Category: TV series

Why The Doctor Who Series Opener Was Awesome

Posted by – September 13, 2014

a bit belated, but…

The debut of the new Doctor—episode 8.1: Deep Breath—was great,
because…

1. the female Tyrannosaur inadvertently loosed on Victorian London…

from the beginning moments of the new Doctor Who series opener "Deep Breath," this Tyrannosaur roars at ringing Big Ben clock in London like I'M LOUDER THAN YOU! Epic.

from the beginning moments of the new Doctor Who series opener “Deep Breath,” this Tyrannosaur roars at ringing Big Ben clock in London like I’M LOUDER THAN YOU! Epic.

 

CAUTION: Spoilers Ahead

2. Badass lesbian kung fu detectives, one of whom is dino sapiens, in Victorian London.

Madame Vastra, actually part of the Silurian or homo reptilia race, an early Eocene civilization that rose from the dinosaurs and I call dino sapiens, and wife Jenny Flint are awesome leather-clad ninja space detectives who help the police of Victorian London fight crime and kick ass, especially when unusual or otherworldly villainy is afoot.

Vastra and Jenny as the tyrannosaur walks the Thames.

Apparently awakened from cryo-hibernation by the early construction of the London Underground, explained here, Vastra took to eating Victorian commuters until The Doctor gave her a pep talk. Thereafter, Vastra has mainly limited her diet to the worst of London’s serial killers, child murderers, and the like; she catches them, then “has them for dinner” so to speak.

Madame Vastra and Jenny are totally badass… and after Sontaran nurse Strax was nearly killed alongside the pair while helping The Doctor in the Battle of Demons Run, Strax joined the woman and dino duo in 1888 London.  Being an alien potato of non-imposing stature (roughly 5-feet) in appearance and a super aggressive commando programmed to fight for the “glory of the Sontaran Empire” in behavior, Strax doesn’t exactly blend in easily in Victorian London.  But his attempts to understand humans from the point of view of a mono-gender world of cloned super soldiers provides a lot of comic relief.
Internet rumors about a Vastra-Jenny-Strax spin-off show are indicative of little more than the three’s huge popularity, but I want to go on record as totally FOR such a TV series! The trio, also known as the Paternoster Gang after their HQ (Vastra’s manse) on Paternoster Row, is a lot of fun, and certainly a big part of why I loved the episode.

another favorite Paternoster Row moment of mine: Jenny thought she was posing for a painting – but Vastra just thought her posing “brighten[ed] the room” …and because “art.”

3. A scene that confronts Ableism and Agism

This episode is about the new Doctor, The Doctor regenerating into a new body.

The Doctor regenerating into the Twelfth Doctor (TV: The Time of The Doctor)

During regeneration, disorientation, loss of function and motor control, and sleeping for 24 hours or something are the norm, and there can be regeneration sickness, even regeneration madness as with the Sixth Doctor, who tried to kill his companion Peri during regeneration-related insanity/disorientation.  The Tenth Doctor had some regeneration sickness and was revived by a strong cuppa tea.

In this sensitive time of regeneration, The Doctor is… well, disabled doesn’t seem the right word, but certainly vulnerable, not himself, not in his usual fighting shape. The Doctor, the Time Lord who protects all times of Earth’s people, suddenly needs protection. Often, by coincidence or purposefully, alien enemies attack right when The Doctor is least prepared to fight back. This regeneration, The Doctor is disoriented and blacking out when the space detective trio takes him (and Clara) to Paternoster Row, and gives Clara a reality check that is unforgettable.

As the new Doctor is recuperating, Clara, the latest in Doctor Who’s cavalcade of pretty companions, is being weird and whiny about The Doctor regenerating as an older, less flirty, not-Matt-Smith.  Madame Vastra reacts by indirectly calling out Clara as a stranger, then dons the veil of srs bzn™ and brings Clara into the sitting room for a serious business sit-down.  The exchange that follows is epic, smacking down Clara’s superficiality, agism, ableism. The takeaway: even allies need to check their own biases, reality check. Checketh yourself before you wrecketh yourself. 

