, truly happy.  It was touching.

     While as a film, This Is It had plenty of flaws, it will not dampen fans' enjoyment, nor should it.  The intention seems to be to give people one last chance to see MJ, and to imagine what his sold out concerts this past summer in London would have been like.  At that, it succeeds wonderfully.  Not as put together as a traditional behind the scenes movie, it does convey an emotion and mood of that specific time.  Seeing MJ himself, and the wonderful musicians and dancers that backed him up, they were really cooking up something that would have made headlines anyway, though not in the same way they ultimately did.

     A cynical person may think that this film was made merely to recupe some of the enormous expense that went into a production that never got off the ground, and I'm sure that was a consideration.  However, it is obvious as you watch that Kenny Ortega  (director of the stage production and this movie) truly cared about the man, and he himself put this together for reasons other than economical.  It is a living piece of history, and one any viewer will remember for decades to come.  It is Michael as he has never been seen, and never will be again.

     Bottom line, if you go into this expecting a film, don't bother.  If you go into this expecting Michael, fond memories, and touching moments, you won't be disappointed.