Tales from the Cultural Wilderness Journal

Monday, January 31, 2011

being human - "Episode 1"

[Previous entry: "Warehouse 13 - "Pilot""]

Starting a long run of "vampire" shows, we begin with a BBC show from a couple of years ago that only made it to air due to fan support...

Aspect Ratio: 16:9 (1080i, in the slightly bizarre BBC fashion).
Audio: Dobly Stereo.

Mitchell - Aidan Turner
George - Russell Tovey
Annie - Lenora Crichlow

We open on a dead girl giving a voice over. Then we're back in World War One with Mitchell, and some vampires. And we establish the first interesting thing here - vampires don't care about sunlight. The girl? She's a ghost, haunting the house where she died, but no-one can see her or hear her. Mitchell can't control his bloodlust (killing a girl during sex). And then there's George, who survived a werewolf attack when he should have died, but now he too is a werewolf.

Mitchell and George work in the same hospital. And they move into the house of the ghost (Annie) without knowing she's there. Annie likes making tea (that she can't drink) and the flat is filled with old mugs of tea. It's a fun character quirk - she's finally able to touch things and be seen occasionally by normal people and she likes feeling helpful.

Now, it's slightly distracting that this is the first episode when it really isn't. It glosses over the introductory stuff where they meet because for unknown reasons the BBC haven't released the original pilot for this show; we just get the recast first series and plenty of exposition to try and gloss over the missing episode (the one that successfully got the show picked up for a series).

Ah, vampires don't appear on video cameras... but they do cause static in the picture. And there's Herrick, the head of the local vampires... or at least, he gets a mention here as one of his minions, Seth, has come to the hospital for "recruitment" purposes. Mitchell's making the hospital out-of-bounds to Herrick... and he's no longer drinking blood. It's George's "time of the month" and he's got to lock himself in the hospital basement to avoid hurting anyone.

Except they're doing renovations on the basement room and time's running out for him to make alternative plans. George won't take the werewolf back to the house... but running around the woods trying to find somewhere to change is a comedy of errors of families picnicking, kids having sex, people walking dogs and creepy guys looking for sex... so back to the house is the only option. Annie's clearly disturbed by watching the transformation (and it certainly sounds pretty painful).

The house is a mess, and their landlord (and Annie's ex-fiance) is coming to visit. The guy's a creep but at the moment Annie's death is a nasty accident (she fell down the stairs in the dark). Herrick's visiting Mitchell at the hospital - Herrick was the vampire in the forest who turned Mitchell. Herrick has a plan... to take vampires public and offer immortality to everyone... yeah, that's a good idea!

There's a memorial at the hospital for the girl who Mitchell killed - Lauren - except he didn't actually kill her... he turned her, and she visits George in the hospital to try and scare and eat him... but he's a werewolf and doesn't exactly scare easily. Mitchell claims he's not like George - he can't control what he is... so then making a date with the nurse who wants to go out with him probably isn't a good idea!

Annie invites the fiance around to fix the leaky tap so she can talk to him... but when he shows up, he can't see her. Meanwhile, George finds out that Mitchell's out on a date and rushes to try and save the girl... but Lauren shows up before George does. Lauren wants to give into her bloodlust, and that persaudes Mitchell that he should call off the date before he gets out of control. Lauren's ripped the girl's throat out... but the only way to save her is for Mitchell to turn her... and he can't do that... he won't make anyone else like him...

It's a pretty good set-up - getting all the basics across without making those who barely remember the pilot (or haven't seen it) feel like they've missed anything. They've left plenty of stuff hanging for the series - what's Herrick's big plan, what's Lauren going to do, what's going on with Annie's creepy ex-fiance, who's the mysterious guy in the hat watching George wash up - so they've got places to go. Herrick doesn't really feel all that villainous at the moment, but Lauren's got smokin' hot vampire seductress down pat and she's clearly going to be trouble.

Vampire checklist: Can't be seen by video cameras, can withstand daylight, drink blood (but appear to be able to go cold turkey and survive without it), turned by other vampires (by drinking their blood). There was no sign of holy items that I recall, so we don't yet know if crosses are an issue, and methods of killing them haven't come up yet.

[Previous entry: "Warehouse 13 - "Pilot""]

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Warehouse 13 - "Pilot"

[Previous entry: "NCIS: Los Angeles - "Identity""]

Washington, D.C., and Secret Service Agent Myka Bering is inspecting the security arrangements at a museum aheaad of the President's visit. And there's a creepy statue head (an Aztec Blood Stone) being inspected by one of the curators - he cuts his finger on one of its teeth and starts to act strangely subsequently. Meanwhile, there's a mysterious guy with a gun, Latimer, and he's also an Agent, but he and Myka don't exactly see eye-to-eye - he's got a "vibe" about something being wrong, but she's fine with the President showing up.

Meanwhile, there's a scruffy bearded guy with a ray-gun sneaking into the party. Latimer spots the statue head is bleeding, grabs it and runs out. Myka spots that the curator is still bleeding and gets the President out when he pulls a knife. Scruffy bearded guy knows Latimer's name, and he also does something to the statue head that makes it stop bleeding and returns the curator to normal. And in the big flash of light, scruffy guy disappears with the head.

Someone's broken into Latimer's apartment - a Mrs Frederick - and he's being transferred to her department. He's got to go to South Dakota, indefinitely!

South Dakota, The Badlands. Latimer's directions take him out into the middle of nowher. There's an old quarry, and a cow. And a really old, rusty looking warehouse. There's no-one answering the door, but there is an American football falling out of the sky. And another car... with Agent Bering at the wheel! Both got the same spiel from Mrs Frederick... and then the door opens automatically, and they're about to enter when the scruffy bearded guy shows up.

He's Arthur Nielsen, and he too works for the Secret Service. Inside the warehouse is a stark white tunnel, lined with explosives, and an iris scanner into Angel's basement apartment... except his basement apartment never had a balcony looking out onto an enormous warehouse.

No theme tune, just a fanfare and the "Warehouse 13" logo.

Agent Bering isn't exactly happy to be reassigned, but apparently between her and Latimer, they've got the skills necessary for the "job," whatever that is (he's scattershot but gets feelings, she's got a terrific eye for detail). Latimer's an alcoholic. Mrs Frederick doesn't appear to age. Bering manages to get through to her boss, but the transfer orders outrank him, so it might take a while to transfer them back.

The first warehouse was built in 1898, but it burnt down. They've got a car powered by the electrical energy generated by people, a helicopter rescued from the Bermuda Triangle, and various other objects that they can't explain (including, apparently, Pandora's Box).

They've also got vats of purple goo that neutralise objects. While they're dealing with the ferret that's just appeared in the magic wishing kettle, they miss the wallet that sneaks off the shelf and into Myka's handbag.

They've been given rooms at the local Bed and Breakfast, where they meet Lena, the slightly creepy woman who runs the place... is she psychic? Meanwhile, that wallet - it was owned by Harry Houdini... and he now appears to be haunting Bering's hotel room!

Latimer's parents have passed away, while Bering's own a bookstore called "Bering and Sons"... which is interesting considering she has no brothers.

Latimer and Bering get sent to Seever City, to talk to a guy who's just been arrested for beating his girlfriend... and they need to find out what pushed him over the edge. They get issues with their two-way video communicators and their electric stun-gun, and it's off to Iowa.

The guy they're interviewing, Cody, suddenly starts chanting (in Italian) and rips the table (which is bolted down) out of the floor, but not before Latimer gets a "vibe" and gets Bering to the floor before the table gets tossed. After the guy's lawyer shuts down their questioning, they get sent to the local college to find someone who speaks Italian... and the faculty member they end up talking to is clearly lying to them... or at least, that's Bering's opinion based on observations of his behaviour. The faculty member makes a call to Cody's girlfriend and discusses some mystery book... and the Italian Cody was quoting is straight out of the book.

The zipline system Artie has for getting around the warehouse is completely ridiculous, but then this show doesn't appear to know precisely what it is... mystery? comedy? It can't exactly be a comedy as it's not really all that funny. Artie has an old painting in the warehouse that looks suspiciously like Cody's girlfriend... a girl Latimer and Bering are even now talking to.

