Saturday, January 20, 2007

Watching TV Online—CW, CBS and ABC

With the announcement that the CW is now offering streaming video, I of course had to rush over and check it out. Available are episodes from Beauty and the Geek, Supernatural, One Tree Hill, Veronica Mars, Everybody Hates Chris, Girlfriend, All of Us, and The Game. Unfortunately, there's only a select few episodes from each show. That's too bad, because I'd be interested in catching up with Veronica Mars.

I was a bit put off at first when I clicked and was asked to download a player. But the player the CW is using has been the best by far of any I've tried so far at the other network websites. It plays smoothly, and the picture quality is good. My only quibble is that there isn't a full screen option--the full-screen button makes the player full-screen, but doesn't increase the size of the actual viewing area by much.

I've also tried the streaming video at CBS and ABC. CBS worked relatively well. The shows run in RealPlayer, so I could click on the RealPlayer icon to shift them to a true full-screen. However, the picture quality isn't quite good enough for full-screen viewing. In addition, I had trouble from time to time with the player stalling between sections (each episode is four sections, with a short commercial between each one). On the last episode, "Vox Populi," it was so bad I finally gave up about 2/3 through. Fortunately I had that episode on the DVR, so I was able to finish up.

ABC was even worse. Their player stalled repeatedly, until about halfway through an episode of Brothers and Sisters it decided not to give up the goods at all, and I had to miss the rest of the episode. If I go back and try again, I'll have to start at the beginning, too, which is frustrating.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Day Break at ABC Online

Starting January 29, Day Break will be appearing with a new episode every Monday. Details here.


Dude. I love this show. Need I say more?

In fact, the more I love an individual episode, the harder it is for me to write a review right after I've seen it. So the fact that I'm posting this on Friday morning should give you some indication of how good this was. The story was very well put together, and covered both the monster of the week and the Winchester Boys' Emotional Arc equally well. And while I usually go on and on about Jensen Ackles, tonight I'll give a nod to Jared Padalecki for acting his ass off. Kudos, oh Tall One.

Apparently a month has passed since the last ep. I'm not sure they've had this much time pass between episodes before, but I'd have to look that up. In any case, the passage of time has been indicated by shearing Jensen Ackles' hair into a semi faux-hawk. I really have no problem with this. Sam is still looking for Ava, who is apparently 5'5" and 108 lbs, which means she should be out snarfing cheeseburgers to get her BMI into a normal range. But he's willing to drop his search for a case Ellen has tossed their way.

So off the boys go. The case of the week involves a creepy haunted hotel where people die mysteriously. Honestly, that's never good. The deaths are connected somehow to a dollhouse that's an exact replica of the hotel. A mysterious force "kills" the dolls, and these events are echoed in the real world. The boys suspect hoodoo magic, but there are even stranger things afoot.

Penned by Matt Witten ("No Exit"), "Playthings" was an impressive piece of TV. Seriously, I think this show has been on a streak of near-perfection since "Simon Said." Veering from laugh-out-loud humor to nicely intense drama to complete creepiness, this episode covered all the Supernatural bases, and covered them well. Seemingly calm at the beginning--Dean comments on his lack of emo-ness--by mid-episode Sam descends into an unexpected drunken emotional purge. He's afraid of himself, of what he might become. Saving people, he thinks, will tip the balance and keep him from becoming a pawn of the Yellow Eyed Demon. But everyone around him is dying. He couldn't save Ava, and he can't save the people at the hotel. Desperate, he entreats Dean to kill him if he becomes "something that I'm not." Dean doesn't want to promise, but he does, because he has to. It's an intensely emotional moment, which undoubtedly had fangirls everywhere collapsing in squeeing heaps. (I don't squee in these situations. I slide gracefully off the side of my chaise.)

By the end, though, Sam gets to save another soul, in a scene reminiscent of Dean's heroic turn in "Dead in the Water." And, in spite of Dean's hoping he forgot their conversation, Sam remembers Dean's promise. I have no doubt that will come into play in upcoming episodes. Probably the season finale. I'm picturing a cliffhanger where Dean has to make that call--is it Sam or is it Memorex? Find out next week if he pulls the trigger... Because that would just be cruel. And also perfect. Except they'll probably think of something even crueller and perfecter, knowing these writers.

Favorite Moments:
The gay antiquing jokes. Honestly, the whole king or two queens joke just never gets old.

