Posts in: December 2007

Finale Fever

Most shows are heading to “fall finale” land this week. For some, it’s disappointing that we’ll have to wait until January or February to see two or three episodes before a strike-induced hiatus; for the rest, good fucking riddance.

Aliens in America (The CW)—After ignoring it, we’ve returned to the “Gary gets laid off” story for two weeks in a row. It’s a funny and relevant storyline, and watching the ways Gary and Franny attempt to deal with it (in last week’s, Gary pretends to work at a hardware store and develops a surrogate family, and in this week’s Franny becomes addicted to selling all of their belongings on Craigslist) won’t stop amusing me any time soon. However, the meat of each story belongs to the kids.

As the story revolving around Claire and Justin two weeks ago, it looks like the writers are trying to throw characters together at random to see what kind of magic may happen. Fortunately, they have one of the most capable comedic ensembles currently on television, so every combination has yielded great results. It’s helped Claire develop into more of a nuanced character. I like that they’ve given her character some interesting dynamics with the others, because for the first few weeks it seemed like she’d just be a stereotypical nasty-yet-vapid sister character. While the meat of each story for the past two weeks has belonged to Justin and Raja, whose friendship continues to develop in odd, surprising ways, the strategy of giving each character face time with someone new It’s also led to oddly touching scenes like Gary, the former jock, trying to relate to a son who can’t even work up the nerve to be a mascot. Like Hank Hill, it’s not that Gary is disappointed or unloving; he’s just confused.

Bones (Fox)—Oh wow, John Francis Daley has gone from recurring guest star to series regular in about two months. It’s probably a wise decision. Brennan relies on hard data, Booth trusts his gut, but neither of them trust psychology. In their case, having a psychologist consult on murder investigations probably isn’t a bad idea. Beyond that, Daley is awesome and has been consistently great since his first appearance on this show.

Now, last week it seemed like the mystery vault story arc may be done, but I believe they still have all that evidence. It may become useful in the future, or maybe they are going to start doing House-style short arcs that only last for a few episodes. Either way, this story hasn’t been given much air time, but even if it had it’s not nearly as irritating as House’s attempts to do the same thing. I welcome changes like this.

Dirty Sexy Money (ABC)—So in the past two weeks, the best thing to happen on this show is Patrick getting shot by his wife for having an affair with a tranny hooker. Simon Elder is boring as hell, the only thing worse is the Nick-Karen fiasco, and even worse than that, they’ve gotten Karen together with Simon Elder as, I guess, a way to hurt Nick. I don’t really know or care what’s going on with them. Please, please, please focus more on anybody and everybody else. Don’t let this storyline drag you down, Dirty Sexy Money.

Everybody Hates Chris (The CW)—Has Aliens in America spoiled me beyond the point of redemption? The CW’s other great comedy, which airs right after Everybody Hates Chris, has not only blasted out of the gate with a confidence and quality impressive of a freshman show—it’s managed to make its lead-in look bad in comparison.

“Bad” may be too strong a phrase. Everybody Hates Chris remains one of the funniest comedies on television, and it’s not like there was anything inherently wrong with the past few episodes. The retained the series’ typical sharp satire and comic insanity, and yet…Aliens in America has simply revealed itself to be that much better.

Maybe it’s not even that, though. Certainly Aliens in America is great, but perhaps the problem these past two weeks have been…well, everybody hating Chris. Two weeks ago, he got dumped on by both the owner of a Chinese restaurant and Doc after Doc refused to pay Chris minimum wage, prompting him to quit. This week, a new African-American student starts at Corleone. Chris is elated until he learns the new kid (Albert) is a thug, and when Albert wants Chris to help in his nefarious deeds, Chris refuses…but is blamed anyway.

They were funny on the surface, but when you dig deeper, each episode was kind of a downer. Maybe the upcoming holiday-themed episode will be a little more uplifting…

Heroes (NBC)—If this show had killed Noah Bennet, it would have been dead to me. The season, so far, hasn’t been awful, but it has been disappointing. If the most interesting character they have had died, is it safe to say the entire audience would have fled en masse? Now, after a few lackluster storylines, everything feels too crammed together as they run toward the finish line. Why did we spend all that time in Ireland and feudal Japan? I hated the West storyline, but at least it’s paying off (sort of). I imagine the more tedious threads will pay off, as well, but enough to justify the interminable screen time they were afforded? Doubtful.