Clara being smackdownt

The sitting room smackdown scene. I definitely relate to being “lost in the ruin of [your]self,” I feel those feels of late…

4. the art direction

Doctor Who keeps getting more beautiful, more well done.  This episode didn’t have the type of visual flourish and experimental quick cuts/editing like 6th series (11th Doctor) standout 6.11: The God Complex; it’s visually awesome in its own way.  “Deep Breath” has big movie looks, brilliant and cinematic wide shots, and great use of color.  Someone behind the camera really understands how color works.  It isn’t over-killed thankfully, but different settings have unique color schemes.
The example that sticks out most is the T-Rex post-mortem from a bridge scene, where everything is bathed in orange from the immolated dinosaur.  Whatever future technology the villains used to burn the tyrannosaur, it has set the Thames aglow, and in bouncing off the rippling waters, colors everyone in fiery tones.

Like this…

The Doctor looking down into the Thames, everything orange...

The Doctor looking down into the Thames, everything orange…

and this…

Madame Vastra and Jenny, colored in more subtle orange.

Madame Vastra and Jenny, colored in more subtle orange.

Fiery rebirth, The Doctor rising from the dino ashes…

5. the villains: Space Age Clockwork Repair Droids

The Clockwork Repair Droids, last seen in the totally awesome Tenth Doctor episode 2.4: The Girl in the Fireplace on the 51st century ship Madame de Pompadour, are a threat to humanity because

The Clockwork Repair Droids (minus V for Vendetta-ish masks) in early Tenth Doctor episode The Girl in the Fireplace.

they’re programmed to repair/maintain their ship and themselves by any means necessary, up to and including cannibalizing people for parts.  While the Clockwork Droids the 10th Doctor faced seemed almost accidentally villainous, repair AI gone wrong after massive damage, these clockwork droids (evidently from the sister ship Marie Antoinette) seem way more psycho and evil as they seek “The Promised Land,” whatever that is.
We don’t know what caused these droids to come to Earth, whether they (and other robo-foes of The Doctor) were called to Earth but didn’t know what century, or if the Clockwork Droids were trying to find what happened to the sister ship Madame de Pompadour‘s droids The Doctor deactivated in 18th century Versailles, accidentally ended up in Mesozoic times and were tampered with or signaled later on, but the unrelenting drive to get to “The Promised Land” is intriguing.

That these droids would dedicate such an inordinate amount of time and energy to extract parts and skin from people for a hot air balloon of human skin instead of robbing or buying a balloon from the local hot air balloon vendor—by this point, 1898, hot air balloons are a long-established and commonplace technology—and that they would go to the trouble of building and running Mancini’s, like “if Hannibal Lecter were to open an Italian restaurant,” fancy cuisine and YOU are the main course… it means that they are so whacked out, perhaps from all the human elements they’ve incorporated, becoming inverted cyborgs or near it, they’re human-obsessed, now almost singlemindedly people scavenging.  That is very creepy, and an excellent nemesis to begin the new Doctor with…

they also look really cool.

The half of the Half-faced Man that has moving clockwork exposed.

The idea of inverted cyborgs, androids using so many human replacement parts they’ve ambiguized the distinction between droid and cyborg but are still computers at base-foundation, networked and controlled by one “control node” android, is fascinating.
And it is a good way to debut the new “The Promised Land” mystery arc.

I think that the “Promised Land”/Missy’s virtual world (see Who is Missy?) is a virtual world, digital world, and that the Half-faced Man is uploaded first is significant.  The Half-faced Man is the control node for all the Marie Antoinette clockwork droids, but he awakens in psychotic Mary Poppins’ “paradise” and no clockwork droids reactivated as far as we know. This, and that the miniaturized soldier woman in the following episode is obliterated at the atomic level but appears whole and non-miniaturized in Missy’s “heaven,” implies that the consciousness is being uploaded at the moment of death, NOT the body moved. So far, all Missy’s “guests” are from atomized or abandoned dead bodies, and this leads me to believe that the Great Intelligence, or somebody/something with G.I.-esque upload abilities, is uploading people killed in The Doctor’s missions.

and in case you’re wondering if The Doctor killed the Half-faced Man or not, that’s his MURDER FACE™ after the deed!

