Sunday, May 30, 2010

How "The End" of Lost could have been more satisfying for me

First things first: I thoughts "The End" was a fitting wrap up to the Lost story. I was moved. I was thrilled. I was happy the characters I'd come to know over the past six years found some resolution. It was sweeping, cinematic and brilliantly crafted. I appreciated the "art" of it, and I'm glad that Damon and Carlton got to tell the story they wanted to tell, in the way they wanted to tell it.

Ending a show, particularly one as intricate and mythology-tangled as Lost, is hard. You're never going to please everyone, and it would have been impossible to wrap up every single mystery that the show put out there.

That said, there were things about the finale, and season six in particular, that just didn't work for me. I'll get into those in a moment, but first let's all agree on what actually happened. "The End" left some things open for interpretation, and ABC's decision to show some plane wreckage over the credits (NOT part of the story Damon and Carlton were telling) was confusing for some. Here's my take on what happened:
  • Everything that happened on the island was real. The Losties didn't die when Oceanic 815 crashed on the island. They were tormented by The Others and the Smoke Monster. They left the island, were rescued by Penny's boat, and returned to civilization, only to go back to the island later on Ajira 316.
  • The detonation of Jughead didn't sink the island. While it's possible that this detonation may have had other side effects (causing infertility?), the only thing we know for sure is that this "incident" transported the primary characters through time, from 1977 to the island present.
  • All the flashbacks and flashforwards from seasons 1 - 5 were real. They happened.
  • The defeat of the Smoke Monster was real. Jack and Kate killed him.
  • Lapidus, Miles, Richard (now aging normally), Kate, Sawyer and Claire left the island on the restarted (thanks, duct tape!) Ajira 316.
  • Hurley, now the island's protector (a job Jacob, and Jack briefly, had), stayed on the island, along with his "number two," Ben. Desmond also remained on the island, but it was strongly suggested that somehow Hurley and Ben would return him to Penny and his son Charlie, off the island.
  • Jack saw his friends leave on Ajira 316, and died in the bamboo grove, with Vincent by his side.
All those events are fairly indisputable and straightforward. Also:
  • All the events we saw in season six described as "flash-sideways" were NOT real - insofar as tangibly occurring in the world we live in, and the world where the events described above happened.
  • These events happened in an alternate reality. It's not, I don't believe, an alternate reality like on Fringe, that's always existed and run parallel to our own, in a very "real" and "tangible" way (with people able to "cross over" and physically exist in our world with their "duplicates"). It's a reality that could be described as a "limbo" - a place between real existence (which is brought to a close by death) and whatever exists beyond death (where souls eventually go, a place that some might call "heaven"). The flash-sideways world is like a waystation, or stopover existence, where the "souls" sort out the issues they faced in the real world, before moving on to the next plane of existence. Some souls in this limbo are "enlightened," meaning they are aware of what they are and where they are. Others are not, and think that this is their only reality -- that is, that this "sideways" world is the only world which exists.
  • The parts of this sideways world that we, as viewers, see, was "created" by the "souls," or "consciousnesses," of our primary characters. It was created as a place for these characters to get together one last time before moving on to the afterlife. Jack was the last of our castaways to become enlightened, and it's suggested that many of the actions depicted in the sideways timeline occurred to help him come to terms with this sideways world, and move on together with his island friends, into a more peaceful and aware afterlife.
  • This limbo occurs outside of time and space. Meaning, Jack died on the island in 2007. John Locke died before Jack (strangled to death by Ben in a motel room). Hurley died sometime long after Jack (presumably after protecting the island for some indeterminate time). Yet their "souls" met in this limbo as if they all existed in the same time frame.
I think that's what happened, right?

And it worked as a storytelling conceit, particularly when the finale of the show was as emotional and as professionally assembled as "The End" was. But after thinking about the finale, and season six as a whole, it just didn't hang together as well as it could for me personally. As I mentioned in my initial thoughts on the finale, the religious aspects of the story were a little too on the nose for me. For example, did the last 20 minutes really have to take place in a church? With pews and a pulpit and (multi-denominational) stained glass? I understand that Jack had to discover the empty coffin of his father as a final "triggering event" in the sideways reality, and that coffins usually wind up in a church for a funeral service. But it would have pleased me more to have Jack discover the empty coffin in the church, have his chat with dear old dead dad, and then walk into the The Lamp Post - the Dharma station built in Los Angeles (beneath the church) - to find his afterlife friends. It would have tied more directly to the mysteries of the island, where the bonds of these people were formed, and given the conclusion more of a sci-fi spin, rather than an ideological or religious one. But my issues with cults aside, there were more problems with the wrap up to one of TV's all-time great shows.

