Thursday, September 28, 2006

TV: Heroes

Heroes is a cool, fun, interesting concept, poorly executed.

Around the world, certain people are discovering they have special abilities. A cheerleader can heal herself from any harm instantly. An artist channels visions of the future through his paintings. A politician can fly. Meanwhile, in India, a professor has devoted his research to these next steps in evolution; when his father, who was conducting the same research, dies in New York, the professor moves to America to continue his father's work. There he discovers that someone is working against him, a Villain to match the new Heroes.

What a great idea. I love the premise of super-powered people learning about their abilities, and then having to unite against a common foe. I am a comic book fan, after all. But the writing is a real weakness here. It opens with a pretentious title screen, referring to "Volume One" of the "epic" tale, and the show is bookended by a wholly unnecessary narrator, whose voiceovers are filled with clunky exposition and leaden hammering on the "hero" theme.

There's nothing subtle about the writing. Milo Ventimiglia's character, Peter, is told by his mother that he always "hero-worshipped" his older brother (Nathan, the politician who can fly, played by Adrian Pasdar). The scenes with the Japanese man who can teleport, played by Masi Oka, are the clumsiest; he's constantly dropping lines like "Every hero needs to learn his purpose," and his name -- I still can't believe this -- is actually Hiro. (His skeptical friend even belabors the obvious by mockingly referring to him as "Super Hiro.")

Strangely enough, the scenes with Hiro are also the most enjoyable. He's the only character (other than Peter, who it turns out doesn't actually have any powers, he just wishes he did) who embraces and pursues his extraordinary abilities. He takes a joyous pleasure in the possibilities, which is infectious (although I could do without the Star Trek references in every scene -- even the character's fake blog uses the "Captain's Log: Stardate ***" format). All the other characters are so troubled and angsty. The cheerleader, Claire (Hayden Panettiere), is more concerned with how her invulnerability will affect her popularity at school than the potential of her superhuman gifts. The artist, Isaac (Santiago Cabrera), is a junkie who tries to destroy his paintings and drives away his girlfriend. Ali Larter plays Niki, a single mom in trouble with the Mafia (!), who also happens to be an online stripper, and whose power seems to be a mirror image that can take on a life of its own. When two Mob goons assault her, Niki passes out, only to wake up and find her attackers have been killed, one of them literally ripped in half, presumably by the mirror image. This is a hero? I'm looking forward to next week, when one of my favorites, Greg Grunberg, joins the cast as a cop who can hear people's thoughts.

So yes, I will be back next week. I'm hoping that the worst of the writing, by series creator Tim Kring (who also created Crossing Jordan, and whose writing could get pretty bad there, too), is out of the way. There are some very good moments peppered throughout the show (my favorite darkly comic bit is Claire absent-mindedly pushing the protruding bones from her cracked rib cage back into her torso), and there's great potential here. Too bad this first episode fails to live up to that potential. When I give the show a rating of 7 out of 10, that's a reflection of the potential of the concept, and my predisposition to stick with a show about superheroes; if I were to be more objective, I'd probably give the pilot episode a 5.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

TV: Help Me Help You

I suspect ABC didn't do its new sitcom Help Me Help You, which is already saddled with a grating ten-year-old Tom Cruise movie reference for a title, any favors by scheduling its debut after a 90-minute episode of Dancing with the Stars. Since every other program airing opposite it was an hour-long show starting at 9:00, that pretty much guaranteed the only people who were going to tune in to Help Me at 9:30 were the people who had already been watching Dancing since 8:00. (Or those of us TiVoing all the new shows to review on our blogs.) That's poor programming strategy, in my eyes.

Maybe ABC is already writing the show off. I haven't seen much promotion for it. Also, it's not very good. I mean, it's better than any other new sitcom so far this season, but considering the other sitcoms are The Class, 'Til Death, and Happy Hour (which has already been yanked from the schedule by Fox), that's not saying much.

Help Me Help You stars Ted Danson as a therapist who just might have more problems than his patients. CUE THE HILARITY!! Among those attending his group therapy sessions are sitcom veteran Jere Burns, seemingly revisiting the same character and support group situation from Dear John (that was eighteen years ago, folks -- feeling old yet?); Charlie Finn (whom I remember liking from Life on a Stick, which was otherwise horrible) is the most likable of the bunch, despite being suicidal; and... other people whose names I can't be bothered with. Jane Kaczmarek plays Danson's soon-to-be ex-wife, hitting most of the same notes she did on Malcolm in the Middle, and Tom Wilson ("Helloooooo! McFly!!") is her new boyfriend.

The show almost works, despite its tired premise, due to Danson's presence. He's a sitcom king for good reason -- his timing is flawless, his reactions are priceless, and he's got that late-career grouchy, egotistical prick routine of his honed to razor-sharpness. Unfortunately, it's a routine that's a little too familiar, what with Becker still omnipresent in reruns. And the supporting cast (which also includes the Danson character's daughter and her too-old boyfriend) is unwieldy and mostly unappealing on first impression.

Strangely enough, I think a big drawback to the show is its lack of a laugh track. It's a single camera, audience-free show, but it's so traditional in its humor, settings, and presentation that it feels wrong not to hear audience laughter. Maybe I've been over-trained to respond to a laugh track, but I don't think that's quite it; I just think it's overreaching by presenting itself as a hip, non-traditional show. Its lack of awareness as to what level of the sitcom hierarchy it occupies is jarring. This ain't Arrested Development, folks. Hell, it ain't even Malcolm in the Middle.

Still, I found a few laughs peppered throughout, and in a couple of weeks, when Knights of Prosperity debuts as its lead-in at 9:00, I wouldn't be too surprised if I found myself staying tuned for Help Me at 9:30. That's the way you schedule a sitcom, ABC.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Monday, September 25, 2006

New Toy

I just got this:


I may never blog again.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

COMICS: Civil War #4

My addition to the copious enraged responses (many of which are assembled by the palindromic Neilalien here) to Marvel's controversial Civil War #4, in which a clone of the dead Thor, created in completely out-of-character fashion by Tony "Iron Man" Stark and Reed "Mr. Fantastic" Richards, murders the superhero Goliath in the name of the government's forced registration of all beings with super powers:

Wait, Thor is dead?

