Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Comic Con 2008 - Sunday, and home

Sunday was a low key day – no panels for us (decided to skip Smallville and Supernatural as well as another Grant Morrison one), but we kicked it out on the floor. I bought about 200 comics from the bins, including the Marvel Star Wars issue 98 (the last one I needed – Avengers 4 completed my Avengers collection to, so it was a good week). I bought a Roboshark t-shirt off of Ivan Brandon (of NYC Mech, and chief of the best comics messageboard), and got lots of “cool, what is that”’s. We bought gifts for those who stayed home (my youngest son <5> got a Yoda lightsaber). I poked my head in the Owlship, saw NPH’s unicorn, and got some Chuck bags (out of Watchmen bags… rats – at least we got the Watchmen t-shirts after the panel). We talked to a few people and ate some nachos. I talked to Jerry Robinson for a while (the dude who created the Joker and and may have first drawn Robin - not sure about that last bit), talked to Mad Magazine marginalia and Groo artist Sergio Aragones, chatted briefly with Kyle Baker, saw Stephen King’s son (Joe Hill nee Joseph Hillstrom King) waiting in the Lego con exclusive set line, and generally took it easy.

It was a wierd con, in some ways. After last year's clean sweep of the independent comics area (I got everything I wanted, tons of sketches and signatures, and talked to lots of nice people), I was hideously unprepared this year and only snagged a few of the things I wanted, which I'm a bit bummed about. I missed the Scott Pilgrim color thing, the previous-post mentioned Tori Amos book, Eddie Campbell's Monsieur Leotard, the American Terrorist preview, a bunch of Picturebox stuff (I walked away with Comics, Comics 4 and the other newspaper thing and got Godess of War signed, but I didn't get back with more money for the Cold Heat specials, etc.), the new Tales Designed to Thrizzle, the F Grampa thing, the mini by Gilberto Hernandez's daughter, or the book by that North/South American collective group (who I LOVE - Cloonan, Ba, Moon, etc) that did 5 last year (was it Pixu? Are those two different things? See, I'm unorganized). The stress caused by spending more money than I have ever spent in one place, added to the worrying about the kids at home, the lack of my usual I-ain't-commin'-back mid-Friday cathartic meltdown (I always feel better afterwards), my somewhat illusionary feeling of being squeezed for time on the floor, and the fact that this week is a bitch at work, made me feel a little down coming out of the con.

Then we piled in for the trip back to Vegas, and the stories started. We buzzed all the way home, bubbling with the fresh memories. I gradually (somewhere around Victorville) realized I had had a pretty frickin' awesome time, but it took everyone else (whose heads were not as far up their asses) to remind me of that. By the time I got back to the house, I was ready to collapse into a satisfied heap.

Good times.

Comic Con 2008 - Saturday

Saturday began with me waiting from 8:05 in line for the 10:30 Heroes panel. That time got me, estimated, 3,000-3,500 people from the door. Several people slept at the Hall H door for it. Weird. I waited in line with several other perennial con goers, and discussed the way it used to be before all these johnny-come-latelys ruined it.

They aired the first episode of the third season of Heroes in its entirety at the panel. Tim Kiring brought the the disk with the episode in a metal suitcase handcuffed to his arm. Very hammy. The cast was late (elevator mishap was given as the cause), and so there was only about three minutes total for questions, which were squandered by several people doing the old attention seeking explain-a-thon, with no real question in mind. One dude went on forever trying to let the room know he got in line early both this year and last year. Yeah, glad I found that out.

Heroes seemed desperate… they brought the whole cast of regulars (which was kind of wasted… see above), and were practically begging people to watch (which the did before the first season started, so, yeah, a bunch of whores, those producers). However, the episode was the best season opener they’ve had, and I didn’t get any of the big danger signals (that they didn’t know what they were doing) that graced last year’s opener. Might wind up being as good or better than season one. Good use of an hour at the con, but I wish (because the airing used up so much time) that they could have staked out an extra half hour.

Lost followed Heroes. The Lost panels are always great, but this was not the best of them. The surprise reveal of Matthew Fox being there was telegraphed, and seemed a bit underwhelming given the prior Heroes panel that had everyone acting in the show. It is always nice to have comic con (which I feel connected to) get more tied in to the Lost mythos (as in 2006’s appearance of Rachel Blake as an audience member, asking probing questions, which was closely tied to the endgame of the Lost Experience multimedia game), and this year gave us Dharma’s recruitment drive (yeah, I talked to the recruiters, but didn’t get into the booth) in which Dharma “sponsored” the panel (with promotional cups, just like American Idol), had the head of recruiting address the crowd, and had one of the candidates that had reached the ”next level” of recruitment, smuggle in a video camera, and get chased out of the con. Now the DVD supplemental features will wind up actually having con footage as part of the Lost “universe,” which I think is great. But the actual address by the recruiter, and some of the stuff with the recruitees was a bit boring, and the Marvin Candle video they showed didn’t do much for me (was that Faraday asking questions?). The main thrust seemed to be to introduce that some of the characters on the show (mainly Faraday through his notebook and people in the same division of research as Candle) have some knowledge of how the future is going to turn out, at least in certain areas, and that some events may be changeable, while others are not.

The giving away of prizes to the attendees was funny and cool, but added to the feeling of the panel being a little light on them telling us anything. They need to bring back he bell (they used this a couple of prior years for the producers to “gong” each other when the answers started to reveal too much). A so-so Lost panel is a good panel, though. Matthew Fox said almost nothing.

After that, it was straight to the Battlestar Galactica… line. As you may have guessed, casual panel changing is now impossible, and we waited in line for Battlestar from before the preceeding Dollhouse panel started (which I would have loved to see, but face it Jake, that’s comic con). This was one of the better (quality, not length) lines, with several women dressed like Starbuck and Boomer behind us, a Seven in front of us, and an incessantly chattering girl (who went on and on about how much she loved British accents, and when she’s around the accent she just wants to start talking that way and is that a Red Bull? oh that looks disgusting which reminds me, they have such an awful idea of where you can smoke in America and on and on) on the side of us – it sounds weird, but it kept getting funnier.

Aside – every year, I have seen Joss Whedon. He has built up the con (and the con him in a NASCAR drafting kind of way), as much as any specific “staple” personality. When I haven’t seen a panel with him in it, I have always bumped into him on the floor. This year it was passing him in a line, where he was complaining about all the sweating. But, as much as I wanted to, making any of the 4 or 5 Whedon panels/events was impossible due to lines. The con needs ideas for a better way to run things. Some of our traveling companions made the big Dr. Horrible screening (it subsequently screened 4 more times after the "big" one), and said the room was electric. Seeing it on the web, it seemed a bit slight to me, which might be due to my recent my recent Whedon ennui (more accurately ambivalence: I’ve liked everything the guy has ever done, but the tone of Whedon admiration as of late has given me the willies - it’s like, I can’t stand certain strains of guy geeks, and Whedon has emboldened a generation of their gender-opposite number: equal opportunity, but now there are twice as many icky people). The reaction at the con, though, seems to suggest this is a major thing. I heard 4 different people on the floor singing “with my freeze ray I will stop... the world.” It could explode into a phenomenon. For my part, I wore a WWNPHD bracelet.

