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ROBOGEEK rants about TV, and raves about "GvsE" !!!

Glen here...

...with a report from AICN friend and cohort ROBOGEEK!

Robo's all fired up about a few glitches (and one bright, shining moment) on the television scene of late, and would like to share his thoughts with you. If you'd like to share your thoughts with Robo, feel free to e-mail him through the numerous links provided in this article.

Have fun, and enjoy. Here's ROBOGEEK!!!

((GLEN NOTE: if you sent Robo e-mail today (Thursday), he may not have gotten it due to misconfigurations at the AICN e-mail thingie. I have adjusted the ROBOMAIL links in this article to reflect a working address, so feel free to drop him a line - and feel free to try sending your message to him again...))


I love TV. These days, however, that's hard.

Like many avid TV watchers, I have come to feel increasingly abused by the medium -- by bad shows that have no excuse to be bad, or good shows that are killed before they're given a chance to build an audience.

For instance, recently there were two TV events I anxiously looked forward to -- the "finale" arc of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the launch of the Babylon 5 spin-off Crusade. Well, I can't say that I was too happy with either.

DS9 totally dropped the ball, ending with an uninspired whimper that provided little of interest, save for a really juicy part for the brilliant Marc Alaimo (Dukat).

But why didn't the producers fulfill the "Alamo" foreshadowing they'd been building up all season through Bashir and O'Brien's holodeck obsession? The last battle of the Dominion War should have taken place at DS9 -- and ended with its destruction. Kira (not Sisko) should have gone mano-a-mano with Dukat, and they should have ended up killing each other -- thereby leaving Odo in grief, so he could go off in search of the Hundred. And if nothing else, the series should've ended by returning to two of the its (and all of Trek's) greatest moments: "The Visitor" and "The Gift" -- first flash-forwarding to an adult Jake Sisko, and then flashing back to Benny Russell, who finishes his novel. THAT would have been a beautiful and fitting tribute to what "Star Trek" is all about.

Instead, Berman and company got mired in mediocrity, trapped in a dying franchise they're too impotent to revive. They even ended up lamely (and shamelessly) ripping off the B5 finale "Sleeping in Light." (Memo to Sherry Lansing: Find someone new to run Star Trek. Soon.)

However, if the DS9 finale arc was disappointing, Crusade has been bewilderingly bad. Even if Evan Chen's agonizing attempt at a score were replaced with Christopher Franke, the show would still be nearly unwatchable. All the characters are either uninteresting or annoying, save for Daniel Dae Kim's First Officer Matheson. (I'm a big Gary Cole fan -- have been since Midnight Caller premiered -- but he just doesn't quite work for me in this show.)

Crusade just feels flat, lifeless, hollow, boring, unengaging -- and inherently pointless. I mean, the whole show is predicated on a "race against time" (to find the cure to the Drakh plague before it kills all life on Earth) that we already know the outcome of!

I'm a die-hard B5 fan (go back and read my reviews of the last five episodes), and an ardent JMS admirer, but I just can't cut this show any slack. Even all the non-space visual effects are shockingly weak. I frankly expect TNT to put it out of its misery soon, rather than air all thirteen episodes. And I certainly wouldn't blame them...

But I do blame ABC for killing off three of my favorite shows of last year -- two of which were inarguably among the year's best. There's nothing wrong with killing off a show that sucks, but cancelling a show that's brilliant just because you're too lazy to put forth the effort to build an audience for it... well, that's just reprehensibly irresponsible. It is also self-defeating, because it instructs your audience to distrust you. After all, why should we take a shot on a new network series when odds are it'll just be killed as soon as we're hooked?

I was already bitter at ABC for killing Relativity two or three seasons ago, but Jamie Tarses earned a permanent place on my Robo-contempt list this past season for killing not one, but two inspired Barry Sonnenfeld / Barry Josephson series -- the absolutely brilliant Maximum Bob and the deviously inspired Fantasy Island. And if that wasn't bad enough, she proceeded to commit a veritable crime against humanity by cancelling Rob Thomas' marvellous Cupid -- right before Valentine's Day, no less.

That wasn't just wrong, it was downright EVIL. And it's time to whip evil's ASS.

It's time for "GvsE".

I'm been patiently awaiting for a New World Order to emerge in the medium of television, when the proliferation of hundreds of channels will not be seen as a threat but an opportunity. When the networks become dinosaurs, and realize they can't just "broadcast" anymore, but have to "narrowcast," and adjust their economic model accordingly. Cable has been rising to this challenge with considerable aplomb, as each successful new niche program proves. Meanwhile, the networks are paralyzed by fear, and largely afraid to take risks -- which is why ABC currently has only two surviving hour-long prime-time dramas in its entire line-up. TWO!

