Wednesday, 12 December 2007

This Week in TV: Week 11 (Part 2)

It's with a saddened heart I continue my piercing, pissy, puisant comments about That Week in TV, as it has turned out that NBC has decided against renewing the episode order for Journeyman, choosing instead to keep Chuck going even though it's limping along, narratively, like a two legged woolly mammoth in the middle of a heatwave. As usual it's a case of one show getting young viewers (and being aired at a reasonable hour), and another show appealing to adults who have less disposable income but being aired at 10pm. Idiotic. While at first the new season appeared to be weak, the improvements in Pushing Daisies, Reaper and Journeyman have been very welcome (and we're hearing good things about Gossip Girl, which appears to be the good Josh Schwartz show of the season, and will be watched by us as soon as the strike begins to really bite). That still only means three (maybe four) shows were worth our continued attention, and none of them have done very well. Reaper has low ratings, but is on CW where that's par for the course. Pushing Daisies has a bigger following than Journeyman, but it's still not the breakout hit ABC were hoping for. And this is all before we get into the strike situation, and how that's affecting things. Kevin Falls, Journeyman creator, has said that the strike could end up saving Journeyman, but he's a classy guy and hopes that's not the case.
Although NBC isn't ordering a full-season of Journeyman, it hasn’t officially canceled the show either. In fact, there's a remote chance it could get a second season pickup if the strike continues through the spring, when the town is usually developing pilots for the next TV season. "If there is scorched earth and there are no pilots, then that’s a whole different thing," admits Falls. "There is probably a better than average chance that we would come back. But nobody wants that. I would throw my show on the sword if this strike would end beforehand. Too many people suffer from a long strike.”

No matter what happens, not getting to see the full season plan come to fruition (it's in the article, but beware, it contains spoilers) is regrettable. NBC may run three of my favourite shows (Friday Night Lights, The Office, and 30 Rock), but right now we're not on speaking terms. ::does obscene Italian hand gesture in general direction of NBC HQ::

Ah well, it was pretty obvious this would happen, so I shouldn't act surprised. I shall continue, through the tears. ::sniff:: I wonder how internet and lad's mag superstar Moon Bloodgood is taking it?

Oh, she's got a husky to keep her company. That's alright then.

Saddest Hair Loss of the Week:

The Pasdar, a hairstyle that could have swept the nation if it had more screentime over the past few weeks, TIM KRING!, was sadly laid to rest this week with the shocking (and downright show-crippling) shooting of Nathan Petrelli, former senator and flying ace, gunned down by a mysterious assassin just as he was about to finish the sentence, "I have the ability to fly" to a gathering of journalists. Nicely timed, mysterious assassin who has probably yet to be cast. Pasdar has been Heroes' MVP this season, bringing some snarky attitude to what has otherwise been ponderous and grumpy in place of the effortlessly low-key atmosphere of the first season. Rumour has it that of the two characters "killed" this week, only one is actually dead. While I may not have been the biggest hater of Niki (I was curious to see how her power was going to play out), I'd very much appreciate Kring's sudden interest in the opinion of the fanbase play out with him listening to the cries of "Pasdar death but noooooo!" and let Ali Larter go. Look, even her superpowered family is upset about Pasdar's death.

Seriously, they are not reacting to Niki's flaming demise at all, even though it looks that way. If you saw the show and it looked like they were mourning Niki, you saw the work of an editing hacker. For serious. No comebacks!

Best Directed Scene of the Week:

Friday Night Lights is often a masterclass of directing, as well as writing, acting, lighting, catering, and many other things. It could cure the sick and change the rotation of any celestial body it felt like as well, I'm sure. That said, even with a quality level and artistic ambition far above pretty much everything else on TV right now (or ever), this week featured a breathtaking set piece, as Dillon Panthers newbie Santiago plays his first ever game. Even for a new character he has been pretty sidelined so far, interacting with most of the main characters for a couple of minutes each episode, being used as a device to show new aspects of their personalities (Tyra's snobbery, Buddy's generosity, Coach's... well, his pissiness, which is not entirely new). This week he got a sequence to himself, first being driven to the game by Buddy and expressing his fear by having a big hissyfit, screaming insults at Buddy and disparaging the game (which was probably more hurtful to his benefactor than anything he could say about him personally). Somehow, Buddy's response (threats and fury) inspired Santiago, who grumpily snarls, "I hate you!" but goes to the game anyway.

