Archive for the ‘television’ Category

Review: Comic Book Men (Rating: C-)

February 13, 2012

Rating: C-

I was only half-joking when I said on Twitter that Comic Book Men (AMC) will set the comic book community back by about 30 years.

The only thing missing was a basement…but in their defense, this was the pilot and no need to blow everything in the first episode.

A Cold Open Like Clerks, But Not As Funny

In lieu of a basement, the cold open for the show has the staff of The Secret Stash talking about Robin and going over the same dumb jokes that have been said by any number of us…except not as funny.

And it just goes downhill from there.

I take that back.  I suppose this conversation might be funny for those that have not heard it before, but the conversation on tape played like a joke on Two And A Half Men, playing to existing stereotypes and firing right down the middle.

Which is sad since there are moments later in the show of both clarity and insight into comic books.  The problem is that they are so lightly peppered across the one hour broadcast that if you’re checking your Twitter feed for a second you might miss them.

Instead, the show reinforces every “Comic Book Store Guy” stereotype that people already have for us.

Welcome To The Android Dungeon

The reinforcement of the stereotype was the most surprising thing about the show given that  Kevin Smith, of all people, knows the pain of living with the image that has been placed on all of us who read (and love) comic books.

And yet, when given an opportunity to challenge and counter it, he and the producers of this show decided it would easier to just play to what is expected; three white guys (four if you count Smith) and one Asian guy who are all over 30.

No women. No younger people.

In January, Zoe Gulliksen wrote about not making it onto the show, and it still confuses me as to how she did not make it in.

Yes, these are his friends from childhood blah blah blah and one would argue that hiring a woman to the show, specifically for the purpose of casting her so the show would have a female “character” could be seen as sexist (or any number of other things).

But this is television.  It’s not real.  Even if they call it “reality television,” there are still writers and producers and it’s edited.

So, not having a female perspective is one of the most glaring things that hurts this show before they even got off the ground.  It distorts the reality of who the  people that create, read and sell comic books are.

Pawn Star For Nerds (and yes, please be offended by that title)

In so many of the conversations on the show about comic books, other perspectives would have been helpful.

But that said, they really don’t spend too much time talking about comics which again is a shame because the framing device of using the podcast recording sessions to talk comic books was one of the few things I liked about the show.

I can only guess that the studio note was that talking about comic books is too “high art” and too cerebral.  Instead, the producers want a cheap “Pawn Star for nerds” that they can let audiences laugh at the people coming into the store to sell items.

To that point, in this pilot I did not see a single customer actually buying a comic book.  Just people off the street trying to sell stuff (it’s not to say that we won’t see that in future episodes).  It was hinted that there was a “casting call” of sorts to line those people up.  I’m fine with that.  Like I said, it’s television.

Of all the sellers, the only one that was enjoyable came from outside of the core cast.  A very melodramatic man comes in with a case handcuffed to his wrist (seriously) wanting to sell lobby cards and a poster of one of the Romero zombie movies for $800 and $200 respectively.  Since it’s not comic book specific, they call in an expert.  And the expert they call in makes very short work of the melodramatic man.

That and some discussion over signatures being less valuable on a collectable (because they’re not able to certify them) were interesting but they were hidden beneath the “A story” of a  “forced challenge” that had the employees go to the flea market to sell excess merchandise.

Thank you once again, producers.  This “a story” seemed forced (studio note: “We must have conflict”); probably because it was and was utterly boring.

Back To Stereotypes

Of all the people in the store Bryan, who may or may not be an employee (I’m not quite sure), is clearly there to rub people the wrong way and to call comic book readers nerds. He’s quite annoying and while the show (and Kevin) try to paint him as a loveable jester, he came across to me as being a jerk.  I have stopped shopping at comic book stores for less, and if I had to deal with him I’d probably change stores or move to mail-order.

Limited Production When It’s Needed The Most

One of the other misses of this show is in the production.  There are a few moments of interesting discussion over comic books that you’d figure would lend themselves to seeing the panels that are being discussed  (example: confusion over what actually happens in the classic Green Arrow/Green Lantern issue with Speedy doing drugs) and yet they do not show anything other than covers of books being sold.