I've also been waiting for this expanded multi-channel distribution channel to forge a bridge into the independent film scene. There's a vast, largely untapped reservoir of talented independent filmmakers whose visions would never fit the mass market demands of a traditional network, but are perfectly suited for the niche markets of cable outlets. Imagine if they joined forces.

Well, they have.

Sitting on my desk is a copy of a letter from Stephen Chao (President of Programming and Marketing for USA Networks), in which he says he is committed to "innovative, creative, and compelling new television series... that stand apart from the standard fare." Now, granted, this is USA we're talking about, which I can't say I regularly watch. (I hear Nikita is cool, but I'm too loyal to the original Luc Besson film to watch it.) However, Chao has been in his job for just over a year, so it's a good time to see how he's doing.

A while back, Glen had told me about a new show USA was launching this summer called GvsE, and thought I should take a look at it. "You're either going to love it or hate it," he said. "It's that kind of show."

At first I regarded it with a great deal of suspicion, and not a whole lot of optimism. Warily, I watched it, and discovered Glen was absolutely right.

I love it. It's COOL with a capital C.

GvsE is one of those shows just has that certain kinda magic. It's ineffable yet palpable. And while it ain't perfect, and certainly a little rough around the edges, it totally won me over with its wit, charm, and clever inventiveness. Finally, I have found the perfect show to tide me over while I await Buckaroo Banzai.

GvsE is the brainchild of the Pate Brothers (Josh and Jonas) who made a splash on the indie film scene with The Grave (starring Craig Scheffer, Gabrielle Anwar, and Josh Charles), which they followed up with Deceiver (starring Tim Roth, Renee Zellweger, and Chris Penn). I must admit, I've never bothered to see either. This weekend, I plan to rent them both.

Basically, the show is about the Almighty Corps -- an organization that works for the Man Upstairs, and wages a war against evil on Earth. It's sort of a off-center, low-rent MIB for the supernatural set. Cross that with Starsky and Hutch by way of Brimstone (and Millennium) -- except funnier. Well, you get the idea.

The show stars Clayton Rohner and Richard Brooks. Say it all together now -- "who?" Well, Rohner is best known for having been in one great TV show (Murder One) and one awful movie (The Relic), and has appeared on The X-Files and NYPD Blue among others. Brooks spent three years on Law & Order, and has an array of TV, film and theater credits under his belt. Both are very talented, and boast great chemistry and charisma.

Rohner's character -- Chandler Smythe -- feels like he exists in the John Carpenter universe of coolness. He's sort of a more hapless version of Kurt Russell's Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China. Meanwhile, Brooks' Henry McNeil is equally (and archetypically) cool, as the character apparently died in the 70s, and hence sports an afro and is obsessed with such things as Commodores bootlegs.

Thie first episode of GvsE I saw was the pilot, entitled "Orange Volvo." There's only one series with a cooler pilot name, and that's Fox's forthcoming mid-season replacement Buckaroo Banzai (whose pilot is called "Supersize Those Fries" -- you heard it here first). And while "Orange Volvo" is unavoidably burdened by a lot of expository set-up of the series' mythology, it kicks things off to a very groovy start, setting the tone of the series.

Chandler Smythe is killed in the episode's teaser, only to reawaken in a recruitment office of the Corps, where he is drafted by Ford (Marshall Bell) and Decker (Googy Gress). They're the "suits" who administer the Hollywood division of the Corps -- which has the highest concentration of Faustians. See, Faustians are mortals who make deals with the devil. When they die, they return as undead Morlocks, serving in Satan's army on earth -- and try to recruit more Faustians. That's a problem.

Anyway, Chandler is given an infomercial-esque orientation video entitled "The Rules of the Game" -- hosted by Deacon Jones (playing himself, who serves as a weird sort of play-by-play narrator of the show). The tape starts with Deacon announcing "I'm here to teach you how to whip evil's ASS!" Now that's what I'm talkin' about! But he also spells out some conditions of working for the Corps: no sex (you never know who might be a Morlock), no contact with people from your past life (including Chandler's disaffected teenage son), and no special powers or magic. Corps members are resurrected mortals -- and can be killed just like anybody else.

Chandler shows up for his first day of work the next morning, gaining access to the Corps' secret headquarters through the use of a password too wonderful to spoil here. There, he meets his partner Henry, and they're promptly given there first assignment.

