Hair: You Know Some of the Songs and None of the Plot

September 25th, 2016

Hair movie posterAnyone who knows me knows that I’m a bit of a fan of the classic American Musical. That cuts off around the mid-60s, a little after West Side Story. Anything after that I likely haven’t had a lot of exposure to (which is one of the oversights I’m trying to fix lately).

The stage version of Hair came out in 1968. That whole Vietnam War thing was a big deal then. The counter-culture movement was in full-swing and Woodstock was still about a year out on the horizon. People knew things were changing, that there was a groundswell of new(ish) ideas rolling through the youth culture. The play grabbed all of that energy and ran with it. The play was a big hit.

More than ten years later, in 1979, Hair the movie came out. The “peace, love, and music” of the 60s had become the “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” of the 70s. Idealism was a bit on the wane as the economy went through a rough patch or three. That Vietnam War thing was something people really, really didn’t like to talk about, as it hadn’t gone all that well for us, politically or domestically. The film jettisoned a bunch of what the play had and ran with the new zeitgeist a bit… pretty much using most of the same music and character names, but coming up with a mostly new plot. The difference was so great that the writers of the play still don’t feel that it’s ever actually been adapted into a movie. The movie was a big hit.

The Plot

Claude is a good boy from Oklahoma who’s on his way to NY to enlist in the Army. He gets there a couple of days early in order to see some sights in the big city before he ships off to basic training. While wandering through Central Park, he encounters Berger, Jeannie, Hud, and Woof, four hippies just doing their thing, sewing some seeds of chaos/enlightenment here and there. Shelia, a well-to-do high-class, horse-riding girl also catches the attention–of both Claude and Berger–much to the displeasure of Sheila’s mother and aunt who are riding with her through the park.

So begins a kind of wild couple of days of adventure filled with drugs, law breaking, and more new ideas than Claude can really take in. Eventually, he does make it to the recruitment office and off to basic training in Nevada, but then there’s just one more adventure that has some very unexpected consequences.

The Music

Chances are, right now, you know more about the plot of this movie than you ever have before. I know I went into it pretty much completely blind. I knew it existed. I knew it was an adaptation of a play. But, in all the years of hearing about it, never once had anyone talked about the plot.

What they talked about–and what you couldn’t avoid if you were listening to the radio in my house growing up–was the music.

The music is very distinctly “the 60s” (specifically the late, psychedelically-tinged, 60s). You’ve probably heard some of the music, even if you didn’t know it came from Hair. It gets used a lot.

There’s “Age of Aquarius” (which is the opening tune for the movie)…

There’s “Good Morning Starshine” (sung in the movie by Beverly D’Angelo, who played Sheila)…

Of course there’s “Hair” (which has a bit more meaning once you see the context in the movie)…

That last one didn’t get a lot of radio play, but it got referenced a lot in other places.

The thing is, these are far from the best songs in the show. The best songs are a bit more edgy… downright damning of the mainstream culture and the things it turns a blind eye toward. And they don’t play quite as well outside of the context of the story.

There’s “Black Boys/White Boys” which deals with the fetishization of race and the sterotypes that go along with it.

There’s “Three Five Zero Zero” which is distinctly an anti-war song…

For some reason, “Sodomy” never got any radio play…

I could go on, because pretty much every song in this film is solid and meaningful. Even the stuff that tends more toward fluff (like “Sodomy”) pushes the comfort zone of the audience just a little bit.

That idea of getting outside of your comfort zone is really a key thing in Hair. It’s what propels Claude into the adventures he has with Berger and crew, it’s what differentiates Sheila from the rest of her family, it what, in the real world, has ultimately lead to a whole lot of positive changes.

If nothing else, check out this film for the music.

The Verdict

Without having ever seen the stage version, I absolutely love this film. The antics in the plot aren’t the most coherent things in the world, but that’s kind of the style of the times in a lot that came out of the 60s. It’s uncomfortable, but you run with it, because you choose to. Because choosing to embrace the insanity is the only way you can exert any real control. Because doing otherwise robs you of your sense of self.

And if there’s one thing this film makes really clear is that, when you get right down to it, authenticity of self is what will both save and destroy you. But if it destroys you, at least you’ll be saving someone else in the process.

