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The Thin Line Between Critic and Fanboy

It’s reviews like Ginia Bellafante’s screed in the New York Times against Game of Thrones that remind you of just how small a gap there is now between the professional critic and the fanboy. Ginia Bellafante’s only underlying point is that she doesn’t like fantasy and science fiction. Instead of just letting someone else do the review, she dresses up that dislike in gender typing that sounds like it came from a Charlie Brown panel (science fiction and fantasy is for boys only) and social relevance (period dramas in the 1960’s can examine social structures, but not fantasy ones).

The tone is everything you expect from a fanboy screed, irrationally dismissive, even contemptuous and a poorly disguised argument for personal preference mocked up as a review. And it is billed as a review.

But even though it says review on top, Ginia Bellafante doesn’t even pretend to review it. It’s an Armond White review, with Ginia Bellafante citing all the things she likes better than it and using appeals to gender roles and social relevance to buttress her argument, which turns out to have nothing to do with Game of Thrones. The closest she comes to mentioning something specific about the show is its development of a language, but only to peg that as her closing put down.

The single worst moment in it all must be

While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first.

And if Ginia Bellafante hasn’t met women who read fantasy novels, they must not exist… or they must not matter. Because she never met them.

SyFy Now Just All Ghosts and DaVinci Code All the Time

It’s now a collection of crap indistinguishable from the rest of cable TV.

Let’s start with the most baffling thing here

Culture Shock with Tommy Lee — This one-hour investigative travel show follows Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee as he attempts to uncover the various rituals, symbols and other mysteries of secret societies around the world.

No you’re not crazy. This is an actual thing on which a lot of money was spent. Read more.

Tommy Lee will dig into the history behind the secret society, search out its meeting locations and members, and meet with former members to reveal the society’s rituals and deepest secrets.

I could make jokes, but this defies comedy. And sanity. Forget the DaVinci Code, when you have Tommy Lee investigating secret societies.

Legend Quest — Premiering in July — This fast-paced action-adventure series follows Ashley Cowie, a real-life symbologist, as he travels the world in search of some of history’s greatest relics and artifacts, all of which are believed to hold hidden powers and mystical significance for ancient and modern cultures. Each episode will include Indiana Jones-type adventure and Da Vinci Code-style connections as the hidden truths and alternative theories of these mythical objects are explored.

This is the same thing except without Tommy Lee. It’s almost as stupid, but it’s not stupid enough to be entertaining in a Charlie Sheen Assassins Warlocks way.

But isn’t this what the History Channel and Learning Channel used to do before they switched to shows about ice truckers, coal miners and lumberjacks? This is the SyFy channel following after third rate channels and feeding off their excreta.

But SyFy still has ghosts. You can’t take ghosts away from it. If you took the ghosts away, it would just be wrestling, syndicated reruns, monster movies and static.

Haunted Collector (working title) — Premiering in June — Ghosts and spirits inhabit more than just homes and buildings — they can also live in objects. John Zaffis and his family are renowned paranormal investigators, tracking down haunted items like paintings, guns, jewelry and dolls. Once identified, the items are collected and stored in their museum, helping John’s clients bring normalcy back to their lives.

No this isn’t a drama, it’s a reality series. So there’s going to be some idiot walking around and dragging back this crap while people tell stories about it. Ghost Hunters meets Antiques Roadshow. I bet that was even the pitch.

Paranormal Witness — Premiering in September — From Raw TV, the acclaimed creative team behind Locked Up Abroad and Gold Rush Alaska, 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

What defies explanation is why take over a Science Fiction channel and fill it with ghost reality shows, when you can just shortcut the process and make a Ghost TV channel. Go on and do it. Rename SyFy to Ghosty or GHST or SPUK or something stupid and we can get this over with.

But no wait, more ghosts

In the Dark — In the Dark follows a misfit group of third tier ghost hunters whose misguided efforts tend to highlight their incompetence rather than any paranormal activity.

This is actually scripted, probably a sitcom. But who needs to see this, when it’s going to be a version of Ghost Hunters that you’re supposed to laugh at. Kind of redundant. Anyone who isn’t mental laughs at Ghost Hunters already.

Monster Man – When Hollywood studios want a bizarre creature, monster prop or out-of-this world alien, they turn to Cleve Hall and his very unique, family business.

So it’s another Face Off. How many more clones can there be? Who cares.

Stunts Unlimited — Stunts Unlimited is an elite and exclusive fraternity of artists committed to a very imaginative, creative, unique and dangerous craft — movie stunts

Right my bad. Can’t wait for the Caterers of the Stars show that goes inside behind the scenes to the exclusive fraternity of movie caterers. Hell’s Kitchen meets Face Off. Also throw in some ghosts. Can’t miss.

