Virtuality Moves Up

Has anyone else heard about Virtuality? Fox picked it up for a TV series, and they will be releasing the pilot on June 26th, at 8:00 PM. I’ve been following the project for a little while now, and it’s certainly an interesting project, although it is in limbo as to whether it’ll actually become a series or not. Originally, this was slated to be released July 4th on Fox, and this move might indicate that they have a little more faith in it.

Here’s how the SciFi Wire described the show:

The crew of the Phaeton is approaching the go/no-go point of its epic 10-year journey through outer space. With the fate of Earth in the crew’s hands, the pressure is intense. The best bet for helping the crew members maintain their sanity is the cutting-edge virtual-reality technology installed on the ship. It’s the perfect stress reliever until they realize a glitch in the system has unleashed a virus onto the ship. Tensions mount as the crew decides how to contain the virus and complete their mission. Meanwhile, their lives are being taped for a reality show back on Earth.

It’s supposed to be quite good, and there are a number of possibilities for where the creators can go with the storyline. It looks like it’s got a fairly big cast, although there’s nobody that really jumps out at me for people that I recognize. I’m mainly interested in this because Ron Moore’s the guy who created it, and given his track record from Battlestar Galactica, there are undoubtably some high expectations for this from other SciFi fans. Plus, Peter Burg is directing the pilot, and I’ve generally been really impressed with his work.

What gets me more interested is that while there will undoubtably be Matrix and other sort of cyberpunk connections to this, I’m really excited that this seems to be a completely original show and story. This isn’t a remake, adaptation or inspired by sort of project, and I really hope that this’ll make it to the TV series stage because there are so few good space shows out there at the moment.

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Ground Control to Major Tom

The US version of Life On Mars aired last night, and for once in the show, I’m incredibly disappointed with how they decided to end the show, especially after how this version was generally quite good. While much of the episode was quite solid and helped to wrap up much of the story, the last couple of minutes almost completely ruin the rest of the series.

Overall, the US version of Life on Mars was fairly well done. There was a bit more in the way of a coherent storyline throughout, and it had me guessing as to what was really going on with Sam Tyler throughout – it was somewhat clear that unlike in the original show, where John Simm’s Sam Tyler was in a coma from pretty early on, that wasn’t necessarily the case here, and there were a number of theories that Sam himself came up with shortly after the pilot, as well as a number of things along the way (usually explained away by the end of the episode, such as drugs, helicopters and other plausible explanations).

What is most memorable about the original ending of the show was the sheer conflict that Sam’s character had to go through – this was a significant leap in characterization, one that really would have been incredibly hard to imagine being in his position. In the original, Sam is forced to choose between 1973 and 2004, finding escape during a robbery, where he can return home at the expense of his friends. As it turns out, he returns home to the present, but disillusioned with how everything is done (and this is a brilliant commentary on modern policing), he jumps off of a building and returns to the 1970s.

In this modern version of the show, Sam has come across his father after his younger self is kidnapped, and everything winds up in Hyde, where his father is shot trying to kill him, and Sam finally is comfortable in the 1970s, when he wakes up. Not in 2008, where the show started, but in 2035, where he’s on a space ship, about to land on Mars. The entire show was essentially a trippy dream on the part of the character, in a very odd sort of Wizard of Oz type of dream. The members of the 1-2-5 are his fellow crew members, and because they were cryogenically frozen for the trip, his mind went elsewhere.

This ending really bothers me, probably more than it should. It’s an incredible letdown. I don’t know whether this is because the show was ended early, or what, but there are three specific things that just didn’t work.

Once Sam wakes up, we learn that he is really going to Mars. Like the original, the past and future have been blended – Sam was in a coma, and picked up things, such as Hyde, the doctors, and some other things and incorporated them into his fantasy while in a coma. US Sam did the same thing this time around, but went further – he picked up his fellow crew members and supplanted them and their personalities as his fellow police officers. While this is similar to the UK version, it falls far short – essentially, it was all a dream – every element of it, from car crash to his experiences in 1973. The original found Sam recovered and returning to work, where the viewers were faced with a stark difference between the way that police work was conducted, and even society, between 2004 and 1973. Sam found that modern times were far too sterile, grey and emotionless, whereas the 1970s were vibrant, colorful and overemotional, and that there were some important aspects to life during that time. This was something that was completely lacking in the modern version, throughout the show. Another, minor couple of points was that Gene was now ‘Major Tom‘, and the entire space scene just seemed really, really fake.