Also, having not read a single issue of Civil War, nor any of its tie-ins (except for She-Hulk, which is still an awesome comic despite all this monkey business), here's a spoiler for the final issue: the real Thor comes back. THAT'S RIGHT! I CALLED IT!!!

TV: Shark

The easy criticism of CBS's Shark is that it's House as a lawyer. As though Gregory House were TV's first prickly protagonist. Why isn't House Buffalo Bill as a doctor? That said, once you see James Woods chew apart his staff -- and the scenery -- in pursuit of the ends via any means necessary, it's hard to shake the comparison. Okay, here's another reason why the comparison doesn't hold: Shark isn't nearly as good a show as House.

But that doesn't make it a bad show. I've always liked James Woods, and his manic energy is focused well here as Sebastian "Shark" Stark, a high-profile L.A. defense attorney who switches sides to the prosecution when a case blows up in his face (he gets an attempted murderer freed, who then goes out and makes his next attempt more successful). Stark now has to work with District Attorney Jessica Devlin, whom he's showed up so very many times before -- how nice for him that she's a TV-friendly hot blonde with a big rack, played by Jeri Ryan. Ryan doesn't do much, but then, she's not given much to do other than generic foil-work.

Stark also gets saddled with the rejects from the DA's office for his team, since Devlin resents his presence (he's been forced on her by the mayor). The standouts on his team from this first episode are the ass-kissing, back-stabbing teacher's pet, Madeline Poe (played by Sarah Carter), who's generally right despite being a bitch, and righteous, pugnacious, stick-in-the-ass Raina Troy (played by Sophina Brown), who's generally wrong (but with good intentions), despite being, well, also a bitch. Bitchy team! Meanwhile, at home Stark is dealing with his 16-year-old daughter, Julie (Danielle Panabaker), who has to choose who will have permanent custody over her, Stark or his ex-wife, who is about to move to New York with her new fiance. Julie's a little too angelic and wise beyond her years to be believable, as is her choice to stay with her father, but the actress is still appealing enough to pull it off.

The pilot episode was directed by Spike Lee, but as opposed to his brilliant direction on his failed pilot for Showtime, Sucker Free City, it doesn't show; the look and feel of the show is passable, but not visually exciting or inventive as you'd expect from Lee. And there's one element in the show which made me roll my eyes as I haven't done since seeing the hologram machine in Bones: the full-size mock courtroom Stark has in his home. Yeah, that's likely. And maybe House has a full-size operating theater in his apartment.

All in all, it's decent enough for a legal show, certainly more enjoyable than Justice, primarily due to the strength of Woods, whose mania and intensity are always riveting. But, as I said when looking at Justice, I'm just not a fan of legal dramas. For me to have gotten hooked on this show, it would've had to crush a home run (as House did with another non-favorite genre of mine, the medical drama). As it is (to belabor the analogy), with Woods' help, Shark maybe stretches it out into a triple. But that's just not enough. I might give it a second look, but I'm not going to seek it out.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Saturday, September 23, 2006

TV: Six Degrees

Six Degrees stars Hope Davis, whom I love, and is "from" J.J. Abrams (he executive produces, but I can't find any evidence that he actually created the show), and yet I still found it hard to care at all about the show.

The show's title is taken from the "six degrees of separation" premise, but I'm not sure why. There are six main characters, but by the end of the pilot episode, they're all separated by at most two "degrees". Degrees, degrees, degrees. Degrees is a funny word. But I digress. Digress, digress, digress.

Anyhow. Just because there are six people doesn't mean there are six degrees of separation between any of them. Most of them only have one degree of separation. Wait, does direct contact between two people make them separated by zero degrees, or one degree? Okay, you know what, I'm gonna talk about something else now.

The real problem here is I didn't really care about the six people in question. Erika Christensen is on the run from someone, hiding a box that holds something. Jay Hernandez is... I'm not sure what. A lawyer of some kind? Mostly he's just trying to stalk Erika Christensen. Campbell Scott is a photographer, and also kind of a dick. Dorian Missick is a limo driver with a gambling problem. Bridget Moynahan works at a P.R. firm and has a cheating fiance. And Hope Davis lost her husband in Iraq and likes Sonic Youth. They all came across more as character sketches, rather than fully realized characters. None of them made enough of an impression on me that I cared to find out more about them. I was more interested in watching Sarah Vowell in a small role as Jay Hernandez's co-worker than any of the supposed leads.

And the gimmick that has the six of them passing in and out of one another's lives, sometimes making real connections, sometimes just brushing silently by, didn't grab me either. So, they don't all know each other yet. Apparently they soon will. But why? What's the significance of these six people getting their lives tangled together? Is there a larger purpose to it all? Doesn't seem like it; feels like nothing more than soap opera storylines criss-crossing. So what if the limo driver doesn't know the grieving widow. On most TV shows with a large cast, there are characters who don't know other characters. Why make such a big deal out of it here? The whole concept is labored and uninteresting to me.

I kind of wanted to like this show, because of Davis and Abrams, but while it's not offensively bad, and does feature decent acting and random Sarah Vowell cameos, there's just nothing to pull me in, no reason to tune in again. And so, I don't think I will.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Friday, September 22, 2006

TV: A breather

No reviews of any new shows today. (Probably. I might get inspired later this evening, you never know.) But that doesn't mean I don't still want to talk about TV!

