Friday, October 14, 2005

Six And Counting...

So, how are you enjoying the TV schedule of Fall 2005? Me, I’m going blind from the eye strain of watching so many shows.

My SF watching: Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, Smallville, Justice League (a cartoon, but a very cool cartoon indeed), Supernatural, Invasion, Threshold, Ghost Whisperer, Night Stalker, and Surface. I save Alias for DVD sets.

My non-SF watching: Prison Break (a must see), Veronica Mars (awesome), Bones (highly entertaining), Nip/Tuck (this season may be getting a bit too weird, even for me), Desperate Housewives (blame my significant other), Gilmore Girls (ditto), Grey’s Anatomy (a guilty pleasure), Boston Legal (when I can catch it), and The Daily Show (love it).

Yes, I watch to much TV. Something has got to give…

Which leads me to this post. For Fall 2005 we have six new SF series. Not only that, but they are all on networks…sweet. Now that the crap, known by some as “Reality TV,” has lost the interest of many a coach potato, we have the networks (except for FOX) jumping on the SF bandwagon.

Kudos for ABC. They are doing great this season because last season they didn’t leap almost 100% into Reality TV (unlike FOX), but instead took the amazing idea of airing new dramas. Ooh, aah. ABC now has big hits (Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, Boston Legal) returning, adding to the success of many other new dramas. And, of course, the mega-hit known as “Lost”, but known by the citizens of the little known country GrrArghKablahKree as “The Island of Flashbacks and Monsters Which We Can Not Get Enough Of.” Now many of the other networks hope to duplicate the success of this truly cool show. Have they succeeded? No, but good try.

Without further ado, let’s break these down:

(Marx gives it an A)
Supernatural Episode Guide
Concept: The show revolves around brothers Sam & Dean, played by Jared Padalecki (House of Wax, Gilmore Girls) and Jensen Ackles (Smallville), who travel around the country investigating, hunting and fighting mysterious phenomena. They are driven by the search for their father, who is on a quest to find the reason behind their mother's bizarre death.

This is, without a doubt, my favorite new SF show this Fall. Supernatural has the creepiness of X-Files mixed with the action and humor of Angel. Who knew that two brothers driving around America taking out supernatural creatures could be so much fun? This series truly is (as creator Eric Kripke said in an interview) “…Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo cruising the country and killing monsters, and what's not to love about that?" What indeed.

Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki are great in this series. This is definitely a better role for Ackles than the one he had previously on Smallville and Dean is a really a fun character. Every week, these two brothers battle a new creature based on mostly North American folklore and urban legends. Plus, we have the mystery subplot of their mother’s death, Sam’s girlfriend’s death, and their father’s disappearance. This series has feet my friends, and I can see it lasting for a number of seasons.

Bravo WB for stopping the hatin’ of SF series. Now if they could just give us a Spike television movie and/or a Buffyverse spin-off series. Hmmm, perhaps give Global Frequency another chance, too.

(Marx gives it an B+)
Invasion Episode Guide
Concept: “When a hurricane threatens Florida, temporarily cutting off a small town at the edge of the Everglades, U.S. Park Ranger Russell Varon (Eddie Cibrian) takes heroic measures to keep both the town's citizens and his family safe. In the middle of the violent storm, his young daughter is the only one to see small lights floating towards the water, seemingly unaffected by the vicious winds. At the time, he thinks nothing of her claim, but begins to suspect that something may indeed be amiss when his missing ex-wife is found naked, with no memory of what happened during the storm.” (Official Description)

This series doesn’t come close to Lost, but with that said…I’m digging this series. I’m not sure where they are going with it or how they can make it last for multiple seasons, but it continues to entertain. The cast is great (especially Eddie Cibrian, Lisa Sheridan, Tyler Labine, and William Fichtner) and the conflict between these modern families with the whole alien invasion concept is working for me…for now.

I can see this series coming back for a season 2, but I am concerned with how long they can keep the story interesting. I’m also concerned with Shaun Cassidy’s apparent hatred of sheriffs. This one is an alien, and the one in Cassidy’s American Gothic was a demon. Hmm, perhaps he knows something I don’t.