House (Fox)—I hate it when House tries for these artsy endings. More often than not, they come across as pretentious; more often than that, they end on confusing notes of ambiguity, and not in a good way. This week’s “fall finale” has House making his version Sophie’s choice, bringing his four remaining “contestants” down to two. He wants to hire three but can’t, so he goes with Taub and Kutner. Why? Was this some kind of weird strategy? Why did Cuddy tell him to keep Kutner when, last week, her choices for firing (as voiced through “Big Love”) were Kutner and Cutthroat Bitch? Why did House give that whole goofy speech about how he’d choose 13 if he had three available slots, but then he gets all defensive of Cutthroat Bitch? And then…did Cuddy give him three slots because he needed to choose a woman but refused to give up the two men, or does he have to fire Kutner now? What the hell is going on?

To sum up: stop trying to be artsy, House. You’re a barely-above-average medical-mystery series with delusions of grandeur. Accept what you are and write clearly. Thanks, and happy holidays!

Journeyman (NBC)—I hate to get down on a good show when it’s already ratings-challenged and, for the most part, critically lambasted, but…the second part of the last two weeks’ two-parter was quite possibly the worst and silliest episode in Journeyman’s brief history. Despite its flaws, this series usually has a confidence about it that unintentionally improves it. The confidence was still there, but it means less when it confidently plows ahead with a goofy storyline involving a shooting, a kidnapping, and melodramatic monologuing—all of it taking place in Dan’s house.

The first part of the two-parter was good, in a creepy/nostalgiac way. It was sort of interesting to see a time when child predators got excited about Windows 95 and America Online, because they could prey on children more anonymously than they could on 976 party lines (remember those?). Tracing Aeden Bennett (played with creepy aplomb by character actor Raphael Sbarge) from the mid-’90s to the present, with Dan ignoring whatever divine directive has led him to these time periods, worked very well. It tackled one thing Quantum Leap touched on a few times but never committed to: the idea of ignoring your higher purpose to go after something you want.

In Quantum Leap, it was usually reconnecting with a love interest. Here, Dan doesn’t care about making minor nudges in an average joe’s life. Like the earthquake episode a few weeks ago, he knows he can stop this serial kidnapper cold. He does stop him, but it creates two timeline-related problems: first, he fails in his “mission,” and even worse, Aeden Bennett remembers him. And he’s just released from prison in 2007.

This leads us to the second part, where Dan is shot by Bennett right off the bat, then travels to a young Aeden Bennett’s house. We get to see his creepy backstory: Mom left, Dad’s a crooked cop who locks the boy in his room constantly and, if he’s lucky, will give him special treats like ketchup sandwiches (or “pizza sandwiches,” as he calls them). He’s the serial kidnapper with a heart of gold, not wanting to kidnap them out of any meanness or weird power trip. He spots kids with lives like his and wants to “rescue” them.

Where did this episode go wrong? Taking Katie and Zack hostage? The killing of the FBI agent who has been hunting Dan for the past month (sealing up one of the more interesting continuing stories the show has given us)? Trying to humanize a child predator just enough to let Dan exploit that humanity and force him to give up instead of killing everyone and/or himself. It didn’t feel like a series of clichés—the story was a bit too weird for that—but something about it just felt a little too “happy ending”/”big reset button”-ish.

Journeyman probably won’t last much longer, so I hope they make the last few episodes count.

King of the Hill (Fox)—Wow, the first dud of the season. Not that it was horrible or unfunny, just not up to the unusually high bar of excellence set by King of the Hill (especially this season, during which the writers have had a huge winning streak). A sensitive tolerance coach, who makes the pilot episode’s DCFS counselor look nuanced by comparison, sees racial intolerance all over Tom Landry Junior High. He ends up making everything worse when he transforms Bobby’s carnival into a depressing tolerance-themed talent show. Meanwhile, Lucky and the alley boys are wasted in yet another pointless subplot, this one about ambushing Lucky and forcing him to go to the hospital after a serious injury.

Last week’s episode, in which conservative and easily frustrated Hank turns around a hippie co-op because it’s the only place in town with good meat and vegetables, was a near-masterpiece of character continuity and ordinary situations blowing out of proportion to such a degree that it ends with Hank receiving a Polaroid and semi-anonymous letter stating that the cattle he helped kidnap have returned to open range. It made this week’s “Bobby allows himself to be influenced by adult idiots” story come across even worse.

