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Breaking In Pilot Review

Breaking In could be entertaining, but it echoes its star’s previous turn on Reaper too closely without the same symmetry. Once again he’s a man child whose life is hijacked by a supremely cool substitute father figure who thrusts him into an adult role playing on a next level battlefield, lusting for the girl he can’t have for some reason and forcing him to grow up at the same time. But as cool as Christian Slater is, he lacks the satanic glee that Ray Wise brought to the part in Reaper.

Breaking In tosses in too many characters, all of whom are extreme in a way that can only be lifted from studio notes. There’s too much energy in the room and none of it goes anywhere. Three co-workers, beginning with his boss, bully and humiliate Cameron. Even when his crush’s boyfriend shows up in the form of Smallville’s Michael Rosenbaum, it’s more of the same.

Breaking In has to try so hard, because when you subtract the characters, it’s not original at all. This show has been made over and over again and the producers are relying on the character dynamic to pay off. There are good things about it. Christian Slater finally gets to play the character he should have been playing all along. And I would love to see the show be about him, instead of wading through another sad sack performance by Bret Harrison.

Ugly Americans

Rarely has a show with a promising premise been botched as badly. The concept, aliens, monsters and creatures of all kinds are among the immigrants lining up to get into the United States and New York City. Rendered in a cartoon, you get a cruder version of what Futurama tried to deliver on in its first few episodes, but then gave up on.

So what’s the problem? A main character who takes every twenty-something slacker working in an office stereotype and lobotomizes them. The difference between Archer and Ugly Americans, is that Archer knows Archer is a moron and builds itself around that, Ugly Americans thinks its main character is great and the only sane person around. Ugly Americans might have been funny, if it understood that its most human character is actually its ugliest. But instead it gives into politically correct impulses, using him to teach the unseen audience lessons about getting along with werewolves and monsters.

The last thing you want in a cartoon not aimed at four year olds is preachiness, and the last character you want to be preached at by, is an even more annoying version of Jim from The Office, who looks and sounds like he’s taking a break from a commercial from Bud Lite. And that’s a shame, because the supplementary characters in Ugly Americans aren’t bad. The art is weak, but it passes. What doesn’t pass is the pandering.

Game of Thrones Wrap Up

I hated the first episode of Game of Thrones. I didn’t watch any of the rest of the season, and then finally tuned in to the finale. And my take.

It’s not quite as bad, but most of the badness is still there. The Daenerys storyline has been completely blown. Some of the blame goes to the actress who can’t do emotional depth. Most of it goes to a production that put its priority on making her older and more naked. The same mix can be seen throughout Game of Thrones. Good actors side by side with bad ones. Strong scenes side by side with scenes that exist to show off gratuitous nudity. The objectification factor is off the charts.

Fast forward through everything with Tyrion and Daenerys, and you get passable fantasy. Sometimes. Game of Thrones amps up the camp factor deliberately. Watching it is still like watching two shows. One with Sean Bean, Lena Headey, Michelle Fairley, Iain Glen and Maisie Williams. And one with Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Jason Momoa and Jack Gleeson. But some of these people actually have scenes with each other. It’s as if the Adam West Batman and the Nolan Batman were crossbred into a single production.

But the producers, writers, directors are all to blame for this mess too. Why is the Daenerys reveal at the end handled so clumsily. And why does her accomplishment in gaining their allegiance hardly register. The wallpaper nudity now is ridiculous. We have naked women in scenes where they have almost no dialogue. Their only job is to be naked so the viewer doesn’t get too bored by the dialogue. At least that seems to be the idea.

Game of Thrones isn’t a good show, but it’s an HBO show. And it’s successful. What else is there to really say about it?

Falling Skies pilot review

Falling Skies carries obvious comparisons to The Walking Dead, but it’s both better and worse than The Walking Dead. Better because it moves at a faster pace, but worse because it’s light and predictable. The Walking Dead is overdramatic, but Falling Skies lacks drama. The Walking Dead builds a convincing world, Falling Skies doesn’t.

Falling Skies bears the hallmark of second-hand Spielberg, too many kids and too much banter. And ridiculously predictable writing. Two seconds after we meet Sarah Carter’s character, it’s obvious that she will be the one to turn on her companions. Just as it’s obvious that every time the gang breaks into a store or armory, it will be a trap.

There are things to like about the show. It tries to imagine an alien invasion in realistic military terms. The civilian population reduced to guerrillas being pushed back into the hills. But then it shoots itself in the foot by making its hero too incompetent to have any kind of status, but still insisting that he’s right and the commander is wrong.

When Wylie’s Mason insists on doing something and the commander is opposed, it’s Mason who’s right, even though he screws it up. Is it believable that in a country filled with veterans, that the best a group of 300 could do for a second in command is a guy who reads military history. It’s not. What’s worse is that Mason begins spooling out the research that the writers did to prepare for writing this show in dialogue.

