Archive for October, 2011

The Closer ? Perhaps an Opener Instead?

One of my favorite Television shows in recent years is The Closer. This show is extremely well done. The writing is superb and we all know how important great writing is to the survival and longevity of a television series. The great writing not withstanding when you talk about The Closer the discussion starts and ends with one name, Kyra Sedgwick! Ms. Sedgwick is phenomenal in the role of Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, a role that she plays so flawlessly it seems as though at times she has to be playing herself, a southern belle born and raised, just add the badge and gun. Her acting prowess becomes even more impressive when you learn that Ms Sedgwick was born and raised in New York, not in the south as the character she portrays. She is without a doubt the driving force behind the success of this show, a show that is entering its final season this winter completing a long successful journey that began in 2005.

I began to think about what an impressive character Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson really is, true southern grace and elegance on the outside, but inside a ruthless determination to “close” every case that comes to the Major Crimes unit she heads. She goes about her business fixated on her goal, without regard for herself or her career. She will use any and all methods necessary to get her job done. I think anyone who has seen the show would agree that not only has she constantly navigated that fine line of morality, but on more then one occasion has run full speed past it, so far past it that as fans of the show are fully aware it might actually be her ultimate undoing. The more I thought about this complex morally challenged incredible character I wondered what her place in television lore would be. With this in mind I decided to take a look at this seasons full television line up to see if there was perhaps another character modeled after Brenda Lee Johnson. As I was doing this I noticed something very interesting.

I counted twenty six shows; scripted shows, including The Closer that currently have women as lead characters. I am not referring to reality shows or shows that have an ensemble cast some of whom are women. Here is a list of those shows:

2 Broke girls – Gets big ratings. Somewhat amusing. Kat Dennings carries most of the load here. Co- produced by Whitney Cummings.
Body of Proof – Murder/mystery drama that has Dana Delany as a female version of Jack Klugman’s great Quincy M.E.
Charlie’s Angels – Already Canceled. Terrible remake, how is anyone supposed to believe Minka Kelly as a car mechanic? Best part of he series was that Drew Barrymore was an executive producer.
Covert Affairs – Very nice spy drama on USA network. Piper Perabo is great an agent Annie Walker, and I love Peter Gallagher as the CIA director.
Damages – What more can there be to say other then Glen Close as Patty Hewes!
Desperate Housewives – The Women of Wisteria Lane just keep going. The only show on both lists.
Fairley Legal – Sarah Shahi as an ex lawyer turned mediator. Very light legal drama. What’s not to love about Sarah Shahi? Loved her in Life and the L Word.
Harry’s Law – Oscar winner Kathy Bates lobbied David E. Kelley for the title role of Harriet Korn. The role was originally written for a man. She has taken the role and run with it. Top notch guest stars.
Heart of Dixie – Rachel Bilson plays a New York doctor who finds herself re-located in the deep south. Love Tim Matheson (West Wing Alum) as her nemesis.
Homeland – Claire Danes is magnificent as a seemingly unstable CIA operative. One of the best shows of the season and by far the biggest surprise.
In Plain Sight – Mary McCormack as a U.S. Marshall working for the witness protection program. This USA series is coming to an end this winter and it will be missed.
Necessary Roughness – Another USA hit. Callie Thorne is great as a Long Island psychotherapist whose personal life is a mess but finds herself catering to a new high profile clientele.
New Girl – Zooey Deschanel as a down on her luck quirky girl who moves in with 3 guys. Critics love this show I do not see it.
Nikita – Great Show. Maggie Q does it all in this latest take on La Femme Nikita.
Once upon a Time – Only two episodes have aired so far, but what a fun and interesting show. I cannot wait to see more. Jennifer Morrison, who I loved in House, is the heroine here.
Pan Am – Four female leads headed by Christina Ricci. Seems like Ms Ricci’s talents are wasted. Pan Am stewardesses as cold war spies?, interesting, but not that interesting.
Playboy Club – Already Canceled. Amber Heard was great to look at but not much else was going on in this series.
Prime Suspect – A Remake of the BBC original with the same name. Helen Mirren headed the BBC version. Maria Bello is the lead here and is as good as anyone currently on TV. This is a great show and the network seems intent on giving it a chance. I really hope it catches on.
Private Practice – Kate Walsh left McDreamy to go off on her own.
Revenge – One of the best new shows and one of the best shows period. Emily VanCamp is captivating as she finds a way each week to exact a small piece of her big revenge plot. I cannot wait to see what happens next and love the flashbacks to fill in the back-story.
Ringer – Sarah Michelle Geller (or Buffy as she will always be known to me) once again carries a series. Just wish she was taking out some vamps in the process.
Rizzoli and Isles – Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander as the title characters are great. Lorraine Bracco gets as far away as possible from Dr Jennifer Melfi and adds some very nice comic relief.
The Closer – All you need to know is Kyra Sedgwick as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson
The Good Wife – Julianna Margulies plays the scorned lawyer who decides not to take it lying down. Loved her in ER and love her here.
Unforgettable – Poppy Montgomery plays an ex cop who is tortured by the fact she can remember every detail that has ever happened to her except the circumstances of her sisters death.
Whitney – A Whitney Cummings vehicle. If you like her standup you will love this show. I like her so this is very funny.

