Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Case of The Septembers - Part II

Now that I've run down the returning TV shows I'm looking forward to, it's time to take a look at the season's most intriguing new series.

Suburgatory (comedy) - Wednesdays 8:30pm, premieres 9/28: This one hasn't exactly gotten a lot of buzz or received any pre-season promotion, but it caught my eye mainly because it stars Jeremy Sisto and Cheryl Hines, both of whom were featured in the great movie, Waitress. I thought Sisto's performance in that film warranted award consideration, but it went shamefully overlooked. He was also superb in the short-lived TV series, Kidnapped. This new production revolves around a father (Sisto) and his teenage daughter who move from the city to the suburbs. I assume hilarity is supposed to ensue. Doesn't sound like an Earth-shattering premise, but I'm curious enough because of the talent involved. I have a feeling this one won't be around long unless it's REALLY good.

Up All Night (comedy) - Wednesdays 8:00pm, premieres 9/14: This show, starring Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as a married couple who become first time parents around age 40, didn't initially strike me as one in which I'd be interested. The teaser promos, however, looked pretty funny, so I think I'm going to give this one a swing. With Applegate, Arnett, and SNL alum, Maya Rudolph on board (as well as SNL creator, Lorne Michaels exec producing), there's enough star power here that this one might actually stand a chance of being a breakout hit (hope I don't put my classic jinx on it). But for good measure, it also made Entertainment Weekly's list of the Top 5 best new shows.

Prime Suspect (drama) - Thursdays 10:00pm, premieres 9/22: I typically don't like these detective procedurals. Never watched any of the Law & Orders. Never watched any of the CSI's. Without a Trace, Cold Case...the list goes on. Just not really my type of show. I didn't watch the original British version of Suspect, starring Helen Mirren. And I don't dislike, but don't have any specific love for the current incarnation's lead actress, Maria Bello. So why am I going to watch this one. Dunno. Maybe I just like the idea of latching onto a show for once that doesn't get canceled after one season.

Terra Nova (drama) - Mondays 8:00pm, premieres 9/26: This is, without a doubt, the most widely anticipated new series of the '11-'12 season. They've broken the bank on budget. They couldn't get the special effects done in time to debut in May like they had intended. And, although the program carries cred by having Steven Spielberg's and 24 exec producer Jon Cassar's names attached (and both closely involved), there are virtually no name stars to back that up. Stephen Lang, who did a great job as a villain in Avatar, will be the most familiar face here, and that's not saying much. So, the spotlight is definitely on this sci-fi adventure series, which starts out in a bleak future, and follows a Chicago family, along with others, who are selected to travel back in time to the prehistoric era to have a chance to start life fresh. Should be an interesting ride. Could this be the new Lost?

A Gifted Man - Fridays 8:00pm, premieres 9/23: Starting out your TV run on Fridays never bodes well. Very few series survive here, and it's not exactly seen as a big vote of confidence from the network. But, this is CBS, and last year's freshman entry, Blue Bloods, did OK on Fridays, so maybe they can pull it off again. This one stars Patrick Wilson as a neurosurgeon who suddenly starts receiving visits from his dead ex-wife. It's supposed to be some kind of emotional and spiritual journey story, which is not really the type I usually flock to. But, once again, it's the lead actor bringing me to the table here. After a masterful performance as a creepy pedophile-type in the deeply disturbing but riveting film, Hard Candy, Wilson has strong acting bona fides in my book. He also gave great performances in the vastly underrated Passengers, the serviceable Lakeview Terrace, and the boring (in my opinion) Insidious. So I'm definitely curious to see how that film resume translates to the small screen.

