Sci Fi becomes SyFy with a new series that's a little 'Bones,' a little 'Eureka' and a little 'Librarian'
Last week's episode of "The Philanthropist" was pretty dull drama -- enough already with the framing devices, Tom Fontana -- but it was still politically upstanding, drawing attention to the situation in Burma. Yes, Burma. The episode clearly articulated the idea that the country is "Burma" and "Myanmar" is just the name imposed by the democracy-stifling military junta running the country. While American news networks reliably refer to the country as "Myanmar," you can usually count on the BBC to call it "Burma." And good on the BBC. It's not necessarily the most aggressive or dynamic of political statements, but it still says something quite clearly: Call yourself what you like, but we still listen to the will of the people.
That, kids, is what we call a smooth segue because...
Tuesday, July 7 is the day Sci Fi makes the transition to become The Cable Network Formerly Known As Sci Fi, with a piece of rebranding that has generally left online denizens confused and bemused. I certainly don't want to compare the Sci Fi executives to the military dictatorship in Burma, but it's a safe assumption that more than a few fans will continue to refer to The Cable Network Formerly Know As Sci Fi as "Sci Fi," long after SyFy has taken hold.
Ushering in the official SciFi-to-SyFy power transfer tomorrow is the series premiere of "Warehouse 13," a new drama that's meant to throw down the gauntlet for all of the things that The Cable Network Formerly Known As Sci Fi will now be able to represent. The reality is that "Warehouse 13" could have aired on Sci Fi. It could also probably have found a home on USA or on TNT or on FOX. And I guess that's the point.
[Review after the break...]
Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelly star as Pete Lattimer and Myka Bering, a pair of seemingly mismatched Secret Service agents. She's detail-oriented and obsessive. He's intuitive and impulsive. After a simple protection detail goes astray, Myka's star seems to be on the rise and Pete may be looking for work, but instead they find themselves tasked to Warehouse 13 by the mysterious Mrs. Fredric (CCH Pounder).
Set in a remote corner of the South Dakota wilderness, Warehouse 13 is a vast repository for every mystical, supernatural or magical artifact, object or gewgaw ever collected by our government. Working with caretaker Artie (Saul Rubinek), Agents Lattimer and Bering are being asked to acquire, secure and protect these artifacts and others like them.
Put simply, "Warehouse 13" is "Bones" meets "The Librarian" meets "Eureka," which isn't necessarily a bad combination at all, though the formula is more amusing than the two-hour pilot for the series.
"Warehouse 13" was created by Jack Kenny, who previously brought a caustic wit to FOX's "Titus" and some pretty big ideas to NBC's "The Book of Daniel." Wit and big ideas are lacking in a pilot whose clutter mirrors the sometimes faulty organization of Warehouse 13 itself.
The pilot rushes through its introductions to Bering and Lattimer, confusingly zips through the case that brings them to Artie's attention, transports them to South Dakota, lays the groundwork for Warehouse 13 and sends them off on their first case in very short order. As a result, there isn't nearly enough time to just have fun with the quirky backdrop that gives the show its name. I wanted to spend more time with Houdini's magical diary, Tesla's stun gun, a wish-granting kettle and Thomas Edison's electrical car, rather than taking a jaunt to Iowa for a rather routine procedural possession that left me with rather large questions regarding the national and international jurisdiction of Warehouse 13, which may be like the British Museum of occult brick-a-brack.
In keeping with The Cable Network Formerly Known As Sci Fi's new mandate to be more than just science fiction, "Warehouse 13" isn't science fiction, per se. Or at least it isn't any more science fiction than Indiana Jones is when he goes after the Ark of the Covenant or some crystal skulls. It's an adventure yarn with speculative or fantastical elements, but not that much different from a "Supernatural," which proves that if you drive around Middle America for long enough, a demon, hobogoblin or zombie will eventually jump out of the cornfields and try to eat you. So you're watching in the hopes that most of the artifacts will be cool (even if the artifact in the pilot is not) and that the chemistry between the leads will be appealing.