6. The Doctor (now Peter Capaldi)

The new Doctor got some great, hilarious lines, like the one about “attack eyebrows” that are so “independently cross” they’re liable to “cede from” the north of his face (a sly topical crack about Scottish independence).

But no one really loves this Doctor. Because you’re not supposed to…not really.
The blog An American View of British Science Fiction shed light on this for me… the new Doctor is more like the First and Sixth Doctors, the hardcore, colder, more alien Time Lords.  That, I think, will be a freshener for the series if it doesn’t veer too dreary.

Check out Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014) | An American View of British Science Fiction for the explanation, how Twelfth Doctor is like the Sixth Doctor and First Doctor. It’s made me want to look into the Classic Doctors.

Nick

Elsewhere on the web:

VoteSaxon07’s SPOILERIFIC REVIEW : Deep Breath is a detailed video review I like, and I agree with the bit about Clara and the Matt Smith cameo – if she’s still too thick to figure out who The Doctor is by the end of the episode and all he did, including rescuing her from vivisection at the hands of the clockwork droids, she should leave, not get a bonus phone-a-friend.

Doctor Who blogging: “Deep Breath” | FlickFilosopher.com – another in-depth review I admired and recommend.

TV Tropes: Deep Breath – I love their dissection of popular tropes Moffat employs in this episode.

TARDIS Wiki – Deep Breath

Stuart Reviews Stuff: The Girl in the Fireplace Review– on why this Tenth Doctor episode is one of the best episodes “of Anything” EVAR

Watch the Classic Doctors: Classic Doctor Who on Hulu

Boardwalk Empire, Corruption, And Incentives For Public Servants

Posted by – October 18, 2010

Like described by Abby Jean on the Feminists with Disabilities blog recently, I’m obsessed with public policy.

It’s true. I am a policy wonk. I am endlessly interested in it. I read about it, think about it, talk about it and … write about it. (As in, what I’m doing right now.) And I do all of this because I think it’s immensely important. Crucially important. Vitally important.

Public policy is how the government – whether local, state, provincial, federal, or any other level – takes action on a particular issue. It covers a whole huge range of potential state actions – allocating and spending money, setting and enforcing professional guidelines and standards, creating agencies and staff, structuring tax incentives, even defining what constitutes criminal behavior. That’s an extremely big category that clearly has an enormous and unparalleled effect on the world.

Excerpted from I Love Policy | FWD (Feminists With Disabilities) by Abby Jean (not me)

I am captivated by political decision making, how it works and the impact it has on our lives. True, I am super nerdly; I can’t read something or watch a movie without ideas about the history of policy and the effects it has had firing around in my brain. That means the new HBO series Boardwalk Empire is like catnip for me. It brings the history of the ’20s and its politics to life in lush, vivid photography and provides fascinating context and insights into Prohibition, the mafia, suffragettes, corrupt politicians and politics of the era, fashion, the flapper girls, and the feminism of the era. The intense dissimilarities and the intense similarities the ’20s have with life today also really draw you in. Recently *yet another* economic study confirmed that the 2000s have the most unequal division of wealth in U.S. history, excepting the 20s. Unprecedented corruption is similar, struggles over prohibition similar too. What isn’t similar is the feeling of free-wheeling American personal freedom, including the “feminine liberation” of the time that went the way of the stock market after the Great Depression, and the economic boom that brought incredible opportunities–people are super nostalgic for those dissimilarities.  I heart the show; it’s triggered a major ’20s obsession for me.

I especially liked last week’s episode, it took us inside the back room and explicitly explored policy and the politics of divvying up new state-level funding for highways; we got an anatomy of the back room deal.   Notorious Jersey City machine boss Frank Hague was pitted against the show’s principal protagonist (and anti-hero) “Nucky” Thompson, the machine boss of Atlantic City, and Republican Senator Walter Edge trying to arbitrate between them.  Hague wants all the road appropriations to go to Jersey City, and Nucky wants everything to go to Atlantic City, where he says he has new hotels (at this point in the timeline, the Ritz-Carlton Atlantic City had recently opened) but tourists can’t get to them because the current roads to South Jersey are so muddy and inadequate.  Both men are corrupt bosses used to getting everything they want (and expect to skim off a nice slice of any new funding for themselves) and compromise is difficult to impossible.  Nucky pretty much created Edge’s political career, serving as his campaign manager and using his money and connections to win him the gubernatorial race (then he moved from the governor’s mansion to the U.S. Senate) so Nucky expects him to go to bat for Atlantic City, but Hague tipped the Democratic vote for Edge, crucial to win anything; Edge has presidential ambitions and can’t afford to alienate either of them, so he plays the diplomat.   The fact that Nucky, Hague and Senator Edge were all REAL POLITICIANS and that the dynamics at play are real (Nucky really was Edge’s campaign manager, etc.) makes it all the more riveting.

Here’s a clip from that scene.

Fair Use law lets me use this copyrighted material because its 1) a really brief clip and 2) used for the purpose of critique (i.e. it’s legal for the same reason Roger Ebert or Jon Stewart showing a clip in order to comment on it is legal).  See Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video.

80 Second Clip from HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”: Back room Dealing

Coarse language warning: Nucky drops many F-bombs on Frank Hague in this clip, he thinks Hague just wants “a payoff” and is really frustrated and angry.

So,  after watching this scene, my policy mind started buzzing.  The corrupt incentives of the 1920s were perhaps different than the corrupt incentives of today. Both Nucky and Hague are motivated by corruption, but that corruption is motivating them to fight really hard for highways going to their respective counties (unquestionably a benefit for the economy and the average voter).  In cases like this, is corruption helping the public?

These are the questions I wrote this post to ask: Did the certainty that they would get a hefty slice of any new project make them fight harder than politicians today to get projects for the public good?

Should we incorporate such incentives into the current system, like bonus pay or free stuff or public accolades if a politician helps the general population?   Because right now, we have a system of open, legal bribery; ALL the incentives and thus, inevitably, ALL the policymaking energy is lined up against efforts to help normal constituents, and lined up for the special interests that give money to elect candidates. I always refer to this as giving “campaign bribetributions.” It’s essentially bribery, it totally skews the system so that the corrupt incentives make the government serve powerful private interests first and the public good only accidentally, but it remains completely legal.

At least in this scene, the corrupt incentives make public officials do something for the public good. I am desperate to address the crisis of campaign bribetributions making government only serve moneyed interests (not democracy but bribeocracy). If the powerful will never let us remove campaign bribetributions from our system, how do we realign the corruption to serve the people NOT just narrow interests with fat stacks of $$$$???

Nick

It's all about the Benjamins.

What New Fall TV Shows To Avoid (2010)

Posted by – October 6, 2010

It’s true. Lots of what’s on TV is just unbearable.

Here are some shows to avoid at all costs:

Chase – NBC, 10/9central Monday night

This show is about a Houston task force of U.S. Marshals who chase the most dangerous, most wanted fugitives in Texas. But unlike most crime dramas, where you’re rooting for the cops, with Chase, you’re rooting against the cops just as much as the criminals; the U.S. Marshals are every bit as unsympathetic and unsavory as the fugitives. In the pilot, they’re breaking doors off their hinges and intimidating the mom and fiancée of a suspect like freakin’ thugs.

"Annie Frost," played by Kelli Giddish

Maybe that’s an important commentary on what law enforcement has become in the 21st century, but it isn’t fun TV. The lead character, Annie Frost (played by Kelli Giddish from All My Children) lives up to the “frost” name, because she’s a frosty, cold shell of a woman with all the human warmth of an Arctic winter. I turned this show off after less than 15 minutes; it was that unappealing. Avoid this.

Hawaii Five-O – CBS, 10/9central Monday night

This is a remake of CBS’ original Hawaii Five-O series (1968-1980), trying to make it slick and hip for the new era. Problem is, it’s not that appealing because it’s layered in cheese. The episode last week was a good example; it centered on a kidnapping of a business leader who was about to expose security threats to Hawaii and nearby naval forces. Grace Park (formerly an awesome performer on Battlestar Galactica) is an actress of Korean extraction, unconvincingly portraying native Hawaiian rookie cop “Kono” on the Hawaii 5-0 team (no CBS, Korean people do not look like native Hawaiians! How dumb do you think we are?!)

