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Monthly Archives: April 2010

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The Death of SciFi on the SyFy Channel

Great news, the SciFi, oh sorry SyFy Channel has a full slate of new shows coming up. New reality TV shows. Yes for everyone who really wished that they could get cooking shows, home decorating, big brother type housemate shows and paranormal shows without actually switching from the SyFy Channel, your wishes have been answered with quality productions like these.

Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen

Utilizing the science of cooking, Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen stars one of America’s most notorious chefs, molecular gastronomist Marcel Vigneron (Top Chef). In each episode, Marcel and his new catering and event company will be hired by a demanding client to produce an extraordinary celebration or event. Based on the client’s requests, Marcel will dream up a theme and cuisine for the event, which range from a fairytale graduation party and a Goth-rock fashion show to a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new subway line. He and his team of party planners and chefs will tap the depths of their imagination and culinary talents to create everything from the immersive decor to a delicious menu that emphasizes Marcel’s unique brand of avant-garde cooking.

No, this is actually not one of my parodies. The SyFy Channel is running a cooking show. And trying to pretend it’s somehow SciFi by sticking the word Quantum in there. Which is not exactly truth in advertising, unless there’s some sort of cooking at the quantum level involved. The real question is why? I mean I get that your average TV executive has the brain of a mollusk and thinks Scifi programming means monsters from outer space. And he wants to capture some elusive high spending demographic that he can peddle to advertisers. But this is like spending a lot of money to develop an electronics retailer as a brand, and then selling fish in the back. It just doesn’t make sense. And alienates the core audience.

Force of Nature

Force of Nature follows the life of Ariel Towne, an average guy who just happens to be a Feng Shui master, as he interweaves contemporary, practical solutions with ancient mystical philosophies to help his wide range of clients achieve their goals. The show will tap into Ariel’s unique ability to translate a misunderstood, controversial discipline into an accessible tool relevant to virtually any client, situation, or space from personal homes to restaurants, stores, and even sports arenas. With Ariel as the guide, viewers will peer in on clients who are grappling with compelling, relatable problems – and desperately in need of Ariel’s help, and will be inspired by the amazing transformations that Ariel facilitates.

So a home decorating show that tries to spin it with a Feng Shui angle, something that’s more ABC than SciFi.

Paranormal Files

From Dimitri Doganis & Bart Layton, the acclaimed creative team behind “Locked Up Abroad”, this tense, filmic and high-octane drama-documentary series brings to life the stories of people who have lived through paranormal experiences that defy explanation. Using the mixture of intimate first-hand testimony and grittly realistic drama that production company Raw is known for, Paranormal Files will take the audience into a world turned upside-down by extraordinary and terrifying events

Oh no! A ghost! No wait, it’s a coathanger. Oh no it’s a coathanger’s ghost! Let’s go to the infrared.

The Dome Experiment

Throughout history, social scientists have been studying “nature vs. nurture” and the great debate about what makes us a civilized society. The Dome Experiment will test the boundaries of Human Nature. Twelve test subjects from all walks of life (the leader, the worker, the entertainer, the provider, etc) will enter “The Dome”, a completely sealed bio-environment. Relying on each other for all of their daily needs (food, shelter, entertainment, security), they will face a series of challenges and experiments designed to expose the true nature of humanity. The results will be a fascinating look into the fragility of learned human behavior and will answer the question: what plays a bigger role – genetics or the environment?

The Dome Experiment is a production of 3 Ball Productions.

So it’s Big Brother with a fake Biodome. And damn it, Pauly Shore isn’t even in it.

My suggestion, just change SyFy Channel to “The Same Crap Everyone Else Airs But With Quantum or Dome In the Title Channel”

V’s Getting a Little Better

Its ratings are not exactly above water, and the show still isn’t compelling viewing, but it has come much closer to hitting its stride. Unfortunately too much of its stride is its focus on contrasting families, Eric and her son, balanced against Anna and her daughter, and Ryan and his girlfriend. This balance of families theme is not exactly original, and lends the entire series a soapy air, but it’s better than what came before it and gives the character dynamics some sort of meaning. It’s also not exactly alien (not a pun) to the original miniseries and its focus on families. Still We Can’t Win and The Heretic’s Fork were fairly solid episodes, because interesting events have actually begun happening, and the main characters have had to begin making hard choices. The addition of Hobbs has shaken things up, as it was intended to. And that makes sense since if you’re going to focus on character drama, the characters have got to be doing something for a change. V is still not remotely compelling entertainment, but it’s getting better, and maybe there’s some hope that a second season would help it find its footing. Maybe.