The game is a disaster, with the first half going conclusively to the opposing team. What was so superb about that is that Buddy must have realised at that point that Santiago was so scared he would probably choke on the field, but if he didn't play he would never trust Buddy, and would begin to reoffend again. Buddy never does anything he thinks will harm Dillon's game, but finally he sees he has no choice but to do what's right for a single person, even if it screws up the Panthers defence. Gambling on the possibility that Santiago would surprise everyone, Buddy begs Coach to let him play, and in the third quarter, he relents. And it goes badly.

Bewildered, scared and frustrated, Santiago chokes horribly, and thanks to the visual template created by Peter Berg in the movie and the show pilot, the camera is right next to him as he tumbles and screws up. Coach reacts in his usual manner.

With everything looking bleak, and third down reached, Santiago scans the manic crowd, and the sound of their cheering drowns out everything, until we hear a low growl coming from him and his fellow Panthers. The look in his eyes at this point is, frankly, terrifying.

It might be a cliche that the scared character comes through in the end, but it's used a lot because it's effective and can be moving when done right. Knowing what the stakes are, thanks to weeks of slow character development, it doesn't matter that you know he will be alright. The moment he sacks the quarterback and changes the momentum of the game still works because by now his success is important, not just for him but for Coach and Buddy and, by God, the whole damn town!!!

During this five minute sequence there is barely any dialogue, just sound collages and incoherent shouts, with the cameras placed as close to the action as possible. It's the sort of scene you expect in a movie, but to see it on TV, where tight schedules make it hard to create effective visual set-pieces, shows that technology and skill and training and understanding of the medium has grown to such a point that this kind of superb, moving, nerve-wracking storytelling is possible on a regular basis, if extra effort is expended.

And yes, Buddy apologising for shouting and then telling Santiago he won the game with a single play made me cry. A lot. Stop judging me!

Most Welcome Guest Director of the Week:

Shades of Caruso loves William Friedkin. Loves! Do we love every movie he has made? Oh hell no. Jade? Love the Mighty Caruso though we do, that is a piece of shit movie, and Joe Eszterhas is a hack who has had a couple of lucky strikes to his name (three if you count the colossally entertaining Showgirls). That's not his worst film. Rules of Engagement, with Sam Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones, is possibly the most despicable movie I own, ideologically repulsive and galactically overwrought. Peter Bradshaw sums it up way better than I could in his Guardian review. Speaking of which, Friedkin also directed The Guardian, in which a family is terrorised by an evil tree. Not a triffid, a tree. Turns out Friedkin took his name off the film, replacing it with Alan Von Smithee. That's right. Allan Smithee was not a good enough pseudonym. It had to have a Von in there. You'd think he was being funny, but having seen him in interviews, he has no sense of humour about himself at all.

Other crimes include terrorising and injuring his cast members on The Exorcist, wearing cravats and high pants and aviator shades (see above and below for examples), and praising Joe Carnahan's absurd Narc just because he thought it was a homage to his filmography. So why were we thrilled to hear he was directing an episode of our favourite crime procedural?

Because he is so very entertaining. And unable to see how ridiculous he often is (his commentary for the aforementioned Rules of Engagement is my favourite ever, so unguarded are his comments). And because he has made some of my favourite movies, obviously. The Exorcist and The French Connection, predictably, but I also remember loving Sorceror when I was younger (importantly, that was before I saw Clouzot's The Wages of Fear, so who knows if I'll still like it if I saw it now). Recently he did a great job directing Ron "Awesome" Shelton's Blue Chips, starring Nick "Also Awesome" Nolte, as well as directing one of the best (and certainly most underrated) action movies of the last ten years, The Hunted.

In a way it was the proto-Bourne Ultimatum, stripped down to the essentials and almost entirely devoid of the absurdity that can often mar his films. Tommy Lee Jones has about 15 lines of dialogue, Benicio Del Toro is like a machine (or an animal, or a machinimal), and the final 40 minutes is a long chase scene. It's all so spare, with barely any event getting in the way of telling the story of two stone killers trying to kill each other, sometimes with stones. It sounds boring, but it's riveting, and brutal, and thrilling.

Of course, he also directed To Live and Die in L.A., featuring a young and never-sexier William Petersen, running around at the speed of light and getting his Little Billy out for the camera. It's not that great a movie, and when we watched it recently we just laughed at it from the first frame to the last (sexxy John Pankow? Erm...) but it's so...

...large, I guess is the right word, so unafraid to do whatever it takes to get a response from the audience, that I can't help but love it a little, from the vibrant Robby Muller photography to the super-dated Wang Chung soundtrack to the relentlessly erotic mise en scene (apologies for putting a first year Film Studies phrase in there, but seriously, most of the film has a neon pallette, with strip clubs and their neon-ness playing a large part in the plot). Plus, of course, the awesome car chase, which has become a recurring Friedkin motif, whether he likes it or not.