I was out of the house Wednesday night, and forgot to set the TiVo for the premieres of two new shows, Kidnapped and Jericho. Oh no! Fortunately, both shows are being repeated by their respective networks tomorrow night. It's been this way for quite a while (forever?), but every once in a while something like this will remind me: boy, the networks have just completely given up doing anything interesting with Saturday night, haven't they? I guess Fox still does Cops and America's Most Wanted, plus there are newsmagazine shows, but that's it for original programming. This is why I'm looking forward to seeing if ABC's new Saturday Night College Football will work or not. Will people tune in on Saturday night, even for sports? Will it lead to other networks wanting to experiment on the night?

I've recently caught up on most of the end of last season's Gilmore Girls. You may recall when I talked about it last May (although, if you're like most of the male populace, any words pertaining to such a "chick" show may have been invisible to you), and said that I had given up recording the show. I wasn't sure, I said, if I'd even try to catch up on the show again via reruns. Well, apparently I have.

I only caught three of the final four episodes of the year (I missed the episode before the season finale), but it got me back into the show -- in a small way, but I'm back. I'm not tremendously enthusiastic about it; the flaws that made me give up on the show in the first place were still apparent at times. But its merits were more apparent, possibly because these were the final episodes of the year, and everything that had been established early in the season was building to a juicy climax. (That sounded dirty.)

I was very happy to see, at long, long last, the meeting between Lorelai and Luke's daughter, April, at her 13th birthday party. Luke finally seemed to have gotten over his fear of the two meeting, and April and Lorelai of course got on wonderfully. But then April's mother, played by the always-lovely Sherilyn Fenn, has to come along and ruin everything by forbidding April to see Lorelai again. That seemed way too obnoxious and wrong-headedly overprotective to me, even for a stubborn single mother, especially when you consider that her child is actually a teenager now, and that she's not freshly divorced and jealous or wary of Luke's new girlfriends, but is in fact a dozen years down the line from her relationship with Luke, and was never even married to him in the first place. However, it was nice for Luke to now have a reason to keep Lorelai and April apart, other than sheer idiocy; if he let April near Lorelai, he was in danger of never getting to see his daughter again.

And I loved the season finale episode. I loved the bookends to the show with Lorelai staring forlornly toward the camera in the foreground while background action takes place. Loved Lorelai finally busting Luke on all the stupid crap he'd put her through. Loved seeing The Office's Melora Hardin as Christopher's blind date/Lorelai's impromptu therapist. Loved Logan's father putting Rory in her place over the meddling in her relationship she imagined he'd been committing ("Get over yourself," he basically tells her, "there's a lot more going on than your tiny little world." The guy's a jerk, but he was right on in this scene). Loved seeing Logan leave for London. Don't come back! (Still hate that guy.) Loved the Mary Lynn Rajskub cameo (although any scene involving town troubadours is inherently grating, much like any scene involving Lorelai's dog). And I loved the messy, self-destructive ending, in which Lorelai, having delivered a wedding ultimatum to Luke, who rejected it, as is his nature, finds comfort in the bed of Christopher.

So I guess I'm back on board with Gilmore Girls, just in time for its upcoming season debut, back-to-back with Veronica Mars, on the CW. Hooray!

I've recently gotten hooked on Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is just incredibly fun. War consumes a world of nations divided by the elements Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. The Fire Nation, led by its fire magic-wielding warriors (or Firebenders), is on the verge of world domination. Only one man can stand in their way: the Avatar, the only person in the world who can wield magic derived from all four elements. But the latest incarnation of the Avatar, Aang, has been frozen in an iceberg for the past 100 years; when he is unfrozen, he is still only a 12-year-old boy, lacking mastery over any of the elements but Air.

Avatar exhibits much of the style and sensibilities of anime, but is firmly American in origin. Meaning it features a continuing storyline populated with complex and evolving characters and a deep world history, without quite so many mind-boggling leaps of illogic and bizarre, ultra-violent/sexual "What the hell??" moments (like, say, robot tentacle penises). That works just fine for me. Some of you may think I'm ignorant and close-minded, and you may go enjoy all the robot tentacle penises you want on Adult Swim. I'll stick with Avatar.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

TV: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Ah, that's better. After watching several mediocre-to-truly awful new shows, I've finally gotten to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which, despite a few flaws, is my favorite new offering of the Fall season thus far, and a great addition to the TV landscape.

Aaron Sorkin has put together another fantastic cast of sharp, funny actors, this time to take on the world of late-night sketch comedy. Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford are especially great as Matt and Danny, two writers exiled from SNL-analogue Studio 60, now offered their old jobs to bail it out in a time of crisis. Whitford's Danny is a cocaine addict, recently fallen off the wagon after 11 years clean; a failed drug test means he's forbidden from directing Matt's next screenplay as planned. Matthew, as Matt (big stretch), is whacked out from Vicodin for the entire episode (another big stretch), but also manages to pull it together long enough to realize what a great opportunity they're being offered, and talk Danny into accepting.

Other major players: Judd Hirsch makes a cameo as Studio 60 showrunner Wes, whose unplanned on-air diatribe against the show, the network, and television in general constitutes the crisis mentioned above. Steven Weber is Jack, the network chairman and the man who was repsonsible for originally ousting Matt and Danny. And Amanda Peet is Jordan, the new network president whose first day on the job is spoiled by Wes's meltdown.

The writing in this pilot episode is as sharp and funny as Sorkin's best; I laughed out loud more than at any new sitcom this Fall (probably more than all of them combined), and I was riveted, as usual, by the rapid-fire Sorkin dialogue tossed back and forth between smart and opinionated people. And the acting is superb. Most of the great moments are taken by Perry, Whitford, and Hirsch, but I expect we'll see more and better from Timothy Busfield as director Cal, and Sarah Paulson, D.L. Hughley, and Nathan Corddry as "the Big Three," the three main stars of the fictional Studio 60 -- especially Paulson as Harriet, the outspoken Christian singer who also recently broke up with Matt. (Not to mention upcoming appearances from the always awesome Carlos Jacott and Even Handler -- recently emancipated from the awful and rightly cancelled Hot Properties -- as Ricky and Ron, the writing team alluded to but not seen in the pilot.)

