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Monthly Archives: May 2014

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24 is Back…. and It Hasn’t Learned a Thing

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After 9/11, 24 became a left winger’s idea of what a right winger might want to watch. Picture Michael Moore trying to make a show for Oliver North. Then throw in a lot of ADD.

And that hasn’t changed.

It’s 2014 and 24 is still the same show it was. Its producers, picking up some wind from Homeland’s popularity, have shoveled in Wikileaks, the white widow, drone strikes and moved the setting to London and yet it’s still exactly the same show.

Jack Bauer is a rogue. Jack Bauer is on the run. Jack Bauer is the only one who knows the next attack is coming. And no one believes Jack Bauer even though he’s been right a dozen times. And he once piloted in a nuke. And no one even recognizes him.

There’s another substitute CTU war room with its soap operas, another West Wing drama and it’s all the same stuff all over.

24 still has its moments. Only by its last season did it become so hopelessly miserable as to be completely unwatchable. But it’s thin stuff.

While shows like The Following and Blacklist are playing with the 24 formula, it has stayed the same. Why? If 24 had to come back, why not go back to what made its first season work. Jack as a human being, frantic and with something at stake. Or pick up more interesting villains.

It’s 2014. Does anyone really want forced dramatic debates about drone warfare? Or the least plausible Al Qaeda terrorists ever?

Why even bother moving the series to London if you’re going to act exactly like it’s Los Angeles? Why pretend that little drone friendly fire will outrage the Brits when you have a battalion of CIA people running around waving guns around London?

Why not, and here’s an absolutely ridiculous idea, have Jack deal with a British version of CTU? Because that would be playing with the 24 formula. And that golden formula is on its 9th season and ridiculously predictable.

Soon Jack will be believed. He’ll lead a team. Then he’ll go rogue again. Margot Al-Hazari will turn out to be the pawn of some secretive group that wants to discredit drones or that infected President Heller with a senility virus so they can take over everything. And they’ll turn out to be the pawns of someone else.

We’ve done this before. Why do we have to do it again?

You can’t blame the cast. Kiefer Sutherland gives every scene 110%. Yvonne Strahovski is unexpectedly good and working overtime in a generic role. Even William Devane is trying to take bland material to a West Wing level, even if his parliamentary speech is so bland and cliched that no one would even bother booing it.

24 Live Another Day could have worked. It could have justified its existence. All it needed to do was shake the formula up enough to make the show watchable. Stop clinging to old characters. Stop acting as if it had something important to say about drone warfare. Stop being a Bush soap and deal with life in a new decade.

And it doesn’t even try.

Why not dump Jack into London as a stranger without Chloe, the CIA, President Heller or any of the trimmings? Stuff him into an alien world and watch him try to navigate it with no support.

It wouldn’t have given fans nostalgia hits, but it might have been a show worth watching.

Sunset in Skyrim

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Google Glass has Trouble with Scottish Accents

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No matter how ground breaking it’s supposed to be, like every other voice recognition system on earth, Google Glass doesn’t do Scottish well.

Not that Apple is any better at Scottish accents than Google.

Or any voice recognition really.

The Neighbors was Good… and then All the Characters Became Idiots

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I wish I could say that I feel bad about The Neighbors being canceled, but I can’t blame ABC. The show has slid so much in quality that the few times I tuned in, I couldn’t sit through an entire episode.

And that’s too bad.

The Neighbors had a great cast and debuted with fun episodes, but it worked only to the extent that it resisted becoming a conventional sitcom.

Debbie and Marty Weaver grounded the show for a while with a working class Jersey background. They felt like real people and a real family. And then Marty became Homer Simpson, an overgrown whiny baby with a 50 IQ and the kids became sitcom kids, smarter than their idiot parents.

And The Neighbors became every sitcom, a bunch of cliches pushed around a plate. And the cliches were terrible cliches. The show wasn’t a laugh machine the way that a CBS sitcom is. The Neighbors worked because of its talent cast and because the writing combined sincerity with the actually unexpected.