For years, McClintock has been one of those "If he ever gets the right vehicle, he's gonna be a TV star" guys. Of course, the reason The Cable Network Formerly Known As Sci Fi got him now is because of the sheer number of McClintock vehicles that weren't exactly right, short-lived shows and failed pilots. McClintock works in "Warehouse 13" precisely because of how closely his role resembles one of his better TV gigs, his multi-episode arc on "Bones." In fact, watch McClintock's "Warehouse 13" mannerisms, his mixture of smirk-and-swagger, and tell me that he isn't playing David Boreanaz playing Special Agent Seeley Booth. Whether this is the way he's been directed, whether he consciously decided to pay homage to Boreanaz or whether McClintock's ideal niche is as basic cable's David Boreanaz remains to be seen. It's still a good role for him.
It also remains to be seen how long it takes for Kelly to tap her inner Emily Deschanel to become the brittle Bones to McClintock's Booth. To be fair, Deschanel didn't find her stride until half-way through the first season of "Bones," so I won't be too concerned about how chilly Kelly comes across. This is a difficult character type for male writers, because the tendency is to feel all clever that you're writing a female character with bottled up emotions (rather than the hyper-emotional archetypes), so you over-compensate, taking feelings out of the equation all together. Bering has a lot of backstory details already in play, including a dead husband and a questionable incident in Denver, so the chances for rapid character growth are ample. My only concern that that I've never warmed to Kelly in any of her earlier shows.
So far, the relationship between the two agents is mostly head-butting and the pilot doesn't even hint at seeds for romance. But come on. We've all seen TV shows before. The sparks are bound to fly eventually. McClintock currently has more chemistry with Genelle Williams as the local innkeeper who, naturally, has a unique understanding of what's happening at Warehouse 13.
The old pros in the "Warehouse 13" get to have a lot of the amusement, particularly Rubinek, who probably didn't figure his career would have him firing guns and riding a zip line as an action star at 61.
With its not-quite-there focus and not-quite-there storytelling, but its ample potential, "Warehouse 13" is actually a perfect cornerstone for a cable network ditching a long-cultivated, tightly concentrated cubbyhole in the marketplace in favor of a blurrier, less meaningful buffet approach. I think I could imagine the approach "Warehouse 13" would take going forward on Sci Fi, but on SyFy? Well, anything could happen.
[UPDATE: Sepinwall reminds/informs me that Jack Kenny's involvement in "Warehouse 13" post-dates the pilot, which means that some of the big ideas and wit I was missing in the premiere are even more plausibly coming in subsequent episodes.]
"Warehouse 13" premieres on The Cable Network Formerly Known As Sci Fi on Tuesday, July 7 at 9 p.m.
ABC Family revamps 'The Taming of the Shrew' sans Shakespeare, Julia Stiles or Heath Ledger
William Shakespeare's name appears nowhere in the opening credits for ABC Family's new series "10 Things I Hate About You." The credits do mention that the series is based upon the characters created for the well-regarded 1999 film of the same name, but any inkling (or acknowledgement) that that movie owed its characters and structure to "Taming of the Shrew" has somehow been lost in the Xeroxing.
Probably William Shakespeare isn't going to take ABC Family to court. Beyond being dead, The Bard would have to accept that this new "10 Things I Hate About You" has basically ceased to be an adaptation and reinterpretation of his play. It isn't even actually an adaptation of the movie so much as an elongation, testing the capacity of an already wafer-thin 97-minute film to spread into a full series run, one 30-minute episode at a time.
Plus, Shakepeare wasn't always so great at providing citations for where his own plots were coming from, so he'd understand that turnabout is fair play.
[Full review after the break...]
Very-slightly-redeveloped by Carter Covington ("Greek"), the new "10 Things I Hate About You" turns strong-willed Kat Stratford (Lindsey Shaw) and status-obsessed Bianca Stratford (Meaghan Jette Martin) into the new kids at Padua High, having just moved into town with their obstetrician father (returning castmember Larry Miller, providing continuity). At their new school, Bianca quickly seeks approval from Head Cheerleader Chastity (Dana Davis) and earns the affections of nerdy Cameron (Nicholas Braun), while Kat earns Chastity's enmity and enters into a staring contest with bad-boy Patrick Verona (Ethan Peck).
