Thursday, July 26, 2012

American Horror Story News Round-up

Okay, you guys – I’ve been trying to hold back on all the updates to season 2 of American Horror Story that have been slowly leaking out over the summer, but given the news today I felt like it sort of warranted an item. Creator Ryan Murphy “let slip” that season two will be ghost-free.

While I certainly don’t think you need ghosts in order to make a scary story and since there’s really very little creepier than Hollywood’s vision of what mental health looked like fifty years ago, I don’t suppose this is a make-or-break detail for fans of the show. That said, I think we can all agree that a ghost-less American Horror Story is deserving of a hearty, “WTF?”

Of course, that response could just be par for the course. Good to know that season two is starting us grabbing our heads in confusion early on.

I guess they're hoping the 3D will make the crazy come at you in a more realistic fashion?

For the record, here’s a round-up of other spoiler-lite info about the upcoming season:
  • Jessica Lange is returning and will playing a nun, a far cry from her first season character.
  • Returning cast members include Evan Peters (Tate), Lily Rabe (Lady MacBeth), Sarah Paulson (mystery psychic) and Zachary Quinto.  Details are very quiet, except that they all will be playing parts very different from their previous roles.
  • The setting is an insane asylum in the 1960s somewhere on the east coast.  
  • Chloe Sevigny (Big Love), Clea Duvall (Heroes) and James Cromwell (Babe) will be joining the cast.  
  • Maroon Five frontman and all around ego-hound Adam Levine is set to play one half of a pair only referred to as “The Lovers”
No word yet as to whether or not we’ll get to see more cry-masturbating (don’t worry, that link is safe), but fingers crossed! The new season begins in October on FX. And if you my recaps of season one were alternately not good enough or so good they made you want more, you can buy the first season starting on September 25.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I vant to suck your ratings...

Remember when NBC was the top network? Back in the ages of Friends and ER...and I am sure there were other shows too but those are the only ones I can think of right now.

Since it's heyday in the late 90s, NBC has become a joke. Quite literally in fact, since about 2/3 of the jokes on 30 Rock seem to revolve around how terrible the network is doing. But there was breaking news this week that might indicate NBC is on the right track, at least as far as new programming goes (the less said about its treatment of Community the better).

From the Los Angeles Times:
On Tuesday, NBC announced the 10-episode series "Dracula," starring (Jonathan) Rhys Meyers as the count, who travels to London in the 1890s. He poses as an American entrepreneur seeking to introduce modern technology to Victorian society, but in reality he's seeking revenge on the people who ruined his life centuries before. Of course, he falls for a girl who might or might not be the reincarnation of his lost love. 
OH HELL YEAH. This just sounds awesome. First of all: Dracula. Second of all: period piece. Third of all (is that a saying?): 10 episode order which means they can focus the money and energy on making those 10 episodes awesome. And methinks there might a touch of steampunk in there as well. I mean someone introducing "modern technology" in "Victorian times" definitely seems to imply that, right?

As for Jonathan Rhy Meyers, meh. I know a lot of ladies want to fling their panties at him, but honestly he never did it for me. Probably because I saw him a long time ago in this really creepy disturbing movie called Gormenghast (pictured). 

In other news, this picture is courtesy of the website, Hot Guys in Period Costume. Which I thought was the best website EVER. At least until I discovered the tumblr Fuck Yeah Costume Drama.

It seems like Dracula is very hot right now. The LA Times article goes on to note that several other tv shows and movies are gearing up for Dracula projects, including one on Starz called Vlad Dracula about the origins of the vampire. If it's anything like Spartacus, sign me up.

But let's just agree that it's never going to get better than this:

Gary Oldman is in the motherfucking house, y'all. Bow down, Dracula pretenders.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Buffy Season 5 Rewatch

A few months ago I discovered the website Mark Watches. Mark is a guy (duh) who somehow missed watching a lot of the sci-fi and fantasy shows that we all loved growing up: Buffy, X-Files, etc. So he decided to start a website where he would watch complete runs of tv shows and blog about every episode. For the past few months, he's been working his way through Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, watching them as they aired tag-team after one another.

What can I say, he inspired me! It's no secret that Buffy is my favorite series of all time, but it's actually been a while since I went back and visited our Sunnydale crew. Rather than doing a complete Buffy rewatch (I know several people who have tried this, but got burned out somewhere around season 3) I decided to start nearer the end with the episodes I haven't seen as many times. So Season 5 it is!

