Coming Distractions

2007.Aug.04 Saturday · 2 comments

in Books & Other Media

 Internet mailing lists are like Fox television shows. They have really cool previews, and they get you all excited about them, but they just don’t live up to their promises.”

– John Dobbin

Buenos Aires – I was just subjected to… well, no, I just subjected myself to… I mean, I didn’t have to say yes… watching some of the pilots for the upcoming season’s television shows. They were “leaked” onto the internet and are being downloaded left and right by those who are into doing such things. Now, of course, it looks pretty obvious that ABC, NBC, and whomever else was involved probably leaked them themselves. What better way to drum up a little free advance publicity? So I’ve just sat through 3½ hours of moderately amusing television – if a couple of these shows actually live up to their potential, a dubious proposition at best, the upcoming television season might actually be worth spending a little time in front of the tube.

Pushing DaisiesFrom the ABC lineup, Pushing Daisies… an odd, quirky, offbeat, where’s my thesaurus when I need it, show that combines a backdrop of a pie company, a young man who has the power to bring people back to life with the touch of a finger, with some caveats that are what provide the potential interest in the show – if he touches them again, they die permanently; if he doesn’t, well, kill them off forever within one minute, someone else nearby dies… permanently. The two threads that get the show going are when he resurrects a long lost childhood sweetheart, but can’t ever touch her again; and he has a partner who’s figured out that if you can bring a murder victim back for just a minute, they might just solve their own murder, allowing the two of them to cash in on reward after reward. The show, not surprisingly, has some continuity problems – before he figures out what his gift is all about, back at age 8 or so, he resurrects his pet dog, but somehow, though he doesn’t figure out what’s going on for awhile, manages to never touch the dog again, and said pet is still with him in the present day, 20 years on. The show is also narrated, ad nauseum, by Jim Dale – not that I mind him narrating a show, he has the perfect voice for it, it’s just that there’s more time spent on narration than there is on dialogue. The show has potential in a sort of reverse Dead Like Me kind of way.

CavemenIf you’ve seen the new Geico cavemen ads, which I got to see on my visit back to the States during the last couple of weeks, you know they’re amusing little thirty-second spots that play on the idea that Cavemen exist in the present, and are perceived by the public at large to be dumb, culturally inept, savage, and not particularly attractive. The cavemen, on the other hand, know that they’re none of the above, and keep trying to either fit in, to pass, or, rebel. Thirty second spots don’t necessarily translate well to thirty minute sitcoms, and this is a case in point. This new ABC show, in many ways, is nothing more than a strung together series of those same commercials, and also of mini-scenes that are re-writes of any of a zillion racist, sexist, religionist, homophobic, or other moments of that sort, just substituting the word “caveman” for whichever underdog was in the original. In fact, that’s perhaps the real problem with this show, there’s absolutely nothing original about it – it’s a simple word substitute using jokes that we’ve seen more times than any of us care to think about. Hmm, maybe they can bring in the gecko for a cameo…

ChuckFrom the NBC lineup, an oddly appealling little gem is Chuck. I think part of its appeal is my inner nerd, maybe the outer one too. It’s another sort of geek becomes hero show, kind of like the agents in Level 9 or the Hiro character on Heroes, though it’s set in a far less fantastic world – the protagonist being an angst ridden twenty something member of the Nerd Herd (think Geek Squad run by Wal-Mart) who, in the opening moments of the show receives an e-mail from his old college roommate, who, unbeknownst to him, went from being a fellow engineering nerd to CIA field operative to rogue agent – all, we’d have to gather, in the 4-5 years since they left college… The e-mail, we quickly find out, contains a file of images that contain the entire pattern recognition database of both the CIA and NSA – agencies which, in this version of the world have such animosity for each other that they’re happy to kill each other’s agents on sight – a database which has also been destroyed. Suspending belief, e-mail inbox size limitations, and whether or not watching a few hours of these images would embed them in one’s brain permanently, along with the software to make sense of them… leaves us with a nerd who the spy agencies both want, because he’s the only place where any of their data is now stored, and, of course, his biggest ambition is to become assistant manager of the electronics department at the store… Other than finding all this out, nothing actually happens during the pilot episode, if you discount the five whole minutes spent on him figuring out a bomb plot and helping foil it. Essentially, the pilot is purely background material for what may, or may not, turn out to be a fun show.

Lipstick JungleAlso on the NBC side, Lipstick Jungle, based on the book of the same name… a trio of women executives, best friends, who hang out together over cocktails and brunches, have marital or boyfriend problems, or casual sexual relations with one man or another, a rich tycoon woos one of them, wait… haven’t we seen this before? Oh yes, Sex and the City, hey there’s a surprise, same author, Candace Bushnell, NY socialite, and if the pilot is any indication, this is not only nothing more than a remake of that show, but it’s not as interesting. One of the things that made S&tC work so well was the difference in the directions that the characters had taken and were taking in their lives and that they still maintained their friendships – here, the trio are all pretty much, well, the same, and although they work in different fields, they all work in fairly similar positions and are surrounded by pretty similar people. Sex and the City Lite? Anyone?

Bionic WomanThirty years on, we get the remake of The Bionic Woman, dropping the “The”, and airing on NBC as, simply, Bionic Woman… which ought to, along with dropping the article, be renamed in the plural, since we find out at the beginning of the pilot, and popping up again later, that there are at least two of them. Let’s see, the original show was a knock-off of The Six Million Dollar Man, after all, women were pushing hard for equality in the marketplace in the ’70s, so why not just simply remake the same show and substitute a woman for a man, and run them pretty much at the same time. Let’s just re-do the whole thing… same character, didn’t even change her name, though we go from a skydiving accident to a deliberate car crash, and we make it all darker, with lots of blood and gore, rogue agents (hmmm… are two pilots with rogue agents enough to suggest a theme?) and one or another person wanting to kill, on a regular basis (the wanting, not the killing) another or more of the characters. A few attempts to soften the dark imagery pop up – the bionic woman works as a bartender in a singles bar, has a deaf teenage sister living with her who provides moments of teenage rebellion, just to complicate things, oh, and yeah, the love of her life is the guy who turned her into a bionic woman, a little part of his world she knew nothing about, him having been introduced as a professor of bioethics… though he quips, “And, I’m a surgeon too!”, just to make sure we know that he’s not just a bookworm who likes to hear himself talk. And, we need him to be a surgeon, just as we need him to leave the same car crash that left her sans legs, arm, eye, and ear… unscathed other than a scratch on his cheek. After all, he has to operate.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

ksternberg August 5, 2007 at 17:10

I’m certainly glad I have all these terrific, intelligent new programs to look forward to watching. Makes me want to just sit and read.

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