Meanwhile, the faculty member, quoting Italian, covers himself in gasoline and sets himself on fire! Digging through the professor's office, they find the mystery book, and there's a hollow space inside where something's missing. Both Cody (who's made it out of gaol) and his girlfriend are going to be at a party for a play being put on. Cody's lawyer shows up at the office, and it's only while they're driving her to the party that they spot she's wearing the missing object from the book - a jeweled hair comb. Unfortunately, the woman flips the car rather than let them pull over.

Myka wakes up in the hospital two days later... and Latimer's still out cold... except it isn't two days later, it's a vision, and her dead boyfriend shows up to tell her to wake up... and there she is by the side of the road. After getting a call from Artie, they learn that it was made for Lucrezia Borgia and that the comb alters brain chemistry.

When Bering and Latimer make the party, everyone's already under the spell of the comb, but at least the two agents have learnt to trust one another, so hopefully Latimer blundering through the crowd works as a diversion! It doesn't go quite as planned, but it does sort of work out when they manage to get the comb in the vat of purple goo and everyone returns to normal.

And yes, that was a thoroughly underwhelming opening episode... I'm not sure whether my synopsis was more rambling than usual because the show rambled all over the place, or because I hadn't seen it before and trying to write a synopsis while I'm trying to get my own head around what's going on is a particularly tricky thing to do.

The cast are generally likeable - Latimer and Bering are both pretty fun, and nicely well defined. Artie's harder to get a handle on as he's pretty much just "crazy guy in a warehouse" for most of this episode. He's clearly damaged by his history of hunting these crazy artifacts but the extent of that at the moment is hard to get to grips with and he's got to carry most of the silly in the episode.

As a companion piece to Eureka it sort-of works, but it's definitely not as good as the opener of that show. It also dragged a bit in the hour and a half... hopefully the rest of the season will find a better balance, but this wouldn't have made me reschedule stuff to watch it week in week out.

[Previous entry: "NCIS: Los Angeles - "Identity""]

Monday, January 17, 2011

NCIS: Los Angeles - "Identity"

[Previous entry: "NCIS - "Yankee White""]

And the spin-off of the spin-off, the Los Angeles brand of NCIS, which started airing on CBS in 2009, after a 2-part backdoor pilot sandwiched in the middle of a season of NCIS...

Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Audio: 5.1 DTS-HD

G. Callan - Chris O'Donnell
Sam Hanna - LL Cool J
Kensi Blye - Daniela Ruah
Hetty Lange - Linda Hunt
Nate Getz - Peter Cambor
Dominic Vail - Adam Jamal Craig
Eric Beale - Barrett Foa

So we open on a police chase, and after cornering the van they're chasing, they end up in a gunfight - and not only do the two suspects die, but a Naval officer in the back of the van is killed as well.

And then, after another great theme tune, we meet G. Callan (with attendant bullet scars from where he was gunned down) who can't find a place to live that he likes, and Sam Hanna, who's giving him the ride to their new office. The building was condemned after an earthquake, but it certainly looks swanky inside, and there are a lot of people in this office. How come they're so well staffed if NCIS doesn't have any money?

Ah, there's the money issues - their stickler of a boss, Hetty Lange, demands receipts from all operations, or the agents making up the costs out of their own pocket! The rest of the team consist of Eric (the tech guy), Kensi (the third field agent, who happens to be female...), Nate (the psychologist), and Dominic (the new guy). They all report to Director Vance (just like NCIS do at this point), but there's enough swanky computer tech here that it looks better than the communications room at NCIS Headquarters.

A quick bit of video analysis, and they discover the Naval guy was shot by the kidnapper rather than killed in the crossfire. So why were they so keen to execute the hostage? Okay, the silly banter between Callan and Sam is very DiNozzo, if DiNozzo had someone to riff off of. They check on the apartment of the dead officer (Macguire) and someone calls in to delete all the messages on his answering machine... who'd go to that much trouble? Macguire has lots of pictures of a young girl - a niece, Emma.

Seems Macguire was meeting with a couple of "friends" in a blue Tahoe every day that week... which makes for an odd kidnapping! And someone's still surveilling the apartment, but Sam scares them off. Following up on Macguire's associates gives them Bobby J. Jenlow, who runs a private security firm (and was the employer of the guys in the car Sam scared off). Meanwhile Kenzi and Nate go to talk to Macguire's sister... and Nate spots that the woman's lying to them.

Hetty redresses Callan - she always feels a bit like Edna Mode from The Incredibles to me - and Callan comments that she never calls him "G", to which she replies that it's not a name, it's just a letter, but if he tells her what it stands for... Unfortunately, G doesn't know, because no-one ever told him.

Kenzi spots that it was Emma that was kidnapped - which was why Macguire was doing whatever the kidnappers wanted... and I guess that explains why the girl's mother was lying... Turns out the drug cartels have kidnapped her so that they can get details on "Operation Dakota", a joint military operation against a whole bunch of drug cartels. Unfortunately, Jenlow is going to try and rescue the girl, and Sam and Callan's attempt to head him off at the pass is a bit late - Jenlow's been shot and there's no sign of Emma.

Fortunately, there is a lead on a very luxury house in Malibu owned by "Mad" Manny Cortez, head of one of the drug cartels. Unfortunately, Kenzi gives the whole game away when Emma's father calls to find out if there's any news on Emma and Kenzi tells him NCIS are doing everything to save her... but the father is actually a member of the cartel!

Sam and Callan go in to make a deal with "Mad" Manny, which at least gets them through the gate, although this doesn't sound like a particularly safe bluff to be playing... and the video that Callan sends back to HQ tips Nate off that "Mad" Manny isn't "Mad" Manny, but rather Luis, Emma's father. Callan plays one more bluff to disarm and disable Luis, and everyone goes home happy.

There's a little bit less actual detective work in this one, and more blundering into trouble with a bluff and a lie and then digging their way out, so there's definitely something of a different feel to the parent show; it's still got the same light-hearted touch to its humour, and it's still a bunch of misfits solving crimes vaguely connected with the Navy. And it's also a shiny, big budget show.

They've given a hint towards the big mystery - who is "G" Callan? What does the G stand for? Why doesn't he remember? But otherwise they've left it very up in the air - with all the bluffs and undercover work going on, it's hard to get a handle on who most of these guys are. Yeah, we get plenty of feel for Hetty, but then she just steals every scene she's in; the others are still pretty much one-note characters (to the point where Kensi is just "female agent" as beyond being on screen, looking gorgeous, and giving the whole game away to get Callan in trouble, she doesn't really do very much).

So yes, lots of scope for growth, but I'm not sure it's quite as well put together as the NCIS pilot was... although I'd be hard pressed to say why I have that feeling at the end of it. Maybe it's just because I've seen 5 seasons of NCIS and only 1 of this, and although this season was entertaining, I didn't really feel like I knew these characters at the end of it; I shouldn't really use prior knowledge of subsequent episodes to judge these pilots, but it's hard not to (and I suspect it'll be even harder for shows I've seen 14 million times like Star Trek!).

[Previous entry: "NCIS - "Yankee White""]

Sunday, January 16, 2011

NCIS - "Yankee White"

[Previous entry: "J.A.G. - "Pilot""]

Continuing with the spin-off of the previous show, we get some "action detective" rather than "action lawyer", with a CBS procedural that began airing in 2003. Oh, and I've used the later-season abbreviated title above, as at this point in its run, it was still going by the mouthful of "NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service".

Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Audio: Dobly Stereo

Leroy Jethro Gibbs - Mark Harmon
Anthony DiNozzo - Michael Weatherley
Caitlin Todd - Sasha Alexander
Dr Donald "Ducky" Mallard - David McCallum
Abby Sciuto - Pauley Perrette

Air Force One, and a not-very-good Dubya impersonator meets the Naval officer who's carrying his nuclear launch codes... at least until he drops dead just after eating with the President. Agent Gibbs (who's building a boat in his basement) and Agent DiNozzo, have to fly coach to get to the murder as NCIS doesn't have its own private jet. At the airport, they meet their medical examiner, Ducky. Unfortunately, there's a conflict of authority over who's handling the crime scene - Secret Service Agent Todd (the lovely Sasha Alexander), Agent Fornell of the FBI, or Ducky as the M.E. of record.