My Name Is Earl (NBC)—These sons of bitches. We finally, finally reach the precipice of Earl’s jail release, only to conclude the episode with Craig T. Nelson’s hilariously incompetent warden (currently the only redeeming part of the show) shredding Earl’s well-earned sentence-reduction certificates. Don’t tease me, you bastards.

Numb3rs (CBS)—Two weeks ago, we were treated to a dull, pandering-to-nerd-fanboys story whose only redeeming quality was the mini-reunion between Taxi alums Judd Hirsch and Christopher Lloyd (who guested as a legendary comic-book artist). If I weren’t such a fan of both actors and Taxi, I would suggest that this reunion was counteracted by the vast suckitude of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Wil Wheaton as a sleazy collector. It’s been 15 years, and the poor guy’s apparently too devoted to his blog to learn how to act.

I have to admit, it also disappoints me when Numb3rs tries to pander to what it believes is a fanbase of nerds when, in fact, its core fans are most likely middle-aged cat-ladies too fascinated by Rob Morrow’s choices in too-tight denim pants to properly enjoy the mysteries. I’m a nerd, but I don’t know much about math, which is probably the only reason I can enjoy the show.

I do, however, know a few comic-book nerds, and know enough about that goofy subculture to understand when an episode is loaded with clichés and implausibilities. So in this episode, an embittered artist draws copies of Christopher Lloyd’s rare comic in order to drive down the value, because he doesn’t like greedy “tycoons” like Wil Wheaton getting rich while brilliant artists like Lloyd can’t make ends meet. Except, when it’s explained that the thief only did it so he could present the comic back to Lloyd, the drawing of the copies doesn’t make much sense except to shoehorn in some more math (the forger hides his signature in some kind of crazy mathematical pattern that only Charlie can see). It also leads to a goofy auction scene where they catch the killer (of a security guard, which is arguably the least important part of the story even though it’s the only reason the FBI is on the case) because only he knows which comic is real, so he’ll keep bidding no matter what.

In the episode, we’re presented with three stereotypes: the poor, aging artist; the greasy, slobbering fanboy/artist who understands it’s all about the art, maaaan; and the greedy comic collectors ruining…something. I don’t understand how Wil Wheaton became rich because it doesn’t appear that he wants to sell any of his valuable comics; he just buys them. Is this like 19th-century England, where the upper-class could coast on theoretical inheritances they didn’t actually have because it was all tied up in chancery court for decades? The mere fact that he owns a bunch of comics grants him access to a secret society where he can get dapper suits and a private security force just by waving Action Comics #1 around?

At the end of the day, I guess I just wish these characters had transcended their stereotypical roles, and aside from the greasy, slobbering fanboy turning out to be behind the robbery (which was pretty much a “duh” moment from the get-go), none of them were given much dimension. That’s not going to appeal to the nerd fanboys.

Pushing Daisies (ABC)—Molly Shannon? Come on! If the past two weeks are any indication, I’m concerned the goodwill bubble is going to burst. Much as I enjoy the Ned-Chuck relationship, it has started to get repetitive. Beyond that, the basic demented cop-show formula the show follows is also in danger of either getting stale or become so precious it will turn from funny to stupid. Last week’s scratch-‘n’-sniff book explosion came dangerously close to stupidity levels, redeemed only by Paul Reubens’ sewer-dweling olfactory expert. This week’s candy store episode took things to a disturbing place, but Molly Shannon is no Paul Reubens.

Reaper (The CW)—One of my regular complaints has been a lack of real character depth from our stars. This week, things changed a bit as we got to know Ben and his family a little bitter; in fact, sad to say, at this point Ben has become the show’s most fully realized character. This was also one of the series strongest episodes, and it’s laying the groundwork for some interesting development with Sam: first, giving advice to the Devil’s girlfriend, then discovering she has a daughter who may be the daughter of Satan. I’m not sure where this is going, but I look forward to it.

Next week: Nothing’s on.

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The Closer / Saving Grace (2007)

Tonight, cable’s most popular show returns with a Christmas special. Riding hot on its coattails is cable’s somewhat-popular show, which begins a four-episode arc held back from its summer run for reasons I can’t explain.

Frankly, with both series I’m at a loss. I’ve never seen either show before, and neither takes the time to re-establish regular and recurring characters. I tried to leap into the fray but found both shows left me cold. Since I don’t exactly have the time to rush out and rent DVDs of The Closer or track down episodes of Saving Grace, I did the next best thing: I read episode synopses. Very unhelpful episode synopses.