All indications are that we're heading down the exact same path here as in the original "10 Things I Hate About You," as in "The Taming of the Shrew" and as in the finest "Moonlight" episode ever. It's likely that the misogyny of Shakespeare's play will continue to be toned down, but we can probably anticipate Bianca's dating being restricted by Kat's unwillingness to date. We can probably anticipate Cameron sweetly wooing Bianca, while Patrick simultaneously breaks through Kat's hard exterior through the magic powers of love. Good. So what's Season Two?
Because "10 Things I Hate About You" is setting itself up for a slow crawl through a familiar plot and because the show's creators are assuming that most viewers will be familiar with at least one version of that plot, the pilot can skip a lot of character development in favor of shorthand.
Because we know Kat's going to eventually soften, she can be written as a little more than a sloganeering pill and Shaw can play her stridently. Because we know Patrick Verona's eventually the male lead of this drama, nobody needs to bother giving him any character other than a motorcycle and a brooding stare. Instead of defining characters by their actions, Covington defines them by the pop culture allusions they make, so the pilot includes references to Shia LaBeouf, "The Fast and the Furious," "Project Runway," Justin Timberlake, Zac Efron, Long Duk Dong, Hogwarts, Hannibal Lecter and more. It's a clearing house for middle-brow media references, covering so much ground that viewers of all ages will get to feel hip and in-the-know, while hitting targets so broad that even viewers watching the DVD a decade from now will get the jokes.
Actually, "10 Things I Hate About You" is more clever when it isn't just rehashing important Generation Y cultural touchstones. I've only watched a bit of "Greek," but I can still recognize a lot of that show's caustic wit in Covington's pilot script. That makes it a good fit with ABC Family's new brand identity, in which jokes about lesbian locker room fantasies, the gay guys in show choir and breast size are fair play. Once upon a time, Daddy Stratford's obsession with his daughters' sexuality might have seemed creepy for ABC Family, but now it seems... Oh, nevermind. Still creepy.
Shaw is accustomed to somewhat creepy objectification, having played the inappropriately bouncy sister on "Aliens in America." The character has always been difficult to crack, either from the Shakespeare or in subsequent adaptations and Shaw's version is a bit too sullen. It's a problem with a character who gets to have a full arc over two hours versus one doled out in half-hour installments. The taming of this shrew will have to be accelerated, because viewers won't warm to six or seven weeks of this version of Kat, but excessively swift taming will make Kat seem like a pushover. It's not an easy balance.
It's still easier than Peck's task of tackling the role that helped establish Heath Ledger's career. Perhaps understanding that Peck isn't going to be able to quickly erase Ledger in the minds of "10 Things" fans, Peck has almost nothing to do in the premiere, with no more than two or three lines of dialogue.
First impressions for Martin, Braun and Davis are all fine. I was pleased to see Jolene Purdy rise from the ashes of FOX's "Do Not Disturb" and happy with the grounding provided by more experienced co-stars Miller and Suzy Nakamura as Padua High's principal.
It's going to be interesting to see how comfortable the "10 Things I Hate About You" team feels with deviating from the movie and from "The Taming of the Shrew." Are the key relationships and plot points open for deviation or do we already know exactly where things are going all the way through to the finale? A bright and witty high school comedy is always welcome and "10 Things" has the team in place to become that, especially as a contrast to the "Gossip Girl" and "90210" and "NYC Prep" version of the genre. I don't know that "10 Things" will deliver on that promise if it remains just a slavish copy of a decade-old movie, delivered at a snail's pace.
"10 Things I Hate About You" premieres on Tuesday, July 7 on ABC Family.