The Battlestar panel was the best one ever. Only Edward James Olmos' (he wasn't there) infuriating, but ultimately hilarious, tendency to babble awkwardly could have made it better. Kevin Smith moderated (marking the only time I have ever seen a panel moderated by someone more famous than the panelists), and a lot of the cast was there (Lee, Gaius, Six, Anders, Helo, Starbuck) along with Moore and Eick. The questions were raunchy, causing Anders (I think) to put his place holder card (the ones they put in front to identify the panelists) backwards on top of his head, revealing the “remember, some audience members may be less than 18” printed on the back. The footage was scant, and showed a lot of the cast on earth moping, which was not par-tic-u-lar-ly promising. The Caprica trailer was OK, but made it look like Falcon Crest in space. I don’t know if this all bodes well. It seems like they have finished shooting the series (given their comments), so I also think it’s odd that it won’t start airing for so long. The vibe of the room was awesome, with everyone relaxing and answering Smith’s expletive laden questions candidly (except for Jamie Bamber, who always seems a little uptight). Great panel.

Chuck followed – the interplay between Zachary Levi and Josh Gomez was as funny as last year, but they didn’t push it quite as far (the “69” McG made them do on the top of the panel table last year was only reenacted with their hands, which was... weird). Yvonne (emitting a really cute Australian accent) was sweet, and the sister and Captain Awesome were good. The clips were nice, and suggest a LOT of guest staring next year. Yvonne challenged Chuck (who had already done 5 or 6 impressions) to do an Australian accent prompting him to give a lesson into how to speak Australian (“No is not n-o, it’s N followed by all the vowels run together really fast… try it, slow at first – naeiou, then speed up”).

We stayed for the Fringe panel, mainly to see JJ Abrams finally show the hell up in person. Nothing wasn’t presented we hadn’t seen in the pilot, but they assured us that the pilot was tough to do, and is a little rough in some ways to watch, but the show (3 more episodes have filmed) has gotten better and better. So, I don’t know if apologizing for the pilot is good, as a rule, but I’m hopeful.

Saturday night, it was off to the Masquerade! The Masquerade is one of the most hotly anticipated activities of any year, and is hard to describe. The line is long, but we have one perennial companion who loves it so much, she waits in line all day for us! YESSSS! The event is the costume contest to end all costume contests. It is judged by a year-to-year-stable group of people who all work costuming in movies, and Magenta from Rocky Horror. The costumes are AWESOME, and the atmosphere is like nothing you’ve ever seen. There is unbridled hysteria, with 20 some-odd beach balls (which look like Pokeballs) being bashed around the room, people cheering and freaking out, chants from prior years spreading in the crowds (e.g. “beast boy, beast boy,” “all hail brain”), and people screaming out random statements (both before and during the competition). Numerous people in the audience are costumed. The MC (Phil Foglio, a portly gentleman dressed like an 1890's mayor or the dude on the Monopoly set) lays down the rules of showing restraint and dignity, followed by high decibel noise from the audience. He folds his arms and waits… he can be here all night, he’s got nothing better to do. The audience shouts the counting of the entrants, leading to "contestant number (unbelievable roar of whatever the next number is, like) TWENTY!!!!" fourty, fifty times. The costumed contestants work all year on incredible stage presentations (e.g. last year's Harry Potter, in Grease the musical, in 5 minutes). People shout “Hermoine’s hot” at the top of their lungs.

It’s like the Disney World psych ward busted out and went to see Gwar. And it’s AWESOME!

That said, this year's costumes and acts were not quite as good as last years, which was a high water mark. There were these people behind us telling everyone to shut up (they sounded like 1970’s oriented geeks – they liked any Monty Python and LotR’s references out of proportion). I don’t think they understood the environment they were in. Still, a blast. Best moment – the Super Smash Brothers Brawl Opera moment when the Kirby costumed one flapped her arms, and everyone on stage slid on the floor as if being sucked in. Chants of “Kir-by, Kir-by” ensued for the rest of the night. Again, unbridled hysteria.

We ate chips and smuggled in wine. No official meal.

Comic Con 2008 - Friday

Friday started with the Watchmen line. As you may have speculated from earlier posts, the big panels had worse lines this year, but the increment of worsening has slacked off. Along with the new hi def projectors in the biggest rooms (hall H and ballroom 20), they got new people-tracking software to help with the head counts, so the lines moved a bit faster, but there is no way to make it into any of the larger rooms (not just H and 20, but also any of the room 6 subdivisions, or rooms 2 or 3) without “missing” a panel waiting. I was in the Watchmen line at 8:30 for the panel, which started at 11:55 (it was the main panel I wanted to see, so forgive the excess), so I was about 1,000 back from the door (hall H holds 6,500). The line reportedly stretched about 3/5 of a mile, which I believe.

The Watchmen panel was better than expected. The material that they showed was a million percent better than the trailer, which wasn't really bad itself (just limited in what it presented). Several of the actors are panel naturals (the Nathan Fillion effect – some people just know how to work a room) – Billy Crudup, the British guy they cast as Ozymandias, and even Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Carla Guigino had a weird look on her face while the british dude (imdb says his name is Matthew Goode) was talking about getting high in Vancouver that was priceless. Zack Snyder has the same con affect he has always had – awkwardness overcome by enthusiasm that gets to be really funny 20 minutes in. I liked the fact they had Dave Gibbons on the panel – Jeff Jensen (who was hosting) asked him did he ever want to “just slap Alan Moore and tell him to lighten up,” and the diplomacy of Dave’s answer (something like “I wish Alan could enjoy the process of these things coming alive as much as I do”) was nice. The questions were good, and generally came from people in costume, which led to Snyder saying “awesome!” after just about every question was asked. They used Philip Glass (I don’t know the name of the piece) over the new footage which worked better than you could imagine. The "extended" footage showed Nixon, the beginning of the “flashbulb” scene, Dr. Manhattan blowing a lot of people up, the Comedian’s swan dive, Rorschach’s mask effect (a lot of it - it had a nice ink-diffusing-through-canvas, non-CGI feel), Dan, expertly shot watches… just great stuff.

Good panel but, due to the timing, it almost killed the day. We did some floor stuff (including the small press booths, where I bought some nice stuff, missed a hell of a lot including the new Tori Amos book(Comic Book Tattoo) and signing (the book looks phenomenal, by the way - I bought it when I got back home), saw most of the floor, but didn’t really get anything done, which probably saved my con-sanity, now that I think about it. We went early to see 24, and wound up getting into the panel before (Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files). I didn’t know his work, but he was an engaging speaker, and did the panel solo. He had that crazed but friendly hippy affect, like a thinner American Hagrid.

The 24 panel – some nice footage from the beginning of the prequel movie 24: Exile, and some time with Keefer, who came off as exceedingly gracious and good natured (he knows how to treat the crowd), and the actor that plays Tony, who was a little to gum-smacking-attitudinal. Many of the questions concerned the ethics of torture and when Jack pees (the on set joke is that every time they cut to the White house, Jack takes a leak, drinks, and eats a sandwich), which had relatively thoughtful and/or funny answers. Very pleasant panel.

