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Monthly archives: October 2007


Dear Guitar Hero/Rock Band People
2007-10-16 15:56
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I got two words and a hyphen for you:


Thank you, that is all.

Makin' 'Em Come Up
2007-10-08 11:07
by Mark T.R. Donohue

In what's been a hugely underwhelming new TV season, the two best new shows are nowhere near as self-assured and fully-formed as say, "Heroes" or "Arrested Development" or "House" were at the pilot stage. The producers of "Aliens in America" are off to a good start, but there were almost as many things in the premiere that didn't work -- the howlingly bad big-headed alien fantasy at the beginning and the incredibly grafted-on-seeming little sister character -- as bits that did. I'm recommending the show based on the likability of the cast, enough good jokes to suggest the producers didn't just finish their first screenwriting seminar (it's you I'm calling out, "Reaper" writers -- seriously, you suck), and the fact that there isn't an ounce of mean-spiritedness in "Aliens," something that it's terribly difficult for a show about cultural differences to claim.

Then there's "Pushing Daisies." I was hugely annoyed by the first half of the pilot of this overkill-quirky ABC fantasy-drama, but by the end, I found myself wanting more, thanks in no small part to the simply radiant Anna Friel. "Daisies" is full of so many over-the-top, blatantly artificial compositions that many of the establishing shots should have "WE LOVE TIM BURTON" title cards. Creator Bryan Fuller, who got his start in the writers' room during the seventh (and only good) season of "Star Trek: Voyager," saw his innovative but kind of tiresomely quirky series "Dead Like Me" and "Wonderfalls" canceled in quick succession. He then moved over to NBC to work with Tim Kring on the first season of "Heroes," and for sure it's his involvement with that hit that's won him another chance at his own show. Fuller's extremely stylized dialogue (two parts Joss Whedon, one part David Milch) didn't have a place in the overblown "Heroes" universe, so a lot of the speeches from "Pushing Daisies" (and this show really piles it on with the long speeches) sound like things Fuller had been saving for some time. That's one of the reasons I'm giving the show the thumbs-up even though the pilot falters at points -- there might be a bit of an All Things Must Pass effect in place here, with Fuller so happy to be doing things completely his way again that he's lost a little bit of judgement as to which deposits in his idea bank are worth withdrawing.

In fact the most straightforward thing about "Pushing Daisies" is the premise, which is spelled out for us in explicit detail not once but twice in the pilot. Ned (Lee Pace, hilariously sepulchral, if you can believe such a thing) can raise people from the dead by touching them. If he lets them live for more than a minute, somebody else in the vicinity has to die. Whether this happens or not, if Lee touches the resurrected again, it's back to the dirt nap. Detective Emerson Cod (Chi McBride, who really, really deserves a good show after 81 episodes of "Boston Public") employs Lee to touch the corpses of murder victims. The stiffs tell Lee what he needs to know, then Cod and Lee split the reward. They've been at this for some time when the series opens.

There are some details in "Pushing Daisies" that are exquisite. Since his ability extends to fruits and vegetables, Lee is able to make the freshest pies in existence. The "Nighthawks at the Diner" pie shop Lee runs is only the most impressive in a show full of showily unrealistic sets. Unfortunately it's dubbed the "Pie Hole," one of several way-too-precious details in which Fuller errs. Another: A travel agency where Cod and Lee go on a case is called the "Boutique Travel Travel Boutique." That's funny, but... later when we meet a pair of retired synchronized swimmers, we find their stage name was "The Darling Mermaid Darlings." Uh, Bryan, that's the same joke twice.

