On the recommendation of my sister-in-law, my wife and I checked out the new Hawaii Five-0. I had never seen the original series but my wife had and enjoyed it. She was quite excited about this new version. We tried the episode entitled “Pahele” from season two. Sadly, we both found it a rather pathetic, by-the-numbers police procedural. The plot from this episode involved a school bus full of children being hijacked by drug runners. They were wanting to exchange the kids for the drugs that the Five-0 squad had recently confiscated. In the end, the goals of the drug runners was a bit more complicated than this, but the episode was so unengaging that neither of us really felt pulled in to the conflict. In fact, I was quite surprised that the method of the criminals was similar to an old episode of Millennium in which a group of school children were kidnapped and buried by a man who sees himself as part of an apocalyptic prophecy. As I think back on it, that story seemed similarly uninteresting and rote, so maybe stories about hijacked school buses are just a bad idea.
But along with the tedious plot, the actors didn’t seem to perform. In some scenes they appeared quite uncharismatic, almost as if the actors had just showed up to read their lines. Maybe there was a good catered buffet just out of shot and everyone wanted the episode to wrap as soon as possible. Many of the performances were wooden and dry and the whole experience was mind-boggling. If this was indicative of the show, then it looked to be horrible.
Now in fairness, the scenes with Terry O’Quinn were good. His character was helping McGarrett investigate some secret about McGarrett’s father. But these scenes added up to less than five minutes of the episode, and as compelling as they were, they didn’t really work to draw us back.
The next night we decided to give the show another chance and bought the pilot episode from iTunes. The difference between these two episodes left me speechless. The plot was interesting, the characters (and actors) seemed to be enjoying themselves. Even the banter between McGarrett and Danny was fun to watch, something that was completely missing from “Pahele”. The pilot was a show that I would willingly go back to, whereas “Pahele” wasn’t.
Final Verdict: Perhaps if Amazon ever has the first season on sale for $20, I’ll check out more episodes. Or if my wife wants to buy more herself. Either way, I’d like to see where the show goes, but I confess that I probably won’t go out of my way to pursue it.
Written by Remi Aubuchon and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Jeffrey Reiner
After his daughter Zoe is killed in a terrorist bombing by a rogue monotheistic group, Daniel Greystone discovers a virtual club in the holoband with a hidden, self-aware copy of Zoe.
“You can’t download a personality. There’s no way to translate the data. But the information being held in our heads is available in other databases. People leave more than footprints as they travel through life.”
Okay, how do I review a pilot as dense as this. I had difficulty coming up with the synopsis at the start of this blog. There is an incredible amount of world and character building and to pay any sort of justice to it I may have to go on for pages and pages. But don’t worry, I won’t. I’m not patient enough.
Caprica is just the kick in the pants that American sci-fi television needed. It was intellectual. It had compelling characters, amazing world-building, and was extremely high-concept. In typical fashion, it was cancelled mid-season. This is not a show with space battles. It is not a show with military action. Instead, it focuses on human drama and philosophical questions. It seeks to analyze religious tension in an otherwise secular society. The pilot begins the exploration of the relationship between technology and identity. One of the concepts that comes out quite strongly in the pilot is that of identity and life. If a purely digital creation has the memories and personality of a living person, is this creation alive? It is more than an avatar for it is not a mere representation. This digital person can think, can speak, she is totally self-aware. All she lacks is a physical body. And the bigger question . . . does it even matter if she is alive? Wouldn’t our reactions to her make her as good as alive?
At it’s core, Caprica is a prequel series. It takes place prior to the events of the Battlestar Galactica reboot that I absolutely loved. Caprica expounds more upon the society that gave rise to the Cylons. It hints at the religious nature of the conflicts and the introduction of a monotheistic cult to a fiercely polythiestic society. This is one aspect of BSG that I have enjoyed: the exploration of religion. It seems that much modern televised science fiction either treats religion as superstition, aliens manipulating humanity, or as outright ridiculous. It seems that on television, science fiction rarely approaches religion objectively. And for a genre that seems to skew somewhat athiest, I totally understand. But I enjoy when a show deals with religion honestly. Babylon 5 did. Russell T. Davies did in small ways on occasion with Doctor Who. And Battlestar Galactica ticked off a lot of fans by having the religious elements play heavily into the ending of the show. This element is repeated in Caprica as we find events being manipulated by either an unknown force or group.