Dean's riff on how much Sam loves to dress up his dolls.

Sasquatch. Does Kripke read fanfic, or what?

Interesting to no one but myself:
The normally semi-desaturated nature of this show tonight seemed extra pronounced, especially with Susan, who seems almost black-and-white in some shots, and with anything red, which seemed overly prominent, especially in the cars and the paint on the dolls. I thought the effect made it all extra creepy.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Fandom Collisions

In today's news:

According to Tim, Amy Acker has been added to the cast of Drive. The Angel alum joins Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), for a Whedonverse Trifecta.

From various sources--Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica) and her giganamous breasts will be appearing on Supernatural. Undoubtedly Dean is already stocking up on breath spray. Or rock salt, depending on her role.

Speaking of Day Break--oh, we weren't? Oh, well. Also according to various sources (not the same various sources--some other various sources), Day Break will be appearing in its 13-episode entirety on Let's hope the streaming video software there cooperates better than it did when I was trying to sample Brothers and Sisters. But that's an entire post of its own...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Golden Globes

I'm not going to address these at all--lots of other people are doing it far better than I could. For great coverage, check out TV Squad and Cinematical.

To Arc or Not to Arc?

The TV series of today seems to constantly have to struggle between the concept of standalone episodes and the serial arc. The serial arc seems to be in vogue at the moment, even though several shows with very strong serial structures have bombed heartily this season (Day Break, The Nine, Vanished). How does a show find the balance here? Is one approach truly better storytelling than the other? Or does it just depend on the show?

There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to each approach. With a show that depends largely on standalone episodes, a new viewer can drop in at any time and still be able to get the gist of the show. However, that show loses an opportunity for deeper, more complex storylines and longer character development arcs. On the other hand, a show that depends on serial arcs can easily lose a new viewer, thus reducing its chances of building its audience in later seasons. Several of my favorite shows have fallen into this conundrum, including Farscapeand Angel, both of which had developed very complex arcs by the third and fourth seasons. Angel addressed this by retooling the show in Season Five to be a bit more standalone; Farscape just got cancelled.

Some shows manage to find a good balance between these two approaches. The X-Files used standalone stories through most of the season, with an underlying story arc that they revisited during sweeps. (If it's February, there must be black oil.) Supernatural seems to be following a similar pattern—not unexpected given the preponderance of X-Files alumni on their writing/production staff, though they seem to also be focusing more on their story arc during the second half of the season. This gives the audience a chance to orient themselves to the general premise of the show before plunging into the full-on arc. It seems to work—I came into the show three episodes from the end of last season and had no trouble figuring out what was going on. Bones presents the case of the week as a standalone story, but there are other subplots playing out in the background which are strongly character oriented, such as the Jack/Angela romance and the mystery of Brennan's parents. Just about any episode of House can be viewed as a standalone, but they also throw in an occasional arc, such as the Tritter storyline from this season.

Other shows seem to be pulling in strong audience numbers in spite of—or perhaps because of—their complex arcs. Lost is still doing well in its third season, and Heroes has taken off with a bang. Both these shows are strongly driven by a complex and layered story structure. In the case of Lost, though, some of the audience seems to be tiring of a storyline that seems to become more and more convoluted as it develops, with few answers to be had (see my post here for news on how Abrams and Lindelof, et al may be planning to handle that). Heroes has yet to prove if its complicated storyline will sustain a long-term audience, but so far so good.

I think some shows are simply better suited to story arcs than others. Angel's first season, when they used a more standalone structure, wasn't nearly as strong as the later seasons, when they headed into serialized plotlines. And in Season Five, they tried to do more standalone episodes, but quickly moved back into the serial structure, completely giving up on the standalone concept the minute they found out they'd been canceled, much to the show's benefit. Superatural's arc/standalone alternation seems to be working out quite well, as does Bones' mostly standalone structure. On the other hand, House seems to me to be more enjoyable when they're concentrating on the case of the week, rather than on a background story, especially when that storyline goes on for several episodes.

I have to admit to a preference for shows with a strong story arc. In spite of that, they tend to make me nervous. First, because the new ones so often don't last. Second, because when they do work, pressure to keep the story going becomes such that the storylines tend to get bloated and out of control just to sustain the storyline so the show can continue. This seems to be happening with Lost—it'll be interesting to see if the growing complexity of the storyline, intended to keep the show going, instead leads to ratings loss and eventual cancellation. It seems to me that a better approach is the one taken by shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel—a strong story arc, but with major storylines that are wrapped up within the course of a single season. And with shows like Bones or House, strong standalone stories seasoned with less involved story arcs that play out more or less in the background.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bad TV Writing

Ironically enough, this example is again from Jericho, which I just used a few days ago as an example of good TV writing.