The bonds of friendship among Claude, Berger, Sheila and everyone else in the counter-culture group are vivid and lively. The bonds of obligation and tradition shown in pretty much everyone else they deal with are bland and, in the context of the film, a fate worse than death.

Never once, though, do the hippies tell anyone that they can’t live their lives in a walking death. They say it’s not for them, they point out the folly of it, they poke fun at it… but when all is said and done Berger and friends never actually tell anyone they have to change. The mainstream culture, on the other hand… well, every time someone opens their mouth it’s not out of love or concern, it’s a quest to remove that which makes them uncomfortable.

I like movies with messages like that.

Maybe you do, too.

If you do, definitely check this out. If you’re a fan of musicals in general, and the 60s in particular, you absolutely need to see this.

Transformers: The Movie – Accidental Impact

September 24th, 2016

Transformers: The Movie box artTwo of the main cartoons, comic book series, and toy lines of my childhood were G.I. Joe and Transformers. I started the G.I. Joe comic with issue #6 and Transformers with “Issue 1 of a 4-issue limited series” (which then ran for 80 issues).

When Transformers: The Movie hit screens in 1986, I was excited. I saw it and I loved it. The ideas of Unicron and the Matrix of Leadership and everything were awesome. The boost from the movie reinvigorated the TV series a little bit. (The comic really didn’t need any reinvigoration, as it didn’t keep continuity with the show and generally had better, deeper, and more developed stories than the cartoon did… I liked the comic more than the cartoon.)

If I hadn’t been such an avid reader of the comics, the “big deal” scene of Optimus Prime’s death certainly would have had a much deeper impact… but we’ll talk about that in a minute. The key thing here is that I loved the movie when I was a kid. I haven’t seen it more than twice since then.

The 30th anniversary edition of the film just came out. (I actually have a friend who work on the restoration… and that work is amazing, I’ve never seen the art and animation so vibrant, crisp, and detailed.) I’ve just watched this move for the first time in more than a decade. So… here we go…

The Plot

The war between the Autobots and Decepticons has raged for many years on both Earth and their home planet of Cybertron. The Decepticons have taken control of Cybertron, the Autobots having fallen back to the planet’s moons to maintain a resistance movement, hoping to topple Megatron and his forces from power. The fight is not going well. Supplies are low and, unbeknownst to everyone, there is an even more grave danger–in the form of a planet-sized, world-eating robot called Unicron–heading toward Cybertron.

As it plays out, the plot is a bit episodic, with obvious breaks built in between chapters to make it easy to repurpose for normal broadcast TV. Overall, the story is a step above most of the animated TV series up to this point. The art and animation are definitely of higher grade (especially in the new restored version, where you can actually see the details work that was put in). Mostly, though, the transitions from point A to point B to point C are… not the smoothest.

This is, after all, still basically a kids’ show.

Which is why people were so terribly shocked at the death of Optimus Prime about a half-hour into the movie. That death is also one of the key things that elevated this film from “just another toy-selling movie” to a cultural touchstone for an entire generation (or, at least, the subset of a generation that had their eyes glued to the TV for half an hour a day and their hands wrapped around cars and things that could change into robots).

The Moment of Impact

Megatron and a bunch of Decepticons have taken over an Autobot shuttle on its way to Earth for a supply run. They outright kill the crew of recognizable characters. This is the beginning of the house cleaning that Hasbro had planned so they could introduce a new wave of toys to the shelves. The attack on Autobot City culminates in an truly epic battle between Optimus Prime and Megatron, which leaves both on the verge of death. The Decepticons retreat (as always) and we’re “treated” to one of the most heart-rending death scenes ever put into a kids’ show (at the time).

Here, watch:

That’s right up there with Old Yeller having to be put down.

Kids were upset. Parents were angry. Everyone was surprised, including the Hasbro execs and the filmmakers. It seems no one had quite realized just how popular their show and product actually was. As adults who knew they were just making a cartoon to sell toys, it had never occurred to them that kids weren’t just buying into the neat hunks of metal and plastic that could change shape. Kids were bonding with these characters. I know I did (though, again, mostly from reading the comic).

That ignorance allowed them to take what turned out to be a bold artistic step forward with this film.

And it immediately left them reconsidering ever taking a bold step like that again. The G.I. Joe Movie, which was already mostly done by the time this film came out, had a couple of hasty edits happen in order to avoid the same “mistake” of killing off a big deal character. Notice that no one ever talks about that G.I. Joe movie, but lots of people have very strong, fond, memories of this film.

