Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lost – It IS “The Beginning of the End”

On January 22, I wrote in this blog that I have lost interest in “Lost.” And after watching the season premier, I’m a little lost myself, and somewhat disappointed.

Maybe the show is too slow paced for me. It’s not like things aren’t happening, it’s just that they are not happening with the pace and intensity of the first season. It’s as if the show has become overly cerebral and complex.

I have to admit that the “flash forward” has more interest for me than the previous seasons’ flashbacks. My hope is that they don’t overuse this technique as they did with the flashbacks. If they start to flash sideways, we’re in trouble.

If I understand this episode correctly, 6 people got off the Island. We knew from the end of last season that Kate (Evangeline Lilly) and Jack (Mathew Fox) had returned “home.” In this episode, we see Hurley (Jorge Garcia) in the “future” so we know he is another. I suspect the show is trying to build buzz about who make up the other three. I am not sure that it really matters to me. For some reason I have never been overly attached to any one character on Lost.
Hurley is back in the nut house. He's a little off his rocker due to something that happened on the Island that apparently Jack is concerned that he’ll tell about. The presumption may be it’s something that we haven’t seen happen yet, but so far so much has gone wrong on the Island it could be anything.

Jorge Garcia seemed to portray true grief at the loss of Charlie (Dominic Monaghan), but then also true fear at seeing Charlie reappear as if he was alive. I have to admit that Garcia did a great job in his role in this episode, maybe his best yet.

Other than that, I am not sure that this episode had any major revelations. Or at least nothing that grabbed me. For the most part, I felt they could have done a far better job with this season premier. Maybe I am more of an action-oriented person, or maybe that’s what this series started out to be before it entered the Island’s land of confusion. (Are the writers making things up as they go along?) I am more than willing to invest in a show and be mindful of information gleaned from tiny details, but this show actually seems too much like hard work to watch. And sometimes I just want to be interested and entertained, and not sucked down into a vortex of a multi-layered mystery.

The one thing this episode did not leave me with was a burning desire to learn more or solve the mystery more. I really want it to be over and get some closure.

As a side note, so much time seems to have passed that some of the characters look a little different. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought Matthew Fox looked much thinner. And nice to see that as a ghost, Charlie looked much healthier. I wonder how that works?

So for now I will stick with the show. Like the Island, clearly the show wants me back. I suspect I’m in it for the long haul. If anything, I haven’t “lost” my need to close the loop with this show. Hopefully the investment will pay off.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Analog TV To Go Away – Don’t Panic!

On February 17, 2009, television signals will cease broadcasting in analog, and will be converted to digital. But don’t panic. You probably won’t need to go out and buy all new televisions.

I’ve heard too many people saying that they don’t exactly know what this change means for them. The bottom line is if you are getting your TV signal via cable or satellite, you’re covered. Cable and satellite companies will be converting the signal for you. But, if you receive analog television via an antenna, you’ll need to make changes if you want to continue watching television.

According to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Despite the approaching transition to digital-only television, about 15.5 million U.S. households still relied on traditional over-the-air analog broadcasts as of January 2007, according to the FCC, although that number is expected to decrease somewhat this year as flat-screen TV sets lure consumers to upgrade.” That’s a lot of people using “rabbit ears.”

If people who are getting their TV via signals don’t act before February 2009, their favorite TV shows will fade to black.

What this means to you:

If you subscribe to cable or satellite services, you don't have to do anything. Your cable or satellite company will make the conversion for you.

If you get your signal via the airwaves or antenna, the DTV Transition web site says:

“TV sets that rely on "over the air" broadcasting with an antenna (set-top or rooftop) to receive a signal will be affected by the cutoff of analog broadcasts in 2009. You will need to consider one of the following options:

1. Purchase a digital-to-analog converter box that plugs into an existing television. The boxes, which are expected to cost between $50 - 70 will be available for purchase in 2008. Beginning on January 1, 2008, U.S. households can request up to two coupons valued at $40 each. Each coupon can go toward the purchase of a single set-top converter box that will allow you to continue watching FREE "over-the-air" television on an analog set.