I looked back to the 2004-2005 television season, the year before The Closer premiered and found that there were sixteen scripted shows with women leads, Alias, Charmed, Crossing Jordan, Desperate Housewives, Eve, Gilmore Girls, Girlfriends, Half and half, Hope and Faith, Joan of Arcadia, Judging Amy, Medium, Reba, Tru Calling, Veronica Mars and What I like About You. The total number of shows alone does not tell the whole story. Of the twenty six shows from this 2011-2012 television season only three, 2 Broke Girls, New Girl, and Whitney are half hour sitcoms. That leaves 23 hour long dramas with female leads in the 2011-2012 television season. When you look back to 2004-2005 season you find six half hour sitcoms, Hope and Faith, What I Like About You, Reba, Eve, Girlfriends and Half and Half, and 5 of these six were aired by the now defunct UPN and The WB networks. That leaves 10 hour long dramas with female leads in 2004-2005.

I was shocked, what a huge difference! More then double the amount of scripted dramas featuring women leads this season then the season before The Closer debuted. Can this be a coincidence? I do not think so. Now we must take into consideration what I like to call the “copy” factor. We all know that every television network loves to take a formula that has already proven successful and copy it. Since The Closer is such a successful show I am sure a few of those extra thirteen hours can just be the result of the “copy” factor, but what about the rest? I think this can be explained in one sentence. The Closer, staring Kyra Sedgwick as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson!!

The depth and the presence that Ms Sedgewick brings to Brenda is remarkable. Brenda is thrust into a position of power within a police department that was until her arrival an exclusive boys club. Those who now find themselves as her subordinates in rank resent her and are not at all inclined to help her unless forced to by a direct order from Police Chief Will Pope (Played wonderfully here by JK Simmons, who you might recognize as J. Jonah Jameson from the Spiderman franchise, but in my opinion did some as his best work on the HBO prison hit OZ as the sadistic white supremacy leader Vern Schillinger.) Regardless of the professional obstacles that are thrust in front of her it becomes immensely clear very quickly that Brenda will get her way, she will close her cases using whatever means necessary and that she is without a doubt in charge, in control, a force that you do not want to find yourself up against. Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson is liked by those in her major crime division; she is also respected and feared, especially by those that have tried one way or another to cross her.

I think Ms. Sedgwick’s performance is groundbreaking. I think she shows that a woman, a demanding, powerful, headstrong woman, in a dramatic role can not only flourish but can carry a series and make viewers come back again and again. She has showed you can be ruthless, demanding and relentless in the pursuit of your goal, achieve that goal and still be respected solely because of your ability to get the job done. I think the television powers that be have certainly noticed. Look at the numbers, twenty three hour long scripted drams with women leads this season, thirteen more hours of programming with a woman lead after Brenda Leigh Johnson burst onto the scene. That is an amazing number, and one I think we have Kyra Sedgwick, Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, the writers of The Closer and TNT to thank for. I think it is safe to say that The Closer is an opener, a door opener and an eye opener.

Tobe Hooper and Poltergeist?!?

I’m sure that the statute of limitations has long passed for being shocked by anything about a movie released in 1982, but . . .

Just yesterday I found out that Tobe Hooper directed Poltergeist

Did you know this?  I’m still stunned.

I haven’t seen Poltergeist in years, but am debating watching it this coming weekend.  As I looked over the credits on the DVD case at the library (yes, I have NetFlix, but I’m still a sucker for browsing racks of actual DVDs), I saw it looking right at me: A Tobe Hooper Film.

Now I’m sure that Poltergeist was scary for its time and may be still (if I watch it, I’ll let you know next week), but, in my mind, I’ve always placed it in the category of “happy” horror movies: the kind that you loved when you were a kid, that made you jump but wouldn’t traumatize you, that you might consider showing your own kids as their first scary movie.

