Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When to give up on a show

Here's a question I recently heard posed on the Television Zombies podcast. When do you give up on a tv show? For me, probably like a lot of you, it's not any set specific moment but a culmination of things that will make me either give up, or power through.

I really think we've moved past the "jumped the shark" moment in our media watching culture to some new stage of acceptance. As unfortunate as it initially sounds, even if you want to find a point to label as the moment it all started to go downhill for any particular program, I find that I rarely if ever let that single moment stop me from watching a show. So am I just more accepting of substandard tv than I used to be? No. I think instead that I, and we as a television watching culture, understand now that over the lifespan of a show there is a natural ebb and flow. Serialized storytelling is understood and accepted on such a better level by the general public than it was even 5 or 10 years ago that I think we've started looking at our shows on a larger scale rather than any the success or failures of one single episodic chapter. There are distinct advantages as well to sitting through some level of tv crap to get to the good stuff. Shows often need to find their legs, voice, and tone; as well as refine their characters and relationships over the course of a first season for example. And larger stories understandably have bigger payoff in the end. I think we're also so much more aware of the process of creating television these days that we give writers, directors, and actors the benefit of the doubt more. Third acts are tough to put together and often lag, but we all know that now, so I think we're more forgiving.

The really annoying thing though, is that networks still don't seem to understand that. Shows with great potential are still mercilessly cut down before they're given a chance to find themselves every Fall and its a real shame. Thankfully there are a few exceptions to this trend as is the case with Falling Skies, which is not a very good show, but one that can hopefully get better as it moves into a second season.

Recently I watched the entire 18 episodes of Caprica with my wife. Is it a great show? No, not at all. The actors may have all been really great, and the writing wasn't bad, but the show lacked the direction, sense of mystery, and action of BSG. Additionally it all but complete ignored the large and complex mythology already established for the series through Battlestar and instead focused on stories that their already built in audience didn't care about. The show turned its back on a fanbase that wanted to love it from the start, and that's why it failed. But would I have watched more? YES. The show had potential, possibly even as much potential as Battlestar Galactica itself. And given even the little I know about the behind the scenes of Caprica, it sounds like the creators were still really looking for the right tone to strike on the show.

What might we have seen in Caprica if it was given a second season? I think the answer to that could have been really amazing television. And I think that's never more clear than in the final 5 minutes of the last episode, which was shot after they knew the series was ending, but actually starts to tie the series into the larger mythology that we all know and already care about. Those 5 minutes proved to me that there could have been something great in store for Caprica.

On the other side of the coin comes a show like SyFys newest original series Alphas.

This show is one I feel I've given enough of a chance to, and almost immediately after only two episodes, have decided to stop watching. My reason? Lack of potential. This story is pretty close to an exact ripoff of the X-Men, but lacks the fx budget for anything visually interesting. Additionally even if the characters might develop into something more nuance, their set ups are so cookie cutter that I just can't roll with it. The autistic super genius is a great example of a shallow, played out character concept. The only even remotely interesting character on the show is David Strathairn's Professor X, I mean Dr Rosen... everyone else is totally forgettable. So really it's not just the unoriginal concept, but the bland characters, and low fx budget that combine to put this show on my chopping block. Could it come back? Could I hear about it becoming great somewhere down the line? yes, but I doubt it.

We may be a more forgiving tv watching culture in some ways, but we're also more critical in others, and I suppose that comes down to the fact that we're just more savvy viewers than ever before. So deciding when to give up a show isn't an easy question to answer anymore, but its definitely still an interesting one to ask.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Falling Skies thoughts

So I've been watching Falling Skies on TNT this summer and as much as I want to like it, I just can't. Some of the action beats and science fiction elements may be really great, and the actors, on the whole, are solid, but the "heartfelt" family drama moments are just so schmaltzy that I can't take the show seriously.

I think this is a case of trying to be too much at once. I understand that Steven Spielberg is the executive producer and all but the show is trying way to hard to straddle that line between family fare, and science fiction. But this is not ET, and it's definitely not Close Encounters. The science fiction elements aren't served by the melodrama, and the feel good family elements are too saccharine. Every time I want to start liking this show a scene just dripping with sentiment ruins my enjoyment.