2. Subscribe to a cable, satellite or telecommunications service provider if all desired local broadcast stations are carried by that service.

3. Purchase a new television set with a built in digital tuner.”

There is still plenty of time to prepare. Now really, do you need a better excuse to go out and buy a new television?

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Monday, January 28, 2008

The SAG Awards – I Didn’t Watch, I Don’t Care Who Won

On January 8, I wrote in this blog about the awards show being canceled for the Golden Globes. Generally, I have become apathetic towards celebrity awards shows. TNT touted that the SAG Awards were going forward despite the strike of the Writers Guild, as if that would make the show better and more watchable. But, I was not so desperate to watch something Sunday night that I watched the SAGs. (OK, I watched Shark. And James Woods is still missing his eyebrows.) I’m so disinterested in the SAG Awards that I haven’t even bothered to look to see who won.

I know that the Oscars still mean a lot to many people, but something tells me that even the casual viewers is getting more discerning in their viewing choices that sitting through a lengthy award show just doesn’t cut it any more. If the writer’s strike affects the airing of the Oscars, it won’t bother me.

So for someone like me who likes to watch TV – well, I really LOVE watching TV – even I draw the line sometimes. Not all TV is TV worth my time.

But we should all stay tuned to see if Shark gets disbarred. And if James Woods gets some eyebrows like the rest of his cast mates. The suspense is killing me.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Without A Trace – of Excitement?

Photo: CBS

I’ve been watching Without A Trace since the show first started, and generally I find it entertaining. At the start of this current season, it was moved back to its original Thursday time slot. I don’t think it’s drawing the huge numbers of viewers that it used to get, but if I recall correctly, it wins the ratings contest for its time period.

While I continue to watch the show, there is something very routine about it. Without A Trace is a show that still has the original core cast, only adding Roslyn Sanchez sometime in season 4. The cast is solid and has great chemistry. Anthony LaPaglia is the gruff, stoic, cranky Jack Malone, a role that he seems to fit almost too easily. Then there’s Marianne Jean-Baptiste, playing the gruff, stoic, cranky Agent Vivian Johnson; she's sometimes the only person who actually seems to know what she’s doing in her job. The cast is filled out with eye candy Agents Danny Taylor (Enrique Murciano), Martin Fitzgerald (Eric Close), Samantha “Sam” Spade (Poppy Montgomery), and Elena Delgado (Roselyn Sanchez).

Without a Trace is probably the most formulaic crime show on television. In the first segment of the show, someone goes missing. The FBI gets involved, questioning many people (these segments must include flashbacks) who either lie or withhold information, and at the end, the missing person is found, sometime dead, sometimes alive. The routine gets a little dull. But, there have been times when the series threw in a few personal story lines to mix things up, like Jack’s relationship with his father Frank (played by Martin Landau), Jack’s messy divorce and child custody problem, Jack’s relationship with Anne Cassidy (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). Jack’s problems were very depressing and frankly they really dragged down the show. (Or, maybe it's just Jack who's depressing?)

Occasionally, the rest of the cast gets some attention with a story line of their own, which seemingly gets dropped quickly. The show seems to be stepping away from too many personal issues this season, and the series seems to be a little better for it with tighter stories. What is odd is that as this is such a great cast that have been with the show for so long, I think viewers really want to know the characters a little better. But, like the Law & Order series, too much personal information can start to detract from the story at hand, which is maybe why it doesn’t seem to work for Without a Trace.

While I really do like this show, I believe that it needs an infusion of some new energy or new slant to their formula to bring some excitement. I am not sure if they need a new regular cast member, or a compelling, recurring story line. Agent Johnson is involved in a on-going story line, but the coverage of the story seems fragmented or spotty, and I am starting to lose interest. The show needs something; I feel like I am watching the cast go through the motions.