I’d ignore all the stuff I didn’t understand about either show and try to concentrate on everything else, but the problem is that these shows stories are so tied into characters I’ve never met, all I can do is try to grope in the dark and hope I get some things right. If I don’t, you can blame the show’s writers for not giving even small hints of the characters’ relationships to one another.

I guess, at the end of the day, that qualifies as the major drawback of each show: the supporting actors in both shows don’t do much more than prop up Kyra Sedgwick and Holly Hunter. Even in their own subplots, none of these characters showed any real spark. The best thing I can compare it to is Monk, which very much exists as a vehicle for Tony Shalhoub, leaving even seasoned pros like Ted Levine in the background more often than not. It’s a disappointment that The Closer has J.K. Simmons and Jon Tenney and Saving Grace has Leon Rippy and Laura San Giacomo, but their roles feel nonexistent.

It becomes a more significant problem when the cop-show plots’ rote nature reveals itself. These should be shows about the characters above anything else—and by that, I don’t mean “main character.” Why have an ensemble if they only exist to further the plot? One-man shows are cheaper to produce.

Maybe The Closer served itself better by only offering one (two-hour) episode. Kyra Sedgwick’s Brenda Johnson may have the least convincing Southern accent in the history of television, made especially bad next to the vastly superior Barry Corbin and Frances Sternhagen (guest starring as her parents), but Sedgwick is solid enough as a lead. The storyline was a little humdrum—especially the machinations of getting her to fly to Georgia under dubious circumstances—but it does contain a few legitimate surprises. Above all, this is a story of Johnson’s strained relationship with her parents. Since guest stars are required by law to dive into heaping helpings of backstory and exposition, this journey was more palatable than the subplots in which Johnson’s unit…sat around until she got back.

Saving Grace, possibly because these shows were produced to run along with season one, suffers greatly in comparison. It tries to toe the line between dark comedy and brooding drama, with mixed results. Holly Hunter is a skilled actress, and she has (mostly) able support, but I was completely lost. Characters kept saying and doing inexplicable things. Episodes kept having subplots that, I assume, called back to previous episodes, but they made no sense to me. I usually like subtle writing, so I don’t want to complain, but I can say that what I did see hasn’t encouraged me to seek out reruns. Aside from self-conscious attempts to be risqué with language and sexual content, it’s a routine cop show.

Saving Grace‘s season finale contains a cliffhanger, which I will not spoil, but the episode illustrates exactly why I have a problem catching a show like this in the middle of its season: it brings to us a story that—one assumes—has been mentioned on the show in the past and has Holly Hunter doing things I’d assume are out of character (based on spending three previous hours with her). Whether it’s out of character or not, the surprise ending felt like the writers were merely continuing their uneasy quest to make the show edgy.

Overall, the inclusion of Earl the Angel and Hunter’s deep-seated lapsed-Catholic rage, Saving Grace feels like it wants to tackle heavy theological and philosophical issues without saying anything new. At least The Closer, while nothing special, doesn’t have such pretentious ambitious.

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57 Channels (and Nothing On)

What, you thought I was kidding last week? We got a pretty solid Heroes finale and perhaps the best Reaper episode of the series’ run (unfortunately, legend has it that this will also be the last episode until the strike ends), but otherwise? Damn you, television. I can’t write a weekly column if nothing’s on. The few readers who care about my opinions won’t stick around to hear me ramble about Mythbusters reruns.

Dirty Sexy Money (ABC)—So Karen and Simon are together and Nick’s jealous? Oh no, sorry, he’s not jealous. He just seems Simon manipulating Karen just like he manipulated Patrick—and, Nick fears, manipulated him. That’s right, no jealousy. You hear me, show? No jealousy! Because nobody cares about Nick and Karen.

In brighter news, I suspect Juliet’s new boyfriend is bad news. I suspect Jeremy and Lisa getting together (not like that…unless that’s where it’s headed!) is the show’s worst move since Nick and Karen, and not just because Zoe McLellan is shrill and irritating in the role. Did anything else happen? Oh yeah, Carmelita got kidnapped. I gotta say, it’s pretty sad that of the two relationships I’m most invested in, one is built on a foundation of hilarious lies (Jeremy and Sofia, although it appears that’s over) and the other is between a reluctant politician and his tranny hooker. Good times!