Fortunately, the subversiveness of Gibbs and Ducky manage to get them the case, but Agent Todd insists on being on Gibbs' team while he steals the aircraft so the FBI can't have the crime-scene! NCIS are clearly an underfunded, understaffed agency.

Ducky has a discrepancy with the president's physician over the actual time-of-death... except it's easily explained by the physician spending an hour checking on the President before coming back to announce on the body. Gibbs has lots of rules on how to conduct an investigation, and he's happy to fill Todd in on how to run one, but Todd's getting sick... fortunately, that's easily explained by her sleeping with the Naval officer who was supposed to have the football, but didn't because he had the flu.

More behind-the-scenes politicking gets the Secret Service to agree to hand jurisdiction over to the FBI when they get to Andrews AFB. DiNozzo's goofing around taking photos of himself behind the President's desk. Todd doesn't want to hand over the body, but fortunately NCIS have hidden it... or rather, they've swapped the body with DiNozzo and given him, in a body-bag, to the FBI!

Gibbs won't go home while Ducky conducts the autopsy, rather taking a nap on one of the slabs in the morgue. While he's sleeping we meet our last cast-member, goth-chick Abby, who does all their forensic analysis. Something caused the dead guy's blood to clot, but it appears to be natural.

Gibbs joins Todd on Air Force One, although he has to leave his gun behind. Todd breaks up with the sick boyfriend, as it's splitting her focus from protecting the President. Unfortunately, said boyfriend drops dead just after she leaves him! Gibbs continues to quote Air Force One (the Harrison Ford movie) and the Tom Clancy book about the plane hijackings to Agent Todd. DiNozzo picks up the body of Todd's boyfriend and Abby discovers the poison. Gibbs is obsessing over the differences between the Air Force One they're on this time compared to the slightly newer version they were on the flight before.

They track the terrorists to the dry cleaners used by the two Naval officers, but it's a dead end. Meanwhile, one of the journalists collapses and another journalist uses the diversion to raid the armoury (which doesn't have digital locks unlike the other plane) and make an attempt on the President. Fortunately, Gibbs puts it together and kills the terrorist.

Todd resigns from the Secret Service and Gibbs offers her a job before disappearing in a swanky sports car with a mystery woman. The FBI don't give any credit to NCIS for breaking up the terrorist attempt, and Gibbs goes back to building his boat. It's a slightly abbreviated close to the show - there's background music which suddenly cuts off in a cut to the credits, which feels wrong somehow.

Unlike JAG, this show keeps things very light-hearted all the way through. There are lots of jokes delivered by Ducky and DiNozzo, and Gibbs is nicely dry. It's also a change of pace to see a police procedural where they haven't got all the fancy high-tech equipment and get treated as the red-headed step-child by the other agencies.

Of the cast, Gibbs gets well fleshed out, Todd gets some background but it's not really relevant to long-term character development, DiNozzo's the goofball, but beyond that we don't get a feel for him, and Ducky and Abby are just there to deliver exposition at the moment.

And can I just add, I love the theme music to this show. It's bouncy, upbeat, and immediately recognisable. In an age of TV shows that don't have title sequences, one with a great theme stands out from the crowd (and potentially saves the writers 30 seconds of writing per episode, but heh, who's counting?!).

And finally, as I've just spotted it, what's with both this and JAG having a Caitlin in the first episode? Is there some Donald P. Bellisario rule that pilots have to have a Caitlin in them somewhere?

[Previous entry: "J.A.G. - "Pilot""]

J.A.G. - "Pilot"

[Previous entry: "Primeval - "Episode 1""]

Okay, so we have an NBC show from 1995 (although it didn't exactly stay on NBC as they cancelled it after the first season and CBS picked it up)...

Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Audio: Dobly Stereo Surround.

Harmon Rabb - David James Elliott
Caitlin Pike - Andrea Parker
CAG - Terry O'Quinn
Bud Roberts - Patrick Labyorteaux

We're somewhere over the Adriatic with a really dodgy shot of two guys in a fishing boat. Then we get introduced to two American fighter aircraft. The lead pilot, "CAG", shoots down two enemy aircraft on his own, without using his expensive Phoenix missiles... and "CAG" was using it as a test of whether his co-pilot Angela has the courage to be a fighter pilot. She considers resignation over the the issue, and there's clearly plenty of sexism on the aircraft carrier. So who's the guy Angela's meeting in secret with in an aircraft on deck? And after she nearly falls overboard, who's the person who pushes her after she's saved herself?

So, back at J.A.G. Headquarters, they assign Lieutenant Harmon Rabb to investigate, and insist on sending a female lawyer with him, Lt J.G. Caitlin Pike. On the carrier, they meet Ensign Bud Roberts, who's going to be their liaison, and we discover Rabb used to be a pilot but had a night vision problem that grounded him. Roberts also has the press to deal with, and the journalist and Rabb have a history - Rabb's father was M.I.A. in Vietnam and Harmon sneaked into North Vietnam to look for him! Harm gets him to hold off on writing a report for 24 hours as long as he gets a ride over Bosnia.

The "CAG" doesn't want to give the flights, but there's more worrying news from the lawyers that someone sent an encrypted message off the ship saying "she was murdered." The roommate, Cassie, is suitably hostile to the two lawyers going through Angela's things, and the other pilot, Lt Mace, is equally hostile to Harm. Mace's co-pilot, Painter, is convinced Angela was murdered.

Angela's hat is found in the safety net off the flight deck, which reinforces "CAG"'s feelings that she committed suicide... and leads to something of a hostile confrontation between him and Pike. But we do discover that the CAG was Harm's father's wingman on the day he went missing.

The LSO, Ripper (who's clearly a sexist) keeps waving Cassie off rather than let her land, and she disobeys his orders and puts the aircraft down anyway; fortunately, even though the CAG agrees with his attitude about female pilots, he dresses him down for not performing his duty on deck. Pike, with the help of a former academy-mate, manages to restore Angela's recording of the initial flight, and it reinforces Harm's opinion that she couldn't handle combat.

The dodgy looking fishermen from the start find Angela's body. Ah, and there's Painter confessing that he was Angela's husband, and that it was him in the plane for sex. It also turns out Painter was the one who talked her out of resigning, and she was going back to delete her resignation letter... but she never made it back to her quarters, so who deleted the letter? Ah, Cassie did. And she needs to be at the board-of-enquiry, but it'll have to wait until the "Alpha Strike" over Bosnia is done. And can I say, if an "Alpha Strike" is "everything that flies", how do they defend the aircraft carrier?

CAG's flying a recon mission ahead of the Alpha Strike, and when the journalist turns down his second ride, Harm takes his place. But when he's up in the plane, he spots that Cassie's callsign is "Lobo", but that was the jacket Angela was wearing the night she was killed. Unfortunately, the CAG gets the plane shot up on the way back and Harm has to fly the plane... including landing it on the deck, which was what led to him giving up being a pilot (when he hit the deck and his co-pilot died during the ejection). Luckily, Pike arrests Ripper before he can stop Harm from landing, after Harm works out that Angela was mistaken for Cassie on the night of the muder.

So, for a muder mystery, it threw enough potential suspects into the mix to keep the audience guessing, although there was definitely more investigating than lawyering from the two lawyers in this! Clearly, Harmon Rabb is the star, because we find out almost zero about Caitlin Pike during the hour and a half (which might explain why they recast the other lawyer when the show went to series). Perhaps we need to coin a new term - "Action Lawyer" for lawyers who don't actually do much lawyering, but instead run around shooting guns and fighting with bad-guys? The bits I most recall of Perry Mason were the running around solving crime bits rather than the actual lawyering, so maybe we can throw him in the same category?

