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Monday, November 02, 2009

 
AMC's The Prisoner Mini-Series -- Here's a remake I've been waiting most of my life for. I started watching Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner when it was running in late night on, I think, CBS back in the 1970s. Its rich mix of science fiction, espionage and paranoia wrapped around questions of power, control and identity made it probably my all-time favourite TV series, and a show I think is still ahead of its time some 40 years after it was first broadcast.

It's been vastly influential, echoing in forgotten series like Nowhere Man, popular ones like Lost, and probably a dozen more I could list if I thought about it for a couple of minutes.

There was simply nothing like it on TV before, and nothing ever reached its dizzying heights after; not every episode was perfect, but most were at least very good, all were interesting, and a few were transcendent in the way they involved the viewer in Number 6's struggle for individuality and freedom.

And now it's been remade as a six-episode mini-series for basic cable channel AMC. Starring Jim Caviezel as Six (the "Number" prefix has been dropped in all cases here) and Ian McKellen as Two, the mini-series is inspired by the original but does not seem to be a direct sequel or a by-the-numbers remake. New explanations for the existence of The Village are hinted at, and new shadings are added to the psychological mix, including issues of sexual identity that actually make for a thoughtful addition to the heady brew of social and political issues that the original tackled. Weird new post-Lost elements are added, some compelling (the holes that seem to be appearing in reality) and some not so much (the pigs that are touted as the solution to the holes -- yeah, you definitely have to see it to believe it).

There are some really first-rate performances here, especially from McKellen as Two (and especially Un-Two, a Leo McKern-worthy performance) and Jamie Campbell-Bower as his son, 11-22. There is a mountain of subtext in the relationship between the two, and that aspect is probably the most vital of the series.

Unfortunately, the entire endeavour is hobbled utterly by a lifeless and nuance-free lead actor in Caviezel as Six. McGoohan brought anger, passion and purpose to the original Number Six, but Caviezel brings absolutely nothing to the lead role here. He is very good at playing stunned and confused, as in when he first awakes on the edge of The Village, but I felt nothing at all for his character as he confronted Two and his schemes and conspiracies. One episode features Six recruited by Two to teach surveillance at a school in The Village, but I never felt sucked into his deals with Two in the same way one understood why Number Six would go along with Number Two's plots in the original. At no time in the entire series did I root for Six, an essential element of McGoohan's series -- one never necessarily felt his Number Six was a nice guy or even a hero, but he was always sympathetic and one always wanted to know how he was going to try to get out of whatever dilemma Number Two had thrown him into in any given episode.

The elements that comprise AMC's Prisoner remake are so close to perfect that I truly am sad that it falls so short of the mark. The cinematography is intriguing and occasionally beautiful. McKellen and Campbell-Bower give all they have to their roles. The music is fantastic. But time and again, watching all six episodes, as I continued to feel a gnawing ambivalence for the entire affair, I kept coming back to the weakness of Caviezel's performance, and also the fatal error of spending a good deal of every episode in flashbacks (or possibly forwards? The Lost influence is fairly powerful) to Six's life outside The Village. These sequences spend a lot of time on Six's alternate life as Michael, but really tell us nothing about him as a person, or why we should care that he is trapped in The Village.

Like the original, the final episode ends in metaphysics and scenes open to multiple interpretation. Unlike the original series finale, though, it is torpid and vague and lifeless and will not prompt viewers to ponder the meaning of the mythology for decades to come. Finishing the six episodes, I said to my wife "I don't know how to review this thing, other than to tell people to watch the original." Patrick McGoohan created a timeless epic that still feels fresh, unusual and relevant to our lives. AMC's remake feels like a faint echo of something meaningful, a well-intentioned effort that fails to escape the powerful shadow of its far superior inspiration.

A copy of The Prisoner was provided by the network for the purposes of review.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

 
The Monday Briefing -- Didn't read much comics-wise over the weekend, as I am in the final stretch of reading the Star Trek: Destiny trilogy of novels by David Mack. It was recommended as epic and well-written in a message board post somewhere recently, and turns out that is completely true. The novels (I started the third last night) tell a millennia-spanning, post-Nemesis tale that features Captains Picard, Riker, Dax (Ezri, now promoted) and Hernandez (the USS Columbia captain from Enterprise) and their ships and crews on the eve of the worst invasion the Federation has ever faced. The story is perfectly paced, more grown-up in tone than older Trek novels, and the perfect appetizer for May's movie release. If you have any interest in Star Trek at all, check 'em out, they're terrific.