The characters never amount to much, but the cast is good enough to carry through. Noah Wylie and Jessy Schram are the only ones who register positively. But even Moon Bloodgood isn’t as annoying as she usually is. What’s lacking is anything for them to do. Wylie gets the character development, but that means playing dad and talking about military history. The rest are even worse off.

On the defensive is Noah Wylie trying to act his way through the clumsy writing and mediocre direction. But there’s only so much he can do. He tries to add pauses to turn ridiculous dialogue into something weighty, but the camera is against him. When he weighs two books against each other, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea vs A Tale of Two Cities, deciding which to take along and which to leave, it should be a weighty moment. But the scene carries no more weight than if he were choosing between two types of bread in a supermarket.

Worst of all is the predictability. Every scene is obvious and done to death. There’s nothing original here. Falling Skies keeps moving and it avoids the turgidity of V, but only at the expense of being obvious. Some of the dialogue is bad, “Professor Kick Ass” is an obvious nominee, but it’s the plot that really suffers.

With better writers and direction, Falling Skies could be standout. Instead it’s weak with some promise.

Grimm and Once Upon a Time Previews

Grimm is shown off as a show by the Buffy and Angel producers about a cop killing monsters. Once Upon a Time as a show by the writers of Lost about a strange town that’s part of a dual reality with an extensive backstory. So no one’s wandering too far away from their specialty.

Based on the promos alone, the acting doesn’t look too great in either one, but Grimm has a premise that can carry over past a few episodes, Once Upon a Time is more like if we knew ahead of time that Lost was going to suck. That’s unfair. Once Upon a Time could be another 10th Kingdom. But I don’t see much of a fun factor here. Bad acting. An uninvolving lead. Robert Carlyle shows up. And maybe there’s more good to the show.

Grimm doesn’t seem bad. It lacks some of the punch I was hoping for. And we’ve got the usual Forever Knight setup with a cop who has superpowers that he uses to solve crime and a partner who doesn’t know it. But the werewolf sidekick is looking like fun. But the Grimm preview looks like it’s the entire first episode. That’s a stupid thing to do.

I was hoping Grimm would be more like Special Unit 2 and maybe it will be. Right now it looks enough like a generic procedural to be boring.

What’s Killing Science Fiction TV?

And don’t say the networks. That’s too obvious. Who is really to blame for a TV landscape where Science Fiction hardly exists?

1. Pretentious Showrunners

a. Arcs – I warned about this back in the DS9/B5 days and none of the fanboys would listen. And here we are. Science Fiction dramas come with convoluted arcs built in and audiences tune out. The more convoluted the arc, the more it panders to hard cores and casual viewers have trouble getting into the show. That limits the potential audience.

b. Religion – Remember when Science Fiction shows were about doing things. Now they’re about faith and mysticism. Even the latest Stargate is about searching for the divine code of the universe. Lost ended in the afterlife. Fringe’s finale raised up an interdimensional crucifix. The Battlestar Galactica reboot, like I even need to spell that one out. The common denom is that showrunners want to say something about religion, but suck at it. The shows turn into mumbo jumbo. Viewers tune out. (I warned about this in the DS9/B5 days too.)

c. Unlikable Characters – People invest in characters. The characters can’t be too complicated. We want to know who they are a minute after we meet them. And they can’t be crazy or awful people. Not even if that’s what you think sophisticated writing means.

2. Squishy Fandom

a. Fandom today is defined less by the majority of fans, and more by a minority who are lot squishier. Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman worshipers are the ones in a position to define fandom. But they’re a minority. And the shows that the Etsy and Steampunk crowd push don’t connect well with viewers. The same thing is happening with written Science Fiction.

3. Yes, Networks

a. Scripted drama is expensive. Scripted drama with tons of effects is even more expensive. The SyFy channel decided it doesn’t really want to be in the science fiction business anymore. Most networks made that decision earlier. Some shows still get ordered, but not many. And they’re not given support. Classical space based SF is dismissed as too male oriented. And the alternatives are more copies of X-Files, instead of a more innovative concept like Sliders. Concepts which are light on effects, less expensive to make and can connect to audiences.

b. Science Fiction doesn’t fit naturally into the TV format which is aimed at the largest possible audience. TV is still built on the family model. It’s less oriented to kids now, but it still tries to hook male and female audiences equally. A movie can pander to one gender or the other, but that’s riskier with a TV show. Networks still expect audiences to carry over from one show to the next. A show that pulls in an audience that doesn’t carry over to the rest of the schedule or doesn’t pick up the audience from earlier shows is a problem. A series whose viewers just tune into that show and alienate any portion of the network audience is a problem. Science fiction fits more naturally into the theater which bills itself as giving you an amazing experience, but most TV isn’t into amazing experiences. It’s comfort food. And Science Fiction doesn’t really go as comfort food.

c. Science Fiction audiences are often more tech savvy which means they’re more likely to DVR or Hulu or just pirate the show. Networks still haven’t adapted to measuring raw numbers, rather than viewership ratings. Until that happens programming aimed at less tech savvy audiences will score better.

d. Coming up with another family drama or sitcom isn’t that hard. Coming up with a successful one is, but not as hard as coming up with a concept for a Science Fiction series. Most dramas are not that conceptually complicated. Even a dumb Science Fiction show is. And that’s the stage where most shows break down. Where the network just can’t see this pitch working. Where the pilot doesn’t hold up. Complexity is difficult.