In contrast, the Prison Break panel was pretty bad. They aired the beginning of the first episode (with insert cards still in – like “insert hand holding photo of Sarah” – which got some laughs due to their unintendedly absurd nature), which was actually fine, on par with Prison Break openings of the past. It looks like they are going in a more secret agent-ish direction this season. No prison yet (but hey, it’s an even numbered season). The bad part was that Dominic Purcell was a loathsome panelist, checking his Blackberry and sending waves of negative energy at the audience, and the actress that plays Sarah was a bit quiet, and didn’t know how to play the crowd (her answers were to serious, and she had a tendency to bring everything back to her theater work… blech!). The producers weren’t the engaging super-producers comic con crowds have come to expect. All in all, a lousy use of my time. One interesting thing – Dominic Purcell notes that comic con is the only place anyone ever says “I love John Doe” to him.

Friday Night is the Eisners, the Oscars of comics. I always go, and my comic book retailer always gets me a spot at the tables (thanks, Ralph!). I was a little over 50/50 guessing the winners, which was pretty good. I waited in the booze line with the Reno 911 guys for the second year in a row (Dangle and Junior - we must have the same drunk clock), who also presented some awards, giving George Foreman grills to the runners up (“Cash value? Bigger than then actual award”). Last year, I met Jane Weidlin, but this year she was escorted in by a cadre of Stormtroopers so, no. Sam Jackson gave some awards. I was sitting near Gerard Way (front man of My Chemical Romance, who won two Eisners for Umbrella Academy), who I did not talk to (what am I gonna say? I loved that “teenagers scare the living shit out of me” song?). The awards were nice, and many were deserving, though I cannot understand how Len Wein gets into the hall of fame before Mort Weissinger. Always a nice night.

I didn't eat till I got back to the room at nearly 1 o'clock, where I ate some of what was left of the "Giant NY Pizza" we had ordered (28" - it was pretty good).

Comic Con 2008 - Thurday

Thursday was a bit of a slow start. I went solo to the Grant Morrison/Stan Lee panel (the wife's hair wasn't ready to go yet) which, surprisingly, turned out to be a monumental event in the history of anti-chemistry. The thing was hosted by Virgin comics CEO (Depak Chopra’s son, incidently) who was not a strong enough moderator to get the discussion functioning well. The panel had Lee, a god of self-aggrandizement (with a sliver of self-deprecation), at his most self aggrandizing, and Morrison, a very interesting speaker, being reverential (I think in an attempt to get out in front of Lee’s shtick, and maybe have a real discussion) and not much else. So Grant’s good speaking qualities were nullified, and Stan played the irritating huckster end of his persona.

Morrison is working for Virgin on a motion capture/CGI animated (videogame-looking) version of a 10,000 year old Hindi myth about a family of deities going to war. This will be released as installments for cell phones. Interesting project, I guess, but I don’t really want to spend time watching anyone, even someone very interesting, play World of Warcraft.

Lee is working on a new universe for Virgin, and nothing of the past 35 years suggests this will be any good. The dancing around subjects was interesting, and the bit comedy (mostly concerning Lee’s inability to understand Morrison’s Scotts accent, and Morrison’s impression of a New York Cabbie – this included prop comedy, when Lee inserted an earpiece in his ear, saying it was like the ones they used at the UN) was well received.

It’s always nice to see either Lee or Morrison, but I think they worked against each other here.

I did get to the EW Visionaries: Comic Books panel (Note: I know some EW people so, on Friday, I tried to get into the EW showrunners panel, but couldn’t get in the room – so much for my connections - and there was no way I was getting into Saturday’s EW filmmakers panel, so I didn’t even try). I don’t know quite what to say about it. Some creators I love dearly were on the panel (Jim Lee, John Cassaday, Matt Fraction, Mike Mignola, Robert Kirkman, Colleen Doran, Mike Mignola, Grant Morrison); however, all but Mignola seemed a bit estranged from their usual charm (not that Hellboy creator Mignola's that charming, but he seemed to be at least as chatty and foul mouthed as he usually is). Morrison (again, after the Virgin panel) and Fraction were particularly an issue, as they are usually very engaging subjects, and were almost entirely shut down. Part of this was, maybe, panel size (too many people means less time to speak), but it was mostly the poor moderation. There were some boneheaded questions (I think the “why comics” question was frankly insulting… they don’t ask Christopher Nolan or even Kevin Smith “why film”), the creation of a vibe the creators didn’t feel comfortable with, and a general lack of encouragement in moments when the discourse could have taken off (panel dynamics are weird sometimes). I hate to complain, but that one didn’t go well. EW's Jeff Jensen (on Watchmen, discussed later) and E!'s Kristin Dos Santos (on two panels I saw) did a lot better than whoever handled this one (I forget the moderator’s name).

I missed the True Blood panel (my wife left EW early to get in line, but got in the wrong line… thanks Elite security!), but I talked to a producer in line for a while, which was kind of neat. He got the news of the Paramount Vantage firings on his Blackberry while we were waiting (you know, I just had to be a stupid doctor instead of getting a cool job). We stayed in the line to catch Dexter. I heard from some of our travel companions that True Blood was good.

The Dexter panel was a nice, middle of the road affair. Michael C. Hall was witty and engaging (not a surprise) as was Julie Benz (a surprise, but I guess that’s a testament to her acting abilities). The footage from the third season looked good (best “trailer” material so far at the con), and suggests the direction of the next season is this:

Dexter does something (possibly killing an innocent) that sets off a chain of events “like a pebble dropped at the top of a mountain, starting an unstoppable avalanche” (producer's words). This includes the introduction of Jimmy Smitts as a new superior involved in the investigation, who becomes Dexter’s first real friend. The overriding motif of the season is growing into new relationships and becoming you own man, as Dex learns to make father Harry’s "kill only the deserving" code his own, steps up with Rita's kids, and “figures out” sex.

Not an “I’ll always remember” panel, but nice to see, and pleasant. The female writer (showrunner?) was low-key-funny. The panel was hosted by Kristin Dos Santos (of Ask Kristin on E!) who did a nice job, but may be crosseyed.

Thursday on the floor was mixed. It was more crowded than I’ve ever seen Thursdays in the heavy trafficked part of the floor (by WB, DC, Star Wars), but lighter elsewhere. This rule held essentially all weekend, except Saturday when the lighter areas became a ghost town in the late afternoon (unusual), and Sunday, which was much heavier than usual everywhere. The actual comic book dealers (yes, there are still comics at the con) had fewer key books than usual, and I only saw 2 copies of Adventure Comics 247 (1st Legion of Super-Heroes), and I looked at every booth. They told me it was because they were all wiped out at the recent Wizard World Chicago convention, which is threatening to become the big actual comic book convention in the US. It was apparently verrry busy there.

I bought my first ever painted original art on Thursday, which is a nice shot of the Justice League blooming out towards the “camera” that I thought was a great piece by an up and comer. I almost bought an Alex Ross original later, but I’m just not ready to spend as much on a picture as on a car.