Meanwhile, all the Navy bits of this show are extremely dense. They're constantly throwing term and acronyms at you in an attempt to show what life on an aircraft carrier is like, but I still didn't have a clue what half their jobs are. And is "CAG" a title? Or just his callsign? It's a slightly odd call-sign, if that's the case, as it doesn't appear to mean anything! Also, the whole "Washington politics" bits with the Chief Judge Advocate General going to the White House was a bit throwaway and distracting. Fortunately, they manage to get a better balance between naval stuff and "action lawyer" as the series goes on. And considering the show managed to run for 10 seasons (well, 9 once it jumped network after cancellation), it must have been doing something right... or maybe that was just the Harmon Rabb - Sarah MacKenzie romance that didn't show up until season 2... maybe that was why it was cancelled?

[Previous entry: "Primeval - "Episode 1""]

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Primeval - "Episode 1"

[Previous entry: "Bones - "Pilot""]

Still bouncing around my list, we've got an ITV sci-fi show from 2007...

Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Audio: Stereo

Professor Nick Cutter - Douglas Henshall
Helen Cutter - Juliet Aubrey
Stephen Hart - James Murray
Connor Temple - Andrew-Lee Potts
Abby Maitland - Hannah Spearritt
Claudia Brown - Lucy Brown
James Lester - Ben Miller

We open on the slightly strange image of a dinosaur chasing a woman through an Asda car-park. And then we skip to 8 years later and a professor at the fictional Central Metropolitan University. We have a student, Connor Temple, the professor's assistant Stephen Hart, and the professor himself, Nick Cutter.

Connor's convinced the newspaper report of an undiscovered giant predator (with suitable fuzzy image) is real, and it's nearby, which seems to perk up Cutter's interest - or maybe it's the mention of the Forest Of Dean.

Meanwhile, Abby Maitland is being downsized from her job in the lizard house at the zoo (or reassigned to a different department at least), but she's got a last task of picking up someone's exotic pet lizard that they no longer want that catches her eye (and that, too, is in the Forest of Dean).

Turns out Helen, Cutter's wife, disappeared in the Forest of Dean 8 years earlier, and no-one found a body. Then there's the torn up truck that Cutter finds investigating with Stephen and Connor. And Abby going to see where the mysteriously lizard, Rex, was found, finds a dead animal in a tree and mysterious roaring.

And our next cast member, Claudia Brown, ambushes Cutter in the hotel bar - she's there from the Home Office to investigate the "monster". She insists on joining the search. Meanwhile, Abby discovers Rex can fly, and the boy who initially found Rex finds a strange shimmery glowy thing that appears to lead to a world full of volcanoes and more flying lizards like Rex. Oh, and Abby sees the dinosaur...

The boy runs homes, but cuts his finger on some nettles, and the dinosaur follows him, breaking in through his bedroom window and doing a passable recreation of the Jaws-on-the-boat seen from the end of that film. The boy fights it off with a stereo, a bedside lamp, and a lightsaber. Abby encounters another dinosaur - although this one's docile - and she encounters the rest of the team. After talking to the boy, Ben, again, they find out that there are doorways to the past where these creatures are coming from, and the docile herbivore leads them right to it.

The official response from the Home Office introduces James Lester, the guy who's going to end up in charge of the "situation" and after signing their lives away, they get to witness a scientific examination of Rex go suitably badly when he takes off and flies around the building scaring most of the staff. Fortunately, the scientific examination does persuade Lester to let Cutter go through the "anomaly."

The dinosaur, which Connor has now identified as a Gorgonopsid, has followed Ben's scent to his school, but Stephen gets there in time to divert its attention... although it does knock him unconscious after he tries to fend it off with a fire extinguisher. Cutter gets given a red-shirt military guy to go through the anomaly with him. But just after they step through, Connor realises that the magnetic field around the anomaly is getting weaker... which doesn't bode well for Cutter's request for an hour on his own to wander around and look for his wife!

The red-shirt discovers the remains of a campsite as well as skeletal remains alongside Helen's camera. But it's a man's skeleton. The red-shirt resorts to knocking Cutter out and carrying him back when he decides he doesn't want to leave. They (and Rex) make it back through before it closes, but that does leave the Gorgonopsid on the wrong side! Which leaves Stephen to hit it with his car!

The effects in this show are pretty good, as you'd expect considering they honed their craft with the whole "Walking With Dinosaurs" thing before having to make an action show with the same technology. Unfortunately, the Gorgonopsid doesn't really have any weight when it's crawling over bookcases in the school corridor; they clearly don't break as they should if a huge dinosaur is walking over them!

They've set up the characters pretty well - Cutter's obsessed with the disappearance of his wife, Connor's a conspiracy nut, Stephen's the big game hunter, and Abby's the animal behaviour expert. They tease us at the end with the "Helen is still alive" story, but give no indication of where she's been or what she's been doing for the past 8 years. Claudia and Lester are both pretty one-note at this point, so they've got room for some character growth there.

There's plenty of scope for the show, although they've clearly defined a format - "anomaly" appears to a random time-period, creatures come through, our team try to deal with them, cover-up ensues. But if the anomalies aren't stable, then could our team be trapped on the wrong side? Who was the skeleton by the camp? Where has Helen been? And if they're messing around with past time-periods, what happened to the whole "butterfly effect" of changing timelines?

[Previous entry: "Bones - "Pilot""]

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bones - "Pilot"

[Previous entry: "Criminal Minds - "Extreme Aggressor""]

We're still in 2005 with the next show, although this one airs over on Fox...

Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Audio: 5.1

Temperance Brennan - Emily Deschanel
Seeley Booth - David Boreanaz
Zack Addy - Eric Millegan
Jack Hodgins - T.J. Thyne
Angela Montenegro - Michaela Conlin

Dulles Airport, Washington D.C., and there's a very lost-looking woman who's late picking up someone from a flight from Guatemala. But when the computers are broken, she resorts to flashing a guy to get his attention. Fortunately, the woman she's meeting is standing behind her, and has been investigating a mass grave overseas for 2 months. Someone tries to arrest her but she beats the guy up, demonstrating she's good in a fight... unfortunately he's homeland security, and she's illegally transporting human remains. She's Temperance Brennan, she's a forensic anthropologist, she identifies bodies for the FBI, she writes books, she doesn't like the nickname "Bones", and she used to work with Agent Seeley Booth (who then pretends to rescue her from her incarceration).

"I don't know what that means" seems to be a go-to line for Temperance when Seeley mentions anything pop-culture related. And that's a really fast moving pre-titles sequence. And we have actual titles, which is nice, although I'm still not sure I like the theme music, even 5 years into the show.

The body in the lake at Arlington is a tennis player, and the team at the Jeffersonian agree to help the FBI even though Temperance disagrees with her boss over how to handle FBI requests for assistance. Her team include the very young Zack Addy (who's still doing his doctorate), their bug and slime guy Jack Hodgins, and their reconstruction artist Angela Montenegro. Temperance manages to reassemble the skull so Angela can start trying to give them a picture of their victim.

Unfortunately, Brennan won't help the FBI unless she gets full field access, which Booth has to clear with his boss (the great John M. Jackson in a guest role). Meanwhile, Brennan has an uncomfortable encounter with her ex-boyfriend who's trying to reclaim his TV - they've broken up over her being distant and uncommunicative, and she dislikes him over his attempts to psychoanalyse her.

The crazy sci-fi hologram table gives Angela the chance to reconstruct the face of their victim. Only it appears to be a woman, Cleo Eller, who had an affair with a senator before disappearing. Their only real clues at the moment - the metal of the murder weapon, and diatomaceous earth. A further examination of the bones discovers fetal ear-bones pointing to Cleo being pregnant at the time of the murder. Hodgins is a conspiracy nut, and is convinced the investigation will get shut down before they get to the bottom of it due to the political ramifications.

Brennan hates psychology, as it's a soft science, but Angela is the second person who gives her the advice to "give a little bit of herself" whenever she's talking to people. Confronting the senator directly, Brennan takes some chewing gum he throws away to get a DNA match against the baby. Unfortunately, it gets Booth thrown off the case in 12 hours time.