This is why the marketing department should rarely, if ever, be directly involved in the creative side of storytelling.

The Verdict

Everything else in the film–the oh-so-80s synth and arena rock laden soundtrack, the transformation of Megatron to Galvatron, Unicron eating planets, Spike saying “shit” as his ship is being swallowed by Unicron–all of that is good enough, but pales in comparison to Prime’s death. Without that completely accidental moment of real emotion, no one would really remember much about this movie.

Because, really, it’s not that great of a movie when you look at it as a grown up. Plot holes and logical (and logistical) issues are all over the damn place. Stuff just doesn’t make sense. As a kid, you don’t care about that stuff much (I usually took great pleasure in working out how those inconsistencies could be explained… I was an odd kid.)

The famous voices that were brought in–including Orson Welles in his last performance (which they almost couldn’t use because of how much trouble he was having breathing)–are cool, but only notable if you know the actors. The music rocks, but only if you remember the 80s. The story is neat, but really nothing special compared to anything else… except for the death of Prime.

If you remember loving this movie as a kid, be sure to watch it as a kid at heart. If you’ve never seen it, you should probably skip it unless you have a distinct interest in the 80s (which this film encapsulates pretty spectacularly). If you were indifferent to it when you were a kid, you’ll hate this now.

Me? I couldn’t be happier that I own this. The 30th anniversary edition has a wealth of behind the scenes stuff and the clean-up they’ve done on the film itself is impressive. Definitely a “must have” for a fan.

Wet Hot American Summer: Ridiculous in all the Right Ways

September 23rd, 2016

Wet Hot American Summer posterI missed catching Wet, Hot, American Summer when it first came out back in 2001. It wasn’t until 2015, when Netflix released the “prequel” series, that I finally got around to watching it.

That time delay may have made it even funnier than it would have been 14 years earlier.

The Plot

The film follows the (mis)adventures of the counselors of Camp Firewood on the last day of the season. Adventure, intrigue, romance… a ridiculous chase scene… the movie has it all and none of it is serious.

Taking care of the campers is really a secondary concern most of the time. Really, it’s amazing so many of these kids have survived the summer. It’s kind of amazing that most of the counselors have survived the summer. In short: if you’re looking for a plot that really makes sense or matches with “reality” in any meaningful way, you’re not going to find it here. I mean, there’s a talking can. And a military conspiracy. And Paul Rudd being the “cool” guy.

What you get here is a bunch of “bits” loosely strung together that they somehow manage to tie up by the end of the film. They even manage to tie a bunch of them together, which, given the kind of surreal nature of a lot of things going on, is impressive.

Mostly what you get is a lot of humor at various levels. The low-level slapstick of a number of the interactions. The over-playing of tropes (like Rudd’s afore-mentioned “cool guy”), usually with some little twist to drive home just how ridiculous anyone actually emulating such a trope would be. Some great plays on words and sit-com-worthy misunderstandings. And, amid all of that, some really heart-felt insight into human nature… but in a funny way.

The movie has tons of heart (and you know that’s important to me, especially when it comes to comedy). There aren’t a lot of jokes at the expense of other people… and those times when there is a character picking on another one, that ends up turning around a bit.

The Cast

To any current viewer, there are a lot of familiar faces in this movie. Not all of them were quite as familiar when the movie first hit theaters. Most of them weren’t complete newbs, but they were far from household names.

Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Rudd, Christopher Meloni. Molly Shannon, Michael Ian Black… tons of my favorite people, all together. They play wonderfully together, which shouldn’t be surprising when you realize that just about everyone in the cast has an improv comedy background.

Since I didn’t see this until 14 years after it came out, I had the extra added bonus of knowing bunches of (usually more serious) roles the cast had become known for. That made this farcical comedy even more surreal. (And doubly so with the Netflix series.)

The Verdict

Writers Michael Showalter and David Wain (who also directed) has a solid history of sketch comedy under their belts when Wet Hot American Summer came out. All of that experience was used to great effect (and has continued to be used over the years). So, if you’re an old-time fan of The State or Stella, you already know what kind of crazy you’re in for.