Wizards of the Coast, who does card games like Magic the Gathering and who owns TSR (D&D) didn’t show up, which bummed my 12 year old out, who loves to play in miniatures and card tournaments. He did a Super Smash Brothers Brawl tournament insrtead. I don’t know if this shows a permanent shift for the con brought on by simple economics or not. Paramount didn’t show for a panel this year, which I hear is related to bad treatment at the hands of con employees (one of the people I was travelling with witnessed Hiro’s friend from Heroes - Ando? - being turned away by panel personnel from getting into a room… these stories are legendary, and over time, some of the studios probably get a bit pissed).

My oldest son, who works for Paramount (oddly enough), left a friend's condo in Irvine, which is usually about an hour away from the con, but it took him 4.5 hours to get there due to a burning Von’s truck blocking the highway. Many panels were missing people who didn’t make it due to the accident, and several actors in later panels talked about being trapped in the traffic. The same thing happened 4 or 5 years ago due to forest fires.

Didn’t do anything at night but eat at Bucca Di Bepo’s. Nice meal, though.

Comic Con Report - introductory Remarks and Wed (preview night)

I’ve never written a formal San Diego Comic Con report before. I’ve gone for 7 straight years (coinciding with the “explosive growth” phase of the con… attendance was 51 K the first year I went and is just north of 125 K now) and figured, hey, why don’t I get off my butt and get some of this stuff down. This is the first year we left some of the kids home (the baby and the 5 year old), which added some mobility, but felt kind of weird. We drove up Wednesday during the day, and got badges easily (much easier than any other year) in time to hit preview night.

The free wi-fi on the floor was a bit of a surprise (I think it's the first year for that), so much of the following was originally typed in Hall H and other rooms while waiting for the Watchmen and other panels. The con keeps getting busier in some areas, but seems to have topped out in others. Later in the con, we were shut out of the True Blood panel (30 from the door - rats), which may be the first time I haven't gotten in a 6CDEF room panel. The lines for the 6-ballroom subsections were busier in general.

Preview (Wednesday) night had scheduled events in the rooms for the first time. My preview night consisted of going to the Fringe pilot screening, and dropping thousands of dollars on two comics: Amazing Fantasy 15 (1st app of Spider-Man), and Avengers 4 (1st silver age Captain America). Got a decent deal. I still feel dizzy about the purchase, and smile everytime I think of it.

The Fringe screening may have been a mistake on the part of Fox… con screenings usually whip people into a frenzy first (by having cast members present, handing stuff out, etc) which helps the audience get all screamy and irrationally into it. The Heroes pilot was not “in shape” at the con a few years ago, but the stars (especially that Milo guy, having hailed from audience beloved Gilmore Girls) sold the thing, and the room was very positive about it. The cold (no one from the production staff was there) Fringe screening with bad audio led to a chilly audience reception. There was a ton of negative body language in the room.

So, Fringe itself. This is a further edit/tightening than the leaked, bit-torrented version, and is better. Even so, the pilot was too much a “modern” pilot – it wanted to be a full story and a cohesive origin at the same time, but wasn’t honed as well as a movie. So, it dragged like crazy in the middle, tried too hard all over the place, and had an opening sequence too like the openings of the Lost and Invasion pilots. However, the lead actress was good (like Joan Allen, but more conventionally sexy), the father/son stuff was good (the comedic stuff between Pacey - everyone kept calling him that - and Theron from Lord of the Rings - no one called him that - and the two action sequences were the high points of audience involvement for the entire event), and I left thinking that it was a good premise for a show. I’ll try it, so, mission accomplished, I guess, but my standards aren’t terribly high. I think much of the audience might not be as responsive, and the screening may lead to some mezo-mezo buzz.

We ordered pizza the first night, had some wine, and went to bed, with the comic books safely snuggled in the room's safe.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


I’ve been a little out of commission lately due to a Hawaii trip, schedule changes at work, and my son’s upcoming graduation from collage (wow!). I intend to really start cracking the whip soon. There’s a lot I want to get to. But, for now, I wanted to stand up at the meeting and admit I am powerless over my disease. I watch American Idol.

As this season wheezes to a close, and in light of Paula Abdul’s career defining moment Tuesday, it seems like a good time to point out the think that is my very most favorite thing about American Idol – its utter amateurishness allows for real moments to crack through the feeble attempts at the show (the producers, if you don’t like me nebulizing the blame) “controlling” what’s going on. I think this is my favorite thing, in a way, about just about all reality shows that I watch – no matter how much people might realize that the things going on are on camera, ultimately in the live environment people can’t help but let themselves seep out through the thin spots of whatever image they are trying to construct. This is also why I don’t watch shows like the Hills which give me the existential willies, as they posit the emergence of a generation (albeit one that may be restricted to So Cal) who are their on camera persona. The abyss stares back.

Back to the point: I find it really charming that all the aspects of Idol seem locked down and controlled in a way that is so poorly executed that everyone can figure out what is really going on. Paula telling multiple versions how it happened? The gaff was obviously a ticking time bomb, and how they did not have an immediate meeting post Tuesday’s show to figure out their story is beyond me. Instead Lithgow blows up during the event (anyone had to know that would get out), Paula gives the “I read the notes for Cook” (which didn’t make any sense as an explanation as she liked Cook’s performance), then changes her mind on Seacrest’s show the next morning, essentially admitting to something damaging, only to have Seacrest bring the whole thing up in a particularly unsatisfying way on the results show, that served only to piss off people paying attention, and remind everyone else that it happened. This is lousy crisis management, but brilliant television.

The Idol producers have no idea how to run things in a professional manner. Their crisis response has always done more harm than good - their only good decisions seem to be when they decide to say nothing and wait it out. Otherwise it’s some version of the same story: first, lie really badly; then, go back on the lie without admitting the lie, and tell the partial truth, usually the most damaging part of the truth, cushioned by easily fact checkable lie; then, comment once more in a self defeating way, without apology, and in the most insulting way possible to the audience; finally, steadfastly pretend it never happened.

This kind of stuff is what keeps me watching the show. The way that they support and pimp plants and crappy singers that they, for some reason, want to see go all the way is what makes the perseverance of interesting or different people so compelling, and keeps me rooting for them when there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY I WOULD EVER LISTEN TO THEM SING OTHERWISE!