So, it's all very interesting to us as both Friedkin fans and CSI fans, and so cool to see Petersen reunited with the man who convinced him to shamelessly display his genitals. But CSI is not like the films mentioned above. There's not much sex (and it's rarely lascivious), no garishness (just well-balanced colours), no overt tackiness. It has a glossy sheen and treats the underbelly of Las Vegas with tact and a non-judgemental manner. Surely CSI: Miami, with its clumsy handling of moral issues, melodramatic plotlines, and sleazy sensationalism (which are factors in our affection for both show and director), would be a better fit. So how would Friedkin modify his directorial impulses to fit the CSI: Classic template?

By framing a drug-addled, hallucinating, shag-happy Warrick for the bloody murder of a stripper/hooker and setting almost the entire episode in a neon-soaked strip club, of course. It even opened with a car chase. So I guess the writers wrote the episode specifically for him? I guess? ::sigh::

That's not to say it was bad. Warrick's screw-ups are a standard plot device since season one, and this season has hinted that the break-up of his marriage has affected him far worse than it might have seemed when he makes offhand comments about it. Having his woes come centre-stage does another wonderful thing that CSI does on occasion; create episodes based on the troubles of the actors. Gary Dourdan has recently been in trouble for beating up a TMZ photographer, so that wild streak of his seems to have been parodied in this episode. It's reminiscent of Marg Helgenberger's episode about cosmetic surgery, which was cheekily filmed while her Botoxed forehead didn't move an inch for an entire season. Not even a twitch. We couldn't believe the brass balls of the producers for doing that. This episode was a bit like that, and the extra frisson worked well.

Also good was a wonderfully creepy scene where Warrick investigated a weird barbecue pit behind the strip club. Nothing much happened, but the atmosphere was deeply troubling. It was such a pleasure to watch, knowing the guy still had it. Of course, he still had to go and screw it up by going off the deep end, ending the episode with a lengthy hallucination/sex scene, which included topless Dourdan for the ladies...

...and a semi-naked imaginary-knife-wielding hottie who ends up dead a bit later, at which point Warrick unleashes a "Nooooooooo!" that would make Darth Vader's Revenge of the Sith "Noooooooo!" cower in fear.

Overall, it was another triumph for our hero Friedkin, but as usual, a triumph tainted with the stench of failure. There may be directors I love because they never get it wrong (or at least, very rarely), and some directors I hate because they never get it right, but Friedkin belongs in that unique subset: a director I love and hate and love to hate, because he gets things wonderfully right and horribly wrong, sometimes in the same movie. Or scene, even. I really need to see Bug ASAP.

Goofiest Facial Expression of the Week:

Question: Why was Milo Ventimiglia cast as Sylvester Stallone's son in Rocky V? Here's a hint:

That's some serious currybum face going on there. Perhaps he absorbed the powers of someone who could propel bowling balls through his ass. Useful if going up against the animated bowling-pin army of a particularly inventive mad scientist, but otherwise not good for much.

ETA: a concerned citizen has pointed out that Milo Ventimiglia was actually in Rocky Balboa: The Balboening, and not Rocky V: This Time It's Personal And The Other Four Times Didn't Quite Count. I apologise profusely, and will eat a bowling ball as punishment.

Bizarre and Miraculously Non-Gratuitous Nudity of the Week:

Friedkin's CSI episode featured a lot of gyrating ladies in their shiny knickers, which Friedkin would probably have explained away as his attempt to show the dark heart of Vegas, and not lots of miscellaneous flesh. He can win as many awards as he likes, like this one presented to him by a couple of film professors and Mark Kermode in his best zoot suit, but at his heart, he's a salacious son of a bitch, bless him.

However, Reaper managed to get hott lady skin on TV and make it a plot point. Sock and Ben realise that Cady, if the daughter of Ray Wise, will have 666 on her body somewhere. Contriving to erect a hot tub in his front yard, Sock and Ben get Cady alone and convince her to strip by saying it's the only way they'll ever trust her with their friend Sam. And she does.

Actually, that bit is a bit crazy, even though she convinces both Sock and Ben to strip too. Maybe Cady is a wild child and we don't know it yet. Or maybe kids these days do that sort of thing all the time. Back in my day the sight of an ankle would turn men into sexual werewolves, but then our local vicars were prowling the streets with silver-bullet shooting crucifixes in order to stop the sexx. (These are all metaphors, by the way. I come from the West Midlands. No one in the West Midlands has ever come up with something as cool as a gun shaped like a crucifix, especially one built to kill lycanthropes.)