Too many plot threads were left dangling. No, we were never going to get the "answers" to every single mystery the show posed. And that's fine. Some were just part of the process of organically developing a story over six season of a TV show, and creating tension along the way. But some were too intrinsically tied to the core of the show's story engine to be completely ignored. Like the conflict between Charles Widmore, Eloise Hawking and Ben Linus. What were their oft-referenced "rules?" What were the goals of each character, and their organizations? What was going on with the "cabin" and the "ash?" What was up with ALL of Christian Sheppard's appearances (the explanation that it was the Smoke Monster every single time doesn't really hold up to scrutiny).

So how could Season Six have worked better for me? Here are a few ways:
  • Far less time spent in the sideways world. Even if you don't change the nature of the sideways world, we didn't need to spend that much time there over the course of the season. You could have cut down the overall time spent there by 50%, and gotten the exact same character beats and sense of mystery.
  • Or, if you tweak the trappings of the sideways world, and have it hang together with a more consistent internal logic. For example, knowing what we know now (that is was a "limbo" created by the main characters to reconnect one more time), why does the island have to be underwater? Isn't it enough that Oceanic 815 didn't crash on the island? And this image was shown only to us, as viewers, so its primary function was simply to mislead and provide red herrings about the nature of the sideways world, therefore it seems like a bit of a narrative cheat, in my opinion. Or, to be more clear and precise about what happens in the sideways. As in "yes, it was a place where the primary characters would reunite to "pass on" together, but only after they had worked through the significant issues that troubled them in real life." They kinda did this (Jack understanding fatherhood from both sides of the equation, Sawyer not letting vengeance lead him down the wrong paths, Sun & Jin not letting her father's controlling creepitude ruin their lives and relationship, Ben valuing integrity and honor over power and control, etc.) but not always (what exactly did Kate "work through?" Locke's and Sayid's stories were interesting, but their sideways scenarios didn't exactly connect the dots from A to Z as clearly as they could have, and as logically as did other sideways adventures).
  • Spend less time with the Temple folks, or make more of the time we spent there. Everyone talked in riddles, yet communicated virtually nothing. I think this was a big missed opportunity. Here in this setting, they had a great chance to lay out some of the show's mythology. I'm generally a fan of "show, don't tell," but did anyone truly understand what the hell was going on with Sayid's resurrection and infection? Claire's "infection?" How this tied specifically to the water/light/Source/"Heart of the Island"? The way that the temple people got instructions from Jacob, and their loyalty to him? The "rules" they operated under? The importance of the ash? How The Others were related to the Temple people? Dogen and Lennon could have been a tremendous source for dumping exposition in an interesting way (through conversations with Jack, or looking over wall hieroglyphics with Hurley and having him be, as always, the voice of the fans), and yet they eschewed this for a lot of mumbo jumbo and wheel (non-donkey variety) spinning, only made somewhat palatable by Smokey's harrowing and eerie final assault.
  • If we spend less time with the sideways world, and less time in the Temple, then what do we fill that with? Personally, I would have wanted more off-island time with Charles Widmore (and probably Eloise Hawking). Real time, flashbacks...whatever. They could have used a few scenes with them to better explain the motivations of both characters. We could have understood how "The Others" worked off island. How they were related to, and pitted against, Dharma. And what the "rules" were between Ben and Charles, and where they came from.
  • Wouldn't it have felt more tidy if we knew "how" the sideways world was created, and what Desmond's role in it was? For example, why not clearly state that this "reality" was indeed created by Hurley, using his new powers and gifts as the island's protector, as a way to help his friends move on and reconnect (and deal with their "real life" issues)? You would have an explanation for how it came to exist, and one that needn't be explained too deeply (Hurley had "magic powers," just like Jacob did). And, why not state that Desmond was the "failsafe" in this sideways reality? He was acting in such a fashion anyway. Hurley would create this world for his friends, but just in case they didn't find "enlightenment" on their own (Hurley could create the sideways world, but not necessarily move the players around like game pieces - they still had to have character agency, even here), Desmond would be there, using his "specialness" to act as a catalyst to keep things moving for them, helping all the Losties get to the spiritual place they needed to be. This would give Des a more logical reason for acting as he did, and it fits with what we know of the island aftermath (Des was on the island as Hurley, and Ben, began to figure out how to preside over the island in a more benevolent fashion than Jacob, so the plan could have easily been hatched then). It is consistent with Hurley's character, and also deepens Desmond's character, and in a way, even gives him some closure too, as it was his actions that brought down 815 in the first place. Plus, the descriptions of Desmond as a "failsafe" would have greater resonance in the mythology and for the characters we know and love.
Those are just a few ideas. In the end (and in "The End"), I'm still very, very satisfied with where the show wound up, and the journeys the characters took. I just like a little more logic and cohesion to my plot resolutions, to go along with the immense emotional gratification. Lost is a genre-hopping television achievement, the likes of which we may never see again, and I'm grateful for the chance to experience it.