With all that said, I want to love this show, and am still rooting for it. There's potential here for some really interesting storytelling that has never been seen on television. I would welcome a show with this same central idea that framed itself as a mystery. Something like Falling Skies that instead delved more into who the alien invaders are, why they're here, and what's their plan would be fascinating. As it is though, I'm left wanting a better story out of pretty much every single episode. That's not to say the show couldn't turn itself around in a second season, I sincerely hope they re-focus on the mystery of the skitters in 2012 now that they know the show is returning for a second season, and drop some of the heavy handed family drama. Then, and only then will the show even have a chance to live up to its potential.

If you haven't seen Falling Skies and are interested, its only 10 episodes long for the first season, and can be watched here.


ASM teaser

The teaser trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man has hit the internets and its pretty interesting. I'm loving elements of it: the look, the actors, the lighting, and creepy darker vibe than the previous films; but am also a bit wary of the parkour running montage (looks like something out of Mirror's Edge), and while I'm digging the mechanical web shooters, I'm not so sure about the suit as a whole. Here is the trailer itself.

I have to admit, I have not been following the production ins and outs on this one. Just been too busy... But if you know me, you know I am a pretty huge Spider-Man fan, so really any way it comes together I am excited about this film. 2012 looks like it'll be a great summer for movies!

John Carter trailer

The trailer for John Carter has dropped and I'm torn on it. Part of me loves it, and part of me is extremely wary of the potential for cheese. The worrisome part to me is that the trailer just looks a bit over polished (not that anything Disney makes ever doesn't), but it has something just a bit dangerously "pretty" about it. While that may just be Taylor Kitsch, it makes me nervous. The good part though is the sword and sandal stuff. I like how the story mixes the old west with sci fi. I've heard that in the book John Carter is a Civil War veteran and I can't tell if that's been kept for this film but the juxtaposition in the trailer between Earth and Mars is pretty cool regardless. Check out the trailer and see what I mean.

It's like a mix between Prince of Persia with He-Man, and a dash of Avatar meets the old west. Definitely a combination I haven't seen on film before. Despite it being a bit too... Disney I have to admit I really love the song being played, and the voice over by Willem Dafoe at the end is great. Really anything read by Willem Dafoe would be great. For ow, I'll definitely say I'm interested.

For those who are interested the song played is a Peter Gabriel cover of an Arcade Fire song "My Body is a Cage", and the novel on which this first John Carter movie is based on A Princess of Mars is available on Project Gutenberg. One of these days I'll get around to reading it myself :)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Panic Attack!

According to the webs the man who will be behind the planned remake of Evil Dead will be director Fede Alvarez. I'm not familiar with him since he's only done shorts before, and I'm not sure how I feel about a remake of such a classic film, but I suppose you can't stop progress.

Check out Alvarez's really awesome short film Ataque de Panico! (aka Panic Attack!)


Friday, July 08, 2011

Prequel ideas

So recently my wife and I have been catching up on Caprica. We missed it during its first run on tv, but are both fans of BSG, and I've been really enjoying it so far. I know its not as great as BSG, but for my money, its really not bad, just different. Also, I appreciate that they're not trying to do another BSG show with Caprica.I like the fact that with Caprica they at least tried to break the mold. Of course that all goes back to square one with Blood and Chrome, but I give them props for trying something out of the box.