Ah, some background - both Brennan's parents disappeared when she was 15. She does martial arts, and she shoots well. Booth was an army Ranger sniper, so he can shoot pretty well! But Temperance can goad him into getting the search warrant necessary to test the Senator's floors for evidence of the murder. Unfortunately, it only gets them the hammer used in the murder. But a chat back at the lab points her towards the Senator's aide and she proceeds to break into his house and shoot him in the leg!

So the whole show is set up on the head-versus-heart debate, with Seeley acting mostly on his feelings about people and Temperance acting on the evidence and what she can see in the bones of the victims. It's basically a buddy cop show, which always hangs on the differences between the two partners, and these two have the chemistry to make it work. David Boreanaz gets to play a real grown up which is nice to see after 8 years of Angel-angst, although there's still an element of "atonement for past actions" in his character.

The rest of the "squints" are still rather thinly drawn, but that seems to be the way these opening episodes are going - establish the main one or two cast members, and give everyone else one characteristic that people can remember. I guess that's the shortfall of a 42 minute pilot - that's really not enough time to give a proper introduction to the large ensembles that these shows have, so you have to cut corners, especially as networks appear to have stopped giving shows feature length pilots...

[Previous entry: "Criminal Minds - "Extreme Aggressor""]

Criminal Minds - "Extreme Aggressor"

[Previous entry: "Numb3rs - "Pilot""]

Sticking with the science/detective theme, we've got another CBS 2005 drama, only this one is still airing...

Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Audio: 5.1 Dobly Surround.

Jason Gideon - Mandy Patinkin
Aaron Hotchner - Thomas Gibson
Derek Morgan - Shemar Moore
Elle Greenaway - Lola Glaudini
Spencer Reid - Matthew Gray Gubler
Penelope Garcia - Kirsten Vangsness

Seattle, and it's raining. Although, as it's a TV show and it always rains in Seattle in a TV show, I shouldn't be all that surprised. There's an orange car, and a potential purchaser wanting to take it for a test drive. Unfortunately, once the test drive is over, the owner locks the woman in the car and then proceeds to abduct her.

Back in DC, we see the very pregnant Haley Hotchner and her husband Aaron. The smooth socialiser, Derek Morgan. The academic Jason Gideon (and his student, Spencer Reid). There's something about Boston in Gideon's past, but Morgan and Hotchner both want him back running the Behavioural Analysis Unit to catch the guy in Seattle.

The random psychological quotes given by people at the start of the episodes as they're flying somewhere is a little odd; it's a nice hook but whether it substitutes for a title sequence is hard to say. Jason is suffering from PTSD but it's been six months. Morgan is their expert on obsessional crimes, while Dr Spencer Reid is an expert on everything (eidetic memory, IQ in the high 180s, 3 PhDs).

Procedures - coming up with a profile before they've looked at the suspect list to keep them unbiased. Ah, and more Gideon back-story - he caught the guy in Boston, but it cost them six agents to do so. But Gideon is really good at his job - he's able to come up with a profile even when the rest of the team are still wrangling with the inconsistencies.

Ah, and finally Elle Greenaway shows up as an undercover agent there to help arrest the "unsub." She's got a background in sex offender cases and although she's not currently part of the BAU, she wants a job there. There are inconsistencies with their suspect as well - he's got no wounds on him even though the the victims all fought back; his room is a mix of childhood things and obvious smarts (plays Go, computer is protected by really serious security software, he's read Jason Gideon's scientific papers).

Aaron's concerned that Jason isn't really up to doing the job, but he's good enough to realise there's a second "unsub" - a dominant personality that their current suspect has a relationship with. Hey, and there's Penelope Garcia at the "Office Of Supreme Genius" - she's the Behavioural Science Unit's hacker/tech-person - although in this instance she can't get around the suspect's security software.

They get a second suspect when they're at the prison looking into their current suspect - Richard - and it's one of the guards. It's the prison guard who owns the orange car, but he's switched cars with one of his colleagues so Jason and Elle are chasing the wrong car. Spencer manages to work out what the password to the computer is, and they get video footage of the current abductee - who isn't dead yet.

Aaron uses the evidence of the video footage to try and bluff Richard into giving up where the girls are being held. Jason and Elle make it to the boat just as the girl tries to escape and Gideon manages to taunt the suspect into throwing the girl away and shooting at him instead - giving a clear line-of-fire for Elle.

The bit at the end of the show with Jason stumbling onto another serial killer is a bit silly, and something that never really gets explained away once the show goes on, so I'm not entirely sure why it's in there... Ah, no, I wasn't paying attention - it's the killer he was talking about in his lecture at the start of the episode, and they open with the immediate follow-up to it at the start of the second episode.

It's not a bad opener - it's a bit slower than Numb3rs, but then it's played as a much more cerebral show, with the team trying to get into the head of the "unknown subject" rather than running around in the field. Mandy Patinkin is awesome as always, and it's nice to see Thomas Gibson doing serious dramatic work. Matthew Gray Gubler does a reasonable job as the one-note Spencer Reid. Shemar Moore and Lola Glaudini are playing much less well defined characters - Derek Morgan doesn't appear to have any characteristics you could immediately call out, and Elle is simply described as "impatient", so we'd need to see more of the series before their fleshed out properly. Kirsten Vangsness is completely throw-away in this episode - they call her and then immediately move on and we don't see her again, so either they're just establishing the character of there was more there that got cut.

Ignoring for a moment that this is an almost exact remake of the short-lived Stephen J Cannell show, "Unsub", this one manages to get a likeable cast, and a reasonably entertaining opening story. Considering this one's still airing (and has just got a spin-off show), it must be doing something right!

[Previous entry: "Numb3rs - "Pilot""]

Numb3rs - "Pilot"

[Previous entry: "The Adventures Of Brisco County, Jr. - "Pilot""]

As may be obvious, my "alphabetically" hasn't really held up. I got bored, and the next couple on the list will have to be ones I come back to when I'm feeling up to the chore of watching them.

Meanwhile, we skip ahead to a CBS drama from 2005, and considering it's CBS, it'll be unsurprising to see it's a police procedural...

Aspect Ratio: 16:9.
Audio: 5.1 Dobly.

Don Eppes - Rob Morrow
Charlie Eppes - David Krumholtz
Alan Eppes - Judd Hirsch
Terry Lake - Sabrina Lloyd
David Sinclair - Alimi Ballard
Larry Fleinhardt - Peter MacNicol
Amita Ramanujan - Navi Rawat

So we open with a woman's body in a construction yard, and this is the 13th rape victim with the same MO (they've got an identical burn mark), although this is the first death. And Don Eppes of the FBI is the agent in charge.

And then the slightly clunky title sequence with the whole "we use math every day" quote that's the hook for this show - it's all about the mathematics they use to help solve the crime. Or, it would be if they didn't start having to spend most of their time on the characters relationships because the maths wasn't enough to carry a whole episode! But at least, for the pilot, the maths should be enough to carry the story!

Working with Don are Terry Lake (Sabrina Lloyd) and newly assigned David Sinclair (Alimi Ballard). Meanwhile, the other half of the cast, the brains, are Don's brother, Charlie, who is racing "extreme gravity vehicles" downhill rather than work on Larry Fleinhardts maths (Larry's a physicist who doesn't do his own maths apparently), and he's ably assisted by Amita (for whom he's acting as thesis advisor, which is the excuse that keeps them apart... or would if not for Amita's arranged marriage that she's avoiding). But their home-life includes Eppes senior, Alan, and it's here that Charlie gets his first look at the case file even though he shouldn't. And it's this viewing that sparks his interest in helping solve the case.

Cue lots of crazy maths involving a sprinkler and being able to calculate back to find where the serial killer lives. Back at the FBI, they're trying to track down the movements of the victim during her last day, as well as the dead girl's missing car. But Charlie's got his head into the maths and has completely forgotten that he agreed to help Larry. Fortunately, Amita reminds him, and Larry's physics background may be able to help with the work... or at least give him a good idea while trying to persuade him that he's getting distracted from his real work in pure mathematics.

That good idea gives them a clear indication of what neighbourhood the killer may live in, but the discovery of the victim's car leads them to find a previous rape victim has been revisited and killed this time. But that revisited victim lied about the original location of the rape, and that gives Charlie a better definition of where the killer lives. Unfortunately the FBI have already DNA checked every male in that area, and control of the case gets taken away from Don because of it.

