Tag Archives: Slackwagon

In with the new?

As a media glutton, I find myself watching all of the new pilots regardless, unless they truly seem awful.  Sometimes the pilot puts me off and I don’t watch again, sometimes I give it a chance and then stop after a few episodes, and sometimes a show is good enough to keep me watching long term.  As a geeky tv viewer, I find that I’m less forgiving of some new programmes, unless there is something specific or novel about it that means it deserves more of a chance, or I know it is rubbish and watch it to deliberately give my mind a rest, although this is unusual!

The last week or so has seen a glut of new pilots and the question is, are any of them good?

The Comedies:

Up all night

Will Arnett and Christina Applegate star as a couple who are adjusting to being parents, as she returns to work.  A script with some genuinely well written sections gives this some potential, and is ably played by the leads.  A good supporting cast helps the whole ensemble, but the main support role played by Maya Rudolph needs some attention to prevent it from being almost a parody of a sitcom character.

Free Agents

Free Agents is a standard, half hour, single camera comedy about two agents, both of whom have relationships troubles and personal hangups, and stars Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn.  A remake of the British series of the same name, which had Stephen Mangan and Sharon Horgan in the main roles, this is not a patch on the original, which executed the material with more style and wit.   To compound the problem, is that aside from Anthony Head (reprising his role from the British original), the supporting cast is poor, possibly due to badly outlined and clichéd characters.  The best thing about this show is that it has a theme written by Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed’.  I can’t imagine this will last that long.

The New Girl

There is a slight feel of a ‘reverse Big Bang Theory’ about this, with a unconventional, nerdy girl moving in with three guys, each of whom is a different male stereotype.  Zooey Deschanel plays the nerdy girl (I guess the Americans would say ‘kooky’) and is clearly having some fun, giving the role some spark.  Support comes from Max Greenfield (of Veronica Mars) and Jake Johnson, with Damon Wayans appearing in the pilot, but who won’t be in the rest of the series due to other commitments.  If the show can stay away from cheap laughs and keep the spark that Deschanel brings alive, without it becoming an annoying schtick, then this could be interesting.

2 Broke Girls

This is a standard US sitcom, set in a diner, with the two main characters being a mismatched pair of stereotypes, played by Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs.  It is formulaic, predictable, badly written, and full of canned laughter.  It is atrocious.  As it’s co-created by Whitney Cummings, who has connections with Chelsea Handler, I should have known better.  Kat Dennings deserves better.  It is so bad that I’m keeping sentences short so that I don’t start ranting…

Whitney

The second show created by Whitney Cummings this season, which I’m sure I should have avoided, especially after watching the debacle that is ‘2 Broke Girls’; the supporting cast however, includes Rhea Seehorn (Franklin & Bash), Maulik Pancholy (Weeds) and Jane Kaczmarek (loads of things!), so I gave it a go as those three have good histories.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t worth the time, despite some effort by the actors.  Whitney Cummings is clearly a better actress than a writer if this script is anything to go by and the whole thing was serious drudgery, although not as bad as ‘2 Broke Girls’.

The Dramas:

Ringer

One of a few ‘twins who swap places’ stories that have appeared this year, this one centres on a pairing played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, with one sister being a poor, recovering addict on the run from the mob, while the other is a wealthy socialite, who also has problems.  After the wealthy sister apparently commits suicide, the ex-addict takes her place.  Now on it’s second episode, having debuted last week, this is unfortunately more lightweight than hoped for and has a definite cheesy soap opera feel to it.  Although SMG can be great, I’m not sure if the casting is right for this show and is not as convincing as it could be.  I also suspect that the plot is going to become increasing labyrinthine, preposterous and convoluted, which will just kill it in the long run.

Unforgettable

This years ‘memory and/or deduction’ show, following on from Psych, The Mentalist, and Lie to Me in previous years, this revolves around a woman with ‘perfect memory’ (hyperthymesia) played by Poppy Montgomery.  Although having a good cast all round (including Kevin Rankin), this feels like the general crime procedural, ‘with a gimmick’, as expected.  Many of the standard things are in place, such as: cop partner is old boyfriend, main character has old unsolved homicide in the family that bubbles under the surface, supporting cast doubt value of main character, and main characters mother is in a nursing home with Alzheimers thus providing lack of memory to counterbalance perfect memory for those poignant moments.  It is weak, but may come good, so will need a couple more episodes to know whether it’ll be good; in it’s favour, being shallow for a moment, there is Poppy Montgomery as a redhead. 😉

The Secret Circle

Oh dear.  Secret Circle is a CW drama about a girl who, after the death of her mother and moving back to her mother’s old home town, learns she is a witch.  Several students at her school have already formed into the eponymous circle and actively recruit her.

Exec. produced by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, who had previously worked on Angel, The Shield, Dollhouse and Lie to Me, this should be better than it is, with the premise seemingly being devised almost by the numbers, and trying to tick off as many clichés as possible.  Given the quality of work that the executive producers have been involved in previously, we can only hope that this will come good, but I suspect that it will remain largely targeted at the tween audience and stay hokey and formulaic, never to reach the standard of Buffy, especially as (with the exception of Britt Robertson and Thomas Dekker) the main cast are relatively poor.

The Playboy Club

Set in 1963, The Playboy Club tells the story of Hugh Hefner’s exclusive club for the elite of Chicago, woven around an ongoing plot started by an accidental murder in this pilot.  Amber Heard stars as the new ‘Bunny girl’, who becomes linked with a high flying lawyer, played by Eddie Cibrian, that is currently dating Laura Benanti’s ‘mother Bunny’ character; cue lots of cliché new vs old, struggle for dominance plot points.  The cast do a good job with the material, but I would have liked to see more of David Krumholtz’ character and some more detail about the back stories; hopefully, this will appear in later episodes.

With Pan Am yet to air, this is the first of the ‘Mad Men’-esque shows to come out and so will come in for some comparison and critical views based on that.  For me, it doesn’t feel as authenic as Mad Men does, but while it might actually be authenic in tone, albeit without as much smoking as there must have been, it seems to have a very stylised air to it.  Mainly, it just feels more like a conventional gangster based plot, which happens to be set in The Playboy Club, rather than an examination of the times and situation.  With more episodes, they’ll be able to explore some of the issues they’ve introduced, such as: race, gender, sexuality and power, so hopefully the following episodes will expand it’s scope and take it in a better direction, away from a simple crime drama.

In other news, several older shows have returned recently or are about to, such as:  Sons Of Anarchy, Greys Anatomy, House, CSI, Castle etc.. so if none of the new ones excite you, maybe the return of an old show will! 😉


Science (and other songs…)

The art of the satirical composer is a creation that can be sublime or hideous.  Many people try, but end up with horrible songs that do not stand up at all; at the other end of the spectrum, one of the finest ever, especially for the nerds, was Tom Lehrer.

You may not have heard of him, as he wrote mostly in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when he wasn’t gaining his degree from Harvard, teaching Political Science at MIT or Mathematics at the University of California, working at Los Alamos, or serving in the Army (at the NSA!).  There is still much interest in his work however, and lots of material available, despite the fact that he withdrew from the music scene and focussed on teaching Mathemathics from the early 70s until 2001, when he retired.

Typically, he used to parody songs, writing new lyrics to fit old tunes, and tended to concentrate on political, current affairs, or scientific topics, although there are some songs that were a result of his time at Harvard and in the Army.

The two most well known songs of his are ‘Poisoning Pigeons in the Park’ and ‘The Elements’, the latter of which is actually the Periodic table of the Elements set to music; educational!

It is well worth looking into his work, especially if you like nerdy subjects, parodies, or just sharp wordplay!


(Nearly) New TV – Only slightly used…

Ahhhhh!  The new US TV schedules are due to start in September/October and a whole new load of TV shows are set to rise or fall, based mainly on random events, Neilsen boxes, or unknown political machinations.

Having looked at a few lists of the new shows though, there doesn’t really seem to be much originality as per usual, and there are a few especially tired old ideas.  This years themes appear to be ‘Mad Men’, ‘Memory and Deduction’ and ‘The Supernatural’.

The Mad Men effect:  Two shows are set to appear after the critical success of Mad Men.

1.  Pan Am

Set in the 60s and revolving around Pan Am Stewardesses, this looks likely to be very much ‘Mad Men in the air’.  Promising elements include Christina Ricci in a starring role and direction from Thomas Schlamme, who has ‘West Wing’ and ‘Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’ pedigree.

2.  The Playboy Club

I guess this will be ‘Mad Men with bunny tails, with a bit of crime thrown in’, if the trailer is anything to go by.  Good things?  Amber Heard and a solid cast, including David Krumholtz, who is always quality.

Memory and Deduction: Really???

3.  Unforgettable

First there was ‘Psych’, a comedy based crime drama, which worked exceptionally well and is still going; Psych involves a hyper observant son of a Cop, who can deduce clues about crimes and so he can consult for the Police, pretends to be Psychic.  Several years into the run of Psych, ‘The Mentalist’ appears, which has a consultant to the CBI, who is hyper observant, has excellent deductive reasoning and used to be a fake psychic medium.  Then we got ‘Lie to Me’, which had a group of consultants who used psychology, deduction and facial microexpressions to help law enforcement solve cases.  All three of these series are good, especially Lie to Me, but strangely (or not so strangely I guess), the weakest, most formulaic one, The Mentalist, is the most popular, based on ratings and Lie to Me was recently cancelled.

So now we have Unforgettable – A woman who has hyperthymesia, so has perfect recall and remembers everything; therefore she will use her ability and deductive reasoning to consult with the Police. *sigh*

If there are any positives to take from the available details so far, it is that it does star Poppy Montgomery and Kevin Rankin, as well as other solid actors, so that might make it ok.  I’ll give it a chance based on those two actors, but I do not hold high hopes.

4. Person of Interest

Now this one could be a little better, but could suffer from the J.J. Abrams curse; namely, it could start extremely well, then he could ruin it later on by making it farcical (see Alias, Lost), although he has managed to make Fringe consistently good.  Maybe he has learnt something! 😉

This show involves a billionaire who has invented a method of predicting who will be involved in a violent crime in the near future.  To aid him, he enlists an ex CIA agent to deduce whether the person is victim, perpetrator or witness to try to prevent the crimes from happening.

A bit of a mixture between the Philip K. Dick short story ‘The Minority Report’, Tru Calling and even elements of Quantum Leap, it doesn’t seem that original, but it will no doubt grab a massive audience, even if it is just for the connection to J.J. Abrams.  Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson star, so it has quality leads at least and the trailer actually seems quite interesting; we’ll have to see how it develops and hope it doesn’t become a ‘monster of the week’ type show.

The Supernatural ones:

5.  Grimm

Based on the idea that fantasy creatures from the Grimm fairy tales really do exist and there is a whole other world under the surface of ours, this is sort of like ‘The Lost Girl’, or ‘Neverwhere’, but set in Portland.  A good cast, including Sasha Roiz and the likelihood of good writing gives me hope and I look forward to its debut.

This was created by Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt, the latter of which has an excellent pedigree including Buffy, Angel, Moonlight, X-Files, Eureka, and In Plain Sight, so if the quality isn’t of a high standard then I will be surprised!

6.  Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time is set in a town where “the magic and mystery of fairy tales may just be real”.  This doesn’t sound the most promising new show and could be quite ‘light’, based on trailers.   Created by Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis, both of whom worked on ‘Lost’, this could be ok, but could be horrific.  The relatively recent addition of Jane Espenson as a producer could help!

