There's enough sizzle in this dino-drama to make up for the lack of steak
A fancy new restaurant opens up in your town.
The chef is a guy you've seen on countless Food Network specials, a true genius known for making every dish into a work of art.
The restaurant was also designed by an interior decorator who has been the focus of shows on Bravo and TLC, legendary for making the smallest space into a spectacle.
But just days before the restaurant is ready to begin serving, you notice some interviews with the people behind the restaurant, the financial backers or whatever, and they're saying some weird things.
"Yes, people might talk about the food and design, but what we'd like to emphasize is our unobtrusive servers. There are lots of places people can go for a good meal and some fine ambiance, but we think diners will truly be impressed by how frequently their water glasses are refilled and the smooth removal of finished plates."
That comment may make you stop and pause.
And it'd be similar to the reaction you might feel listening to the producers of FOX's "Terra Nova" talk about their new show.
You've heard about "Terra Nova" because of Steven Spielberg's involvement. You've heard about the ambitious shoot on locations down in Australia. You've heard about the motion-capture dinosaurs and special effects so special they've required months of extra development and implementation time in order to get "Terra Nova" on air at all.
And then you see the "Terra Nova" producers at WonderCon or Comic-Con or you read or watch interviews with them from myriad media events. And over and over and over again, they seem to be saying the same thing: Well, sure there are dinosaurs and time-traveling. But really, what "Terra Nova" actually is, is a family story. We want people to come and stay for the family.
That's what the party line appears to be.
If this "Terra Nova" review gets one message across and one message only, it would be this: Do not watch FOX's "Terra Nova" because it's a family story. There are good family stories on TV and if you don't feel there are good family stories on TV, just start rewatching your "Friday Night Lights" or "Gilmore Girls" DVDs. But don't come to "Terra Nova" thinking you're going to get a gripping (or even marginally engaging) family drama and that anything else will be gravy. Tune in to "Terra Nova" because it really isn't like anything you've ever seen on TV before. The scope and special effects are exceptional and for all you've heard about the cost of the pilot, you won't wonder where the money went. Yes, there's a family story and that family story could improve as "Terra Nova" progresses, but it's the dinosaurs and the giant insects and the waterfalls and the lush scenery (real and digital) that will hook audiences.
And it's not like FOX doesn't know this. Note how advertising has focused more on marauding carnivores than dinner table conversations.
There's no particular shame in any of this, necessarily. "Terra Nova" does spectacle well. Why not own that? Why try to own "intimacy" and "domesticity," which it doesn't do nearly as well?
Full review after the break...
Dan and Alan review 'Homeland,' 'Terra Nova,' 'Suburgatory,' 'Dexter' and more
Happy Monday, Boys & Girls. It's time for a regularly scheduled installment of the Firewall & Iceberg Podcast.
We initially considered doing another two-podcast week, but there wasn't much chance the timing was going to work there, so we decided to cram a ton of stuff into an extra-long podcast today.
Because of technical issues and some of the rushing those usually cause, this podcast didn't end up being extra-long. It just ended up being extra-rushed, as we had to cover network premieres like "Terra Nova," "Hart of Dixie" and "Suburgatory," plus cable launches like "Homeland," the return of "Dexter" and the ESPN documentary "Catching Hell."
So here's the breakdown:
"Terra Nova" -- 01:50 - 12:30
"Hart of Dixie" -- 12:30 - 20:40
"Catching Hell" -- 20:45 - 25:55
"Suburgatory" -- 26:00 - 30:50
"How to Be a Gentleman" - 30:50 - 36:15
"Dexter" - 36:15 - 43:50
"Homeland" - 43:55 - 51:35
"Breaking Bad" - 51:40 - 01:06:55
And here's the podcast...
Getting the real story on FOX's new dino-drama
Monday's (September 26) two-hour of "Terra Nova" isn't your typical network premiere, what with the year-plus of discussion, buzz and speculation surrounding the Steven Spielberg-produced back-in-time epic.
It's an ambitious premiere, a premiere that I've now watched in three different cuts, which meant that I had quite a bit to talk about with producers René Echevarria and Brannon Braga.
This video is a bit longer than most of the video interviews I've posted over the past week, but I think it gives a lot of insight into the shaping, production and promotion of one of the fall's most talked about pilots.