The comedy here isn’t for everyone, I know plenty of people who would just roll their eyes and sigh at some of the cheese levels that this movie has. I know others who would be utterly scandalized by the humor, twists, and revelations. Still others who just wouldn’t get it for any number of other reasons. But, if you like stuff that that Showalter and Wain have done or, if you haven’t seen any of their stuff, things like what Christopher Guest puts out, then definitely check this out.

It’s an 80s-style comedy made in very beginning of the 21st Century with a modern edge toward characters and humor. Paradoxical as that may sound, the film delivers.

Many Updates On the Way

September 21st, 2016

100 Days, 100 MoviesSo, last year, for the final 100 days of 2015, I took on an ambitious project. I decided I was going to do a vlog a day.

That… was a bad idea. I did it, but, man, was it a ridiculous amount of work.

This year, I’m going to try something a little less labor intensive: 100 Movies in 100 Days.

It occurred to me a while ago that this site was gathering a whole lot of dust on the front end. It’s been more than a couple of years since the last published update. It’s not that I haven’t been going to movies and watching TV and stuff… it’s just all been being handled in a couple of lines in a Facebook status update.

That… is kind of lame. Especially for someone who once really planned on doing this whole entertainment commentary thing professionally.

Here’s how it’s going to work:

  • Every day during the last 100 days of 2016, there will be (at least) one movie review posted here.

Yep. That’s it. Nothing fancy.

It won’t even necessarily be new movies that I’ve just seen. I have a ton of half-written reviews in my “Drafts” folder here. I have a ton of films that I’ve been meaning to review. And I have about three tons of films I still haven’t watched that I want to, so I can talk about them.

So, I won’t be doing something crazy like watching a movie a day or anything like that. Just cranking out (or polishing up and finishing off) a review of (at least) one movie a day.

I am, of course, open to suggestions if there’s something in particular you’d like to see me talk about.

This all kicks off on Friday, 23 September, 2016.

Three down, don’t know how many to go…

September 4th, 2013

Just watched three of the new season pilots from ABC that are up on Hulu (The Trophy Wife, The Goldbergs, and Back in the Game).

The good news is, that’s an hour and a half a week of new shows I won’t have to worry about watching ever again.

Now, don’t get me wrong. None of these shows are horrible. But, at best, they’re mediocre. During the three half-hour(ish) shows, there was barely a chuckle raised. Even the likes of George Segal, Bradley Witford, and James Caan couldn’t raise the level of the standard, pandering, and gimmicky writing.

The Trophy WIfeThe Trophy Wife

Though it’s over-loaded with characters–the titular trophy wife, her new husband, his two ex-wives, and three kids–those characters are at least vaguely interesting and, even in the cacophony of the pilot, relatively distinctive.

But the tropes run hard and fast. The new wife is almost young enough to be another daughter. One ex-wife is a stern and stoic doctor. The other a flighty, well-dressed, hippy-type with what seems barely a basic grasp of reality. The husband a high powered, yet somehow still inept lawyer. It’s a hard sell to make me believe any of these people were/are married. And all the kids are trying to play one off the others.

The real joy in the show, though, could come from the kids. At least if the writers can really let them be the focus. Pull the two exes into sporadic supporting roles, focus more on the new family unit, and you have enough space to really have a comedy with some heart.

Without doing that, I’m afraid it’s just going to be more noise and glaring as the old wives try to out-do the new one in zaniness.

The GoldbergsThe Goldbergs

There is no doubt that this show desperately wants to be The Wonder Years for the 80s generation. But, again, instead of something that feels real (like The Wonder Years) we’ve got a show that feels overly crass and lacks charm most of the time.

Even if that was really how Adam Goldberg’s life really was circa 1985, I don’t think a ton of people are going to relate to it… or want to relate to it. At least I hope not.

This show takes dysfunctional families to the next level. And, while it tries to reclaim some measure of heart and familiarity in the final minutes, it lacks the clean flow of even the early seasons of other “regular family” TV families over the years (like Roseanne and even Married With Children).

Again, maybe it’ll find its stride as time goes on, but there’s nothing in the pilot that makes me want to stick around to find out. I’ll just let it stumble around and, if it does end up getting better, I’ll go back and catch it after the season is over. Maybe. (Probably not.)

Back in the GameBack in the Game

By a very narrow margin, this show has the most potential to be kind of good.  While the setup is oddly close to a number of other, much better shows–divorced daughter moves in with her father. who was never really there for her growing up–there weren’t a lot of needless “complications” thrown in to make the show “better”. Everything that flows in the show, more or less makes sense and doesn’t feel thrown together.

