Sunday, September 25, 2011

New TV Roundup - Person of Interest

The new crime drama from CBS, Person of Interest seems to have more in common with Minority Report than your typical CSI show. It follows presumed dead, ex-CIA operative John Reese as he's recruited by billionaire computer genius, businessman Mr Finch to prevent crimes before they occur. Although without a handy precog its a bit tougher than it may appear. Mr Finch has a computer program that gives him a list of social security numbers associated with people who will be involved in a violent crime in the near future. Unfortunately he doesn't know if the person will be the victim, the perpetrator, or involved in some other way. So its up to Reese to figure out the who, whats, and whys, before whatever crime is about to happen does.

Yes, the show does in fact star Jesus and Ben Linus! Caviezel and Emerson are both great actors, charismatic as hell, familiar with slightly skewed storytelling, and pretty much guaranteed to deliver the goods. Thankfully for the most part the scripting lives up to the actors playing the roles. The story is dense, and there are some great set ups for supporting characters, as well as interesting avenues for plot that will undoubtedly be looked down as the series goes on.

The action is great, well shot and fast paced. It also looks like a show that has a good budget, but doesn't need to blow it on overdoing anything. The action is intense, but human, and grounded. I'd say 8 times out of 10 I'd prefer to see a really well choreographed hand to hand fight scene than some stupid over the top gun battle. The human drama seems to be a real driving force here. But its not all action, there's a solid set up for a weekly mystery here. And being the serialized storytelling junkie that I am, there are also great potentials for ongoing stories. For anyone that gets the reference I'd liken it a lot to the comic book 100 Bullets, which is just about as awesome a story as you could hope for.

The look of the show is very deliberate too. The colors are muted grays, and browns, and greens. The action takes place a lot at night, and the city is dirty and oppressive. As the characters reference in the pilot, this is definitely a post 9-11 world, and the kind of work they're doing is a direct response to events that transpired out of the terror attacks. The show often cuts to security camera footage, complete with CIA-esque real time analysis. While it plays a specific role in the set up of the story, it also keeps us constantly in check. Big Brother is watching all the time. These guys are just acting on that information; hopefully for the betterment of everyone.

I definitely liked this show and hope to catch it again. I'm not sure if its an every week kind of show, but I'll definitely watch more if I can find the time. Person of Interest airs on Tuesdays at 9pm on CBS, but you can watch it on the CBS website too.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

New TV Roundup - Whitney

Whitney is a show that stars comedian Whitney Cummings as a fictionalized version of herself dealing mainly with her relationship to her long term boyfriend. They are a happy couple who love and support one another but don't feel the need to get married. That said, fearing relationship boredom Whitney uses unconventional methods to keep their relationship interesting. This is played out against funny quips from her wacky (to varying degrees) friends and family, and of course a pretty chock full laugh-track.

Ok, so since there doesn't appear to really be any inherent conflict in the set up here, I'm taking it to mean that this show is a character driven story. But before I get into that I just wonder why exactly there isn't anything actually going on in this set up? Is it just me or is it odd that there's no big hook for this show? Unless its just hooked by Whitney's comedy... maybe that's it. It's just odd, because I feel like most sitcoms have some kind of twist, other than the generally neurotic nature of the lead. Feels like something might be missing from the get go.

So ok, its a character driven piece, and Whitney Cummings is an actress and comedian. Apparently she's been a known entity for a while now with roles on Punk'd, Made of Honor, Chelsea Lately, The Tonight Show, a few of the Comedy Central Roasts, and a bunch of more traditional stand up stuff. I however, like a few of you out there I'm sure have only just heard of her now, although I did see Made of Honor, I don't think Whitney had a very big part. Anyhow, I know shes having a great fall with this show, and creating / producing 2 Broke Girls, but I am really just not feeling it. I don't know that I want to go so far as to say that she isn't funny, but everything here is very heavy handed. The jokes may not be telegraphed as much as they are on 2 Broke Girls, but they fall into the same category of slightly played out, obvious, and sitcomey kind of gags. And like with 2 Broke Girls, they're mostly just not that funny.