Heroes (NBC)—I wish I had more to say about this show than: it’s impossible to take any death seriously now that we have Claire’s blood as the easy cure for anything. I wish I could say I was interested in something as lame as the Shanti virus, but I’m just not. I still enjoy the show, but the only thing I’m curious about is why it looked like Bennet was Nathan Petrelli’s shooter. I know he’s back to working for The Company, but why do they want the “heroes” to remain a secret? I suppose they explored some of that last year, when we traveled to a dystopian future where heroes were freaks in the manner of the X-Men universe, hunted and imprisoned simply for being. But, um…I thought they only did that because the “heroes” were blamed for the nuclear attack on New York? Why would their outing get the same reaction?

My Name Is Earl (NBC)—Is he finally out? For real? It’s about fucking time!

Reaper (The CW)—Wow, this episode managed to take my minor quibbles with the show—lack of depth in its heroes, dull/repetitive villains, and not making the Sam-Andi relationship really meaningful—and managed to undo all the damage in one fell swoop. Thanks to this week’s stolen loot, we got more insight into the characters than ever before. It would appear greed really does bring out the best in people! Perhaps the most entertaining development: Ted, the manager of the Bench, as a recovering gambling addict.

Adding to this, it looks like Sam’s potential relationship with Cady will cause a little jealousy with Andi, easily the most interesting monkey wrench ever thrown into what has been, thus far, a fairly bland take on the will-they-or-won’t-they “relationship.” Similar, the Devil didn’t exactly act please about Sam dating her. He can deny his lovechild all he wants; all the wilting plants and dead goldfish speak volumes.

I fear the hiatus created by the strike may cause Reaper to lose momentum, both in gaining audience members and retaining former audience members. Let’s hope the CW is smart enough to play some choice reruns before it comes back.

Next week: Even less is on. Imagine it!

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Slight Update

  • Hate my job. “My” new girl (I forgot to mention I put that in the title only because every single person in the building started referring to her as “my” girl, as if she were a personal assistant or sex slave or something) ended up quitting not too long after I started, which was fine because I wanted her to go away as soon as humanly possible. Things were fine for about a month, when my boss decided he was going to hire the niece of an employee with more seniority…to be trained to do my job. After we had come to an agreement (built largely on lies I was finally prepared to tell) that I would stay, so he didn’t need to find a replacement. On top of which, he was going to move me to a different job I have even less interest in doing. And, as the weeks have gone on, “my” second new girl has revealed herself to be one of the biggest fucking idiots I’ve ever met. Ever. On the plus side, I’ve made her cry twice so far.
  • Yeah, this whole entry was going to be a bulletpoint list of all the shit going on my life, but it turns out I’m already tapped out. Obviously, I haven’t found a good job, despite still looking (and harder than ever, since I have no interest in spending the next six months babysitting a retard), so there’s no news on that front. Even if I could afford a girlfriend, I’m not really in a place right now where that’d be a good idea. At all. Don’t have any scripts sold, and thanks to the strike, I won’t any time soon. I got nothing.

Oh, except a few updates on The Manager:

  • Turns out, he embarrassed the shit out of himself, Internet-style, by appearing “in-person” on a well-known screenwriting message board, claiming to rep three of the six finalists on Steven Spielberg and Mark Burnett’s disastrous competitive reality show, On the Lot. When a cursory investigation of this claim led everyone to realize he was full of shit, the board turned on him. On top of this, he mentioned a goofy service he started, its reputable clients and success, but when asked for specifics, he ducked all the questions. Then, he elected to pick some small fights with the most vocal people in the thread, until the point that a moderator locked it. Since this is a public board, it’s now one of the top Google hits if you search his name. Not exactly a stellar way to make a name for yourself.
  • His obsession with a certain 1980s Saturday-morning cartoon, and the fact that it is indeed making a comeback, have led him to petition. I intended to wonder, since this “Digg” was apparently dugg only 12 days ago, why it took him six months to gather this information. However, according to a (now-deleted—thanks, Google cache!) post on his defunct blog, The Manager has gone awesomely insane. Essentially, he tries to take credit for hyping up the franchise enough that they’d buy somebody else’s spec script, even though they either didn’t like his idea or didn’t even hear him out (it’s unclear which is the case). He’s trying to pass off his idea as better, even though he hasn’t read the spec script. He sent some insane e-mails to high-level people at the studio and somehow they didn’t just ignore him. A few days later, he started this “petition,” although it looks like he thought better of the whole mess since he deleted the posts from his blog.