Perhaps the biggest thing that gives this show a chance is the that, with baseball/softball as a main focus, there’s a distinct framework in which stories can be framed. We’ll get to see the characters develop as the team of misfits they’re coaching pulls together. Should be good for at least one season.

I do hope that they add a little more variety to James Caan’s father/grandfather character, though. What they’ve got him doing in the pilot–gruff, disinterested, drunkard–is really a waste of the man’s talent.

So, yeah… maybe in a year I’ll revisit these on Netflix. But I’m not going to waste five or ten hours of my life on either of them (depending on how long they last) until they’ve run their course and their growing pains are over.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

June 23rd, 2012

Abraham Lincoln Vampire HunterThis wasn’t one of the movies I’d really planned on seeing in theaters, let alone on it’s opening weekend. But an old friend was in town and, after dinner, we decided to hit up a movie. Of everything that was playing that neither of us had seen, we chose Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, kind of on a whim.

I was not disappointed.

Of course, I also wasn’t expecting much.

This movie is, without a doubt, completely awful. Everything is over done. Very little (nothing if you’re familiar with horror films and standard plot twists) is surprising. As if the main concept itself weren’t ridiculous enough for you, they way it all meshes with history (the cavalcade of famous historical names and situations) should put you over that hump.

And that’s why you should definitely go and see it.

This movie is awful in all the best ways. It never has any illusions about what kind of film it is going to be. The shooting style is closer to what you’d see in an installment of the Resident Evil franchise than you would on PBS. (As I understand it, the book is written in the style of a standard historical memoir… there is absolutely no illusion of seriousness in the film.)

Pure and simple, this is popcorn-chomping camp at it’s best.

So completely over the top…

Far too many films like this take themselves too seriously in some parts and then smack you across the face with a scene of sequence that doesn’t fit with that supposed gravity. Everything in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is over the top. The drama passes directly into over-wrought melodrama. The fight sequences are amazingly over-choreographed and complex. The two climactic chases/boss fights in the film are done on a scale that’s hard to find sensible (and would have been absolutely impossible without the teams from a handful of digital special effects houses).

Nothing about this film is terribly subtle or small. Because of that, it works perfectly. Everything fits perfectly together.

(And, really, the fight sequences are pretty impressive… once you get over the idea that this is the 16th President of the United States swinging that ax around.)

I give a lot of credit to the actors and director. They pull all this ridiculousness off without a single wink to the camera, something many other films seem to think is funny (but often isn’t).

Technically, very solid…

From a purely technical point of view, this film is put together very well. The massive amounts of CGI blended well on the screen. The horribly over-designed vampires were relatively consistent to be believable in the world. The pacing and plot of the story moved and held together well. Nothing came out of nowhere–every gun used in the final scene had been on the mantle in a previous act, so to speak.

The acting was very solid. Benjamin Walker as Honest Abe was great with the physicality and, with the costuming and makeup, looked a whole lot like Abe in his presidential years. Rufus Sewell is appropriately arrogant, plotting, and utterly detestable as the big bad ancient vampire manipulating things. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is utterly charming as Mary Todd. And keep an eye out for Alan Tudyk as a well known Lincoln-related historical figure (not a lot of screen time, but as is always the case with Tudyk, golden the entire time).

Fun and funny, like I haven’t seen in a while…

As my friend I was with will confirm, I laughed more during this film than I have at most comedies I’ve gone to see in the past two decades. I haven’t seen such well executed camp and excess in a very long time (so long that I’m hard pressed to even think of the last time I was so entertained by it… perhaps an old action flick like Escape from L.A. or Big Trouble in Little China).

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has definitely made it right to the top of my list of horrible films that I’m glad I’ve seen in the movies. (That list also includes Snakes on a Plane, seen on opening night with an audience that I’m pretty sure shouldn’t have been behind the wheel for hours after the film, and Zombie Strippers, which had some surprisingly highbrow moments in it.) It’s horrible in the best ways possible.

Go in expecting some fun, near-mindless, horror/vampire-flavored action and you won’t be disappointed. Go in expecting a movie that takes itself seriously and you’ll walk away hating it.

Dark Shadows Returns, Will Burton Make it Work?