Season 2 seemed to be about the endless relationship between David Mamet’s daughter and “Reggie Jackson”. And the aliens went from being a little mysterious and different to becoming ordinary wacky sitcom neighbors. The show became I Love Lucy with worse writing and predictable gags.

The holiday episodes were terrible. The musical episode was unwatchable. The celebrity cameos were pointless.

It didn’t have to be this way.

3rd Rock From the Sun, a very similar show, had already gone over this territory. And its comedy stopped working when the aliens became too familiar and the sitcom cliches too overpowering. That show had John Lithgow who could keep the machine going because he could deliver a line like “Hello Family” and make it funny.

The Neighbors didn’t run that way. There was a time when it felt more like Andy Richter Controls the Universe and less like Modern Family. Wacky, strange and unpredictable, but sincere.

It would have been a shame if that show had been canceled. Instead canceling The Neighbors spares everyone from its 3rd season Christmas episode in which everyone ends up on Dancing With the Stars.

A Veronica Mars Movie Review… and the Kickstarter Nostalgia Problem

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After Veronica Mars was cancelled, Rob Thomas tried to move the show forward with a proposed next season that had her in the FBI. It wasn’t perfect, but it was plausible. It might have even been interesting. And it would have moved Veronica forward.

But fans don’t fund Kickstarters to see a story move forward. They do it to get more of the same.

And that’s what Veronica Mars is. A hit of nostalgia. It’s not really a movie. More of an extended TV episode with a more famous cast and a few more expensive shots, mostly in New York.

Kirsten Bell tries her hardest and the old cast is good, but the story is lacking. The central mystery feels like a condensed version of the first few seasons with Logan as a murder suspect, a viciously hostile sheriff and a murder involving a rich girl.

There’s nothing new here. There’s nothing that even feels new. And it’s not nearly as good in backwash form.

The dialogue is sharp and funny, witty, knowing and clever in that self-referential way that caters to its fans. But the same can’t be said of the plot which is not only derivative, but gives you few reasons to care.

The movie relies on throwing in old characters and expecting the audience to care, but the murder mystery doesn’t matter, there’s no emotional hook except Logan’s legal problems and a secondary story involving Weevil’s shooting is awkward, as Veronica Mars’ attempts at social commentary usually were, and ends unfinished.

The movie is an excuse to put everything back the way it was and it’s unconvincing. Veronica Mars as an FBI agent was plausible. Veronica Mars as a corporate lawyer in New York isn’t. It’s there to set up a pointless choice that we know she will make between her life back in Neptune and filing legal documents.

It gives Veronica Mars a reason not to move on. And it convinces the audience that she wouldn’t.

Veronica Mars once felt new and fresh. It was sharp as a knife. Trying to recreate it in this way isn’t. It’s like a reunion tour for a group that rocked in the 70s. A few of the old standards with none of the old spirit.

There are other bad choices. A portion of the movie involving James Franco. Text messages appearing on the screen. A painfully long intro chock full of exposition that should have been relayed through the characters and has no reason for existing since anyone watching this probably already knows the bare premise of the show.

But they’re not the problem. The problem is that a show that was once fresh and new has become a nostalgia product. And maybe that’s what’s wrong with Kickstarter and with funding a movie through it.

Kickstarter allows people in their twenties and thirties to pay for more of the things they liked when growing up, whether it’s games or movies. But they don’t remember that what made them like those things was their newness. The way they rocked their world.

Veronica Mars, set around a reunion, is self-consciously a reunion. The old gang is back together. Everything is the way it was. Life hasn’t moved on. And it lets the people paying for more of the same pretend that life hasn’t moved on either.

As terrible as the Buffy season comics are, they are in their own awkward stupid way trying to move forward. Rob Thomas left to his own devices might have done that with Veronica Mars. Or he might have done it despite Kickstarter. But instead he gave the people what they paid for.

A ghost of what the show used to be.

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