Saturday, September 29, 2007

TV REVIEW: Bionic Woman

As I was watching Bionic Woman the other night, I realized the inevitable had finally occurred. Before my very eyes, a dramatic TV series had achieved true feature film quality. Unfortunately, in the case of The Bionic Woman, that feature film would have been Catwoman, Elektra or Underworld. 

When my wife, Kathryn saw that this "re-imagination" was "developed" by the same "creative" team that perpetrated the new Battlestar Galactica, she turned to me and said, "wow, they really love raping old shows, don't they?" That comment just about sums up my response to the dreadful pilot of this remake, which substitutes the charm of the original 1976-1978 Lindsay Wagner series with tons of mock tough guy attitude and dialogue...all spouted by women, of course (because that's not sexist; merely unpleasant).

This is less accurately The Bionic Woman than The Bionic Gilmore Girl, as the new Jaime Sommers (Michelle Ryan) has been saddled with a young adolescent sister she is caring for, in a sibling relationship clearly derivative of the Buffy/Dawn aesthetic from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That isn't the only idea raided in this dreadful remake. There's a scene lifted directly from Superman: The Movie (1978), wherein a little girl in a jeep spies Jaime running at super speeds through the woods. In case you forgot, in Superman: The Movie, a little Lois Lane spied Clark running at super-speed over a field from her perch in the train. That was bad enough, but then the pilot had the nerve to crib the rooftop "learning your powers" scene from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man (2002). 


Well, at least this Bionic Woman understands the rule that if you're going to steal, you should steal from the best. Why create something new when you can rip-off something else, and say it's "homage," right?

Anyway, Jaime is injured in an assassination attempt by the first bionic woman, Sarah Corvis, played in over-the-top fashion by a twitching, winking Katee Sackhoff, but the real target was Jaime's professor boyfriend...who just happens to be a brilliant bionic scientist.  In short order, he has remade the injured Jaime into another bionic woman who, like her predecessor is hard-wired for "highly specialized warfare." In the remake, bionics means anthrocites (or nanites): microscopic robots capable of rebuilding and regenerating destroyed limbs and enhancing vision and hearing. Jaime takes the news of her upgrade poorly, which in this case means that the episode cuts to a soulful pop tune montage.

Just when this pilot episode can't get any worse, there's an unmotivated, random encounter in an alley between Jaime and a street thug which allows our bionic heroine to demonstrate her new fighting skills. Interestingly, she's not only fast and strong, she's suddenly -- without benefit of any training whatsoever -- completely agile and familiar with elaborate fighting moves..

Then, there's the final bionic showdown between Katee Sackhoff and Jaime. Like the 1998 Godzilla, it occurs in pounding rain so you can't make-out clearly just how bad the CGI effects are. As viewers, we're wise to that trick now, but Bionic Woman goes with it anyway. Faced with the clearly psychotic freak show, Corvis, the new Jaime doesn't register fear, anxiety, or any recognizable emotion whatsoever. She just goes right into the fight --presumably the twenty-four year old's first with a maniacal super villain -- without any preamble, doubts or a hint of concern. That's when you realize this show jumped the shark the moment the cameras started rolling.

Other than providing a sort of affirmative action program for the actors on Battlestar Galactica (Aaron "Tyrol" Douglas shows up too) -- please watch, they need the work!!! -- every aspect of this misbegotten remake is hackneyed, poorly conceived, and atrociously executed. The story is superficial, going nowhere in terms of the morality of biotechnology, for instance. All the details of "bionics," are given the barest lip service, as if the writer's figured that audiences couldn't understand the concept of nanocites. The deepest philosophical moment comes when Jamie asks "who gets to decide right from wrong?" Well, honey, apparently you do, because you are the bionic woman now.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The House Between at Fantasci

On Saturday, September 29, a three-minute trailer for The House Between Season 2 premieres at the Fantasci Convention in Chesapeake, Virginia.

The House Between portion of the con starts at 9:00 pm, and I've sent up not just a trailer on DVD, but four episodes of the show's first season for the organizers to choose from, "Arrived," "Settled," "Positioned" and "Visited." After the viewing, cast and crew members will be on hand to answer audience questions. So if you happen to be in Virginia tomorrow, check out the show!!!

Read more about the convention and The House Between
here.

Regarding the series schedule, I've had a number of queries about "when the show is coming back" and right now our planned premiere date is Friday, January 25, 2008. Unlike last year, the season will air every week for eight weeks, rather than appear every two weeks and run for fourteen weeks. The second season episode order and air schedule is as follows:

2.1 "Returned" (Season Premiere) (January 25, 2008)

2.2 "Separated" (February 1, 2008)

2.3 "Reunited" (February 8, 2008)

2.4 "Estranged" (February 15, 2008)

2.5 "Populated" (February 22, 2008)

2.6 "Distressed" (February 29, 2008)

2.7 "Caged" (March 7, 2008)

2.8 "Ruined" (March 14, 2008)

Leading up to the premiere, there will be special House Between events on this blog (including trailers, a making of featurette and more), at the series home page, and on the discussion board (where you can find the Vincenzo Diaries, and starting on Halloween, an original House Between short story), so keep checking in. Editing has begun in earnest now, and the footage looks terrific.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

COLLECTIBLE OF THE WEEK: Star Wars SSP Van


In 1977, Kenner released an unusual Star Wars toy, and one that was likely recycled from an earlier Kenner product in the heat of the merchandising blitz. Nonetheless, it's cool today as evidence of the first wave Star Wars craze of '77. You are looking at one of the Star Wars SSP (Super Sonic Power) toy vans. Two such vans were released, Luke's (which is white), and Darth Vader's, which is black. Both vans had a fifth wheel located under the center of the van, and the vehicles could be raced by a kind of primitive launching instrument/mechanism. Can't you just imagine cruising down the streets of Southern California in one of these for real, your hi-fi tape deck blasting Melanie's "Brand New Key" while you "feel the force?" When Kathryn gets home today, I'm going to ask her if we can detail our Scion XB just like this...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Appointment Television

I taped Journeyman and Heroes on NBC last night, but haven't had the opportunity to watch either program yet. I'm looking forward to both. (And yes, I'm even trying my darndest to stay objective about the new Bionic Woman...)

This Sunday, September 30th, brings the return of two of two additional dramas - and two of the best series on television - both airing on Showtime. I'm talking about Dexter, the compelling story of a serial killer with a "code" of conduct, and Brotherhood, a tale of siblings in Rhode Island, one a crook, one a politician.

On Dexter, (which I reviewed here on the blog), I wrote: "Fascinating and boasting a distinct point of view, Dexter is already appointment television. It's an inventive series, splendidly acted and written, but what I like about it most so far is the high quotient of black humor." After watching the first season again (available on DVD), I stand by those words but will go further: Dexter is the best series on television. The performances are superb and multi-faceted, the stories are involving and ingenious, and the series takes the moribund police procedural format in a welcome and new direction. It's a mystery to me why this effort didn't get nominated for more Emmy Awards. There's a groundswell, though: virtually everyone I know I has this series in their Netflix queue. If you haven't checked it out (especially if you're a genre fan), then this is a good time to catch up. You won't be disappointed.

On Brotherhood, I said the following in TV Year: "Sexy, gritty and never less-than-compelling, Brotherhood thrives as a terrific summer series, one that clearly understands the basic conceits behind politics and crime. Both "professions" are all about making compromises and being compromised." This show has been M.I.A. for far too long (it aired back in the Summer of '06) and the first season is also available on DVD. I hope the long hiatus hasn't hurt Brotherhood's chances of catching on, because I found it to be of a stature equal to HBO's The Sopranos.

Now, if Showtime would just do one more thing for me this season: buy the rights to make Veronica Mars' fourth season. One can dream, right? Anyway, even without VM in the mix, September 30th promises to be a very good night for TV.

Monday, September 24, 2007

TV REVIEW: Moonlight: "No Such Thing as Vampires"

CBS brings Moonlight, a new vampire noir to prime time television on Friday, September 28 at 9:00 pm with this pilot episode, "No Such Thing as Vampires." The series stars hunky Alex O'Loughlin as Mick St. John, a private investigator and creature of the night working in Los Angeles (Angel's old haunts). "Being a vampire sucks," Mick quips early in the proceedings and you can hear crickets after the lame joke, but fortunately the episode gets better, smarter, and even borderline witty as it builds momentum.