Kind of hard to believe that the finale of Battlestar Galactica is now just days away. Like some viewers whose comments I've read, I've found the last couple-three episodes a bit scattered and off-point, but hopefully Ron Moore and company are saving the best for last. Apropos of nothing, I DVR'd (as we say) an episode of the original series (the Ship of Lights episode, as it turns out), and my wife fired it up yesterday thinking it was the latest episode of the new series. "I didn't understanding any of it of who the characters even were," she told me. "All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again," I cryptically told her. She was not amused.

Comics-wise, check out Chris Allen's look at some Captain America collections, both Brubaker-written and not, as well as some comments on a new line of Marvel action figures.

Tom Spurgeon has posted his Best of 2008 list. As you might expect, it's pretty hard to argue with. I still need to read Omega the Unknown, though.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

 
The Friday Briefing -- And here we are, the last Friday before the Winter Solstice, Christmas and Boxing Day. Next week is packed with significant days for many people. Whatever day you're celebrating (or, heck, all of 'em), I hope you're enjoying a happy and healthy holiday season. Here are a few notes...

Majel Barrett-Roddenberry died this week; the actress who played Number One in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage" went on to also play Nurse Christine Chapel and the voice of the computer on the original series, numerous roles on the animated Star Trek and the domineering but loving Lwaxana Troi (Deanna's mother) on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I've been revisiting a lot of Star Trek this year, I guess in anticipation of next year's JJ Abrams-directed movie, which coincidentally will feature Barrett-Roddenberry's last acting performance, as the voice of the Enterprise's computer. My reignited interest in Star Trek has been more or less limited to the original 1966-1969 series, because the older I get the higher I regard what Gene Roddenberry, William Shatner and the gang accomplished in those brief years. It's caused me, too, to reevaluate a lot about the original series, and to appreciate far more the contributions of people like Barrett-Rodddenberry and the others who contributed to the genuine sense that Enterprise was an enormous vessel filled with hundreds of working professionals, Nurse Chapel just one of them.

Her two best showcase episodes were "Amok Time," in which her feelings for Spock kicked off the entire plot of one of the best episodes of the series, and an even better episode for Chapel, "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" I recently re-watched that one, and it is a real gem of an episode, in its quiet way. Barrett-Roddenberry's best acting performance in all of Trek is probably in this episode, in which the Enterprise finds her former love Roger Korby and a couple of very strange assistants of his. Added Trek-value: the episode also boasts one of the show's trademarks, a dual-Kirk scene. How Shatner must have loved those episodes.

With Majel's death, we lose yet another original series cast member, following James Doohan and DeForest Kelley's deaths. As a lifelong fan of the series, and a growingly unapologetic one, I can tell you that I feel each loss personally. An era has passed, and will never come again, no matter how successful (as art or commerce) the Abrams movie is. And I hope it's a huge hit and a blast to watch, but now it will be even more bittersweet to hear the voice of the ship's computer this one last time. Goodbye, Mrs. Roddenberry, and thank you.

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Earlier this week, I received a copy of 1977's Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics. This enormous book collects hundreds and hundreds of pages of classic newspaper strips (Gasoline Alley, Flash Gordon and dozens more), and is something I've wanted to have my own copy of for a long, long time. It was nearly intoxicating browsing through its pages, and the combination of its size (allowing a good view of much of the art it contains) and pertinent but brief text material make for an excellent presentation of the material. There's good reason why it is considered a key anthology in the artform of comics, and I'm thrilled to finally have a copy.

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My posting here has been light the past couple of months and I do apologize for that. I am posting regularly at iTaggit, and I definitely want to get back to a more regular and reliable schedule here. Next year represents the ninth anniversary of Comic Book Galaxy, and history tells me that even if circumstances get in the way of things for a week or a month or a few months, sooner or later I always seem to get back into the swing of things. I'm as excited as ever about comics, I can tell you that. The news about Yoshiro Tatsumi's A Drifting Life this week has me positively giddy. Look at that picture. And it's coming in April, early enough that the end of the world may not get in the way of me reading it. Star Trek doesn't hit theaters until May, so that's more iffy, but I am trying to stay optimistic.