But. There are a couple of buts. In regards to the writing: there are several scenes of grave dramatic import peppered throughout, like Wes's speech, and the meeting of executives deciding what to do afterward. Unlike The West Wing, though, the stakes are much, much smaller, which can make the drama come off as overwrought and frankly silly. At the meeting of executives, the camera ominously circles a giant table full of concerned, important people, and dour aides give reports to their grim superiors, and you begin to think it's a matter of national security. Instead of a glitch on a sketch comedy show, you'd think the Syrian embassy had just been bombed.

And as for the acting: the real weak link here, I'm sad to say, is Amanda Peet. I just love her. You know I do. Check 6/20/06. I think she's absolutely gorgeous, and I think she's a very sharp actress. But she appears to be in over her head here. She never gives her character any real weight, despite the show's relentless insistence that she's the prettiest, wisest, bestest, most competent person in the entertainment industry. And pretty, did I mention pretty? Well, she nails the pretty part. (Despite the fact that for much of the show, she wears a goofy, vacant half-grin on her face -- even when her job is being threatened by Weber, her boss -- which exposes her front teeth, making it look like she needs corrective dental surgery.) She fails at the gravitas. I think she's got it in her, as an actress, to be tougher, stronger, more believable; I personally more than half-suspect that Sorkin has instructed her to act this way, to act light and unconcerned, because darn it, that's just how good she is at her job. She can do it all and not wrinkle her brow.

Despite the imperfections, this is still an incredibly entertaining program, and the first one of the Fall to join my can't-miss list. And hey, if you happened to miss the first episode, you can watch it online.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

TV: The Class

Dude whose name I can't be bothered to learn: "He used to play for the Eagles."
Second dude whose etc.: "I never followed music."

That was the one bit that made me laugh in the entire premiere episode of The Class. (Hint to certain readers: the first character is referring to an American football team based out of Philadelphia, the second to a musical group comprised of Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Don Felder, and others.) Beyond that, watching this show was an almost unremittingly unpleasant experience, one which I will not repeat.

The flimsy premise of this show, aside from being a 30-minute infomercial for, is that one alumnus of a third grade class reunites several other members of that class at a party celebrating the 20th anniversary of his meeting his fiancee. His fiancee dumps him in the middle of the party, and hilarity so entirely fails to ensue that it causes physical pain.

One huge problem -- aside from the total idiocy of the premise -- is the ginormous cast the show attempts to introduce in this pilot episode. There are a full eight integral members of the third grade class we're expected to assimilate in 22 short minutes (subtracting commercials), as well as assorted mates and relatives. That's a formidable task, and one at which you will perhaps not be surprised to learn The Class completely fails.

The central character seems to be Jason Ritter (whose last name isn't doing his unfunny, untalented carcass any favors). He's the catalyst for this class reunion, but he's so utterly bland here, as he was in Joan of Arcadia and every other thing he's ever been in or ever will be in, that, with the show depending on him as the tentpole, it collapses before it even gets started. Other "standouts" among the cast: Andrea Anders, the love interest from Joey, who here gets saddled with a love interest even dopier and less magnetic than Matt LeBlanc; Lizzy Caplan, who frankly deserves much better; some dude who's about to commit suicide before he gets invited to the party (hilarious!!) and the girl who falls for him and whom he subsequently backs over with his car (hysterical!!!); and Sean Maguire, formerly the British guy from Off Centre, now playing American fairly convincingly, as the gay representative of the class and seemingly the only classmate who's happy (rest assured, those looking for stereotypes: another classmate is oblivious to the fact that her husband is a screaming queen! Hilarity still fails to ensue!).

This debut episode spends most of its time trying to introduce all these various characters (unsuccessfully), and sacrifices to this effort whatever comedy or character development possibly might have occurred otherwise. There's the emo dude, the snarky punk girl, the brittle rich bitch (aka the Molly Ringwald), the geeky loser (Anthony Michael Hall), the jock (Emilio Estevez), the bizarre girl (Ally Sheedy), and so on. They all come across as obnoxious or repellent to varying degrees; even Lizzy Caplan, to whom I am inclined to cut the most slack, hammers one mercilessly repetitive note.

This is an awful, awful show. How it occupies the higher profile 8PM spot, while the tremendously funny How I Met Your Mother is relegated to 8:30, is inconceivable to me. I expect their spots on the schedule to be switched within five weeks; I expect The Class to be cancelled within ten weeks. Bets?

2 out of 10

Monday, September 18, 2006

TV: Fall Season 2006 Reviews

Well, I guess I've blundered into committing myself to reviewing all of the Fall season's new TV shows again (even if that commitment is only to myself). I swore I wouldn't do this again, after last year's Herculean effort -- I didn't even bother watching a couple of this year's early Fox debuts -- and now here I am, five reviews down, right back in the thick of it.

I've added the list of new Fall shows (minus reality shows, of course; there's only so much punishment I'm willing to take) to the sidebar, broken down by network, and as each review goes live, I'll be adding a link to the review to the sidebar as well. Already up there are Men in Trees, Happy Hour, Justice, Standoff, and 'Til Death.

As for those new Fox shows whose premieres I skipped -- I caught the third episode of Justice, which, as a fairly standard, self-contained legal drama, should be as representative of the series as a whole as any other episode. The other show is Vanished, one of those "serial" shows you're hearing so much about these days. I don't think it would be quite as fair to judge that show by one random, out-of-sequence episode. Which means, barring a mini-marathon of the first episodes some time in the near future, I've got no good entry point to the show. Therefore, in the tradition of last year's Criminal Minds, I'm giving myself a Free Pass. I'm off the hook for Vanished! Ah, it'll probably be cancelled by December anyway. But that means I've used up my one Free Pass before things have even really started. Oh noes! If a scheduling conflict crops up, whatever shall I do? (Give myself another Free Pass, probably. Hey, I'm the one making the rules here.)