While watching the episodes there were a lot of thoughts swirling in my mind; I was trying to remember what I thought and felt the first time I saw them, but was also responding to the show as someone who knows where the series is headed. I had also recently read Mark's posts about each episode. He talked a lot about the process of his coming out and bullying (in the context of Willow and Tara's relationship) and also the death of his father and mother's battle with cancer (in response to Joyce Summers' illness).

When Season 5 originally aired I remember hearing a lot of chatter about how people found Dawn annoying and whiny and thought Glory was a bad villain portrayed by a terrible actress. I don't remember having that reaction at all; I know I was shocked by the appearance of Dawn, but never had the negative reaction to her that seemed prevalent in the fandom. I also thought Glory was fascinating. She was a God trapped in the body of a valley girl (trapped in the body of a 20-something dude). It was like Joss was taking the joke of Buffy even further--on the exterior she was your typical helpless female, but then BAM she has the power of a God.

"You're just a mortal; you couldn't understand my pain."
"I guess I'll have to settle with causing it."

Upon rewatch, when I had the benefit of seeing every episode back to back without commercials, I was blown away with the elegant structure of season 5. Every episode progressed the mystery of Glory, doling out clues as to her identify and ultimate endgame. The Scoobies all struggled to fit in to a more adult world and I think that's why I reconnected with season 5 so strongly. It's all about belonging and becoming an adult. Even more than season 4 (when Buffy had to face the challenges of college), season 5 was about responsibility, becoming the person that you choose to be, and how hard it is to just live in the world. I'm no spring chicken anymore and while I remember how hard it is to be in high school, the challenges of the adult world are what really resonate with me now.

And my god, some of the episodes in Season 5 are the best in the series. The Body, which was the most ambitious episode until Once More With Feeling, was one that I actually regretted rewatching. It made me want to cry, hug my Mom, and I was shocked how unprepared I was for it...even though I had seen it before. The season opener, Buffy vs. Dracula is another one of my favorites, twisting the classic tale in typical Buffy fashion. And let's not forget Fool For Love, where the origins of Spike are finally revealed and we learn how he killed two slayers.

Spike, your hair in the 70s certainly was....effulgent.

And let's talk about The Gift. After a "vision quest" earlier in the season where she encounters the First Slayer, Buffy learns that death is her gift. At first she rejects this idea, thinking it means that she brings death to people....until the season finale when she realized that through her own death she gifts life. So many moments from this episode are stellar. The opening sequence where Buffy saves a random dude in the alley from a vampire who doesn't recognize her, Anya suggesting they use the troll hammer against Glory, Willow recovering Tara's mind, the Buffybot!, the battle on the scaffolding between Buffy and Glory, Joel Grey's blood-letting of Dawn, and Buffy's final monologue--her message to Dawn to And the final moments where the faces of all of the Scoobies, even Spike, show the devastation and the extent of their loss with the death of Buffy. Just remembering it is giving me goose-bumps.

"Dawn, listen to me. Listen. I love you. I will *always* love you. But this is the work that I have to do. Tell Giles ... tell Giles I figured it out. And, and I'm okay. And give my love to my friends. You have to take care of them now. You have to take care of each other. You have to be strong. Dawn, the hardest thing in this world ... is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me."

So whether you have the DVDs, stream it on Netflix, or watch the reruns on LOGO, I suggest that you revisit season 5 And if you haven't watched any Buffy before....remind me why we are friends?

PS: Mark also has another cool website called Mark Reads where he reads popular series like Harry Potter, Song of Ice and Fire, and Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In The Year 2000...

Because it’s summer and that means that there are very few original shows on and I haven’t yet been able to get to Maggie Cats’ HBO GO subscription that she’s letting me borrow to watch other shows, I’m continuing the summer of nostalgia wherein I write about things that are no longer on the air and are at least 10 years old. To that end, let’s talk about a little series that ran from 1997-1999 called Millennium!. Ah, the halcyon days when Americans had so little to worry about that we could afford to scare ourselves with the pretend fear of the end of the world.

 Lighthearted summer fun!