Ghost Whisperer
(Marx gives it an B)
Ghost Whisperer Episode Guide
Concept: Ghost Whisperer is inspired by the cases of famed psychic James Van Praagh and Mary Ann Winkowski. This series focuses on Melinda Gordon (Jennifer Love Hewitt) a young newlywed with the unique ability to communicate with the earthbound spirits of people who have died. Melinda has spent her entire life coping with this extraordinary psychic gift, but also yearns to lead an ordinary life. Melinda uses her gift to relay important information to the living, which allows the dead to pass on to the other side.

First off, Jennifer Love Hewitt (Party of Five) and David Conrad do a great job in this series. Actually seeing Hewitt switch from her character now and her character as a young teen in the episode “Ghost, Interrupted”, was both fantastic acting and a tad bit creepy.

I do question their sets and clothing though. It is an awfully big house for newlyweds, especially with the husband starting a new job and Melinda starting up a new business! And what is up with all the candles? Melinda’s clothing also seems to be out of place at times, too. Oh, and some of the dialog from the pilot was overly dramatic, but luckily they have toned that down since. I was just waiting for the “That reminds me of when Plato said, (fill in with quote)” type of dialog that plagued Andromeda for the last few seasons. Oh, and not exactly the best name for a series either.

With that said, from what I have heard from actual psychics, this series is pretty close to reality, or (for you Scullys out there) at least what psychics claim to be real. My only problem is that this series runs the risk of getting old. There is no conflict between Melinda Gordon and her husband. Nor with Melinda and her best friend. They all just seem cool with it. Which is great for the character, but a missed opportunity for added drama. I like the tension between Allison and Joe on Medium, even though Joe does get a little carried away sometimes. Plus, if Melinda fails, someone doesn’t get a message from a passed on loved one. Sad, but not exactly as nail biting as the possible outcome if Allison Dubois fails a case on Medium.

So, Ghost Whisperer is a good psychic show with some very touching stories and with its current ratings, I would be surprised if it doesn’t return next season. But this show runs the risk of audience ADD if the writers aren’t careful. A similar fate that befell Joan of Arcadia could happen to this series if they aren’t careful.

By the way CBS has committed to a full season run of 22 episodes.

(Marx gives it an B)
Threshold Episode Guide
Concept: “In the middle of the ocean, a cargo freighter makes a chilling discovery: an extraterrestrial craft has landed on earth. Enter Molly Anne Caffrey, recruited to await the planet's first contact, along with a carefully assembled team made up of a brilliant physicist with strong religious beliefs, a language and communications expert and a highly trained covert operative. Together they implement the long-gestating Operation: Threshold, charged with finding out the purpose of the landing and the fate of the ship's crew, and preparing for the worst-case scenario of an alien invasion.” (Official Description)

The pilot for this series was my second favorite out of these six series, but I think they may have given away too much info too soon. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want the X-Files or Twin Peaks version of a mystery (The Truth is Out There, but don’t worry you’ll never find it), but I like the Lost version of a mystery (We do have the answer, we promise, but we will tease you along the way). The Threshold writers decided to just give nearly all of it away with the pilot. This makes a strong pilot but potentially a weak series. For example, First Wave had a strong pilot, but the rest of the series was just the main character trying to foil the aliens’ plans, which got boring after awhile. Hmmm, Star Trek’s Braga is in charge of this and heaven knows that Star Trek: Enterprise rarely had any good plot twists or mysteries…could the B&B curse (short one B) hit Threshold too?

I hope not, because I really like this cast. Carla Gugino, as Molly Anne Caffrey, is great in this. So is Peter Dinklage, Robert Patrick Benedict, and the great Brent Spiner. Kudos on the creators on making a strong female character, but where are the other women? The cast just seems a little too male, especially with the egos from Arthur Ramsey and Nigel Fenway, and J.T. Baylock’s constant yelling (chill dude). Maybe they should throw in another woman. Perhaps Lucas’s finacee.

Oh and the thing that the cops did in the episode “Shock” was cheesy. What did she think she was accomplishing hiding the criminal from (what she thought was) Homeland security? How was she planning on hiding him when he went to trial? And how did she convice the other cops to go along? That could fly if this was an alien planet on Star Trek, but rings false in modern America.