Seriously, things look very dark for the year ahead, and I have nothing funny or insightful to say about it. I wish people like Jim Kunstler had been wrong about oil scarcity and the catastrophe of an automobile-obsessed world. I wish I had been wrong about George W. Bush being very, very bad for our country and the world. I wish we could go back in time 8 years or 25 years or 50 years and tell people how their foolishness and arrogance squandered the post-war potential of America and shattered millions, soon likely billions, of lives. More than anything, I wish we had more than hope to count on as we say goodbye to 2008. And goodbye to a lot of other things. Maybe that's why I've been looking back to Star Trek so much this past year; in 1966 it was possible to believe one day mankind would overcome its own worst instincts and take to the stars, the races united and working together toward a better world, a better universe. As we stare down a very bleak 2009, it's hard to believe a year from now we'll have the luxury of doing anything more than struggling to survive; and it's impossible to believe we'll have the time, money or resources to talk about comic books, or old TV shows, on the internet.

I hope I'm wrong.

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Friday, October 31, 2008

 
The Best Show of 2008 -- Hear, hear.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

 
At 1:20 in the Morning I Kind of FEEL Like The Walking Dead -- Long day of training on a new system yesterday, which was immediately preceded by a sleepless night of not feeling terribly well. Bad combination, although the training went very well and was immediately followed by pizza.

I really like this Tom Spurgeon review of The Walking Dead. I haven't kept up on the title in recent years, but it's one I am tempted to jump back in to from time to time, both because it's not superheroes, and because its craft elements are absolutely rock-solid.

Anybody watch Monday night's Big Bang Theory? Is Sheldon not the Spock/Fonzie/Kramer/President Bartlett breakout character? The scene where he comes home zonked out on milk and valium ("I drank milk that tasted funny") was so funny I've watched it four or five times now, and it still makes me laugh ("I'm Batman. Shh!")

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Monday, July 28, 2008

 
The Anemic Monday Briefing -- I got nothin', I'm telling ya. Go read Spurgeon's excellent Blake Bell interview, which pretty much answers all the questions I had about Bell's excellent book about Steve Ditko, Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, which I reviewed recently and can't recommend enough.

Sorry to hear the new X-Files movie apparently was a huge flop over the weekend. I liked it a lot, and recommend you see it if you like the series, but I guess in the summer of Dark Knight and Iron Man, it's no surprise that an excellent, character-based suspense movie like X-Files: I Want to Believe doesn't blow away the competition.

Makes it seem even more unlikely that we'll ever see the continuation -- or conclusion -- of the alien invasion mythology that was woven throughout the entirety of the series. Well, maybe they can do it in comics form, like Buffy Season Eight. Which, if it was as good as that series, I would have few complaints.

Oh, one other thing to mention -- James Howard Kunstler writes about driving up Route 4 in New York's Capital District. This decrepit stretch of lost American highway is almost literally in my backyard, and I travel it a few times a year. Kunstler's description is evocative and dead-on.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

 
Be Short; Be Great -- Here's Warren Ellis on MySpace talking about the what Joss Whedon achieved with Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (which I wrote about yesterday):
I can't tell you how many new hopeful comics writers I meet who have never finished anything in their lives because their intended first project is a hundred-episode epic that creates a whole new universe or three. And I tell them all the same thing: you're screwed. No-one will want it. Not until you've written something short, capable of being produced on a budget, and finished. Your epic may be worldchanging, but no-one will ever know because no publisher will gamble that kind of money on an unknown. And that's before you get to the vagaries of the attention economy. Production values are nice, but not necessary to producing compelling work. People gave Dr. Horrible 15 mins because it's Joss, but five minutes is a great length for net video. 500 words, 5 pages, whatever. Be short. Be great.
Better advice, would-be writers could not find anywhere. Click the link, and hopefully even though it's MySpace you might actually end up somewhere where you can read Ellis's entire post. I loved his last line, and you'll have to click over to read that.

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Roger Ebert Looks Back -- Maybe it's because I was a viewer of Siskel and Ebert in almost all their incarnations over the years, from the PBS days through Siskel's death and beyond, but I found Roger Ebert's essay, "The Balcony is Closed," one of the most bittersweet pieces of writing I have ever encountered.