I don’t know if this is a money thing (can’t afford the rights) or they know how litigious DC and Marvel could be if they tried.  Not being a lawyer I would argue that usage of panels of a comic book in this particular case would fall under “fair use” that’s used for reviews.  But I suppose they’ve never picked up a Comics Journal or copy of Amazing Heroes…

In Summary

The ratings for Comic Book Men were simply OK.  According to Deadline.Com, the show’s lead-in (The Walking Dead) had it’s highest ratings ever at 8.1 million viewers but Comic Book Men lost 75% of that audience which left it with 2 million viewers.

That’s a significant drop off, and it will be interesting to see what the ratings settle into as we get into weeks 2 and beyond.

Overall, this could have been a great opportunity to change the way people see the stereotypes of the comic book community.  However, instead of Lisa Lionheart, we got another Malibu Stacy (but she’s got a new hat).

[Note: @ZeusComics in Dallas tweeted me to let me know about their show “Variants” which is a fiction web series that does have a lead female character.  I have not seen it yet, but will check it out]

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Breaking Bad Season 3

July 19, 2011

In anticipation of Breaking Bad Season 4 (first episode aired last night, and man was it insane), I just finished Season 3 and…wow!

I stick with my A+ rating from my earlier review.

I stand by everything I said earlier and would like to elaborate on three things that make this one of the best shows on television.

Breaking Bad Is Fearless

So much of television, and in particular procedurals, is plot-driven.  Breaking Bad is the opposite.

Breaking Bad is character-driven and it is the actions of the characters on the show that progress the plot forward.

It is the characters who make the decisions that impact the direction of the show.  And they get it wrong more often than they get it right (kinda like in real life).

Jesse is a perfect example of this.  His decisions are dictated by the ‘what would a f***-up meth dealer and wannabe gangster do?’ and not by the whims of what is convenient for the writer.

And he is just the most obvious example.

The Production And Art Departments

I talked in-depth about this in the earlier review and I stand by the fact that the art and props department (and location scouts) are “JJ Abrams quality” in their ability to set the scene perfectly.

I’m always raving on Twitter about how flawless the production design is on Fringe and I gotta say that Breaking Bad is just as good (maybe better).

From that stupid Pontiac Aztek to the leather jacket that Walter wore in a flashback, there is never a moment when you are not in the reality of Breaking Bad.  Never a moment that you think that you’re watching life and not a Hollywood production.

Oh, and those Los Pollos Hermanos commercials are just brilliant.

Three words: Gale’s recumbent bicycle.

I should also mention that the cinematography and lighting are superb.

Giving Character Actors Something To Do

By far, the biggest strength of Breaking Bad is its extended cast.

It’s one thing to hire great character actors.  Any show can do that.  It’s another to actually put them to work.  To give them depth and literally “things to do.”

Dean Norris has shined on this show, but then you get guys like Jonathan Banks (Mike) and…seriously, Jeremiah Bitsui (Victor).

The two of them.  There’s so much going on with those characters and they just nail it.  For Bitsui it’s even more difficult to step up to the challenge since I can’t say he’s said 10 words on the entire show.

Which is probably why Mike and Victor are currently my two favorite characters on the show.

I should also mention that even though he’s not a character actor, Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman might be one of the greatest supporting characters ever.  TV Guide, EW and whomever else makes those type of lists needs to make sure he’s in their Top 3 (at least).

I don’t know what else I can say about how great this show is except that I have loaned my Season 1 and 2 box sets to the first of many friends and expect them to continue traveling for quite some time.  (which means you’re on your own to get caught up before Season 4 starts)

Early Review Of Falling Skies

June 13, 2011

The TNT marketing department is wasting no time in trying to get the buzz out for the new show Falling Skies.

Social media folks who have high Klout scores were given “VIP” passes to a pre-party last Thursday at the Highball and then preferential seating at a screening of the premiere episode (really episodes 1 & 2) at the Alamo Drafthouse, followed by a Q&A with Moon Bloodgood.