With the writers strike having so many TV shows up in the air, I would hope that when they return to work, they would write some new ideas to give a jolt to Without a Trace. I don’t want to start thinking of the show as “Without A Trace of Excitement.”

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I’ve Lost Interest in Lost

I’ve been hearing the occasional commercial about “Lost” returning on January 31 in a two-hour premier.

And I really don’t care about it.

There are a few reasons for my lack of interest. The last season didn’t seem to be as intense as the first, and the suspense was missing. They introduced many new characters and the “Others”, which only seemed to make the show centered more on people than on the mystique of the island itself. And then, there were the frequent flashbacks, which became tiring after a while. I think the flashbacks are what I first liked about the show, but I soured on them later as the show seemed to spend more and more time flashing back than with the present story. It’s nice to have a bit of a back story on the characters, but too much back story can set the story back.

There also seems to be very little buzz going on about the show. It seemed that between previous seasons, the hype continued so one couldn’t wait for it to start up again. But, with the end of this last season there was…nothing. Maybe it’s not out there, maybe I just didn’t have any interest in going to look for it. But when the buzz dies, that’s when I can tell that a show is near the end.

And speaking of the end, how disappointing was the end of the last season? Somehow, I felt like I had just been robbed. The season had virtually no answers and the story seemed to stall, but the ending seemed to shift the story a little too far forward for me. Was it supposed to be a flash-forward? If so, I think I am getting really confused with all this time shifting.

I’m also not sure what happened with the dynamics between the characters, but something was missing last season. It got to the point where I didn't care about what happened to anybody on the island. Hopefully this season they will cut lose some of the “dead wood” and get back to the core characters and the core story…whatever the core story is supposed to be!

I’m not sure if it’s going to be worth my time to watch Lost when it premiers. But, I will probably succumb when I realize that there may not be much else on TV at that time. If I do watch the premier, and if it doesn’t move the story forward in an interesting or suspenseful way, then the show will LOSE me as a viewer.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Rediscover PBS

With the winter holidays and the writer’s strike, new episodes for TV shows will soon disappear. This is a perfect time to rediscover your local PBS station.

Since our local PBS station went HD last summer, I’ve been watching more of the old standbys that used to be regular viewing for me – Nova, Nature, American Experience, etc. There are some excellent programs there, and they all educate AND entertain at the same time.

For example, the were two episodes of Nova called “Absolute Zero” that chronicled the understanding of cold, and the work of scientists, researchers, and inventors, going back centuries. It was amazing to see the things that scientists have done – and CAN do – to “create” cold. It may sound like a dull show, but I found it riveting. I will never take cold for granted again.

I also watched “American Experience,” an episode named “Oswald’s Ghost.” It was probably the most interesting piece I’ve ever seen - and I’ve seen a lot – on the Kennedy assassination and the conspiracies that swirl around it. What I found particularly interesting was its treatment of Jim Garrison, a New Orleans District Attorney, who was zealous in his pursuit of conspirators. After seeing Oliver Stone’s movie on the subject many years back, it only confirmed for my that Stone’s portrayal of Garrison was skewed and not realistic.

But this is what I love about PBS. It takes many subjects, and goes to many places, and highlights them in a way that allows you to come away wanting more. It educates, but it also feeds curiosity. Sometimes it can astound, with its tales of discovery and it’s treatment of nature. Of course, there is something for everybody, including kids, cooks, artists, etc.

If you’re finding yourself bored with television lately, and if you haven’t watched PBS in a while, give it a try. Your brain will thank you.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fox's 24 - Getting 86'd For Now?

