Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Saw "Rogue One"; where does it rank in the Star Wars pantheon?

I finally got around to watching "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" on Blu-ray and liked it a lot. So where does it rank in the Star Wars movie pantheon in my opinion?

For the purposes of this ranking, I'm not including the Clone Wars or Rebels series, only the theatrically released movies - the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, and "The Force Awakens."

[Obviously, spoilers to follow....]

8. (tie) "The Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones"

I don't think the disregard with which I hold these two entries is unusual. Each offered a pretty intricate lightsabre duel and not much else. I have to confess that I've never watched the entirety of "Attack of the Clones," so I guess it's possible it's worse than "The Phantom Menace," but it's hard to see how that would be possible. And while it's hard to choose who was worse as Anakin, Jake Lloyd or Hayden Christensen.

6. "Revenge of the Sith"

Still pretty bad; Palpatine's seduction of Anakin to the dark side never really made much sense, and too many of the big fight scenes just seemed ridiculous - can you remain that close to hot lava without dying from the heat?!? The big transformation of Anakin into Darth Vader, where he howls "Nooooooo!!!!!" made me laugh out loud. One should not be laughing at Darth Vader....

5. "Return of the Jedi"

I still like the opening Jabba the Hut sequence even though it's objectively silly. The scenes with Luke, Darth Vader, and the Emperor were pretty good, but the movie is marred by the Ewoks. I've ranted about this before - how a bunch of teddy bears defeated armored Stormtroopers boggles the mind. Not to mention that the space attack scenes are just a copy of  "A New Hope." And Luke and Leia as siblings - that could not have been part of the original plan, or else those kisses in "A New Hope" and "The Empire Strikes Back" indicate a perverse mindset.

4. "The Force Awakens"

I think this movie benefits from being so much better than the prequel trilogy, but it's really just a mash-up of "A New Hope" and "The Empire Strikes Back." It was slickly produced, and John Boyega was quite charming as Finn. Daisy Ridley was perfectly fine as Rey, but flawless in a robotic and boring way. I do like how it shows that it's easy to complain about the Empire (as the Rebels did in the original trilogy), but running the galaxy isn't so easy. I mean, a mere 30 years after the defeat of the Empire, the Rebels did such a bad job that they're once again an insurgent force, while the First Order has amassed the resources to build Starkiller Planet!

3. "A New Hope"

It started everything, it was amazing in 1977, but it hasn't aged all that well. And all the tinkering that George Lucas did with it only made it worse. Need I point to anything beyond Han Solo's dodging a laser blast from point-blank range...?

2. "The Empire Strikes Back"

I still think this is pretty good, but there are cracks in my admiration of it. It annoys me to no end that Darth Vader tells the Emperor "if the son of Skywalker will not join us, he will die," when the natural way of saying that would be "if my son will not join us, he will die." Of course, that would take away the shock value later on, but still, it's a bit of cheating. I can accept the superdense asteroid field (even though in reality, there would have been so many collisions that the asteroids would have been reduced to a ring), but how does a giant space worm live in vacuum? What does it breathe? What does it eat? There can't be that many ships that fly into that particular asteroid.

1. "Rogue One"

I'll admit that I love "Mission Impossible" type stories, so "Rogue One" naturally appeals to me. But compare the tension generated in this mission versus the shield assault in "Return of the Jedi," and you see the difference between sacrifice, competence, and excitement, versus clownish quasi-parody. What's remarkable about "Rogue One" is that we know how it will turn out, and yet it holds attention. The middle was a little slow, but the last third is fantastic. And unlike the other movies, with a couple of exceptions, there's real sacrifice - the rebels more or less know it's a mission that few, if any, of them will survive, and they're right. The moment when the wave of death washes over Jyn and Cassian was exceptionally well-done. And then, there's that Darth Vader scene! Vader is terrifying in this movie, as he should be! Too often in the original trilogy, he was just a bully, coming in after the fighting was over to torture a hapless Rebel soldier, or "firing" incompetent Imperial officers. But that end sequence showed how devastating Vader could be....