Fringe Finale, I Wish I Cared

Give Fringe some credit, the two universes idea isn’t bad. Even if it’s the only thing that Abrams, Lindelof, etc keep hammering at over and over again, from Lost to Abrams Trek. Was there any reason to expect a disappointing ending from the guys behind Lost and Abrams Trek? Yeah. And and that’s what we got.

The whole storyline never worked all that well except when everyone was crossing universes. And turning the leads into the chosen duo was the big mistake too many shows make today. Driving it home with a crucifixion machine. Just tacky. A future flashforward. Not a bad idea for a penultimate episode, but weak for a finale. And the final twist was more of a cliffhanger setting a tedious search next season where someone will somehow remember and begin searching for, etc.

Fringe used to be more investigators in the X-Files sense, but the more the episodes have focused on backstory and explaining what’s going on, the more arcy they’ve become and less interesting. The arc is one of the things killing SF TV and one reason these shows have so much trouble keeping their hold on viewers. And trust the Lost people to blow their own arc. As usual.

Killing Breaking In

Crash, smash, bam. I wasn’t a huge fan of Breaking In or a fan at all, but FOX’s treatment of a promising show was stupid and self-destructive. Obviously FOX was never really sold on Breaking In, they just threw it in there, and maybe throwing a male skewing show on after American Idol wasn’t a perfect idea, but the initial ratings were good and the show had promise. FOX casually killing it to make way for another hour of AbramsCrap that will be cancelled, unless it’s dumped in with Fringe on Friday nights leaves a bad taste.

Breaking In wasn’t perfect, but it appealed to the demos that FOX wanted much more than Alcatraz will. Jettisoning it this quickly was not smart. Especially after giving Matt Miller a whole year to torture Human Target to death in its mutated second season. The only good news is this frees up Christian Slater to do something better. Or something worse. He’s an obvious choice to replace Sheen on Two and a Half Men, but it looks like they’re going higher profile.

I’m not going to send protest whatevers over Breaking In. It wasn’t that good a show. But it could have been a successful one. It’s bad enough when FOX kills shows that are good, but not ratings winners, but when it kills shows like The Sarah Connor Chronicles that perform to make way for shows whose producers it has sweetheart deals with, like Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, then something is really wrong here.

Human Target Canceled

Far as I’m concerned, Human Target was canceled at the end of Season 1. Matt Miller’s Chuckifed Human Target was just adding insult to injury. And this finalizes it. Whatever combination of network notes and production company crap put Matt Miller in charge of turning Human Target into a doily lace version of its old self, failed badly.

And this is why campaigns to save shows are not always a good idea. Human Target made it past the bubble, but only by killing everything good about itself. The cast and crew kept their jobs. But the show was a nauseating shadow of its former self. FOX used its failure as proof that it never worked. When actually it did work.

Human Target aired to decent ratings which began falling off. But not that much. The problem was demographics. You would think an action oriented series wouldn’t have too much trouble in that department. But it did. Season 2 trashed the show to court female viewers, but alienated both genders. The falloff was bad.

So what was Human Target’s real problem? The show kept being moved around. Human Target’s DVR ratings usually boosted the show, but not enough. FOX only aired half a season for its first season, making it a show that was easy to forget about. Then there’s American Idol. Idol draws a desired audience to FOX but cripples the rest of its schedule by building shows around that audience. Human Target was really canceled to make way for the X Factor, another Idol wannabe.

The TV Purges Continue

If 2010 was the year of the mercy bubble renewal, 2011 is the year of the mercy killing. Or the merciless killing. Chuck has been saved, but NBC has killed Law and Order Los Angeles and The Event. And David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman may never air, even though it had all the hype on its side, and it was probably the most covered new series. But most of the talk was bad, that showed interest.

Still NBC wisely chose not to take the chance on an expensive series. But then why put a guy who mainly knows how to do shows about people screaming at each other, in charge of developing a superhero series. Sure Ally McBeal, but that was a terrible show. NBC thought Kelley could give them a superhero series that would cross over well with women. Maybe if it came with a time machine back the 90’s.

What is clear is that the networks are cleaning house in a big and aggressive way. CBS did it last year. NBC and FOX are doing it this year. There’s too much deadwood around and both networks are not where they should be.

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