TV Guide's Michael Ausiello raises some concerns, issues, and questions in today's TV Guide on line about the fate of Fox's 24 and its man of the day, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland):

"Well, although Fox hasn't confirmed it, I'll go out on a limb and say Jack Bauer isn't returning this season. Even if the strike ends tomorrow, the earliest the show could get back on the air is this summer — and there's no way in hell Fox is dumping 24 onto the summer season. That leaves the network with several options, none of them ideal. One solution is to just kick off Season 7 next January, but by then Jack will have been in hiding for nearly two years. Another, and much more controversial, scenario being bandied about involves taking the eight episodes currently in the can and creating a 10- to 14-episode mini-season to air in the fall. That would be followed by another 10- to 14-episode mini-season — featuring a completely different plot — during the second half of the season. Opponents of that idea have argued, and rightly so, that by splitting the season, you're essentially compromising the show's unique, 24-hour conceit. Proponents, however, argue that these are desperate times. And sometimes desperate times require throwing out the rulebook. I can see that point as well. What do you guys think? Would you rather wait until January and get a traditional uninterrupted 24-episode season? Or would you prefer getting the show back in the fall, even if that meant splitting the season up into two shorter, self-contained chunks? Or do you have another solution? Weigh in with your thoughts in the Ask Ausiello Discussion Thread. I have a feeling Fox will be interested in what you have to say. "

Lots of questions, no answers. I bet Jack Bauer would be able to solve the writer's strike in less than a day, given enough weapons.

24 is one of my favorite shows, despite the fact that sometimes things occur that strain credulity. Still, there is nothing quite like Jack Bauer going all out to solve even the smallest of problems, with weapons of course. OK, sometimes he uses electrical cords, but I digress. One of the hardest things to find credible with 24 is that everything is supposed to occur within a span of 24 hours. Sometimes Jack is able to drive around Los Angeles and get places in times that even Superman would find hard to achieve. Maybe the concept of keeping with this "real time" theme isn't necessary any more. My opinion is the show may benefit in the credibility category if it stepped back from that time constriction.

I guess I'll take 24 hours to think about it before I write to Fox.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Prison Break: The Viewers Get “Boxed In”

Count me as one person who was very disappointed in the return of Prison Break. The episode, “Boxed In” (aired Monday January 14 on Fox) made it seem that it was the viewer that got trapped in one of Dante’s Circles of Hell. It seemed no progress was made in this episode.

I was getting confused at what some of the characters were doing or what part they played in the ongoing story. Besides the fact that Mahone (William Fichtner) was going through drug withdrawal, I completely lost what his returning to prison meant for the rest of the group. I also didn’t get the purpose of the use of the saran wrap over Susan B’s (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe) face during the water torture scene. If the saran wrap was already suffocating her, what was the purpose of the water? And unless they can tie in Bellick’s (Wade Williams) problems with the main story, let’s just get rid of the character and move on. His story line seems to be wasting time.

The scenes with both Linc (Dominic Purcell) and Michael (Wentworth Miller) were so dull and uninteresting that I found myself picking apart their looks. For example, have you noticed that with Purcell’s boxy, huge head, and his thick neck with his small shoulders, he looks like one of those old “rock’m sock’m robots"?

Most importantly, after watching this episode, I really could care less if these guys ever get out of prison or if Linc’s son is saved.

Prison Break needs to move the story out of this prison, and get back somehow to a telling a story in a way that viewers can even care about what happens to the bad guys. Here’s one viewer who is ready for a break out from watching this show.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and The Return of Prison Break

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles premiered on Fox Sunday night (January 13) at 8:00 PM ET, with the second episode due to air on Monday, January 14, 2008 (at its normal time of 9:00 PM ET).

I watched the show out of sheer boredom, since not much else was on. I generally liked the Terminator movies. I saw Terminators 1 & 2, but I can’t recall ever seeing the third installment. Since Fox’s TV show is set between the movie installments 2 & 3, I don’t have any problems with how the story has progressed.

The TV show seems to be very action packed, like the movies, and follows a very similar theme: Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) and her son John (Thomas Dekker) on the run from cyborg terminators from the future, who are trying to kill John because he saves the world from Skynet, a computerized intelligence. While a cyborg continues to hunt them down, another cyborg (Summer Glau), also sent from the future, is there to protect them.