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Quick thoughts on new fall shows from Fox, CW, and NBC

I blogged about the upcoming new ABC shows that caught my attention here, and the CBS ones here. Fox, CW, and NBC have just enough combined to put together in one post....

NBC

The Brave


 

This looks like another fairly generic military-action drama, possibly indistinguishable from CBS's "Navy SEALs." This one does have Anne Heche as the civilian leader of the unit, and Mike Vogel (last seen in CBS's "Under the Dome") as the team leader. Nothing in particular jumps out, but I'm always up for giving action shows a chance.

Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders



I remember the Menendez brothers! The main reason I'm considering watching this is FX did such a fantastic job with the O.J. Simpson mini-series that maybe this story, which had its share of lurid details, will prove similarly engrossing.


FOX

Boo, "24: Legacy" has been canceled/won't be renewed, though may be (another) reboot down the line. Well, I can't blame Fox. I thought it was okay, but ranked against the other seasons of "24," it would be near the bottom. Anyway, I won't hold it against Fox.

The Gifted

 

Marvel Cinematic Universe, mutant types, okay, I'm in. But try not to be as boring as the first season of "Agents of SHIELD" was, okay?


The Orville


 

This looks kind of funny. I just wonder if there's enough there to last, oh, even a season? I remember this old sci-fi parody called "Quark" that aired in 1978. It was really funny at first, but you can only make fun of "Star Trek" for so long.


CW

Valor



This looks kind of interesting, with a "what happened that night?" mystery to be unfolded over the course of the season. Unfortunately, if I were to bet on shows likely to bomb with the audience, I would pick this one. Dense, serialized mythologies with multiple timelines and viewpoints don't seem to do well. Even ABC's "Quantico," which started off as a strong performer in season 1, had cancellation-worthy ratings in season 2.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Quick thoughts on CBS' new fall shows

I started previewing the new fall pilots that caught my eye with those on ABC, and now it's CBS's turn. I'll say upfront that none of the following shows really excite me, so as far as CBS is concerned, I'm mostly grateful that it's bringing back "Survivor" and "Hawaii 5-0."

SEAL Team

 

I'm a sucker for action-adventure shows, so I'll give this a try. It does remind me very much of the 1990 flick Navy SEALs, which is a good news/bad news sort of comparison. That movie had some decent action set pieces, but it was a commercial and critical flop, and I have a feeling this show will be too. It could also be like "The Unit," which had a decent run (4 seasons) in the previous decade. It's not a good sign that I stopped watching the trailer halfway through, though.

Star Trek: Discovery



I don't have CBS All Access, so I won't be watching this show, but otherwise I'd give it a try. The production values look good (although that's been true ever since "Star Trek: Next Generation" debuted 30 years ago), and of course having an Asian captain is a plus in my view. On the other hand, the last two Star Trek series didn't appeal to me, so I'm probably not missing out on much. (I gather this will also be available on Netflix later on. I don't get Netflix. I don't think this show would spur me to sign up, but if I do subscribe for the Marvel shows, I'd consider this a bonus.)

SWAT


I haven't heard much buzz at all about this show. The trailer highlights the tension between the police department and the inner city community, with a new SWAT commander who's torn between his African-American roots and his profession. I don't know about this one. Fox's Shots Fired tried to mine this kind of community tension storyline this season and did not score good ratings. This looks like it has more action, though.



Thursday, May 18, 2017

Quick thoughts on some of the ABC shows coming this fall

TV by the Numbers has a helpful post with embedded trailers for the new pilots that ABC has ordered and put into the fall schedule. I watched the ones that looked interesting to me, and here are my thoughts:

The Inhumans



The trailer doesn't show anything, but I'm a sucker for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Inhumans have been embedded into the story DNA of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a few seasons now, so I'm already invested.