I'll say that I laughed a little bit more here than I did with 2 Broke Girls, but I liked the characters better with that show than with this and would ultimately be more drawn back to that show over more Whitney. Other than Maulik Pancholy, who gets a pass from me for all his great work on 30 Rock, no one in this cast stands out as particularly funny. Whether its a problem with the delivery, or the writing I'm not 100% sure; I just know I don't really like it. One thing I'm really 100% positive on though is that I hate the friggin laugh track. It's the same issue as with 2 Broke Girls, just tone it down and it might really help.

Ultimately will I be back for more Whitney? No I don't think so. I only have so much time for tv, and this does not seem like something I'll get a lot of laughs from.

Friday, September 23, 2011

New TV Roundup - 2 Broke Girls

Yet another sitcom this time around from CBS, 2 Broke Girls follows two waitresses working at a diner in Brooklyn. The two are definitely an odd couple with Max, played by Kat Dennings, as a working class, sassy, and somewhat bitter girl, played against Caroline, portrayed by Beth Behrs, as a fallen debutante, once rich, fish out of water, Paris Hilton type of character. The two are of course oil and water, but somehow begrudgingly learn to like each other and by the end of the pilot are roommates and working to open a cupcake shop together.

Well if you've watched the trailer above, then you've seen everything in the pilot worth seeing. Strike that, I'm not sure it was worth seeing at all. I just can't get myself too excited about this show. Admittedly Kat Dennings is pretty charming, and really beautiful, but the most important thing about a comedy, it has to make you laugh and this pilot just didn't. I think I smiled at maybe three jokes the entire episode, and that's a very bad ratio of laugh to joke for a show like this. There is also an incessant laugh track reminding you of when you're supposed to think somethings funny; I'm just sorry to say it wasn't.

Maybe the show will get better, maybe the writing will get stronger as it goes on, but I'm not optimistic. I think the ratings we're pretty solid for the pilot so I'd guess it'll be around for a while, and I might give it another chance or two but 2 Broke Girls better get a lot funnier quickly or I'm leaving.

The show airs Mondays at 8:30pm on CBS, but you can catch episodes now on the CBS website.

Monday, September 19, 2011

New TV Roundup - New Girl

The show that is in my estimation the new sitcom to beat this Fall, New Girl, arrives on FOX later this week. But lucky for us, the pilot has landed on Hulu a bit early! The show stars the beautiful Zooey Deschanel as Jess, an awkwardly adorable girl who is trying to get over an unexpected breakup. She moves into a new apartment with three single guys as roomates, and pulls herself back together though one inelegant misstep at a time and some serious help from her friends.

So this show has a lot going for it, and it shows. Pilots are really tricky beasts having to serve many masters: getting a lot of introductory information out there, and then trying to engage an audience, all while telling whats hopefully a reasonably contained story to set up a series, its a daunting task and it often fails. Even great series sometimes have bad pilots, hell greats eries sometimes have bad whole first seasons. Something tells me though that this will not be the case with New Girl. The show is really strong right out of the gate. The writing is sharp, the characters are relatable albeit quirky and I don't think anyone could help but love Zooey Deschanel. Her character Jess plays into exactly the kind of role Zooey plays best, someone unique, free spirited, comfortable being herself, but also nerdy, awkward, and prone to putting her foot in her mouth. A weird and realistically complicated dichotomy that we can all relate to. Zooey Deschanel is a great everywoman, and the character rings true because she follows her heart.

We've all been in situations like Jess is in here, and I think we all wish we could have friends as sweet as the guys on this show prove to be. Jess is clearly the star of the show, but her supporting cast give her the ability to shine.

The show is a very quick watch, and I'm really looking forward to seeing more episodes. There are a lot of possibilities here and I want to see how it fares a few weeks from now once the chaff of a new tv season has been burned off. I sure hope people find New Girl and keep watching, because so far this is my favorite show of the new season.

New TV Roundup - Death Valley

Now here's a series with a concept I can get behind. From MTV comes Death Valley, a new comedy series that plays as a mockumentary of a COPS style reality show. This time though it's about police officers in LA hunting down vampires, werewolves, and zombies.

