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Monthly Archives: December 2008

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How to Save the CW, Fire Dawn Ostroff

One of the most baffling things that happened is that when the slightly successful WB network merged with the failed UPN network, the WB’s President got the boot, while Dawn Ostroff, who had destroyed what was left of UPN, got to head up the CW. The results were about as surprising as you would suspect. Putting the former head of the Lifetime Network in charge of what was supposed to be a TV network, Ostroff turned the CW into a teen girl oriented version of Lifetime.

Now MyNetwork is kicking the CW’s ass with episodes of the WWE, a reliable mainstay of the network that Ostroff dumped because it didn’t fit her Twilight aged View demographic. That was stupid and allowing Les Moonves to keep Ostroff where she is was a disaster. Male viewers have left the CW in droves and the quality of programming has gone down.

Had Ostroff succeeded in bringing the Twilight demographic in, all might have been forgiven. But the WB did a much better job of appealing to teenage girls than Ostroff’s UPN ever had. With Tribune in trouble, the CW’s future is turning blank. The MRC experiment has failed, and it’s time for Warner Brothers to assert its authority over CBSViacom, and the first step is ending Dawn Ostroff’s tenure. 6 years of failure on UPN and the CW is enough.

Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×13 Earthlings Welcome Here episode review

Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles doesn’t seem to be much good at finales, and Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×13 Earthlings Welcome Here, its fall finale, for the next two months, until it’s reunited to fail together with Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse on Friday nights, is little exception. Bad episodes of Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles lately aren’t conventionally bad, instead they are bad in an X-Files sort of way, in which after you’ve watched an hour of symbolic allusions, characters pursuing some senseless quest, there are mysterious events that make no real sense, you shake your head and ask for your 43 minutes back.

That’s where Earthlings Welcome Here puts us, appropriately enough an episode, which like the X-Files, is centered around UFO’s. For a finale that is supposed to convince viewers to tune in 2 months from now, Earthlings Welcome Here almost goes out of its way to make you hate it. Not only does it have Sarah Connor abandoning her son on a quest for three dots that came to her in a dream, it has John Connor continuing his surly teenager routine, more Riley backstory, and an ending that makes you want to throw a shoe at the television Iraqi style.

I don’t hate Riley nearly as much as many fans of the series, and Earthlings Welcome Here does a decent but belated job of giving her some decent backstory, but then ends it on an abrupt note. Sarah’s quest meanwhile takes her to a transvestite who lives in a trailer, unconvincingly played by a woman, who sees drones with the three dots markings. There is no apparent reason to make Alan Park a transvestite or stage Victor Victoria in the desert, but it’s part of the aimless noise that populates this episode.

Even as Jessie turns more apparently evil than ever, Derek remains off stage, Sarah is chasing UFO’s and John is chasing Riley, and the series is chasing fleeing viewers. There is no coherent sense to anything, and by the time Sarah stumbles into a warehouse by herself and without backup, and stumbles into a senseless fight that leaves her wounded, only to behold a drone that looks a good deal like something Skynet might throw together, you’re reminded of late season X-Files episodes just like this that made you question why you were even bothering with the series anymore.

Stupid Io9 Tricks 2008 The Year Science Fiction Went on Being Science Fiction

You kind of have to feel sorry for anyone working over at Io9 and desperately trying to generate stories that will drive traffic and get them paid and non-fired, but aside from digging up porny bits of B Movies, and promoting William Gibson’s latest pointless essay, and of course reporting the movie and TV news that got reported a day ago, there’s not much there. So they have to make stuff up.

Case in point.

2008: The Year Science Fiction Became Science Culture

Ah 2008, that was the year.

This year, the top twenty movies in the US grossed 3.7 billion dollars. Science fiction movies accounted for 2.5 billion of that. In 2008, scifi rocketed out of the basement to become scicult.

I don’t have the numbers off the top of my head, but Science Fiction movies have been blockbusters for a long time. 2008 doesn’t break the mold or change anything.

Movies are really just a small piece of the pop culture pie currently being wolfed down by science fiction. You’ve got space opera and apocalypse in video games like Mass Effect, Fallout 3, and Spore, which are just a few of the scifi titles that obsessed audiences this year.

Yeah, an even bigger chunk of video games have always been Science Fiction. SF is about the most common type of video game there is. It’s either that or fantasy. So again, nothing new here.

comic book readers went nuts over alien invaders called Skrulls in last summer’s giant crossover extravaganza Secret Invasion.