Eschewing the world of "demons" popularized by such recent genre efforts as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed and Supernatural, Moonlight is a more reality-based series, where the presence of vampires is the only genre element (at least so far). In a "talking head" interview session at the beginning of the show, Mick quickly establishes the basics of his undead life. He sleeps in a freezer, not a coffin, garlic repels his dates, but not him, and wooden stakes don't kill vampires. For that, you need a flame thrower, or maybe a lucky decapitation. Like Showtime's Dexter (a serial killer not a vampire), Mick boasts a heroic code of ethics. He doesn't hunt women or children, and he only kills "predators" (meaning bad people).

The supporting characters on Moonlight include Beth Turner (Sophia Myles), an up-and-coming hottie reporter at Buzzwire, the de-rigueur black detective, Lt. Carl Davis (Brian White), and Guillermo (Jacob Vargas), a dealer in "blood and information." The stand-out among the cast, however is Jason Dohring amoral "400 going on 30" vampire tycoon, Josef Konstantin, sort of the latest-twist on a Barnabas Collins character from Dark Shadows. He's rich, powerful, self-indulgent, quippy and drinks his blood direct from the wrists of his sexy female entourage. "1982...that was a good year," he sniffs one woman's arm, sizing her up like a fine wine.

Like all good film noir or detective stories, Moonlight features a lot of hardboiled voiceover narration from Mick, in this case explaining how "when you live forever, the past always catches up with you." Here the story "starts with a girl," or two girls, as Mick investigates the death of a beautiful college girl and runs into reporter Beth, an encounter that brings to light a case - and a connection - from twenty-two years ago; a case Mick has never forgotten.

The dead girl appears to have been bitten by a vampire, but the trail leads back not to one of Mick's undead brethren, but a smarmy college professor who runs a "vampire study group" and seduces his female students with his shtick that he's a "real" vampire. Described as a "Svengali," the professor, Christian Ellis (Rudolf Martin) speaks in compelling and nearly hypnotic terms about the womb being a place of blood and darkness, and that human existence is but a search to return to that paradise. Thus we're all vampires, after a fashion. That's about as much originality as you get here; and let's face it, Moonlight has precious little maneuvering room: on one side it bumps into Forever Knight, and on the other side it brushes against Angel.

That established, the show is good cheesy fun, but not so wretchedly cheesy you'll want to puke. Moonlight is certainly an improvement over the last genre detective series I reviewed here, the dreadful The Dresden Files. What makes this show tolerable, and sort of entertaining in a mainstream, vanilla way is the show's persistent sense of humor, which becomes more fully developed over the hour. The pilot starts out being too hip for itself, but then settles into a nice groove with its romantic banter, one-liners and witticisms. Josef complains about "non-fat soy vegan blood" in one amusing scene, for instance, and at another point Mick gets to say the wonderful line that "forever is a long time with an ex-wife like mine." I hesitate to use the word "campy" after my recent post about the adjective's over use, but there's a tongue-in-cheek element of Moonlight that prevents me from writing it off as just a stupid vampire detective series, despite its staggering unoriginality. I can see this series, if it continues like this, being a guilty pleasure.

So far, I admire the sense of humor, enjoy the Veronica Mars references that have popped up (the first episode mystery of Moonlight occurs on Hearst College campus, where Veronica was a student...) and appreciate the attempts to resurrect from the grave all the film noir elements of old. On the latter front, there's the voice over narration and laconic narrator; there's the flashbacks to the "one" case that the detective never forgets, and - of course - the obsession on "the dame." Also, there's a chilling (brief) scene in which a young student is hunted by a masked killer, and some nice stunt work in the climactic scenes. I can't say that Moonlight is in the same league as Dexter, Heroes or even Jericho, but it's a pleasant enough way to spend forty-two minutes. First episodes are always dicey affairs anyway (and there was a lot of behind-the-scenes changes involved with Moonlight too...), so there's every reason to hope and pray that Moonlight could sharpen its fangs a little over time.