March 16th, 2012

Dark Shadows new castIn case you haven’t heard, Tim Burton is coming out with another film where Johnny Depp is playing a pale, maladapated man who’s completely out of place even among the not-quite-normal people around him.

This time around, it’s in a reboot of classic horror soap opera Dark Shadows.

I grew up having vague memories of watching a few episodes of the original when it was still airing regularly. More solidly, I remember when the Sci Fi Channel was re-running the classic series. It was always interesting, if not entertaining. Not always what we’d call “good” by today’s standards, but in context of its time, it was something kind of daring and unique.

In a nutshell, I love the original, flaws and all.

I was excited about the new film coming out.

Then I watched the newest trailer.

It kind of looks like a screwball comedy.

The only reason I’m really still willing to give it a chance is because of the creative team involved.

I was expecting some humor–because, really, once you set a vampire-based story in the 70s, how can you not have some  humor? But this trailer makes it look a wee bit too off-the-wall silly. (At least literally in once scene…)

The original was, honestly, pretty crappy. But it had a solid story core that caught people’s attention. Even through the awful production values, bad acting (accentuated by at least a few of the actors being drunk or hung over frequently during the live shows), and the simple fact that it was a daily soap opera, the uniqueness of it grew a great fan base.

Barnabas CollinsJonathan Frid as Barnabas was distinctly not leading-man material, which made the character all the more interesting.

The 90s remake with Ben Cross as Barnabas brought more style to the story, for sure, but overall that take on it lacked something that the original had (as it didn’t exactly bring in the eyeballs, if I recall correctly).

Ultimately, memories of Dark Shadows lead to the more recent supernatural soap Passions, which had a good run up until a few years ago when it exited the network lineup (along with some much longer-running daytime soaps). They developed a good fan base, created quirky, memorable characters, and played off of the standard soap and horror tropes well enough.

Hopefully, Burton, Depp, and crew will manage to find the spark that keeps the original so fondly remembered while still opening it up to a new generation of fans.

But based on that trailer… I’m not going to hold my breath…

Check out the trailer and let me know what you think:

A Conspicuous Copyright Casualty – Chrysler’s Superbowl Ad

February 6th, 2012

Copyright QuestionLike millions of other people, I watched the Superbowl on Sunday.

Like a good bunch of those people, I really don’t care about football. I watched it for the commercials.

Now, some of the best ones made their appearance days before the Big Game (which I think was a mistake). Luckily, there were some other good ones that hadn’t seen the light of day before they showed up on the TV screen.

One of those good ones was Chrysler’s all-American rally cry lead by the ever gruff (yet classy) Clint Eastwood.

I’d share that video with you except, well…

Chrysler Superbowl Ad taken down by NFL

That’s right, Chrysler was served a takedown for their own ad by the NFL. Less than a few hours after the spot aired.

If that’s not some crazy copyright wrangling, I don’t know what it.

A conspicuous action like this should serve to show us all how insane some of this (probably automated) copyright enforcement has gotten. We should also be aware of how much worse it could get.

Right now, Chrysler is probably losing thousands of dollars of revenue because of this–and spending thousands more dollars on lawyers to fix it. (Assuming they’ve noticed… and, man, I hope they’re properly monitoring their own sites!)

Here’s the thing: If your goal is to get your brand out there with an awesome advertisement–be you an iconic American car company or a multi-million-dollar sports/entertainment/merchandising franchise (like the NFL), why would you not want people sharing your advertising?

I can’t wait to see how this plays out over the next few days…

Speaking of sharing and ads: if you want to see (most) of the rest of the Superbowl ads, Buzzfeed has a great list. Check it out here.

And if you like what I write, feel free to share it. (I won’t serve you with a takedown notices… as long as you give me credit for my work.) 😉

Winter Season 2011-2012: New Shows

January 29th, 2012

Television ReviewsOnce upon a time, there were only two seasons on TV: Fall and Summer.

Now, things being what they are, we should just be honest and admit that there are four. Forget this “mid-season premiere” fallacy. If we’re luck, a season these days is 12 episodes. Shows that do 20+ episodes a year are, effectively, on for two seasons for every one they count. Everything else (especially stuff on cable channels) splits around the 12 episode mark.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at what’s premiered in the new Winter season so far.