Millennium was the second major FOX series developed by Chris Carter, who is also the creator of The X-Files.  As such, The X-Files served as a kind of better behaved older sibling to Millennium, which was far darker, moodier and gorier despite nominally existing within the same universe. Millennium told the story of a former FBI profiler named Frank Black and portrayed in utter grizzled awesomeness by Lance Henriksen at his most taciturn. Frank has a “gift” that allows him to put himself into the minds of killers and see the world through an abstract version of how they see it. Frank is recruited by a secretive organization called the Millennium Group which on its surface functions as a law enforcement consultancy but seems to have a deeper purpose related to mystical prophesies surrounding the coming millennium and possibly the end of the world.

Because this was a Chris Carter show, however, nothing was really as it seemed. As the show progressed, Frank began to suspect that the Millennium Group, far from being the benevolent assistants they promoted themselves as, were actually a cult that was dedicated not to fighting off Armageddon, but to bring it about.  At the same time, Frank must content with religious wackos, holy prophesies that are actually rooted in real world religions and a cast of allies that the show invested in, but never made any promises about not killing off.

Given how grave (pun!) the show could be, it make sense that a central theme of the series was the exploration of how dark Frank’s life and work was and the methods he used to fight against that darkness, personified in his wife, Catherine, and young daughter, Jordan. The show frequently contrasted Frank’s two world by showcasing his family in a brightly lit yellow house even while work scenes were typically shot in grey, moody, low-contrast visuals typically marred by gore, violence, despair and a sense that anything that would be bad could actually happen. To drive home that final point, the show even killed off SPOILER ALERT Frank’s wife at the end of the second season, and she was the second-billed star of the show.

 Seriously. It was dark. This is what passed for a "hopeful" shot.

I loved Millennium, and not in a proto-hipster ironic kind of way. I seriously loved this show, even through all its problems. Pacing was terrible – he audience would sit through 10 “serial killer of the week” episodes with no real consequences only to finally have something significant happen that advanced the plot. The first season focused almost exclusively on the very non-mythology aspects of the show, only to make a sudden about face during the second season which saw a monumental rise in storylines about conspiracy and mystic prophecy, only to again change in the third season when the show killed off major characters and recast Frank’s life and job. Still, I faithfully tuned in and to this day own the entire series on DVD.

I think what I loved about it was how unafraid it was to go utterly weird and depressing. The show capitalized on the existential anxiety that, in a pre-September 11th world, Americans just didn’t have. We wanted to be scared and we hadn’t seen anything in more than a generation that really looked like the end of the world, so it was thrilling to watch that play out each week for us. At the same time, the show didn’t feel the need to wrap up each ending, to always catch the bad guy or to shy away from overtly religious themes. In a show about the apocalypse, it’s actually rare to see an examination of hardcore theology, such as the multiple classes of angels that appeared on the show, to say nothing of the fact that one of the major villains was a recurring character named Lucy Butler who may or may not have actually been Satan. The show was quite stylized and the visuals, both what was literally on screen and the storytelling ones, remain utterly unique and memorable.

To this day, Millennium remains one of the only examples I know of pre-apocalyptic drama. We’ve seen multiple visions of how the world looks after the end, but for some reason storytellers aren’t as interested in how we get there. That alone makes Millennium still worth watching.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Now who will feel the news at me?

Sad news for all of us Stewart and Colbert fans with DirecTV... or early bedtimes, no DVRs, and busy schedules - full episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report will no longer stream online. This is due to a battle over the fees Viacom demanded for it's channels to be aired on DirecTV. In addition to yanking some of their channels (e.g. Comedy Central) from DirecTV, Viacom has now forced the removal of full episodes form the shows official websites. Clips will still be available, but still.

To arms!

Just kidding! This is most likely not a permanent change. The nature of this fanbase is young, professional, and nerdy - in other words, you can pry our internet streaming from our cold, dead fingers. More information can be found at The Huffington Post.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

When Reality Became TV

Summertime and the living is bloody. At least, it was way back in June of 2001. That’s when the first (and, to date, only) reality show that I was ever obsessed with aired.

The show was called Murder in Small Town X and it aired for eight weeks on FOX in June and July of 2001. This was right in the ascendency of the reality TV craze that began in earnest with Survivor in 1997 (sidebar, did you know that show has had 24 seasons? Yowza.) and continues until this very day. But Murder was a bit…different. Whereas every reality program at the time tried as hard as possible to convince the viewers that what you were watching was in no way scripted <snort>, Murder was abundantly clear about its reliance on script and character. It had to be.

 Murder, you say? Tell me again of this "reality" of which you speak...