Thankfully at its heart "Pushing Daisies" is neither a mystery nor another Wes Anderson movie that just... won't... end, it's a tragic romance. The only person for whom the understandably morbid Lee has ever had any feelings, his childhood neighbor Chuck (Friel), gets murdered and after Emerson leads Lee to the body, he can't bring himself to touch her a second time and make her demise permanent. Chuck and Lee love each other, but they can't touch, and it's so painful it's kind of beautiful. Am I contradicting myself here? A few days ago I wrote that I couldn't bear "Chuck," the show, because it taunts its pathetic title character with a beautiful woman who is forced to be around him but whom he can never have. How is "Pushing Daisies" different? Well, Lee is no innocent. He's a grownup, unlike Chuck from "Chuck," and he's the emotionally detached basket case that he is through his own actions. Fuller smartly gives Lee a completely acceptable, fully living option in Kristin Chenoweth's Olive (whose huge height contrast with Pace is beautifully used by director Barry Sonnenfeld in the pilot) and he's able to draw clearly within just a couple of scenes how the adult Lee has completely detached himself from the world of the living. Only a tragic, doomed romance could ever bring the completely death-fixated Lee out of his reverie. "Chuck" wants you to laugh at Chuck because, ha ha, what a loser, but "Pushing Daisies" wants you to feel for Lee because maybe he isn't.

It can be over-the-top -- Friel's speech about hugs is self-satisfied showy screenwriting nonsense with little if any relation to the character or the story -- but "Pushing Daisies" is undeniably original and the characters aren't so incredibly bent that they're impossible to identify with, like Fuller's last two inventions. I could do without the Darling Mermaid Darlings, now batty old shut-ins with only three eyes between the two of them, but I want to spend more time with Lee, Cod, Chuck, and Olive. We'll see how "Pushing Daisies" settles in as a series, because it could well be one of those ideas of limited scale that would have been better as a film. If Sonnenfeld continues his involvement as promised that'll help a great deal.

How the Mighty Have Fallen
2007-10-07 00:26
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I was watching something on the DVR yesterday, I think it was the second episode of "Bionic Woman" (better, Isaiah Washington brings a lot to the table and hey, look, there's Kevin Rankin from "Buffy" and "Undeclared") and a promo for "Saturday Night Live" came on. Seth Rogen was hosting and Spoon was the musical guest.

Let me tell you something: I loves me some Seth Rogen and Spoon. What time I haven't spent watching baseball this month, I've been watching and re-watching Knocked Up and Superbad and listening to Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The only thing that has gotten "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" out of my head is the fact that now "Don't Make Me a Target" is in there even worse.

But (and I didn't notice until much, much later) it didn't even cross my mind to tape the episode. Didn't even occur as a possibility. I'm so accustomed to ignoring "Saturday Night Live" these days that the idea of watching it seems alien and/or quaint. How about that?

Coming soon: "Pushing Daisies" and all of our returning favorites.

It May Already Be Too Late
2007-10-05 19:58
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The way the TV season works these days, if a show doesn't debut huge, more often than not that's all there is to it. I believe "Viva Laughlin" was canceled before its debut, which is pretty impressive. Anyway, please try and see an episode of "Aliens in America" before it bites the dust, because while the show tries too hard to make its point, at least it has a valid point, which is more than I can say for every other pilot I watched this season. And I've just always liked Scott Patterson, even if his character on "Aliens" is strangely a Caucasian rewrite of Terry Crews' dad from "Everybody Hates Chris."

Two shows that I couldn't make it even through two full episodes on the TiVo and thus have been the first of the season to lose their recording status: "Reaper" and "K-Ville." The latter is a show that I wanted to support simply because it brought work to the New Orleans area, not for any creative reasons, but unfortunately even with that huge head start it gives you no reason whatsoever to keep watching. "Reaper" on the other hand is a complete piece of garbage; I am astonished that smart critics were at all taken by it. The second episode had Sock recycling so many 15-year-old jokes that I thought I was back around the lunch table in freshman year.

I'm giving "Chuck" a few more chances because I like Adam Baldwin. "Bionic Woman" is on life support as well. Honestly, besides "Aliens" the new show I look for most on the TiVo queue is "Gossip Girl," and that might just be because I think Blake Lively is smokin' hot, although check back with me on that.