Last year, I covered 27 new shows. This year, it looks like it'll only be 23 (22, after the Free Pass). I can do this! I can!!

I know a lot of you don't much care about all these television entries. But I do, and I know there's a solid, if small, group of readers out there who get a kick out of it, too. So here's to you! Hooray, TV!

Look for two more new reviews late this evening or early tomorrow, and a plethora of others in the busy week to come. I'm ready, and I'm raring to go. Bring it on, TV! Bring it on!!

TV: Justice

I've only seen the third episode of Fox's new legal drama Justice, but I think I've got the gist of it: hotshot L.A. defense lawyers, more concerned with image and guile than straightforward legal expertise, look pretty and bitch amongst themselves while defending their clients.

There are a few interesting elements here. It's an even more cynical version of The Practice, where courtroom stunts, media manipulation and jury stacking are more important than the actual law. It felt like a fairly fresh point of view to a tired old genre. In the episode I watched, the lawyers actually had to rein in their antics a bit, since their case was being tried in Orange County, whose jury pool (according to the show, and it seems accurate enough to me) is likely to be richer, more conservative, less sophisticated (at least as far as hi-tech courtroom displays go), and less trusting than that of L.A. County.

And the big twist of the show is that after the trial is over, and the defendant has been acquitted or convicted, we the audience get to see what really happened at the scene of the crime. It's a neat gimmick, though one that would've worked better if it hadn't been so crushingly obvious who was really behind the murder in the episode I saw.

Despite all that, I do not have a high tolerance for legal dramas. I don't even watch Boston Legal, and that's got the Shat! This one stars Alias's Victor Garber, and he gives basically the same delivery here as he did on that show -- a rapid-fire, mostly inflectionless barrage of data, but with dyed hair and a couple of smiles thrown in. Kerr Smith is unbelievably grating as the new kid at the firm, always whining and complaining and arguing with Garber about every single little thing. You just want to smack the shit out of him. The rest of the cast is just kind of there.

So, the cast didn't thrill me, the case was fairly obvious, and legal dramas don't really interest me in the first place. Which makes this the last time I'll ever watch Justice. It's not horrible, but it's definitely not for me.

5 out of 10

TV highlights for tonight: the return of How I Met Your Mother (Suit up!), and the premiere of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Also: the premiere of The Class, which I wouldn't go so far as to call a highlight.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

TV: 'Til Death, Happy Hour

I've seen two episodes each of Fox's two new sitcoms, 'Til Death and Happy Hour, and frankly, I do not consider my life enriched for the experience. But on the other hand, neither of them were anywhere near as terrible as The War at Home, for which I am thankful.

The lesser of the two, in my eyes, is 'Til Death. It stars Brad Garrett and Joely Fisher as a jaded long-time married couple, and Eddie Kaye Thomas and Kat Foster as the idealistic young newlyweds who move in next door. Hilarity ensues! Well, not really.

I've never seen Foster before, but she's lovely and appealing, and I like the other three actors. But the show is so aggressively mediocre. It does nothing interesting or fresh, it has nothing clever to say. It didn't cause me actual physical pain, but I maybe laughed once in the hour's worth of episodes I watched, I maybe smiled two or three times. It's totally disposable entertainment.

As is Happy Hour, but it still appealed to me a bit more. Many critics picked this as the Fall's worst new offering, and I can't really blame them. But there's something about this show's vibe that connected with me. The show is about a mild-mannered guy, Henry, whose girlfriend suddenly dumps him, after he's quit his job and moved to Chicago to be with her. Henry needs a new place to stay, and finds a space available in an apartment in the same building, as the roommate to a wacky, carefree, charismatic party guy, Larry. They're the original Odd Couple! Well, not really.

The lead actor, John Sloan, isn't so much mild-mannered as just plain mild. Bland, really. He reminds me a bit of my first impression of How I Met Your Mother's lead actor -- only without any of the comedy or acting skills. Another actor, Nat Faxon, who plays Larry's ex-roommate, the severely whipped Brad, is equally awful. Two strikes! But the show is saved for me by Lex Medlin as Larry, and Beth Lacke as Amanda, Larry's best friend (and Henry's kind-of love interest). Medlin has an energy and enthusiasm about him that make me, as a perpetually immature dude, wish I could join in on his daily Frank Sinatra-soundtracked, martini-mixing Happy Hours (yes, they really celebrate the titular Happy Hour in Larry's apartment, which sounds like fun to me!). He's often funny despite the weak writing. As is Lacke, who has an awkward, kind of silly delivery so unusual for a pretty woman on TV that's very charming. The show isn't an overall winner, and it's not getting added to the TiVo, that's for sure. But if I were flipping channels and came across Happy Hour, I'd be inclined to keep watching; if it were 'Til Death, I'd keep flipping.

'Til Death: 4 out of 10
Happy Hour: 5 out of 10

Friday, September 15, 2006

TV: Men in Trees

I caught the early showing of ABC's Men in Trees on Wednesday; the pilot episode is airing again tonight (its regular night), along with a new episode. I am going to TiVo the new episode, so that's an early indication of how I felt about the show.

It's a reverse-gender Northern Exposure, to break it down to its high concept basics. Anne Heche (a big sack full of crazy in real life, yes, but I always seem to like her as an actress) plays Marin Frist, a renowned relationship expert and author on a promotional tour. On her way to a gig in the tiny, remote town of Elmo, Alaska -- tiny and remote enough, by the way, that it is completely unbelievable that she would get booked there, or would actually go there, whether she was booked or not -- she discovers her fiance is cheating on her. Suddenly she finds herself reevaluating everything she believed about relationships, men, and herself, and she decides to break off her engagement and stay in Elmo, surrounded by its quirky cast of characters, to write a new book.

