We're still six weeks away from the beginning of Passover, but that's where my mind is this morning.
During the Seder, we speak of the Four Sons -- one wise, one wicked, one simple and one who does not know to ask -- as a lens through which to view the possible meanings and interpretations of the observance. The Seder is full of remarkable recountings, but each of the four archetypal sons responds to the remarkable in a different way.
For reasons that probably say strange things about me, I look at HBO's new Friday lineup -- "The Ricky Gervais Show," "The Life and Times of Tim" and "Real Time with Bill Maher" -- and I see HBO attempting to reboot the essence of the Four Sons through Tim, Karl Pilkington and Bill Maher. All three are essentially reactive figures, men to whom things happen, but they respond to the encroachment of the world in very different ways.
The spring release date may be similar and to video game obsessed American school children ancient Sparta and mythological Greece may be indistinguishable, but it would be a mistake to confuse Louis Leterrier's updating of "Clash of the Titans" with "300."
It's mid-August and a group of journalists have just taken the short drive from the heart of London to Longcross Studios, but more practically we've taken a drive back in time.
I'm not going to be corny and say that visiting the former tank factory in Surrey county was like hopping in Delorean and journeying to an age where the Gods came came down from Olympus and impregnated semi-willing human women and then used their half-God children as pawns in an epic struggle. I understand that Edith Hamilton wasn't writing about actual history, when she chronicled her stories of minotaurs and winged horses and at least one spectacularly ugly woman with snakes for hair.
No, visiting the Longcross facilities housing the "Clash of the Titans" production was more like going back a decade or two in film history, when directors would work with teams of artisans to build mammoth sets, sculpt fiendish creatures and dress and arm battalions of soldiers, when filmmaking wasn't as easy as positioning your actors in front of a Kermit-colored backdrop and assuming that geniuses with computers will fill in the rest.
On set visits, you never know when you're going to encounter a few flimsy tear-away walls and hastily tossed together rooms that bear little resemblance to natural environments and watch a couple actors read two or three lines of dialogue that will inevitably be cut from the finished film. That happens frequently. But sometimes, you find yourself huddled in the corner of a built-to-scale ancient city -- Argos, in particular -- carefully positioned behind a pillar that gives no indication of hollowness when you rap on it tentatively, ducking out of the way because any minute a mythological creature of some sort is going to come soaring out of the sky, causing the citizens to scatter in clouds of kicked up straw and dust, screaming all the way.
"Guys!" Leterrier shouts into a megaphone, doubtlessly aware that the set is too cavernous for all of the extras to hear him. "Finally, we shoot!"
[More on the visit to the set of "Clash of the Titans," opening on April 2, after the break...]
It's tempting to think of Steve Dildarian as being a live action version of Tim, the hard-luck hero of the HBO comedy "The Life and Times of Tim."
Dildarian certainly sounds a lot like his protagonist, who has a tendency to get into awkward situations with hookers, priests and homeless people alike.
But while Tim is stuck in an unrewarding, frequently jeopardized job, Dildarian transitioned from a wildly successful career in advertising -- his commercials for clients ranging from Budweiser to Staples to Little Caesars earned 35 Clios -- to the successful short "Angry Unpaid Hooker," which became the basis for "The Life and Times of Tim."
"The Life and Times of Tim" returns to HBO on Friday (Feb. 19) night with a few flashier voices -- early episodes include Will Forte and Philip Baker Hall, along with the returning stars -- and a tiny bit of extra animation polish. But mostly, the formula remains intact: Through no fault of his own, ridiculous things happen around Tim and hilarious consequences ensue.
HitFix caught up with Dildarian to talk about the new season of "The Life and Times of Tim," whether Tim can ever get too humiliated and whether the show can ever look too professional.
The interview is after the break and it helps if you imagine Dildarian doing all of his responses with his Tim voice.
Welcome to the fourth installment of the Firewall & Iceberg Podcast.
Last week, if you'll recall, I recorded my part of the podcast from the bottom of a well. Fortunately, Lassie saved me and we tried a different technique this week. I think it's a pretty big improvement and neither of us sounds like we're down a well.
We still don't have things set up for iTunes downloads, but I'm told that HitFix's sorely overworked tech/development staff is looking into making that happen. So be patient. We're getting there.
This week's podcast is a long one. I'm not sure why. Probably either lots of topics to discuss, or else lots of curling to interject about. Yes, we talk about "Lost" and "American Idol" again (those are likely to be regular parts of our discourse), but we also talk about NBC comedies, HBO's Friday night animation premieres, "Burn Notice" and the season finale of "Men of a Certain Age." Some of the same stuff and some new stuff.
Here's the time breakdown for your skipping-around pleasure.