A good cast includes Jennifer Morrison, Robert Carlyle, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jessy Schram and Giancarlo Esposito, so that is a good start and we’ll have to see how original it can be; one issue though: It could be infused with Disney schmaltz all the way through…

7.  The Secret Circle

From the online details this sounds like The Vampire Diaries with Witches.  oh dear…

Positives?  It’s good to see Thomas Dekker finding something after ‘Terminator: TSCC’ and Britt Robertson is good, so it has that going for it.  It’ll probably be a hit with the tweens and just be beneath the people involved in making it.  I don’t expect anything of the quality of Buffy for instance…

There are some more bits of news kicking around about new shows, so if I get the urge I’ll put my two pennies worth in on those too… Hopefully, there will be some really original stuff!


Podcasts of the moment

Answer Me This

Let me preface this post with a little rant…  I hate the term Podcast.  Why? Well, really, the programmes don’t have to be on an iPod and could be called mp3casts, which is more accurate.  Just me being pedantic…  It’s the whole vacuum/Hoover thing really…  As for iTunes, don’t get me started on how horrible that is…  😉

Anyhoo…

I thought I’d do a little post about the Podcasts that I find most interesting at the moment.  The reason for doing this is that I always find it difficult to find good Podcasts to listen to that aren’t irritating or really amateurish, so this could be useful to someone.

So, to the list! (all of which are available on iTunes..)

1.  Hollywood Babble-on – Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman

Currently my favourite of all the Smodcasts, this one is a recorded live show and features Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman in a relatively structured format.   Ralph Garman is a KROQ radio host based in LA and got together with Kevin Smith for this podcast after numerous guest spots by Smith on Garman’s section of The Kevin and Bean show on KROQ.  Primarily centred around current Hollywood and general entertainment news, the pair chat and improvise on topical themes, but the podcast has evolved over the last year to have it’s own in jokes, so is worth listening to from the beginning; new episodes aren’t confusing though even if you haven’t listened to the old ones!

http://smodcast.com/channels/hollywood-babble-on/

2.  Answer Me This! – Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann (not forgetting Martin the soundman)

This is sort of like ‘The Last Word’ in New Scientist, but about any subject, if that helps…  A simple premise, whereby listeners send in questions and the presenters discuss what the answers either are or could be.  Generally, the questions are either silly or odd, although some are quite sensible, but it is mainly the good rapport and conversation between the hosts that makes this a winner.  As an aside, Helen Zaltzman is the sister of comedian Andy Zaltzman…

http://answermethispodcast.com/

3.  Hardcore History – Dan Carlin

Dan Carlin is an American Political commentator and not a professional historian.  That said, he brings a remarkable passion and knowledge to these podcasts, which are highly engrossing.  The delivery is well executed and even some of what could the most boring subjects become engaging.

http://www.dancarlin.com/disp.php/hh

4.  A Bit of a Chat with Ken Plume

Quite an intimate podcast in feel, this features phone or skype calls between the eponymous Ken Plume and a guest, who either chat about random things, the guests career or some topical event/item.  Mr Plume, a nerdy, lovable fellow with a love of Dr Who, chats to whoever he finds interesting, so there is a good mix of well known people and other equally interesting, but less known writers, comedians, musicians and actors.  Guests have included: Molly Lewis, Graham Linehan, David Mitchell, Paul F. Tompkins, Ricky Gervais, Jane Goldman, Dan Harmon, Jeri Ryan, Tim Minchin and Jonathan Coulton to name but a few!

http://www.asitecalledfred.com/

5.  Nerdist – Chris Hardwick, with Jonah Ray and Matt Mira

Chris Hardwick (of Singled out!) hosts this podcast, with contributors Jonah and Matt, which is a lighthearted look at all things nerd, as part of his Nerdist empire.  Quite often there will be a guest who will shape what direction the conversation will go in, but sometimes the show is more freeform or about some topical item.  Guests have included Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, Alison Brie, Bryan Cranston, Alison Scagliotti, Neil Gaiman, Eliza Dushku, and many more, so you can see what audience this is targeted at!