Larry suggests to Charlie that his solution is too neat - he's dealing with human beings, and they're rarely if ever as neat and tidy as the elegant maths solution would indicate. Fortunately, Alan manages to spot what they're missing - that they've actually got two hot zones: a "home" zone and a "work" zone. And that gives them a suspect.

This is a really tightly written pilot - there's very little slack and they bounce back and forth between the FBI stuff and the maths stuff really smoothly. Don and Charlie are both really well characterised here, with the same focus on their jobs and helping people, and some of the incidental characters (Alan, Amita, Larry) get just enough to give you a sense of where they're going with them. Unfortunately, Terry and Sinclair are both pretty much cyphers at this point - we know why they're on screen (as otherwise the FBI would consist of one guy), but we don't know a single thing about them at the moment.

I can't vouch for the accuracy of any of the mathematics that's actually presented, as I've forgotten more than I remember, but at least at this point in the series, it all looks and sounds plausible, and like CSI before it, it's nice to have a show properly grounded in the science behind it.

So based on the pilot, it's looking like a good show; it's just disappointing that the hook of the show, the maths itself, doesn't really sustain a show for the length of time a US network insists on airing it for and that it eventually became more of a character driven piece than a maths driven piece.

[Previous entry: "The Adventures Of Brisco County, Jr. - "Pilot""]

The Adventures Of Brisco County, Jr. - "Pilot"

[Previous entry: "An "Accidentally On Purpose" Addendum"]

Another short-lived show that aired on Fox in 1993 (although, as this is Fox, it may just have been cancelled because they couldn't find any other show to annoy the fans of that year), this opens, ostensibly as a western. The big draw of the show, obviously, is the presence of Bruce Campbell as the titular character.

Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Audio: Stereo.

Brisco County, Jr. - Bruce Campbell
Socrates Poole - Christian Clemenson
Lord Bowler - Julius Carry
Dixie Cousins - Kelly Rutherford
Professor Albert Wickwire - John Astin
John Bly - Billy Drago
Pete Hutter - John Pyper-Ferguson

Digging a railway tunnel, the workers discover a mysterious golden spiked orb, buried in the rock. Pulling out one of the spikes reveals a lightsaber which gives the workers amazing strength, enough to break their chains and depart for freedom.

Meanwhile, Marshall Brisco County (senior) is transporting the most notorious 13 outlaws (including John Bly) to prison by train but one remaining member of Bly's gang, Pete, has a "plan" to break them out. He's built a wall on the track, and painted it to look like more track so the train crashes into it - is this a western, or a roadrunner cartoon? While this is going on, Bly's managed to pick the lock on his shackles, and with some help, guns down the Marshall.

Lawyer Socrates Poole has been asked to find a bounty hunter to bring Bly's gang to justice, and rather than hire famous tracker Lord Bowler, they've decided to hire Brisco County, Jr (a Harvard trained lawyer, although you wouldn't immediately know it - he'd rather be looking for "the coming thing"), who's currently trying to avoid getting hanged for something he didn't do (and who has an extremely well trained horse who doesn't know he's a horse, Comet).

John Bly intends to steal the orb (or "unearthed foreign object") from a special "gold train" transporting it back to Washington, but meanwhile sends some ninjas to kill Brisco County Jr. Fortunately, tracking the ninjas leads him to the Scarred Foot Clan, who were friends with his father, so can give him the next lead on his trail - Dixie Cousins (the lovely Kelly Rutherford). The trail of Dixie Cousins and that of the painter who painted the rock at the start also introduces Brisco to Amanda and her father, Professor Albert Wickwire.

Trailing Dixie to the mountains, Brisco has to save her from a runaway coach, but that nearly gets him shot by her boyfriend Big Smith's gang. Fortunately, faking being an outlaw (Kansas Wily Stafford) and saving Dixie's life keeps him alive. Unfortunately, a whole mix-up involving Professor Wickwire and "Pete's piece" leads to him having to take part in a shootout in the street which manages to take out 4 of Smith's gang (including Pete) and leaving Brisco unharmed.

Lord Bowler, continuing his participation as "bumbling idiot", shows up with Comet, who immediately identifies Brisco and ends up with the both Brisco and Bowler tied to a railroad track in the path of the oncoming train. Fortunately, after Brisco escapes, he can use Professor Wickwire's experimental rocket to catch up with the train. After a short fight, Big Smith and the orb take a header off a bridge (and we have to assume Smith doesn't survive based on the shot of his 3000 dollar hat floating down river) - just as an aside, how come the big golden orb floats? County then returns for his bounty, but confronts the robber baron in charge of the railroads for teaming up with Bly. This wouldn't have been a bad idea, except that robber baron had touched the orb and it gave him incredible strength... at least until he went the way of the Nazis at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark... And that's all she wrote...

So what do we have? Some sort of sci-fi western comedy thing. Bruce Campbell is great as the titular hero, with Socrates Poole as his straight man, and Lord Bowler to provide the comic relief. Billy Drago is suitably sinister as the villain, John Bly, even if he has very little to do in this pilot. And of course, we have Dixie Cousins as the on-again, off-again romantic interest.

The sci-fi elements here (the "orb", the rocket) aren't too overblown - the orb mostly remains a McGuffin throughout the rest of the series, and Wickwire isn't in all that many episodes to come up with ridiculous science - so we're left with what's mostly a western, and it's got all the basics down. The gunfights, the oldy-worldy western towns, the stagecoaches and horses, the outlaw gangs and the saloons. It's all here, and played as a straight western for the most part. And Bruce Campbell's chin does a fine job of playing the rugged western hero.

[Previous entry: "An "Accidentally On Purpose" Addendum"]

An "Accidentally On Purpose" Addendum

[Previous entry: "Accidentally On Purpose - "Pilot""]

So, having now watched all 18 episodes, how does the show hold up? To be fair, it does mostly manage to find its feet - jokes that are actually funny manage to show up once or twice an episode; the characters turn into real people (well, mostly - Davis doesn't, but then if you're looking for a stoner man-child, you don't really expect anything more than stoner man-child); and the storyline ticks along through Billie's pregnancy and her and Zack's romance in the ways you'd expect it to.

Cancelling it, however, was probably the smartest move; I'm not sure the show really had anywhere else to go once the baby was born and the pair of them agreed to get married. Olivia and Davis' romance was obviously never going to go beyond the stage of convenient joke; Abby and her husband were just dull, and their neuroses weren't funny; and they'd mostly managed to write out Billie's workplace by the end.

Overall, a vaguely entertaining diversion, but nothing really to recommend it.

[Previous entry: "Accidentally On Purpose - "Pilot""]

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Accidentally On Purpose - "Pilot"

[Previous entry: "The 4400 - "Pilot""]

A rapidly cancelled comedy from 2009 is next up on my list... not sure why it got cancelled at present...

Aspect Ratio: Some sort of 16:9.
Audio: 5.1 Dobly Digital.

Billie - Jenna Elfman
Zack - Jon Foster
James - Grant Show
Olivia - Ashley Jensen
Abby - Lennon Parham
Davis - Nicolas Wright

Billie, 37, and a film critic for a newspaper, broke up with her boyfriend (and her boss) James on the Eiffel Tower in Paris when he fails to propose to her. One month later at the office party, she's hoping to get back together with him, but he's managed to move on (with Kate Moss no less).

Billie's sister, Abby is in a stable marriage, while her best friend Olivia is the man-hungry friend. Billie meets Zack, a much younger chef (he's 22), in a bar with his two slacker friends, and goes home with him. A one-night-stand later... or rather a one night stand and then a second encounter 2 hours later, and then we skip to 5 weeks later, where the pregnancy test comes up positive.

She decides its her last chance to keep the child, and although she expects Zack to break up with her, he decides he wants to stand by her and the baby. Unfortunately, as Zack's now living out of the back of a rental van, she invites him to move in with her. Oh, and now James wants to get back together with her... and her apartment's being taken over by Zack's slacker friends.