Poor Grace Park

She (Kono) is guarding the kidnapped CEO’s young son, when suddenly she finds a note in a foreign language on the kitchen counter. The CEO’s white, normal-looking girlfriend is behind the kidnapping! It’s what we least expected! The white, model-looking girl sees Kono (Grace Park) uncovering the secret plot, and reveals she’s actually evil and has an incredibly fake Russian accent and she ambush attacks Kono in the kitchen! They start an epic martial arts battle! The girlfriend slams Grace Park’s face into the kitchen counter, and then they karate each other ferociously and crash fakely through fake bamboo and end up poolside. Then the girlfriend, who’s evidently secretly been an enemy commando, knocks Grace Park into the pool and Grace Park spins horizontally, dramatically like a figure skater in a tight twirl or a phony Matrix parody. Soon we end up inside the white terrorist/mobster lair (Dano mentions they’re Serbian cyber-terrorists? LOL) and Grace Park is tied to a chair along with the CEO dude and now his preteen son, too. The dude’s white model girlfriend is carrying some giant carbine or something, half her size, and pointing this weapon at the hostages and pacing menacingly and angrily spitting threats in her fake Slavic accent “you’re going to die! only matter of time.” The ridiculousity line has been crossed. I start openly laughing at the show. Laughable isn’t what CBS was going for at all, but they got it in spades. Grace Park is a great actress, capable of some awesome dramatic performances, and I’m sure she’ll look back on this Hawaii Five-0 part of her career with intense regret.  :-/

.

THE EVƎNT – NBC, 9/8central Monday night

The TV review blogs HATE this show; they reject it as a blatant, heavy-handed rip off of 24 and Lost and are just savaging it.

The discerning nerd audience at Comic-Con

The backlash is probably because it was hyped heavily to the discerning nerd audience at Comic-Con in July, and then the pilot seemed like one long trailer for a pilot and the epic “event” the plot revolves around doesn’t actually occur in the pilot, so it failed to meet those high Comic-Con expectations (note to NBC: don’t write cheques your ass can’t cash). The reason people cared about the elaborate mysteries in Lost was they cared about the characters and their backstories and what will happen to them; THE EVƎNT pays little attention to characters but expects us to care about the half-dozen complicated, interconnected unanswered mysteries they’ve presented? FAIL! Listen up NBC, people don’t watch undeveloped characters they don’t care about, especially when you gotta break your brain on mysteries; that is the reason THE EVƎNT got crushed in its time slot, coming in third behind ABC and CBS. Third-place won’t pay THE EVƎNT’s big stunt and special effects budget and fat salaries for Blair Underwood and Laura Innes, so I expect NBC to pull the plug fairly soon.

"THIS ENDS NOW"

$#!T My Dad Says – CBS, 8:30/7:30central Thursday night

I was rooting for a show from the internets to do well, a lot of us were. But this show is just terrible. The canned laughter, the laugh track, sounds so incredibly fake, and it’s really unbearable to hear it over and over and over and over. The jokes are very forced, and fall flat. Nothing funny here. Avoid.

Outlaw – NBC, 10/9central Friday night

Not only is this show awful, the worst premiering show of 2010, it’s the worst premiering show I’ve witnessed in YEARS. Sweet Lord, this show is atrociously, hilariously awful. Plan 9 from Outer Space bad. It’s the first drama ever produced by Conaco Productions, Conan O’Brien’s production company, and it often verges on comedy, albeit unintentional. Most everything in the pilot is preposterous and impossible; it just can’t happen in real life. Jimmy Smits plays Cyrus Garza, “the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court,” and son of fictional Latino civil rights activist Francisco Garza who worked alongside César Chávez. After Francisco and Cyrus’ car crashes, and only Cyrus survives the accident (implausible plot device #1) Cyrus randomly sleeps with a random (beautiful model) ACLU protester and suddenly does a 180 on his bedrock political beliefs and lifelong legal philosophy and he resigns from the Supreme Court to become a liberal activist lawyer, defending the downtrodden and dispossessed–pro-bono–against “the system” that he spent his career bolstering (outrageously absurd plot device #2). He gives a nonsensical speech about how he’s resigning because the role of the Supreme Court is upholding the law and defending “the system,” and he wants to challenge the law for people “the system” doesn’t work for and blah blah blah blah blah, while sitting in open session on the bench with the other justices (really implausible). Then he becomes the defense attorney for Greg Beals, the death row inmate his own Supreme Court opinion gave another chance to (very implausible). Then he is somehow able to use the majority opinion he himself wrote, Beals v. Pennsylvania, as precedent to introduce new evidence to exonerate his client…Beals. The legal impossibilities just stack higher and higher until it becomes a kid’s cartoon of the judicial process.