Tobe Hooper, on the other hand, might be a swell guy, but for me was always associated with only one thing: the soul-sucking, hopeless desert that is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a movie that nearly did traumatize me as a teenager – and it did that in the first fifteen minutes.  It took me another two decades to see the rest of it, and even then only in pieces.  Regardless of those who claim there is missed humor in there, TCSM is a truly bleak and frightening film.

So, it was quite a surprise to see that its director was associated with anything else, especially a movie as accessible and mainstream as Poltergeist.  It’s kind of like a friend telling you that he invited Leatherface to his Star Wars sleepover party.  Credit goes to Mr. Hooper, though, for being involved in two such iconic films.

I’m going to check IMDB and see if he directed The Little Mermaid too.

Unblinking – American Horror Story

The fourth episode of American Horror Story was on last night.

I’ve enjoyed each episode so far, but thought it was beginning a trajectory that’s common to horror.  This course (one that you can see in any number of film series) begins focused on a pure intent to scare and moves, sometimes quickly, sometimes over years, to a lighter tone.  Usually this is done with the addition of buffoonish characters, one-liners, or other types of comic relief.

This is not unwelcome; not in my opinion, anyway.  I can only take unrelenting oppression for so long.  Even over just the course of a ninety-minute movie that would be watched for no other purpose (think The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), I find myself wanting for some emotion other than terror.

I was a little surprised, though.  The first episode of AHS was consistently scary, delivering a steady stream of disturbing images and disturbed people, beginning with its opening credit sequence.  I don’t remember laughing much.

The second episode may have been the start of the turn: in less than one hour they placed us squarely in the corner of the monsters.  Who didn’t cheer a little on the inside when the Harmons’ intruders met their demise?  (The almost comically inept intruders, as I remember.)  This was homeowners and haunts working together at their best.  We knew, of course, that this collaboration would end, but for the moment we didn’t have a thing to be afraid of.

I do see the draw of this.  Like I said, nobody wants to be freaked out all the time.  The vast majority of us watch television to be entertained.  And AHS is very entertaining and, don’t get me wrong, offers no shortage of scares.

Still, a few minutes into last night’s episode, I turned to my wife and asked her if she could see the show sliding into camp territory (a wild extrapolation at this point, even I admit).

She, under a blanket and peeking through her fingers, answered with a resounding “No.”

So we watched.  The episode was spooky and good.  It missed some opportunities (other than a lingering camera shot, they certainly did not play up the creepiness potential of Addie’s “beautiful girl” Halloween mask), but they’re doing the hard work; I’m not.  At this point, I’m happy to sit on my couch and take what they give.

And based on the trend I’d been seeing, by the last quarter (starting when Addie got hit by a passing car), I began waiting for the final wink from the series to us, something to lighten the mood.  Instead, though, it piled one dark scene on top of the next: a nurse fainting of fright – at what? we can only imagine; a hysterical Constance with her possibly dead daughter; a burned man – a murderer – fierce and distorted seen through the perspective of a teenage girl.  It was he – eccentric, though grotesque – who had previously added some moments of black humor; and it was him whom, at episode’s end, I found most frightening.

So, I stand corrected in my early accusations of the series turning away, ever so slightly, from the horror of its title.  In the end, American Horror Story did not blink.

What Is It About This Movie?

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is my kind of movie.  It’s moody, creepy, and fun.  The voices are excellent and the visuals, as expected, are imaginative and amusing (I can’t help but laugh at any shot with Maudeline and Finis Everglot in the same frame).  It’s a movie that you might want to make an October tradition.  Which I have – kind of.

 The trouble is I can’t ever stay awake through the whole thing.

 I’ve tried to watch it several times each Halloween season since 2006 and have never seen it through to the end. 

 2011 will mark my sixth year (and – by season’s end – well over a dozen attempts); I’ve failed once already and there’s only one weekend left.

 Wish me luck.