Before you think I have Klout score that even ranges within the single digits, I was invited by my friend Kat (@katmandelstein, thanks!).

So how was it?

I give the show a B- rating and I will watch it this season to see where it goes.  

While it’s a good show with a lot of room to grow into itself, the comparisons to the Walking Dead are inevitable and I have to point out that as a result, the bar is being set very high.

One of the disadvantages this show has out of the gate are the aliens.  When you think about the Walking Dead, the zombies are not an adversary so much as they are an environmental condition.  The zombies have no strategy.  No plan of attack.  They just exist to foil the humans.  The conflict is entirely within the confines of the human condition; man vs. man.

With Falling Skies, the backdrop of the alien invasion has to divide it’s time between the alien takeover of the planet (“them” vs. us) as well as the human condition elements.  Too many unanswered questions (like what’s their end game? etc.).

While both conflicts are served, they do tend to go back-and-forth a lot.

Not too much has been revealed about the aliens, and I almost would have liked to have had even less information than was given.  The reason being, once you start to peel that band-aid you really want to just keep tearing at it until you rip the entire thing off.

What if the alien plot becomes more interesting than the people?  Stargate always had this problem, where the characters became subservient to the science.  These type of shows only work when it balances out evenly (which is a difficult task).

While there were a few dark elements that speak to how people will respond to what might be the end of civilization, these things are presented and then quickly tucked away.  Which is not a bad thing.  It’s just a thing.  Steven Spielberg is the executive producer of the show and it airs on TNT, so given both of these facts you kinda know going in that if it ever starts to go into dark territory it’s going to refocus back onto the alien conflict and not linger in the depths of the soul of the downtrodden.

For instance: there’s a particular sub-plot about children that should be a lot more disturbing than it actually is and yet they spend very little time on the depth of emotion to be had by this sub-plot and I suspect that later on in the season it will be more about the alien invasion and less about the children affected.

Recently, the show “The Killing” had a stand-alone episode that just focused on the detectives and not on the murder they are investigating.  Some felt it was a cheat.  Others felt it was a brilliant piece of storytelling.  If Falling Skies wanted to be cutting-edge, they’d pull a “Lost” and do a show from the perspective of the children at some point.  Flip the camera around as it were (Tailies, represent!).  But I won’t be holding my breath for that to happen.  10 minutes, maybe.  But not a full episode, sadly.

The first episode was written by series creator Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) and while it was good, the second episode was the stronger of the two  with a number of moments that the audience reacted to (it helps that Graham Yost wrote that second episode).

The cast is solid and Noah Wylie is a great lead (as to be expected).  I will say that Will Patton kinda sticks out a bit. He’s an amazing actor, but I can’t shake the image of him as the bad guy in The Postman.  There’s a post apocalypse “you can’t go home again” joke here; somewhere.

The standout of the cast has to be the character Jimmy (Dylan Authors), a solider who only yesterday was a thirteen year-old boy.  He doesn’t have a ton of screen time, but when he is in a scene he owns it.  I give a huge amount of credit to Falling Skies for getting a leg up on the Walking Dead with this brilliant character.  My challenge to this show is to take advantage of him and bring him to the foreground the way that writers did with Kat on Battlestar Galactica.

This is a solid show, but it’s also family entertainment.  And that’s not a bad thing.  It’s got drama.  It’s got action.  And like I said, if the Walking Dead is a bit too dark of a show, this might be a nice alternative.

And, as a counterpoint to that statement: if you do like the Walking Dead, you might like this show as well.  Just don’t expect to see someone forced into a “hacksaw” type of decision any time soon.

I’ll report back on the blog as the season progresses to let you know where I land on this.

Have Audience, Will Travel

May 14, 2011

Deadline had the story, “DONE DEAL: Ashton Kutcher New Star Of ‘Two & A Half Men’ Replacing Charlie Sheen

I don’t watch, nor care about, Two & A Half Men.  What I do care about was the following statement in the article:

And last but not least, he has 6.7 million Twitter followers. That’s more than the audience for the Two and a Half Men repeat this past Monday.