Person of Interest - Thursdays 9:00pm, premieres 9/22: Another entry on EW's Top 5 best new shows list, this one stars Ben Linus...er...I mean Michael Emerson, and Jesus Christ...er...I mean Jim Caviezel, and was created by J.J. Abrams, who continues to rack up the hits (Felicity, Alias, Lost, Fringe, Cloverfield, Star Trek). Academy Award nominee, Taraji P. Henson rounds out the cast, so there is massive star power here. The premise - Caviezel is a supposed-to-be-dead CIA operative who is recruited by a billionaire (Emerson), who developed a technology that allows him to predict when crimes are going to happen. He enlists Caviezel's character to stop those crimes from taking place. It does borrow a page from the Tom Cruise film, Minority Report, but hopefully Person of Interest will sport the same originality as previous Abrams projects.

2 Broke Girls - Mondays 9:30pm, premieres 9/19: Two words...Kat Dennings.

So that's it. My take on the upcoming television season. All I can say is, thank God for DVR. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Case of The Septembers - Part I

September is always a fun time for entertainment enthusiasts. All of their favorite TV shows return for new seasons, exciting new ones debut, and the action ramps up at the cinema as movie studios start churning out their Oscar season hopefuls. I definitely come down with a case of The Septembers each year, which is a good thing. So, my next three blog posts are dedicated to those TV and Film selections that I'm most highly anticipating.

TV Season 2011-2012

My list of TV shows I'm eagerly awaiting includes 6 returning from last year, 7 new entries, and 1 experiencing an unlikely resurrection after an 11 year hiatus.

Fringe - Not exactly sure why I've hung onto this sometimes intriguing, sometimes lackluster sci-fi adventure for so long, but I guess there's no turning back now. After a real wackjob of an ending to its third season, it will at least be interesting to see where Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson and company go from here.

Big Bang Theory - Hands down, the funniest show on TV the past few years. When I originally saw the pilot episode, I thought it was hilarious, but also figured the series would suffer from being a "one-joke show." But, the writers have managed to keep the gang of geeks play video games/hot neighbor thing fresh after four years,  and will hopefully continue to do so at least through 2014, which is when the show has currently been renewed through.

Modern Family - Only because of the aforementioned Theory, this is, hands down, the 2nd funniest show on TV. Great cast, great writing, although the whole thing about wrapping up many of the episodes with a schmaltzy, "this is the theme of this episode" voice-over, gets a little old sometimes.

Harry's Law - I was somewhat surprised that this show got picked up for a 2nd season. It was a mid-season entry last year, and I don't know anyone else who watches it. But I think Kathy Bates is awesome in the lead, and so far the show has a good balance of drama and humor. Not sure how long this one will be around though.

The Good Wife - This series is in danger of devolving into a drippy, forbidden love story. Their version of the Ross and Rachel, "Will they or won't they" scenario, with the Will and Alicia characters, is just about as boring as I could imagine. The show made some serious missteps in my opinion, last season. But, I'm definitely eager to watch the showdown that occurs in the wake of Kalinda's betrayal of Alicia ending Season 2. Juliana Margulies (Alicia) and Archie Punjabi (Kalinda) are two of the best actresses around. I'd probably watch Margulies in just about anything.

The Walking Dead - I'm not so much eagerly anticipating the return of this American Movie Classics series, as I am just wondering what's going to happen. Once I find out, I'm not sure how much longer I'll stay tuned. In fact, as I'm writing this, I'm starting to wonder if I want to continue watching at all. How do you create a show, run it for only 6 episodes, and then make viewers wait nearly a year for Season 2? This better be damn good.

Beavis & Butthead - It's official. After months of news releases, interviews with Mike Judge, etc., October 27th has been announced as the 2011 season premiere date for the long-absent MTV animated series. This will mark the first time I have been excited about turning on MTV in 11 years...the last time a new episode aired. It's about time these fartknockers came back. This is gonna RULE!!

I run down my list of new shows to watch in A Case of The Septembers - Part II...

Monday, September 5, 2011

REVIEW: The Hunger Games

So I did something I practically never do; I jumped on the bandwagon of a completely over-hyped pop culture phenomenon. I read The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. Typically, I won't read or watch something that has sucked in the masses and been discussed in every major (and some not so major) media vehicle. By that time, I feel that I'm only going to be set up for disappointment. Games did a relatively good job of reminding me why I feel that way. I'm not saying it was a bad book. I'm just saying that there was nothing overly compelling about it, and I'm not really sure what warrants all the hoopla.