And with the call "Now lets go out there and kill something", Death Valley just eviscerated its way into my heart. I have to say I was apprehensive of this show when I first heard of it. Sure it covers some ground that I enjoy with monsters galore, but I honestly wasn't sure the comedy would work, especially when paired with some seriously excessive gore. Generally I like my horror to be serious and scary, and its the rare case, like with Shaun of the Dead, when I think adding comedy works. Thankfully this show really does work, and for my money it's the strong writing that does it. The performances are decent, notably the police captain in charge of the UTF (Undead Task Force) played by Bryan Callen has some fantastic delivery. The writing though, is what makes this show really tick. The characters are drawn to extremes but aren't cartoony, they're just eccentric. They're all likable though, which is significant since at least for the first few episodes there isn't too much continuing story to latch onto; and while it looks like perhaps later in the season there will be some ongoing story threads this seems like a character driven show.

It is gory, with a few effects that fall flat (obvious CGI, or obvious makeup) but the tone is so darkly silly, not unbelievable, just extremely silly that it doesn't matter. It's also pretty crude at times, with some raunchy, violent, or just kind of distasteful graphic humor, but in the context of the show I think it works. When one of the cops actually punches through the head of an oncoming zombie you can tell the show has some pretty broad sights for where they're willing to take the comedy, and that's brave. Edgy comedy is always interesting, even if it passes what I would normally like.

The show airs Monday on MTV and the first 3 episodes are up to watch on their website now. This certainly isn't for everyone but if you like twisted, dark, and bloody comedy check it out.

New TV Roundup - Free Agents

NBC is bringing another dysfunctional workplace rom-com to our TVs this Fall with Free Agents. Based on a Britcom of the same name, the show stars the always lovable Hank Azaria as Alex a middle aged guy who is trying to put his life back together after a divorce, by most significantly. getting back into the dating scene. His major complication, other than the fact that he's a complete wreck a lot of the time, an idiot with women, and cries at the drop of a hat, is his co-worker Helen, played by Kathryn Hahn. After a drunken one night stand the two realize that maybe they can't keep it strictly professional anymore as an attraction builds. But Helen is dealing with her own problems as she works through the death of her fiancee a year ago, and tries to put her own life back on track. So the question remains can these two dysfunctional people get over themselves enough, to find each other and make a relationship work?

I have to admit, I really didn't expect to like Free Agents. Something about the trailer seemed predictable to me, and the subject matter isn't especially relatable since I'm happily married, but I have to say I was really pleasantly surprised by the pilot to this show. The writing is clever, the story isn't hackneyed at all, and most importantly the actors and characters are totally sympathetic, even in their personal neurosis. The main actors give really strong performances, never making light of their problems, in the context of the show these characters are acting exactly how they should. Ultimately that means that the laughs that are earned, and amazingly they really are earned, through the characters rather than the plot are totally genuine.

Additionally I have to mention the wonderful supporting cast here, Anthony Stewart Head plays the absent minded, and somewhat lurid boss of the PR firm where the characters work, in a role that he actually originated in the original British version of the show. And comedians Mo Mandel and Al Magrigal play Alex's co-workers trying to help him get back on the dating horse. There is a lot of comedic chemistry on screen and I think its due to these actors being real pros, and of course some really strong writing.

I'm interested to see where the story goes from here, and intend to watch more. I'd recommend you check it out too. The pilot for Free Agents is on Hulu now, and the show will run on Wednesdays alongside Up All Night.

New TV Roundup - Up All Night

One of the most buzzed new sitcoms this Fall has to be Up All Night, starring the talents of Christina Applegate, and Will Arnett. The show follows new parents as they struggle to balance raising their daughter, working, and their changing lives.

The show absolutely sounds promising, with charming and charismatic stars (alongside the incredible Maya Rudolph who co-stars as Applegate's celebrity diva boss) you'd think this would definitely be one to watch. However, while I think it could turn into an interesting show, based on the pilot alone, it's simply not all its cracked up to be.

The actors are great, Applegate and Arnett really are extremely likable as their characters try to find a balance between their old lives and a new one, but they're written so conventionally. Yes, they used to be party animals, and are working to give up the swearing in front of their daughter, but why is that so unique? Most of the parents I know have similar stories, that's just how it is, everyone knows your life changes when you have kids. So what makes these two stand out? So far I'm not at all sure. If they're not saying something new with the comedy, then they should at least have a new take on the situation.