In the first half of the season, there's a multi-episode arc involving Mayor Johnston Green (Gerald McRaneySimon & Simon, Deadwood). He's very sick--all indications are that he has the flu. His daughter-in-law April (Darby Stanchfield), a nurse, proceeds to pump him full of antibiotics.

Okay. First of all, the flu is viral. It doesn't respond to antibiotics. If you go to the doctor with the flu and ask for antibiotics, they tend to get annoyed. Antivirals, yes. Antibiotics, no. Secondly, the town's short on meds because of the whole nuclear holocaust thing, so there's a concern they're going to run out. Well, you'd have a better chance of not running out if you don't give all the antibiotics to folks with the flu.

So the mayor's flu progresses. Nobody suggests any other possibilities for what's wrong with him other than the flu. They also don't go to any particular effort to isolate him from the others, even though the flu's contagious and can be deadly. In the conditions depicted in the show—dwindling resources, little or no medical help—overlooking something as potentially devastating as a flu outbreak seems, well, really lame. Besides, haven't any of them read The Stand?

Then we get to the kicker. The mayor gets even sicker. Apparently, in spite of scads of antibiotics, the infection has just been too much for his system to handle, and he's gone septic. So what do they do? They risk a dangerous trip to a neighboring town to get Cipro, the power medicine that's going to cure him. Which is...even more antibiotics.

So I did some googling. Sepsis can be caused by a bacterial infection, so it fits if the mayor's affliction was, indeed, bacterial. But if it's bacterial, it's not the flu. And it's probably still contagious, so the question of whether he should have been isolated is still a valid one.

This is the kind of thing that makes me bang my head into things when I'm watching a show. It seems like a little research could have gone a long way in this particular series of episodes. Or maybe I'm just too damn picky... Thoughts?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Lost Finds a Conclusion?

Some interesting news on the Lost front today. According to the Ausiello Report, the show’s creators are negotiating with ABC to choose a time to end the show. The purpose here being to fix an end date so they can work toward giving closure to the storylines, rather than stringing the show out season after season without really answering anything.

Is this a good idea? I think it probably is. More than one show has gone on and on and on and, well, on, becoming by its series finale a mere shadow of its former self. In its third season, Lost is already starting to fray around the edges. Its complicated arcs are far from being resolved, and in this case that seems to be to the show’s detriment. You can only string the viewers along for so long without giving up the goods about the damn polar bears, after all.

It seems to me that a show like this, with serialized, complex storylines, actually could benefit from having a finite, predetermined end date. Lost might have developed differently if from episode one the creators and the network had known they had 100 episodes in which to tell their story. Of course, it’s not exactly easy to get that kind of commitment out of a network. Babylon 5 started out with a very clear idea of its five season story arc, only to get shafted right after Season Four. Season Five eventually was produced, but the show suffered from the turbulence. Farscape had been promised a fourth and fifth season, so the creators planned a story arc to cross those two seasons, complete with Horribly Devastating Cliffhanger for the end of Season Four. After all that was filmed, Sci Fi pulled the plug on Season Five, leaving fans hanging. Fan outcry finally led to the production of The Peacekeeper Wars, but the complex conclusion had to be compressed into a four-hour miniseries instead of the full season arc originally planned.

Would ABC be less willing to negotiate an end date for Lost if its ratings hadn’t dropped significantly this season? It’s hard to say. In any case, all the maneuvering and politicking make for a tough balancing act, and nothing about it is conducive to good storytelling. So when the good stories come out in spite of that, it’s just that much more impressive.

Great Item on Supernatural

Henry Jenkins, Professor of Humanities and Co-Director of MIT's Comparative Media Studies program, has been totally sucked in by Supernatural. And he's admitting it freely on his blog.

This post from yesterday gives a detailed analysis of the show that had me nodding along going Uh, huh, you say it, amen and hallelujah. It's well worth a read, so drop by and check it out.

Some favorite quotes:

"It's hard to imagine how or why a series this good is suffering from such total neglect from the network, from the critics, though clearly not from its most hardcore fans."

