Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Catching Some Shows

I've been catching up on some TV that I've fallen behind on and, while some of it is surprising me with how good it is, others are falling dreadfully short of what I would deem passable entertainment.

For example, while doing work at home I've been listening to the audio commentaries for Heroes, something I attempted back when I bought the Season 1 set but never really kept up with and eventually abandoned. If you know anything about me, you know what a features whore I am, particularly for audio commentaries, so it was unusual for me to give up on them. Listening to them now, I do find a few of them to be senseless and lacking in any interesting information (that often happens when it's just a bunch of actors in a room) but there have been a couple of exceptional commentaries, the main stand-out being the one for "Company Man" which features the director, Allan Arkush, writer, Bryan Fuller, and actor, Jack Coleman, otherwise known as HRG. I generally like listening to anything Bryan Fuller has to say, so I'm sure that influenced the experience somewhat, but it was also neat to see what you got when you mixed one of the actors with behind-the-camera crew. In earlier commentaries, Coleman would joke around and talk about how cool everything was on the show, but when sitting next to the writer and director, suddenly he's talking about composition, narrative, lighting, themes, character and acting. It just brought the whole quality level up, like, 110%.

An interesting side effect of listening to the commentaries is that it's given me a bit of a refresher course on the show. I'm not seeing every episode, but I'm getting a nice cross-section of season 1 and I'm being reminded constantly why I liked the show so much in the first place. It's doing a stellar job of getting me primed for season 3 which premieres at the end of the month, if I'm not mistaken. The 22nd, or something like that.

I suppose it also helps that I read the Heroes graphic novel in the last week, but that's another post.

Next up is a show that has never impressed me much, but I just got it in my head at some point that I was going to watch it, in its entirety, no matter how much pain it causes or how long it takes. That show would be Highlander: The Series and I don't think I'm understating things when I say that the first season is a perfect example of everything that was wrong with syndicated television in the early to mid '90s. You could put virtually anything out there on the market as long as you did it cheap enough, there was always someone who wanted to fill up their broadcasting slate. Having the Highlander brand probably helped put this one on the air and keep it there beyond season 1, but it's still no excuse for the quality of some of these episodes.

There's an awkwardness to just about everything on the show. The lead, Adrian Paul, is decent enough as the new Highlander, Duncan MacLeod, but he's still not very adept with the swordplay (not that their stunt coordinator was doing much in the way of fight choreography), his love interest, Tessa, seems like she'll add some nice international flavour but ends up pretty flat and useless, and the sidekick, Richie, is petulant, annoying and viewers are supposed to buy into the idea that this very clean-cut looking 'kid' is supposed to be a rough and tumble street tough from the old neighbourhood. And don't even get me started on the clothes!

Two good things about the show are the flashbacks which are often interesting and well put together, and the fact that Thomas J. Wright (who later went on to be the director for the Chris Carter series Millennium) directs just about every second episode. His style is still pretty rough but these were apparently shot fast and cheap so I'm willing to give him a small amount of leeway here since I know how smoking awesome his stuff eventually got a few years later.

I'm hoping that things improve when I hit season 2, but for now, I'm stuck in a morass of bad acting, cheesy guest-stars (I never knew Joe Pantoliano could give a bad performance, to be honest), and a show that's hanging on by the hairs of the franchise's chinny-chin-chin.

A big surprise for me was getting the original Twilight Zone DVDs from the library. I knew I'd enjoy them, I knew I was picking up something that was timeless and fun, but I didn't anticipate just how much I am loving these shows. My memories of the shows consisted only of the stories and how they made me feel and not how well shot and written they were. Looking at these episodes on DVD, they look fantastic. The lighting is amazing, the acting, surprisingly good. The direction classic but brave enough to shed traditional angles and techniques when necessary. And although the writing is not always perfect, there's an energy there you can feel. A young Rod Serling (who wrote, like, every episode) pouring his heart out on the page week after week and giving us stories that still resonate to this day with the occasional genuinely creepy moment thrown in for good measure.

I'm even showing them to my oldest daughter now. I figured she'd like the format of the show and with different stories and actors, she wouldn't have to commit to watching every one, just the ones that catch her eye. So far, she's seen two or three and enjoyed them. She said she'd be willing to explore them further which may just be her trying to make Dad happy, but if there's a chance they're actually connecting with her, I'm willing to delude myself.

Finally, I've re-immersed myself into the world of Steed and Mrs. Peel. Last year, for my birthday, my mother gave me the Complete Emma Peel Avengers set. A 17 disc treasure trove of Avengers episodes featuring my ultimate feminine ideal, Mrs. Emma Peel, played by the inimitable Diana Rigg. I've always loved the show, but I'm always reminded how great these were every time I go back to the show after a long absence. They're so witty, offbeat and damn sexy. I can see how scores of pubescent young boys' lives were forever changed by watching this show.

I've taken a particular shine to the episodes of Brian Clemens, and associate producer on the show. titles are escaping me at the moment, but there's one that takes place in a department store that I defy anyone not to enjoy on some level, and some of the last black-and-white episodes are really starting to show that quirky spy-fi look and feel that they explored further in the colour shows. You know, when I'm done posting this I wouldn't be surprised if I go back to the DVD player for one more episode before bed.

Other shows that I've been dabbling in but will save comment for now include Supernatural, Blood+, Burn Notice, Fullmetal Alchemist and I have the discs for Kolchak: The Night Stalker sitting on deck. Hopefully there'll be another post there when I get further into those shows.

Until then...


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