Ebert's health problems have kept him off TV the past couple of years, but he still has more energy and insight than any other ten writers I can think of, and he remains our best living film critic. I hope you'll click over and read his first-person history of his and Siskel's TV adventure, from the very beginning, to its recent, unexpected and hopefully temporary end.

And if you haven't read his books, especially the amazing The Great Movies and The Great Movies II, I urge you to pick them up at your nearest bookstore or library. They provide endless inspiration to me, and I'm sure they will to you, as well.

Buy The Great Movies and The Great Movies II from Amazon.com.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

 
Must See: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog -- I just got done watching Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, created by Joss Whedon and starring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and others.

I have no comprehensive review to offer; just trust me when I tell you that this brief, three segment "series" contains as many thrills, laughs and unexpected twists as a season of any of Whedon's shows, all of which are awesome.

You can get it on iTunes, or you can wait for the DVD, which I will definitely be buying. Whatever you do, make sure you see this fantastic, I guess I'll call it a short film. Altogether it runs a little under 45 minutes, and it's the best 45 minutes I've spent watching my TV in a long time.

And it gives me even more hope for January's debut of Whedon's new series Dollhouse.

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You can get more information and a much better review at Pajiba.com.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

 
Good Star Trek Omens from AICN -- Harry Knowles at Ain't It Cool News has posted his thoughts after getting to see a few minutes of the Star Trek movie J.J. Abrams is working on for next summer, and the early word looks very good. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for this movie to be worthy of the Star Trek name, which no Trek movie really has been in quite some time.

And if you missed it, I posted a much longer piece about Star Trek earlier this week.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

 
Does Anyone Really Care About Star Trek Anymore? -- That's the question posed by Tom Spurgeon, and although he may have asked it rhetorically, as part of his review of a new Star Trek spin-off comic book by John Byrne, my answer is yes, and I have some thoughts on the subject.

I was born in 1966, the same year Star Trek debuted on NBC; I debuted in January, the show came along in September, so in a way I am older than Captain Kirk. Of course, the show had been in the works for a couple years before it was ready for public consumption, a failed pilot being produced in 1964 with Captain Pike instead of Captain Kirk, and I've always been fascinated with the question of what the show might have been like had Jeffrey Hunter had the lead instead of William Shatner. Sure, Spock was a goof in that original pilot ("The Cage"), but Hunter's Pike was a darker and more intense character in that one episode than Kirk generally got over 40 years of episodes and movies. Even Kirk's death in 1993's Generations movie failed to muster up the sort of darkness and drama that an event like the death of James Tiberius Kirk should have inspired. Co-screenwriter and Battlestar Galactica prime mover Ron Moore even admitted as much in a recent interview.

So, I was born the same year as Star Trek, as I was saying, but obviously that means I didn't catch it in its first go-round on the tee-vee. No, it was in syndicated reruns in the early 1970s that it probably caught my eye, maybe or maybe not as a result of seeing the Saturday morning animated series, also called Star Trek. Some people don't consider the animated version canon, but you know what? If it's called Star Trek, is produced by Gene Roddenberry and stars William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan and Nichelle Nichols, it's goddamned Star Trek, goofy aliens or not.

My mom and I shared our love for Star Trek -- she had watched it from the beginning, and she definitely watched it at her end. In the early 1990s, when she was sinking into the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease, I had a friend who worked at a video store who would sell me the then-new VHS releases of Star Trek episodes at cost, I think five or six bucks per tape. As I made my way through acquiring the series on VHS, my mom got curious about the tapes I was bringing home in stacks of three or four at a time, and she watched Star Trek again like it was something she had never seen. The disease had wiped out her memories of the show, but she was still sharp enough to appreciate its humour and sharp social commentary, and watching her watch those episodes in what I know now was the beginning of her end is one of my fondest, most bittersweet memories. Those tapes gave her endless hours of genuine pleasure, even as she slowly slipped away. If for nothing else, I'll always hold the original Star Trek in high regard for allowing her those many hours of entertainment.

When The Next Generation came along in 1987, I was dubious that Roddenberry and company could recapture lightning in a bottle. We'd had The Wrath of Khan in theaters by then, and that movie was really what recharged "the franchise" (a loathsome term) enough to justify trying another TV show a few years later. TNG's pilot was mostly uninspiring to me; I didn't care for the lack of conflict between the characters (a Roddenberry conceit), as conflict between the three leads was much of what made the original series and the best of the movies hum. Hell, the conflict between Kirk, Spock and McCoy was the best part of even the worst of the movies, The Motion Picture and The Final Frontier, the latter being Shatner's doomed-from-the-start attempt at writing and directing a Star Trek movie. You tried, but, She's dead, Jim.