And there's a reason why this show was cancelled - it isn't actually funny. As far as I'm aware (not having seen it), this is pretty much a copy of "Knocked Up", the Seth Rogen "comedy" film from a couple of years earlier (which I suspect is no more funny than this show, but hey, what do I know?), but unless the TV show gets much better in later episodes, it's going to be a struggle to get through. Normally with a cancelled show I'd be raving about how much better the show gets as it goes on, and don't judge it by its pilot, but I haven't watched it yet...

I mean, Jenna Elfman's not terrible in this, but the rest of the cast haven't had a lot to do so far. Jon Foster's Zack is so bland it's scary, so they desperately need to flesh out his character better; the best friend Davis is just "stereotypical slacker friend" but again, we need a bit more meat. Billie's friend and sister aren't really any better - they're just there to show her competing desires (go out and party / settle down and raise a family) like the angel and devil on her shoulder.

[Previous entry: "The 4400 - "Pilot""]

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The 4400 - "Pilot"

[Previous entry: "24 - "12:00 A.M. - 1:00 A.M.""]

Our first sci-fi show is a USA network show from 2004. It's also feature length.

Aspect Ratio: Some sort of widescreen ratio, but there are no black bars, so probaby 1:78:1
Audio: 5.1 surround sound.

Tom Baldwin - Joel Gretsch
Diana Skouris - Jacqueline McKenzie
Dennis Ryland - Peter Coyote
Maia Rutledge - Conchita Campbell
Richard Tyler - Mahershalalhashbaz Ali
Lily Moore - Laura Allen
Orson Bailey - Michael Moriarty
Kyle Baldwin - Chad Faust
Shawn Farrell - Patrick John Flueger

So we open with a young girl in an old car; then the caption saying this is Maia, and it's 1946. And then the glowing light and she disappears. Richard, is in South Korea in 1951 and his fellow soldiers don't like the fact that he's black and he's dating a white woman. And then the glowing light and he too disappears. Orson disappears in 1979. And then there's the two boys drinking by the lake, Kyle and Shawn, and it's 2001. Shawn disappears and Kyle ends up in a coma, as evidenced by the fact that he's still in that coma in the present day, where they're talking about a comet on the news.

Kyle's parents have split up, his mother, Linda, is having trouble spending as much time with Kyle as his father, Tom. Tom's also hiring detectives to look for Shawn, at least to find some answers about what happened. Tom also looks like he's not been getting enough sleep.

Diana Skouris, at the Department of Homeland Security, is called in for an emergency meeting as that comet appears to be planning to hit Washington State... as it keeps changing course and speed, so clearly it isn't a comet. And every country in the world start launching missiles at the thing. They hit it, but it has no effect. Lots of "the world is going to end" frantic phone calls. But it's alright, as the comet's slowing down, and coming in for a landing.

Turns out Tom also works for Homeland Security... sort of... so is he on leave? Suspended? Guess we'll have to wait to find out as Diana has to rush out to the landing site. Big glowing ball hovering over a lake, rolls towards the beach, shrinks down to a much smaller ball of light, and then explodes, knocking everyone off their feet. But as the fog clears, there are now a whole bunch of people standing in the lake where the ball was... including the guys from the start, Shawn, Orson, Richard, and Maia, unchanged from when they disappeared.

Tom wants his job back, as he's seen Shawn on the TV, but he's had a falling out with his boss, Dennis Ryland, after only putting in 5 months work at Homeland Security after transferring from the FBI before his "indefinite leave of absense." He gets paired up with Diana (who formerly worked at the CDC) and they're one of the teams trying to investigate the reappearance.

Tom interviews his nephew, Shawn, who has no memory of the night he disappeared, and no memory of the intervening 3 years. That doesn't go down very well with Tom who wants answers about what happened to Kyle.

Richard meets a Lily amongst the other returnees - turns out Richard's girl, Lily, is this Lily's grandmother. Orson's getting annoyed about being held indefinitely and he gets a nosebleed, but Maia brings him a tissue before the bleeding starts.

The courts declare that the people are going to be released. However Lily's release leads to disappointment - her husband has moved on in the intervening 11 years, and he's remarried. Her daughter Heidi doesn't know her. But there is a bright spot - she's pregnant, even if it does appear to be immaculate conception! Orson manages to track down his wife, Elizabeth, but she's losing her mind in her old age, and his partnership in an insurance firm has been bought out when he was declared dead. Shawn's reunion with his family goes smoother, but his brother's girlfriend, Nikki, clearly harbours a crush for Shawn. Shawn's also the first one something strange happens to - a bird flies into the window and breaks its neck, but it comes back to life while Shawn's handling it. Shawn's powers appear to have a downside - getting into a fight with a school bully, he appears to start draining the life out of the guy! Richard's old neighbourhood no longer exists and he's feeling very out of touch with modern life. And Maia gets taken by a foster couple who get creeped out by the fact she appears to be able to predict the future.

Orson lets his temper get the better of him and kills the current owner of his old firm - he appears to make his brain explode, but obviously that's rather difficult to tell without an autopsy. Orson is held by the police, and when Diana forcefully questions him he manages to crack the coffee pots in the room. When he subsequently finds out his wife has passed away overnight, he causes another disturbance, blowing out lights and shaking a hallway. Tom and Diana manage to track Orson down to a cabin owned by his wife's family, but Orson loses control of his powers, shaking the cabin to bits and nearly killing Tom... until Diana shoots him.

Tom and Diana are worried about what other abilities might be out there, but Tom's keeping Shawn's powers a secret from Diana at present. Shawn meanwhile is using them to bring Kyle out of his coma!

It's another big cast, but it manages to give them all a decent introduction due to the length of the episode - it's clearly easier to pilot a show with an hour and a half to work with rather than the usual 45 minutes. It's also very character driven - they're clearly trying to tease their way into the "super-powers" bit (as only Orson, Shawn and Maia have shown any signs of ability so far) and they've pretty much left the big questions untouched - Why exactly 4400? Why do they appear not to be leaving Seattle in any great number? Why do they have special powers? Where did they go? - So there's lots of meat for the show to get into later. I should probably also state somewhere that this is a show where the big questions don't really get answered, as it was cancelled with a million plot threads still hanging at the end of its fourth season (some do get answered, but they raise more questions than they resolve).

The lead duo of Tom and Diana are mostly likeable, and most of the returnees are also played up to make you like them and feel for them; Orson's the most dislikeable due to his temper, but even he's played as if the things happening to him are out of his control. Dennis Ryland is the only one I actively disliked, but then I may be bringing bias from later in the show's run.

[Previous entry: "24 - "12:00 A.M. - 1:00 A.M.""]

24 - "12:00 A.M. - 1:00 A.M."

[Previous entry: "2point4 Children - "Leader Of The Pack""]

Onward with a Fox actiony drama thing that started airing in 2001.

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: Stereo

Jack Bauer - Kiefer Sutherland
Teri Bauer - Leslie Hope
Kim Bauer - Elisha Cuthbert
David Palmer - Dennis Haysbert
Sherry Palmer - Penny Johnson
Nina Myers - Sarah Clarke
Tony Almeida - Carlos Bernard
Richard Walsh - Michael O'Neill
George Mason - Xander Berkeley
Mandy - Mia Kirshner
Alan York - Richard Burgi

Okay, so the schtick here is that "events occur in real time" in Los Angeles. So why do we open in Kuala Lumpur? Okay, split screen stuff clearly important here. Lots of high-tech spy stuff - satellites, screens full of code, and then back in LA, the hook: an attempt will be made to assassinate Senator David Palmer some time in the next 24 hours.

Our introduction to the star, Jack Bauer, shows that his home life is rocky - he'd previously moved out, he's just moved back in, and his teenage daughter is glad of that even though she doesn't like her mother... more mother/teenage daughter angst? Except this teenage daughter who's supposed to be going to bed has just snuck out... and Jack can't look for her as he's got to go into the office. The daughter, Kim, is meeting two older boys at a furniture store at midnight... yeah, nothing can go wrong there!

This is pretty fast moving. Lots of characters thrown at the screen. Jack's colleagues are Nina Myers and Tony Almeida, and the actual hierarchy here is hard to tell at first glance. Richard Walsh appears to outrank them all, and he's the one who brings them the news on the assassination. And there's also the "there's a mole in the agency" bit that Jack has to keep under his hat. Wow, Kiefer Sutherland looks young here. I guess 9 years of crazy action stuff is hard work!

As an aside, what's "Division" anyway? They keep sending people over from "Division", but in the whole of the show, they don't really explain who they are or how CTU relates to them. In this instance, it's George Mason who's being sent over to brief Jack. And the secrets start - Mason pretends to call his boss but calls the speaking clock, so Jack shoots him with a tranquiliser dart, and then persuades Nina to help blackmail him.

Ah, creepy Mia Kirshner goodness. Does she ever play normal? Is it the roles she chooses, or does she only get offered the parts where they need "slightly creepy young woman"? And Richard Burgi (The Sentinel) shows up as the father of the girl Kim's out with, Alan York.

What's with the guitar-strumming background music? It sounds like I'm watching an episode of Deadwood rather than a modern spy show!

Ah, there's the reason for Jack's family tension - he was sleeping with Nina. He clearly has a type - stick-thin and sneaky looking. Or am I just reading too much into Teri and Nina's parts considering I've seen the show before?

Finally to David and Sherry Palmer, and Patty, who's their... what? Secretary? Ah, and another mystery - the media have some allegation about the Senator that he's trying to quash, and he's not telling his wife about it.

K-thunk, k-thunk, ooh, ticking clock... must be an ad-break (so no, this isn't really in real time as I haven't got the same ad-breaks as when it originally aired). For all the fast moving character introductions, there's a lot of standing around emoting. At least the split-screen stuff is used effectively to keep several threads running at once - both sides of a phone call as well as a shot of Kim, who the phone call is about.

Creepy Mia Kirshner (who's character may or may not be called Mandy) is the sort of girl who has sex in aircraft bathrooms. She also drugs stewardesses, steals ID cards from photographers she's just slept with, and carries plastic explosive and a parachute in her luggage! Hey, there's a bomb on the plane and Mia Kirshner's going to jump out before it goes off! She's lucky to avoid getting hit by exploding debris. But I guess that's a nicely explosive end to the episode... except it isn't the end of the episode, there's more Jack family emergency stuff going on and he tries to duck out to help look for Kim but gets word of the plane before he makes it out the door and has to stay.

Oh, and those creepy guys Kim's out with don't want to take her home. Tick, tick, tick, splitscreen, end of show.

So, what's to like? It's nicely fast moving, so even if one of the storylines (Alan York and Teri Bauer) is painfully dull, you only have to wait 4 or 5 seconds before they'll split-screen it with something you might actually want to watch. The split-screen stuff is mostly used in sensible ways here unlike in later seasons where it feels like the director sits around afterwards going "Did we have a split-screen moment in this episode? Better put one in... how about we splitscreen Jack Bauer on the phone with this other shot of Jack Bauer on the phone?"

However, for all its fast movement, they don't really introduce many of the characters. The Palmers get almost no screen time, so its hard to care much about them at the moment, even though we're expecting an assassination attempt on one of them in the next 23 hours! Jack gets lots of screen time, obviously, but the rest of CTU haven't really had a lot to do. Tony's mostly been sat at a computer doing other people's bidding. Nina's there to question whether Jack really should be trying to blackmail George Mason. George is there to keep a secret for most of the episode (where the tip-off came from) just to give Jack something to do.

And really, they should have ended the episode with the exploding plane. The next 2 minutes of Kim and the creepy boys and Teri and Alan and Jack trying to leave is just padding that should have been put in before the exploding plane so we don't leave the episode on such a downer.

Of course, any show with creepy Mia Kirshner in it is liable to get me to keep watching, but I'm not sure that's enough of a hook for most of the audience!

[Previous entry: "2point4 Children - "Leader Of The Pack""]

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2point4 Children - "Leader Of The Pack"

[Previous entry: "First Episode Reviews"]

And we're off with a BBC comedy from 1991.

Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Audio: Stereo

Bill Porter - Belinda Lang
Ben Porter - Gary Olsen
Jenny Porter - Clare Woodgate
David Porter - John Pickard
Rona - Julia Hills

So we open on two people in bed, although the woman is in something of a panic because it's Tuesday, and she has to chase the bin-men down the street as she's forgotten to put the rubbish out. Unfornately, plan B of putting it in someone else's dustbin doesn't exactly work when the owner comes out and mistakes her for a bin-man, giving her 3 bags of rubbish instead of just the one.

The woman is Bill, a put-upon mother of two, married to Ben, a plumber. The two children are Jenny, the sulky teenager, and David, the bratty younger child. Bill's best friend, Rona, is characterised as a man-chaser desperate for a baby.

The main plotlines of the episode involve Jenny skipping school to see her boyfriend, Ben having to perform a boiler repair but mainly sitting around winding up the owner while waiting for his assistant to find out parts are out of stock (and then going to a pub), Rona going to bars to pick up men, and a mystery motorcyclist that Bill keeps running into (literally) who tempts her with memories of when there was more passion in her relationship with Ben.

It's a reasonably brief introduction to the dynamics, but it gets the basics across quickly, and manages to be funny even if the situations are ones encountered a million times. Belinda Lang as Bill clearly has the most to do in this episode, carrying all the storylines to one degree or another, while Gary Olsen's Ben only gets a couple of scenes. Clare Woodgate as Jenny is extremely grating (although this might be the material), while John Pickard as David and Julia Hills as Rona are so thinly drawn they're almost caricatures, there just to drive the occasional joke.

The show itself ran for 8 seasons, although, considering this is a BBC show, that doesn't necessarily reflect on quality as they keep filming comedies well after they've become tired and repetitive. There's one cast change in the run (Clare Buckfield taking over the role of Jenny from series 3) although at present, I can't recall how much difference this really makes (other than hair colour). There are a couple of excellent later episodes involving Roger Lloyd-Pack (Trigger from Only Fools and Horses) as rival plumber Jake Klinger, and I have fond memories of the Christmas specials (mainly for the song-and-dance numbers at the end). However, this pilot doesn't really make me want to track them all down and rewatch them...

[Previous entry: "First Episode Reviews"]

First Episode Reviews

[Previous entry: "2006-07 Season: Part 2"]

In an attempt to start writing again, I've come up with a plan. Now, it's probably not a very good plan, as it was devised over a large quantity of alcohol, but nonetheless, it's a starting point, and I shall see how it goes.

So, the "plan"... to watch and review the first episodes of a whole bunch of TV shows. Most of these are going to be shows I've already watched (although that could be anywhere from a week ago to several years), so there's a good chance the reviews will be rather spoilery. The shows are also all across the board - new and old, comedy and drama, sci-fi and real-world, long-running and graveyard-worthy - but I've excluded animated shows from my list to try and keep it manageable.

Also, as I've not really tried to write reviews before, they'll probably be more than a bit rough-and-ready, and considering my tendency to ramble, not always on point! Hopefully over the course of this endeavour, I'll improve somewhat... at least before I get distracted by a shiny object and fall behind!

So, that list? Just under 300 shows, in semi-alphabetical order. I've shuffled things slightly so spin-offs come after the original show, and there's a couple of rogue boxed sets that put a show completely out of order but otherwise it'll mostly be 1-9A-Z. As to the "first episode", it'll be the first broadcast (as far as I can tell... I'm using epguides.com as my source) rather than the official "pilot" which might have been pushed back to mid-season (so, as an example "The Train Job" rather than "Serenity"). I'll do both parts of a two-parter if that's the case, or in the case of a couple, the mini-series that kicked off the series (thinking mainly of both Battlestars, but there are probably others).

Hopefully I'll actually get to the end of the list as it looks like a reasonably manageable goal at the moment, and although I'm not really trying for one-a-day (it'll be more likely a couple a day over weekends, and then maybe one or two during the week) I hope to be finished by year's end. We shall see...

[Previous entry: "2006-07 Season: Part 2"]


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