The action in the show makes it interesting. The fact that they will try to locate and destroy Skynet is interesting. The problem with the show may be the repetitive “run from the cyborg” scenarios. While this is the whole excuse for the action in the show, it will lose its excitement and intensity if it happens the same way, week after week. Hopefully they will find a creative way to keep the hunt going without too many scenes of cyborg battles.

I plan on watching tonight, and unless it gets really awful – I don’t expect it to – I think this show will be a nice placeholder for the show 24, which is stalled due to the writers’ strike.

Prison Break fans will also be happy that the show returns tonight at 8:00 PM ET, immediately before the Terminator series. This is a series that I initially never thought would get past the first few episodes, but it continued to deliver exciting – yet sometimes gruesome – shows in the first two seasons. This year, however, they seem stalled in prison in Panama, with uninteresting characters and uninteresting scenarios. Hopefully they will pick up the pace and get out of that place, and deliver a story that is more on par with the complexity of previous seasons.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Criminal Intent: The Pick of the Law & Order Litter?

I’ve been a faithful Law & Order Criminal Intent watcher since day one. I’ve always liked the show, despite some bad times. Remember when Goren (Vincent’D’Onofrio) was partnered with Detective Bishop (Samantha Buck)? OK, I think many of us just want to have those episodes permanently wiped from our memories.

Criminal Intent has always been the cerebral Law & Order. D’Onofrio is the perfect fit to play Goren, since D’Onofrio does quirky and mentally unbalanced better than anybody else. Even with the changes a few years back with adding another pair of detectives – Mike Logan (Chris Noth) and his partner du jour – the show has continued to deliver interesting stories. In fact, I think adding Chris Noth to the cast has recharged the show. In all honesty, I was getting a little tired of Goren. It seemed as they continued to focus more on Goren’s personal issues, I became less interested in him. I prefer a little more mystery with my Law & Order characters. Now that he’s not on every week I like the show more.

I admit I was initially disappointed when they moved the show to USA, partly because I don’t get USA in HD, and partly because I thought USA would let the quality of the show slide. I continued to watch it, though, and am happy that it seems to have found life on USA, and the quality and the feel of the show has actually improved. With NBC now re-airing those first-run USA episodes, I’m going to watch them again.

After watching the first three episodes of this season’s Law & Order, I’m not happy with what I’ve seen. It’s one thing to introduce new characters, but at the same time the show seems different in subtle things like its camera work, weak dialog, flimsy stories, and we’re getting too much personal information on the characters. And the drama is absent. I’m also very disappointed in SVU because the whole chemistry of the cast is off and the story lines are flat. And then there’s Adam Beach (I shuddered as I wrote that).

Criminal Intent may actually be the best show of the franchise right now, with interesting actors and interesting plots, and overall good cast chemistry.

I do have some hang-ups with Criminal Intent. For starters: that horrid introduction music, which I think was taken directly from the failed Law & Order Trial By Jury. It just doesn’t fit the feel of Criminal Intent. And I still miss Captain Deakins (Jamey Sheridan). I can’t warm up to Captain Ross (Eric Bogosian), who seems a little too wooden for my tastes. And I also hope that Alicia Witt is a short-timer because she’s just plain annoying. But I can look past those things, as long as the stories, and the rest of the cast continues to deliver.

So if you haven’t checked out Law & Order Criminal Intent since it moved to USA, give it a try now that it’s re-airing on NBC Wednesdays at 9:00 ET. It would be criminal to miss it.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cold Case: Still Leaves Me Cold

I started watching Cold Case (CBS) when it first premiered in 2003. The show seemed different and interesting. But, over time, the formula of the show became too repetitive, the story lines sappy and syrupy, the flashbacks too repetitive. I also felt like I was watching a crime show merged into a music video montage, and the music was distracting. Last season, I got tired of the show and for the most part, stopped watching it, unless I was desperate. In fact, I stopped watching the last 5 minutes or so of the show earlier than that. The “perp walk set to music” was just too much to tolerate week after week.