2:30 - 7:00 -- Olympics blather
7:00 - 13:20 -- "American Idol" blather
13:30 - 19:00 -- New HBO comedies
20:20 - 29:40 -- NBC
30:40 - 35:55 -- "Burn Notice"
36:00 - 38:40 -- "Men of a Certain Age"
39:00 - 47:00 -- "Lost"
Although Bryan Greenberg and Victor Rasuk are its leading men, the breakout star of HBO's "How to Make It in America" is likely to be Aloe Blacc. The younger rapper-singer-songwriter is responsible for the criminally infectious "I Need a Dollar," which plays over the show's stylish and thematically illuminating opening credits. If there's any justice, this is gonna propel Blacc to a Talib Kweli/Mos Def level of visibility or, at the least, let him make a few cents off of "I Need a Dollar" downloads on iTunes.
I'm a bit cult-y about the "How to Make It in America" credits, which I watched straight through on each of the four episodes HBO sent out and then went back and rewound several times just for fun. Using still photos and documentary footage -- no actual shots or images from the show -- the credits establish New York City in all of its racial and economic diversity, from the diamond merchants to the hot dog vendors to the street buckers and the Wall Street mavens. It establishes the nightlife, the street culture and the public art that are the city's cultural life's blood, showcasing the it's many faces. You've got food, booze and Gotham spirit and it all ends with the Statue of Liberty because, darnit, this is a show about the American Dream.
There is a flavor and texture to the opening credits of "How to Make It in America" that carries through into the series itself. Unfortunately, beyond that flavor and texture, "How to Make It in America" doesn't offer all that much substance. A loose and affectless (but not devoid-of-charm) half-hour, "How to Make It in America" is either a mostly laugh-less comedy, or an entirely stakes-free drama, so while it isn't hard to sit through, it's also unlikely to become mandatory viewing.
[Full review of "How to Make It in America" after the break...]
The danger in remaking something that was already influential is that chances are good your remake will draw unavoidable comparisons to the things that the original inspired.
Does that make sense? No?
Let me try it in plain English: On Saturday (Feb. 13), BBC America is premiering "Survivors." The post-plague drama is based on a cult favorite British series which premiered in 1975. That means that the source material for "Survivors" predates Stephen King's "The Stand" (and the subsequent miniseries), predates Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" and predates the briefly resurrected "Jericho." And whether or not the original "Survivors" directly influenced "The Stand" and "28 Days Later" and "Jericho" and "The Walking Dead" and "Lost" and "The Road" is almost beside the point, because the remake can't escape their shadow, as well as the shadows of a dozen other similar stories of post-apocalyptic rebirth.
So while I wouldn't say that "Survivors" is without its creepy pleasures, familiarity supersedes originality and freshness fairly early on. Because BBC America kindly provided me with the complete first season/series, I watched that entire first run and while I occasionally admired the creative team's ability to keep finding new angles to explore within the extremes of the circumstance, I tired of the stylistic sameness and monotony of the pacing.
[Full review of "Survivors" after the break...]
Jessica "Sugar" Kiper didn't have a very long journey on CBS' "Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains."
The "Survivor: Gabon" finalist and occasional pin-up model was the first person voted off in the Thursday (Feb. 11) night premiere of the new All-Star season.
What Sugar's run lacked in duration, though, it made up for in memorable moments. She started the episode as a star, shedding her top and two would-be tacklers to key her tribe's victory in the season's initial Reward Challenge. But in the Immunity Challenge, Sugar was part of a quartet of Heroes who squandered a big lead on a climactic puzzle. Coupled with an unfortunate night trying to snuggle with Colby, it was no surprise when the Heroes opted to write down Sugar's name at Tribal Council.
Or at least that's how the episode made things look. HitFix caught up with Sugar on Friday morning to discuss editing, toplessness and whether she thinks of herself as a Hero.
Click through for my full conversation with Sugar...
Welcome to another week's Firewall & Iceberg podcast, a podcast characterized as much by its technical difficulties as its content.
Last week, if you'll recall, Sepinwall and I didn't like our first podcast and we recorded a second one completely from scratch.
That didn't feel necessary this time around, but we had to pause twice due to Skype issues and I sound as if I'm in a lead-lined coffin. Alan sounds great, though! So there's that. It's possible we're actually backsliding, technically, but Sepinwall's researching new techniques as I type.
We talked a bit longer this week and covered a wide variety of topics. If you're looking to catch some things and avoid others, here's a brief breakdown:
The "Chuck"-pocalypse: 1:00 - 9:30
"Lost": 10:20 - 17:10
"American Idol": 17:15 - 20:10
"Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains": 22:00 - 26:30
"How to Make It in America": 26:30 - 30:40
"Friday Night Lights": 31:30 - End
We talk about a few other things in there as well, but that's the basic outline.
And now, enjoy Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 3: