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Reign: Addictive Fantasy Disguised As History

26 Jan

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Is it just me or is every new TV show this year staring an Australian. It’s almost as if Hollywood is bored with people from their own country. Pheobe Tonkin stars in The Originals, Sophie Lowe is Alice in Once Upon A Time in Wonderland and not one but two ex-Neighbours stars, star in Reign, the ridiculous new period drama from the CW. Reign is an incredibly cheesy and sexy tale of the early life of Mary Queen of Scots, played to camp and tasty perfection by our first neighbours alum Adelaide Kane.

Threatened by the English, from the moment of her birth, this attractive version of Mary has lived in a convent since she was 9. Then at 15 when another attempt is made upon her life, she is sent to live at the French court with her betrothed Prince Francis. Mary is happy to be back out in the world again and reunited with her four best friends and ladies in waiting, the sexiest of which is played our 2nd ex Neighbours alum the sultry Caitlin Stacey.

Things are looking rosy for Mary, until she learns from her future husband that their union is not certain. He will marry who he needs to, to protect his country and despite her extremely low cut bodices, it won’t necessarily be her. Things only get worse for Mary, as she realises the queen hates her and she develops a burning attraction to Francis’s illegitimate brother Sebastian. And of course no teen drama would be complete these days without a touch of the supernatural, so the show also has a bit of dark magic and fortune telling, the use of Nostradamus as a character, is a particular kind of cliched genius.

In another attempt to capture that ever fickle youth audience, Reign also takes a page out of Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, using modern music in the score, most bizarrely even at balls and dances. The costumes are also particularly drool worthy, if not completely historically inaccurate. Ranging from the 16th,17th,18th,19th and 21st Centuries, creating clothing from the time period is a deliberate non issue for this series and the result is perplexing and captivating. The clothes are so beautiful and flattering to each individual actor and actress, perhaps they decided that making everyone look hot was more important than any attempt at historical relevance.

While this show is clearly more fantasy than history, I admire it for not bothering with the elements of period drama that would stop it from being the excellent addictive trash it strives to be. This is a show that doesn’t want to be nominated for awards or garner critical acclaim. It doesn’t even want to accurately depict the history it’s based on. Mary Queen of Scots wouldn’t be wearing a Alexander McQueen gown.  She wouldn’t have smouldering sexual chemistry with the real life ugly and short prince Francis, and most of all she probably wouldn’t have been an extremely generous and giving person. But why let these facts stand in the way of some good trashy TV.

And that’s what this show is, excellent trashy television. There’s a new love triangle every week, the plot twists and turns enough to be unpredictable and the male leads are often shirtless.  This show is the perfect antidote to far too many series focused on murderous royalty with complex personalities, e.g. Game of Thrones, The Tudors and The White Queen. Sure those shows are perfect when you want intrigue, action and gore.  But sometimes I like my TV to be simple and my characters to be likeable and on those days I watch Reign.

Veronica Mars Movie – Fans Rule or Do They?

17 Oct

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Veronica Mars stands in the company of Buffy The Vampire Slayer,  Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill, as the kind of show that stirs in me an obsessive mania. The kind of mania that once allowed me to put all thoughts of self preservation aside and bring a handmade Dawson’s Creek pencil case to school. The kind of mania that compelled me to collect a completely valueless Buffy The Vampire Slayer trading card collection. Yes, High School was not an easy time for me. But now we live in the age of kickstarter and obsessive fans who no longer have to papermache or collect action figures. Now they can literally buy a movie. And 6 months ago fans of Veronica Mars did just that, and so the Veronica Mars movie was born.

On our TV screens from 2004 to 2007, Veronica Mars is the story of a teenage private detective with trust issues and a Taser.  Veronica was once a normal, popular high school girl, until her life was completely upended by the murder of her best friend, Lily Kane.  Her father, Sheriff Mars, is convinced that Lily’s parents (particularly her father Jake Kane, a software billionaire) had something to do with their daughters death. And it is this conviction, along with minimal evidence, that gets him kicked out of office and gets Veronica unceremoniously dumped by her social circle. Sheriff Mars becomes Keith Mars, disgraced former Sheriff and current private detective. His wife develops a drinking problem and skips town and Veronica becomes his secretary, or, more accurately, his partner in crime.

The first season of Veronica Mars is amazing and possibly some of the greatest TV ever seen, powered by the fascinating mystery of Lily Kane’s Murder, it can’t be beat. The season spends a lot of time on Veronica’s back story, dividing itself into two, the Nior world that  Veronica now lives in,  and the sunny but  underbellied world of her past. Raking through her memories for clues as to what happened to her friend, we see the kind of girl Veronica used to be, pretty and blonde and unconcerned with the problems of her community.