So until we get a James Ford / Miles Straume detective show, namaste, y'all.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Quick thoughts on the Lost finale, "The End"

After sleeping on it, and thinking about it all day on and off, I think I'm finally "at peace" with the Lost finale. My initial reaction was kind of mezzo-mezzo; that they got a lot of things right yet still didn't stick the landing, and made it even worse by slathering it with a frosting of eye-rolling religiosity. Because of my personal beliefs (or lack thereof), I'll always sharpen the critical knives and push back against stories and programs that take all the "spiritual" and "faith" hokum too seriously. I'm down with fictional worlds inhabited by vampires and wizards and cyborgs and other fantastical elements, and I've never had problems accepting the show reality of an island with a sentient smoke monster and characters who can travel through time. But you don't find people in real life - that make laws that affect your freedoms and educate your children and have access to weapons of mass destruction -- who run on a "vampire platform" or make your affiliation with Gryffindor House a litmus test for political office (or societal acceptance). Mystical, implausible, fanciful worlds are just that, and there to entertain and to fire our imagination, and perhaps even to educate and elucidate through parable (but certainly not though any proven science, history, facts or concrete evidence). So naturally my kneejerk reaction was to hold back a gag reflex during those last thirty minutes, no matter how lovingly and movingly they were crafted.

And then I thought about it some more, and realized the ending wasn't necessarily a flat out endorsement of an all-knowing, holy creator who shackled his minions with immutable laws and outmoded and illogical hoops to jump through in order to enter his glistening kingdom. In fact, the show took a much more humanistic approach. Yes, there were still religious trappings, but they were non-denominational, and in the end, what mattered most to the story and its resolution was the characters belief in themselves and each other. In the real life of the island, no one was "saved" purely because of their faith or their conversion to an illogical belief system. They were saved, and escaped from the island, because Frank "Chesty" Lapidus can fly a motherfucking plane. Because Jack laid a beat down on a now humanized enemy. Because Kate saved a bullet and is a good shot. Because Miles, like all of us, believes in the power of duct tape. The story of these characters on this island, as mystical and magical as it was at its core, was brought to a close by human actions and character agency, even as supernatural things were happening all around them.

Even the final scenes with Jack in the church could be read through a humanistic filter. If it's your wont, you could take that to be a literal purgatory, or afterlife, where souls and spirits meet up before passing on to whatever reward fits neatly into your belief system. Or, you could think of it as a dramatic representation of Jack Sheppard's mind finally making peace with his human foibles and real-life struggles on the island, and coming to terms with the decisions he made and the actions he took to ensure that his friends, with whom he formed tangible, meaningful earthly bonds, lived on to see another day. So was there a true spiritual waystation where the survivors of Oceanic 815 (and their friends) actually met up, outside the bonds of time and space, to wait for Jack and help him off into a real afterlife? Or was this yet another story within the story, meant to bring life and images to a decision-making process that goes on inside all of us, yet doesn't truly exist in form and function within the fabric of the world we know? Like just about everything with Lost, they don't tell us, and leave it up to us to interpret, and for that, I'm glad.