The world-building in Caprica is wonderful. We are able to finally see the society that was destroyed in the Battlestar Galactica miniseries. It is more technologically advanced than our world, but it is still recognizable. The pilot begins to show the shaky relationships between the twelve colonies (planets) and how the twelve groups see one another. There are prejudices, idealism, and ethnicity. As I mentioned before, this isn’t a show that deals with battles and action, it deals with relationship. It explores a society.
The two main characters are Daniel Greystone and Joseph Adama. Both men lose family members in a terrorist bombing. Adama faces a life where he must raise his son alone. Greystone, inventor of the holoband (think virtual reality internet, a tactile Second Life) and scientist involved in developing robotic soldiers for the Caprican government, loses his daughter. But he later discovers that his daughter had a copy on a virtual club. This copy was being groomed for a great destiny, one that would lead the decadent Caprican society to follow the one true god. Greystone’s daughter died before this plan could be imparted to anyone. In this virtual copy of his daughter, Daniel sees the possibility of resurrection. And ominous hijinks ensue.
As mentioned before, the show was cancelled. I plan to watch the remaining episodes, but I am a bit nervous. Was it cancelled because quality declined? Does it remain compelling and thought-provoking, but then just stops with no closure? I guess I’ll find out. Regardless, I think the pilot is amazing and if you were a fan of the more high-concept episodes of BSG, then I think you will find much to like here.
I almost look at the first four episodes of Once Upon a Time as a courtship. Now that I have finally committed to the relationship, That Small Still Voice airs and I get the undeniable impression that Once Upon a Time is no longer trying to impress me and is letting itself go. This episode was as by-the-numbers as an episode could get and I can’t help but wonder if TVTropes was consulted as a writing guide for crafting an episode.
Let’s start with what works. The scenes between Mary Margaret and David are excellent. The two have great chemistry and their dilemma is an intriguing one. We know that Henry’s belief is true, that these two people are Snow White and Prince Charming. But what does that mean for who they are in our world? I’m sure at some point it will probably be revealed that the “real world” relationship between David and Catherine is a lie orchestrated by Regina, but the moral dilemma is certainly one worth exploring.
Henry was also fairly well written in this episode. For a character that I was initially apprehensive toward, I’m beginning to warm to his passion. And I truly believe all the actors in this episode did the best they could with what they were given. The problem, for me, is that the script was mediocre and trite.
One thing that irks me about this story is that we are given no reason for why Jiminy held beliefs contrary to his parents. A child’s view of the world is largely dictated by his parents. In this case, Jiminy should have been a smaller version of them. We are given no reason for why he felt his parents were wrong. We saw nothing that made us believe that he had formulated a stronger morality than those who raised him. Sure, we can tell a story in which he commits a great evil which causes him to change his ways, but the episode insists he was a good man prior to the deaths of the Gepetto’s parents. Apparently he was just a weak man. I don’t believe his character. I don’t believe his journey.
Then there’s the cave-in. I’ve read a few reviews that make a big deal about the connection to Lost in the episode. By this, they are referring to the Apollo chocolate bars that Henry takes with him on the expedition into the mine. What they miss is that this episode mirrors The Moththe seventh episode of Lost. In this episode, Charlie, feeling disrespected confronts Jack in a cave. The ensuing argument causes the cave to collapse, trapping Jack. Charlie is able to crawl through an opening and helps Jack get free of the rock that has pinned him, and the two later find another way out by following a moth. The experience empowers Charlie and he decides to kick his drug habit. It is also interesting to me that Charlie was the moral core of his band Drive Shaft. His experiences with the band caused him to compromise his convictions. And similar to Archie in That Small Still Voice, Charlie was led astray by family. While these two episodes are not the same beat for beat, they are very similar in pace and formula.