Thomas Jane stars in HBO's new comedy as a man with a unique way of weathering the economic downturn
[Note: In reviewing HBO's new drama "Hung," a critic has the choice between intentionally overloading his or her review with double-entendres or attempting to proudly avoid such immaturities. I'm doing neither. If entendres happen, such is life. If they don't, that's fine too. Placing any restrictions upon myself would just be too hard. Too hard? Sigh. That's what she said.]
HBO's "Hung," which premieres on Sunday, is a deliriously dirty joke of a premise very slowly acquiring the show to accompany it. Each of the four episodes I've seen was better than the episode before it, more confident in its ironic and satiric edge. With each episode, I had a better indication that the show's creative team was in the process of finding the show that "Hung" is meant to be. What remains is the question of whether or not viewers will be willing to patiently giggle nervously through the early episodes of "Hung" in the hope by the end of its first season, the show has reached its potential.
Full review after the break...
Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor's sci-fi epic is being packaged as a movie, but it's a tantalizing pilot
FOX's "Virtuality," being aired as a movie event on Friday (June 26), is a difficult project to approach.
Speaking punctuationally, movies tend to be periods or exclamation points. Though obviously there are exceptions (many), movies are usually designed as a two-hour build toward a self-contained end. They're designed to put you in your seat for a finite period and sell popcorn. They're a temporary escape.
In contrast, television pilots are question marks or ellipses. They're designed to entertain you, of course, but more than that, they're designed to make you want to return the next week, to make you book an entire extended voyage. As a well-orchestrated pilot reaches its conclusion, you should be pushed forward into the next episode, one that promises to be coming right around the corner.
FOX has already tinkered with those expectations once in the past couple months with the one-night-only premiere of "Glee," a debut that tests the assumption that if you whip an audience into a Journey-fueled frenzy, that audience can be sustained for four months by iTunes and Hulu downloads and they'll return with the same appetite.
At least "Glee" is guaranteed to return.
No matter how FOX tries to describe it, "Virtuality" isn't a movie, or at least it isn't a vaguely satisfying one. Imagine watching the pilot for "Lost," the best pilot since I began this gig more than six years ago, and being told at the end that you were never going to see what happened to the people on the island, that you were never going to learn anything about the monster in the forest, Kate's crimes or any of the other mini-mysteries distributed across those two hours. Imagine being forced to pretend like what you had just seen was all that you were ever supposed to see or know from that particular universe.
Welcome to "Virtuality." No, it's not as good as "Lost," but in two hours, it creates an interesting and original world, establishes an assortment of complicated characters and sets some pretty high stakes. It also raises more questions than I can count, questions of ethics, spirituality and technology. And no effort is made to answer any of them. And why would there be? "Virtuality" creators Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor meant what you're seeing Friday to be the opening of a door and they never intended for it to close after only two hours.
[Full review of "Virtuality" after the break...]
CBS, NBC and ABC all plan primetime reports on the late King of Pop
At 4:24 p.m. PST, CNN confirmed that Michael Jackson, the King of Pop and one of the most significant entertainment figures of the past 50 years, was dead.
This news was sad, but it wasn't surprising to people who had been watching Fox News, which confirmed at least 10 minutes earlier.
The two most popular and allegedly significant forces in TV news probably shouldn't be cocky about how they handled the afternoon's pop culture tragedy, though.
Although the mainstream media so often uses TMZ as the punchline for jokes, calling it a repository for information about Paris Hilton's underwear and Miley Cyrus' boyfriends, the website has solid confirmation on Jackson's death at least a half-hour before anybody else was willing to dare making the same call. And when a source more allegedly reputable than TMZ was prepared to confirm Jackson's death, it was the Los Angeles Times, or at least latimes.com.
Meanwhile, CNN and Fox News and MSNBC scrambled to cover their rears. No network was prepared to call Jackson dead on TMZ's say-so and even The Los Angeles Times proved insufficient confirmation, as CNN and Fox News were both still using the latimes.com report that Jackson was in a coma at least 10 minutes after the site had changed over to reporting death.