Alcatraz (Fox)

Another JJ Abrams show about strange goings on with time and conspiracies on an island. Not exactly the same formula as Lost, but close enough to raise some eyebrows. Those raised eyebrows went from skeptical to impressed after the first couple of hours, though. Same Neill does a good job of adding class and creepiness to the story. It’s different enough from other shows that it can keep you guessing at least a little. For now, it’s more of a police procedural, with the main characters hunting down bad guys as they appear, but I’m betting that before long some more internal drama will kick up some waves. Assuming, of course, that the show doesn’t get canceled.

Are you there, Chelsea? (NBC)

A semi-autobiographical sitcom from comedian/author/talk show host/bad girl Chelsea Handler, in which she plays the older sister to Laura Prepon’s portrayal of herself. Sadly, this show just doesn’t do it for me. Maybe it’ll grow on me with time, but the whole caustic bad girl thing doesn’t work for me unless there’s that “heart of gold” tacked on… or some serious repercussions for that lifestyle. The cast seems solid and I’m pretty sure the Jersey Shore and Real Housewives viewers would love it.

The Finder (Fox)

Oh, another quirky crime fighting show. This one about a guy who (surprise, surprise) is really good at finding things. Perhaps due to brain damage received while serving in Iraq. If it wasn’t for Michael Clarke Duncan being in this show, I would have just passed it up. It’s cute, has some potential, but hasn’t found it’s stride yet. Maybe in another few episodes my opinion will change, but as of right now, I don’t find anything special about it.

The Firm (NBC)

The cast of this new series is pretty darn good. Two Cylons, some strong alumni from other shows, one of my favorite kinda trashy actresses (Juliette Lewis)… but so far they’re being totally wasted on more or less standard plots that have been done everywhere (recently, too). Grisham’s stuff is usually pretty suspenseful, with some sharp dialog and forceful characters. The film that this series is following up on was one of the first big hits from him that made the leap from the page to the big screen, a handful of others followed and they were all pretty good. I keep hoping this one will live up to it’s name, but it hasn’t yet.

I Hate My Teenage Daughter (Fox)

This is another show that, if it did anything other play exactly to stereotypes, would be almost good. But, hey, if you like a show about completely incompetent parents (to the point where you wonder how their kids made it to be teenagers), this may be for you. There have been a couple of sweet “awwwww’ moments, but they were almost immediately counteracted by some bit of vitriolic barb from one or more characters. This show doesn’t have heart and, thankfully, it also seems it doesn’t have good ratings.

Rob (CBS)

I never liked Rob Schneider much when he was on SNL. Can’t say I care more for him in his own show. Especially when it’s a premise that’s been done so many times before, with more style and less stereotype. Schneider plays a character (oh-so-creatively) named Rob who’s just married a younger woman on a whim in a Vegas wedding. Now he gets to meet her parents, who just happen to be Mexican. Supposedly, culture-clash hilarity ensues. I had some hope for this show when I saw Cheech Marin was in it (the bulk of the cast is actually talented, really), but he doesn’t have enough to work with to make this worth watching. It’s one thing to use a stereotype as a jumping-off point for comedy in a “haha! It’s not really like that!” sort of way. That’s not what this show is doing. It’s relying firmly on the stereotypes themselves–of Mexicans, Americans, men, and women–for it’s  humor. That ship sailed decades ago, do something new or go away. (Sadly, the ratings indicate that this show won’t be going away.)

Work It (ABC)

Thankfully, this show didn’t last. Like many other shows this season, “stereotype” is the name of the game. If you’ve been around for a while, you may remember an old show called Bosom Buddies that introduced us to Tom Hanks and Peter Scolaria as two guys who dressed as women to get an apartment in a single sex building. That show worked for two reasons: it was vaguely plausible at the time and we didn’t know any better. Pretending you’re a woman and getting a job selling pharmaceuticals in this day and age? I don’t think so. One background check would out you right there. That small bit of reality aside, the show just wasn’t funny. It managed to be insulting to both men and women. Can’t say I’ll miss this one at all.

There are a few more shows premiering soon (and a couple that are on other networks), so expect another installment soon.

Fall Season 2011: More Reviews

November 3rd, 2011

Television ReviewsOkay, we’re now a few weeks into the new season and everything I planned on watching has premiered. Some of it has been very good, some of it has been very bad, and some of it is already gone. Here’s a look at what wasn’t covered last time.

