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Monthly Archives: January 2010

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Human Target- Not a Bad Action Series

The last time DirectorProducer Simon West and Mark Valley teamed up for a FOX series, the result was Keen Eddie, a detective drama featuring an American cop in London, who as you can expect played by his own rules. But Keen Eddie was funnier than it was actiony, and despite being a great show, was doomed from the start. Human Target reunites West and Valley for another FOX action series, which has some offbeat humor, but is closer to the explosives and swooping camera angles you expect from a series with McG on the list of producers.

But the thing is that Human Target actually isn’t bad. And it’s a lesson for NBC which messed up shows like Bionic Woman and Knight Rider, because it shows how to do the prime time action series right. Human Target is the kind of show that television used to be filled with, hell it’s Knight Rider without the talking car. But it also has a more than solid cast, with Chi McBride and Jackie Earl Haley, and it never lets any of the soapy stuff subvert the straight up action, a mistake that both the Knight Rider and Bionic Woman reboots made.

Human Target isn’t terribly memorable. It’s not great television. It’s just popcorn television, something dramas besides 24 have forgotten how to do. And in between all the doctor, lawyer and family dramas– themselves almost an extinct species, Human Target is actually a breath of fresh air, because even though it has a 90’s visual and dramatic polish, it really goes back to the days of Hunter and T.J. Hooker and Magnum P.I. and the A Team. Back in the 80’s when drama didn’t have to mean a prime time soap. Back when vans crashed through fences and wise cracking protagonists dived across cars to escape a hail of bullets. Back to when TV was actually fun.

Apple and Microsoft Team Up Against Google

The consensus emerging out of both Redmond and Cupertino is that the two major monoliths of the computing world are uniting together against a common enemy. Both Microsoft and Apple have a lot in common, from a business relationship going back decades, to a common old school generation, and a desire to create monopolies using their products. Which is why it’s only natural that Steve Jobs and Steve Ballmer have discovered that they have more in common than just a first name, but a common enemy, Google.

Google’s Android, its browser and its apps have threatened Microsoft, but they have also threatened Apple. Chrome turned Safari for Windows into an also ran, out of the gate. And Android phones are threatening the iPhone empire. But there’s something even bigger at work here, it’s about the vision.

Google’s vision is of a post-OS and post-hardware world, in which their apps and search runs on every desktop and mobile device in the universe, reducing hardware and OS makers to provider status. That’s not what Microsoft or Apple have in mind. And it’s a vision that would turn both companies into nothing more than the creators of platforms on which Google’s free stuff can run. Which would of course make them irrelevant. And they know it too.

So whether it’s Bing on the iPhone or iWork cloud on the iPad, Microsoft and Apple are looking to take on a bigger enemy. Apple is afraid of losing its cool to Google. And Microsoft is afraid of losing everything. And both worry that Google may cut them out of the picture entirely. And while Microsoft might survive by selling OS’s, Google’s apps threaten to make Apple irrelevant as anything but another disposable hardware manufacturer.

Step on an iTouch and You Get an iPad

What has no multiple apps or flash support and is basically just a giant iTouch, but starts at 500 dollars (if you don’t want the 3G that is)? The answer is the new iPad. It’s not too surprising that Apple’s much hyped secretive tablet turned out to just be an iTouch that was stepped on or run over by a car. After all the origins of the iTouch lay in Apple’s attempt to develop a tablet. But the problem is that the iPad really isn’t much better than the iTouch and much worse than even the worst netbooks and laptops.

Imagine if you took a netbook, increased the price and then made sure you couldn’t do more than two things at the same time with it, but took away the keyboard and replaced it with a touchscreen? Again you basically have an iPad. And the iPad looks good until you actually think about how ridiculous it is. The Apple fanboys touting its capability of running iPhone apps are missing the point. The iPad can run iPhone apps, because it’s just an iPhone you can’t make calls with or take photos from.

Even Steve Jobs couldn’t help but look silly holding what looked like the world’s biggest iPhone and touting it as magic, since apparently Apple’s new definition of magic is taking old products, making them bigger and reselling them for a lot more. In Steve Jobs land that might be magic, but in no one else’s. Still if Apple proves there’s a market for tablets with the iPad, we’ll quickly see far superior and cheaper products competing with it.