Once the 1-2-5 wakes up, we learn that Gene is really Sam’s father (which is really just too cute to be taken seriously) and that their relationship in real life was probably similar to what we saw in the show. Gene’s advice to Sam, which seems to have been the entire underlying theme of this is to “Make your home where ever you are.” This to me seemed to also be a major cop-out after all the experiences that he’s undergone. The entire show should be building to the finale, and help support the final conclusions – this really didn’t happen. From early on, US Sam has always seemed to fit right in to the 1970s, whereas UK Sam was constantly trying to find a way back home, because he was constantly running into problems with how he felt that police-work and society should work, and this was a constant issue throughout the show, which made Sam’s return to the 1970s all the more meaningful. Here, this was a simple realization that Sam came up with after a trippy dream.

Essentially, The Wizard of Oz has already done this sort of storyline, and has done it better. While this in and of itself isn’t a problem, it needs to be recognized within the show a bit. The UK version had some interesting references, but this show falls far more towards Oz than the original, and I don’t remember coming across any references within the show. The UK version did a fantastic set of scenes with Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s wonderful version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow at the end, which added a bit of weight and meaning to the finale of that show, where as this one had nothing that really added to the show at all.

There are some redeeming factors for this finale, which actually worked really well up until the Mars ending. Annie Norton was finally made into a full detective, but even then, this seemed like it was an afterthought. (In the UK version, Annie was made a DI in the second series.) There was ample resolution with Sam’s trip to the 1970s, but it was largely cheapened by the fact that he never really went there, even in his dreams.

Everything that made the UK show such a good one was noticeably absent in this version. This didn’t necessarily ruin the US version for me, but they are impossible to really compare. Taken in and of itself, the US show worked quite well, and I was happy to see that it was as good as it was – the characters were decently done, the stories were interesting, and it was interesting. But, I’ll always return to the original UK version.

Mysterious Ways

Earlier this week, ABC premiered a new television procedural that mixes a couple traditional elements of the mystery genre – television and literature. The show is Castle, and begins with a series of murders that are modeled after several in the novels of Rick Castle, a famous novelist who has recently killed off his main character of a popular series, and is working on another series. He partners with Kate Becket, a detective in the NYPD to help solve the case, and stays on after the end to ‘research’ his new main character, a female cop.

I love mysteries, almost as much as I love science fiction. There is something incredibly satisfying about watching the pieces of a puzzle come together over the course of a novel, from the initial crime to the discovery of evidence to the inevitable final chase that either brings the criminal to justice or death, depending on the author.

I started reading late, but when I did, I began with Encyclopedia Brown, trying to discover the answer to the puzzle before Leroy did, and shortly thereafter, I moved onto The Hardy Boys, where I consumed the books at a voracious rate, often hiding under the covers with a flashlight or reading by a crack of light at the door, to get to the end.

For me, Mysteries have always been better as books. There are very few good crime movies, although the trend falls towards television nicely, and weekly procedurals, such as Law & Order and CSI (although I despise that show and its sequels) are very popular. While in college and afterward, I could always count on the endless re-runs of L&O on USA, and picked up several other shows, such as Veronica Mars and Life on Mars, with relish, to see new stories.

My one big series that I absolutely love, however, is Vermont author Archer Mayor‘s Joe Gunther novels, now numbering in the twenties. I discovered Mayor with the book The Ragman’s Memory, and like other series, I tracked down as many as I could get my hands on, and devoured the plots.

Archer Mayor’s stories in particular are absolutely fantastic. Set in Vermont, they follow Brattleboro detective and his team through a number of Vermont-centric mysteries, covering a number of topics that Mayor researches for over a year. They are well plotted, with a number of twists, turns and cynical details about this place. They are constantly fulfilling, and I try to pick them up as soon as they come out (although I never got around to last year’s, something that is soon to be corrected). Mayor remains one of the tragically unknown authors, and his stories are easily some of the best out there.

The all time leader of the mystery genre, however, remains Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for his creation of Sherlock Holmes, the greatest detective of all time. I first picked up on Holmes while in London while looking for a good book to read on the train, and he quickly became a favorite of mine.

Inherently, novels are the best place to unspool a story. While television is fine, a book allows for far more time and space to build upon the details, and to provide a story that is far more complicated than can be easily put together in an hour. Law & Order has a harder time, as they only have half the time to find the criminal – the other half is spent on the legal side, which is similarly interesting, but not as fulfilling.

I think this is why Castle proved to be a good hour of entertainment – it combines parts of both worlds, at least superficially. In the pilot for the show, Castle is driven by the idea that there is a story behind the crime, that there are reasons for motivations, and that pushes him to further question the evidence and motives behind everyone involved. Doubtlessly, this will continue as the show progresses, with each episode being a fairly self-contained mystery like any television show. To further make things interesting, a couple of notable authors, James Patterson and Stephen Cannell, make an appearance, which shows that the writers at least recognize the literary element of the genre, if only by scanning the best sellers.