"On one level, it is made up of classic masculine elements -- horror, the hero's quest, sibling rivalry, unresolved oedipal dramas -- but on another level, it seems ideally suited to the themes and concerns which have long interested the female fan community. Heck, this series is one long hurt/comfort story."

"A real strength of the series is the construction of female secondary characters, all the more unusual in a series which is so centrally about its core male leads. ... The men do not so much desire them as romantic or sex objects as they use them as mirrors to see into their own and each other's souls. Each woman teaches them something they need to learn before they can become emotionally whole again and in the process, each teaches the viewer something about the men that we would not know otherwise. The show never patronizes the women, never denies them their core humanity, and indeed, often, it is clear that the men admire the women's courage, intelligence, integrity, and passion. The result are some of the most compelling male/female relationships I've seen on prime time network television."

Sunday, January 14, 2007


I've found a couple of things in the last two posts that need to be corrected, but blogger won't let me in to edit mode to fix them. Weh.


TV Tie-Ins: The Angel Scriptbook, Volume I, also contains the script for "Waiting in the Wings" (Season 3--Joss Whedon).

And the Grendel post has too many amazon link thingies along the bottom, so as soon as I can get back in to edit I'll fix that, too, because it looks really awkward... lol.


A Sci Fi Channel Original Movie.

Grendel is based on the epic poem Beowulf, composed sometime between the 7th and 10th centuries by nobody knows who, which has seen a surge of popularity in the last few years. I know of at least two recent theatrical movie treatments, one written by none other than the uber-cool Neil Gaiman. Last night we got to see the Sci Fi Channel's version.

The basic story involves Beowulf (Chris Bruno), the Badass Warrior Dude of his time, and his quest to rid the kingdom of King Hrothgar from Grendel, a monster who sneaks into Hrothgar's mead-halls when the warriors are all drunk and pulls their arms and legs off and eats them. Apparently he doesn't like to hear people having fun. So Beowulf, being a Badass Warrior Dude, goes to help out.

Ben Cross (Chariots of Fire, Dark Shadows), an old favorite of mine, appears as the aging King Hrothgar, and he looks damn good. In fact, he gives the best performance in the show, and looks hot doing it, and is the only reason I managed to watch this all the way through. He's a good actor, and seems to me to deserve a higher profile career than what he's had. Marina Sirtis (Star Trek: The Next Generation), however, as the insane Queen Wealhtheow, looks pretty ragged, but that could be more because of her character's craziness than anything else. For some reason they decided white-face makeup would be good to convey insanity. An odd choice, that. Grendel and his mother are mediocre CGI creations, and the fight scenes look like they came out of a video game. The script itself is stilted and uneven, and the performances in general either over the top (Sirtis), or wooden and dull (Bruno).

So while we wait for the Neil Gaiman version, currently in post-production, check out the original (available at about any bookstore, or as a free etext at, or some rather better adaptations such as Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton (adapted into The 13th Warrior, starring Antonio Banderas), or Grendel by John Gardner.

TV Tie-Ins

I've been attempting, only partially successfully, to veg a bit this weekend. So I thought I'd pass along some of the things I've found to relax with.

John Barrowman (Dr. Who, Torchwood, DeLovely) performs at the Kennedy Center in 2002. This is a full hour of music from Mr. Barrowman, who has a completely luscious, sweet voice and a charming manner with his audience. He also looks damn good in jeans. At the Kennedy Center website.

The Angel Scriptbook Compilation, Volume One. These scriptbooks were originally released by IDW as single title comic books, but they've been rereleased in trade paperback form, and word has it all fugure scriptbooks will be these compilations, rather than the single books. Volume I features five complete shooting scripts: "City of..." (Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt, series pilot), "A Hole in the World" (Joss Whedon, Season Five), "Spin the Bottle" (Joss Whedon, Season Four), "Waiting in the Wings" (Joss Whedon, Season Three) and "Five by Five" (Jim Kouf, Season One). Volume Two is also available and features five more scripts, including the Season Five classic "Smile Time" (Ben Edlund) and the series finale, "Not Fade Away" (Jeffrey Bell and Joss Whedon). These are fun to read not just because it's a nice way of revisiting the show. They're also original shooting scripts, so there are scenes here that were changed or removed before the final cut. It's an entertaining and educational look into the raw material from which a brilliant show came to be.