I acknowledge it is hard to come up with anything genuinely new in television (or any fiction writing for that matter), but you succeed or fail based on what you do with your version of the story. Sadly, this episode was predictable. The beats for this type of story dictate that Henry would not quite find what he is looking for, which means the final shot of the episode would confirm his belief to the audience (in this case, Snow White’s glass coffin). The cave-in plot was so formulaic as to be dull. I can’t help but feel that this episode, which was meant to be an episode that empowered the conscience of the fairy tale folk, was filler. The overall plot (The Curse) slowed to a crawl. The sense of urgency present in the first four episodes seems to have diminished and it may be possible that we can all sit around and wait for the curse to break now that Emma Swan is in town. And is it going to turn out that every resident of Storybrooke has had a deal with Rumplestiltskin? There was no point to Jiminy’s involvement with the trickster. This story of shaken confidence could have easily been told without him. But I guess if you are going to pay for Robert Carlyle, you may as well film him. Similarly, the logic behind Jiminy’s desire to become a cricket doesn’t make much sense. Why a cricket, Jiminy? “Because I liked them when I was a child. They represented freedom. I’m probably lucky I didn’t like houseflies or dung beetles.” And why does Archie growing a backbone cause all the crickets in Storybrooke to start chirping once more? Magic? Because Jane Espenson says so?
Jane Espenson . . . . The first time I encountered her was in the Battlestar Galactica reboot, and I honestly didn’t feel one way or the other about her. I loved the show and I felt she must be a great writer because I loved the show. Having seen some of her work in Torchwood: Miracle Day and here, I’m starting to wonder why nerdom seems to think she can do no wrong. Is it because she worked on Buffy? I’ll give her credit, the Miracle Day episode Immortal Sins was very good and one of the best of the series, but the rest of her work on Torchwood ranged from plodding to adequate. Is it possible that she needs a strong show runner to push her to do her best work? Should we blame Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz for this lacklustre episode? Is it the fault of the director for not excising some pretty bad dialogue and ramming the emotional development down our throats (“HE’S MY SON TOO!”) I know enough about television to know that every episode is a collaboration. No one person can take full credit or blame for a failure, and often times the final product in no way resembles what each person saw in his or her head. But this was truly a bad episode. It was melodramatic, formulaic, and just plain dull. After riding a high for three straight episodes, That Still Small Voice was a disappointment. It was unimaginative, and I can’t think of a greater crime for a series about fairy tales.
This episode killed the momentum. It offered up trite characterization and poor dialogue. It honestly felt like filler. It felt as if this episode was the inevitable “well, we’ve got to do something to fill the 22 episode order from ABC, so we may as well do this one.” If we get more episodes as weak as this one, I will not continue to watch.
Written by Cameron Litvack and Thania St. John
Directed by Darnell Martin
The one with mob flash dancing and bees.
I decided to give Once Upon a Time five episodes to win me. Best out of five. I’m giving Grimm the same, and so far, while OuaT is up by two, Grimm is down by the same amount. But to be fair, my dislike of Grimm’s previous two episodes isn’t as deep as my dislike of OuaT’s pilot. You see, I really want to like Grimm. I told my wife that Grimm is the show that would fill the hole left by The X-Files if you haven’t yet found Fringe. It involves outlandish, often ridiculous, murder investigations in the same vein as The X-Files. It can provide good doses of horror. And yet, as much as I want to love this show, I seem to keep it at a slight distance. There is a story arc rumbling beneath the surface, but I’m not sure where it is going yet so I can’t tell if I like it. I certainly don’t find it compelling yet. As it stands, it is a show that I would watch if it was on, but probably not seek out, which is a problem as I watch most of my shows on either DVD or the internet. If I get behind on Grimm, I would have to purchase the episodes via iTunes or Amazon, and I’m not sure I want to pay for this show. The fact that this show now has two strikes against it out of three episodes, concerns me. Again, I want to like it. With the exception of the girlfriend, I enjoy all the characters. I like the premise. I like that often the crimes have been normal human crimes committed by non-humans. I guess I just want to see more of the world. Sure, monster-of-the-week is a type of world building, but I know there has to be some amazing mythology deep in the story because The Brothers Grimm wrote their book centuries ago and these different races would have developed their own cultures and the Grimms would have created their own as well. I feel like we are only scratching the surface of the bubble of ideas, and not even hard enough to break it open. I want to see something bigger and more interesting than merely Grimms hunting monsters and monsters hunting Grimms.