I love this element of the show, because so often in teen dramas there are outsider characters that aren’t plausible. They are beautiful and sassy and one wonders how they could really be so on the outside, when good looks and personality are the most powerful currencies in high school. Veronica’s back story makes it abundantly clear why she is on the outside and why she is so angry. Rejected for supporting her father, abandoned by her mother and suffering from the devastation of the loss of a bright and powerful friend, she has experienced far to much to function in the shallow world of high school.

Another great and super sexy subplot of of the first season is the hate-turned-love relationship between Veronica and the school’s ‘obligatory psychotic jackass’, Logan. Starting out as the dickhead who smashes up Veronica’s car, Logan doesn’t seem like a potential love interest all. A tough feat in these days of Jerks-with-extremely-obvious-hearts-of-gold. Take note writers, a leather jacket and slicked back hair does not a bad boy make. Those kinds of bad boys have no impact, no danger,  and feel about as bad for you as a carob bar.

Veronica Mars lasted for only 3 seasons, a travesty in the eyes of its fans. However, when you look at the body of work, the show probably got what it deserved. The third season is very disappointing. Where the first two season long mystery arcs succeeded , the third season is made up of three separate arcs, none of which are particularly compelling. The 3rd season also suffers from getting Veronica and Logan together. When it comes to TV, nothing is more boring than a happy couple. All the spice and sizzle of the ‘will they, won’t they’ is dead and all you’re left with is minor arguments and little insecurities. They do break up mid way though the season, but in a rather uninspired way. I have to be honest, when I saw season three I remember thinking, ‘No wonder they cancelled it’. It’s still Veronica Mars, so it’s still awesome, but in comparison to season 1, it just didn’t have it.

So now in 2013 powered by obsessive fans like myself, Veronica Mars is being made into movie. A feat that wouldn’t be possible without the invention of peer funding websites like Kickstater. Based on the quality of the later seasons, I’m not really sure Veronica Mars deserved to be funded. But based on the 6 times I have seen season 1, I can totally understand how the Veronica Mars Movie made over 5 million dollars in crowd source funding.

But is this really a good thing? These websites were not made to fund commercial enterprises. These sites were intended for grassroots funding, like undiscovered bands and tiny independent films. As such, creative projects with big stars and the potential to make large amounts of money really only take advantage of fans obsession and lack of business savvy. They essentially take an investment and offer very limited return. While the real financial benefits are being reaped miles away by people who didn’t believe enough in the project to back it themselves, such as the mega corporation Warner Bros that continues to own the rights to Veronica Mars.

So, do fans really rule the world, or are we still at the bottom of the totem poll, hugging our DVDs and One Tree Hill soundtracks, happily giving away our lunch money to a bully in disguise? Are our nerdy obsessions being valued or taken advantage of?

Smash Reboot? Smash Cancelled?

13 Apr

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My favourite show at the moment is Smash. And about a week ago some terrible news reached me, Smash had been moved to Saturdays and was very likely to be cancelled. I wanted to be surprised by the news but sadly I wasn’t.

Smash has undergone quite a change since the end of the first season. In part because it’s show runner Theresa Rebeck was told to step down and Josh Safran the previous show runner of Gossip Girl took her place. Why was Rebeck told to step down? It’s a plot that would have been suited to Smash itself. The gossip is that Rebeck ran the show like a dictator and like most fascist dictators had great trouble delegating. She was writing every episode, not using her writers room which was full of experienced TV writers,  and she was disagreeing with the studio left, right and centre. How it went down is actually fascinating but this review is more about what happens next.

For more on why Rebeck got the boot: Read This

So it’s out with Rebeck and in with Safran and the show is free from it’s dictator but it has a lot of problems. I would like to state here that these problems exist according to the studio and the critics. Not according to avid fans of the first season like myself. I’m not about to say that the first season was perfect or without a touch of the ridiculous about it but it certainly didn’t need the massive overhaul it got.

But when there’s a lot of pressure to reboot the series in a new direction, can you change things without undermining your current audience? Can you attract a new audience in a second season? Maybe you can but this show certainly didn’t.

There first move was to cut the fat. They got rid of Julia’s son, ditched Julia’s husband in the first episode and exited the comical evil genius that was Ellis, never to be seen again. Essentially cutting the melodrama out of Julia’s  life  and making her a single character again. They also ditched Dev, Karen’s boyfriend making her a single character.