To tell you anything beyond that would give too much away. One of the charms of the show is its attention to detail, and the little surprises it treats its audience to. And while the pilot hits a couple speedbumps here and there, it's pretty smooth, and features some extremely cool elements that are signatures of the show -- like Deacon's narration, and the use of journal-esque short-hand titles that succinctly and wittily comment on scene changes. There's also some really groovy music, and lots of cool camera work and editing that set the show apart stylistically.

But wait -- there's more! I also got to see the series' third episode, and it's absolutely brilliant. Called "Buried," it opens with Chandler trying to talk his bosses into letting him take on an assignment on his own. Finally they relent, and we immediately cut to a title card that reads "Three Days Later," from which we fade in on Chandler, trapped inside someplace cramped and dark. He fumbles around for his cel phone, and calls Henry in a panic. At first he thinks he's locked in a closet. Then he realizes he's been buried alive in a coffin -- which is slowly filling with water. And he has no idea where he is! It's up to Henry to find him. And that's just the set-up! What follows is virtuoso coolness that includes a hysterical cameo by Emmanuel Lewis. You HAVE to watch this episode.

This also seems to be indicative of the show's formula -- open each episode with an inspired and efficiently well-executed set-up, and then go to town with wild abandon. And while there are upcoming episodes that sound vaguely similar to "Buried" (such as "Airplane" and "Elevator"), there are plenty of others that veer in all sorts of different directions. I mean, how can you not want to watch a series that has episodes with titles like "Men Are From Mars, Women Are Evil," "To Be Or Not To Be Evil," "Lady Evil," "Choose Your Own Evil" and "Gee Your Hair Smells Evil"? I mean, that ROCKS!

Series like this don't come around too often. I'm amazed this show exists at all. The fact it's making it to the screen is nothing short of a small miracle. I urge you to check it out -- and I urge USA to get behind this show with all their might (it wouldn't hurt to put the rest of your website online, and send us more episodes, hint-hint).

GvsE premieres Sunday, July 18 at 8pm (7pm Central) on USA Network.

If USA keeps GvsE in this timeslot into the Fall, Sunday will officially become the best night of television, hands-down. I can't wait to watch GvsE, The X-Files, and The Practice back-to-back-to-back, week-after-week. It'll be Robo-heaven.

So check out GvsE. Stick with it for at least three episodes, and I bet you'll be hooked. - ROBOGEEK

P.S.: Whoop evil's ass. BUT DON'T TAKE SUNSET!!! (That'll make sense in about a month.)


Readers Talkback
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  • July 1, 1999, 9:10 a.m. CST


    by Everett Robert

    this sounds very cool, the promos alone have got me hooked on seeing this show and now woderful writeups from Robo, Glen and TV Guide...WOW!...Robo also makes a god point about indies and the bridge between film and cable, I read an article in US I think about the WB and how they let their creators have full control over shows and certain requirements(like the number of shows a creator has to write) intresting article and further sheds light on decreasing network intrest. About the only good shows on Network TV right now in my mind are The Drew Carry Show, Whose Line Is It Anyways, The Practice, Law and Order, The Simpsons(I think Fox counts as network) Family Guy, and Touched By An Angel, and X-Files...thank the Higher Power for Cable

  • July 1, 1999, 10:06 a.m. CST


    by Mr Angry

    Sounds like a great concept to me, executed with style, humor and aplomb. I look forward to seeing it (probably in about 18 months since I don't live in your great country). Let's hope that it is given the chance to shine in more than just one season. This is the sort of tv quirkiness that earns viewers in large numbers, but rarely all at once.

  • July 1, 1999, 12:09 p.m. CST

    Network Dinosaurs

    by Pope Buck 1

    Very good points about the networks' blindness and stupidity. Cancelling promising series because they don't immediately get blockbuster ratings (after giving them fewer than ten airings!!!) is simply madness. Especially when ratings are dropping steadily for ALL network television, that shouldn't be the sole excuse to cancel ANY network series any more. And is it any wonder cable keeps gaining ground? I read a good article in Emmy magazine with David Chase, creator of "The Sopranos," which incidentally was turned down by all six networks before HBO snapped it up. He said (I'm paraphrasing), "With all the gains cable is making, you'd think someone at at least ONE of the networks would realize it's time to start changing the rules they play by. Instead they keep using a playbook that's thirty years old." Well, we all know what happened to the dinosaurs, don't we? PS -- this quarter, for the first time EVER, a cable station (USA) posted higher ratings than a network (UPN) for an entire quarter. Something to think about.

  • July 1, 1999, 12:23 p.m. CST

    Crusade Bad?

    by Cassius the Evil

    Okay, you've convinced me to watch GvsE. But are you saying that Crusade is a bad show? I totally disagree... sure, the first episode sucked, but two was pretty damn funny, and three and four were just... wow. They didn't have much action, but for sheer story they're hard to beat.