10 Best Shows on TV Right Now

1 ) Son of Anarchy – The boys of Samcro have been holding this spot for a few seasons now. They never fail to deliver. Kurt Sutter’s writing is second to none and Katey Sagal dominates every scene she is in.
2 ) NCIS – Superb cast. Perfect mix of levity with a serious subject matter just keeps you coming back week after week. I could watch Mark Harmon in anything and always love those West Wing alums.
3 ) Nikkita – Maggie Q is great in the title role, beautiful and deadly what a combo. Hated Shane West in ER but love him here. So easy to dislike Percy and Division and that makes it so easy to get behind Nikkita and Michael, and that makes this show alot of fun.
4 ) House – I cannot wait to see what House is up to each week. Foreman as his boss is brilliant writing. Cast members come and go but House still remains as ass. I have loved this show from the beginning and will until the end.
5 ) The Big Bang Theory – Really funny show. Jim Parsons is brilliant as the uber annoying Sheldon Cooper, he never fails to get on my nerves and make me laugh at the same time. Love Blossom as his love interest.
6 ) Homeland – What a surprise. I only gave it a chance because of how much I liked Damian Lewis in Life and I love Mandy Patinkin in anything. Both are great here, but Claire Danes steals the show. I still cannot figure out where this story is headed. The minute I finish watching I cannot wait for the next episode.
7 ) Revenge – Great idea translates into a great story. Can’t wait to see how Emily sticks it to the filthy rich each week. Love the flash backs (ala Damages) to fill in just enough of the back story to make you want more.
8 ) Person of Interest – Jim Caviezel is great as the cold, stone hearted, human weapon, but Finch is without a doubt the “Person of Interest” here. He is as strange as he is quirky, but regardless I find myself wanting him on the screen more and more.
9 ) Prime Suspect – I cannot understand why this show cannot seem to find an audience. Maria Bello is as good as anyone on TV here. This is a great show I just hope it stays around for a while.
10 ) Psych – What not to love. Dule Hill (West Wing once again) and James Roday entertain every second they are on the screen. Timothy Omendson’s Lassiter is the perfect straight man for Shawn and Gus, the cast chemistry is top notch.

Just Missed the Cut – Boardwalk Empire, Modern Family and The League

The Steel in Real Steel

Yes, this post is about Dreamworks’ movie Real Steel, but no, it’s not a review.  You wouldn’t be faulted for thinking so, based on the title, but full disclosure is that I haven’t seen the movie. 

I could review the trailer because as so many trailers do these days, it tells me essentially the whole story.  Hugh Jackman, usually – and seemingly here – very charismatic, is Charlie, a former boxer in need of money.  He puts together a robot to fight in a future where “the fight game changed.”  Humans no longer get in the ring; the fighting is done by robots.  They are big and powerful and probably look great on the big screen.  The character is doing this for his son (shades of The Champ).  It all looks pretty entertaining and, to date, has grossed nearly $70 million (per www.boxofficemojo.com). 

The first time I saw a reference – a blurb in Entertainment Weekly, if I remember – for this movie, I automatically thought of an episode of The Twilight Zone.  It too referenced the metal – the episode was called just plain Steel – and starred Lee Marvin as “Steel” Kelly, a former boxer in need of money.  He owns an out-of-date (nearly obsolete) boxing robot and is desperate for the fee that he will earn if his own robot makes it through (or even to) a bout scheduled with a technologically advanced bruiser of a ‘bot.  This episode was written by Richard Matheson and based on his own short story. 

In the literary world, it’s been said that there are only two or three stories: someone goes on a journey, a stranger comes to town, or someone falls in love.  While I don’t buy this completely, I do believe that themes and characters and plots overlap and that there are times those of separate works tread in a very small pool.  Even so, these two (Real Steel and Steel) couldn’t be unrelated, right? 

Right.  A search of IMDB (under Connections) clearly states that the new movie is a version of “Twilight Zone: Steel (#5.2).” 

So, what’s my point?  

Could it be to give additional credit to a renowned author (Matheson) who is celebrated as a major contributor to one of the best television series of all time, has numerous books and stories to his name, and major motion pictures (including Will Smith’s I Am Legend) already based on his work?

 Why, yes, as a matter of fact it is.

 Like I said, you can find the connection between the original author and this second-generation descendant if you look for it.  But who’s going to do this?  (Besides me.)  An opportunity to tie a current moneymaker to, and deflect a little spotlight toward, such a distinguished ancestor is one worth taking.

 I will not compare the merits of the small futuristic (set in1974!) black-and-white drama presented by The Twilight Zone (I know, at that point: Twilight Zone, sans “The”) in 1963 and the massive futuristic movie on screens now.  I would be happy to sit and watch either, although I have a feeling (currently unfounded, mind you) that one might be a little heavier on effects than story.

 But I do recommend that if you enjoy Real Steel in the theater, then take some time to check out the “real” Steel on the small screen.

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