So far the ratings have been good, but not great. CBS wants to look at some more scripts before committing. So, it’s 50/50 on whether we’ll see a season 2. Hey producers of Threshold! Add some more mystery, at least one more female character, some additional subplots, a big plot twist, and tighten the overall arc, and this series could get some feet on it. Oh, and CBS should think about moving it to different night. Sorry, but Scifi Friday rules the action/adventure SF niche for Fridays. Look how bad Star Trek: Enterprise faired on Fridays. Ghost Whisperer skews a different audience, but Threshold would appeal to many of the same people who love Stargate (alien threat and a modern day covert team fighting against it). But if they have to choose, you can bet they will stick with the 9th season of Stargate SG-1 and 2nd season of Stargate Atlantis. Please CBS, don’t make us choose. Be a uniter, not a divider.

Night Stalker
(Marx gives it an B)
Night Stalker Episode Guide
Concept: Crime reporter Carl Kolchak, determined to find out the truth behind his wife's mysterious murder, investigates other crimes that seem to have some kind of supernatural component. With sidekick Perri Reed, a skeptical reporter in tow, Kolchak will go to any lengths to answer his questions.

I’m a fan of the original show, but this reimagining is very, very different. Ok, not as different as the reimagining of Battlestar Galactica, but different nontheless. Stuart Townsend is great as Carl Kolchak, but I’m afraid the writers may have made him a little too cool. This Kolchak is younger, doesn’t have the funny hat, has a wicked car, and a very expensive house of glass for a home (what is up with that?). Ok, he is suspected of murdering his wife and no one wants to listen to what really happens on his investigations, but he does have a wicked car. As for Townsend’s co-star Gabrielle Union, she was a little weak in the pilot, but is starting to grow into her character.

The good: A talented cast, excellent directing, and good writing.

The bad: Too much like X-Files. The show hasn’t found its own unique voice. It just seems like this is Mulder and Scully as reporters instead of FBI agents. Oh, except they no longer have guns, the resources of the FBI, or the Lone Gunmen. But, they do have their own Jimmy Olsen.

This series has great potential, but needs to find its own identity. Only time will tell how this series pans out, but I have high hopes that they will pull it off.

(Marx gives it an B-)
Surface Episode Guide
Concept: Surface is an action-adventure drama from writers-directors Josh and Jonas Pate. The pilot was described as being in the vein of James Cameron's The Abyss and revolves around mysterious creatures deep in the ocean. The series centers on the discovery of a new form of sea life. Lake Bell (Boston Legal, Miss Match) plays the female lead, a marine biologist who discovers the creatures

Snore. I’m sorry, was I doing a review? This is how I feel when I watch this series. I’m sorry, are they trying to entertain us? The first episode of this series was one of the most boring pilots I have ever seen for an SF series. Part II was slightly better, perhaps NBC should have aired them together. The series has been getting better, but it still lacks something. Oh, and I hate series that do not give names to their episodes. I can see it now, “this reminds of episode 34 of Surface or was that episode 23…hmmm.” Yeah, give them names already! Ok, maybe I’m the only one who cares about that, but darn it, it annoys me.

I’m afraid that series is falling into the potential flaw of a series that doesn’t take the episodic approach. Lost and Battlestar Galactica have done this approach well, but look at how Point Pleasant flopped last year. The difference is, even though Lost and Battlestar Galactica have many ongoing plot lines, they always have a beginning and end of at least one of those story threads every episode. So, I can say “remember that episode of Battlestar Galactica where Starbuck got stuck on that planet or on Lost when we found out Locke’s big secret.” But series like Point Pleasant and Surface just seem to keep going and going. Stuff happens every episode, but it is hard to remember exactly what. I can handle that to a point, but the general American audience won’t stick with it.

Anyway, Surface’s cast just isn’t interesting enough for me, and the story of these underwater creatures just seems to be dragging. But, the scenes where ships are eaten or when people get sucked into whirlpools are cool, I’ll give them that. This series has been getting slightly better with every episode, so maybe it will surprise. But for now I have to say that this series is sunk, and I would be surprised if it makes it back for a round 2.

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