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Monthly Archives: January 2009

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Legend of the Seeker Comes of Age

I don’t have as much time so I won’t be doing regular TV shows reviews as I used to, but it’s worth noting that Legend of the Seeker has made a steady improvement leaping up to a quite credible show. Puppeteer was not just a great episode, it played like a shortened fantasy film, and is worth seeing for that alone. It was charming and yet dark at the same time, convincingly took place in a world ruled by ruthless tyrants, and barely forced us to endure the antics of the two lead characters. Impressive already. Denna had been a surprisingly strong episode, and the series seems to be getting better and better, leaving behind the wacky antics you would expect from a Sam Raimi produced fantasy series taking place in New Zealand, and embracing its grown up side, and that’s something to cheer for. With the show getting a second season, probably backed mainly by foreign syndication, Legend of the Seeker look as if it may be around for a while after all, and that’s not a bad thing. IO9 may keep trying to sell TV forensic crap like House or CSI as Science Fiction, or fawn on X-Files wannabes like Fringe, or the TV antics of Ron Moore taking a baseball bat to Science Fiction and common sense, but genre still means old school, ships in spaces and heroes who swing swords, and while we’ve got a shortage of that now, Legend of the Seeker helps fill the void.

Lost’s Tedious New Season

I know I used to complain that nothing much happened on Lost. A lot of people did. Last season consisted of a few days packed into a year in which people ran around a lot and did nothing useful. But this season so far has lots of people running around and actually doing things, and yet somehow I can’t seem to care. Maybe it’s Lost burnout, I never cared for the series that much, and truth be told, it probably lost me some time ago. Maybe what was best about Lost was the island, rather than sitting through the writers trying to merge Alias and Lost by having them all go on wacky spy adventures around the world, while Hurley learns to drive stick and hallucinate at the same time. Enough is enough. I realize the writers and producers tried to be innovative by having them try to get off the island, and now have them try to get back on the island, flashbacks, flashforwards, all that junk. At least the flashbacks are gone, and without them it’s a lot easier to see how pointless the show has become. Locke is stuck in confused but oddly upbeat zombie mode. There are a ton of subsidiary characters, all annoying besides Daniel Farraday who managed to sell himself as a worthy addition. We get more background without explanations, more coincidences and more people running around. And somehow I just can’t seem to care.

The Wackiness of 24

So after a year’s absence, 24 is back and making as little sense as usual. If you’ve been following the season so far, Jack as usual has gone rogue, right on schedule, this time working with a mercenary outfit that’s working for a rich businessman who’s working for the diamond rich warlord who’s carrying out genocide. The last remains of CTU has decided to go on a supersecret operation that the President herself doesn’t even know about that involves handing over a device that can kill thousands or maybe millions of Americans if we remember the time the terrorists hacked their way into remotely melting down nuclear power plants, as well as kidnapping the Prime Minister of Sengala, just in the hopes of catching the warlord’s top colonel and maybe exposing who’s inside the administration. This makes even less sense than most 24 plots do, which is really saying something. The only reasonable conclusion is that the jury rigged CTU outfit is itself part of the conspiracy, but then why not just have Tony stick to working directly for the mercenaries. Not that anyone else is using their brains either. I mean if you’re a terrorist plotting an attack on the United States, the two words you don’t want to hear is Jack Bauer. Sure he’s supposedly turned his back on his country, yeah like he hasn’t pulled that one before.

The Decline of Apple and Steve Jobs

It’s funny really how much the perception of Apple’s success has rested with Steve Jobs, so much so that his illness, whatever it might be, seriously threatens Apple’s future. Yes Steve Jobs oversaw the revival of Apple, but mainly what he accomplished was to revive the Apple brand making it hip again, and after some frustrating efforts at expanding Apple’s desktop market share, he directed it away from computers and toward MP3 players, cell phones and other electronics. It was a smart move obviously, but not one that can’t be replicated. The people behind the iPod and the iPhone work for Apple already. The ad people who rebuilt Apple’s brand can be paid to do again. Steve Jobs brought some of it together, but he’s not nearly as vital as the buzz would have you believe. Apple will survive Steve Jobs. Whether it will hold on to its peak without him is doubtful, but it’s not too likely that it could hold on to its peak with him either. Apple’s only real success was the iTunes and iPod hat trick, the iPhone piggybacked on the iPod’s success. The App store reverses the iTunes formula. But while Apple is making money, sooner or later the mobile crunch will come, leaving Apple only a wannabe player in the mobile market. As Palm has demonstrated, in a more competitive market, it takes much less time to catch up to Apple, and it won’t be with junk like the Zune.

Legend of the Seeker 1×09 Puppeteer

I’ve always said that Zedd was the most solid thing about Legend of the Seeker, and in Legend of the Seeker 1×09 Puppeteer, probably the best episode of the series so far (which I realize isn’t saying a lot) he solidly proves it. Legend of the Seeker has been getting serious lately, getting over its need for constant comic relief and actually telling a darker story. Legend of the Seeker 1×09 Puppeteer pushes beyond the original novel a bit, brings in the Boxes of Orden and the story of Rachel, in a genuinely dark setting. Legend of the Seeker has flirted with this kind of territory before, but never really committed to showing the kind of ruthless environment that was a hallmark of the original Goodkind novels. Legend of the Seeker 1×09 Puppeteer does so with a well told and well acted story that focuses less on Richard and Kahlan, but instead takes us a journey inside the castle of a selfish queen and Princess Viola, her spoiled daughter, with Zedd passing in and out as Ruben Rybnik, a puppeteer with some not so simple tricks up his sleeves. Legend of the Seeker 1×09 Puppeteer feels less like an episode of a mediocre fantasy series, and more like the kind of children’s movie they don’t make much anymore. And though magic isn’t a huge part of it, for the first time Legend of the Seeker feels like an actual fantasy series, instead of a bunch of people in the woods playing dress up and waving swords at each other.

Legend of the Seeker 1×08 Denna

With 1×08 Denna, Legend of the Seeker touches on the section that consumed so much of the original Goodkind novel and probably, wait not probably but certainly the most dubious part of it. Considering the source material, Legend of the Seeker has its work cut out for it, but surprisingly does a good job with it. The series is clearly shedding its goofiness and getting serious, and so far it works. It’s not just the overarching evil, Denna manages to condense a fairly elaborate overwritten and creepy fetishist section of the novel, into something that can not only be aired on television, but works dramatically without creeping you out. Of course Richard is still a somewhat weak character and the Sword of Truth doesn’t turn white, which seems to defeat the purpose of the whole narrative, but working with what we’ve got, the episode still more than holds its own. Purists will complain that the kiss of life was meant to be CPR, not a magical trick for reviving the dead, and that a torture session of months was condensed into a few days, but who takes the original novel all that seriously anyway. Not Goodkind himself who retconned the whole thing once he realized he had a fantasy series on his hands, instead of a one shot book. The key is that the acting is pretty solid, Kahlan gets to do something important, instead of just being eye candy or a sidekick, and the characters deal with the consequences of their actions.

24 and Torture

Torture has become a major focus of the debate about 24, so much so that Season 7 of 24 opens with Jack Bauer having to justify himself in front of a Senate committee hearing on torture, after a subpoena that chases him around half of Africa. The entire controversy is more than a little silly at a time in which Dexter, a show which brings new meaning to the word torture, is a critically praised darling. The real objections aren’t to torture on 24, but the perceived politics of torture, namely the idea that 24 supports the Bush Administration’s use of torture, which isn’t torture in the 24 sense and looks nothing like the sort of things Jack or CTU has done to terrorists.

That entire argument is painfully lame, particularly when 24 is then blamed for what goes on at Gitmo. And while Joel Surnow may be a Republican, the rest of the producers and writers certainly aren’t. Nor is Kiefer Sutherland of all people. And the series’ storylines are more Anti-Republican than they are anything else. Season after season has featured storylines that only Sean Penn or a 9/11 truther could love, with shadowy government forces and even the President, staging terrorist attacks in order to justify a war.

Putting that aside though, torture has become more of an issue on 24 itself for all the wrong reasons. In this season and the last, the show’s writers are clearly reacting to criticism of the series. But torture has become a larger factor on the show as the series has begun to run low on ideas.