"What in the Wide Wide World of Sports is a-going on here?!?!" Sight of the Week:

Christopher Gorham is adorable as Henry in Ugly Betty. We've been rooting for him and Betty, and panicked during the gloomy Charlie-months, even though Charlie was played by the equally adorable Jayma Mays. Canyon has commented on his cuteness in the past, and I can see that. He's a good looking guy. But OMG seriously, what. The hell? Is this?!??!!??!?!?

That's not a trick of the eye. He works out. I get that. But is he having his intestines removed? Are they hidden in a tesseract located in his abdomen? And what's going on with his upper body? It's enormous! His arms are big too. Not Benjamin McKenzie girder-style guns, but still, plenty big for a guy who gets hired to play bookish nerds. I'm a bookish nerd, and I once worked out, but if I ever ended up looking like that I'd sprint to the nearest Wendy's and gluttonise myself on their wonderful Jalapeno Double Melts (limited edition! Buy five today!), just to get that belly back.

For God's sake, he looks like an man-sized ant in a wifebeater. The second episode of Ugly Betty was, as I said before, much better than the previous one, by an order of magnitude, but the sight of this torso, and him dancing badly, was deeply troubling.

Face/Off of the Week:

Hiro Nakamura vs. Adam Munroe? Useless Mohinder Suresh vs. Sylar? Niki Thingummybob vs. the elemental force known as fire? Nuh-uh. Julie Taylor vs. Tami Taylor!

It burnt up the screen. The tension building up between mother and daughter all season has boiled over once before, but just to make that metaphor redundant, it boiled over again this week, with an incoherent and frankly scary screaming match. It was, as is often the case with Friday Night Lights, utterly believable.

In the final touching scenes, it seemed that they had put their troubles to one side for baby Gracie's baptism, but it didn't feel like anything had really been resolved. With typically astute writing, Julie the brat was not so bratty as to misunderstand her responsibility on the important day, but not so mature that her frustration with her mother was resolved. Hopefully there will be many more rucks, as this was a great scene (and Canyon's favourite moment of the episode).

Next week, no digressions about werewolves, no Grin of the Week (no Reaper!), and more Journeyman, prior to being shoved into a corner and forgotten by network execs with a lump of coal where their hearts should be, and probably not much else. My typing finger will be most grateful for the break.


johnilf said...

Heeeeeeyyyyy!!!! Rocky V, dont you mean Rocky Balboa? Sorry, babe.

Heroes annoys me 10 fold!!! the last few episode were a massive improvement on the opening episode, jeez. Then they introduce a lame ass plot device meaning nobody can die. Yep, the cheerleaders blood. Shoot Nathan fifty times in the chest, he aint dead, the last thing this show needs is to kill off its most popular characters... oh and a very camp super villian. I am depressed.

Admiral Neck said...

Ah yes, the sixth one. Sorry about that. My knowledge of boxing movies is quite, ::snerk:: "Rocky"! Ha ha! Ha! Oh god, what the hell am I doing with my life?

Some online funsters have been saying that Heroes is now no different from comics where no character ever stays dead, but at least with comics you usually have a long wait before the resurrection. On Heroes, Noah comes back to life a couple of minutes after being shot and then reveals his resurrection to his family two weeks later. So what was the point? The last few episodes featured a ton of this wheelspinning nonsense, and it was only the powery moments, Zack Quinto's campiness, and bitchy Pasdar keeping it going. I get the feeling I'm going to stick with this even at its worst, but that says more about my stubbornness than about the attraction of the show.

johnilf said...

tell me about it, i said i wasnt even going to give the second season a sniff now look at me, i think i like getting wound up and moaning about it because of the f-ing potential season one showed and i want those moments back...oh and im a geek and a sucker for superpowers. Shit me! stubborness? Im still watching smallville... although im now only watching pre-credit sequence and last 5 mins because i really can find better things to do with the other 30 mins and Caroline likes it when i get angry watching it. Dont diss Rocky, dude, Im the proud owner of the Rocky super special Anthology box set...I can hear the music now.

Jaredan said...

Hey now, we all like it when you get angry watching Smallville, and it isn't sutbborness, it is a strange alluring mix of delusion and masochism.
I liked the apparent secret to killing Adam.
Shoot him once in the head.
Becuase after being impaled in the skull with a tree-branch or a huge shard of glass that killed the other healers didn't it?
How much wold it cost to get Sylar to put a small wooden pipe in his mouth and shout "I cants stands no more!" to open Volume 3?

johnilf said...

oh, baby, dont even get me started on that one. Why do we do this to ourselves when there is a perfectly balanced well written, acted and exciting show about get the axe.... I can hear the music now.