There are many nods to (or thefts from, if you're feeling ungenerous) Northern Exposure to be found here, from the setting to the fish-out-of-water main character -- there's even a storefront radio station, a la "Chris in the Morning," at which Marin gets a job. I was keenly aware of this homage/theft, and the brazen way this new show went about it, but I found myself liking the show because of it. It helped the show feel familiar and comfortable, while still being fairly different from most anything else currently on the air. Normally, I think I'd resent this kind of thing; I'm not really sure why it worked for me here, but it did.

It helps that there are a couple of great supporting characters keeping my interest. John Amos plays Buzz, the only pilot out of town, and Abraham Benrubi (who will always and forever make me think "Kubiac eat now?" whenever I see him) is Ben, bartender and sympathetic ear. James Tupper plays Jack, Marin's Maggie O'Connell-type love/hate interest. I've never seen him before, but I liked him; he reminds me of Paul Gross, from Due South and Slings and Arrows. I found it kind of funny that in romantic tradition, he's a damaged man that Marin will of course have to heal -- but not just damaged emotionally, oh no; he's actually got a giant scar across his shoulder and he has trouble working his right hand. For some reason, that cracked me up. He should just wear a sign around his neck: I'M DAMAGED.

The writing and plot of the show were less than brilliant, filled with plenty of obvious and/or phony revelations about the nature of relationships, at least one too many quirky characters, and a few too many "city girl confronted by nature" moments, such as a raccoon hiding in Marin's closet, or Marin cracking through the ice over a frozen pond. But at the same time there was a low-key charm and earnestness to it that I found appealing. I liked most of the characters, and I loved being back in Cicely, Alaska (even if they're calling it Elmo here). I'll watch the show again, as long as it's not up against something better. Which means, according to the ratings system I established last year, I'll give it:

Rating: 6 out of 10

Thursday, September 14, 2006

COMICS: Other stuff I've bought recently

The only new comic I bought yesterday was issue #4 of Truth, Justin, and the American Way, which, by the way, continues to be chock full of '70s and '80s pop culture comedy gold.

One new comic on new comic Wednesday. That's a good thing, right? I started this switch from individual issues to trade paperbacks mostly as a money-saving measure, as well as an effort to cut back on my habit of spending money on bad comics. Buying only one new comic, one I know I'm going to like -- mission accomplished! Right?

But that one comic... it was lonely. So lonely. It needed someone to keep it company. So on a whim (and partly under the influence once again of this guy, who got me started on my Gail Simone kick last week), I picked up Thor Visionaries Volume 1: Walt Simonson. It collects the beginning of Simonson's legendary run on Thor, which some say is up there as one of the greatest extended runs a creator has ever had on a comic book. I haven't read it yet, but I'm looking forward to it kicking my ass.

This was not a cheap book. So much for saving money. Now I was ready to leave. But wait... I felt another impulse, one I couldn't resist. I was just in that kind of a mood. "Show me to your dollar bins," I said to Mike. "I want to read some bad comics."

"Oh, we've got bad comics," he assured me. And he was right. So much for only reading good comics!

$1 per comic, or 13 comics for $10. I knew I was going to have to go for the baker's dozen. But what to pick, what to pick. So very many bad comics to choose from! Lots and lots of comics from the Impact line. Also from the Ultraverse. And Valiant. All those failed lines, all that effort and talent (or "talent") put into so many doomed comics. There were even some Badger and Grimjack issues in there, relics of the late great First Comics. This was starting to make me depressed.

Spying a few issues of U.S. 1 cheered me up a bit, but I couldn't find the complete run (and really, if you're going to do something like that to yourself, you want to get it all in one dose). But then I found it, the exact kind of good/bad comic I was looking for: HAWKEYE! All four issues of the original mini-series. Oh yeah, baby, yeah. That is some '80s cheese right there. Hell, this might not even be a good/bad comic, it might be just plain good, given the praise (such as this) I've seen around the intarwebs for Mark Gruenwald's work on this mini. I guess I'll find out.

I also picked up a couple issues of Ultra-Klutz, two issues of Dusty Starr, and five issues of some obscure and allegedly humorous comic whose name I can't even remember anymore. One word, starts with an R (I think). Raptor? Ragtop? I forget. Oh well. The point is, I got a bunch of comics for really cheap (though perhaps still not cheap enough).

I've got one other comics purchase I made recently that I want to talk about, but I'm saving that one for a separate post. I will say this: it is the companion volume to far and away my favorite comic work of last year, and it is fantastic.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

COMICS: Ultimate Spider-Man

As I've mentioned recently, I've decided to kill the comic book industry by switching from buying individual issues to waiting for the trade paperback collection to come out. It's working pretty well for me, thanks for asking. But one comic I've always bought strictly in TPB form is Ultimate Spider-Man. I'm not sure why, really; I think I was just late to jump on the Brian Michael Bendis wagon, and by the time I wanted to start reading his US-M, several paperbacks had already been released. So I bought a few, realized the stories read better in book form than spaced out one chapter per month, and stuck with that method of purchase.

But I think my first TPB-only comic is about to get dropped. Because I just read the latest collection, #16, which collects issues 91-96 (plus Annual #2) of the series under the title "Deadpool." And it is frickin' horrible. Just painfully, painfully bad.

Bendis has always been an uneven writer, and while the quality of US-M, which was very high in the beginning, has had its lows and highs throughout the years, I'd say in general it's been trending downward. And this collection has hit rock bottom.

The worst of it comes during the first four issues, which comprise the Deadpool storyline (the next two issues are about Morbius, and the Annual features the Kingpin, the Punisher, Daredevil, Moon Knight, the Kangaroo, the death of Jeanne De Wolfe, and yes, the kitchen sink). I think where it really drove me crazy was during the third issue, where Deadpool gives a TV interview about why he's hunting down the X-Men and Spider-Man. And it runs through five pages. And it's written so poorly. Here, take a look at an extended sample:

These are the most dedicated soldiers on the planet Earth.