Speaking of which, the circumstances of the situation they're placed in isn't very groundbreaking either. Applegate is heading back to work after having the baby, and Arnett is staying at home, theoretically giving us some decent gender reversal comedy opportunities. But that's nothing new, that's been mined well since at least Mr Mom. And Applegate's work life at a daytime talk show, dealing with Maya Rudolph should be funny, but its really off tone with the rest of the story. Maybe the problem is that Up All Night hasn't defined how realistic it is or isn't yet, and whenever Rudolph is on screen it becomes a lot less realistic and much more silly.

On the plus side the show is shot really nicely, and I liked the art direction a lot. Its' got a very modern look, and feels... I think fashionable is the word I'm looking for.

That said, I wonder exactly who NBC thinks this show is for? Young parents? Singles? People in relationships? As a relatively young parent myself, the whole thing strikes me a bit off and I think the problem is the timing. Our lead characters ultimately play good parents, or at least relatively good parents, which is nice; but they act like they are struggling because this is their first day on the job. Their daughter looks to be at least 3-4 months old, and of course they also had 9 months of pregnancy to mentally and practically prepare to be parents, the fact that the characters act like they are only just dealing with being parents for the very first time now is totally unrealistic, and for me that throws the entire show off.

So the bottom line is that even with a very charismatic cast Up All Night fails to break, or really even bend, any comedy molds. I might give it another shot or two since I like these actors so much, but it'll have to step up, since the pilot just wasn't that funny, and the characters weren't very believable.

The pilot for Up All Night is on Hulu now, and the series starts airing regularly on NBC this Wednesday the 21st.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Podcasting Gold

As some of you may know I hosted a podcast for a few years starting back in 2005. The show was called the On Hold podcast and was a topical, entertainment, and humor show that involved lots of drinking, a little drugs, some far too personal stories, and entertainment news of the day. Really it was a lot of fun and I miss it. However in 2008 I got a new job that kept me far too busy to podcast regularly, and I got married, had kids, etc etc... And it all just kind of slipped away.

But I've always been an avid fan of podcasting, and to this day spend much of my travel time listening to my favorite shows. Over the years the landscape has changed a lot, and I think my tastes have changed a bit too. While it used to be a online wild west audio free-for-all it seems like now the podcasting world is taming into something more polished and respectable. Not to lessen anything they've done for the medium but the days of Adam Curry and Dawn and Drew are past; for my money there are so many wonderful and truly professional podcasts out there now the stakes are raised to a whole new level. Sure there's still room for the little guy, sure there's still room for niche markets (that's the beauty of this kind of narrow-casting), and the medium is legitimately still evolving, but I think the big players are pretty much all on the field now. We'll just have to see where it goes from here.

I mention the changing landscape, and my history with podcasting because I've got a few recommendations that I wanted to throw out here and it might help to have some context. Over the past two years or so, a ton of professional comedians have gravitated into the podcasting world, and it seems like a natural fit. Frankly I'm surprised its taken so long, but as listeners we're really lucky to get access like never before to some great comedians. So here are some of my favorite comedy podcasts out there that I'd recommend to anyone.

Doug Loves Movies - Recorded live (usually at the UCB theater in LA), the show has a great hook in one of the most entertaining movie trivia games ever, and stoner comedian Doug Benson always has great comedy guests. This is my favorite podcast right now.

Comedy Bang Bang - Scott Aukerman hosts this great podcast with more of a radio show interview style. He brings on comedian guests to chat, and always keeps it funny, with good questions and fun games. Guests often come, and stay in character the entire episode. Very funny.

WTF - Despite some serious neurosis from comedian host Marc Maron, his comic interview show is so damn entertaining you can't help but listen. His guests include big name comedians and his interviews are simply put fantastic. He's a natural interviewer and manages to almost casually get great insights from some of the biggest comics of all time.

Hollywood Babble-On - Director Kevin Smith is no stranger to podcasting. I've been listening to his Smodcast for 5+ years now. But this, one of his newest podcasts (he has an entire network of them) is really the perfect one for me. Great comedy moments between Kevin and co-host Ralph Garman, generally covering geeky and fun entertainment news of the week, the show is constantly moving and always interesting.