CNN filled space with entertainment reporter Jim Moret repeating information about Jackson's past scandals and even brought on a health reporter without an iota of knowledge on the situation to tell us that "cardiac arrest" is more serious than a "heart attack." Fox News initially opted not to cut away from Glenn Beck rambling about an alleged scandal involving the DNC and then had Greta Van Susteren and several different anchors vamping and sneering about Jackson's past legal dramas.
As go-to sources for information, the cable news hubs failed viewers completely, never adding anything that the truly curious couldn't have gotten online earlier. At one point, just moments before the Los Angeles coroner confirmed for CNN, the network was interviewing an editor from TMZ, an act of desperation that very clearly said, "We dropped the ball on this story. How were you able to get it?"
CNN got actual confirmation nearly two hours after TMZ and only then removed "Reports:" from its ticker. This is a major news-gathering organization, right? But no Los Angeles-based journalists for CNN were able to learn first-hand what TMZ had been trying desperately to tell them.
Even once the unfortunate reality of the situation had become evident, there were odd glitches in the cable coverage of the moment. While MTV switched over to Jackson videos and acknowledgement on its East Coast feed, the network Jacko was instrumental in shaping continued to air repeats of "Futurama" and "Rob Dyrdek's Fantasy Factory" for West Coast viewers, without any ticker or chyron for viewers on the left coast.
The major networks did what they could and CBS' news arm was even co-credited with breaking the story by CNN, but they weren't ahead of the online curve either.
NBC, CBS and ABC moved with relative haste to set aside primetime programming blocks for Jackson tributes, an act made more complicated by the already-planned tributes to actress Farrah Fawcett, whose death had been expected for weeks. Both NBC and ABC set aside two hours for both tributes. As of the posting of this article, CBS is only expected to honor Jackson, with a 10 p.m. hour.
The networks are pulling out their big guns. Barbara Walters and Martin Bashir are anchoring ABC's "20/20" special on Jackson, while NBC has Ann Curry and Meredith Vieira on the job. It remains to be seen if the ongoing coverage into the evening will make up for how badly the small screen was scooped on the afternoon's breaking news.
James Purefoy and the terrific locations are reasons to watch. Maybe the storytelling will catch up.
There's the oft-told joke of the two diners at the restaurant. The first pushes his plate aside and says, "The food here is terrible." The second nods and pushes his plate aside, carping, "Yes, and such small portions."
Thanks to the illusory concept of 52-week network scheduling, this summer has actually offered a different spin. The brain food offered by the four-ish networks has been pretty dreadful this summer (thank heavens for cable), but it's been an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord. Beyond the usual diversity of reality shows, this summer has been awash with new scripted shows on at least three networks (CBS just doesn't care).
ABC has been steadily burning off shows that either failed during the season or didn't make it on at all. On the plus side, that's meant episodes of "Pushing Daisies" and "Eli Stone" and "Better Off Ted" and even "The Goode Family," but it's also meant "Surviving Suburbia" and the last few episodes of "According to Jim." For FOX and NBC, it's been a summer of oddball, low-budget, no-star international cost-cutting originals, ersatz takeoffs on familiar genres resembling eighth generation photocopies. Some viewers have liked "Mental" or "Merlin" or "The Listener" because they resemble other shows that offered greater enjoyment in the past.
Because TV critics invariably grade on a curve, NBC's new series "The Philanthropist" deserves to get credit for what ought to be a foregone conclusion: It looks and feels like a professionally made television series.
That may, in fact, be slightly underselling the potential virtues of "The Philanthropist."
[Review after the break.]
It's not too late to watch new episodes of TV's best new comedy series
Have I mentioned that ABC's "Better Off Ted" makes me extremely happy in a way that few network comedies have managed in recent years?
Why yes. I believe I have. I strongly recommended "Better Off Ted" when it premiered and strongly advocated for its renewal when it ended its season. I endorsed Jonathan Slavin and Malcom Barrett for Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series and threw support behind Portia de Rossi for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. I also did a little happy dance when ABC decided to bring "Better Off Ted" back at midseason next year, but since that happy dance wasn't in print, you probably missed it.