The Next Generation got good after its unformed and meandering first season. Diana Muldaur replaced Gates McFadden as the ship's doctor, and she immediately added tension to the mix. A lot of people didn't care for her Doctor Pulaski, but I liked the way she mixed in with the rest of the cast. On the other hand, when she was unceremoniously ditched and Dr. Crusher came back, I was glad to see her, too. Probably for the same reason I never liked Babylon 5's first commander until he was fired after the first season then came back later and stirred everything up in some of the best episodes of the series. It's that whole Joseph Campbell thing about going out into the wilderness and coming back with the power to grant boons, I think.

But yeah, the Borg came in during season two of TNG and their Hellraiser-stylings and eerie, hive-mind coldness was too frigging cool for primetime TV. Apparently it was too cool for Star Trek, too, because after their initial appearance in the episode "Q-Who" and the amazing two-part, season bridging "Best of Both Worlds," the Borg were never again used well on The Next Generation. The were either Edward Scissorhands in the stupid episode about the li'l boy Borg, or playing second fiddle to Data's evil twin Lore. Ugh. But they started with great potential.

By the time the series folded in 1993 to make way for the TNG cast to move to movies, I was sorry to see them go off the small screen. I might even have teared up a little during "All Good Things," the series finale. The double-length episode was a powerhouse demonstration of Patrick Stewart's acting and appeal, and if the time-bending plot swallowed its own tail ultimately, Stewart and John DeLancie as Q totally sold me on it. It's one of the few TNG episodes I rewatch again with any regularity.

Here things get crazy with spin-offs and movies and action figures and all kinds of crap -- TNG on film only made it through four movies before crashing and burning. The first two, Generations and First Contact, were both okay-to-good, but the last two, Insurrection and especially the atrocious Nemesis, were not well-received. I recently re-watched Insurrection on TV and realized it would have made an acceptable episode of the TV series, but as a movie it was a failure. Just not big enough. Nemesis had a cool title and that was it. If it had been about the scientific Nemesis theory, it might have been cool. I was also disappointed that no one but me thought it would have been neat to have a Trek movie in theaters the first year of the new millennium, called, of course, Star Trek: 2001. Come on, that would have been great!

Well, probably not, but only because the people entrusted to Star Trek's stewardship after Gene Roddenberry left seemed hell-bent on botching the job the longer they had it. Despite good episodes now and then, overall in retrospect I have no use at all for Voyager or Deep Space Nine, and by the time Enterprise debuted on the short-lived UPN network it was designed to support, I had mostly given up. I don't think I watched one entire episode of Enterprise the entire four years it was on.

Which is funny, because this past February, on Valentine's Day, in fact, my family received as a gift a 42-inch HDTV. And I added some HD channels to our cable package. And on one of them, HDNet, they were showing reruns of Enterprise. And I found to my genuine shock that I mostly dug the show a whole lot.

Sure, Scott Bakula is wooden and ham-fisted as an actor, but so is William Shatner, and I found that I could accept his Captain Archer and even enjoy many of his performances. And I genuinely loved the performances of Jolene Blalock as T'Pol and Connor Trinneer as the ship's engineer. He was obviously modeled on Dr. McCoy with his southern accent and no-bullshit approach, but Blalock's T'Pol was as complex a character as Star Trek ever delivered, eventually going far, far further afield of Vulcan logic and traditions than Spock did in all the years he was on TV and in the movies. HDNet recently suspended their telecast of the series, leaving me high and dry near the end of the excellent third-season Xindi storyline, but thankfully in the internet era, as Spock was fond of saying, "there are always...possibilities." So I'll finish the show soon. My verdict is already in, though -- Enterprise was imperfect, but after the original series and TNG, its my favourite of all Star Trek series, and that kind of amazes me, but it captured the sense of mystery and adventure in outer space very well, the ship and the sets were great, and a lot of good acting (I also really liked John Billingsley and Linda Park) was to be found in many episodes.