There's no denying that "The End" was a monumental television achievement. The acting, directing, cinematography and particularly the masterful score by Michael Giacchino were all brilliant. While a few lines, and plot points, weren't quite as sharp as they could be, the two and a half hours were extraordinarily moving. If you didn't tear up when Sawyer and Juliet regained their memories of each other by the candy machine, or when Vincent came to lie down beside Jack, then you have no heart. Each and every performance was perfectly calibrated, and we got the stellar work we usually do from Emerson, O'Quinn, Holloway, Mitchell and Fox. Special kudos, though, should go to Evangeline Lilly and Jorge Garcia. Kate was always a target of fan scorn, usually because the scripts made her impossible to like at times, but Lilly really nailed all of her scenes last night, and got quite a few colors to play. And everybody loves Hugo, and Garcia has always excelled a providing a comical, heartfelt voice of the fan. But he was required to do some more emotional heavy lifting in "The End," and he delivered in spades.

So, thought-provoking and action packed story, masterfully executed on a technical level, why does this finale still leave me wanting? I guess, in a way, it's much like the equally divisive finale of Battlestar Galactica, "Daybreak." (which I wrote about here). That epic conclusion was also packed with beautiful imagery, lofty ideas, remarkable acting, a superlative score and mythic ambitions. But "The End," like "Daybreak," was less than the sum of its parts because as the wrap up to a show built on mysteries, the "answers," where we got them, didn't hold together in a way corresponding to the weight and importance the shows themselves placed on those questions over the years of their unfolding. I'm fine, of course, not knowing what the hell was up with the "Hurley Bird" or where the island came from originally or who built the Giant Cosmic Sink of Godly Gold Light and Water. And I understand the real-life issues surrounding the return of the actors who played Eko and Walt. But too many issues - issues that formed the narrative drive and backbone of much of Lost's storytelling (and character motivations) - were never adequately touched on. Desmond's "specialness." Eloise's off island knowledge. The island fertility problems. Widmore's motivations. The oft-referenced "rules." These aren't arcane things on the fringe of the plot you can just ignore, like the outrigger shooting. These are things that actively drove characters and entire storylines of the show, and to ignore them (while spending time in the temple, or so much time in the sideways world) and leave them unresolved or unexplained is a major failing of plotting and execution. I don't need a "midichlorians" resolution to the ability of a millennia-dead man to turn into malevolent smoke, but I do need to know what forces were giving our characters agency, informing their decisions and propelling the narrative.

So while my response, and I believe the response of a lot of Lost fans is "the story didn't quite come together, but damn, the character work was outstanding and it was emotionally fulfilling," why do we have to leave it at that? Yes, the show was groundbreaking and ambitious as all get out. And yes, the finale was triumphantly rewarding emotionally, but why should we -- and Damon and Carlton -- settle for just that? Wouldn't it have been even better to have all those wonderful, rich character moments AND have the entire story fit together logically?

Still, I don't regret any of the time I've invested in Lost, and I would be happy if most of the shows I watch reached this high, only to come up a bit short.

I'll see ya in the next life, brutha. Namaste.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sawyer as a Son

I was browsing through some of TWOP's front page Lost coverage, and they had a few good lists and roundups. One called "If Lost stars never got Lost" (or, "Sideways versions of the actors' careers"), where they imagined what would have happened to the actors if they had never been on the show. One idea struck me as positively brilliant: Josh Holloway winds up as Jax's estranged older brother on Sons of Anarchy. Holloway can captivatingly convey that intoxicating mixture of charm and menace necessary to play in the world of the Sons, and I could easily see him as a relative of Jax. (Maybe John Teller had a little fling with a stripper down south on a road trip before settling down with Gemma? Works for me). Sutter, you already have Man In Black on the show, time to bring over another Lostie!