Hi Tech Hoaxes — The series where the supernatural, the mythical and the astonishing leave the big screen and step into people’s everyday lives. Each week two teams will go head-to-head to provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience for an unsuspecting pair of people, who are about to have their world turned upside down for a brief, thrilling moment.

So Scare Tactics meets Punk’d. I bet that was the pitch too.

Dinner with Deepak — If you could invite three people to dinner, who would they be? Best selling author and spiritual teacher Dr. Deepak Chopra dines and joins in conversation with some of the greatest minds and creators in the world today.

We’ve reached bottom. That’s it. Nowhere to go now.

Tyler Shields — A docu-series featuring unconventional photographer Tyler Shields and his team as they create worlds that are always surprising, shocking, and totally surreal. This Los Angeles-based artist is one of the most creative and original photographers working today. His subjects are celebrities, actors, models, and everyday people captured in magical, beautiful, and often dangerous situations.

Wait, we’ve gone lower. This is a show about a celebrity photographer in LA. But that’s it. This has to be as bad as it gets.

Jersey Shore Shark Attack — 2012 — While everyone else runs scared, vacationing Jerseyites fend off shark attacks on the shore. A production of ARO Entertainment.

Ah #%*&

Will the last creature still watching the SyFy channel please turn out the lights.

Every Cable Channel is Now the Same

So there I was walking down the street and minding someone else’s business, when I saw an ad for Larry the Cable Guy on the History Channel. What is Larry the Cable Guy doing on the History Channel? Same thing Ax Men, Top Gear, Pawn Stars, American Pickers and all the other generic reality TV shows are doing there.

What about A&E which is pushing what looks like a weight loss reality tv show, along with Dog the Bounty Hunter, Storage Wars and more crap than you can shake a stick at. Or The Learning Channel which has American Chopper, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, Cake Boss, What Not To Wear and Toddlers and Tiaras.

Is there any kind of brand in all this madness? How do you tell which show should be associated with A&E, TLC or the History Channel. You can’t. It’s all the same crap. SyFy has Ghost Hunters, Hollywood Treasure, Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen and WWE Smackdown (but don’t worry, they canceled Stargate Universe so no one starts associating them with Science Fiction).

It’s like no channel has a brand anymore, just a collection of crap filmed by people with a camera that they hope someone will watch. Half of cable programming is now the same kind of thing you can find on YouTube but with better advertising, lighting and marketing.

Futurama’s Schizophrenic Sixth Season

Okay after the DVD movies that are listed as the fifth season, it wasn’t too unreasonable to wonder how good the 6th season would futurama sucksactually be. The answer is that it’s kind of good actually, not the best, but there’s no question that there have been some pretty good episodes. But Season 6 has also been dysfunctional. On the one hand you have a lot of high concept episodes like The Duh-Vinci Code or A Clockwork Origin or The Late Philip J. Fry. These are high concept Science Fiction with a touch of satire. Then you have, what can only be called the Real World episodes, where everyone shouts a lot about some issue, holds a rally and fixes a social problem. Proposition Infinity was probably the worst of these because everyone was out of character and nothing that happened in the episode was even referenced later, and what with Amy and Bender falling in love and getting married in the episode, that stands out glaringly. But The Mutants Are Revolting was almost as bad. But why are they really so bad? The same reason that a lot of the earlier episodes like Killer App never took off. Because the great high concept episodes are covering up that the writers have lost touch with the characters, their interactions and their voices. That’s why even the high concept episodes don’t quite rank up there with the old Futurama. Only the Duh-Vinci Code and The Late Philip J. Fry actually capture some of what Futurama used to be.

Futurama In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela

One thing the Futurama producers never quite got is that Kif is really not funny without Zap Brannigan, and Zap Brannigan is only mildly funny without Kif. It’s the pairing that works. In In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela there’s no pairing, except Leela and Zap. Which might have been funny. Which is sorta funny. But not all that much. In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela isn’t bad, except for the part where it’s like a lot of other Futurama episodes. The retro Zap clips were funny. But most of the garden wasn’t. The death sphere ref to VGer is more of a geek in-joke than actually funny. And any plot that revolves around a V Chip ref is hopelessly outdated, like a lot of Futurama material. In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela isn’t bad. It’s a lot better than sitting through a modern day Simpsons or Family Guy, but it’s not really anywhere as good as it should be. Zap is mostly wasted in episode should have had a lot more professor. And for an episode about censorship that’s being aired on CC, In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela doesn’t exactly push the limits. Instead it’s exactly the episode we would have gotten on FOX.