Left, Cyrus Garza (Jimmy Smits), center, Al Druzinsky (David Ramsey) and Mereta Stockman (Ellen Woglom) at right

The women characters are just as “profiles in preposterous,” even bordering on offensive with the female cliches. Cyrus is a chauvinist pig who womanizes blatantly. First, a random liberal protester who angrily protests and denounces him for being neutral (“I’m Switzerland!”) about the Beals case, and, of course he ends up in bed with her.
Second, his legal aide from the Supreme Court, Mereta (pictured above) overhears Cyrus’ bookie telling him he has to have all his hundreds of thousands of dollars in gambling debt paid in full within three months, and because in this show women are dim-witted, she thinks that this means Cyrus has three months to live. Later, she interrupts Cyrus talking to the death row guy’s girlfriend and the rest of the 4-person legal team by the courthouse stairway and, in front of everybody, desperately throws herself at him! She’s all “Now that I know the truth you’ve only got three months left, we can focus on what really matters. I LOVE YOU, CYRUS!” It’s a failed caricature of a woman, a failed attempt to twang romantic heartstrings, and reinforces negative stereotypes of women and negative stereotypes of people with terminal illness.
Third, Cyrus’ private investigator “Lucinda Pearl,” a caricature of a sexy, bisexual leather cyberpunk chick in knee-high boots who’s always doing something extremely brazen sexually like taking her top off to distract guards so she can swipe info, and teasing Cyrus’ chief clerk with single entandres and popping her gum.
Come on man, can you get more blatantly ratings-whoring than this, with such exaggerated, fake, cartoonish, borderline degrading characters? It’s like the pilot’s creators don’t have a wife or daughter or any woman they respect in their lives. What’s it say about American culture today that this one-dimensional, shock-jock type caricaturing is how we view women?

The most realistic character in the show was Mereta’s (apparent) Corgi mix. Whatta good dog!

Just as fake as the characters were the sets. The pilot opens with ridiculous paper mache bricks on the “prison.” Later, Lucinda goes to a crime scene with a skeleton that looks so fake it had to come from Rite Aid halloween clearance. Jeez, NBC! Fund your pilots, otherwise Conan’s company is gonna keep the C team on sets.

Don’t take this show seriously; you’ll end up offended. If you’re going to watch this drek, put on your LOLLERSKATES and get in your ROFLCOPTER because this clunker is layered in (unintentional) hilarity; you will ROFL, indeed.

Other good reviews of Outlaw:

USA Today: NBC’s outlandish ‘Outlaw’ richly deserves death penalty (“That’s not a prime-time show, it’s a Saturday Night Live sketch.” “Preposterous to a painful degree”)

Washington Post: Jimmy Smits’s new NBC courtroom drama, ‘Outlaw,’ should be dismissed (“ludicrously dumb” “my eyes rolled so hard that my contact lenses popped out” “Smits is a fully glazed, overcooked ham”)

Collider TV Review: NBC’s OUTLAW (“painstakingly exaggerated” “veritable treasure trove of cliches” “searing pain that runs through my leg (and the rest of my body) when I think of all the resources wasted on a show like this”)

Discerning readers will note that the network responsible for the most shows on my “avoid at all costs” list is NBC. This network seems hopelessly mired in creative, programing and financial FAIL. Time for some serious soul-searching at 30 Rock, dudes, and at Comcast HQ too….

For my list of newly premiering shows actually worth watching, read my previous post, What New Fall TV Shows To Watch (2010) Spoiler: nearly none of them are from NBC.

If you have other shows or other things you want me to review, put it in the comments!

Nick

What New Fall TV Shows To Watch (2010)

Posted by – October 2, 2010

Newsflash: Some New Fall TV Series Actually Worth Your Time!!