Jonah Hex, Bad Movie or Bad Trailer?

The word on Jonah Hex already wasn’t good, and this just makes it much worse. It’s not always possible to tell a movie by the trailer, but the Jonah Hex trailer certainly is horrifyingly terrible. Between the voiceover which sounds like an announcer doing a commercial for one of those “Haunted Mystery Houses of the South” type shows, the schizophrenic editing which gives us too many scenes without any flowthrough to move them along, and some really bad horrible acting, the Jonah Hex trailer is a complete disaster. Again it’s hard to say how this reflects on the movie itself, though the bad acting is certainly not a good. And the scrambled disarranged scenes suggest that there either isn’t enough material to work with, or too many different cuts to pick and choose from. Megan Fox seems surprisingly okay Brolin isn’t as bad as you would think. Malkovich is ladling out his best cheese. And everyone else in the movie seems to be on their first acting class. Which suggests that Fox will be the only one to come out of this with her career prospects improved.

IMAX Insures the Rise of the Mediocre

The highest grossing movie of 2009 was Avatar. The highest grossing movie of 2010 is Alice in Wonderland. The thing they have in common is that they’re both terrible movies which bulked up their total with inflated 3D and IMAX ticket prices. Successors like Clash of the Titans demonstrate the kind of movie that now performs. Senseless movies that exist only to showcase their special effects and the 3D twist on special effects. People didn’t go to see any of these movies for their storytelling or their characters, because what characters? The stars of Avatar and Alice in Wonderland were acting through layers of CG, while its human stars were wooden and immobile. Clash of the Titans isn’t much better, except it dispensed with most of the CG characters. These are not movies, but special effects reels. But IMAX which used to mean educational views of the Grand Canyon is now playing a major role in the dumbing down of movies. Considering the existing state of blockbusters, that’s really bad, because when we’re making movies that make the 90’s look good, it’s bad. But instead of making better movies, we’re making louder, shinier and more expensive movies. And we’re adding 3D and using IMAX cameras, because if we can upsell audiences on higher ticket prices, that’s even better than actually making a good movie.

Kick Ass Gets Its Ass Kicked

Before its release Kick Ass was promising to destroy the superhero movie genre forever. It’s safe to say that in Week 2, with Kick Ass already down to 4th place, the superhero movie genre is as safe as it’ll ever be. Kick Ass was not an event movie. It was not the top movie in the box office, unless you use the wacky math over at Lionsgate. Despite trying to stir up controversy and a whole lot of viral marketing, Kick Ass did not deliver. Why not? Maybe because while older comic book fans still go wild for Mark Millar and Garth Ennis’ shock jock comics, general audiences aren’t all that impressed by the watered down shock value of something like Kick Ass. Especially when it doesn’t have much style to it. Wanted worked because of its cast and Bekmambetov’s exciting visuals. Kick Ass had kids in goofy costumes cursing. And that doesn’t bode well for possible adaptations of Garth Ennis or Warren Ellis either. Because if you can’t sell audiences on your story or on the general coolness of amateur vigilantes in costumes, then you’re really doing something wrong.

Apple Fights Too Many Battles

Between Steve Jobs’ campaign against Flash, his company’s aggressive pursuit of Gizmodo and the renewed debate over App censorship on the iPad and the iPhone, the company is fighting too many battles at the same time, and they’re taking a PR beating on almost all of them. Apple has gotten a partial pass in its battle with Adobe, mainly because few people even understand what Flash is, and it’s an area where Apple fanboys can show their pride. But the Gizmodo and App censorship battles are trickier because here Apple is slaughtering its own faithful. To Gizmodo, Apple products could do no wrong. The bias there has always been pro-Apple, but Apple has a way of hurting the fans who love them. And so now Gizmodo is in trouble for trying to provide a scoop on the next iPhone. And iPhone and iPad users are discovering the joys of being censored and of using carefully censored products. And the PR is not going their way. After the underwhelming iPad announcement and launch, Apple needed to bounce back. Instead Apple is visibly turning into exactly the kind of companies that people hate. The kind of companies that made them embrace Apple. But now the Apple looks more like the Death Star. Black really is their color.

Drawn Together: The Movie

Much like Archer, Drawn Together was basically a one shot pop culture joke that tried to extend its fifteen minutes by going to extremes, not realizing that wannabe warped is not the same thing as funny. Drawn Together: The Movie is even worse, going to more extremes, still without ever being funny. And even worse yet, this is a bitter movie made by a canceled series that recruits Seth MacFarlane to take shots at South Park.