  • July 1, 1999, 12:36 p.m. CST

    Thanks Robo

    by Savant

    Thanks for telling us about this new show. I saw Chao present a few clips of it at the USA upfront presentation in May, but they didn't show enough to get a flavor of it. On the topic of Crusade, I agree. It is the most tepid SF series I've seen in a long time. There's no passion coming through. Underneath the surface of B5, you could always detect a team of people working hard to do a damn good show. Underneath Crusade, I detect people just checking their watches for the end of the day to come.

  • July 1, 1999, 1:20 p.m. CST

    Discussion Not Allowed?

    by TheMage

    I think that if talkbacks regarding each episode of Crusade are not allowed, then neither should mention be made of the show on the part of Coaxial. The ability to express one's opinion shouldn't be a one way street.

  • July 1, 1999, 1:28 p.m. CST

    Crusade - Why Don't People Get It?

    by WombatControl

    OK, I could not disagree more with Robogeek's assessment of Crusade. The acting (especially Peter Woodward) has been top-notch, the last two episodes have both been beautifully written and executed. Even Evan Chen's scoring has gone from what was utter crap to something far better. THE SEARCH FOR THE CURE IS NOT THE WHOLE STORY HERE, PEOPLE! There is so much more to it than that. Read the series bible, and it goes so far as to say so. On the other hand, GvsE is a moderately entertaining pile of warm tripe that brings back the worst of 70's blaxsploitation with ideas ripped from FOX's Brimstone. I'll give Robogeek one thing though: ending DS9 with Benny Russell finishing his story would have been perfect. Too bad that they dropped the ball on that one. Anyway, just venting for now...

  • July 1, 1999, 1:34 p.m. CST


    by coaxial

    THE MAGE wrote: "The ability to express one's opinion shouldn't be a one way street." You are exactly right! This is why the CRUSADE Talkbacks you obliquely refer to were shut down: because a few loud mouthed, intolerant people did NOT respect other people's ability to express their opinion. Interesting you should identify the right issue, but point blame the wrong direction. If you have a problem with this editorial policy, feel free to e-mail for further discussion. Anyone who has taken the time to e-mail or call me about this issue has found I am quite willing to discuss the topic ad nauseum - and doing so privately is generally a more polite (and less inflammatory) means of coming to an understanding.**Glen**

  • July 1, 1999, 2:54 p.m. CST


    by crowt

    First of all, GvsE *is* the show's title... Like I said in my review, a lot of people won't *get* this show. I'd be surprised if even half the audience understand all of the levels it is working on... Some even had to be pointed out to me after the fact by others who saw things I didn't, and vice-versa. That's the intrinsic wonder about this show in comparison to homogenized, IQ-medianized network fare... It tries to incorporate everything they've got, concept-wise. Nothing is compromised for the audience's sake... It treats the audience as intelligent, hip, and attentive and makes sure there are rewards for those willing to go along for the ride. There's nothing saying you have to get in the car, or like the upholstery, but it's got a good engine and a tank full of gas... Who cares if it's an orange Volvo.

  • July 1, 1999, 4:56 p.m. CST


    by Androvsky

    I saw a couple of episodes of Crusade. I also saw a couple of episodes of a series from the '70's, I have them on tape for some odd reason. Does anyone else keep expecting every Crusade episode to end with the line "Hurry up, there's only 700 days left to find the cure!" The right people will get that ;-) Basically, I've given up on american TV, except for Dilbert, and can only hope that GvsE can turn around television in this country. Though I must admit, Farscape is a good step, if only there was more than one likeable character. (My first post here, why am I convinced I'm going to regret this ;)

  • July 1, 1999, 5:09 p.m. CST


    by coaxial

    Glen here...with a few more thoughts on THE MAGE's comments. First off, it should be noted that the presence of CRUSADE slander in Robogeek's article was in no way a double standard: which is somewhat implied by his statement (actually, I also understand how it might be seen as such). FYI - Coaxial NEVER significantly edits material sent in by contributing writers - unless said material might compromise a source's identity, or offend readers due to sexual, racial, religious slurs, etc. At such, Robogeek's report would have been run as is. Whether he *loved* CRUSADE or *hated* CRUSADE, his report would have been run in its entirety. In the same way Cordwainer Hawk's CRUSADE report was run in its entirety...unabridged...despite the fact I disagreed vehemently with his sentiments on the show. Robo's thoughts are Robo's thoughts. Cord's thoughts are Cord's thoughts. It's not for me to put words in their mouths, or abridge their well-considered thoughts about anything they contribute to this site. As far as I'm concerned, contributor's words and thoughts are theirs...and publishable as part of the "personality" of this site...unless they offend someone unduly (see the specifics enumerated above). BUT GLEN, YOU ASK, ISN'T CANCELING THE CRUSADE EPISODIC TALKBACKS SILENCING OTHER PEOPLE'S THOUGHTS? HOW DO YOU RECONCILE THE TWO? The issues are completely unrelated: the CRUSADE Talkbacks were shut down for some very pointed and specific reasons: see below for more on this. The fact that the Talkbacks were shut down IN NO WAY impacts Coaxial's general editorial approach to covering the show: which remains as intact...and no different...than it has always been. Coverage and mention of CRUSADE on the site...and the abuseable "right" and privelege assumed by Talkback users...are two entirely separate beasts.**Glen**