Ten Days in the Valley



This stars Kyra Sedgewick as a single mom who's a writer for a TV cop show. Her daughter gets kidnapped, and somehow life starts imitating art - as in, the storylines that she's writing. I think I'm going to give this a pass. The trailer - at least, as much as I watched before deciding it's not for me - is pretty grim, and I don't think I want to sign on for a serial where the main storyline is "where's my child?" I mean, I did for the Ashley Judd-vehicle Missing, which turned out to be pretty good, but that ended well because the show lasted only half a season and tied up the main storyline. If Ten Days in the Valley is a hit, it'll get renewed.... I guess it's possible the writers will come up with a new hook for a second season, but it's still a pass.


The Crossing


 

This looks pretty weird. Bodies wash up on the shore, and 47 of them are alive. It appears that they are from the future(?). It kind of reminds of the Sci-Fi Channel series The 4400, which I liked a lot, so I'm willing to give this a try. As with all high-concept serialized dramas from ABC, however, one must factor in the risk of a strong start dragged down by too many out of control storylines - FlashForward is the prime offender in this category, but V, Lost, and others suggest it's a trend.


Deception


 

I'm normally not so much into crime of the week procedurals (Hawaii 5-0 being a notable exception, but that's more for the island scenery and the character banter than the actual mysteries), but this entry in the civilian with special skills helps law enforcement as a special consultant category looks polished. The civilian with special skills is an illusionist, making this sound like Castle with David Copperfield instead of Richard Castle. Well, I like watching magic acts, so I'll give this a try.


For the People



From Shonda Rhimes, this show pits fresh new Assistant U.S. Attorneys against fresh new Federal Public Defenders. Rhimes-produced shows are batting .500 for me - I like Scandal and (the canceled) The Catch, while I've never watched Grey's Anatomy and I quit How to Get Away with Murder after the pilot episode. .500 isn't a bad average for TV shows, but I tend not to like law related shows, especially ones that take themselves too seriously, so I think this is a pass for me.

***

I'll continue to give quick and dirty thoughts on the new pilots for the other networks.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Albus Dumbledore may be the greatest wizard but he's a pretty bad headmaster of Hogwarts

I've read all the Harry Potter books before, though not in a long time. Lately, I've been listening to the audiobooks (Jim Dale narration), mostly while running, and things have jumped out at me. One point is that Albus Dumbledore may be the greatest wizard of all time, but as a headmaster, he's pretty bad. (Kind of reminds me of Spock's criticism of Kirk's driving: "Captain, you are an excellent starship commander. But as a taxi driver, you leave much to be desired.")

As Headmaster, Dumbledore is in charge of staffing at Hogwarts. (Rita Skeever states that in her article on Hagrid's lineage in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and while Skeever is a sleazy journalist, there's no indication that she reports falsely.) Let's consider Dumbledore's hires:

1. Quirrel (Defense Against Dark Arts): He isn't a particularly bad instructor, once you put aside the possession by Lord Voldemort, but he doesn't seem terribly effective either. By itself, this wouldn't be a strong indictment against Dumbledore, but it's only the beginning.

2. Gilderoy Lockhart (Defense Against Dark Arts): The usually perceptive Hermione gets taken in at first by Lockhart's "charm," but it should have been obvious that he was a fraud. Indeed, any reasonable interview should have weeded him out - just have the guy do a mock teaching session!

3. Remus Lupin (Defense Against Dark Arts): Lupin was more or less the BEST teacher that Harry Potter's group ever had at Hogwarts. He knew the material, he taught effectively, and he was extremely compassionate and understanding. True, he was also a werewolf, and when unmasked, he resigned. But why did Dumbledore accept the resignation? In Goblet of Fire, he refused to accept Hagrid's resignation, so he certainly could have done the same with Lupin's. And he should have, given that Lupin's reason for resigning was that the Hogwart parents wouldn't have tolerated their children's being taught by a werewolf. In other words, bigotry. I guess Hogwarts does not have a Wizards with Disabilities Act....