TV Late Night Wars Now Over

After bashing NBC for an entertaining few weeks in every possible way, Conan, having gotten his 40 million dollar payout, said goodbye by telling his audience how great NBC was and not to be cynical. Yeah. But there’s a reason you should be cynical when celebrities pull stunts like this. The entire late night war has pushed up ratings nicely, given Conan a much needed image boost, before he has to go find work somewhere else. But the entire war was and remains mostly a charade.

Do you really think Conan won’t come back to NBC in 5 years if Leno decides to retire? Conan hedged on that question during the Steve Carrel exit interview, and he did it for a reason. It’s also the same reason he gave the classy goodbye speech and delivered a great closing tonight show, aside from his usual clumsy interviews. He was reminding NBC of what they lost. But NBC isn’t likely to take him up on it, because they need someone who can expand the late night audience by appealing to a younger crowd while still hanging on to the traditional Tonight Show audience. Conan already proved he isn’t that man. At least not until Gen X’ers are collecting medicaid.

Leno is now universally hated, mainly by the same people who hated him before. But the question of whether NBC forced him out 5 years ago to make way for Conan remains unanswered. And until someone writes a comprehensive Late Shift type book on it, we won’t really know. But don’t feel too sorry for Leno either, he hasn’t been all that comfortable with all this, but if NBC and Leno really hated what Conan and Kimmel were doing, Leno would never have invited Kimmel on to do his bit or aired the results. And NBC may have been obligated to keep the Tonight Show going, but I doubt they were contractually obligated to air it. Or air it on the same night in that timeslot.

Don’t be cynical. Yeah, right.

Orson Scott Card’s Star Trek Bashing

Back in 2005, the age of wizards, Orson Scott Card penned an LA Times screed arguing that Star Trek was better off dead. It wasn’t much of an argument, since Orson Scott Card insisted on comparing the Star Trek of the 60’s to modern Science Fiction shows, without actually comparing them to say Star Trek Deep Space Nine or Voyager or Enterprise. That kind of dishonesty characterizes Card’s entire piece, which begins with taking the predictable shots at those “goofy fans” who write in Klingon or wear Vulcan ears, and write some of that gay fanfic that Card’s church loves so much, and ends by praising the storytelling of Smallville, yes that Smallville.

That follows throughout an article seemingly written by someone who seems to have reached his conclusion by watching 15 minutes of Star Trek in the 60’s

“The original “Star Trek,” created by Gene Roddenberry, was, with a few exceptions, bad in every way that a science fiction television show could be bad. Nimoy was the only charismatic actor in the cast and, ironically, he played the only character not allowed to register emotion.”

Now there’s lots of fair or unfair criticisms of the Original Series that could be made, but to claim that Shatner had no charisma and showed no emotion on the series, would make anyone go, “huh?” Shatner was nothing if not an overacting ham. It’s what he’s best known for.

“This was in the days before series characters were allowed to grow and change, before episodic television was allowed to have a through line. So it didn’t matter which episode you might be watching, from which year — the characters were exactly the same.”

Really was Spock and Kirk’s relationship in Where No Man Has Gone Before, the same as it was in City on the Edge of Forever and the same as it was in Amok Time? Really, no growth there. That would come as a shock to anyone who had actually watched the show. Which clearly doesn’t include Orson Scott Card himself.

“Which was a shame, because science fiction writing was incredibly fertile at the time, with writers like Harlan Ellison and Ursula LeGuin, Robert Silverberg and Larry Niven, Brian W. Aldiss and Michael Moorcock, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, and Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke creating so many different kinds of excellent science fiction that no one reader could keep track of it all.”

Oddly enough, Star Trek’s writers included Theodore Sturgeon, David Gerrold, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Norman Spinrad, Harlan Ellison and yes Larry Niven, who wound up writing up a lot of the animated series episodes. Not to mention James Blish who novelized the series itself. And mainstream SF writers at the time praised the series and helped campaign for its renewal.

And how many Science Fiction writers does Smallville have working on it?

“As science fiction, the series was trapped in the 1930s — a throwback to spaceship adventure stories with little regard for science or deeper ideas. It was sci-fi as seen by Hollywood: all spectacle, no substance.”

There are a whole lot of engineers and scientists who credited Star Trek with inspiring them. It certainly was one of the few Science Fiction shows on television that actually treated science as a real tool, in contrast to say Lost in Space.