Now we stand on the precipice of a new, next generation in Star Trek. J.J. Abrams is working on a new movie scheduled for release in May of 2009. Abrams is the producer of Lost, a show I have run hot and cold on but currently am pretty much in love with, and I am hopeful that the new movie will at the very least be one last good Star Trek movie, if not the revival of the concept in the public consciousness. I'm with whatever faction there is that wishes they'd found a place for Shatner in it, mostly because, hey, he's still around and he deserves on last shot at the chance to inspire, as Captain Kirk did for me at his best. He taught me there's no such thing as the no-win scenario, a lesson I took to heart and have believed in, at my best moments, ever since. And also because we've already lost DeForest Kelley and James Doohan, and I am blindsided to think we'll never, ever have Star Trek with them in it again. It makes me sad and makes me feel old.


So, I hope Abrams and crew turn out something great, and I think there's a better than 50/50 chance of that happening. Nimoy's Trek instincts have almost always been right on, and he's on-board for the movie and its story, and that has to be a good indicator.

Note to Tom Spurgeon: I wrote this all in one sitting, with the only research needed being how to spell "Trinneer," so I guess my answer to your question is, yes, I still care about Star Trek. Here's to hoping the people now responsible for its future do, too.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

 
Doctor Who: Time Crash -- The annual charity broadcast of Doctor Who is eight minutes of pure joy for me. It's been a day or two since it aired, and if you're somewhat net-savvy, it's pretty widely available at this point.

I won't spoil a thing for you, other than to say that David Tennant's Doctor makes a speech right at the end that perfectly sums up my feelings about the guy he's talking to (and about), and this little short episode pretty much made my entire weekend. Seek it out if you're at all a fan of the series.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

 
Extras Season Two -- Very glad to see the second season of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's Extras (their follow-up to The Office) is coming out on DVD next week.

Now, Extras isn't as immediately, obviously brilliant as The Office was -- I mean, the first episode of The Office I saw was the first episode of Season Two and I was not only not lost, I was hooked for life. I love the entire original British series, both seasons, and I love the U.S. version, and yeah, I pretty much love Extras.

I'm more or less a comedy snob, in the same way I am a superhero comics snob -- I can and do enjoy comedy, but it's got to be intelligent and present a singular comedic vision. Gervais and Merchant tend to deliver that in spades.

Extras is a little slower-paced and deliberate than The Office, but it's much more about character. Other than Tim and Dawn, most of the characters on The Office (just like working in a real office, it should be noted) were somewhat two-dimensional twats who deserved whatever they got. Gervais's own character eventually acquired some genuine depth beyond being pathetic, arrogant and sad, but poor Sir David of Brent had to wait until the two Christmas special episodes to earn any real sympathy. Most all the lead characters on Extras are more nuanced and likable, and I think it's a slightly more thoughtful show as well. Which is weird, because I think I like The Office more, but they're do very different that it's almost apples and oranges directly comparing the two. I do love them both mightily, though. Added bonus: Gervais's co-star Ashley Jensen is exquisite.

So if you like good comedy, but perhaps haven't seen Extras as of yet, just a heads up, as of Tuesday, the entire series to date will be available on DVD and is well worth your attention.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

 
Big Who Season Finale -- Watched the two-part finale of the third season of the new Doctor Who with the kids at lunch today, after having missed the entire season due to lack of intense interest and other things going on. I guess with the internets, you know you can probably always catch up down the line later on, right?

Right?

Possible SPOILERS and definite NERDITRY beyond this point...

Except I don't think the season we missed could match the energy and inventiveness of this two-part trip from the end of time back to present-day Great Britain. I mostly decided to check out the season finale because of the rumoured reappearance of one of the Doctor's greatest enemies, a character I'd kind of expected to see back in Season One, with all its "The Doctor's gone dark" stuff. See, I was guessing after it was announced that Season One Doc Christopher Eccleston was only sticking around for the first go-round that he in fact was not the Doctor, but this other gentlemen in question, suffering from amnesia after the end of the Time War. I thought that would have made a great season finale, the real Doctor arriving to reclaim his TARDIS from Eccleston, who would have been able to play the very dark results of finding out his true identity quite well before making room for the sunshiny David Tennant in Season Two. And the audience would have been both outraged and amazed to learn they'd been rooting for you-may-know-who all season long. Oh, the angst!