4. Rubeus Hagrid (Care and Feeding of Magical Creatures): Was Hagrid even qualified to teach? He was kicked out of Hogwarts in his third year. Strange the lengths that Dumbledore went to in order to keep Hagrid employed, and yet he wouldn't lift a finger to stop Lupin from resigning. Anyway, Hagrid seems pretty incompetent as a teacher, yet he remains on the faculty.

5. Sybil Trelawney (Divination): Up until Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, she had made a grand total of one prediction that came true. During Azkaban, she made a second. While in a trance. What's astounding is that Dumbledore knows that Trelawney is a fraud; he's the one who tells Harry that her trance-prediction about Voldermore's servant (Wormtail) was the second ever correct one. Why did Dumbledore continue to waste the time of so many students by allowing Trelawney to keep teaching Divination?

6. Severus Snape (Potions): Ah, finally, Snape. How in good conscience can Dumbledore keep on the faculty such a bully who cheats by consistently discrimination against Gryffindor by taking away points while not doing so when Slytherins engage in the same or worse conduct? Yeah, he's great at potions and he bravely played double agent, while means Snape is a great patriot, but as a teacher, he's pretty bad.


You tell me - how did Dumbledore keep his job for so long?

Monday, May 8, 2017

ABC's "Once Upon a Time" - time to let it go?

For the past six years, ABC's "Once Upon a Time" has largely been my favorite network TV show. If I really had to choose, I think I would rank it ahead of "Hawaii 5-0," "Survivor," and "Scandal." As for "24," it's only had two short seasons ("Legacy" this year and "Live Another Day" in 2014), so it would be hard to count it as a full competitor.

At one time, "OUaT" was one of ABC's stronger shows, regularly winning its timeslot, but it's tumbled badly in the last couple of years. Last night's episode finished last in its time slot, something that's happened a lot this year. As a result, "OUaT" has been a bubble show all year - not doing so poorly as to be an obvious cancellation, but not doing well enough to be an obvious renewal either.

Still, the prediction sites that I check have consistently put "OUaT" in the "likely renewal" category. It's a veteran show, so there may be a desire to give it a final season to tie up all the loose ends. Plus, Disney owns ABC, and it's able to use "OUaT" to promote all kinds of Disney characters (such as part 1 of Season 4, which brought Frozen into Storybrooke).

Today's news is that star Jennifer Morrison declined an invitation to return as a regular if there is a season 7. On top of that is the news that if there is a Season 7, it will be something of a reboot with only part of the cast. The last time I remember something like this happening was the last season of "The Practice," in which half of the cast was fired, and James Spader and Rhona Mitra were brought in. I guess you might call that a success, since it led to the spin-off series "Boston Legal," but it certainly didn't do much for "The Practice."

"OUaT" is an ensemble show, but Morrison's character (Emma Swan) has been the central one. The series started with Swan in the real world, being brought into Storybrooke by the 10 year old boy who turns out to be the son whom she gave up for adoption, and the whole first season arc revolved around her gradually coming to believe that there is magic, that her parents are Snow White and Prince Charming, and that her son Henry's stepmother is the Evil Queen. I can certainly see the show without her, but I'm reluctantly coming to the view that if the Season 6 finale really is going to finish the main storyline, it's probably best to end the show. For example, I miss "Justified" and believe it could have gone on for another season or two, but better that it ended a season too early than one too late. (I watched "The X-Files" to the end of its original run, but man, those last two or three seasons were not good....)

Monday, May 1, 2017

My controversial takes on pop culture

One of my Facebook friends put up an excellent and entertaining post about her controversial opinions about food, which got me thinking about the possibly idiosyncratic and unusual opinions that I have about big pop culture items. I don't offer these as unassailable truths; they are merely my opinions. Imagine that each one begins with "I think" or "I believe," which I've deleted to avoid repetition. So here they are:

1. Taylor Swift music is the best for speed workouts on the treadmill. Followed by Kelly Clarkson. I'm not sure why, but I do find interval reps less painful when I'm listening to "Shake It Off."