How to be a Gentleman (CBS – canceled after 2 eps)

The pilot was a little uneven, the characters not all that likeable, but the premise was an interesting one and, if given time, it may have found its legs. By far, of the three different “Man” shows that premiered this season on the regular networks, How to be a Gentleman was the one I found most palatable. Further proof that my tastes are not always the tastes of the nation.

Suburgatory (ABC – picked up for full season)

Honestly, I hated the first episode of this show. It felt both derogatory and disgusting in pretty much every way. It was full of bad, over-used stereotypes, oddly convoluted situations, and not a single feeling that rang true. I know Jeremy Sisto has talent. Cheryl Hines, too. Relative newcomer Jane Levy isn’t bad at all. And seeing Alan Tudyk on the screen just makes the Browncoat in me very happy. But the show just didn’t grab me. Then there was the second episode… and the third… and, well, I’m still watching. I’m not sure exactly why, but the show’s growing on me. They’ve settled into a nice groove, it feels more like parody than just some badly stylized depiction of a skewed reality, and they’re starting to play with some more daring social commentary. If they keep it up, it may end up a very creative and fun show.

An American Horror Story (FX)

This is the show I was anticipating the most. It has not disappointed me. By far it is one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen on television in a very long time (perhaps since Twin Peaks). The mix of supernatural threat with real, raw, emotional stress just keeps you on edge. The performances by Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott as a couple who’s relationship is already stretched to near breaking when they move into the very haunted house may be a bit too much for some people to watch–the arguments they have read very much like ones I’ve seen play out. I’m not sure where they’re going with the story in the long run, but the atmosphere they’re building and the supporting cast and history they’re revealing has been nothing short of impressive.

Once Upon a Time (ABC)

This is the other show I was really looking forward to. I’m a sucker for slightly twisted fairy tales (am I the only one who remembers The Charmings fondly?), but this show has managed to deliver a compelling set of at least vaguely familiar characters in a way that has definitely grabbed the general population. Mixing flashbacks to a fairy tale land with a main plot set in the familiar world the characters have been flung into (with their memories of who they were erased), the show has at least one or two seasons of good plot development in it.

Man Up! (ABC)

This was the second of the “Man” shows to air on the regular networks this season. It’s not the worst, but that’s not saying much. Where How to be a Gentleman has some vague class and potential to get at actual issues of what being a “man” really means in today’s world, this one was just a rehash of everything that’s come before played out with a stereotypical set of male friends. I don’t think I laughed once during any episode I watched and it most certainly did not inspire any thought about the subject. At least not other than “Really? Is this what people still think?”

Last Man Standing (ABC)

Tim Allen’s apparently long-awaited return to sitcom-land couldn’t have fallen more flat for me. I loved Home Improvement, Allen’s Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor was gruff, a bit dumb, but full of heart. In Last Man Standing, his Mike Baxter has two out of three of those but has also added neo-Conservative, backward, and annoying to the list. What’s missing? Heart. At best, this show is rehash of Home Improvement‘s “man” jokes. (Yes, this is the third of those “man” shows this season.) I thought, briefly, they were going to do at least one interesting thing–have Baxter do video blog bits that start out promoting products at the Bass Pro-like sporting goods store that he works for but turn into rants connected to events in the episode. With proper cultivation, consistency, and better writing, that could’ve made the show worth watching. But, based on the episodes I’ve seen, it doesn’t look like that’s going to be happening regularly.

Grimm (NBC)

This is the other fairy tale based show that’s premiered this season. It’s got a completely different flavor than Once Upon a Time, being more of a cop show than anything else. Airing against the CW’s Supernatural, I think it’s going to have a little bit of a hard time finding it’s audience… since it’s going after the same one (which is already at least slightly split between Supernatural and Fringe). It’s not bad, which was a slight surprise based on how so many of the promos looked. Apparently it’s one of those shows that doesn’t work well in clips, but, when you have an actual feel for the characters, it holds up pretty well. At least the characters are a wee bit confused at the idea of monsters being real. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

Updates:

  • Playboy Club first show to go. This makes me sad. I think the show had potential.
  • Free Agents canned. It didn’t even last as long as the British show it was based on.
  • Revenge picked up for full season. This show never grabbed me, but apparently people like it.

For fun:

10 shows canceled in 3 episodes or less. How many of these do you actually remember?