Leave it to modern journalists to bury the lead on this one.

This news comes out of the 2011 Fall Season lineup announcements.

This is when the networks release which pilots got picked up and which shows are being cancelled and won’t be coming back.

The cancellation list is a bloodbath of mostly one and two season shows.  In the case of the new Paul Reiser show, that got cancelled after two episodes.

It’s clear that the networks can not afford to “experiment” on building an audience over time.

Growth has to happen on day one, or they are cutting their losses.

Need further proof of this?  Law & Order: Los Angeles, a show based on a franchise that has made NBC a small fortune; cancelled.

Or, Stargate Universe which is part of a fourteen year SyFy network franchise; cancelled after two seasons.

What does all this mean?

Well, when it comes to taking one of the most popular sitcom and trying to keep it on the air, you don’t bother with the Box Office Mojo stats.

The take away on this story is: when it comes to hiring anyone going forward, Hollywood (and other industries) are going to be looking for people who bring an active audience with them on day one and do higher levels of interaction with that audience.

I wrote a bit about this on a blog for work (IBM) about Felicia Day, our Innovate 2011 keynote speaker, and the audience she has developed for her series The Guild.

The idea being that her audience is more actively engaged in the work that she does and there’s more of a person-to-person exchange with her audience versus the passive nature of other audiences.

For example: when she “crosses back” into mainstream media and guest stars on the upcoming season of the SyFy show Eureka, she’s bringing a portion of her 1.8 million followers along for the ride.  And some, such as myself, will be new viewers.

Both CBS (and SyFy) will benefit from the ground work that Kutcher (and Day) have done to build an audience before the cameras even start rolling.

Social media is not just “free publicity.”  When done right it engages the audience and it connects individuals person-by-person.

The active social media audience is the one that will bring success to any project.

Why do you think Charlie Sheen rushed to create a Twitter account after his meltdown?

In 2012, expect to see a lot of stock given to social media following for new shows and the actors that are selected for those pilots.

Observations From Breaking Bad Seasons 1 And 2

September 8, 2010

Rating: A+

So why have I not been watching Breaking Bad (AMC) since the pilot?

I will admit to having been distracted when I watched the pilot when it first aired.  My head was “somewhere else” and I turned it off after five minutes, which in retrospect was a mistake.

A number of people who I know, and trust, have been raving about this program and as a result I have been spending time getting caught up.

I can say, emphatically, that it has been time well spent.

Season One (seven episodes) and Two (thirteen episodes) were on sale at Target and I have been squirreling away Season Three (thirteen episodes) on my DVR, hedging my bets that I would like it.

And I have enjoyed what I have seen so far (1.01 – 2.10).

This is a spoiler free review and I will not talk about plot or characters in a way that will take away from your enjoyment of the show.  In fact, this isn’t so much of a review as it is observations.

The reason for this is that one of the things that added to the enjoyment of the program for me was knowing little to nothing about it.

I knew that it was about a science teacher who cooks meth with a former student.  That’s about all I knew and that’s about all you need (or want) to know going into it.

The Writing

The character creation is tight and quite strong.  Creator Vince Gilligan was a writer on The X-Files; one of the best television shows of the 1990’s.  He and his writing staff can do subtle, but they can also shock the **** out of you with a single line of dialogue.

From a plotting standpoint, the show is ultimately about how life throws us obstacles and the decisions that we make to attempt to overcome them.  Sometimes they are the right decisions, but the outcomes are wrong.  And vice versa.  And anything in between.  It’s about how we adjust and adapt and what we do when faced with challenges.  Where this program, and others on cable (versus the “big four networks”) differ is that things don’t always work out in the end.  Rarely are the happy endings happy.

It is also interesting to note that characters stay in character.  They make bad decisions as if they would in real life, and not decisions that are convenient for the writers (or network).

In a weird way, this program has a number of similarities to the 1985 film, The Falcon and the Snowman which I blogged about in the past, but expands on a number of the ideas in that film throughout the seasons.