They also have a Best and Worst episode list. Two thoughts on the the "worst." I know "Across the Sea" isn't universally beloved, nor did it provide ANSWERS! in the way many of us wanted, but the more I think about that ep, the more I like it. It was a parable of a parable, and Pellegrino and Welliver sold the shit out of it. Also there is "Expose," and still don't get the hate for that. I understand the reasoning behind introducing and Paulo (and understand the hate for them, too), but for an ep that openly acknowledged the "meta-situation," AND dealt with the characters in a cruelly humorous (or humorously cruel) fashion, I thought it was pretty damned entertaining. You can find my "Reconsidered: "Expose" piece here.

There's also a "Questions we don't need answered" piece. I agree with most of them, but I did hope to see some more color to the story of Annie, and an explanation about the food drops (even if it was a throwaway line).

In the "Most worthless characters ever" feature, they list Christian Sheppard, which I don't necessarily agree with. He was a necessary bastard to the Jack story - though I will be pissed if we don't get some clarity on his island appearances (and NO, I still can't believe it was Smokey every single time he showed up). And Charlie? Harsh, dude. And Claire? But Bai Ling? Uh, yep.

I'll take potpourri for $7,000, Alex

Time for a new collection of miscellanea:

Mind-boggling infographic depicting the character timelines of Pulp Fiction.

Riker and Troi pitch a Star Trek: TNG sitcom.

Though it would take forever to play a game, this Rube Goldberg D&D 20 sided die rolling contraption is pretty cool.

For those of you inclined to partake of the hippy lettuce, here's an assortment of MacGyvered "devices."

The Top 50 "Women of Whedon." A few thoughts...Aly Hannigan at 50? Er, no. Definitely top 10. Ditto Olivia Williams. Bai Ling? Fucking Bai Ling, who "starred" in the worst eps of two of my favorite series ("Stranger in a Strange Land," and "She")??? Michelle Trachtenberg over Christina Hendricks? Really? I might re-order the top 3, but hard to argue with them.

Similarly, here's a take on the Top 25 Women of Lost (there's a link to Lost beefcake for the ladies, too). Personally, I would put Charlotte and Penny in the top 3 with their choice for #1, who is also my choice for hottest Lostie.

List of Top 10 Lost characters.

40 Best Cartoon Characters of All Time.

An awesome visual illusion.

The Geek Alphabet.

A good list of "Hey, It's That Guys"

If I was Hamlet, what I would do on a whiteboard.

Actually, this sounds like a fair swap

Montage of every single Lost death scene. (Er...SPOILERS).

Who is to blame for American Idol sucking this season? 5 possible culprits. (Hard to argue with those, though ultimately, "the producers" bear a lot of responsibility for many of these).

15 TV show remakes that were utter disasters

Top 6 Whedon character deaths.

Tim Gunn evaluates superhero costumes, part 2.

Top 10 things Hollywood things computers can do.

This doesn't seem at all surprising to me.

It's probably time for a new BlackBerry, but I'm not sure there's anything out there that has the perfect "form and function" to compete with my 2 year old Bold 9000. (Which has the best handheld keyboard ever invented by man, but could use some serious memory upgrades). Here's a look at a potentially new "slider," which has a REAL keyboard (a must) and a bigass screen. (But is the keyboard like the 9000's, or is it based on the smaller 9700?) Also, though I don't RIM has any intention of actually making this device, I know it would be on my wish list.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Doing my part for government tabulations. And Geekery.

The census guy just knocked on my door. Since a couple of months ago, the future was uncertain, I never got around to sending my form in. He seemed like a nice dude, so I invited him in to ask his questions. While here, he met the cats, and of course, Mulder, being the aggressively friendly sort that he is, was all over him (in a good way). He recognized the name from The X-Files, and said he loved the show. He asked me if I watched Lost, and wondered if he should watch it on DVD from the beginning. (He'd NEVER SEEN AN EPISODE!). After 10 minutes of evangelizing, I had him convinced he was going to the library to pick up the first season tomorrow.

We also talked about The Wire, Friday Night Lights (which we had both seen) and The Sopranos.

I think I also completely sold him on Battlestar Galactica and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which he hadn't watched before.

I feel like I did a huge service to humanity today.