Futurama Rebirth

About halfway in, you start to hope and think that maybe Futurama Rebirth will actually be a great Futurama episode. Then you realize it’s an episode running on two jokes that recycles better material from older episodes. Then you realize that none of that even matters because you’ve been watching two robots interact and nothing you actually saw this half hour even matters. So whatever. Season 5 or Season 6 (depending on if you count the DVD movies as a season, which some do) starts out looking kind of like Season 4. A pale imitation. And if the DVD movies or Season 5 were overblown episodes without the right rhythm, the transition back to half hour shows has the opposite problem with episodes that feel like they have too much material to fit in, without the material really showing up. There are moments when you think Rebirth might be The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings or The Sting, but it turns out to be disposable.

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”

The Trembling Books

There’s fear on Grub Street these days with a lot of publishers and writers worried about what the internet will do to their field. Sometimes that’s expressed gracefully with lawsuits and sometimes less gracefully with public tantrums. But either way it gets expressed. Of course everyone is afraid of the internet these days, but the publishing industry has been afraid of everything in the past.

The cultural guardians warned us once upon a time that nickelodeons would destroy American culture. Then they warned us that comic books would do it. Then they warned us that TV would do it. They considered warning us that video games would do it, but they couldn’t even figure out what those were. Today book people, tv people, movie people and even video game people agree that the big problem is the internet where everyone just takes things without paying for them and has no respect for their elders.

Which is not one of those original arguments really. Once upon a time monks probably worried about what printed manuscripts would do to the fine high cultural art of making them by hand. They worried about what kind of degraded culture would mass produce books. And they worried about a world in which everyone could just run off a few hundred copies of anything without getting permission first. Good thing they didn’t get their way, right?

Dollhouse Drags Along

“And Whedon said that even if the show dies after the first 13 episode order of season two, the writers won’t feel like they held back any awesomeness. But that’s as long as they get to 13 episodes”

That’s Jed Whedon by the way, not Joss Whedon. Jed Whedon is the writer of such exciting Dollhouse episodes as “Hey, Let’s Get Stuck in a Bank Vault”, “Hey, Let’s Go on American Idol” and “Hey Let’s Have Echo Join a Cult So We Can Do Some Cutting Edge Storytelling From 1994”. And what with him and Joss Whedon’s wife writing episodes have only made the show stronger and better, as shows usually get stronger and better when people related to the showrunner write episodes, I think we’re all waiting with bated breath to see Dollhouse fulfill the same promises it made last year and then failed to fulfill. But I’m sure this year will be way better. I’m sure we won’t spend 13 episodes building up to Alan Tudyk playing a generic psycho or having Agent Kickboxing inexplicably decide to join the Dollhouse. Totally not. Just let Dollhouse make it to another 13 episodes and we’ll see groundbreaking storytelling that only a devoted Joss Whedon fanboy or fangirl could love. Like 99.99 percent of America, I’m not actually watching Dollhouse anymore, but my advice is that since Seth MacFarlane is about the only reason Dollhouse was renewed and Terminator Sarah Connor Chronicles was canceled, maybe they can just let him write all the episodes from now on.

Dollhouse Returns Empty Handed

Yup, the one Joss Whedon show that FOX and whoever should have canceled, but didn’t, Dollhouse is back. Dollhouse’s season finale pulled in a 2.8. Dollhouse’s season premiere pulled in a 2.7. How low those numbers will go by the time that Dollhouse burns through its 13 episode order, and Kevin Reilly has to choose between not wasting more money or pleasing Eliza Dushku’s boyfriend, is anyone’s guess. Dollhouse’s 18/34 demos haven’t dropped any, but they’re still as good or bad as Smallville or Brothers. Considering what FOX is spending to get a 1.0 demo, you’d think that FOX was so desperate it was the CW.

Kevin Reilly stupidly made the choice to cancel Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles, which managed to pull in a 3.8 for both its season opener and season finale. By contrast Dollhouse had dropped from 4.7 to 2.8 in only 13 episodes. If that match keeps up, FOX may be stuck with negative viewers, 13 episodes in. And considering the not particularly promising stuff that Epitaph One suggested we have to look forward to, that might actually happen.

It’s hard to know who exactly to blame for this mess. Kevin Reilly deserves his share for killing a great SciFi TV series for a very bad one. Joss Whedon’s obsessive fanboys and fangirls who reflexively praise anything the man does, regarding of quality or content, and if you think I’m being mean or exaggerating, remember that there was a Save Dollhouse campaign going, before a single Dollhouse episode had even aired. That’s like running a Four More Years campaign for a candidate who wasn’t even elected yet. There’s Eliza Dushku making her final bid for relevance, before she has to buckle down and play someone’s wacky best friend on a sitcom. And finally there’s Joss Whedon whose output has actually gotten worse over the years, and who really doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing with Dollhouse. Maybe if he had exercised some quality control back during the Buffy and Angel days, or when making Serenity or Dollhouse, he wouldn’t need a die hard fanbase to promote him, his work would actually be a popular, and not in a viral webseries kind of way.

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