2. Star Trek > Star Wars. Some sci-fi magazine once put it best: no matter how cool you think Star Wars is, it starts with Jar Jar Binks and ends with the Ewoks. (Well, I guess now it ends with Rey and Luke Skywalker, for now.)

3. Pierce Brosnan has been the most entertaining James Bond. Yes, Sean Connery defined the role. But Brosnan managed to fuse Connery's ruthlessness with Roger Moore's suave humor. I love the set piece in "Tomorrow Never Dies" where Bond is having fun driving the souped up rental car via smartphone.

4. I acknowledge Bruce Springsteen's greatness, but as far as New Jersey rock stars go, I enjoy Bon Jovi's music more. "Born in the U.S.A." is an unquestionably great album, and "Born to Run" is a great song. But I like "Livin' on a Prayer" more.

5. The Wire is boring. David Simon knows an incredible amount about police procedure, Baltimore, the war on drugs, and so on. If "The Wire" had been a documentary, like "The Corner," it would be fantastic. But as a television program, it's dull. I made it through 2 1/3 seasons before I gave up. McNulty? Boring. The female assistant D.A. who inexplicably goes from sleeping with McNulty to having an affair with the police lieutenant? Boring. Heck, "The Wire" made Lance Reddick boring, and that guy is awesome! He had maybe five minutes of screen time in "John Wick" but made far more of it than in all the episodes of "The Wire" that I saw. Just compare "The Wire" to "The Shield" - yes, "The Wire" is more realistic, but "The Shield" is better TV.

6. "Fletch" is the rare movie that equals the book it was made from, but in a totally different way. The James Bond novels are about the only ones where I thought the movies were superior to the source material. But the movie "Fletch" is about as good as the novel, except that I always envisioned Fletch (when reading) to be someone like Dirk Benedict's Faceman from "The A-Team." Somehow Chevy Chase took Fletch in a totally different way and it worked!

7. Deep Space Nine was the best Star Trek series. I know I'm not alone in this, but still, the majority of Trek fans seem to think either the original series or Next Gen was the best. Of course, the original series has its schlocky charm, and without it, there wouldn't have been anything else. And of course, Next Gen elevated the production standards and the writing. But Deep Space Nine broke away from the ridiculous Roddenberry conceit that in the 23rd century, there would be no interpersonal conflicts. It gave us a gritty, nuanced view with an array of characters so strongly written that each could headline entire episodes. And from season 4 on, it was basically one long story that held together to the end.

8. Jack Bauer ("24") was the best TV character, but Raylan Givens ("Justified") was the coolest. I used to think James T. Kirk was the coolest character, but I don't think anyone can touch Timothy Olyphant's portrayal of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens.

9. The 1980s produced the best pop music, followed by the 1990s. Notwithstanding my point 1 above, the best music came from the 1980s, followed by the 1990s. I can't believe those are now so old that they're older than the "oldies" I listened to when I was a teenager. If it weren't for the early seasons of "American Idol" and "The Voice," I would know almost nothing about today's music.

10. Jay Leno was my favorite late night talk show host. I don't care too much about the celebrity interviews, but I do like the comic monologue, even if it's too vanilla for others. And I still have fond memories of "The Dancing Itos" and all the Clinton/Lewinsky skits.

11. The Hunger Games trilogy > Harry Potter series. One is much deeper than the other.

12. I sort of regret reading the "Song of Fire and Ice" books. Okay, not that much. But I don't get HBO so I haven't been watching the "Game of Thrones" series, and I'm more and more doubtful that I will read any more of the series beyond "A Dance of Dragons." First, and most importantly, it's iffy whether the next book will ever get published. Second, even if it is, it's been so long since I read "Dragons" that I think I'll need to re-read from the start, and I don't think I have the stomach for that.