Turns out The Powers That Be kind of thought like I did -- some of that stuff kind of played out in these final two episodes of Season Two, after all. The Master (I warned you up there with the SPOILERS and all!) has been suffering from amnesia in the wake of the Time War, and he certainly was a lovable old Time Lord type in the first part -- so much so, with the affected name ("The Professor") and the Companion, that I thought maybe he was the ultimate, final version of the Doctor, and that we were in for another iteration of Doc Meets Doc. I'd guess that we were supposed to think that, given the available evidence, and it's really too bad the BBC leaked the actual identity of the bad guy, because I probably would have stuck to my theory that Professor Yana was The Doctor until the real reveal came along.

I first started watching Doctor Who when it was airing on PBS stations here in the U.S. back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Because I saw the transition from mega-popular fourth Doctor Tom Baker to fifth Doctor Peter Davison almost at the same time the British did, I always had an affection for Davison in the role over Baker, although I like 'em both. Certainly they're my two favourites, having seen little to nothing of Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy, as Who-fever seemed to dry up on American public television stations after Davison left the series.

I was one of the few who watched and liked the Fox TV movie with Paul McGann inheriting the mantle from Sylvester McCoy, and really, really dug Eccleston's work in his one and only season. Tennant has had some great moments in the episodes he's done that I have seen, especially his forced goodbye to Rose, and it was nice to see him given some really meaty stuff in this season finale, from explaining a few things to Captain Jack (who seems much less irritating now) to trying to build bridges with his last surviving fellow Time Lord.

Speaking of whom, John Simm was a bit of a revelation as The Master. The amusing but mostly two-dimensional mustache-twirling of Anthony Ainley in the Baker/Davison era and the dark mischief of Eric Roberts in the Fox movie were nothing at all like the trickster/master planner Simm introduced in these episodes. The whimsy and the perfidy were delivered in equal doses, and the political commentary toward the end was both welcome and well-done. Which came first, Warren Ellis's Black Summer #0 or the script for part two of this season finale? More likely, it's just the zeitgeist at work, The Master's actions on the SHIELD HELICARRIER -- UNIT aircraft carrier Valiant representing a violent fantasy that satisfies the desire of pretty much everyone in the world for the U.S.'s own evil government takeover to end.

SPOILERS END HERE

So, this two-parter had it all -- copious reference to Who history, actual, unexpected plot developments, and very good performances from actors obviously having a blast in their roles, especially Tennant and Simm. I may or may not catch up on previous episodes from this season, but there's no question I'll be watching with the kids when the fourth season gets underway. We all want to know how they're going to get out of this one.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

 
And Now For Something Completely Different -- Minor medical emergency wrecked the hell right out of my Monday evening...I won't disgust -- bore you with the details, but needless to say the essay I was polishing up Monday afternoon may not be up for a day or two. I'm on antibiotics and hopefully will be all better in a few days. But if I don't post much today, I didn't want you to think I had crawled back in my cave, although hibernating sounds awfully good right now.

Sopranos Spoiler Alert...

I did get around to watching The Sopranos finale, and while I was a bit baffled at first (like much of the rest of the viewers), I did some online research and found out that if you watch carefully, and pay attention to what characters are in the restaurant at the end, there's little doubt about what happened.

I think writer/director David Chase deserves a little more credit than outraged but apparently very casual viewers are giving him. There were a couple of echoes of the original pilot, which I would not have caught if I hadn't watched it Sunday night, and I think the most important clue goes back to the conversation Tony and Bobby had on the boat when they were relaxing on Lake George a few weeks back, before they got mad and beat the crap out of each other.

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Sunday, April 30, 2006

 
Doctor Who -- Well, it was true -- the third episode of the new run of Doctor Who was a fantastic episode from start to finish. The Sarah Jane and K9 material was genuinely moving, Anthony Stewart Head was fun if a bit over-the-top (well, it is Doctor Who, after all), and the story was as engaging and entertaining as the best of the previous season's episodes.



The best scene was probably Rose and Sarah Jane bonding through their shared exasperation with The Doctor, a scene so universally accurate that even my kids understood the truth and the humour behind it. Mickey's line about "The Mrs. and the ex" was gold, too.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2002

 
Spraino, Soprano -- My wife fell down the stairs of our apartment building on Saturday, spraining her ankle and giving us an opportunity to spend some quality time in front of our DVD player. We rented most of Season Three of The Sopranos, and as of this writing have gotten through all but the last episode. Hopefully we'll find time this afternoon.