Too bad he wasn't from the Nielsens. I'm much more interested in having them count me.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Double your sexy

So, I'm sitting at home last night, swallowing fistfuls of cold & flu pills, and washing them down with whiskey, while snacking on Cheez-It Duoz and watching a kick-ass episode of Community (really, if you haven't seen it, go watch it now). I started thinking about the delightful combination of flavors in the Cheez-It Duoz (the Sharp Cheddar/Parmesan is spectacular, as is the Smoked Cheddar/Monterey Jack) and the delightful combination of sexiness on my screen in the personages of Britta and Annie.

Are they the hottest "Duoz" on TV today? Hmmm. I started jotting down a few ideas, and realized this was not exactly clear cut. So I assembled my initial list, with the only restrictions being:
  1. From a program currently on the TV schedule for 2010 (or else I could wind up with a three page summary of Whedon shows), and...
  2. The people in question have to be part of the main cast, or a recurring guest star (and not a one-shot guest star).
Then, I realized I needed to be an equal opportunity ogler, and reached out to my distaff counterpart, a fellow TV junkie, to get her thoughts on a XX version of the Duoz list. Her suggestions started with Supernatural, which, as she says, "never fails to give her a lady boner," and also contained some interesting and less obvious choices. I augmented that with some ideas of my own, and VOILA! A list of TNRLM's Sexiest TV Duoz!

But what fun is it to just tell you what I think? I've put our suggestions into two polls where you, loyal TNRLM readers, can weigh in, and tell us what YOU think. If I didn't include Duoz that makes the blood run swiftly to your nether regions, then choose "Other" and offer up your suggestions in the comments.

Monday, May 3, 2010

John Yossarian probably had Comcast

I'm moving next month. Not really a big deal, since I'm only moving from one apartment in this complex to another (to facilitate satellite dish reception - which is another story entirely). Being the OCD type that I am, I have checklists upon checklists to make sure everything goes off without a hitch, people show up when they should, and all the incoming deliveries and missives go to the proper place at the proper time. (You know you're probably too focused on the details when you have action items on your list revolving around notifying all the pizza joints of your new address. Either that, or you're just lazy, sad and addicted to fast food. I'd like to think I appreciate the details).

Anyway, I spent the weekend working through items on my list, updating online forms and placing calls to various utilities to make sure things are set up for an event that won't take place for at least another 30 days. Everyone was great, and appreciated the heads up. Everyone, that is, except for motherfucking Comcast.

Now, I don't even have cable service with them. I pray to my lord and god DirecTV. (I did suffer though Comcast's cable service, and their almost comically inept and user-humping "DVR," for a few months during a temp living stint a couple of years ago). I use them for telephone service (which I don't even use, really) and most importantly, for my internet connection. My lifeline to the world, and to you, dear readers. I have no problems with the throughput and uptime of the pipeline. It's been as reliable as other providers I've used in my past. No, my problem is with their customer service and facepalm-inducing procedural circuities.

Moving to a new place, in the same building, should be easy, right? I mean, it's an apartment complex. Everything is already wired. I've got the modem. Shouldn't I be able to just set up the new address/account, walk to the new place, plug the modem into the existing jack, and have them turn on the juice from their magical Master Control Program? Seems simple, right?

Oh no.

You have to schedule a service call, so someone can come do this for you. So I want to call well in advance of the move date, in order to get this appointment set up at the most convenient time for me. When I will be there, dealing with unpacking and getting the DirecTV set up, and then in one fell swoop, have everything exactly as it was in the previous place with a minimum of downtime and disruption. Since the two most important things in life are satellite TV and internet service, I called them first with plenty of lead time (well, the movers are important too, but without TV and webby goodness, I might as well carry items 100 yards one at a fucking time, ya know?). DirecTV? One call. All set. Comcast? Well, 3 calls and 2 internet chats later, it turns out there is someone living in my destination apartment that already has Comcast service. No shit. They're moving out, I'm moving in. Can I just schedule the visit from the technician for my "install," so I can make sure it happens when it's most convenient for me, THE PAYING CUSTOMER? Er, no. They have to verify that the person in the destination unit is actually turning off their service and moving. Which actually, is kinda logical on the surface, but when you think about it, how many nefarious schemers with a current account actually call Comcast more than a month in advance, and plan to have a technican come out to install a modem in a currently occupied apartment? Like I'm going to burst into some dude's apartment, gun in one hand, Comcast technician in tow, tell him that his internet is now mine, and I'll be squatting there surfing the web (and paying for it) until further notice? If they schedule the visit for my turn on -- just fucking schedule it - put it on a goddamned calendar -- they automatically disconnect the current occupant's internet service. What the fuck kind of procedure is that?