Watching the show is like some crappy pop culture version of reading Moby Dick (my favorite book, which has been on my mind lately thanks to Battlestar Galactica), where watching the creation struggle against it’s bonds, the structure threaten to fall apart, and the (mostly not overtly present) creator(s) struggle and succumb to the untameable nature of what they created are the most gripping parts. Only Melville was a really terrific writer not an incompetent committee of producers.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Movie Binge: Serenity, Breach, and Tales of Babylon 5

I've been on a movie catch-up binge lately, and wound up watching Breach, Tales of Babylon 5, and Serenity (again) on the same day. I don't have much to say about Serenity (it was my third viewing of the sci-fi movie spinoff of the Firefly TV show, so didn’t learn that much new – I watched it introduce some people to it) except that I’ve been struck on each viewing by the way the entire cast is put into a position of certain death at the climax, only to have them walk away (the only hero's death in the climax happens as an accident before the "certain death" sequence starts). This has to be some sort of record - "greatest amount of cumulative character jeopardy achieved without anyone actually dying" or something. It almost seems like the big fight was filmed in such a way that they could decide who dies later, with almost everyone potentially mortally wounded. It's still a really good movie in its own right, even if you haven’t seen the Firefly TV series, and a good movie to for teenage daughters to watch (if you can get over the prostitute thing and don't have a problem with some mostly stylized but occasionally more brutal violence). The only thing I noticed this time that I didn't remember from past viewing is how simplified the side characters are compared to the TV series – everyone is pared to one basic character trait except Mal. That’s part of why it’s so tight, I guess.

Watching Breach, last year's Ryan Phillipe, Chris Cooper, Laura Linley "true life" spy story concerning the bringing down of the CIA's biggest mole, helped me understand why such a well reviewed movie didn't make many top 10 year end lists. This is one of those times where a movie made of 4 star parts, makes a 3 star whole, and leaves a 2 star memory. The acting (especially Chris Cooper's) is good, the plot is interesting, the characters are nicely fleshed out, the DC “city porn” (i.e. gratuitously luscious cinematography of buildings) was great, the true story angle was cool, etc. But the movie was just too sparse to stay with you much. Very few characters are focused on, interesting things aren’t returned to (like the “tell me four true things about yourself and one lie”), important info for understanding these people's lives (like simple time-line information) is not addressed, and it just seems like the movie takes its time so much that can’t fit some of the necessary stuff in. The thriller elements were OK but total 10 minutes of screen time (tops), and didn’t build. So you’re left with a movie that was good but is less than the sum of its parts due lack of ambition in much it was trying to accomplish. I generally like third path narratives (stories where someone is offered a choice of examples of how to live, and instead makes the decision to follow their own road), but Philippe played an internally passive character, and his decision to take the path happens in the end-text of the film, so it is not effective. Also, I don’t know why it was written this way (an attempt to be true to the real people?) but Philippe’ s character answers a question with a “what?” or “huh?” something like 20 times in the film, and the other character has to repeat the question. It was a little much.

Tales of Babylon 5 is an oddity that screams out to be evaluated in light of its production goals, more than what actually happens on screen. For those unfamiliar with the project, it is a direct to DVD couple of stories that function as two additional episodes of the 1990s TV show. The idea behind the DVD was to follow a new production model of continuing television by doing limited production on just a few episodes, releasing a DVD, and using rolling financing and more limited budgets to produce a series without having a network or syndication house bankroll it. If something like this worked, you might see continuations of cancelled series with a strong, small following like Journeyman (to choose an example from this year) or any Tim Minear show ever.

The original B5 show was a bit of an oddity itself, with a 5 year plan (it was always conceived to last that long and only that long) to tell an epic, but finite story centered on a satellite station that was, in effect, the “UN of space.” The first year of the show was kind of hit and miss, but the skein made the full 5 years by kicking and screaming and clawing and financing its way to the end. It built up a significant following, with cries of “best science fiction show ever,” which was not enough to keep the subsequent stabs at reviving it (B5: Crusade, the most notable example) from crashing and burning.

As to the current DVD, the low production values would be obvious to a four year old, and are damn distracting to a TV addicted adult. There are 2 episodes and a total of 6 speaking roles, and 2 extras. The opening is shot in a series of varying long shots with dialogue over an establishing shot, then a medium long shot of two main characters talking, with only the back of the speaking person’s head visible (it looks like the director blew getting the proper coverage, and they were trying to patch it together without reshoots). The matting instead of sets is distracting at first, but improves (I think I just decided to ignore it) except for the one shot of the hanger bay with people in the background that don’t move, which bugged me every time they used it as an establishing shot (about 10 times).

The episodes were OK, but suffered from the same overly parable-like construction that a lot of the original show’s first season stand alone episodes fell into. They are also structured as 2 act plays, and aren’t edited tightly, so neither story really gains momentum. The stories are kind of neat, in that “why don’t they tackle these subjects on TV more” kind of way, with the first about the relevance of religion (by redoing Silence of the Lambs with a demon in the Hannibal Lector role) and the second a version of the “if you could go back in time, would you shoot Hitler” story (their answer the disk offers, incidentally, is “don’t shoot him, take him home for supper”).

This has to be considered a failed experiment. The quality level falls short of the average episode of the show in essentially all ways, and the strength of the original was its monstrously building mega arc anyway. There is really no way to condone the low level that the production values stoop to, here. I know I’ve said this before about other things, but this reminds me of early TV “theatre” shows like Playhouse 90, only with rushed CGI. The DVD is watchable, with low expectations, but don’t expect TV continuation on DVD to become a fad based on this. Nor would you want it to.

Friday, March 28, 2008

On Genre

Dick Hyacinth, he of the awesome Dick Hates Your Blog blog, posted some musings on the use of “shocking plot development” as currency, which slid pleasingly into a discussion of genre. In this discussion he makes the audacious claim that the superhero category isn’t a genre, it’s an occupational grouping that may be part of a number of genres. Well, let’s let Dick speak:

But, despite this movement across genres, I don't think that superheroes really constitutes its own genre. It's more like an occupational setting. A television show set in a newsroom could be in the mystery, comedy, or soap opera genre. I think that's basically the case with superheroes, which works pretty well in unexpected genres like comedy.

There’s a lot of other really good stuff in the post, both on the topic of the recently increasing tendency to skew superhero writing to other genre styles, and on satisfaction of audience expectations. But that money shot quote above really was a great observation, even if its conclusion is incorrect. In order to see why I think he’s wrong we have to figure out what a genre is.

Dividing stuff into genres or “kinds” really has only two rules. Rule one: the genres must be distinguishable (people must be, for the most part, able to see something a say “that belongs to the ______ genre” – they’ll always be exceptions, but that’s the most important rule). Rule two: there must be reasonable utility to this grouping (this differences must be useful for the audience). There is no rule three. There is especially no rule three about genres themselves being coherent with each other, and being defined by the same sets of rules with just differing parameters.

It’s probably easiest to use the strongest genres to make this point, and by strongest, I mean by the criteria above – the most clearly defined and useful, which also tend to be the most inclusive. The genre of horror movies, about the strongest genre I can think of, is a good example. If something could be considered a family drama or a horror movie, it’s going to be considered a horror movie… horror usually wins any head to head. (I’ll talk about the Alien counter example in a minute). Horror movies are defined by a clear set of narrative values, mostly a rule set of how things happen, and the presence of a plot driven by a threat of death to the protagonist(s) (to use
Todd Alcott terminology: what does the protagonist want? To stay alive). Another way to say this is that a movie is a horror movie because it “behaves” like a horror movie.