There aren't many spoilers, so you can certainly watch the interview before Monday's airing, but certain things may make more sense after watching the pilot.
Either way, check it out...
Would Twitter be a positive or negative force for one team?
[Just as my "Survivor" recaps used to be in Monkeys as Critics but migrated over here, my "Amazing Race" recaps are going to be in my blog from now on.]
Welcome back to "The Amazing Race," which kicked off its 19th installment on Sunday (September 25) with an episode that's probably most accurately described as "Amazing Race"-esque.
That is to say that it combined a slew of the things that most annoy me about "The Amazing Race" all in one poorly designed leg and yet still found a way to deliver enough entertainment to keep me hooked until the very end, when it devolved into what, as always, frustrates me most.
So yes, Sunday's episode was 'Amazing Race"-esque.
Click through for my recap of Sunday's leg, which will end with a bit of a team-by-team breakdown, as is my premiere tradition...
Flight attendants and spies flock together in one of the fall's best new shows
Regarding the late Ida Blankenship, Bert Cooper opined, "She was born in 1898 in a barn, She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She's an astronaut."
Bert's brief eulogy was one of the best lines from the fourth season of "Mad Men" -- or at least the best lines in which one character wasn't showing another character what the money was for -- and it was a valuable reminder that progress is context-dependent. It's a factor of where you started from and where you end up and the journey you took along the way.
Towards the end of the episode, Michael Mosley's Ted, previously depicted as a somewhat boorish chauvinist, looks over at the table of laughing Pan Am flight attendants and observes, "They're not like normal women. They're mutations. It's a compliment." He continues, "They don't know that they're a new breed of women. They just had the impulse to take flight."
It's a big statement and it's the thesis statement for "Pan Am" as a series. And in some ways, it's just as brazen as the snippet of Hugh Hefner voice-over that comes near the end of the "Playboy Club" pilot and goes, "Bunnies were some of the only women in the world who could be anyone they wanted to be."
Both lines of dialogue are potentially laughable, especially when viewed through jaded 21st Century eyes.
And in the case of "The Playboy Club," that "potentially" becomes a "certainly." That pilot has a lot of people talking about progress, but it's mostly chatter, because why illustrate a contentious point when you can merely pay lip-service to it and give Eddie Cibrian additional time to preen?
I didn't laugh at the line from "Pan Am." Yeah, it sounded a bit hyperbolic and on-the-nose, but I didn't laugh. Over 44 minutes, "Pan Am" had laid sufficient groundwork that I was willing to entertain the possibility that Ted had a point, maybe not one that was fully proven, but also not one that was utterly fabricated.
That's not a small achievement for a show like "Pan Am," which is also one of the most handsomely produced network pilots in recent years, a pilot loaded with appealing characters and a opens a wide array of future narrative avenues across several genres. The combination of a formative surface charms and a whirring intellectual motor underneath are enough to make this my favorite new network show in a relatively dismal fall of fresh programming.
Full review of "Pan Am" after the break...
There's a lot happening in the "Pan Am" pilot, which was written by Jack Orman and directed by Tommy Schlamme. We're spanning continents, skipping around in time and also introducing a half-dozen regular characters.
It's 1963 and Pan Am is launching a new Clipper jet flight across the Atlantic, a run the allows us to meet our crew. In the cockpit, we have Dean (Mike Vogel), much too young to have his captain's wings, but still cocky and romantically involved with the mysterious Bridget (Annabelle Wallis), and the previously mentioned Ted. They're flying the plane, but this show isn't really about them. Our heroines are the flight attendants. Christina Ricci's the biggest name in the cast and she's playing Maggie, who lives with beatniks, but is willing to put on a uniform in order to see the world. Then there's Colette (Karine Vanasse), sexually liberated, but with poor taste in men. And then there are sisters Kate (Kelli Garner) and Laura (Margot Robbie), both fleeing the same model of suburban domesticity, but doing it in very different ways.
Oh and did I mention that there's also espionage afoot? Yup, several of our main characters are tied up in some Cold War cloak-and-dagger action, which doesn't seem that absurd for attractive multi-lingual women with the ability to pass through borders with ease and access to the upper-tier clientele flying Pan Am at the time.