The conceit was that 10 contestants would be brought to the small fishing town of Sunrise, Maine (in reality, the town is Eastport) and told that their job was to solve a crime. A murder had overrun the small, sleepy seaside town and without the contestants’ help, he or she would doubtless go free. Why the Sunrise Police Department was so inept that they needed the help of 10 actors, waitresses, firefighters and other office drones from around the country begs a few questions, but they gracefully let those slide. Maybe Jessica Fletcher was on one of her vacations that summer, I don’t know.

Where the show willingly showed its scripted stripes was in emptying out tiny Eastport and repopulating it with actors who would be playing key parts to the mystery. This means that the “reality” was restricted only to the fact that the audience would get to watch the 10 contestants try to solve the crime, but the murderer(s), victims, red herrings and other townspeople were always following a script. The immersive value of the show was actually likely felt more strongly by the contestants, knowing that each person they were talking to was an actor who never broke character than for us viewers at home who assume that everyone on TV is not as they seem.

Contestants were given a list of 15 possible suspects. Throughout each episode, the contestants would be sent out into the town to discover clues about the murderer. At some point, two envelopes would be found, one red and one black. The red envelope would contain a significant clue or puzzle that, if solved, would absolve one of the suspects. The black envelope would contain two different locations. During each episode, two contestants would be selected to go to each location. At one location would be a clue to the killer’s identity. At the other location would be the killer who would “murder” the contestant, removing him or her from the show. Contestants themselves decided on who would go to each location, but they had no idea which location would bring a colleague back or send him home. The murder was even filmed as the contestants would be sent to isolated locations on their own, in the dark, with only nightvision cameras to watch them. The “slasher-cam” set up was a little hokey, but it was always easy to see how genuinely scared the contestants on these missions were.

The emphasis of the show quickly became less on the interpersonal drama between the contestants and more on the increasingly elaborate mystery, which, naturally, broadened much bigger than just a deranged killer and quickly revealed a 60-year-old conspiracy, a secret society/cult and a series of eerie video and audio recordings made by the “Burnt Face Man”, a horrifically scarred and possible supernatural show character who’s general job was just to be creepy.

Obviously, the show was quite an undertaking and, while technically a reality show, violated the cardinal rule of most reality television by actually costing money to produce. This, plus a poor summer broadcast and lackluster promotion, all goes to explain why it never got a second season. It’s a shame though, because without all the manufactured cattiness prevalent in so many reality shows, the contestants here genuinely seemed to get along with each other and having a common goal to work toward was a legitimately interesting thing to watch.

We could vote one of us off the island, but what say we just enjoy each other's company for a while instead. That'll bring in viewers, right?

The show wasn’t without genuine heroes, either. The ultimate winner, a 35-year-old firefighter named Angel Juarbe, Jr., was sadly killed in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Juarbe was one of the many firefighters who ran into the Twin Towers and never made it out.

I don’t really know that I wish for more shows like Murder in Small Town X. At its best, it was just a creative distraction that made for good summer viewing. I certainly wouldn't trade it over an American Horror Story or even a Mad Men. But if reality TV could allow itself to get creative again, I may reconsider the genre.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Hate-Watching With Zoey Grace

My Good People! Say "Hello" to our newest guest-blogger, Zoey Grace! For her first post, she gives us a rumination on her own personal form of television schadenfreude. 

I am a TV person.  While most people allocate valuable brain space to their jobs and families, more space in my brain than I’d like to admit is dedicated to Lost trivia (seriously, ask me who Horace Goodspeed is), the comfort food that is the first four seasons of The West Wing, the brilliance of The Wire, and psychoanalysis of Don Draper (I am on Team Megan, in case you were wondering).

So, every new TV season I pick out the shows that could fill the hole that was left when Lost and other shows went off the air.  I follow the Upfronts and wait impatiently for the release of advance trailers.  I go through each night’s new lineup and pick the shows that are worth space on my tivo and which ones I have to watch live (Yes, I still watch Grey’s Anatomy live.  Deal with it.) 

Some shows, however, I don’t watch because I love them.  They drive me insane – I yell at the TV, roll my eyes, and even fast forward through scenes that are so ridiculous that I simply can’t watch.

But I still watch these shows.  Faithfully.  Every week.  This, my friends, is hate-watching.

Until May I did this with Smash, a show on NBC that seemed to be written especially for me (Showtunes! Catty actor drama! Authentic Broadway stars!), but ended up grating on my last nerve. 