I’m trying to be fair with the monsters as well. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel like I wasted my time watching Beeware, but when I was telling my wife about the episode, I became aware of how silly the plot was when you reduced it to its core. Bee people killing lawyers during mob flash dancing. Now, I don’t have a problem with that sentence, per se. I just couldn’t help feeling that such a premise should have been written by Russell T. Davies. It’s rather absurd, but that doesn’t mean it has to be bad. Grimm takes it seriously, which is fine, I guess. It just didn’t hold up to thinking about it. I feel rather stupid discussing the appropriate tone about a story of murderous bee people in the context of a show about a secret society that hunts fairytale monsters. But it still stands. What is the appropriate tone for a story about bee people? Do you play it silly and absurd and just make it fun or do you play it as horror and try to make it disturbing? I don’t think I have the answer to this.
Written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
Directed by Greg Beeman
In which we find out how the Queen got the curse and what she was willing to sacrifice to cast it, and Emma finds herself the target of Storybrooke mayor Regina.
“A horse? This is the curse to end all curses! You think a horse is going to do?”
-Rumplestiltskin to the Queen on her choice of sacrificial victim
Now I didn’t expect that. No, after a pilot that failed significantly to impress me, a pilot that made me want to revisit a similar story that I felt was better told, I expected to find more reasons to pick apart Once Upon a Time. I expected to find the show good but a pale comparison to Fables. But no, this episode completely negated the lackluster pilot, proving once more that one should never judge a show by its pilot.
The device that worked so well for the early seasons of Lost were the character flashbacks. The action on The Island would usually focus on a particular character and would be intercut with flashbacks to the character’s life before the plane crash. Once Upon a Time is using this device to great effect. I admit to being apprehensive when it first started, but Kitsis and Horowitz are doing great character work. Once Upon a Time is quite reminiscent of Lost’s first season. Characters are more important than plot. And honestly, I think that is a good move at the moment. This is what hooked me on Lost, the character studies, and it seems to be working in this show as well. Exploring the motivations of The Queen really helps us to sympathize with her real-world counterpart Regina. And because of the revelations in this episode, she is made into a tragic figure, a woman who chooses to destroy herself by pursuing revenge.
While I enjoy the flashbacks, I’m still apprehensive about the meta-narrative. I don’t mind the existence of the curse and the before and after worlds portrayed in the show. What worries me is that, given the trend in American network television, narrative cannot sustain a show long term. While Lost continued to work (and frustrate) by revealing layer upon convoluted layer, the narrative of Once Upon a Time is quite simple and straightforward. The Queen cursed all the fairytale people. The curse must be broken. Emma Swan is the one who can break it. Sure, we can spend a good part of season one exploring the lives of the characters we have met so far (The Queen, Snow White, Rumplestiltskin, the sherif-who better not turn out to be a wolf), but the overall narrative of the curse cannot believable sustain the show for more than two seasons, and I think I’m being generous with that estimate. What I would love to see is the curse plot resolved by the end of the season and a second narrative set into motion. Perhaps we find out that the fairytale world still exists and is still inhabited. Maybe Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin can travel between the two. Maybe the power vacuum led to some sort of takeover. Granted, the latter would begin to delve even more into Fables territory, but the point is that the writers should do the unexpected by changing the plot from time to time. This show doesn’t have big mysteries on the scale of The X-Files or Lost, and it shouldn’t pretend it does. Let the characters grow and be amazing while giving us story-arcs with actual endings. British shows do this more than we do and, surprise, surprise, it actually works!
So, where does this show stand at the moment. One vote for and one vote against. I’m thinking of giving it best out of five. If I still like it, I’ll keep with it. I don’t really have enough time in my life to keep with a “decent but not great” show. And at the moment, it could go either way.
Created by Stephen Carpenter, David Greenwalt, Jim Kouf
Not only is Nick Burkhardt a gifted profiler, he is also able to see supernatural creatures disguised as humans that have appeared in the writings of The Brothers Grimm that are not fairy tails but diverse races of creatures that the Grimm line has been hunting for centuries.
“I couldn’t sleep the last two nights thinking old Aunt Marie was gonna cut off my head and stick it on a lamppost…That’s how my great Grandma ended up you know.”