  • July 1, 1999, 5:47 p.m. CST


    by Lord Shell

    Well, it certainly sounds different enough to give it a try. As for the comparison to "Brimstone" . . . DAMMIT! I NEVER GOT TO SEE AN EPISODE! It was cancelled so fast I got friction burns from the TV Guide. (Most vexing.) But I digress. GvsE sounds like it's willing to take a few chances and break out of the standard TV molds, which means it's at least worth a look or two. It's only with the creative folks willing to go out on a limb that we get anyting new in the entertainment industry. Even sometimes when a show or movie doesn't ENTIRELY work, parts or elements are unique enough to give it some respect (ex: The Fifth Element). Oh and before I forget again, to all of the people creating this site-THANK YOU. I know it's a lot of work, and some of the bastards out there want to constantly harrass you, but there are those of us out here who appreciate the effort. Like me.

  • July 2, 1999, 1:11 a.m. CST

    GvsE: CANADIAN ???

    by BrianSLA

    I wonder if G vs E is another CANADIAN produced series? The USA network ( ha-ha... should be renamed the CANADA network for all the shows they produce there ) and Showtime seem to shoot almost all their series there. In a couple of years all tv shows will have flown the coop and gone foreign. May the next US President fight runaway production before its too late.

  • July 2, 1999, 6:06 a.m. CST

    Paths vs Destinations

    by Savant

    >And the whole "we know that Earth survives, so what's the point?" argument is a straw dog. By the middle of B5's third season, we knew thatJohn, Delenn, G'Kar, Londo and Vir would all survive till *TWENTY* years into the future, they'd win the Shadow war and that John and Delenn would have a son(we were even told his name!). Did that kill the rest of the season because we knew what would happen? Did it kill the fourth season? Of course not. It's the path, not the destination, or as they say, half the fun's in the getting there.>> I agree, but at the same time a show has to prove to you that the path is interesting and worth watching. B5 had already proven to us that it was. We knew the "destinations" of the characters, but they were so far from where they were at the time, we really needed to find out how they got to there from here. The cure to the plague here is the destination and it doesn't quite the same mystique. Crusade hasn't stepped up to the plate to overcome this and show us that the path will be interesting. They've showed me the opposite. That's my opinion. It's hard to watch The Soprano's on Wednesday nights (the best show on TV) and then watch Crusade. The juxtaposition is jarring.

  • July 14, 1999, 8:43 a.m. CST

    crusade pot shots

    by rayb

    B5 threads have always had opposition and supporters. I resent being dismissed as an avid fanboy with no brain because I disagree with the sentiments posted by "official reviewers" on coaxial, and think Crusade is a show that's quite enjoyable. Now that may not be what has happened, but because there is no outlet for us to discuss the appreciation for the series, each thread is going to continue to get side tracked and derailed. Truth is I hate the music in Crusade, but most of the times don't notice it. I enjoy the characters and think the story's great. By allowing discussion of episodes, in official channels, I would think pros and cons could be given, instead we get to enjoy potshots and driveby reviews. Yay. As for this being a completely different thing, coaxial news can do whatever they please, but I don't see how one can expect this type of sidetracking to not happen if there is no place for the discussion remaining. Perhaps I'm too dimwitted to figure it out. WOuldn't be the first time. Looking forward to seeing GvsE, I don't see why Crusade, or even Star Trek must be held to the same standards, when clearly the intents of the shows are different. I don't see why all scifi/speculative entertainment must appeal to all in order for it to be "good". Different formulas work cuz we're all different. I would have been more interested in hearing how GvsE stacked up against a show more akin to it, like say, Buffy or the upcoming "Angel" series... Or if they're even related at all? Dunno...

  • Aug. 9, 2006, 12:35 p.m. CST

    Good or evil. No gray areas?

    by Wolfpack