http://www.nerdist.com

6.  Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews

The best film reviews you’ve ever heard!  I hope that isn’t overselling it.  🙂  Basically, Mark Kermode is a great film reviewer and also a highly interesting chap, and Simon Mayo is the perfect foil for him, letting their banter naturally flow.  Often highly insightful, and also passionate about film, Kermode is good in every show, but his rants are things of beauty.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/kermode

7.  Tell ’em Steve-Dave – Bryan Johnson, Walt Flanagan, and Brian Quinn

Another Smodcast show, Tell ’em Steve-Dave is the east coast group of Kevin Smith friends, who do a relatively free form weekly podcast.  Occasionally structured around a theme, more often than not it will be vaguely centred around a topical event in their lives.  Each cast member has a distinctive personality and the more you learn about them the more you get out of it, finding yourself more engrossed in their lives and foibles.

http://smodcast.com/channels/tell-em-steve-dave/

Hopefully, there will be something in the above list that you find interesting and if anyone has any suggestions, then feel free to share! 🙂


Breaking Bad – The show you should really watch (if you ever get the chance)

A few weeks back, at the quiz night* I host, I read out a question that for some reason proved more difficult than I imagined it would.  Now, I write the quiz myself, so carefully pitch the questions so that they are of a suitably difficult nature, but there should be enough of a clue for them to be fair for even the most quiz hating participant; at the very least it should be possible to take a guess.

The question was:  “Bryan Cranston stars in which chemistry influenced series?”

Not too hard I thought, but I was a little surprised when many people were stumped…

Clearly, ‘Breaking Bad’ was not as well known as I had thought, which is a terrible thing, as it is a gem amongst the dross that TV churns out.

What struck me was that not only had they not seen it, but they weren’t even aware of it.  For a show of this quality that is surprising, but also highlights the poor marketing, lack of respect for the viewer and lack of respect for the show shown by the TV channels.

Breaking Bad in the UK has had a patchy run.  FX showed the first season, FiveUSA showed the second season and then… nothing.  Season 3 got dropped like a hot potato and the latest Season, which got underway in the US recently, is unlikely to be shown.  Not a situation you would expect of a show created by Vince Gilligan, who has an excellent track record, well known to X-Files fans.

For those that don’t know the show, very briefly, the premise is this:

Walter White, a high school Chemistry teacher is diagnosed with cancer and to make sure that his family are taken care of financially, he decides to make some fast money by cooking meth.  As he has no connections with this world, he teams up with a drug user and ex-student, Jesse Pinkman and the new venture stutters into life, with huge consequences for all involved.

While this premise may seem bleak, and the drama is indeed downbeat and extremely bleak, there is a dark humour running throughout the show that never lets it truly hit rock bottom.  The shows greatest asset though is its writing, with perfectly balanced scenes of mundane life and high drama, both moving at a snails pace and then quickly as events unfold.  It is a tribute to the actors and the script that the slow pace of many of the episodes doesn’t feel like it’s dragging, but just adds to the tension of plot.

So, for something so good, how can it be that it is so unknown in the UK?

For some reason, the show has not found an audience, or at least a large audience, in the UK.  This could be down to the subject matter, the channel, or it could be down to scheduling.   It is quite possible that FX and FiveUSA may not be everyones first port of call for their entertainment, so the channel could well be a factor and scheduling may have had an impact, but I suspect that the subject matter and pacing may have been the reasons.  This is a great shame though, as if you allow the slow pace to pull you in, the time spent with it is highly rewarding and much like ‘The Wire’, the depth and quality of the writing continues to reward you on repeated viewings.

Unfortunately, many of todays TV companies and viewers favour the fast paced, quick cutting crime dramas, but Breaking Bad is more considered and refined;  More Hitchcock than hokey procedural.

If you like decent drama, with depth, thought and executed perfectly, get hold of the DVDs  and enjoy!

*P.S.  Yes, I like a quiz.  It’s nerdy I know, but fun, so there… 🙂


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