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