So far so good, it’s an obvious rule of TV that single characters can have much more fun than characters embedded in long term relationships. So far Julia and Karen’s single status has been a breath of fresh air. Plus Ellis was annoying everyone so I would say all of these moves were positive.

A move which didn’t work so well was splitting the show into two musicals. In an attempt to get a more modern feel to the music of the show, a new original musical called Hit List emerged with young ‘Rent’ sounding type songs. Karen meets a young composer and nursing a little crush introduces him and his writing partner to Derek. Derek is also nursing a massive crush on Karen and so helps the pair get their musical made. Throw in some very confusing drama and politics on Bombshell and all a sudden, Karen and Derek have quit Bombshell and staring and directing in this fledging musical.

The writing to this point is clumsy at best and really feels like the show is back peddling in an attempt to get out of the basic premise of the series. It seems like the writers are purposefully trying to make the audience care less about Bombshell, almost saying ‘we think this series has problems so we’re going to give you another musical that isn’t tainted by last years drama’.

The writers are also sending this message of distance from last years plot with a few minor jokes. For example when Tom tells Julia it’s time to ditch the scarves which she wore all last season and when Ellis’ girlfriend (who makes a quick appearance to tie up his storyline) says it turns out he was gay. Both of these moments implicitly point out some of the weirdness of previous season. But is insulting a show that many people enjoyed and didn’t really critically question, in the shows best interest. To me it almost mocks people for enjoying the show previously.

But the most disturbing move is the subtle changes in characters personalities. Karen who all last season was a good girl who wanted nothing to do with Derek, is now such good friends with him that she sees him outside of work and can’t work in a musical because he’s not directing. Karen also drops her broadway dream, Bombshell, because she’s in love with an annoying composer and can’t work with Tom. Karen was previous pretty good at taking it on the chin which was something to be admired.  Where did she get this attitude from?

Derek has also changed since last season. He was the scum bag who would sleep with everything that moved, treat his actors terribly and torture them as every turn. How he’s so obsessed with Karen, he’s threatening her potential love interests. The old Derek was better than that. He also loved Bombshell, he wouldn’t have quit without a fight. The old Derek would have made things go his way with subtle manipulation, not go storming about like a bull in a china shop.

The changes in Tom are also problematic, he’s undermining Julia’s excellent script for a more commercially viable one. He’s now a director,  who is desperate to please and then suddenly happy to screw Ivy over by hiring her mother. Then the next minute he’s desperate for her love again. All this drama only serves to undermine your confidence in Bombshell and make you dislike Tom as a weak attention seeking idiot when really he really should have stayed where he was, as a composer and Derek should have kept directing.

All this leaves you with is a show, so changed that it’s almost unrecognizable. And the audience can’t help but feel a little alienated.

Now I know, I have been pretty harsh. But Smash is still one my favourite shows. It still has a lot of offer, like great acting, beautiful music and hot sexual tension, particularly with whoever Derek is with. Plus it gives a fantastic insight into the dog eat dog world of Broadway, from being a actor, director, producer or writer. You really feel like your getting the scoop from the horses mouth.

But the problem with this reboot is it’s too much of a reaction and doesn’t take into account a lot of things that were great and didn’t need fixing. This show is getting better but it needed to get better straight away if it was going to survive, and instituting the massive work of second musical didn’t achieve that. And so it will most likely be cancelled. It’s a pity because despite everything a lot of people love this show, including me and it could have been great.

One last thought, Rebeck may have been a terrible leader but in my opinion the show was better with her in charge. And now it’s on the chopping block, maybe she can finally have the last laugh.

Elementary: My Dear Watson, A Facinating New Sherlock Holmes

20 Nov

Well continuing on from my theme of new shows from the US pilot season, I have discovered another that I think is well worth a look. Elementary is another in the growing stock of modern day adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. Now this definitely put me off at first especially considering how much I love the BBC series Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and the brilliant writing of Steven Moffat. But this Sherlock has a lot to offer too.

Written and Executive Produced by Robert Doherty who was a consulting producer and writer on shows like Dark Angel, Tru Calling, Meduim and the short lived series Ringer. This guy knows complex crime like the back of his hand and it really shows. The stories are original, unexpected and full of twists and turns. An early episode about a kid kidnapper is particularly brilliant.