Desperation kicked in again this past Sunday, so I thought I’d give Cold Case another try. The episode was called “Sabotage”, about a serial bomber that spanned a few years. The good thing about the show is that they seemed to get rid of, for the most part, the flashing back and forth between the current character and the character’s “younger” self. Since this is the first episode I’ve seen this season, I don’t know if this was a recent change to format, or just for this episode. But it did make the show flow much better.

Also minimized was the music accompaniment, with the exception of the ending of the show…that I still skipped over.

The story, however, still seemed flat. And I have to say that the chemistry between the detectives was absent. I’m not quite sure that the characters ever really had much chemistry to begin with, but with this series being on as long as it has, I think viewers should expect more. Lilly Rush (Kathryn Morris) is still a blank slate.

And the crimes and the investigations themselves really have little depth to them. There isn’t much suspense or much to draw one into the story. I find I feel nothing for the characters, either those involved in the crimes, or those working to solve the crimes.

Overall, my response to this show remains chilly. It may be one of the most superficial crime shows on television right now – and goes back on my “view when only desperate” list.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Writers Strike Has Benefits – the Golden Globes Get Canceled

There is ONE big benefit to the writer’s strike. It’s gotten the Golden Globes awards show canceled. Instead, a news conference will be held to announce the winners. Can we only hope that the Academy Awards will soon follow?

Personally, I’ve always found awards shows boring. The entertainment industry’s compulsion to pat itself on the back - at the same time marketing its movies, TV shows, and music – always seemed so self serving. And really, who cares about what designer a celebrity is wearing, or who wore the worst dress, etc. It’s all so…so…vulgar.

Don’t get me wrong, I like when my favorite actors or shows get awards. It’s almost a validation of why I watch them. But, watching a three to four hour show filled with boring monologues and tributes can put one into a coma. I will occasionally start to watch The Academy Awards and the Emmys during the first half hour of the show, but after that, forget it. I usually change the channel and only turn it back on during a commercial while watching the other show. If I recall correctly, last year I DVR’d the Oscars and reduced the entire show down to about a half hour’s worth of my viewing time. It’s so nice to skip those boring speeches from people I either don’t know or could care less about. And let's not forget those obscure categories, like "best sound editing for an animated, black and white documentary." People aren't that interested. (Admit it, you change the channels during those segments.)

So as far as I’m concerned, the Golden Globes can go away and never come back. And maybe this will be a contagious virus that hits the other awards shows, and makes them extinct? One can dream...

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Are The Soaps Losing Their Lather?

I’ve been an off and on soap-watcher since the late 1960s. My seventh grade teacher, who was lucky enough to have control of the only TV in school – used to turn on General Hospital while we waited for the school buses to arrive. So I got hooked on Doctor and Audrey Hardy, and Jesse Brewer and their complicated lives at a very young age. When summer vacation began that year, I kept watching GH when I could. Somewhere near that time when One Life to Live premiered, I started watching that too, much to my mother’s dismay.

After getting out of high school and starting a job the very next week, it was many years before I could go back to watching the soaps. I think when VCRs came out, and it made it so easy to catch up, I discovered the soaps again. Of course, I also got my husband hooked. We would share in the humor of bad acting and horrible, unbelievable story lines. But, we still tried to catch them for a few minutes each day, even if it meant fast forwarding through 75% of the show.

Over the last several years, though, the quality of the soaps has gone from bad to worse. It was bad enough that years ago, many soaps changed from 30 minute shows to one hour shows. All that meant was stretching and elongating bad stories. But now, the story lines are sometimes stretched out over months, with even more amateurish acting and uninteresting characters.