So what Science Fiction shows does Orson Scott Card think are what Science Fiction should really be? ” Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof have created “Lost,” the finest television science fiction series of all time … so far. Through-line series like Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and Alfred Gough’s and Miles Millar’s “Smallville” have raised our expectations of what episodic sci-fi and fantasy ought to be. Whedon’s “Firefly” showed us that even 1930s sci-fi can be well acted and tell a compelling long-term story.”

That’s right. Lost. Buffy. Firefly… and heaven help us, Smallville is what Orson Scott Card thinks Great Science Fiction Television looks like. Sure two of those shows, Buffy and Lost, are actually fantasy, not Science Fiction. Firefly had no science on it whatsoever. And Smallville is Superboy and most of its episodes are blatantly ripped off from mainstream movies such as Saw and The Game.

“Here’s what I think: Most people weren’t reading all that brilliant science fiction. Most people weren’t reading at all. So when they saw “Star Trek,” primitive as it was, it was their first glimpse of science fiction. It was grade school for those who had let the whole science fiction revolution pass them by.”

Wow. Elitism from Orson Scott Card. It’s a lot easier to get away with elitism when your own audience doesn’t consist of people who haven’t realized that they shouldn’t be buying 40 sequels to Ender’s Game. If it wasn’t for people who read grade school Science Fiction, Card wouldn’t be selling any books at all.

“Screen sci-fi has finally caught up with written science fiction. We’re in college now. High school is over. There’s just no need for “Star Trek” anymore.”

Tell you what, I’ll put up the best of Star Trek against the best of Orson Scott Card, which is pretty much Ender’s Game. And Card will lose. Meanwhile it’s painfully obvious that his real grievance against Star Trek is not about quality or sophistication. Not from someone who praises the storytelling of Smallville. It’s most likely about secularism and tolerance, and whatever other bugaboos Star Trek represent for him.

Burn Those Team Conan Shirts Already

It’s almost a shame that the devastating earthquake in Haiti is distracting us from what really matters, watching two millionaires battle it out over which one of them will host a late night show at 11:35 and which one of them will host it at 12 AM. It really is. I won’t deny that the meltdown is entertaining, even if it’s a little more entertaining for Letterman. I won’t deny that I feel a bit sorry for Conan, but I also won’t deny that Conan has been promoted far above his abilities, which is what got everyone into this mess in the first place. And the rest of it has taken on a life of its own.

Team Conan, quick question, if you get fired from a job, will Conan be on your team? In the real world people lose their jobs all the time. Millions of Americans lost their jobs just this year alone, without anyone being on their “team”, and they often lost it for no other reason than a company trying to bump up its stock price before the next quarter. Yes Jeff Zucker is not a great human being. He’s just like every other boss out there, barely competent and scrambling for leverage before his company is bought by someone bigger and greedier.

And Leno, Letterman and Conan, you’ve never met them. You’ve never been to their house. You’ve never worked with them. Maybe you sat in on their show once or twice and got a peek at their public personalities on display. That’s all. You don’t know who they are and you’re not qualified to pass judgment on their character. Yes Leno is out for Leno, and who’s Conan out for? Who’s Letterman out for. Who’s everyone on television out for. Themselves. And you’ve been suckered in a viral protest campaign created by the super-powerful people around Conan, who aren’t fighting for his time slot (no matter what you might think) but are putting enough pressure on NBC so Conan gets the maximum payoff before he walks out the door and goes to FOX.

That’s what Team Conan is, a way to embarrass NBC so Conan gets 40 million, not 25 million dollars. So the people around Conan claim their piece of change, particularly his agent. That’s what you’re busy arguing about, 15 million dollars, for a guy who’s a long way from the poorhouse already, while people are dying under crushed buildings in Haiti.

Go Team Conan.

Team Conan, no. Team Leno, also no.

The trendy thing now is to be Team Conan, and while I like Conan, and I would rather watch him than Leno, my only real team at 11:35 is what’s on Hulu. I can sympathize with pretty much every side in this mess, Leno who decided he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life playing golf, Conan who thought he would finally take prime time, and NBC which is trying to save their network from both of them.

The people arguing over whether Leno failed or Conan failed are missing the big picture. They both failed. Leno couldn’t hold his new slot and Conan couldn’t hold his either. Both of them lost, but Leno at least had a track record of being able to hold his old slot. Yes it isn’t fair to Conan. Letterman turning out to be a sexual creepazoid helped him boost ratings over Conan, but the bottom line is old people are going to find Letterman’s drawly midwestern babbling safer than Conan. And Conan was always a better writer, than a performer.