It's always interesting when you examine a pilot to look at how much effort is put into stressing the premise, how much is pushed into properly introducing the characters, how much goes into establishing a particular tone (or theme), how much is dedicated to laying out the world of the pilot and how much is just about telling a good stand-alone story. What's most impressive about "Pan Am" is how well Orman and Schlamme balance almost all of those things.
None of the characters in "Pan Am" are exactly over-developed, but Orman and Schlamme work to give them context, which is exactly what the "empowerment" message requires and which is exactly what sets "Pan Am" apart from "Playboy Club." For me, Garner was the standout in the "Pan Am" pilot, though in this case, she isn't the lone standout, as she was on ABC's "My Generation" last fall. Robbie, who I'm pretty sure I've never seen before, also pops instantly, both because she's gorgeous, but also because she works hard to suggest that the liabilities that her beauty causes. Ricci is a bit broadly comedic at times, but in a likable way, especially since I feel like she's only occasionally been allowed to play big screen characters with this little angst. Vogel's mostly asked to look young and square-jawed and he succeeds there, but there are tiny, well-planted, hints about the character that could be interesting.
The characters are the most important part of the pilot and the flight itself provides some structure and the spy storyline adds tension and stakes. And then Schlamme and the ace technical team create the world. I couldn't put a finger on exactly how much of "Pan Am" is virtual, but I have a strong sense that the answer is "nearly everything," that "Pan Am" may ultimately be as effects-heavy as "Terra Nova" in its own way. In that light, what's been accomplished here is extremely impressive. There's a shiny newness to every frame that mirrors the shiny newness of the Boeing 707 and whether what's being recreated is a terminal a Idlewild or a European destination, the whole pilot has a recreated hyperreality that actually had me mentioning "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" in my notes. And even the things that are actually real -- costumes, the occasional car, the inside of the plane -- are comparably spiffy. Schlamme's work blending the real and virtual aspects of the environment and navigating through the "Pan Am" version of 1963 is top-notch, but he never sacrifices performance for spectacle.
Returning quickly to the show and its treatment of its female characters... At the TCA press tour, there was a lot of confusion and even outrage about the idea that stewardesses could be considered empowering or empowered characters, as if somehow any job in the hospitality industry -- particularly one featuring girdles and regular weigh-ins -- is both inherently demeaning and regressive. But I'm OK with the idea of equating flight with opportunity. Going back to Ida Blankenship, it's about the distance between where you're expected to go (by society, by your family, by your station) and where you see yourself going. There's a glamour in travel and escape and built into that glamour is some measure of progress and empowerment. Whether you look at Zooey Deschanel's character in "Almost Famous" or Brie Larson's character on "United States of Tara" or the reality bimbettes of The CW's "Fly Girls," it's an image that still holds allure, albeit an imperfect allure. The four main characters on "Pan Am" aren't aspirational figures because they wear tight skirts serve beverages. They're aspirational, because they have aspirations themselves.
And no, as I said earlier, I don't know if "Pan Am" sold me completely on that bill of goods. The "Pan Am" pilot is so all-over-the-map that you don't come away utterly convinced on any one element, but you also don't come away convinced that any element is misguided.
But really, I'm over-dwelling on that aspect of "Pan Am" anyway. I don't think anybody's going to rush to watch the pilot because it does or doesn't have feminist values. It has strong female characters, but it also has strong male characters (well, less-so on the male characters, but they aren't bad). But, more than that, it has nifty special effects and spy stuff! And maybe that's the solution to the "Why would TV networks try to copy the 'Mad Men' period-drama formula when nobody [by network standards] watches 'Mad Men'?" conundrum: Offer a little bit of everything and hope that you can snag segments of five or six audiences and leave them just satisfied enough to stick around for a while. I think "Pan Am" does that with style.
"Pan Am" premieres at 10 p.m. on Sunday (September 25) night on ABC.
A 'Die Hard' parody looms later this season
I've got one last Sunday Animation Domination interview, this one featuring Mike Henry and Rich Appel of "The Cleveland Show."
In addition to running "Cleveland," Henry, of course, voices lead character Cleveland Brown, while Appel's claim to fame (or one of his claims to fame) is having also worked on "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill," "Family Guy" and "American Dad," putting his fingerprints on basically every animated success FOX has had.