Compare this to Science fiction. sci fi is defined by a set of tropes (terrible word for this discussion except as it helps us isolate defining elements that we can then usefully categorize) that are a grab bag of elements (you can take some and leave others): space, spaceships, aliens, future technology, evolved or degenerated societies, etc., but you need signifiers – if you don’t have space or spaceships or aliens, you better have enough future technology and an odd enough society to make it clear that it’s sci fi. The defining characteristic here is the presence of things that don’t exist, but might one day exist in our world as understood scientifically (i.e. without the need to appeal to magic or the supernatural). Another way to say this is that a movie is a sci fi movie because it “has stuff” like a sci fi movie.

This illustrates the first big problem encountered when trying to define genres – they are not defined by using rules that are coherent with each other, which also means they are not mutually exclusive. The movie Alien has all the defining characteristics of a horror movie and of a science fiction movie. So what is it? I’d argue that it is a sci fi movie because of the litmus test to end all litmus tests – that’s where they put it in Blockbuster, i.e. that’s how the mass audience perceives it. In this case the sci fi “trappings” trump the horror plot.

This recalls the always fun argument over Star Wars. The movie “behaves” like a fantasy, therefore it must be a fantasy say the cognoscenti. This is total bullshit, however, since the people in the move shoot stuff in space and have laser swords and shit. Q.E.D., bitches. This is because that is how the public perceives it, which is in turn because this is the most useful distinction to the mass audience.

Let’s talk TV for a second, to get into a direct example of non coherent rules. The sit-com is a genre. It doesn’t matter if it takes place in a doctors office, a law firm, a hospital, an office building, a bunch of unaffordable apartments, the Lincoln White House, a spaceship, or some dude named Herman’s head. Almost no one would say “I like sitcoms, but I specifically don’t like medical sitcoms.” They might say “I don’t like Scrubs,” but it would likely be that that don’t like the modern frenetic “cutaway” type comedy, not because they don’t like “medical sitcoms,” and thus the “medical sitcom” is not a genre. But “medical drama” is a genre, because people make that distinction, and make decisions based on it. CSI and Law and Order are very different shows (one could be subclassified as a science detective show with law enforcement trappings, the other a hybrid cop and legal drama/detective show) but both are considered in the same genre (the law enforcement procedural drama), even though CSI is closer to House in form and execution than Law and Order.

That brings us to superheroes. The only reason there is no superhero category in Blockbuster is that there aren’t enough movies (yet) to justify the shelf space. People recognize the superhero genre, thus it exists. It just so happens this genre is defined occupationally, or, alternately, through its outward trappings - colorful suits, powers, and externalized conflict. It’s OK. Don’t worry. It’s just a label. We can still get together on Friday nights and talk about thematic concerns such as preoccupation with the ethics of power.

This brings up the question of audience. I have been skewing my results to that of the mass audience and, as we well know, the mass audience doesn’t read comics. So, like the sci-fi/fantasy community does, we can sub-genrefy all we like. Since only people weirdly interested in analyzing narrative seem to read comics, we can compartmentalize in the air like we just don't care. Superhero noir comics. Event-driven superhero comics. Superhero spy comics. Superhero space opera comics. Superhero-sploitation comics (wait, that would be all of them).

Genres are a mess – they are stitched together Frankenstein’s monster-like constructs because their strength is judged not by how smoothly we can describe them, but how readily people can go “oh, it’s that kind thing… I hate that… you love that stuff, so go enjoy it and leave me alone.” Superheroes definitely constitute a genre, but are one defined in such a way to allow for lots of juicy subgenrefication that we can discuss till we start to cry about how we’ve squandered our miserable lives.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

National Treasure: Book of Secrets Review

My wife has become really picky about going to see movies. We’ll set out to see a movie and, very often, she’ll look through the listings and we’ll wind up bowling instead. Far from the super-elite cinema snob, though, she’s just looking for well crafted escapist entertainment (a romantic comedy that’s funny but still gets too you, and action movie with a brain or a heart or something other than just explosions) but, in her opinion, it seems like this is too much to ask at this point. She really liked the first National Treasure, though, so off we went to the movies, for the first time in many months, to see the Sequel, the Harry Potter-ish-ly titled National Treasure: Book of Secrets, .

One Quick aside concerning my own feelings about the Original National Treasure: I liked it. I thought it was relatively tight both in the way the plot hung together and the historical aspects were (mostly) organically woven in . In the year or so since I saw the first one, it didn’t age well in my memory (some movies are like that… you forget you liked them somehow), but I saw it again the Friday before we saw the new one and… yeah, it held up. The history geek aspects fueled the likable character interactions and grounded the action stuff.

Tight is not a word I’d use to describe the sequel, however. The producers seemed to have taken the lesson of CSI Miami to heart - if something’s absurd, overwhelm the audience with it. The first movie was pretty ridiculous on its own merits (albeit consistent in its absurdity), but this one pushes through the envelope and blows up the whole damn mailbox. Got an important government function you want to crash? Just book all the other hotels in the city the day before so they’ll have to move it (wha?). Need to find something hidden on the SIDE OF A MOUNTAIN? Just pour some Aquafinatm everywhere (oh yeah, the product placement was pretty bad too – the MSN logo was on the screen for like 30 seconds). Need to break into Buckingham Palace? Here’s some flowers. Did I mention I’M NIC CAGE?

The historical stuff was also an issue. In the first movie, the templar treasure and foundation of the country aspects came together nicely, and formed a somewhat coherent mystery (thanks, Freemasons!). The current movie's historical aspects don’t really gel, touching on the end of the civil war, the statue of liberty(ies), the resolute desks, etc., all held together only by time period. In addition, the idea that the confederates could have reopened the Civil War after Lincoln’s assassination with a big American aboriginal treasure seems kind of a farfetched (or at least random) confluence of things on which to hinge the movie. The motivations for the “villain” (the quote marks indicate a huge lack of nerve on the movie’s part in making the villain villainous) were really thready, the fake documentation that MacGuffin's the movie is never explained, and the suggestion that a government official is in on the plot is never returned to.

The recurring shtick gets reeeealy thick in this one. Did you like this from the first movie?:

*Nic Cage “We need to _____!

*Assembled others “but mister Nic Cage, that’s impossible, there’s no way, can’t be done

*Nic Cage “What about _____!

*Assembled others “You know, if we… that just might work”

Did you like it last time? Then you’ll LOVE this movie, cause’ that happens like eight times. There is also a few “you know, you’ve just committed many obscene crimes against important historical artifacts and the leader of the free world, and I’m in a position to kill you or put you into prison forever, but I respect your overt reverence for history mister Nic Cage (even though it didn’t stop you from peeing on the Gettysburg address), so we’ll call it even” moments.

It sounds like I am saying I didn’t like the movie, doesn’t it? We’ll you know what? Just like CSI Miami, I think these things validate the existence of the movie, not undermine it. Nic Cage’s gift of having no demarcation between the person and the actor helps anchor the movie in its unreal place, a true movie place, a Hollywood place. As with David Caruso, there is never a moment with Cage so real its not fake, but (paradoxically) never one so fake that it doesn’t seem real to him - i.e., we wind up resetting our reality on him… he’s that persuasive… so the center of the movie seems to move with him (even though it’s probably the other way around). Thus, he makes the movie function despite a screenplay that needed a lot more work. As all this would suggest, the movie is also pleasantly self aware. During an argument as distraction scene, his helpers tell Cage to stop overacting, which causes him to ham it up even more.