Detroit 187 – ABC, 10/9central Tuesday night

This new cop show about a unit of homicide detectives in Detroit is really intelligent and immersive. Unlike most hour-long dramas, it really immerses you in an environment, in characters, with the city (Detroit) as a character in every episode. I felt like I was really there by the river in inner-city Detroit. Yeah, the scripts lean on archetypes (the pretty girl detective, the newbie

Detective Louis Fitch from ABC's "Detroit 187"

the old black veteran on the verge of retirement, and of course the lead, the eccentric, Asperger’s-like detective Louis Fitch with an uncanny, near-mentalist knack for clues and hunches, played by Michael Imperioli) but archetypes can be helpful shortcuts to get the audience involved QUICKLY. The production team just has to make sure the writing stays fresh and engaging and insightful and that their archetypal characters don’t get stale and predictable. Lazy writing could kill the show. The writing being too intelligent could also kill the show. Now, it’s worth your time.


The Whole Truth – ABC, 10/9central Wednesday night

This is a smart legal drama with an awesome cast (the lead stars are Rob Morrow and Maura Tierney) and great, engaging, rapid-fire dialogue back and forth. The premise is that it tries to give you “the whole story” by telling the same ambiguous story and events from multiple viewpoints (the prosecutor–Tierney, and the defense–Morrow) and then ends with the big reveal of what really happened.
I liked the pilot; I was pulled in by the New York scenery and the plot involving a diabetic veteran in a wheelchair gone overboard on the Staten Island ferry (and some heavy-headed disability stereotyping they explored). If the writing stays good and keeps improving, the show has a chance to really build a big audience in the way that The Practice did for ABC, or the writing could go flat and the characters could go stale and the network will go for a midseason replacement; it’ll take pretty good ratings to pay the stars’ salaries, and good ratings aren’t guaranteed by any means. I sort of see this show as “on the bubble,” worth watching now but that could easily change.

Raising Hope – FOX, 9/8central Tuesday night

Like the last series Greg Garcia made, My Name Is Earl, this is a comedy that really breaks the half-hour sitcom mold. No annoying laugh track, and, instead of the cliche house set, it seems to be filmed on location in real life, single-camera style in a rickety wooden home with the broken front screen door and parents (Martha Plimpton–great to see her again!–and Garret Dillahunt) who scrape by with fringe service jobs (as a maid and a pool cleaner). The stay at home mom (like Marge Simpson) is no longer realistic in today’s economic world.

Anyhow, the show’s core premise is about Jimmy, the teenage son, raising the daughter (“Hope”) he got accidentally, and that could get boring if they don’t keep the writing really sharp or stop inserting new crazy characters. But, for now, it’s probably the best, freshest new comedy on TV. Worth your time.


Outsourced – NBC, 9:30/8:30central Thursday night

I like its really different premise; a guy moves to India to manage a catalog call center that just got outsourced to Mumbai. Fresh and engaging for now, and hopefully doesn’t become a stale, browner-skinned parody of The Office. Worth watching.

"Asha" on NBC's "Outsourced," played by Rebecca Hazlewood

Boardwalk Empire – HBO, 9/8central Sunday night

I really liked this show, a period piece set in Atlantic City at the dawn of Prohibition, and apparently based on the non-fiction book Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City. The elaborate sets re-creating the Atlantic City boardwalk and all the ’20s storefronts, the meticulously re-created clothing, they’re just amazing; this alone makes it worth watching. This is such a pivotal time in American history, with Prohibition, gangsters smuggling hooch from Canada, suffragettes/temperance activists, jazz, stock market boom, the roaring twenties economy, rampant individualism and materialism, rampant sex and feminine liberation and the flappers radically challenging social mores, but this era has very seldom been explored on film (with notable exceptions, like the film adaption of The Great Gatsby).

Nucky Thompson, the lead character in “Boardwalk Empire,” is directly based on real life corrupt county treasurer Nucky Johnson. He’s half politician, half gangster, and played by Steve Buscemi.