Watching this really involved prequel got me thinking about other stories that could benefit from a good involved prequel. Now, part of the problem intrinsically with prequels is that usually the story is picked up when it does because the backstory gives depth, layering, and if you went into it there might not be too much there. But I'm not talking about something quick here, I'm suggesting that there are some stories that have compelling enough backstories hinted at that could be built out into a cool ongoing series, or miniseries. Of course that's not to say it would be done well. We all know how the Star Wars prequels worked out and they were quite literally born out of a single line about Luke's father and Ben Kenobi fighting in the Clone Wars. But lets still have some fun and speculate on what could be. Here are some of my picks for good prequel candidates. Please note though that my thoughts on these are spoiler heavy, and VERY in-depth geeky, so be warned :)

AKIRA - Ok, so I know the manga has a lot more to the story than we saw in this classic 1988 film, but I haven't read that and my guess is you haven't either. From what I can tell as well, even the manga doesn't go too much into the backstory. What we know from the film though is that it all started with Akira, a little boy with incredible psychic power. He, probably unintentionally destroyed Tokyo in 1988 (in the manga it was in 1992, but for the film, they changed the destruction date to the very day the film opened), and then was captured, cryogenically frozen and woken up 31 years later by Tetsuo, only to cause the destruction of Neo-Tokyo. Now I love Kaneda as much as the next guy but this prequel could practically write itself. Set it immediately after the destruction of Tokyo. Imagine the immediacy of a just destroyed megacity, the fight for survival, the struggle for power, maybe the rise of the biker gangs among the lawless ruins, and everyone looking to capture and control this one little boy. That could be a great story, especially as a cool live action series. Hopefully we'll get something if the planned live action film ever gets made.

Transformers - Call me sentimental but I have a soft spot for giant metal alien robots kicking the crap out of each other. Through the life of the various tv series, movies, games, comics,and yes even novelizations of the TF lore there have been a number of different versions of the backstory for the Transformers. And while there have been some attempts to reconcile the varying continuities the main historical points are similar. A race of giant sentient robots was created on an alien world long long ago, eventually they took control of the world and split into two factions, the Autobots and the Decepticons, and since then they have been trying to kill each other, with their battle eventually spilling over to Earth. What I'd love to see out of an animated Transformers prequel series is finally some context for The Great War. The biggest problem with the Transformers is that there is almost never any discussion of ideology. Why the hell are they actually fighting? The explanations of simple power, and control aren't very satisfying. My vote is to run with the current continuity, meaning Transformers the War for Cybertron game, and the Transformers Prime tv series, and give us a look at the start of the Great Cybertronian War, and the origins of Optimus and Megatron's personal conflict, as seen in the prequel novel Transformers Exodus. Despite really wanting a return to the Beast Wars universe, this could be something pretty damn cool.

The Dark Crystal - Ok, so follow this with me for a second. The Dark Crystal's protagonist may be just a Gelfling, but it also features the good Mystics (actually named the UrRu) and the Skeksis. These two races are actually both two halves of another race the Urskeks, who appear at the end of Henson's classic 80s fantasy film. The Urskeks are actually higher enlightened beings (supposedly) who while trying to use the Crystal of Light to literally burn out their remaining imperfections in their souls split themselves into two halves of a whole, good and evil. then during the ensuing fight with themselves the crystal was shattered became the Dark Crystal, and started our story in the film a mere 1000 years later. My thought though is to follow the shard itself, that's the key. How did the shard end up with Aughra, who is she, and how did the world of Tra become what it is? We know that the Skesis sought to destroy all of the Gelflings since there was a portentous prophecy of a Gelfling one day destroying the Skesis empire, and we also know that there were 18 mystics / skeksis to start with, but only 10 when the film opens, there is definitely more to this story than we've seen. And yes I know about Toykopop's Legends of the Dark Crystal comic, but I've only read the first volume of that, so they may have tread on some of this ground there. With that though this is definitely something I think could be a cool story to finally get some insight into. This one might work best as an ongoing comic, and we may even get some of it in Archaia's planned comic series which is set to be at least partly a prequel. Conversely, the long in development Power of the Dark Crystal film is slated to be a sequel. Oh well, at least we're getting something new.