A second fairy tale-based offering from the major American networks, Grimm is a play on the “monster-of-the-week” format in the tradition of The X-Files and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The comparison is apt as the creators have worked on either one show or the other. The show may not be breaking any new ground conceptually, but what matter is the story telling, and from that perspective, Grimm shows some promise. The characters are largely likeable, and Nick is a wonderful fish-out-of-water as he finds himself awakened to a new way of viewing his family and the world.
The basic format, from the first two episodes, has been putting a modern spin on classic fairytales. The pilot involved young women dressed in red being abducted and murdered by a wolf creature. The second episode was a play on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, where the mother and son engaged in a centuries-old coming of age ritual that involved hunting humans. This show almost has more in common with The X-Files and Millennium than it does Once Upon a Time, and as I liked both of those shows, I’m certainly eager to see how Grimm unfolds.
The only problem I see at this point is the meta-narrative. This early in the show, while a meta-narrative is present, it isn’t clearly defined. I certainly want to see a successful monster-of-the-week format as Grimm could do this very well and provide some good scares along the way (something that has been lacking lately on American network television), but I think the show will need a strong arc to keep the format fresh. My concern is that it will either be too-arc driven (going the route of Lost or the most-recent series of Doctor Who) or that the arc will be similar to The X-Files where we have an overall mythology that gets revisited for about six episodes per season but very little progresses in those six episodes. Ideally, and I feel the same way toward Once Upon a Time, the show should take its time introducing the world and concepts, then have arcs that are smaller, resolving quickly but the consequences may bring about future arcs. This was something Babylon 5 did quite well. Already Grimm seems to be setting up Nick as a character who might shake up the old us vs. them mentality of the Grimms and creatures. He has enlisted the occasional help of Eddie Monroe, something that is unheard of in this ancient conflict. I enjoy that the show isn’t painting this conflict as black and white, but adding nuance. Some of the creatures just want to be left alone to live their lives. They are aware of the history of their people and The Grimms, but would just as well want to leave this behind. Unfortunately, not all the creatures feel this way, and wish to embrace the ancient battle. I can almost see this being an allegory of the conflict between The West and Islam, albeit an unconscious one.
It is tempting to try to determine which show is better, Grimm or Once Upon a Time. However, both shows are telling very different stories, existing is similar but distinct genres. Once Upon a Time is, at the moment, a quest to break a curse. Grimm is a police procedural with fairy tales. All comparisons are primarily either superficial or must deal with technical aspects, but one is not inherently better than the other. It all comes down to preference. As it stands, I’m not sure which I prefer. I like the ambition of Once Upon a Time, but I distrust the way American networks handle ambitions meta-narratives. Grimm may find an easier run as it is more episodic in nature. I like the X-Files feel, but have yet to be amazed by the show, despite it being a fun watch. But both shows have enough to keep me coming back.
Written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
Directed by Mark Mylod
This show must overcome two major obstacles if it wants to win me over. First, it was created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, both of whom wrote for Lost. Now, this isn’t a bad thing, per se, but while I loved the majority of Lost, I still am somewhat unhappy with how the show ended, and that taints my view of Once Upon a Time. I admit, however, that this is a small bag compared to the other baggage that stands in the way of my enjoyment of the show, and that is the Vertigo comic Fablesby Bill Willingham. While Once Upon a Time and Fables do seem to be telling very different stories, the basic concept of fairy tale characters entering the modern world is a common core between the two. Once Upon a Time deals with Maleficient cursing the fairy tale characters at Snow White’s wedding, a curse that forces them into an existence without happy endings . . . basically, our world. Fables deals with fairy tale and folk lore characters escaping their realm of fantasy after a fable character becomes a tyrannical emperor who conquers the Fable kingdoms. The exiles set up in a ghetto of New York and try to get along while hiding from the emperor. So yes, similar but different. Unfortunately, I really like Fables, and it is hard for me to set aside this enjoyment to let Once Upon a Time work it’s spell on me. I keep expecting well-dressed wooden soldiers to appear or for Bigby Wolfe to be lurking off to the side, cigarette in mouth. I also keep expecting Hugh Laurie to walk into scene and start telling blond jokes to Emma Swan. I want to play fair with you, Once Upon a Time, but you are making it so hard. Especially when I can boil the entire concept down to a paraphrase of The Sixth Sense: “I see fairy tale people. They’re everywhere. They don’t know they’re fairy tale people.”