13. CSI: Miami was the best, er, most entertaining of the CSI franchise. There's something fascinating about "CSI: Miami." If I'm flipping through channels and I come across reruns of it, I can always watch it. The trick is, you have to think of it as a comedy, and try to come up with better (cheesier?) one-liners than David Caruso tosses off as he takes his sunglasses off in the dazzling Miami outdoors...(!).

14. Keanu Reeves makes more entertaining movies than Robert DeNiro does. Maybe this isn't controversial. But basically, what I'm saying is that while DeNiro is acclaimed as one of the greatest actors ever, while Reeves is saddled with a reputation consistent with Ted "Theodore" Logan, Keanu Reeves' movies are far more watchable and re-watchable. Seriously. List the five most entertaining DeNiro movies. Compare them against "The Matrix," "John Wick," "Point Blank," "Bill & Ted" (your choice of which one, although I prefer "Bogus Journey"), and "Speed" or "The Devil's Advocate."

15. Captain Kirk > Captain Picard. If I were a Federation taxpayer (except I don't think the Federation has taxes, since Picard so haughtily exclaimed in "Star Trek: First Contact" that there's no need for money in the 23rd century), I'd much prefer Picard in charge of government property. But as a viewer, I find Kirk more entertaining. Plus, if they had a fight, Kirk would win, because while Picard was negotiating, Kirk would Kobayashi Maru-him.

16. Gryffindor is overrated, while Ravenclaw is underrated. Gryffindor is basically the jock house, while Ravenclaw is the nerd house. I know which one I'd want to be in. And who gets more stuff done in real life, anyway?

17. Cable is overrated. I got rid of cable almost three years ago, and I don't miss it at all. Of course, it helps that most of the cable programs that I've been interested in during that time (the end of "Justified," "The Americans," "The Last Ship") are available for streaming, often for free via Amazon Prime.

18. Han shot first. Okay, that can't be controversial, can it?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

NBC's "Grimm": thoughts on the season finale


After five and a half seasons, NBC's "Grimm" came to an end last night, in an episode titled appropriately "The End." I've watched every episode, from the somewhat lackluster first season, to the peaks of the third and fourth seasons, and to the very end. I did so in part because this was one of the few TV shows filmed and set in Portland, so I felt a sense of geographic loyalty. But I also enjoy these sorts of action/suspense/serialized shows, and "Grimm" did become more serialized after the first season's "wesen of the week" format.

[SPOILERS TO FOLLOW]

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Fox's "24: Legacy" - We're one-third of the way through; how is it holding up?

I'm definitely not in the "disappointed that Jack is not back" crowd, and I'm enjoying "24: Legacy" a lot. But I do think that the deliberate decision that the writers made to scale down the threat from WMD-level is something that is going to take getting used to. To be sure, I understand why they are going this way, and it's reasonable.
Until I get used to it, though, it's left this season a little short of the almost unbearable tension that seasons 2-7 generated. With Legacy, so far, the concern is over the thumbdrive with the list of sleepers, who can no doubt wreak havoc, except we haven't gotten a taste of that (other than the initial assassination of Carter's teammates). In season 6, a nuclear bomb wiped out Magic Mountain (the theme park in Valencia, CA), in season 3, we saw lots of outbreaks of the Cordelia virus, and in season 5, the shopping mall got doused by VX nerve gas. All of those were precursors of potentially much worse WMD attacks, giving real bite to the ticking clock -- if Jack didn't stop the threats in time, tens of thousands to millions of people would die.
Again, the threat this season is more realistic (or should I say, higher likelihood), and I expect that as a viewer, I just need to be re-trained to accept this threat level. But if there's one thing that I'd contrast with the Jack Bauer seasons, this would be it.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Quick thoughts on "24: Legacy"

the
I've been waiting months for "24: Legacy," so naturally, the Super Bowl went into overtime. I love NFL football, and it was definitely an exciting game, but I was ready for it to end so that it would be tick-tick-tick time!