There are so many more shows that I like but I find I just don't have time for them all. What's really nice though as a trend is that people who are professionally funny are finally picking up the podcasting microphone, producing some great content. There is treasure trove of information and comedy being chronicled right now in podcasting and its really very cool. I've discovered lots of comics that I might not have heard of before, especially since I have two young kids and can't get out that much. So now I know about people like Andy Daly, Jessica St Clair, and Paul F Tompkins and can look for them in the future.

So its not really about the technology or novelty of podcasting itself anymore, now its really about the content, and that's why I love it. I'd really recommend you check out any of the podcasts I mentioned above and let me know what you think.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Earth's Mightiest Heroes

So I've been really getting into the Avenging spirit lately, have you?

Last week I saw Captain America: The First Avenger and it was one of my favorite superhero films of all time. Director Joe Johnston just nailed the tone and look. Everyone keeps referencing his work on The Rocketeer, which was great, but Don't forget he also made a few clunkers so I'll say I was really pleased to see he brought his A-game to this one. Minor nitpicks like the way they killed off Bucky aside the film delivered on all fronts especially the cast. The film has pitch perfect casting and really great performances all around. For anyone who hasn't seen it yet I'd obviously, highly recommend it.

So as we all should know by now, Caps story is dovetailing into next summer's big Avengers film, being directed by none other than Jon Favreau. The movie will bring together every geek's wildest comic to film dreams, with Captain America joining Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow on Marvel's premiere super team The Avengers. There's already a short teaser trailer up for the film, and if you missed it the first time, the ending and credit sequence to The First Avenger, give us a bit more teaser goodies on the upcoming film.

I'm pretty stoked about The Avengers movie, since I've been a Marvel fanboy for a very long time. While I was never a huge Avengers follower, preferring to stick mostly with Spider-Man and some of the cosmic guys like Silver Surfer, I always enjoyed seeing my favorites interact with the Avengers, and whenever there was a big company wide event storyline I was always excited. The trick as with any ensemble cast is to make sure everyone gets enough screen time, and that it all serves the story. With this creative team involved though I am heartily optimistic.

I also just recently finished watching the first season of the latest Marvel cartoon on Netflix, and it couldn't have gotten me more in the mood for some Avengers action. The cartoon, which launches into its second season this October on DisneyXD, is of course The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

The first season consists of twenty six 22 minutes episodes and will set you up really well with everything you'd want to know about the Avengers and more. All of the major players are introduced and explored, as well as most of the major villains, and even a few of the bigger storylines are tackled in this first season. As anyone who's read The Avengers comic even a little bit like me knows, the team has had a few different makeups over the years and Earth's Mightiest Heroes is no different. After the obligatory origin episodes, which I'm actually very glad they didn't rush through, the team lineup features: their team leader Iron Man, along with Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Ant Man, Wasp, Hawkeye, and Black Panther. Additionally a few other 'Avengers-to-be' make regular appearances, like Black Widow, and Wonder Man. What's great about these characters and the writing, headed up by Christopher Yost, is that everyone is given time to develop organically, we get a great balance of character moments where the players actually grow throughout the season and amazing battle sequences where the viewer is treated to just minute after minute of perfectly choreographed battle scenes.

If you think you're even remotely interested and you have Netflix streaming, I'd really recommend checking it out. The season is available for instant streaming right now, and if you only want to give one or two episodes a try, jump ahead to the two parter The Breakout, which kicks the season into high gear and gives a good sample of the action to come.