Now when you’re boasting about the vocal talents of Seth MacFarlane (yes that’s an actual promotional claim), it’s a little like boasting about the dynamic visuals of Kevin Smith. You’re already up a creek. The only reason to bring in MacFarlane was to try and get some of his fanbase interested in Drawn Together. Which isn’t going to happen, because with three shows already on TV, each one of them dumber than the last, his fanbase is already stretched thin keeping up with his own shovelware. They don’t need to make time for an animated series hardly anyone knows existed, whose conceit dates back to a type of reality show that used to be ubiquitous when it was created, but now has nearly vanished from TV.

In keeping with its basic derivative nature, Drawn Together: The Movie relies on the same basic plot that so many other post-TV show movies have. Except of course there’s more animal mutilation, racism and orgies. And of course South Park bashing. Because unlike Drawn Together, South Park is actually a successful show. And the creators and executive producers of Drawn Together will have to go back to working on The Man Show. (Don’t tell me you couldn’t guess that’s where they were from based on an episode of Drawn Together?)

Drawn Together pretended to be about animation, but it was more about bad skits and trying to make old jokes funny by making them more extreme. And that didn’t work for the show. It doesn’t work for the movie either.

John Kessel’s Misguided Attack on Ender’s Game

Orson Scott Card’s right wing politics have inspired a certain amount of political hostility toward him. Of course branding the author of Pastwatch as a right winger is a touch simplistic, but Card’s position on the War on Terror and gay marriage stuck him in the right wing camp, and seem to have inspired some dubious attacks. Most notably from vastly overrated author John Kessel who tries to sell the rather weak argument that Ender’s Game is actually Orson Scott Card justifying genocide.

What should be obvious to a Science Fiction “author” is that drawing direct parallels between human history and a scenario taking place in an interstellar environment is a little two dimensional. Kessel charges Ender with genocide, but Ender had no way of being certain that he was taking out an entire race. And considering how easy it was to restart the species with an egg, it’s obvious that genocide wasn’t even committed here. Only the queen of the buggers represented an intelligent organism, which raises the question of whether genocide was even committed here, or can be committed against a hive mind at all.

The entire double blind setup in which Ender did not know he was fighting a real war and his commanders did not know what Ender was willing to do, was obviously intended as a commentary on war. Kessel instead uses it to psychoanalyze Card’s motivations. But if we’re to take Kessel and Card’s critics at face value then, in what humans thought was a zero sum game at the time, choosing humanity over the formics is a war crime. And that kind of attitude only contrasts Card with his critics. After all would we really want someone defending us who wasn’t prepared to make that choice?

If choosing to destroy the Buggers is genocide, isn’t choosing not to destroy them in a zero sum game genocide as well? If we were to take a less sentimental version of the war, in which only humanity or the buggers could survive, would Kessel argue that pulling the trigger is a war crime? And if so isn’t inaction the greater crime?

Secrets and Laptops

The exploding revelations in the Pennsylvania high school webcam case are an important reminder of the risks of a system in which users don’t own their own technology that they use. It’s not just about the bizarre incident itself, in which a High School was supposedly using a webcam to identify laptop thefts, a completely useless measure since a webcam snapshot would not provide a location, unlike say WiFi, but it’s about the entire culture of companies attempting to treat their customers as leasing technology, rather than owning it. Consider the way Apple maintains tight control over its products. Or the way software companies increasingly act as if customers are renting a digital product, rather than buying one. The Penn case would have never happened if the end user had been in control of the technology and the case does show the dangers of abuse when that is not the case.

The Facebookization of the Web

In its drive to try and stay ahead of, well everything that might displace Facebook from being the center of the internet, out comes the Like button. No longer do you become a fan of a site, instead you become one invisibly by liking it. This isn’t so much an earthshaking change, as it combines the mobility of Digg with the biggest existing social network around. But it’s part of the Facebookization of the web, right alongside Facebook email and Facebook pages that now look like Twitter. If Apple and Microsoft can feel Google breathing down their neck, and Google can now feel Facebook breathing down its neck, then Facebook feels pretty much everybody else breathing down its neck. That kind of paranoia drives the creation of a Facebook email, something redundant for most users, and an attempt to integrate Facebook likes everywhere, which will once again mainly annoy users and make the site seem even more low rent than it is already.

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