The story takes place in the future (ooooh...how mysterious), where the nation of Panem has risen from the ashes of North America. Supposedly, a barrage of natural disasters resulted in the extinction of the former, while the creation of the latter led to the country being divided into 13 districts, "which brought peace and prosperity to its citizens." Subsequently, there was a rebellion of the 13 districts against the governing body of The Capitol, which saw the complete destruction of District 13, and the creation of the annual Hunger Games competition, during which 2 teenagers from each of the remaining Districts are forced to battle to the death until the last one is standing. This leads me to my first issue with The Hunger Games. It's never clarified why there was a nationwide rebellion if all of Panem had been enjoying an extended period of peace and prosperity. If you and everyone you knew were prospering your entire lives, would you rebel against your government? Granted, it's possible this is addressed in one of the subsequent two books, but even if it is, the first novel in a series is supposed to lay the groundwork. That piece of history not being explained at the outset prevented me from believing the entire premise of the story, which is never a good thing.

My second issue with Games, is that, despite the central focus of the story being the intense and bloody battle amongst the 24 contestants (called "tributes") in the aforementioned competition, very little time is spent describing the moments when each tribute dies. I suppose Collins avoids this for obvious reasons, but if you're writing a violent story, you're going to have to include violent aspects of the narrative.

Next, one of the supposed dramatic aspects of the story is that the main character, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, is torn between her growing feelings for Peeta, the other contestant selected from her district, and the fact that at least one of them is eventually going to have to die. The problem is, the budding romance is boring. The real engaging part of the book is the battle for survival, and Collins completely overshadows that with this drippy, bland relationship.

One of the things Collins does well is building the non-romantic relationships in the book. Katniss' affection for her 12-year-old sister, Primrose is sweet and believable. There's a really emotional aspect of that relationship that I will not discuss here, so as not to reveal a critical turning point in the story, but suffice it to say, Katniss' love for Prim, and to some extent, their mother as well, is a central driving force in her determination to defy the odds and win the Hunger Games.

However, this positive aspect of the story also leads to the final, and most grievous flaw of The Hunger Games. 

--SPOILER (but not really) ALERT BELOW--

Since it won't be a huge shock to anyone to find out that Katniss survives the competition, I feel it's safe to mention this here. As with the majority of stories, be them novels or films or what have you, Collins completely fumbles the climax. There is an interesting twist, but it's somewhat predictable, and doesn't compensate for the fact that the description of the final moments of the Hunger Games competition and the immediate aftermath is extremely dissatisfying. In particular, Katniss' emotional response to her victory is simply not believable. Here's someone who never thought she stood a chance, who firmly believed she was facing her last days on Earth, and her reaction, in this blogger's humble opinion, belied that reality. Lastly, Collins never describes Katniss' reunion with her family. What should have been the single most dramatic moment of the story was not even included! I neglected to mention that all of the citizens of Panem are forced to watch the competition on TV, so Katniss' mother and sister have been following her travails the entire way. And we don't get to see their reaction when they first get to embrace their loved one, knowing she's overcome incredible odds to survive?

There were some other intriguing characters and aspects of the story, but overall, the problems I mentioned detracted too much from my reading experience. I don't even think I will be compelled to read the subsequent novels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, to follow the subsequent adventures of Katniss. As for the Hollywood adaptation, how do I resist the urge to see Jennifer Lawrence on screen? Well, I've barely seen any of Jessica Alba's movies, so I suppose logic can prevail here as well.

Now that I've gotten a taste for what happens when I jump on a proverbial bandwagon, I don't feel as left out for not having read or seen any of the Twilights, Harry Potters or Lord of the Rings. OK, so I didn't really feel left out anyway, but you get my point.