My only response: strange things are afoot at the Circle K.

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The Windy City Incident (2005)

What follows is the synopsis provided by Ariztical Entertainment, distributors of The Windy City Incident:

Chanel Puget resides in peaceful Olympia, Washington, and is frequently haunted by ghostly dreams. One evening, Chanel has a vivid dream and is “ordered” to travel to Chicago. Despite continual pressure from his boyfriend of two months (Randy), Chanel follows the message in his dreams and heads for Chicago, the “windy city.” Upon his arrival, Chanel wastes no time supporting his rent and daily expenses by hustling on the streets. One evening while visiting a drag bar, Chanel’s past history collides with the present. Mysteries begin to unravel as it becomes apparent that Chanel’s body and soul have become a vehicle for ghastly and vindictive apparitions. Only the viewer knows if Chanel will safely and sanely make it back to his home in Olympia, or be possessed forever in Chicago by the dreaded ghost, known as “Ant.”

This description left me with the foolish belief that I would be reviewing a bizarre, offbeat comedy, the kind of movie that sneaks in under the radar and slowly develops a cult audience of devoted fans.

What I received, instead, was the worst movie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a shitload of bad movies.

I’m going to be nice and start with the editing, because it’s a huge problem that is easily fixed, all things considered. This shit needs to be tightened up. I imagine the editing is so poor because, at 71 minutes, The Windy City Incident is barely feature-length. Yet, every single shot in this entire movie starts three seconds too soon and lingers at least three seconds too long. It gives the entire movie the pacing of a bad 1970s melodrama.

This problem is most noticeable in the dialogue scenes, where, for some reason that I can only assume is a private joke, an adult male coos like a baby on the soundtrack to punctuate jokes that probably wouldn’t be funny even if the editing were tightened. But let’s pretend this is a film that can be saved. Get rid of the cooing, obviously, and make it appear as if each character is interacting with one another. The goal is to create the illusion that something one person says inspires the next person to speak. Instead, we are treated to shot after shot of actors staring off into space for far too long before delivering their lines.

On the subject of acting, I don’t want to denigrate the cast too much, but it reaches a point where it’s difficult not to. In many scenes, it’s abundantly clear that actors are either reading from cue cards or having lines fed to them by somebody offscreen. You’re shooting on videotape, and these are the best performances that could be culled from these actors? It’d be one thing if this had been shot on film, where every single frame is precious and expensive, but video? You could keep that shit rolling for hours until you get it right. I have my doubts that shooting time was limited by usual factors like lighting, costuming, set decoration (seriously, every set in this movie looks like a dorm room, a boiler room in an abandoned warehouse, or the director’s parents’ house), and sound recording, so why not spend time letting actors rehearse their lines? Or learn them?

With great difficulty, I tried to remove the story/dialogue aspects from the atrocious performances and the goofy pacing. I tried to objectively say whether or not this story would fly if it had been created by a group of competent individuals. Perhaps if the film had been written by the marketing team at Ariztical, we could have had a winner on our hands. Unfortunately, the movie we have plays like a series of loosely connected sketches that aren’t funny, interspersed with sex scenes as awkward and dispassionate as HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me, only more random and less relevant to the skimpy plot.

So what is this? A chance for some friends to fuck around with a camera they bought for $99 at Circuit City and edited in Windows Movie Maker? An opportunity for a sleazy director to tape a variety of starving-actor erections under the guise of making a “comedy”? I tried looking to the audio commentary for answers. In the two minutes I watched before shutting it off in disgust, all I heard was the lip-smacking of two men impolitely eating fast-food and making limp inside-jokes and giggling without letting the audience in on their “creative process.”

Maybe a braver soul will find this DVD and unlock the mysteries of why anybody would make a film like The Windy City Incident, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

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The Rise—well…Fall of Journeyman

This week, NBC unceremoniously burned off the last two episodes of its best new show, Journeyman. It probably won’t return after the holidays, or the strike—it’s unofficial, but it’s done. NBC gave full-season pickups to two dismal but slightly-more-popular shows, Chuck and Life (and if you don’t believe the latter is a bad show, just take a step back from your frothing e-mail and watch or re-watch this clip; no amount of arguing will convince me that Life isn’t a piece of shit), while The Bionic Woman and Journeyman will be left to die. The former deserves its fate, but I’d like to take an opportunity to explore the failures—both creative and commercial—of Journeyman.