These guys ain't messin' around.

This is no backs.

Think about this, think about a guy who is willing to become a Reaver.

Think about the willpower.

Think about the dedication and spiritual control it takes to believe in something that much.

That's who these men are.

These X-Men will die today.

They just will.

See, these mutants, these X-Men kids, they were born like that.

They didn't choose being a mutant. They didn't earn the right to be different or so-called Homo Superior.

They were born that way. They had no choice.

We? Us? We had a choice and we took it.

We chose to stand up for those dudes who can't, and we will put these freaks down.

That's what we're fighting for.

Our desire to destroy them is stronger than anything they could possibly imagine.

Just by our existence... they lose.

When this opportunity came our way...

I knew we had to do this.

We had to make a show of it.

Magneto, Xavier, all these kids. They're all the same.

They actually think they're better than us?!

They think they're the next step in human evolution?!

Are you kidding me with this? Can you believe that??

Someone could be such a complete genetic disaster, such a perversion of God and Nature's will, they could look in the mirror and see that, and yet think, "Yeah, I'm the next step in evolution."

My grandpa says they had a word for mutants in his day.

They called them "carnival freaks" that you put in the carnival freak show.

Yeah. All of Bendis's quirks as a writer, all his shortcomings, his tired rhetorical devices, his forced hip lingo ("no backs"?), compressed into one monologue for convenience's sake.

You know what irritates me the most out of that dreck? "We? Us?" No. "Just by our existence... they lose." No... but that is unbearably obnoxious. No, it's this: "They just will." GOD, that just burrows into my brain. "They just will." It's so meaningless, so hollow, so empty, so very, very stupid, but it's delivered with the dramatic line break, accompanied by an extreme close-up of Deadpool's face, which lets you know that Bendis is actually being serious here, he actually believes that this is a dire threat delivered in a dangerous fashion by a bad man. But it's so ridiculously, laughably juvenile, and it's completely inessential -- as is the entire speech -- to the character, the action, the comic. That is some rotten writing.

And I even left out the bit where Deadpool says, "Man, I wish Magneto was here for this! I would love, love, love, love to eat that guy's face off."

There are still some things I enjoy about this comic in general, and even enjoyed in this particular trade. I especially like the relationship between Peter Parker and Kitty Pryde (although even there, her constant fretting over whether Peter is going to dump her makes her look silly and weak). But I'm just about burned out. The dialogue throughout the book doesn't often rise much above the wretched Deadpool levels, and the characters getting "Ultimatized" at this point aren't exactly marquee names. Deadpool? Morbius? Kangaroo? I think I might be done with this comic -- which means, with the exception of Powers, I'm done with Bendis.

Monday, September 11, 2006

TV: Standoff

I haven't made much of an effort to follow through on my threat to watch all the new Fall TV shows, the way I did last year. I haven't had as much TV time lately as I usually do -- nor blogging time for that matter, as any fool can plainly see*. One show I did watch is Fox's Standoff, and I'll tell you what: it did not make me regret my diminished TV viewing.

Standoff stars Ron Livingston and Rosemarie DeWitt as two hostage negotiators who are secretly having an affair. During the pilot episode's opening hostage crisis, Livingston negotiates with a father holding his two sons at gunpoint (I got a kick out of seeing Tom Wopat as the dad). And then Livingston, for no reason -- for no damn reason -- reveals to Wopat, and everyone listening in on the recorded conversation, the affair he's been having with his partner. It makes absolutely no sense, and it makes Livingston's character seem very poorly suited to his career. His reasoning is he wants to open up to the gunman, make a connection, keep him at ease, but it's not believable on so many levels (that this ploy would work, that Livingston couldn't have used a different tactic, that Livingston couldn't have just made up a similar story, while still keeping his affair a secret...). It just bugged the hell out of me. Before we even get to the first commercial, this show has lost me. And it didn't make much of an effort to win me back.

I've liked Livingston for a long time, even before his career-defining role in Office Space, and some small portion of his humor and charisma works its way through into this show. DeWitt, whom I've never seen before, is just okay; she didn't wow me, but she didn't irritate me. The chemistry between the two of them is mild at best, which is a drawback in a show built around the passions of its main characters. Gina Torres, from Angel, Firefly, and last season's The Shield (she was Forest Whitaker's awesomely crazy ex-wife) also stars; she plays Livingston and DeWitt's boss, who inexplicably does not fire or even separate the two of them after their affair becomes public knowledge. Torres does the best she can with an unrewarding role.

After the crisis at the top of the show (or, as it would be called on MacGyver, the "Opening Gambit"), a second crisis occupies the remainder of the episode. It involves a supposed Islamic suicide bomber, who actually turns out to be a Senator's son who wants attention from mommy. If this show is going to depend on its hostage takers and hostages to carry a large portion of the drama, it's going to have to do better than this. Very routine set-up, follow-through, and resolution. Nothing surprised me, nothing interested me. Even the twist on the hostage taker's identity felt like a mediocre attempt to push buttons without really having a Muslim be the bad guy.

Nothing about this show is essential. Both Livingston and Torres could do much better, and they're the only halfway interesting parts of the show. If I ever see a second episode of Standoff, it will be purely by accident.

Rating: 4 out of 10

*I can plainly see that!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Weekly Sidebar Update!

Only ten days after the last one, here comes the coveted Weekly Sidebar Update! Call the neighbors, lock up the pets, turn out the lights, and enjoy.

This week's Object of My Affection is the lovely and talented Kari Byron, Mythbuster extraordinaire. When she's not having her butt computer-scanned or zapping her co-workers with stun guns (for strictly work-related reasons), she's occupied with winning my heart with her fiery red hair, twinkling eyes and infectious laugh. And, oh yeah, that butt thing. Bless her heart.