My newest example is The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s new show on HBO.  I absolutely love Aaron Sorkin.  I have memorized whole episodes of The West Wing.  I’m not ashamed to admit that sometimes I want him to script my life with a few walk-and-talks, fast moving intelligent romantic comedy banter, and inspirational speeches that give me the warm and fuzzies.

But - the Newsroom just drives me batty.  First of all, women are given short-shrift.  While relatively likeable, the two main female characters are overtly accident prone and a little daffy - I come away wondering how on earth McKenzie (the Executive Producer of the news show) has become so successful considering that she can’t even master email, nonetheless how such a clumsy person survived as a hard boiled war correspondent.  It’s not that Sorkin doesn’t know how to write strong women who aren’t more “relatable” than they are kick-ass, whose awesomeness isn’t described in dialogue but demonstrated on the screen.  Where is CJ?  Where is Dana?  Plus, for some reason blond women are summarily dismissed as unintelligent at every turn (I’m not kidding, this happened three separate times). 

Amazing, competent women being relatable by not understanding "technology". Beautiful women, they're just like us!

In contrast, the men are stable and rational.  It also bears mentioning that non-white men are explicitly categorized in dialogue – Neil is the Indian IT guy, Gary is the “smart black guy,” etc.  Plus, I wish the dad from I’ll Fly Away would stop being genially drunk and (non-threateningly) threatening to punch people.  It’s freaking me out.

However, I can’t stop watching it.  I’m rooting for it to work out the kinks.  It’s vintage Sorkin.  In some, not all, scenes the writing is inspirational.  The budding romance between Jim and Maggie is cute and engaging when the dialogue isn’t jarring and shrill.  I agree with Newsroom’s commentary on the news today  - if one side says the sky is green and the other says it’s blue, that doesn’t mean the answer is somewhere in the middle.  The writing makes me feel like I’m on the right team.  I respect the premise, and despite my misgivings I’ll watch again this Sunday, too.

Sigh.  You see my dilemma. 

What about you?  What shows do you hate-watch?

*Postscript to Aaron Sorkin – Although I know you are not especially fond of those who criticize you on blogs, internet girls in particular, don’t forget that I’m a huge fan.  And, as Toby said to Will in The West Wing Season 4 episode Arctic Radar: “You don't mind constructive criticism, do you?”

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Hail and Farewell, Andy Griffith

I learned of Andy Griffith's death from my friend Chris less than an hour ago. Andy Griffith is something of a hero to Chris, so when he offered to do a write-up about what the actor had meant to him, I immediately said yes. Turns out Mr Griffith made quite a mark on Chris' life--despite the fact that they never met. And while I also never met Mr. Griffith, I always respected him not just for his acting ability, but for his talent of making shows that touched so many people and their families.

Today’s sad news is the death of Andy Griffith, at the age of 86.  While it seems I am the TV blog’s resident eulogy writer, I think really it just cements the fact that I am, at my very core, an old woman.

Why do I care so much about Andy’s death? Well, first and foremost, he is the reason I am a lawyer.  No, seriously.  When I was growing up, I watched Matlock with my great-grandfather.  I loved that show, and still do.  I vowed at a young age I wanted to be a lawyer just like Matlock, and never looked back.  Grey suit and murder trials aside, I fulfilled that promise. My only other career ambition was to take over The Price Is Right after Bob Barker...but they filled that position without consulting me.

I even planned my college class schedule around the noon-1pm showing of Matlock and, when I went with my friend Beth to Atlanta, we tried to hunt down the Fulton County Courthouse (as it turns out, the building used for the show is actually in LA, and our search was in vain).  Just like Golden Girls, I’ve seen every episode numerous times, and could name the murderer almost at the outset of every show.

Aside from Matlock, Andy is of course most well-known for The Andy Griffith Show, set in the fictional town of Mayberry, which was based on his hometown of Mount Airy, NC.  More than once, they would refer to Roanoke in the show, which as nerdy as it sounds, made me think Roanoke was a big deal!  Plus, my mom nicknamed me Opie when I was little because of my freckles and big ears (that thankfully I grew into).

After Matlock, his last recurring role on TV, Andy moved out of the spotlight, retiring to a quiet life in his home state of N.C..  But, he’ll never be gone, since both The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock continue in syndication.  RIP Andy, we’ll miss you!