In this interview, a fairly lengthy one (though nothing compared to tomorrow's interview with the producers of "Terra Nova"), Henry and Appel talk about continuing to give "Cleveland Show" its own voice, plus this season's big "Die Hard" episode.
Check it out.
Nedna and 500th episode talk with the 'Simpsons' vet
Sunday (September 25) marks the premiere of Season 23 of "The Simpsons."
Ponder that number for a bit.
During this season, "The Simpsons" will air its 500th episode.
Ponder that number as well.
One man who's been there for an astoundingly large percentage of that run is longtime writer-producer-showrunner Al Jean.
In our conversation, Jean teases some of this season's guests and storylines, reflects on the show's longevity, speculates on the show's future and ponders audience reaction to last finale's Nedna pairing.
Check it out...
There's a lot happening as HBO's Prohibition Drama returns on Sunday
When I initially reviewed HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" last year, I was extremely enthusiastic. But I also included a somewhat strange caveat, writing, "I'll admit that a small part of me wonders if "Boardwalk Empire" is, in fact, too easy to embrace, too easy to be impressed by."
My odd compliment/complaint was that while "Boardwalk Empire" arrived fully formed -- thanks in large part to Martin Scorsese's Emmy-winning work on the pilot -- it was a show that wore its greatness (or at least its very-goodness) on the surface. Viewers with a little background in "The Sopranos" and "The Untouchables" and a few other clear predecessors could sit right down, enjoy the show tremendously and not worry about dwelling on or digesting "Boardwalk Empire," in a way that HBO classics like "The Wire" or "Deadwood" sometimes required.
Sepinwall and some other fans have argued that the show found itself and made The Leap (as we like to say) in later episodes after starting off slow, but I personally found it instantly accessible and thought the first season was, qualitatively, a very flat line. That's not an insult, but I guess it could be an insult.
My desire for a slightly more rigorous, arduous "Boardwalk Empire" will be put to the test by the second season, which premieres on Sunday, September 25.
I tore through the six episodes sent out by HBO in a single Saturday afternoon, which is unquestionably a good time. But as much as I loved individual scenes and continued to respect from the performances from the leads to the tiniest supporting players, this run of "Boardwalk Empire" left me holding back a little. It's perfectly common for a series to return by aligning the chess pieces for the season to come, sometimes over the course of a couple or a few episodes, but "Boardwalk Empire" is in the process of such a complicated piece of alignment that it remains a work-in-progress even through six episodes. Based on my respect for the "Boardwalk Empire" team, I have every confidence that this is part of a carefully designed season arc and that once things start to pay off, they'll pay off all over the place, but were this a show I happened to be less enamored with, the tiniest bit of concern might be setting in.
More after the break...
Plus, a special guest appearance by... Larry King?
Larry King is a legend. And who wouldn't want a private sit-down interview with a legend?
I didn't expect, though, that my opportunity to chat up Larry King would occur when I was expecting to be talking to "The Cleveland Show" stars Kevin Michael Richardson and Reagan Gomez.
Richardson, one of the contemporary titans of voice-over work (and a fine live-action actor as well), was in fine form when we met last week for a conversation that included tidbits on this season of "The Cleveland Show" as well as his apparent audition for one of the wackiest body-swapping comedies yet-to-be-created.
Check out the interview and remember that "The Cleveland Show" premieres on Sunday (September 25) night.
Dan and Alan review 'Pan Am,' 'A Gifted Man,' 'Boardwalk Empire' and more
Happy Friday, Boys & Girls. It's a late afternoon installment of the Firewall & Iceberg Podcast.
No time to dilly-dally.
In this installment, we review "A Gifted Man," "Pan Am" and "Boardwalk Empire" and we talk about the start of the new seasons in terms of ratings and a bunch of the shows that we talk about regularly. Let's get down to it!
"A Gifted Man" -- 01:35 - 11:15
"Pan Am" -- 11:20 - 20:00
"Boardwalk Empire" -- 20:00 - 29:30
Early Season Ratings -- 29:30 - 44:00
"How I Met Your Mother: -- 44:10 - 48:40
"Glee" -- 48:40 - 55:15
"Modern Family" -- 55:26 - 01:01:20
"Community" -- 01:01:25 - 01:05:35
"Parks and Recreation" -- 01:05:40 - 01:11:55
"The Office" -- 01:12:00 - 01:18:55