My wife is recovering nicely, although there was some Poison Control intervention after she accidentally ingested my diabetes medication Saturday night instead of her painkillers. Suffice to say that Saturday was not a very nice day for my poor wife -- but again, she's recovering nicely, and the only long-term problem I see is, well, she's still stuck with me.

As for Tony Soprano and company, wow, what a season. The highlight (barring the not-yet-viewed final episode) was Pine Barrens, directed by the brilliant Steve Buscemi and featuring Christopher and Paulie lost in the woods, starving and eventually at each other's throats. The brilliance of this episode is in the set-up. They come to be in the woods through perfectly ordinary (for this gang of crooks)
circumstances -- just another day at the office, essentially. But a cascade effect of mistakes sets in, and the next thing you know the boys are in big, big trouble. A riveting episode, extremely cinematic, and all the more impressive for the lack of emphasis on the character of Tony Soprano.

Other highlights of this season included Tony hooking up with a frenzied, troubled but irresistible car dealer -- the tension as she drove Tony's unsuspecting wife home from the car dealership was one of the best scenes in the history of the series. Also of note is the eerie coincidence of Anthony Jr.'s brush with trouble, mirroring the legal trouble the little bastard got into in real life.

The DVD format has really been revelatory in the case of a show like The Sopranos or Buffy, where the excellence is obvious, week in and week out, and is enhanced and emphasized by the commercial-free, high quality sound and picture. The only flaw in the developing system is the insistence of some companies -- including whoever does The Sopranos -- of overpricing the sets. I'll rent but not buy stuff like The Sopranos when it sells for $100.00 a set. But when I can get twice as many Buffy episodes for about half the price, those I'll shell out the cash for. If the companies would price the sets a little more reasonably, I'm quite sure they'd be
getting a lot more of my money than they currently are.

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Friday, July 26, 2002

 
The Friday Briefing -- Saturday morning the wife and I plan to rouse the kids at some godawful hour and drive hours and hours and hours to take them to Boston. It's been a long, long time since we made any road trips, and my wife wants them to see the New England Aquarium (within 5 miles of two famous comics shops, Comicopia and Million Year Picnic), so in the interests of my fascination with fish (Mmm, shrimp! Clams! Scallops!), we're outta here Saturday morning.

What this means for you, old friend, is that my reviews will be late this week. In fact, the late-this-week reviews will probably appear early next week. Say, Monday or Tuesday. But fear not, there is stuff in my review stack, and once I stack 'em up, sooner or later, like magic, or magick even, the reviews get written.

One book I plan to review and which you need to go out and but right now, even before I complete this sentence, which I'm making long to give you time to see the error of your ways and go already, is Tom Beland's True Story Swear to God #3: Moments. Beland, frankly, is a master storyteller whose romantic-but-not-falsely-sentimental story didn't bring me to tears, but it came goddamned close. To say anymore would be to come close to reviewing it, but please support Tom's effort to tell this story. It's good comics.

As for my thoughts on Rob Lowe leaving The West Wing, which I know you've been wondering about, well, the writing was on the wall there for a long time. Yes, his character was originally supposed to be the focus of the show. I was originally supposed to be fabulously wealthy because I was the mastermind behind a successful internet startup, too. If only I'd have done it a year or two earlier. If only Martin Sheen weren't a more interesting actor than Rob Lowe. Boo-hoo, pass me a tissue. No, seriously, the thought that Rob was only getting $75-goddamned-thousand-dollars a week is so sad!

Hey, I liked Sam Seaborn. I may even come to miss him once Rob collects his 16 weeks worth of $75-goddamned-thousand-dollar paychecks before bowing out. But you know, when you have a good thing going, man, sometimes it's a good idea to let it ride and not get whiny and bitchy about how things were supposed to be.

I actually met the guy who lived next door to Rob Lowe when he was growing up, conservative talk show host Mike Gallagher. Looking into his eyes while he snapped his gum was like looking into the unknowable void. I swear, I actually heard wind whistle through his ears.

I may try to get another weblog entry in before I leave Saturday morning. If not, hey, have a good weekend, and go buy Tom Beland's comic book. It's good for you.

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