I’ve always thought this era deserved thorough exploration, for the good of American culture and understanding and etc., and man does this fit the bill; it immerses you in 1920 Atlantic City so well that you can almost smell the ocean on the boardwalk, the lush fabrics on the women and the $3 drinks. The head writer and producer is Terence Winter, one of the main Sopranos writers, and with its similar focus on gangsters, corruption, and seedy Jersey environments, the show is perfect for him, right up his alley. And it’s already equaling The Sopranos in terms of huge ratings cash cow, so, for HBO, it’s likely their “Next Sopranos.” But I think it’s also culturally significant. True, it explores a seedier side of the ’20s (it’s “anything goes” Atlantic City, any time period there is gonna be seedy) with lots of flappers flapping around as tourists, or waitresses in men suits, or showgirls in theaters as burlesque dancers, or mermaids with pasties, or geishas in a nude revue, or even flappers in straight up bordellos, but on the other hand it also subtly (but powerfully) explores Prohibition and gangsterism. When a scene takes us inside a temperance society meeting, we see the older suffragettes who advocate Prohibition, and hear the arguments about DEMON RUM (the leader recites a poem that ends “liquor, thy name’s delirium!”) But later in the pilot episode, we also see their arguments about alcoholism destroying families are well-founded; there are severe cases of deadbeat husbands who take the money needed to feed the children to buy booze, and severely batter wives who resist. Many suffragettes thus saw this social ill as a key women’s rights issue that any civilized country would respond to. But we also see how the mafia immediately perverts Prohibition to make huge profits; they start charging $3 for a glass of liquor, up from 15¢, and keep Atlantic City as drunk as ever. The pilot also (subtly) explores the issue of returning WWI veterans, Doughboys, who saw brutal combat in Europe, killing people repeatedly, and then feel murder is the only profession for them and join the violent alcohol smuggling business. I should blog more about the ’20s!

inside a temperance society meeting

My Generation – ABC, 8/7central Thursday night (prior to Grey’s Anatomy)

I loved this show; probably my favorite of the newly debuting Fall series. I’m captivated because it really is my generation, the class of 2000, and follows a group of nine friends that graduated in 2000, and traces what they said their goals are and what happened when the dreams collided with reality. They’re 28 now (same as me) and the series is slowly unraveling what happened to them since 2000, uncovering secrets and their effect on the present. It’s shot in documentary style; for the first 30mins, I thought it really was a documentary! I didn’t recognize any of the actors, so that didn’t break the illusion; only when I realized that we can hear the characters’ phone conversations and other things beyond the reach of a real documentary film crew, did I figure it out.

True, the show uses archetypes, and some people don’t like that, but it uses the archetypes really explicitly, with what archetype they are printed on the screen even! There’s Anders “The Rich Kid,” Brenda “The Brain,” Kenneth “The Nerd,” Steven “The Over-Achiever,” etc. And the core of the show is really playing off the labels that they had in high school and exploring how those work once reality hits. Steven “The Over-Achiever” is an example; it turned out that his overachieving was mostly due to abusive pressuring from his dad, who ended up jailed as one of the corporate criminals from Enron. Once his dad’s assets were frozen by the courts, Steven couldn’t pay tuition at Yale anymore, and dropped out. Instead of adapting, Steven pretty much dropped out of society, becoming a loser beach bum surfing in Hawaii, bartending to earn a living and having meaningless, anonymous sex with tourists; he really hit rock bottom.

Dawn Barbuso "The Punk," and Falcon "The Rock Star"

I’ve really gotten wrapped up in the 9 characters, I’m captivated, on the edge of my seat to find out what happens to them next. Maybe that’s because I long to connect with my real class of 2000 peers. What will happen/what’s happening to my HS Class of 2000/college class of 2004, the heart of the Millennial Generation? Did most of us find love and success? will we save the country like they always said? This show is all about exploring these issues; it’s the premise that really grabs me.
I really hope they don’t cancel it, but all the signs of axing are present….it’s not fast paced or action packed, it’s in-depth and intelligent and character development…could be doomed. UPDATE …and, I was right; ABC has already canceled My Generation.  ugh.

You’ll notice that ABC has the lion’s share of “worth watching” new pilots. This has little to do with ABC being awesome (it isn’t really) and a lot to do with all the other networks SUCKING. They really stunk up the place.

For more about this, see my next post: What New Fall TV Shows To Avoid (2010)

If you have other shows or other things you want me to review, put it in the comments!

Nick