"Hey, I'd to set everything up in advance to make it easier for everyone, so can you please make sure to ass fuck BOTH of your paying customers? And make it as inconvenient and filled with hassles as possible? Thankyouverymuch."

So they, the oblivious corporate dildos, have to call the current occupant, confirm his move out and service disconnection date, then call me back and tell ME to call THEM back once his service is turned off, and only THEN can I actually schedule the appointment to have my service turned on, because that scheduling will actually result in his service being terminated.

What. The Fuck.

If you read about a killing spree in the area, just assume it's me. I would blog about it, but I doubt I'll have an internet connection from which to do so.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

To be, or not to be, y'all. That's the question.

Last night I was watching the Great Performances / PBS airing of Hamlet, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart. It's a really, really terrific production, and Tennant's manic melancholy is perfectly suited to the titular Dane.

The set design and costuming is fantastic (and looks great in HD), and it got me to thinking. Hamlet is one of the best, and most durable, stories around, and has been adapted into a wide variety of settings. You had Olivier's Oscar turn in 1948. Franco Zeffereli produced an abridged version with Mel Gibson and Glenn Close. Brannagh put together a four hour opus with a late 19th century setting. Ethan Hawke starred in another adaptation that took place in corporate America. The Lion King put an animal kingdom and African spin on the story. Sons of Anarchy is inspired by Hamlet, and places it in contemporary SoCal, in the world of outlaw bikers. Hell, even Strange Brew follows Hamlet.

But being a good Georgia boy, I wondered why we haven't seen a "southern" take on the story. Tragedy, familial dysfunction, ghosts, betrayals, dueling - all these elements would fit right in with a Southern Gothic setting.

It could take place in 1860s Georgia or Mississippi. Elsinore could be a large, prosperous plantation. Norway could be represented by the Union army. To take away some of the historically unsavory elements, we could set it in an alternate universe with no slavery (hey, Tarantino killed Hitler because it was more fun that way. Roll with me here). Or hell, taking that even further, it could be in a truly parallel universe, with the time period brought forward to a more steampunk, late 19th / early 20th century southern setting that kept charm and trappings of the Grand Ole South, yet afforded the story more leeway in terms of the surrounding set design and costuming. Wouldn't that be an interesting place for a timeless tale?

So who would we cast? Last night, I threw out this silly idea, and exchanged a few emails with a dear friend and we came up with some suggestions. The actors had to have "southern" roots, which was loosely defined as the "traditional" south, or even the southwestern states like Texas. And the ages aren't perfect, but that's never been a problem with the Bard. What would you think about:

Josh Holloway as Hamlet.

Alternates: Jensen Ackles.

Billy Bob Thornton as Claudius.

Alternates: Tommy Lee Jones. Hal Holbrook.

Holly Hunter as Gertrude.

Alternates: The late Dixie Carter. Sela Ward. Kim Basinger.

Amy Acker as Ophelia.

Alternates: Taryn Manning, Dianna Agron.

Ben Browder as Horatio.

Alternates: Jensen Ackles. Harry Connick Jr.

Kyle Chandler as Polonius.

Alternates: John Corbett. James Denton. Eric Roberts. Bill Paxton.

Jared Padalecki as Laertes.

Alternates: Kip Pardue.

Matt Letscher as Fortinbras.

Alternates: Matthew Fox.

Any other ideas for casting the Southern Gothic Hamlet? Or any suggestions on another, alternate setting for this classic story?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

TV Shelf Appeal

"Shelf Appeal" is different than "Shelf Life." Shelf Life, as it relates to television, is how well a show produced in days gone by holds up when viewed by a modern audience. (Think M*A*S*H or Twilight Zone or Star Trek, which despite reflecting the sensibilities and production values of their times, still make for good quality entertainment today). Shelf Appeal is a marketing term, which describes how interesting a packaged product looks sitting on the shelf in your local retailer. (Kind of a product-oriented spin on "judging a book by its cover").