Torture was always present on 24 as part of a larger background showing that Jack Bauer would break any and all the rules to stop the bad guys. From staging a convenience store robbery in order to delay a terrorist, going rogue, getting addicted to drugs, breaking out a terrorist kingpin, staging an assassination of a Presidential candidate, carjacking, shotgunning a guard dog, staging the killings of family members of a terrorist leader and shooting his own boss, and yes torturing suspects, the message was that Jack Bauer would do anything to get the job done. Torture was just one of the desperate and illegal things Jack Bauer would do while racing the clock. And then the series began to focus on the torture, as it ran out of clever ideas and things for Jack to do while beating the clock.

Torture on 24 isn’t a problem because it’s morally wrong. Or else what would we make of half of what’s on television. It’s a problem because it’s symptomatic of 24’s creative bankruptcy.

The Return of Scream

I remember seeing the first clips from Scream introduced by Wes Craven himself, it was exciting and it was something different. And then came Scream 2, which was weak at best, and Scream 3 which no one saw, and now perhaps Scream 4. Wes Craven resurrected his career with Scream, a career so bad that he had been reduced to things like Vampire in Brooklyn starring Eddie Murphy, back then riding the bottom of his own career slump, thanks to a young screenwriter named Kevin Williamson. Of course Wes Craven’s career relaunch drained away pretty fast, these days he mostly produces lame remakes of his own movies. Kevin Williamson rode the teen trend train he had helped kickstart, pretty well for a while with things like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Dawson’s Creek and The Faculty, but by the time he was milking the last drops from self-aware teen slasher movies with H20 or self-aware teen drama with Teaching Mrs Tingle, and finishing off his career slump with the underrated Glory Days TV series and an attempted reunion with Wes Craven in Cursed, he had hit bottom too. Now word on a a Scream 4, or more likely a Scream remake, is plausible enough, if pointless, since the teenagers who watched the original Scream have moved on, and reviving the teen slasher movie will take more than self-aware fourth wall breaking dialogue. Wes Craven may still have what it takes, but it’s not too clear that Kevin Williamson does. Had he only cultivated a rabid fan following like Joss Whedon, he might have a shot still.

Microsoft Learns to Play by Slashdot Rules

Slowly and stumblingly, Microsoft is learning to operate by the rules of a new environment, and while the reviews may be mixed on the whole Seinfeld Windows Gates campaign, Microsoft has managed to turn around a lot of negative press with Windows 7. Microsoft releasing a public beta of an OS in such a view seemed unthinkable once. After all Redmond was code for control freak. Microsoft treating its prize OS this way, all to garner tributes from some sneering hard core net types who mostly don’t even write for any magazines seemed absurd once, but it’s much less absurd now. Belatedly Microsoft is adapting to the very internet it once thought it could dominate, and is promoting Windows 7 to the very people it would have shrugged and once said that it didn’t need. Microsoft has indeed learned from Vista’s failure, and perhaps sped along by Bill Gates’ departure and Google’s growing dominance, not to take anything or anyone for granted. The Windows 7 release was naturally botched, but so was the far more internet savvy Firefox 3 release, and arguably Microsoft botched theirs slightly less. Microsoft has grown far more open about releasing early versions of its software and open communications, but if the press has improved, in no small part it’s because Microsoft these days looks more like the way IBM used to, a once terrifying dinosaur that looks like a sentimental relic of a bygone past.

Palm, the Underdog Strikes Back

It wasn’t that long ago that Palm was practically a synonym for an entire technology, the way Xerox or Blackberry or Google are. And then Palm became the also ran, the old company that was no longer relevant. Palm was bullied into adapting Windows CE. It still had its fanbase, but the company was considered a relic and a thing of the past. And then with Steve Jobs down and Apple reigning, Macworld a bust, suddenly Palm came out of nowhere with weOS. Nobody was really expecting this. Unlike Apple, Palm hadn’t been generating its own reality distortion field or quietly prepping select journalists in exchange for access. Instead Palm had the confidence to go out there and deliver. And while the Palm Pre device may never be as trendy as the stuff Apple puts out, tech journalists and early adoptees will go for it, giving Apple a real challenge for a change. Eschewing both Microsoft’s clunky imitations and Apple’s elitist arrogance, Palm has found a middle way giving users what they want without sacrificing look or functionality. And the results are solid. And Apple now has a new problem to cope with. It isn’t extraordinary that Palm did what it did, many companies in its position who could do it however wind up hamstrung and hindered by management into producing a mediocre compromise product that doesn’t suit anyway. Palm actually delivered. And that is extraordinary.

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