Posts Tagged ‘AMC’

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]

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