When it comes to television shows, there are definitely things that do and do not have Shelf Appeal for me. You know what I'm talking about. When you see a 30 second promo for a new show, or read news about a concept or casting, and you make a note to add that to the DVR. Or conversely, you hear about a new show, and say to yourself "there's no way I'm ever watching that."

The great thing about Shelf Appeal, and the personal preconceptions built into it, is that it can frequently be wrong, and you'll find yourself surprised. For example, I want nothing to do with shows about families, kids and teens. Yet somehow, I got exposed to Gilmore Girls, and it became one of my favorite programs because the quality of the performances (Lauren Graham's in particular) and the quality of the writing overcame my initial objections. Or I really didn't think I wanted to spend 60 hours being aggressively lectured about the plight of urban, inner-city decay, yet The Wire is a towering achievement that might have no peer. Similarly, folks who have no interest in football might be astonished how involved they become with Friday Night Lights. Or just try getting someone to overcome the Shelf Appeal (or lack thereof) of a show called "Battlestar Galactica." It's about killer robots? And it's in space? And based on a failed 70s show with a cheese content that would make Wisconsin proud? Silly sounding titles can seriously hamper the Shelf Appeal of a show for many viewers. Try to say "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" with a straight face.

So what are my Shelf Appeal hot buttons? Glad you asked.

Things that DO have Shelf Appeal for me:

  • Genre shows. Set in space. Focused on the supernatural. Steeped in mythology. Featuring robots, laser guns, time travel, ghosts, swords, magic, vampires, werewolves, clones, monsters, virtual reality and the like.
  • Detectives. Maybe this is why so many USA shows work for me. I grew up watching the heydey of detective shows in the 70s (Columbo, Macmillian and Wife, Rockford Files, etc.), so give me a quirky or acerbic lead character solving crimes, and I'll give it a shot.
  • Created by Joss Whedon.
  • Created or produced by someone who was on a Joss Whedon staff. Like Jane Espenson (Caprica, Andy Barker PI), Ben Edlund (Supernatural), Steven S. DeKnight (Spartacus: Blood & Sand), Tim Minear (The Inside, Drive).
  • Anti-Heroes. I love shows about the less "heroic" and abrasive lead characters. Think Sopranos, House, Dexter, Rescue Me, Archer, Sons of Anarchy.

Things that DO NOT have Shelf Appeal for me:

  • Teens & Kids. Particularly young kids. Especially babies. They're awful enough in real life, why on earth would anyone want to spend their television time with them? And I always dread when shows I'm currently watching feel the need to add one.
  • Doctors and Diseases. (Unless you count Doctor Who). Looking though my voluminous season pass list, I think I only have one "medical drama" there, House. However, I'm inclined to like shows with psychologists or psychiatrists as opposed to medical doctors. Also, I have no interest in watching characters struggling with or overcoming physical diseases. (For example, Showtime has a show coming up with one of my favorite actresses, Laura Linney, called The C-Word. It's about cancer. As much as I love Linney, I won't be tuning in).
  • Religion and politics. Annoying, judgmental, and requires greater suspension of disbelief than vampires and androids. If I want news and opinions, I'll get them myself. If I wanted a lecture, I'd go back to college.
  • Starring Eric Balfour.
  • Families. Unless they solve crimes. Or are robots. Or are undead.
  • "Reality" television. There aren't enough words in my vocabulary to describe how much I fucking hate this classification of programming. (There are some "unscripted" programs I watch regularly, like Mythbusters or Sci-Fi Science, but they're not focused on the "lives" of vapid, brain-dead, shallow douchebags desperately clinging to their 5 minutes of "fame").

What's fun is working through the Dos and Do Nots to make a decision on a new show. The Sopranos is the name of a family. They have kids. But they're mobsters. Glee is about teens in high school, but they sing and deliver snarky one-liners and ramp up the camp to 11. Breaking Bad is about a dude with cancer, but he's a meth dealer. House is a medical drama, but the main character is an unrepentant asshole. Big Love is about families and kids and religion, but all the characters are deluded whackjobs and magnificently acted. And so on.

Those are just a few of mine. What things do or do not have Shelf Appeal for you?