While I was on a Netflix streaming kick I realized that there are a lot of other Marvel superhero shows online. The 90s cartoons of X-Men, Spider-Man, Spider-Man Unlimited, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Silver Surfer are all available in their entirety right now; although Fantastic Four, and perhaps to be expected the pretty awful Avengers: United They Stand cartoons are not there. Other great Marvel cartoons are though, including the Spider-Man 1967 series, the first of the excellent two season Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon, X-Men: Evolution, Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes, and the first season of the currently airing Iron Man: Armored Adventures (season 2 is in full swing now on Nicktoons). Unfortunately, none of the other more recent Marvel animated series (Wolverine and the X-Men or any of the Marvel anime projects) are available yet; nor are any of the other older Marvel animated series like the classic Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. That said there is also one more cool new series that is available on instant Netflix streaming that should be checked out: Black Panther the animated series. While I understand why fans we're a bit disappointing to learn that this miniseries (its only 120-ish minutes long in its entirety) wasn't much more than a souped up motion comic, I'd still really urge you to have a look. If you like motion comics, then you're in luck, this is probably the best produced motion comic ever with voice talents that include the amazing Djimon Hounsou, Alfre Woodard, and Kerry Washington. Also it's got a pretty kick ass opening title sequence with a catchy song.

If from all my babbling you can't tell yet, I am a pretty huge fan of these Marvel superheros. I love seeing how they work solo, getting in depth on their backstory and rogues gallery; but I'm also a huge fan of when they meet, crossover, and have excellent adventures together. That's why I'm so looking forward to the Avengers movie. A great crossover crossover is in the making and I don't think anyone would have anticipated that it could be done on such a scale in a live action form. For us fanboys this is a dream come true, and for everyone else, we'll this is the best time ever to get into a hero or three. I'm sure we'll get into more Avengers goodness as the film approaches release next summer, but until then count me very excited!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

What I Learned From the Pod People

With all the great, and not so great, alien invasion stories out there these days I thought now would be a good time to look at that particular sub group of sneaky aliens who do more than just send an armada to conquer our planet, but the ones who actually impersonate humans. It seems like everytime an alien is impersonating a human it spells big trouble. They're always up to some nefarious plot, and I can only be thankful that we've got an abundance of plucky young scientists, journalists, or blue collar police officers constantly on the lookout for the vile tricksters. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts from a plucky young blogger (that's me!) on what to be on the lookout for when dealing with the pod people.

  • Show me some more of this Earth thing called kissing...

Aliens are horny. Seriously; just think about it. Aliens must either have totally different concepts of sex, or just never experienced the wonders of a romp in the hay because they seem to always want to get it on with humans. Does it make sense? No, of course not. Would you want to screw the first Grey you met? My guess is not. But everything from Earth Girls are Easy to My Stepmother is an Alien has told us that all ET really wants is to get busy with a human. The tricky thing though is that most of the time its more like Splice, or even worse Species... Sure it may be the best sex ever, but aliens obviously like it rough in the sack and are usually just as willing to kill a human as screw them.

  • They may look good, but whats with the voice?

How come an advanced alien culture can create perfect doppelganger bodies of humans, imitate us in every way and blend into our society secretly but just can't get that voice right? From The classic The Invasion of the Body Snatchers to The Thing, more recently The Invasion aliens seem to have a weird thing about screaming in a decidedly un-human way. Just check this out.

  • Those Tricky Human Emotions

Of course the biggest tell for an alien among us is their utter lack of understanding of those pesky human emotions. Yes its a proven fact, aliens do not know the meaning of the word love. That is of course until they meet that one special human who can show them the depth of emotion. Even still this is the toughest thing aliens will ever have to learn about humans, our emotions are just too complex for them to easily grasp, despite their incredibly advanced technology. And that's why we will always prevail. Again, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers comes to mind here, as does The Arrival, and of course, if you want to talk about our unique and special emotional makeup you need look no further than the oh so disappointing ending to Contact.

Here's the take away from all this though, aliens are not all E.T and Alf. Aliens are tricky, and when they show up in their Edgar suit we should be careful. My advice: find the weakness and exploit it. Weather its a tasty rat that they can't help but gobble up, or a hot wire in a dish of blood, we need to step up our game and be on the lookout. In a best case scenario we'll at least have a fighting chance, like my hero Rowdy Roddy Piper in They Live. I definitely need some of those sunglasses for myself :)

In case you haven't seen it yet, below is the trailer for the newest version of The Thing, it comes out this October, and it looks awesome! Also if you're a fan of Carpenter's 1982 version of the film, you've really got to check out Escape Pod from a few weeks ago with a great story tied into that film called The Things, its really worth the listen.