Conan is funny as a writer, but not as a performer. As a performer he gets by on pity, which is exactly the rich vein he’s tapping into now. Leno isn’t funny either, but he is comfortable like an old shoe. And NBC’s move reverts a mistake that they never should have made in the first place. It isn’t fair to Conan, but life isn’t fair either. And network television is about performance. No one is crying for Chevy Chase because Community is doomed. No one was crying when his talk show dreams on FOX failed. He just got kicked to the curb. There was no Team Chevy Chase. There’s no Team Conan either, except what’s on the ratings board.

Spider Man Goes Dark Knight

When Marvel said it wanted to make every movie like Dark Knight, well it wasn’t kidding. Get ready for Spider-Man Dark Knight, because that’s what Peter Parker is all about, gritty realism in a dystopian city where good seems out of reach and evil is all around you. Oh wait, that’s exactly what it’s not. Marvel might do better with its properties if it actually understood them, instead of jumping on the Dark Knight bandwagon, just because that movie made a lot of money.

Batman is dark. Superman is not. Wolverine is dark. Spider-Man is not. Not that kind of “dark” anyway, and certainly not in high school. I almost pity the poor guy who’s giving notes about making Spider-Man in high school, “But make it really dark. Really dark. And I mean really dark here, like Twilight Dark.”

The thing is that Dark Knight worked because WB did what Marvel had done, married a great director with a great property. Which is what turned X-Men under Bryan Singer into a franchise or Spider-Man under Raimi. Darkness isn’t the key, the key is a director with a vision. Without that you get The Incredible Hulk: The Roth of Hulk or Fantastic Four 3: Alba Exposure. Marvel still doesn’t get it and is destroying its own properties by not getting it.

What’s Wrong With Chuck

Chuck is back for a third season, a surprising renewal after weak second season ratings, but these days NBC has to hang on to what it’s got. And watching the first two episodes of season three, it’s all too obvious why a show that should be appealing on the surface never really took off.

1. Chuck is too mild mannered. And I mean the series, rather than just the title character. That doesn’t mean Chuck needs to spill buckets of blood, but the show is completely devoid of tension or suspense. A few high kicks and telegraphed punches don’t define action. And Chuck isn’t alone in this. The failed reboots of Knight Rider and Bionic Woman, also show that the one hour action drama that used to define prime time television in the 80’s has all but vanished, with the exception of FOX’s 24.

2. Chuck is a sitcom. The show is basically a sitcom without a laugh track or enough jokes. It’s impossible to take it seriously as a drama or even a dramedy. It’s not Buffy or even Alias. It’s not really anything at all, and that’s the problem. Chuck is so busy trying to be likable, that it never really becomes anything at all. It never takes itself seriously enough to be a drama, so much so that the death of Chuck’s brother in law leaves you scratching your head. But it’s not funny enough to laugh at.

3. Too many sideline characters. The second episode kills off one of them, but it’s not nearly enough. Too many characters that aren’t used for much of anything are okay on a soap or a sitcom, but on Chuck they mainly hang around. When really the show only needs the three team members, and no one else.

Dollhouse Getting Closer, Huh

In its defense Dollhouse has gotten better in its second season, mainly because the episodes don’t revolve around Dushku doing the Pretender thing anymore. On the other hand the show is still stuck with a cast of people we don’t care very much about racing to stop the end of the world. Which would be more sympathetic if they weren’t responsible for creating it.

Still there’s no denying that The Attic was a good strong episode. If Dollhouse had more of those, it wouldn’t have been canceled in the first place. And then there’s Getting Closer which seems like a good episode, but packs a whole lot into 40 minutes and expects you to stow your brain and enjoy the shock value. Let’s begin with a plan that involves breaking into the DC Dollhouse and kidnapping Bennett to get at Caroline’s brain. Which is odd given how Topher can seem to do anything and everything else on his own.

Then there’s Topher’s ultimate weapon, which they never seem to build or use, even though it would be about the only way to actually win this war and defend themselves. Instead they sit around in the Dollhouse waiting to be invaded. There’s the return of our favorite NSA operative, who isn’t used to tip off the NSA and maybe get some government backup. And a thousand other missed chances. Instead there’s a twist ending that smacks of BSG’s Final Five and turns the entire two seasons into dog food. Well done? Not really.

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