But let me focus on the good, an that is Robert Carlyle. He is a great actor, no matter what he is in, and he works wonderfully as Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold. He dominates his two all-too-short scenes, and I look forward to the show delving more into his character. You see, Once Upon a Time, this is where you have a chance to hook me. So long as you continue to give me compelling Robert Carlyle I will continue to watch your show. You have a chance to win me over, but you have to do something amazing. I’ve watched your pilot, which is primarily set-up. Now hook me. In the meantime, I need to dig out my back issues of Fables.
Some people speak of J.J. Abrams with as much reverence as some speak of Joss Whedon. Truth be told, I’m not a fan of either. By fan, I mean that I don’t follow them incessantly. Whedon has done things I like (Firefly, Serenity), and so has Abrams. But just because these men have their names attached to a project, it doesn’t guarantee that I will follow. I hadn’t even heard of Person of Interest until a friend asked if I was going to watch it. Honestly, I didn’t even know the premise. I just visited the CBS website the day after airing and checked it out with no knowledge going in.
First, some background information. While J.J. Abrams has his name attached to Person of Interest, he serves as executive producer. Yes, he is helping shape the series, but it was created by Jonathan Nolan, brother of Dark Knight and Memento director Christopher Nolan. Jonathan also co-wrote both of these movies. He isn’t a stranger to the crime-thriller genre, and make no mistake, that is what Person of Interest is. The two leads on this show are Michael Emerson (Benjamin Linus from LOST) and Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ, The Count of Monte Cristo). This has led to many jokes about Ben Linus and Jesus teaming up to fight crime, which is an interesting premise in itself. The actual premise of the show sees John Reese (Caviezel), an ex-CIA agent who is presumed dead, targeted by Mr. Finch (Emerson), a mysterious billionaire. Reese was trained well in his government job and is an efficient investigator and killer. Finch recruits Reese to help him investigate “persons of interest” to prevent crimes before they happen. The only information they have are Social Security numbers of one person involved in the crime, either victim or perpetrator.
At this point you may be asking, “What?” We learn in the pilot that Mr. Finch was hired by the U.S. government in the days after 9/11 to develop software that can sort through all the electronic monitoring in the nation. Mr. Finch succeeded in creating a machine that analyzes phone conversations, internet traffic, security surveillance, etc. and determines dangerous or suspicious activities. The machine compiles this data and any information that doesn’t match certain criteria (in this case, high numbers of victims which would indicate terrorist activity) is deleted. Mr. Finch was tortured by the fact that his machine could recognize non-terrorist criminal activities, but the government didn’t want this information. Finch, as these stories go, built in a backdoor to the software, which gives him the Social Security numbers of people likely to be involved in crimes. Any more information would draw too much attention to the security hole. Finch and Reese must then spend the episode trying to solve a crime before it happens.
Personally, I love the concept. Granted, this show comes from the borderline paranoia that exists in post-9/11 America, a paranoia that is suspicious of any type of government surveillance, but the idea presents the good that can come from a society that is monitored so closely. I love the twist on the traditional “whodunnit”, and the idea of preventing crime, whether violently or by offering people a second chance. We see the investigator in Reese, his tech guy in Finch, and it looks like over the course of the next few episodes we may see a team develop. It’s The A-Team, it’s The Rockford Files. As my wife says, it sounds a bit like Batman, only Reese wears a suit instead of dressing as a bat.
The show has great potential, and I think it has the chance to live up to it with the cast and the creative team behind it. At the moment, the show doesn’t look arc-driven like other shows developed by Abrams (such as Alias, Lost, and Fringe). Sure, there are storylines that we could visit down the line, but storylines are not the same as story-arcs. It looks to be a show that can deliver well-crafted mysteries and I look forward to seeing where they take it.
Now if only it was available on iTunes so I could get a season pass. Person of Interest can be viewed Thursday nights on CBS or via the CBS website here.