This Sherlock is quite a bit sexier than Benedict’s almost asexual Sherlock Holmes and is perhaps a little bit more socially aware. The character is also a drug addict which is something that the Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock touched on but didn’t really get to the meat of. Though to be fair this is a harder task given the medium of film and the period setting. This show has the time to explore the character of Sherlock as played by the tasty Johnny Lee Miller as a addict more fully. They have already rewritten some of the mythology to make the death of Irene Adler the reason Sherlock hit rock bottom and was sent to rehab. Sherlock’s relationship his father has also been touched upon and I for one can’t wait to see more, the pacing of this show is spot on.

Also the change of Watson from a male former army doctor to a female disgraced former doctor introduces an intriguing new element to the Watson and Holmes relationship, a sexual tension. This sexual tension is not overdone however and is more akin to the sexual tension between Patrick Jane and Teresa Lisbon not Richard Castle and Kate Beckett. Which gives the series a little driving force but is not enough to make the purists feel it’s in bad taste.  Also having Watson be a sober companion is also very useful in that it gives the character motive to want to delve further into Holmes’s past and discover more about him as we the audience do the same. The only problem with Watson  in this role is that she is only supposed to stick around for 6 weeks which means her role will need to redefined very soon. Especially since CBS just confirmed a 24 episode order.

This show is doing well in the USA and is one of the early winners from the new US ratings session. This in itself is a massive achievement since very few new shows are doing well this year. If I was to compare to anything other than the previous versions, I would say it has quite a few similarities to The Mentalist. This is a compliment since I love The Mentalist.  Sherlock is a brilliant consultant for the New York Police Department, with a beautiful but reluctant partner is Watson and dark and troubling past. In fact the only thing that’s missing from the comparison to the Mentalist is a nemesis like Red John. Hopefully they’ll bring Moriarty in soon.

Nashville: A Bright Shining Star in a Sea of Average

29 Oct

Well, pardon my absence from the blog. Looking at this site I realize it’s been close to two months since I’ve written anything. That is largely because, soon after finishing my last post, I got a new job, writing voice overs. As such it’s been a super exciting couple of months, but strangely when you write all day at work, it’s harder to get it together to write at home.  But while I haven’t been writing, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching. In fact as it’s my favorite time of year, pilot season, I’ve been watching more than ever. It’s like a magical fairyland filled with a whole bunch of new shows, ready to become your new favorites.

Unfortunately there hasn’t hasn’t been much new stuff to praise though, in fact I might even say that some of the summer series had more promise. Sitcoms have been a particular low point. ‘Guys with Kids’ ugh don’t bother, and ‘Ben and Kate’ though sweet doesn’t really have much of offer either. ‘Go On’ with Matthew Perry is perhaps the most promising offering but it’s similarity to Community makes it feel like little more than a inferior alternative. These shows are nothing to rival the early promise of ‘New Girl’ or further back down the track ‘How I Met Your Mother’.

As for dramas, the comic bookish efforts of the CW’s ‘Arrow’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ both feel a little shallow. They are both missing the chemistry and empathetic characters that the show they is clearly emulating ‘Smallville’ had in spades. If they could just counter act the cheese with some sex appeal or genuine emotion, they might have winner on their hands but alas they have neither. ‘666 Park Avenue’ is well done but a little lacking in the sticking factor. Unfortunately being so dark and not that legitimately scary that it doesn’t really make you want to keep watching. I did get into ‘Made in Jersey’. A show about a girl from Jersey rising the ranks at a prestigious New York law firm but it was cruelly cancelled after just 2 episodes. New writers take note it’s a cut throat world out there.

The best show by far of the new is season is Nashville. Written by Callie Khouri, the writer of ‘Thelma and Louise’ and ‘The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood’, this show is a bright shining star of the pilot season and the US ratings agree. The writing is polished and intriguing and there is just the right amount of music and soap to make it appealing to a very broad audience. Khouri has never written for TV before and brings a grandeur and scope to the show similar to big Hollywood film. But at the same time appreciates the little details that distinguish TV as a medium.

I have to admit I’m a little biased in my love for this show as I am a big fan of country music.  A medium not that appreciated here in Australia and not particularly well done locally . But this show is packed to the gills with quality originals and covers from my favorite genre. And if you don’t like country, you may not have really heard the good stuff, give this show a watch before you decide.  The first episode boasts over 10 songs. If you watch Glee they only have 4 or 5 songs an episode and nothing original so this show is bang for your buck and the quality of the song writing is outstanding.

The acting in Nashville is top notch and Connie Britton is particularly impressive as the country queen getting dethroned and returning to her roots. Hayden Panettiere is a bit annoying as Juliette Barns, the Carrie Underwood/Taylor Swift ingenue but is impressively multi faceted character and has a great voice. The supporting cast look great, sing great and act great but the real star here is the writing.  This show does for Country what ‘Smash’ did for Broadway and if I had to guess, I reckon it will do it even better.