I hate to use the word “raw,” but when it comes to the affect drugs and the war on drugs have on people’s lives, this program is quite raw when it comes to portraying this.  Episodes 2.06 (“Peekaboo”) was one of the most disturbing things I have watched since Oz.  It will haunt you.

It also does a very good job of adding discourse to another aspect of the current political debate (which I won’t talk about because it might spoil a reveal in the pilot and throughout the show).

The Acting

Brian Cranston did appearances on Adam Carolla’s podcast to promote the show, and he sounds not only like a nice guy, but like a man who is doing something he loves.  Looking at his IMDB credits, there is no doubt that an actor with this much time on screen could pull in three Emmy awards in a row, he just needed the right part.  And to that point, I would submit that his work on Malcolm In The Middle prepared him for this role more than any other actor when you consider that this is a role about a man undergoing a metamorphosis; one where he is changing from the man he was to the man he is at this moment.

It is a Jekyll/Hyde role, but it is in the moment.  He needsto be able to switch from “family man” to “what he as become”  flawlessly and in an instant.  151 episodes and six years doing Malcolm In The Middle makes his transitions immediate and jarring and effortless.

The entire cast, supporting cast and guest actors/actresses are fantastic but the standout is Aaron Paul.  Paul has one of the most difficult jobs on this show; going toe-to-toe with Cranston in the bulk of his scenes.  It is exhausting work for any actor, let alone an actor as young as he is, but he pulls it off (and got an Emmy award of his own for Season Three).  The “relationship” that Cranston and Paul negotiate on camera changes from father/son to business partners to apprentice/mentor to contempt and then respect…changing by the second and based on the whims and scenarios of the characters.  He can play aggressive and then clueless and then sympathetic as the scene progresses.  And both of them keep pace with each other (and the rest of the cast) perfectly.

The Production

The production department for this show deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the authenticity of this show.  Costumes.  Props.  Locations.  When you watch this program, you feel as if you are looking at real people living their real lives and not a Hollywood interpretation.

This is further made real by the cinematography and lighting.  For a program shot in HD, there are scenes that look like they were shot using a Kodak Disc with a bad flash and then enlarged to 5 x 7; grainy, washed out with lots of muted browns and yellows.  The show has a distinct look that combines the way it was shot with the physical elements and provides authenticity.

Every person who works on this show behind the scenes contributes to why this show works and why it looks so “real” without the viewer thinking that it is being faked.  To say that it looks “real” is the highest compliment I can give a production.

AMC Gets It Right Once Again

AMC’s new strategy for producing quality original drama programs appears to be working; High-end creators working with limited creative restrictions and a cautious/low risk production rollout.

While it is a small lineup of three programs (though it will be growing to include The Walking Dead and The Killing), I can safely say that every show on AMC is worth watching and I will watch anything they decide to air.

As far as distribution, the first seasons are either seven or thirteen episodes commitments and the original programming is limited to Sunday evenings with two hour blocks, multiple repeats and availability on iTunes.

…and with that, I have to get back to finishing the end of Season Two and starting up Season Three.  In the meantime, here is a great image from print maker Tim Doyle called, “The Cook.”  (it was for sale on his site, but has since sold out so check eBay if you want a copy).

The Cook, By Tim Doyle

The Cook, By Tim Doyle

The Show Remains The Same

August 22, 2010

The other day I was having lunch with a friend of mine and she recommended I watch the last few episodes of Stargate Universe (SGU) season one.

My friend has pretty good taste and when looking at the Wikipedia episode synopsis I noticed that Rhona Mitra was in the final three episodes, so that’s what I did the other night (thank you, Netflix streaming).

She was right, these episodes were pretty good and  yet as I watched them I started to “see behind the curtain” and realize that I was about to be disappointed.

Without spoiling anything, the setup for the season cliffhanger was extremely dramatic.  It reminded me of Dynasty’s “Moldavian Masacre” season finale in which terrorists swarmed the wedding and sprayed machine gun fire and the audience was left wondering who would live and who would die.

And that was the problem.  The stakes were raised fairly high and the audience demands a payoff that equals (or exceeds) those initial stakes.