Other stuff of note: 1) the video game-ishness of the movie was something to behold at times (I need to write about Highlander the Source soon to talk about videogame aethetics invading movies at greater length). I mean, the plots of the films are obviously influenced by adventure games (find glasses, find declaration, use glasses on declaration), but the action sequences reminded me specifically of the last Zelda game - the thing with the crank that lifts the water door - and even Donkey Kong (Cage has to time a barrel jump… no, really). 2) They did something to accentuate Helen Mirren’s breasts that distracted me. 3) The fireworks of Disney over Mount Rusmore ending (wait - the Disney fireworks were on the big CGI Disney production logo at the beginning of the movie… hmmmm, symmetry) was just the right squirt of Cheese Whiz on the fried Spam of a movie (hey, but I like fried Spam and Cheese Wiz).

When ZZ Top’s Eliminator album came out, I remember reading a Rolling Stone review the money line of which was “rock and roll doesn’t deserve to be this stupid” and thinking that that concept was so orthogonal to my point of view as to be nonsensical. This is one stupid movie, but if I let that stop me from enjoying it, I have to ask myself what the hell am I doing watching these types of movies anyway. The movie was awesome, not despite its stupidity, but by brandishing its stupidity like a knife and telling the audience “im'o cut you!” It, well Nic Cage really, physically drags you into its world were egghead crap like “plot logic” and “Chekov’s rule” doesn’t matter. The only way I’d have liked this more is if they tipped it over entirely and cast Bernie Mac as the president.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Beautiful (Thought) Balloon

As promised, I’m returning to comment on the series of recent Steven Grant Permeant Damage articles on the thought balloon. He covers the ground quite well, so I really don’t intend to do much here than add a couple of surface details, and bring up a few related points.

This balloon and caption stuff Grant is discussing occurs in a specific historical background. When I started seriously reading comics in 1980, it was at the cusp of the storytelling “revolution” hinted at in the column. The golden age’s anarchy of poor technique, with occasional better writing including EC’s almost experimental contributions to the field, had long ago given way to the Lee and Kirby distillation of Romance comics personal angst and war/action comics kineticism which reached its zenith during Roy Thomas’ run as editor in chief at Marvel. What had happened by the time I climed aboard is that the dominant superhero paradigm, created in the cold fusion of the early silver age, had been perfected, and had spent the 70’s starting to strain under the weight of creator’s ambitions to do something else with the form. It all continued to work, of course, but there was a great need to do something new, and frustrations arose, partially because the “language” was set so firmly, that it was difficult to tell certain kind of stories as well. Steve Gerber managed it, but for the most part, comics “product” seemed like an imitation of the recently perfected heights with occasional uncomfortable stabs at realism.

The caption box/thought balloon revolution in the mainstream was a long one, stretching from Frank Miller’s 1st person narrative boxes circa 1981 through to 1999’s the Authority, which seemed to be the ultimate statement of “we tell comics stories differently now.” It’s funny how these two examples demonstrate the opposite models pulling comics from the Lee mode – literature (in the case of Miller, Spillane specifically) and movies (the “widescreen” Authority with place/time captions only), but superhero comics changed during this time, gradually but totally.

The reason to abandon techniques such as the thought balloon is twofold: to kick out the crutch and to sever the link to the aesthetic. By crutch, I’m referring to the fact that usage of these devices were straightforward and time tested, and easy to use to tell the obvious kinds of big two stories. People brought up in superhero comics only knew how to tell the stories the way they read them, and was very easy in some ways and severely limiting in others. Bottom line: the “language" of these comics was both dominating and limiting but easy to employ, and thus encouraged the medium to stagnate. It was necessary to destroy the form to transcend it, or even just to move anywhere with it.

This brings up the second issue of the aesthetic. Say what you will about The Roy Thomas Avengers, but it is a specific thing. You know what you got with that book, you knew what to expect. If the cover said “Enter Goliath,” you knew what was inside - the story would have a certain feel and certain values. This was reassuring but also meant it couldn’t stray to far in the kind of thing it would attempt. In order to break this, comics had to stretch far enough away to effectively isolate themselves from the original paradigm, leaving the original paradigm as an antiquated artifact of another time. Doing a traditional comic like almost any comic from 1972 today would seem like pastiche, and we’d all be looking for the underlying (probably ironic)statement the usage of this style is meant to imply. That, of course, means you can’t really do a comic like that straight anymore (for the exception, read on). This could be considered a loss and, of course, still is by John Byrne.

Now, I’m a huge Byrne fan. I have the majority of his work (five longboxes and three magazine boxes worth) and have read it all, and enjoyed most of it, so this is a fan talking. Byrne seems to have taken the losing side in the revolution. Back when I entered comics, he was a major positive force for advancing the form, but he seemed to always believe in a core system of accepted values that shouldn’t change. It is most often sited that his public persona began to sour about the time Next Men went under, which many blamed on sour grapes - he went "creator owned" too late to fully capitalize on the industry’s boom time - but he had started ranting about people doing things “wrong” long before that. The fact that the image guys, who he openly feuded with, were such time bombs obscured the crankiness (made it seem, in fact, like righteous indignation) but by the time he started claiming Morrison’s Doom Patrol was some kind of moral plague on comics, you knew something more was up.

It’s gotten harder for me to read Byrne now. It’s not the Dave Sim effect either, with blonde-Latina-hooker messageboard comments tainting the actual work, it’s the way he started to look at rigid adherence to superhero comics values (as he saw them) as an end unto themselves. His recent comics read like they are trying to prove no one should have moved on from 1983. (please note, I developed some other problems with Byrne as well that revolve around an almost Star Trek the Next Generation-like need to examine the same plot ideas over and over with only slight variations. I should also note that Alan Moore, although has a different paradigm – a more literate one – is just as guilty about being stuck in the stylistic mud). Byrne nonwithstanding, it is but-ass hard to write a good traditional superhero story without running into the either the irony/pastiche or the looks-like-a-hack landmine. In fact, The Brave and the Bold is the only current title that is able (brilliantly, I might add) to do it today.

Back around to balloons and captions: the work of distancing superhero comics from the original aesthetic is done. The crutch has now been kicked out, and the leg has healed. Since though balloons have been removed from their original associations in the language, this is an excellent time to bring them back as more adaptable constructs. The real question is how to use them and the real work is to honestly judge the results. I’m not a big fan of Bendis’ use of them in Mighty Avengers, but that’s not because I disagree with the idea of using them… I just think Bendis’ tendency to try to emulate the way “people really talk” leaks over into the “way they really think” department in an uncomfortable way, and the “what I’m really thinking” sub-thought balloons following word balloons has too much of a jokey, ironic, high school-ish feel to belong in this book (it belongs in a book like Ultimate Spider-man).