Given the sweet lead-in of Heroes, this seemingly compatible sci-fi effort should have retained that sizable audience share, and it did. For the first half hour of the first episode. Because, it became abundantly clear, the show NBC was selling is not the show that aired. Promos implied this would be a whiz-bang adventure staring that muscly guy from Rome and that hot chick from Daybreak, making out and traveling through time and beating people up and—we got a domestic drama about thirty-something yuppies struggling to adapt their semi-posh lifestyle to the economic realities of the modern, city-dwelling print journalist. We didn’t even get a depressed man yearning for a change from his increasingly tragic life, escaping into time travel to find fun and adventure. We got a guy who didn’t want to travel through time, who reluctantly made minor nudges to change average people’s lives.

Suddenly, Journeyman and Heroes didn’t seem quite as compatible. The misleading promos lured in an audience that never would have enjoyed the show, while at the same time pushing away an audience who may have embraced it.

Would they, though? Certainly, college students or recent graduates don’t want to watch a show that said, “Your future is nothing but financial woes and petty domestic squabbling.” Would an older audience, from the non-coveted slightly-above-34 crowd, enjoy this any more than their younger counterparts? It’s possible, maybe even likely, that they looked at a couple living in a gargantuan house, working fairly glamorous (if jeopardized) jobs, and either had a hard time buying their money problems or had a hard time caring. When you’re living in a saltine-box apartment, working as a bottom-feeding cubicle drone in an enormous corporation, and still can’t make ends meet, it makes the woes of the upper-middle-class a bit less relatable.

Who would this show grab? Hard to say. Nerds like me who enjoy time travel. Where I could easily imagine friends and coworkers getting annoyed or enraged by aging yuppies whining about money, I shrugged it off with a chuckle. In the reality of the show, it’s amusing to me that two journalists didn’t have the foresight to realize their industry was going down as they bought the gigantic house they could barely afford spreading it out across 30 years, rather than going with something a little smaller and more reasonable. It’s emblematic of our communal excesses. Why live within your means when you can get more on credit? Besides that, starting them on such a high financial plane can only mean high drama as they toboggan toward bankruptcy.

Commercially, focusing on a yuppie family’s domestic problems might have ruined the show. Creatively, I can’t imagine anything better. Here, you have a guy who’s job is constantly in question—and he suddenly starts disappearing for long stretches, with no control over it. You have a wife and son who have to make commitments and have to deal with the increasingly unreliable husband and father. It not only adds a layer of depth to Kevin McKidd’s Dan Vasser—it allows him to be the reluctant hero no matter what. “Gee, I could be stopping a liquor-store robbery in 1973, but my kid has a Cub Scouts thing…”

At first I was dubious about the family angle. It made me fear the show would tie him down too much and get bogged down in the strife of a failing marriage and a son who grows more and more detached. Thankfully, with a few Livia-related exceptions, the show never went down that road. Most of the problems within the family could have just as easily been unrelated to time travel. His lateness, lack of reliability—it’s the same as having a high-pressure job with a schedule that’s all over the map (like, for instance, being a newspaper reporter).

Despite doing some things well, Journeyman suffered from creative problems that it couldn’t recover from until the audience had already left. The biggest, perhaps, is leaving Dan so unconcerned with why he’s traveling through time—what’s causing it, what is he supposed to do, what happens if he fails? By the time he finally started asking questions—and getting creepy answers—it was getting numbers that would look low on basic cable.

It also had a major issue, especially in the first three episodes, of downplaying the time-travel elements of a show about time travel. While I didn’t mind the slow pace and concentration on building up its characters so we could really see how the time travel problem would affect them, it seems like a fair assumption that this was a poor creative decision for bringing in the audience and making them stick around. By the time they finally integrated more time-traveling exploits into the show, it was too little, too late.

The important thing here is that the writers recognized these problems and did something about them. NBC’s major crime is canceling Journeyman before it gets a chance to reach its full potential. It had an abbreviated season where it was clear the writers were trying to figure out how to pace their story, and when they finally started getting the mixture right—that’s it, they’re done. Nobody’s watching. When NBC and its notoriously horrific promo department are as much to blame as the writers, you’d think they’d at least suck it up, cut Journeyman some slack, pick up the back nine, and relaunch the show properly after the strike.

But hey, it’s NBC. They fell from #1 to #4 for a reason.

Next week: No columns for the next two. There is that little on TV. Have a good holiday!

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