Case in point: General Hospital. Or shall I call it “Criminals in Port Charles.” The show centers far too much on the criminal element, AKA Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard), the wooden Jason Morgan (Steve Burton), Sonny’s annoying ex-wife Carly (currently played by Laura Wright ), their bratty children, and various associates. Then of course, Luke Spencer (Anthony Geary) disappears for months on end, and then forces himself on the viewers in heavy doses, in vacant story lines, when he graces everyone with his return. In the past year or so, GH seemed to try to actually center some stories around hospital people and events, but again, the stories and the characters were unappealing.

Another case in point: One Life to Live. Once the most interesting of the bunch, it now seemingly has nothing really interesting going on, or a story gets dragged on to the point of boredom. Right now, I think Marcie (Kathy Brier) is trying to keep Tommy, her adopted son, away from Todd, his biological father. The story brought her to Paris Texas, also strangely the same place where Vicki Lord Reilly Buchanan Davidson (Erika Slezak) is living out a secret life as a waitress. OK, I feel for Erika. She’s had the best stories of OLTL all her career, but since they now gave the role of designated “Dissociative Identity Disorder” to her on-screen daughter Jessica (who I refer to as “Messica” because her life was a mess), there may not be much more Erika can do that’s a challenge. But this story line seems to be going on FOREVER, with no real movement. Add in a few characters who really can’t act, examples: Melissa Archer, who plays the wardrobe-challenged Natalie, and Michael Easton (John McBain), who only has one dead-pan look on his face and always appears in need of a shower. What you end up with is 60 minutes of fighting off an afternoon nap.

At face value, it doesn’t seem like the soaps are that bad. But when one considers that the soaps used to be the one place for controversial stories on television, or for stories that you wanted to talk about with others, it’s clear how they have fallen. There are frequent reports on how the soaps have continued to lose viewership year after year. Part of it is probably due to the volume of choices a viewer has, but a big part is that the soaps are no longer the place to see a story that pulls you in and makes you interested in the characters, the stories, the issues, and the actors themselves. I find I don’t watch the soaps much any more, usually only checking out the first 5 minutes to see if the story will grab me. Most days, they don’t.

Recent events with the writers strike have raised questions that if the soaps go off the air for a while due to lack of writers, they may never come back. And you know what? Here’s one person that won’t miss them.

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Friday, January 4, 2008

The Best Writers are Invisible

With the recent strike of the Writers Guild of America, and the season premier of Law & Order, it got me thinking. It made me wonder what makes a writer a great writer. I think the secret is that the writing itself is invisible. When you’re watching a drama, or comedy, or even a movie, a great writer makes you believe that you are like a fly on the wall, watching the events unfold. The dialog sounds normal, real, and the actors in the roles seem to meld right into the character.

Why did the Law & Order 2 hour premier (“Called Home/Darkness”) bring me this revelation? I think it’s because the dialog seems so – scripted – for lack of a better word. It is almost like I can see the writer sitting in front of the computer, thinking, “yes, we need a great comeback line here” or “we needed some dry humor there.”

Looking back on some of the older Law & Order episodes – for all the franchise shows including SVU and Criminal Intent - the show seemed like real people in real situations. The best example is Lennie Briscoe, played by the late Jerry Orbach. The writing fit the character and the situations so well that it was as if Jerry WAS Lennie Briscoe, and those witty comebacks really came right out of Jerry’s head on instinct.

After musing over my disappointment with the premier, I came to the realization that the dialog seemed very plain and vanilla to me. It was as if an amateur had written it. I wasn’t seeing the characters; I was seeing the actors playing the characters. It seemed like some of the actors were reading off cue cards, and not having the words come from their “gut”. I’ve noticed the same problem with Law & Order SVU this past season, where it seems that Benson and Stabler seem to be too predictable in what they’re going to say or do next. Criminal Intent has always had a bit of a problem in the same category, but I blame the sometimes – well, make that frequent – over the top acting by Vincent D’Onofrio. But even the writing for Criminal Intent seems to have much more depth and realism to it.

Watching some of the older episodes of Law & Order during the New Year’s TNT Marathon (they even included some old Ben Stone episodes to my delight), I realized that the stories were simple, the writing was crisp, and it seemed like I was pulled into the Law & Order universe, not that I was watching a TV show.