The Neverending Story - So not to get too lost in Germanic philosophy, the eternal return, or anthroposophic thought, but The Neverending Story is an amazing movie. I really have to read the book one of these days, I know everyone loves it, but its just one of those things that has slipped past me over the years. The movie however is close to my heart. I am basically discounting the sequels, tv series, or animated series as non cannon here because really aside from Jonathan Brandis, can you remember anything about any of the sequel films? Me either, although I have a sneaking suspicion that they are all terrible. Ok so I know its an oxymoron to ask for the origins of a neverending story, but really that's what I'd like to see. Where, when and how did pure belief become manifest into the world of Fantasia. Who created the AURYN, and of course the book itself. Id expect something pretty 'meta' here, but hopefully they could keep it action fantasy orientated too. We need more good family films like this could be. Apparently there is a reboot of the 80s film in the works slated for 2014, hopefully this one will keep some of the same magic that made the original great.

Firefly - Of course this one was coming. Anyone who'se seen Firefly or Serenity though should know that it was a story with great potential that was cut tragically short. I'd love to see a reinvisioning of this universe and what better place to do that than during the great Unification war. In the Firefly lore, the Unification War saw the outlying planets and moons, the ones deepest in the black, try to resist Alliance control over their worlds to little success. The fighters for freedom were of course the browncoats, and the final battle of the war, The Battle of Serenity Valley is where Mal meets Zoe in the story. I'd propose a whole new series though, about the soldiers during this war, the browncoats, the Independents fighting for their little scrap of lawless backwater and honestly not include any of the original Firefly storyline or characters, just the 'Verse. You see the thing about Firefly that made fans flock to it, especially after it was dead and buried was the heart. Joss Whedon has a knack of creating families on his shows and no where is it more apparent than in Firefly where he created what some consider the best television show ever in 14 short episodes. This heart is exactly whats needed in a new prequel series, something that should be easy to build between soldiers on the frontline.

Ok, well those are 5 ideas for prequels that I think would all work great. A few bonus ideas for stories warranting prequels are Time Bandits, and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. What are some of your prequel ideas?

Friday, July 01, 2011

Open Sesame

As older son is reaching appropriate viewing age recently (he's just about 2 and 1/2 now) my wife and I have ever so slowly been introducing him to the some of the finer television programs out there. However since me and my wife both work in and around media all day we're pretty wary of overexposure, so at least for now are doing our best to limit both time and content.

The first program I introduced was Fraggle Rock. As many of you may know I am a HUGE Jim Henson fan and the Fraggles have always had a really special place in my heart. A few years back when I bought the show on dvd I was delighted to read the wonderful liner notes accompanying the discs. Among the notes is a very sweet letter written by Lisa Henson explaining how her father had a vision to bring peace on earth through song, communication, and like-minded fraternity between all creatures. And his vehicle for this world changing harmony was to be the Fraggles, with the children as disciples. The letter is so genuine it made me honestly fall in love with Henson and the muppets all over again. My son has been enjoying the Fraggles for a couple of months now, but while he likes the songs, the stories are a bit too complex for him to follow.

So this of course led us to Sesame Street. Who out there doesn't love Sesame Street? The show is great, and while it has correctly evolved with the changing times, there's something almost magical about some of the older Sesame sketches. The were more than influential to me, they were defining. They taught so much more than the ABCs and counting, Sesame Street is a show about the entire world around you and figuring out who you are as a person. I recently picked up the first volume of the Sesame Street Old School series (which highlights the first 5 years of the shows broadcast) and have been really loving sharing it with my son.

So in honor of all things Sesame Street, here are some of my favorite classic clips from the show:

Bert and Ernie - Fish Call

I Can Remember

We All Sing the Same Song

African Alphabet

I Am Somebody

Now if that Jesse Jackson speech isn't empowering I don't know what is. For me that was always one of my favorite and I think probably the most important quality to Sesame Street: it never ever talked down to kids. Most children's programming needs to adpot that attitude.

If you enjoyed that here are a few other favorites of mine:
Bert and Ernie in a Pyramid, Kermit Rapunzel, Alphabet Soup, Golden AN, Lost Boy Remembers, Teeny Little Super Guy, Pinball, King of 8, Alligator King, Echo Song, Ladybug Picnic, Doin the Pigeon, John John counts, Cookie Monster Alphabet, Fiest - 1, 2, 3, 4, I Love my Hair, Smell Like a Monster, Wil.i.am - What I Am