(Okay, it's true that I wasn't going to watch it right away because it's the kind of show I need my kids to be asleep before I turn it out; and on the West Coast, it wasn't their bedtimes yet. That's not the point - I was eager just to have TiVo start recording the show, dammit!)

Up to now, the biggest pre-airing speculation has been whether continuing the show without Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer would work. Once I saw some trailers a few months ago, I was optimistically open-minded. No one can replace Jack Bauer, but the show would be able to replicate the key elements that made it like video crack: terrorist plots, government moles, "hard perimeters" that fail to stop bad guys from slipping through, and mayhem throughout.

Star Corey Hawkins was fine as Eric Carter: convincing in the action sequences, and more than capable in the expository scenes. He hasn't been given much material to work with yet - but then again, it took a while before Jack's cursed nature began to show through Sutherland's terrific acting.

The premiere episode quickly checked off the beloved "24" tropes. Mole deep in the government? You got it. As an added bonus, the seemingly suspicious head of CTU, who gets gratuitously tased by former CTU head Rebecca Ingram, will almost certainly turn out not to be the mole. By the book bureaucrat who gets in the way of things getting done? You got it - see the aforementioned head of CTU. Uber-competent henchmen of the villain who are able to track Americans in the United States with no trouble? Of course!


And then there is one more show element to discuss. During the first nine seasons, most of Jack Bauer's kills over the years were by gunshot, with several stabbings and broken necks. But once in a while, Jack would MacGyver a new way of killing a bad guy. There were the suicide bombers in season 5 who were killed when Jack remote detonated their vests. There was the over-the-top vampire bite in season 6, the double kill by fire axe/knocking second guy off the top of the staircase in season 8 (my personal favorite), and the double defenestration in Live Another Day.

So I was quite delighted that in the first hour, Eric Carter showed that he was up to the task of improvising new ways of killing people (who deserve it). The giant rolling cylinder of doom was pretty awesome - you knew someone would get crushed as soon as it started rolling toward them, and the smear of blood was well done. Technically, the rebar was another stabbing implement (like Jack's use of the screwdriver on John Quinn in season 7), so I guess it doesn't really count as fully new. Let's score it 1/2. Still, a great start

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

TV Guide's list of best shows set in different U.S. cities, and my brief thoughts

TV Guide has a slideshow that lays out its view of the best TV shows set in different American cities. For some of the non-coastal cities, there might have been just one show, making it not a difficult choice. I didn't realize, for example, that "One Day at a Time" was set in Indianapolis. And as cool as Albuquerque is, it's obvious that "Breaking Bad" is going to be the representative for that town.

I'm not going to go through all 38 selections, but I am going to comment on the ones for the cities I've lived in. At the outset, note that the criteria for TV Guide was "favorite TV show for each," not necessarily most iconic depiction.

Los Angeles

TV Guide picked "New Girl." Really? I'll admit, I've never watched it because of my prejudice against 30 minute shows, but L.A. has been the setting for a ton of shows, including:

* "24"
* "The A-Team"
* "Alias"
* "Angel"
* "Bosch"
* "CHiPs"
* "The Greatest American Hero"
* "MacGyver"
* "Moonlighting"
* "Remington Steele"
* "The Rockford Files"
* "The Shield"

and many others. I'm not saying those are all good shows, but I'd rather watch any of them than "New Girl." If you want verisimilitude, I'd go with "The Shield" or "Bosch." But of course, if it's just my favorite show set in L.A., well, that's obviously going to be "24."

San Francisco

Technically, I never lived in San Francisco, but rather across the Bay. TV Guide picked "Full House," another show that I've never watched. Again, the City is a popular locale for shows:

* "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr."
* "Charmed"
* "Midnight Caller"
* "Monk"
* "Party of Five"
* "The Streets of San Francisco"

I would've gone with "Charmed," which was another one of those shows that dipped its toes into serialized storytelling and was better for it.