Sure, they killed a minor character (a “red shirt”), but that was meant as a distraction because the modern television audience understand the mechanics and inner workings of how television is produced.  We know that all these actors are on contracts and that everyone will be coming back and that everything will go back to normal.

The larger the franchise, the less risks that are taken so as to protect said franchise.

It has gotten to the point where modern television dramas have polarized themselves into two types of shows; procedural franchises (like SGU) and groundbreaking originals.

The procedural franchise shows (SGU, Law & Order, CSI, etc.) have a simple formula.  Every week there’s a something.  The cast of characters solve the something in the unique way that they do it on that show (forensic science with CSI for example) and the end.  Plot threads are weaved in to keep viewers entertained week-to-week, but not much “happens” over the course of the season to the environment or to the characters.

The groundbreaking originals are the type of shows that have strong creators or show runners behind them and networks that are willing to take risks.  While they might follow some level of “formula,” they are not slaves to it.  I can point to any number of episodes of Lost or Mad Men that completely broke formula to push the characters (or the story) forward.  As far as plot, the season three (and season four) finales for Dexter are great examples of taking the character and changing their environment and making the old new, and different, again.

Any episode of The Wire.

You know those shows when you watch them.

Which is why if we plotted the continuum as a barbell, there are shows that run up and down the line from one pole (CSI) to the other (The Wire).

From what I saw, SGU’s position while maybe not entirely in procedural franchise is not far enough towards groundbreaking original where this finale left me loosing any sleep for the characters.

As much as Stargate Universe wanted to convince me it was leaning toward groundbreaking, I know that it doesn’t have the guts.

It’s a procedural franchise and needs to protect itself from risk.

I have nothing against procedural franchises (some of my best friends are procedural franchises).  I might even casually follow the show into season two, but let’s face it, I don’t think this is going to come near some of the great Buffy cliffhangers of day’s past.

I could be wrong.  I hope I’m wrong.  I’d love to be surprised.  And if I am, I will be the first to publicly state on this blog that I am wrong.

But it’s been my experience that you know the groundbreaking shows when you watch them and the rest remains the same.

NBC Still Doesn’t Get It

May 18, 2009

For the season finale of SNL (hosted by Will Ferrell) the show pulled out all the stops.

Over the course of the evening, sketches such as the commercial parody and Celebrity Jeopardy had some great cameos from former cast members.  All of which culminated into a monstrous sketch called, “Goodnight Saigon.

It’s the type of sketch where on Monday morning you’d want to send it to your co-workers and friends.

It’s not “ha ha” funny, but it’s something that is amusing enough that it could easily go viral very quickly on a Monday morning.

So imagine my surprise when I went to Hulu and saw the following message:

The ‘Goodnight Saigon’ sketch is not available for online streaming.

WHY NOT?

Why would you not want to put this sketch on the site?

For a show that has gone from barely relevant to highly unwatchable, you’d think that they’d put one of their rare funny sketches* online for people to see.

Ultimate fail.

#fail.

#fail.

#fail.

**sigh**

* note: the digital shorts, in my opinion, are cheats.  It’s called Saturday Night LIVE.  The whole point of the show, the reason why it is unique, is that it’s live.  The shorts might as well just be high production YouTube clips.

Heroes Volume 4 (Fugitives) In Two Sentences

February 3, 2009

Umm, so to sum up the episode in one sentence:

“Peter, it’s OK to let go.  You know how to fly you idiot!”

**sigh**

Really, NBC? Really?

What’s sad is that you got rid of  your two best writer/producers (Jeph Loeb and Jesse Alexander) and you think you’re going to be able to make a go of it with this fourth season/volume.  Well, I got news for you, it’s gonna be a long Spring…

Separated At Birth: The Beast And Man Bites Dog

January 18, 2009

 

Promotional Image From The Beast (AMC) (Whats Alan Watching?)

Promotional Image From "The Beast" (2009, AMC TV) (Picture From What's Alan Watching?)

and

Movie Poster For Man Bites Dog (1992)

Movie Poster For "Man Bites Dog" (1992)