Because DC and Marvel comic books have never been Science Fiction before. That’s just something that happened now. In 2008!

When science fiction has become so much a part of our everyday pop culture, does it make sense to call it scifi anymore?

Yes, because it’s still Science Fiction. It’s fiction about science. That’s the definition.

Certainly that seems to be the underlying message of some of 2008’s most popular new TV shows, such as The Mentalist and Fringe – as well as old favorites like House, Bones and CSI. All of these are fiction shows about science.

This is stupid even for Io9. And an old argument. Science Fiction is speculative, shows that deal with present day science, even a dumbed down version, are not Science Fiction.

What’s going on here? Acclaimed scifi author William Gibson has already explained it in interviews about his latest novels, all of which read like literary science fiction but take place in the present day. He believes that the present has become so saturated by high tech and advanced science that we are effectively living in a science fictional era.

Yes and to anyone from the 19th century, so were people in the 1950’s. This is a matter of perception and perspective. To someone from the 22nd century, we’d be technological barbarians.

Gibson is asserting that what once seemed futuristic is now part of the present.

That’s the definition of technological progress. It’s not an assertion, it’s how things work. We actually did go to the moon decades ago. We were futuristic then too. More so because we can’t go to the moon today, but we can blog a whole lot about how the future is now.

But it would be more accurate to say that we now accept scientific speculation as part of everyday life. We haven’t lost the idea of a future that’s way freakier than today. It’s just that now everybody thinks about the freaky future, not just scifi fans.

Has anyone at Io9 even heard of the world’s fair? Speculating about the future has been mainstream throughout the 20th century. Reading fictional books set in fictional universes, somewhat less so.

The phenomenal success of a show like House is testimony to this cultural shift. Every episode focuses on a medical mystery which House and his team can only solve using speculative thinking. Nobody would call House scifi, and yet it offers audiences the same pleasures as Star Trek: A chance to imagine how science might solve human problems, and where those solutions will take us.

Yes but it isn’t Science Fiction. It’s a medical drama dealing with present day medical science. House is just a detective show set in the world of medicine. There’s the annoying detective, and a cast of supporting characters and weekly mysteries to solve. Just because something involves science, doesn’t mean it is Science Fiction.

Scifi could become more like realism, where we explore the problems of ordinary people like House’s patients. Perhaps there will be no room for romantic monsters and heroic mutant outcasts in science culture, just as there is little room for those kinds of creatures in your typical episode of CSI.

What was that? Oh nothing, I was banging my head against the wall. House and CSI are not Science Fiction. They are fictional TV shows. They do involve Science. But they are not speculative projections of significant Scientific advances. They are mystery shows with a science backdrop.

If Science Fiction turns into that, it will be a dead genre.

Indeed, this draining away of experimental thought in scifi might explain the rise in fantasy stories right now.

This drain doesn’t actually exist. Io9, like a lot of elitist media commentary, just prefers what they consider realism, over good Science Fiction.

End of December Box Office Roundup

Fueled by Jennifer Aniston’s tireless publicity campaign and families searching for family entertainment not involving Adam Sandler or a French mouse with an unpronounceable name, Marley and Me opened in the top spot with 37 million dollars. Not even Disney could turn Adam Sandler into family entertainment, as Bedtime Stories opened a distant second at 28 million dollars. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button opened close behind in 3rd place with 27 million dollars, despite opening in far fewer theaters than either of the front runners.

Valkyrie opened at a moderate 4th with 21 million with a per theater average close to the front runners, but considering how much money UA had to shovel on this turkey, even breaking even will be a long shot. Last week’s number 1, Yes Man slipped sharply to 5th place with 16.5 million for a 50 million total. This means Jim Carrey’s career redemption picture hasn’t arrived yet, and Warner Brothers’ year has only one saving grace in Batman.

In 6th, last week number 2, the horrible Will Smith vehicle, Seven Pounds, with 13.4 million for a 40 million dollar total. The Tale of Despereaux enters desperate territory, going from 3rd to 7th with 10 million for a 28 million dollar total. The Day the Earth Stood Still meanwhile is all set to drop off the face of the earth, going from 4th to 8th with 7.9 million for a 63 million dollar total.