Oklahoma City

TV Guide didn't include this, but there actually was a show set in OKC - "Saving Grace" with Holly Hunter. I never watched it, so can't comment on it.

San Diego

Poor San Diego - probably the best city to live in the continental U.S. (if you can afford it), but perpetually overshadowed by L.A. TV Guide picked "The Fosters," which I've never even heard of. I would've picked "Simon & Simon," which I think captured San Diego's laid back attitude, or maybe the Lorenzo Lamas guilty pleasure "Renegade." I've heard great things about "Terriers" and need to catch on that short-lived show, also set in San Diego.

Iowa City

There are some shows set in the state of Iowa, but none that caught TV Guide's attention, nor mine. As far as I know, none of them was set in Iowa City, which is kind of weird, since Iowa City is a really good stand-in for your average Midwestern Big Ten college town.

Portland

It's either "Grimm" or "Portlandia," and I only watch "Grimm" out of those two, so I'd concur in the pick. Of course, as silly as "Portlandia" makes us out to be, I still hope it's a more accurate depiction, or else I'm surrounded by creepy wesen....

Bonus:

I've never lived in Seattle, but I'd pick "The 4400" to represent the Emerald City. "Grey's Anatomy" (TV Guide's choice) is certainly understandable, but I loved X-Files-like aspect of "The 4400." Too bad it was canceled on a cliffhanger. It's a good thing that the show's producers licensed follow-up novels that provided some closure to the story.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

NBC's "The (New Celebrity) Apprentice": first thoughts

Okay, I will admit that I enjoyed watching "The Apprentice." It got tired after a few seasons, but the "Celebrity" version of it actually re-invigorated the format. That shouldn't surprising, because the show was never about business acumen as much as it was about host Donald Trump's pompous, irrational "decisions."

With Trump having left the series (or been fired) for the presidential campaign, NBC decided to recast the host role. In an instance of art and life swapping roles (sort of), the reality TV host went into politics, and the action star turned California governor went into reality TV. Yes, the Governator Arnold Schwarzeneggar took over the Trump role.

I tend to get overly optimistic about TV shows, and I had high hopes for the Governator. After all, there's 30+ years of great catch-phrases ("Hasta la vista, baby"; "I'll be back"; oh heck, here's a mash up of a whole bunch of them). Naturally, his exit line for fired contestants was exactly what you'd expect: "You're terminated!" (For some reason, only the first one got "hasta la vista, baby" as well.)

And yet, as a whole, the first four episodes (two per Monday evening) have felt a bit dull and flat compared to the Trump version. Why is that?

One reason, I think, is that Schwarzeneggar is trying to make somewhat reasoned choices about whom to fire. He's laid down some guidelines/principles that he sort of follows - take risks, don't hide in the background, stand up for what you believe. If this were a real business, that's what you'd want. As far as entertainment goes, though, not so much. Trump's show wasn't entertaining despite his randomness; it was entertaining because of that randomness. That plus how he was so awesome and these awesome people who were almost as awesome as he was would be evaluating the projects.

Another reason lies in the casting. As with "Survivor," casting makes a big difference, but it's not something that the producers can necessarily determine in advance whether the contestants will gel in an entertaining way. Here, though, the teams seem unbalanced; the men have won 3 of the 4 challenges, and the one that they lost was the only one that seemed like it could have gone either way. Perhaps it's because the women have too many reality TV celebrities (two "real housewives" and Snooki from "Jersey Shore"). Unlike the other celebrities, who because famous as athletes, singers, actors, etc., the reality stars became famous for being famous, so they don't bring any other strong skills to the table. I mean, they might happen to have some skills, but that's not why they were selected for the show.

So: it's not a terrible show, but it's not the self-parody that it used to be, which is too bad.