Consider this post to be another happy dance, because "Better Off Ted" is back with brief run of new episodes starting on Tuesday, June 23 at 9:30 p.m. ET.
You can also consider this to be your friendly reminder, because it'd be plenty possible to be a regular ABC viewer and have no awareness at all that "Better Off Ted" is coming back.
[I've seen Tuesday's episode, "You Are The Boss Of Me." A few words on it after the break...]
Benjamin Bratt returns for a second season on A&E's 'The Cleaner'
[This is the second installment in what should, ideally, be a running series, in which I watch a couple episodes of a show I'd mostly stopped watching to see how the series has evolved since last time I checked it out and if reevaluation is required. The first time I did it was with "Rules of Engagement," when my re-view confirmed why I don't watch the show in the first place... I'd be happy to do more of this in the future, assuming time allows.]
"The Cleaner," the show at the vanguard of A&E's recent attempts to reestablish a foothold in scripted drama, returns for its second season on Tuesday (June 23) night. I watched the first few episodes of the series, which features Benjamin Bratt as addict-turned-interventionist William Banks.
Mostly, I watched enough episodes to feel comfortable in the thesis of my original review: "The Cleaner" is a solidly made, seriously conceived drama with a decent cast. Put it on CBS and give it a time period paired with "The Mentalist" or "NCIS" or something "CSI"-related and it has all of the makings of a breakout network hit. You don't reckon "The Cleaner" pulls in more viewers than "Eleventh Hour" given the same time slot? I sure do.
But it's not a show that I need to watch, though I've said it before and I'll say it again: If the writers would give Grace Park and Amy Price-Francis more to do on a regular basis, I would find it within myself to watch on a more regular basis. Seems fair, right?
But with "The Cleaner" returning, I watched the season's first two episodes and my revised thoughts are after the break...
Try predicting the six nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. It's difficult.
Think fast: Who won last year's Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. FAST!
If you guessed Jean Smart, you're either lying or very very good at this. The "Samantha Who?" co-star was, indeed, last year's winner. I'd remembered that she was nominated, because she's very good at what she does, but I'd forgotten that she'd won.
There may be harder Emmy categories to handicap. Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama may be one of the deepest fields in Emmy history, for example. But even that category lacks the Anything-Can-Happen absurdity of the supporting actress field.
Don't believe me?
[More after the break...]
We're tackling one Emmy category at a time, starting with comedy supporting actors
As you may have noticed, CBS moved the Emmys today, pushing the show back from September 13 to September 20 because nobody thought to glance at a Hollywood event calendar and thus failed to notice that they were head-to-head with the MTV Video Music Awards. Ooops.
One thing that hasn't changed, though, is that the nominees for the 61st Emmy Awards will be announced on July 16, which means that Nomination Morn (5:40 a.m. on my coast) is now less than a month away.
So it's time to put on my prognostication hat, which looks a little bit like the Sorting Hat, except that rather than yelling out "Hufflepuff!" or "Ravenclaw!" at random intervals, it shouts things like "'Mad Men,' FTW!" and "Dear Lord, Not Piven Again!"
Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be putting up a series of editorial photo galleries showcasing the most likely nominees in the major acting and series categories. Each gallery will be in order from most likely to receive nominations to least. Since the Emmys this year are expanding the fields to six nominees in most categories, you can just assume that the first six people are my guesses for the actual nominees. From there, though, I tried to recognize both plausible dark horses and some people who would get nominations in my ideal world.
But I didn't include everybody.
Because sometimes there just isn't room or time.
So I'm sorry if I neglected one or two or seven of your favorites. And feel free to remind me of people I left off and maybe if I agree with you, I'll add them to the gallery. Sometimes I'm stubborn, but sometimes I'm just forgetful.
I'll be doing two or three galleries per week leading up to July 16, starting today with Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
Check out my thoughts from Jeremy "The Thermometer" Piven to Brian Baumgartner.