Point is: the slate is clean, which means creators can attempt to use these devices again to try to create an effect, or figure out how to incorporate them holistically to create a new way to tell stories. These are unique devices without an analogue in other media, other than possibly voice-overs in movies (although they should theoretically be more useful in comics). Care just must be taken when re-employing them, however, to avoid loosing the ground that years of abstinence has gained.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bionic Woman Struck Dead - a Postmortem

Bionic Woman, the show that Entertainment Weekly called "one of the highlignts of the new fall season" (while really, really high, apparently) has finally been officially cancelled, though it's been presumed dead since the writer's strike started. Needless to say, I think EW was a bit off the mark, and there is some objective quality standard issue at play over this show (i.e. the show sucked, and that's not an opinion). This was the first show since Medical Investigations (see the first couple of months of this blog) that I found myself watching solely because of the spectacular wrong-headedness of the whole enterprise. The problems with the show were sub-total but the show's big problem to me was the fact that it seemed written by people who didn't understand what this kind of show is (i.e. they weren't really up on the strengths and weaknesses of the genre, and maybe felt like they were slumming it – underestimation of the demands of genre writing is probably the second biggest issue with TV writing in general after the fact that too few people can write comedy well). The writers/producers didn't appear to be aware when they did something that has been done a hundred times (and better) or the damage that some decisions did to the credibility of the set-up.

Specific problems included:

1. Hopeless miscasting of the lead - I think there is probably a lot of agreement on this. The actress was inert, and demanded no interest when she wasn't in action. She wasn't the right actress for the quiet drama, which this show had waay too much of.

2. She's just so special - A little Mary Sue-ishness plus a little screenwriterey "everything has to connect" bullshit, which the character couldn't support. The show abandoned the idea of the main character being randomly pulled into the situation as soon as the pilot was done (I think her "files" were found within 15 minutes of the following episode). There is virtually no criteria that a super-elite government agency attempting to build a perfect agent could have that would include this woman. She's personally encumbered, indecisive, avoids sucess, and has a problem with authority.

3. Speaking of indecision – every action scene seemed to start with an extended moment of assessment on the part of the lead as to whether to do anything or not. This is Bionic Woman, not Hamlet. The tortured thing is fine as a backdrop, but come on.

4. Just fire her already - Given point 2, the "agency" would never have chosen her in the first place but, given they did, why would they have tolerated her constantly defying orders, setting her own mission goals mid-mission, letting people go, kicking the crud out of her superiors when they get in the way, etc. This pushed things way over the believability cliff (an aside - she was, incidently, most often WRONG when she went maverick, and it is difficult to see how, if the show had survived, she could have learning curved her way out of that without changing the message of the show to "submit, they were right" or by her suddenly doing things right, which will seem like the writers skewing the outcome). I’m all for suspension of disbelief, but it was too much, and the other aspects of the show didn’t earn it.

5. The James Joyce thing - Don’t get me started on the self indulgence of the “I want to sip coffee and read James Joyce” stuff. It rang incredibly false, the writers didn’t even know what the Dead and Ulysses are about, and it put a lie to all her lunches with her “successful” friends (the tone of these lunches was a sepperate problem in and of itself). And the Dead, although it may be published as a free standing unit today, is not a book, it is a longish short story, not even a novella. That’s a credibility issue when they tried to sell her as a great mind who knows her stuff. As with point 2 above, the writers wanted us to believe she was awesome, but flawed, and it seems they chose to elevate her to the standard of "I was kept from being a lit professor by the cruel machinations of fate," which was wrong on many levels. This is a primary example of the self indulgence of the show - you can do as much unique and individual work within the confines of genre, and give people whatever quirks you want, but the framework needs to be strong enough to support it, and the stuff has to make sense.

6. Stupid technological details - it was stupid for her to be walking around talking on the cellphone. If they didn't bluetooth (or direct cell) her replaced ear or give her a more sophisticated internal com, the super uber govt' tech guys just suck (when they make these mistakes, they often tried to paper over them later with flimsy appeals to her rejection of authority).

7. The british accent - in that one episode, her speaking in her natural accent (the actress, as everyone knows, is british) seemed a little to unearned-inside-baseball for me. They assume the show's audience would get this joke, but the "show's audience" (I'm talking genrephiles here) was mostly pissed off by that time, and saw this as too cute by half. If it wasn't supposed to be a joke, then the only possible other explanation is lazyness (the actress was tired talking in an American accent).

8. Her character just didn’t work in the framework of the show - related to my writer’s quibble above, I think she’s the character that the show’s creators wanted to write about shoehorned into a context that didn’t fit her. Everything about her relationship to her environment was unbelievable or (at best) required a leap as to what’s going on (e.g. some of the sister and friend stuff might have worked if we believed that Lindsey was really not capable of succeeding and was hiding behind her sister as an excuse why she didn’t make it, which would make the Joyce errors clever – she’s a person who enjoys the idea that she had been kept form what she wanted by the outside world, while really it's just that she couldn't be bothered to understand – or possibly even read – the books she was supposed to have wanted to “study”).

You will see the repeating issues above of self-indulgence, bad character/actress decisions, and difficulties with the premise/framework. These, I think, most likely stemmed from the above mentioned idea that the show was worked on by a writing staff that was unfamiliar with the type of material (and the importance of fundementals of world-building) and didn't know how to make their voice heard in a fluid way in this genre specific structure. And miscasting the actress, of course.

The only way the show could have ever worked for me would have been to pull a Miracleman on it – i.e. overhaul the whole reality of the show. My vote would have been to end the first season by increasing the things that didn’t make sense, killing off characters left and right, then ending with a cliffhanger that looks like certain death for the lead character’s death, only to start next season with the lead character leading a normal life (unexplained at first) with no powers, but having “dreams” or flashes of first season things happening. She would begin to see people she has some recollection of, and eventally would be contacted by some "crazy" guy who suggests these may be more than hallucinations. At this point, she investigates her way to finding that the project from season 1 was real but was discontinued, with the units (including her) sent back to some version of their lives, memories wiped, and their powers locked with a keyword necessary to revive them (she could even be living the life that season 1 told us she wanted, giving the whole thing a Last Temptation of Christ overtone).

This would culminate in a scene where she finds the lab of someone who has continued the work (someone from season 1, not necessarily in the same role… this is a Wizard of Oz type deal) where there is a woman in a tank with surrounding TV screens showing a scene identical to some memorable scenes in season 1, but with the woman in the tank in Lindsey’s place. It is thus revealed that much of season one was a VR training exercise in her head, but with real people in the roles. This explains the inconsistencies (and their increase at the end of the season) – the interaction between native psychologies and the program are unpredictable, and impossible to program flawlessly. Now she knows the score, somehow gets hold of the keyword (turning off her strength governors and regaining her “powers”), and the agency has to get rid of her. This puts her on the run, but she wants to find her sister, and her “dead” boyfriend, who (if they ever existed at all, or if they were actually her sister and boyfriend) may not be dead.

This premise would have fit the actress’s talents better, the first season would not have to be completely “written out” (the actors could show back up, even the dead ones, in roles that could be tweaked however necessary, and even the events could have been based on something, partially on her own memories of events that did happen to her) but the trick is figuring out what was real and what wasn’t. If you could have gotten David Lynch to direct a key episode or two of the transition, it might have worked.