Call the Midwife: Could it be better than Downton Abbey?

3 Sep

Last night I caught the first episode of the BBC series ‘Call The Midwife’. Excellently written and beautifully shot this series had over 11 Million viewers in the UK in January this year, and actually did better ratings wise than the first series of Downton Abbey. It remains to be seen if it’s as good, but if the first episode is anything to go by it could be. I’ll wait to make my judgements in print until the end of the first season. Bonus, it has the hilarious Miranda Hart from my new favorite comedy Miranda as a main character. Check out the trailer:

Game of Thrones Season 2: The Problem With Adaptation

7 Aug

Now everyone knows that I loved season one of ‘Game of Throne’ but did season 2 live up to the hype. First let me say that season two is not up to the same calibre as season one but I don’t believe this has anything to do with its writers, I think the books are entirely to blame. Adaptation is always tough ask and the new trend of adapting book series into TV shows is untested and bound to hit a few hurdles. Given this would still say that adapting the 2nd book of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire book series is almost mission impossible. The second book ‘A Clash of Kings’ brings in a whole new set of characters, largely ignores many of the old ones and has story lines taking place in over seven locations, not exactly adaptation gold.

First off let me start by stating for the record that I haven’t read the books. I have been told that the show is a lot easier to understand if you read the books and hopefully someday I will, however I am a firm believer that an adaptation should be able to stand on it’s own. It should not act like a petulant child and keep running back to it’s source material and yelling that if you’d read it, it would make sense. It either works or it doesn’t, there is no half way.

So lets begin with problem number one, too many new characters.  While it is customary to introduce a few new characters in a second season that amount is usually limited to around 3 or 4. Look at an older program like ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ new characters in season two Spike, Drusilla, Oz and maybe Kendra, clear concise easy to remember. But with HBO’s new generation of television with endless budgets and source material to keep in mind cast numbers have really started to multiply. True Blood for example introduced at least 8 or 9 new characters in its second season and the numbers are going up every year. However this year ‘Game of Thrones’ really took the crown and thanks to its insane source material was given the great task of introducing around 40 new characters. This number doesn’t include the numerous characters they put off introducing until season three since they thought it might be too much. I think it’s a little late for that.

While some of the new characters are great and well worth the introduction others I could have done without. I am sure they were vital to the source material but when if you can’t figure out what’s happening, does that really matter. It was getting particularly difficult to keep all the men of the Night’s Watch straight, yet I really enjoyed the Wildling Caster and his disturbing wives/daughters. Similarly Stannis Baratheon and his many followers were very confusing. Although the naked pregnant Red Priestess Melisaandre of Asshai was a bit of highlight even if occasionally I’d like to forget it.

While there are many many more characters the most memorable for me are Jaqen H’ghar and Brienne of Tarth. Jaqen’s  gruesome mentor relationship with my favorite character Arya was a pleasure to watch. While Brienne’s conversation in the last episode with Ser Jaime Lannister had excellent chemistry and can only mean great things for the pair in season 3. Unfortunately all the fantasy genre names don’t help matters when you are trying to remember who people are. This massive onslaught of characters made watching the program an exhausting experience and I was often only able to watch one episode before I gt tired and switched to less taxing material.

Big problem number two locations. Sewing together stories with so many locations is extremely difficult. The beautiful and mythical Quarth with Daenerys Targaryen, The Iron Islands with the very irritating Theon Greyjoy, Winterfell, King’s Landing and over The Wall in Wildling country, there are more but I can’t remember them. Again books are limitless and can tell stories from hundreds of locations but TV has a different format and the changing locations and short scenes so as to fit everyone in really got  grating.

By trying to fit all these stories in, the season never really seemed to get going, the flow was affected and the meat the story was never really gotten to. When you have too much material you spend too much time setting things up and not enough time exploring. This being said the most effective exploration of character this year was that of Tyrion Lannister his journey from a clever manipulator in season 1 into a great leader and hero in season two is the clearest and best written character arch of the season.

Ending off on a personal note I found it really hard to finish watching season two. Devouring season one is less that an week, I stopped watching season two mid way through full of confusion and irritation and couldn’t go back. Feeling lost and bored I wanted to give up, until both my brother and good friend encouraged me to keep going. I’m glad a I did and found the last couple of episodes particularly the penultimate great viewing. Keep that in mind when you feel like giving up but if you do, I don’t blame you, this adaptation is a lot to handle.