Reading: Showcase Presents Justice League of America. It lacks the insane heights (depths?) of Superman comics from the same era, but it's still pretty frickin' nuts. Over 500 pages of the greatest DC heroes (minus Batman and Superman, most of the time, due to editorial politics)? Yes, please! Although somebody needs to kill the hell out of Snapper Carr. Sample dialogue: "Like crazy, man!" STFU, Snapper.

Watching: Webisodes of The Office and Battlestar Galactica. I'm ambivalent on this whole internet-only extra content that seems to be all the rage these days -- this is coming from the frustrating perspective of a dial-up connection (YES, I'VE GOT DIAL-UP, SMART-ASS, SHUT UP NOW). But these short videos, featuring regular castmembers and firmly set in-continuity, are well worth the load time. Fantastic entertainment that's whetting my appetite for the upcoming new seasons of each series. Also: it took me, like, an hour to create that mash-up icon on Microsoft Paint. And it's still all pixely. I am technologically retarded.

Listening: Brian Regan Live. I've recently been replaying this fantastic comedy album, which makes me laugh out loud without fail on every single listen, even though I can practically recite the whole thing verbatim. Brian Regan may be my favorite comedian who's not George Carlin. Him or Jim Gaffigan; it's a toss-up. And this album is one of the funniest artifacts of the 20th century. I swear to all that is holy*, if you can listen to this album and not laugh yourself silly, I will give you a thousand dollars.

Hating: As much as I hate hackmeister supreme Michael Bay, I've been finding it even easier to hate the internet firestorm over his upcoming interpretation of Transformers. There are people out there -- and if you're one of them, you should seriously consider drowning yourself -- who are working themselves into purple-faced rage over the fact that Megatron doesn't look exactly like he did in the cartoon they watched when they were seven years old. Man, I've been known to go on rampages about George Lucas's revisions to Star Wars -- a movie which I freely admit, on reconsideration as an adult, is not actually all that good -- and these Transformers stalwarts still make me cringe. Quit it. Seriously.

And finally, Lyric of the Week is a silly bit of fun from Barenaked Ladies called "Little Tiny Song." In fact, the quoted lyric is the entirety of that song, from their Maybe You Should Drive album -- which, if you're a latecomer to BNL, is a fantastic CD that you really need to own. Promise!

*Which is to say: nothing.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

And what the hell was with that monkey Abraham Lincoln statue at the end of Planet of the Apes, you freak?

Dave posted an excellent long entry about fans who pitch fits about what they consider inappropriate changes or developments to their beloved original source of devotion. It's inspired by the hate mail he received over daring to make fun of the Transformers fans who are enraged over the Michael Bay movie, but he also lists a bunch of other things fans have vented their anger about, from Blue Beetle's death to Greedo shooting first (and to that list I would add the Starbuck's not a chick contingent). It's a very sensible, level-headed, rational post.

And it's got me all pissed off. Because in listing one thing that brought out the fanboy anger in himself, Dave hit one of my sore spots, too: namely, that in the first Tim Burton movie, Batman goes around killing people. Just dropping bombs at their feet and blowing them to kingdom come.

I don't care if you can show me a comic from 65 years ago where Bob Kane had Batman shooting people in the face. It's just wrong, wrong, WRONG! BATMAN DOESN'T KILL PEOPLE!! GOD DAMN YOU TIM BURTON!!!

Ah, that feels better.

Monday, September 04, 2006

COMICS: Villains United

Well, as seems to be par for the course round these parts, last Sunday I posted four (4) entries, and since then, I have posted zero (jack shit). So here is a new post, about a comic that was released, like, a year ago. Because I'm cutting edge.

I went into Ye Olde Comic Shoppe last week with one thing on my mind: Gail Simone. Or rather, comics written by Gail Simone. I don't think I've ever read anything by her, but I see a lot of praise for her spread around the weblogosphere on a daily basis. Especially, I've noticed, from this dude. Bordering on an unhealthy obsession, there, pal. (Says the guy with the Object of My Affection space on his sidebar.)

I've been aware of her, and her reputation, but have never been particularly interested in the titles she's been associated with. Birds of Prey? Wasn't that a bad TV show on the WB? Deadpool? Whopool? The Atom? Oh, good lord, no, not John Byrne!! AIEEEEEE!!!

But I felt like I might be missing out on a good thing. So I asked Mike what a good jumping-on point for Gail Simone might be. (I thought of rephrasing that sentence to make it sound less creepy, but then I didn't.) He suggested Villains United, which I had already considered and rejected. Too continuity-heavy. Ties in with the big dopey Infinite Crisis crossover. Not interested. But Mike made a beeline for the trade paperback and thrust it in my hands, and when Mike thrusts, you take it. (I actually rephrased that sentence to be more creepy.)

So I read it. And it's pretty darn good comic book entertainment, even for a continuity-heavy tie-in to a big dopey crossover. Simone has a great way with characters; making Catman interesting and formidable was quite an accomplishment (though having Talia Al Ghul make a comparison between him and Batman might have been laying it on a bit too heavy). She writes snappy, witty dialogue, and managed not to make my head spin too awful much from the references to a zillion characters and events from other books (the crib notes included with the paperback helped). She writes a mean fight scene, too, and has a way with bad guys spouting delightfully menacing threats at one another that I relished (although, reading all six issues back-to-back, the threat-spouting seemed to happen a bit too often, as did scenes where characters seemed to die -- but nope, not really!). I enjoyed it enough to want to check out more comics written by Simone, and I'd call that a success.

One more thing: Mike told me that if you write Gail Simone's name on your blog, she appears. Kind of like Candyman. He was too ascairt to do it on his own blog, so I'll do it here:

Gail Simone
Gail Simone
Gail Simone



If the authorities find me mysteriously exsanguinated tomorrow morning, you all know the reason why.

Also: has everyone who needs to see this seen this yet?

Battlestar Galactica: season three trailer.

Watching a one-eyed, scraggly-bearded Tigh snarl "I've got a war to fight" has got me so psyched I could poo. OCTOBER 6, BABY!

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