The Spirit meanwhile lived up to the terrible reviews, opening in 9th with 6.5 million. Enough said. Miramax takes a shot at the pretentious with Doubt, a movie few went to see or wanted to see. 10th place it is. And that closes up the year.

Legend of the Seeker 1×07 Identity

A potentially half-decent episode that has the gang of three headed to Calabra where the ruins conceal one of the Boxes of Orden, Legend of the Seeker 1×07 Identity is interrupted by the usual wacky shenanigans when Shota stops by to cast a spell that switches appearances between Richard and a doofus living in town who dreams of a life of adventure, instead of domestic bliss.

Shota experiences a vision of Richard dying at the hands of Nass, a heavy who works for Darken Rahl, and is paid in huge barrels of dark eye makeup. What does evil and dark eye makeup have in common, who knows. But there’s a clear overlap. So Shota comes up with an ideal solution, which is to use magic to force them to switch identities. This leaves Richard dealing with a forced arranged marriage, while the doofus tries to hit on Kahlan. Of course it all goes badly, and I don’t just mean the awkward flirting.

Richard doesn’t die, neither does doofus, love triumphs over all, and Nass and by extension Darken Rahl get the boxes of Orden. But in the show’s usual tradition of setting up some nugget about Richard’s identity, as Shota reveals that Kahlan will betray him, to which Bridget Regan reacts with the kind of shock and horror reserved for New York based SAG members. So lots of namedropping, with both Shota and the boxes making a appearance in one episode. And another episode of Legend of the Seeker ends.

Buffy Season 8 Issue 20 After These Messages We’ll Be Right Back

After a giant robot Dawn, Dawn turning into a giant and then a centaur, Buffy turning gay and then not gay, going to the future, killing an evil future version of Willow, and all the other jump the shark moments of Season 8, an issue where Buffy has a dream in which she’s in the animated series that never really aired, almost makes sense by comparison. Jeph Loeb scripts this one, and there’s not much that can be said about it. I never saw the appeal of an animated series, particularly with Dawn in it, and Buffy Season 8 Issue 20 After These Messages We’ll Be Right Back does little to change that.

The idea of Buffy flashing back mentally in time to high school when things were supposedly easier sounds like a good idea, and it might have been, but the animated version isn’t just a cartoon, it’s cartoonish and silly, and just grates on you for page after page, with ugly art and cartoonish versions of the characters without any of the complexity. The idea of it does remind you of how far Buffy has gone from the premise, but that was a problem for years even when the show was still running. It’s an even bigger problem now when Season 8 has gone all out and jumped the shark so many times the shark has a pounding headache.

For anyone who really needed a tribute to a show which never aired, an exclusive club that is probably limited to Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson, and that creepy guy who has a restraining order out against him, After These Messages We’ll Be Right Back is it. But the best thing about it is the cover, and it never gets any better than that. Season 8 has regularly run these stand alone stories to interrupt the general arc, and it’s a nice idea, and Joss Whedon has done them pretty well. The Chain for example took a risk but worked. After These Messages We’ll Be Right Back though is all but pointless.

Revisionist Views of It’s a Wonderful Life

There’s no avoiding the fact that a holiday movie is doomed to be heartwarming in the same way that pianos falling from roofs are doomed to impact the pavement with a giant crash and splintered keys flying everywhere. But smarter holiday movies have learned from Dickens how to walk the fine line between human darkness and heartwarming, the balancing act out of which enduring pathos is formed, cheesy as it may be.

It’s a Wonderful Life probably would not have the cultural scope it does today if not for a rights issue that enabled it to be broadcast over and over again, but it negotiated that balancing act almost perfectly. And once a cultural landmark is planted, it’s revisionism time all over again. Wendell Jameson in the New York Times interviews just about everybody who had nothing to do with the movie, including his elementary school teacher and a distract attorney from upstate New York. But nothing he comes up with is all that interesting or original.

Of course It’s a Wonderful Life is a basically downbeat story, grounded in enough realism about human life, that it makes the treacle, when it comes, go down all the smoother. And then there’s the conflict between the movie as envisioned by Frank Capra, and a complicated production process involving multiple scripts and writers. But the success of It’s A Wonderful Life the movie after its crashing failure on release provides a kind of real life testament to the sort of turnaround that the movie’s plot embodies.

Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×12 Alpine Fields episode review

On paper Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×12 Alpine Fields is built on a good model following in the footsteps of great TSCC episodes like Dungeons and Dragons, and Goodbye to all That, moving back and forth between Derek’s experiences in the future and the need to protect Terminator targets in the present. But that’s on paper, on television Alpine Fields suffers from a lack of tension and suspense, and having to endure too much time with a ridiculously annoying family.

As the episode cuts back and forth between the present and six months in the past, or six months in the future, and the present; it’s never too clear where this episode lies, and Derek’s own flashbacks or flashforwards, you can already see part of the problem. Not only do we have flashbacks, we have two sets of flashbacks, which takes a certain deftness to pull off.

Derek with the dying pregnant mother of the girl he will one day save, who will in turn save the human resistance plays too flat, but it has nothing to give it any real punch. The ball and chain here though are the extended flashbacks to the family’s past, that feature an annoying couple whom Sarah must help escape, and by helping them escape, I mean spending 6 to 8 hours sitting around and arguing while a Terminator wanders around somewhere outside.

Piled on the frosting is a future storyline that relies on the dubious idea that the last remnants of humanity fighting for their lives can produce a cure to Skynet biological weapon in a matter of hours based only on the blood of an immune girl, something even we couldn’t do given a decade. Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×12 Alpine Fields isn’t a bad episode, but it is an episode that is more weak and diluted than anything else.

Dec 19-21 Box Office Roundup

This weekend could be called the battle of the heartwarming movies with Jim Carrey’s Yes Man and Will Smith’s Seven Pounds battling it out. Yes Man took the top spot with 18 million, while Seven Pounds followed close behind with 16 million, so that for once studio executives were questioning whether Will Smith was worth what he was demanding, something that lately has been happening a lot to Jim Carrey instead.

The Tale of Despereaux did well enough to take the 3rd spot with 10.5 million. Well enough since little was expected from it. The Day the Earth Stood Still meanwhile tried to sink into the earth falling sharply from the top spot to 4th place with 10 million for a 48 million dollar total. Just enough to pay for Keanu Reeves’ robot lessons.

Four Christmases meanwhile falls from its perch of causing people to abandon all faith in mankind, hitting 5th place, down from 2nd with 7.5 million for a 100 million dollar total. Twilight had its own sharp fall from 3rd to 6th with 5.2 million for a 158 million dollar total, passing beyond recovery.

The underwhelming weekend continued with Bolt losing its reprieve by falling 4th to 7th with 4.2 million for a 95 million total. At this rate Bolt may be able to crawl past the big 100 million mark. Slumdog Millionaire and Australia round out the 8th and 9th spots, while Quantum of Solace hits the bottom of the bottom in 10th with 2 million for a 160 million dollar total. Poor show, James.

Information Does Not Want to be Free

It wasn’t until I heard the slogan “Information Wants to be Free” repeated for the umpteenth time by some Neo wannabe who imagines that the real world is something out of a William Gibson novel, or worse yet a Cory Doctorow blog, that I realized just how thoroughly stupid it is. Yes I’ll plead guilty to using the slogan “Information Wants to be Free” on occasion. My only defense is that as a member of a species that often confuses catchy slogans with reality, it took a while for me to build up an immunity to repeating stupid but catchy things that other people had thought of as a way to avoid using theirs brains.

Information obviously does not want to be free. Information is agnostic, or a series of symbols only accessible to qualified human beings, who are the ones who want or don’t want things. It is their motivations that determine whether the information gets to be free or not. If you doubt that, let me know when you find out who D.B. Cooper really was, or how much of ancient myth was actual history, like Troy, or just mouth gargle. Slogans such as these are often repeated by teenagers who are happy enough to accept the entire infrastructure of conspiracy theories from UFO’s to JFK’s assassination to 9/11 truthism, all of which are premised on a simmering stewpot of competing ideas, none of which come with any definitive corroborating fact.

The idea that information wants to be free is a very seductive idea in a time when I can send the entire contents of an encyclopedia around the world with a click of a button or stick it on a thumb drive and carry it with me feeling just like a very boring James Bond. But so what? Subtract the humans from the equation and that USB drive is nothing more than a small piece of plastic with some flash memory inside, readable only by other devices wrapped in plastic. Sure aliens might do something with it, but they were too busy killing JFK on the grassy knoll. If information really wanted to be free, there would be no dictatorships, no doubts and no mysteries. But information doesn’t really want to be free. It only wants to be free as much as we want it to be.

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