Don’t get me wrong; I still plan on watching Law & Order until Law & Order doesn’t run on TV any more. But I can’t help wishing for the days where I was a fly on the wall in the Law & Order universe. Maybe when the writers resolve their strike, we’ll see some invigorated dialog, and they'll be invisible again.

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Law & Order Season Premier: The Jury is Still Out

The new season of Law & Order premiered last night. I’m on the fence about it. The series is one of the constants in the universe, keeping the world of crime on an even keel. But, I sensed a quake in the Law & Order “continuum” last night.

Maybe my expectations were too high, but both episodes left me wanting. Wanting what, you ask? More drama. More credible story lines. A better partner for Ed Green (Jesse Martin). Better dialog.

The two hour premier contained two separate stories (Called Home/Darkness), which was fine with me because the first episode was rather lifeless and more than an hour would have put me to sleep. Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) enters the show due to the assisted suicide of his brother, a L&O storyline that has been used across the franchise more than once. We get a heavy dose – too heavy – of his family. Law & Order has always been good about only releasing snippets of personal information, and that’s one thing that always appealed to me. More is not always better, so Lupo’s family is one thing I hope disappears in future episodes. I was concerned – make that scared - when the family appeared front and center in the beginning second episode with a reference that his brother's wife was interviewing for a job at the precinct. That does not bode well for their disappearance.

Jeremy Sisto seems to be afflicted with mumbling syndrome. I had to keep turning up the volume to hear him – and my hearing is great. His acting was lifeless and frankly, I felt no connection or concern for his character.

Michael Cutter (Linus Roache), on the other hand, seems to be a better fit. They made a little too obvious references, though, to the age difference between Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) and Cutter, with the ubiquitous Blackberry for Cutter (McCoy called it a gadget), and references to McCoy’s antique typewriter. OK writers, we get it. McCoy = old, Cutter = new. We are not that stupid and don’t need to be hit over the head with it. I also wish that I hadn’t been told prior to the premier that Linus Roache is faking his accent, because I find it annoying. I would have found it less so had it really been his own. But, despite the fact that Cutter is acting like a “Padawan”, making newbie mistakes, and McCoy is the old and wise “Jedi Master”, the chemistry seems good. It’s also good too see that they have given Connie Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) a modern – make that human – look. I swear last season she looked more fit to be on a science fiction show playing an alien. Her performance also seems energized. Bottom line is things look good in the DA’s office. As long as Sam Waterston sticks with the show, so will I. He’s the one person who seems to bring realism, and life, to his role, and serves as the “duct tape” holding the show together.

At the 2-7 though, things seem off. Ed seems to have lost all knowledge of what he learned from Lennie Briscoe. If Lennie had been in the second episode, he would have found an excuse to get into that building without having to call for a warrant, like saying he heard a scream. It’s a shame that after all these years, Ed “Sit yo’ ass down!” Green still seems to be a bit of a blank slate. It’s a shame, because Jesse Martin could handle the role of Ed in a edgier fashion. And if Cyrus Lupo continues to mumble and brood, I sense that poor Ed will just wither away. I hope that in the coming weeks, Sisto brings something to the table and they will give Ed some better scenarios.

Let’s not forget the story lines. As mentioned earlier, the assisted suicide story seems to be overdone with the franchise. The second story line seemed to lack believability. I was so glad when McCoy stated “The vice president of a power company involved in a kidnapping? C’mon!” It was exactly what I was thinking. I don’t understand why writers must make the rationale for some crimes so complex. I also was amused at how the court seemed to be in complete disarray from a power outage. I would like to think that the New York City would be able to handle things just a little better. And what exactly was the value of the scene in the street during the power outage when that woman came on to Lupo? It added no value to the story.

So while I’m not thrilled with how the season has started, I’ll hold my verdict for a little while longer. But like any jury, I won’t hold out forever.

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