The show is further aided by Nathan Fillion‘s character, Rick Castle, who is both witty and intelligent, but very arrogant and self-centered. As Becket described him, he is a nine year old on a sugar rush, totally incapable of taking anything seriously. Fillion brings an enormous amount of wit and charm to his character, and I was laughing through the entire episode, something that I haven’t done in a while, as the drama department of television has been largely filled with cynics and far more serious and depressing characters. Castle is a fun hour long ride, and while it’s certainly nothing groundbreaking, it is a breath of fresh air. In any case, I don’t know that I’ve seen a procedural/mystery show that has really acknowledged the literary component of the genre, and it makes for a fun mix.

I hope that there will be more references to the literary world, here, because the genre does deserve that. The inclusion of Patterson and Cannell make me wonder if this will be a regular feature – maybe they will include Archer Mayor in at some point. How cool would that be?

Once Again, Heroes is Good

Earlier this week boasted the return of one of my favorite shows, Heroes. And when I say favorite shows, I mean the show that has so much going for it, but has really only had a single good season, and that was the first season. Heroes has certainly caught a nasty bought of the sophomore slump, and then some, for a lackluster season/volume 2 (Generations) and an only slightly better story arc that made up the third volume, (Villains) and first half of season 3. Heroes is now into its fourth major storyline, and it seems like the creators have finally realized what was wrong with the show. Too many heroes, too much time travel, too many unnecessary and pointless storylines all going every whichaway until they reach the last handful of episodes and things come together at the finale.

Volume 4: Fugitives opens some time (a couple months) after Villains ended, and we see that Nathan Petrelli has really gone to the dark side as a new Senator heading up Homeland Security. As Annalee Newitz points out in her review for io9.com the political side here is much behind the curve. The senator is saber-rattling, talking about threats to the nation, and while everyone is looking towards the old standby, terrorism, we know it’s not. We go further, to the point where our favorite Heroes are captured, drugged, placed in orange jump suits and sent off to a remote air base where they’re being transported somewhere else.

Science Fiction has always been heavily dependent on politics and national events for their storylines. The rebooted version of Battlestar Galactica could not have happened without the events of September 11th, and it would seem that we’re now seeing the repercussions of the Guantanamo Prison into the genre, as the heroes are dragged from their homes and detained, to be sent off who knows where. This isn’t the first time that we have seen governmental types taking control of capes when a couple of lawmakers realize the truly destructive nature that super-powered beings can present to the civilian population at large. Marvel Comics did it with the Days of Future Past, and again with the Civil War story arc just a couple years ago. The storyline is also touched upon in Watchman, which the general public will get to see in a month or so.

As Annalee, and most likely other viewers, mentioned, this feels behind the curve, better suited for the political events two years ago. I agree, but I have to wonder if this storyline was conceived of, at least in raw form, earlier on. Indeed, given the general feeling of the country in the months after the election of the Obama administration, which has signaled a sharp turnaround from Bush Administration policies regarding POWs and governmental transparency, the episode doesn’t feel as relevant, although as long as the Guantanamo Prison is in operation, it will remain so. If this had been the second volume, the numerous complaints about the show just wouldn’t exist.

This episode is in stark contrast to the prior two volumes of the show, and hearkens back to the original season. Season one took the concept of the superhero and brought it to everyday levels. Heroes weren’t people who were walking around in spandex bashing comical villains over the head and sending them to jail; they were everyday people who had powers, struggled to find their identity and their place in the world, something that is easily identifiable to most everyone. The following volumes were essentially mere momentum, with little to identify with. Fugitives represents a departure from that trend, and seems to reset the story and direction of the series. The episode feels stripped down, stark, to the point, while clearly defining the entire theme of the upcoming storyarch, while bringing in a foreboding sense of direction for the show. Writers from Pushing Daisies and Battlestar Galactica are in on the show and it shows. This new arch is back to a practical, tangible problem, one that is rooting in tangible and recognizable problems that viewers can relate to. This is what the show should be, and I really hope that this means that the show is back on track, that we will have a solid story arc that will restore this show to the levels of quality that we know it can achive.

House has Flatlined, we need paddles, Stat!

Watching this past week’s episode of House, MD, I realized something that I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about: One of my absolute favorite shows is in the tubes. It’s gone downhill so much that it no longer has the appeal and interest that was there when the show began five years ago, before exploding into a hit show that has gained incredible ratings. Far from this being a case of not having enough viewers to keep it going – this show has too much going for it, and it is essentially getting bogged down in its own popularity and storyline. The creative team behind the show needs to really rework the entire thing, or it will continue to sink, quality and story-wise.

There are a couple of things that can be changed that can help bring the show back into line with its former quality. The first is the stories and medical mysteries that the team follows. From day one, there has largely been a formula that most of the episodes follow. Cue patient, misdirect from a nearby person, patient collapses. House doesn’t want to take case, argues with Cuddy, takes case to team, is sarcastic, thinks they find the cure, don’t, House has revelation then it’s discovered that there is a rather simple illness presenting in an odd form. While this can certainly continue, they need to shake things up more – a lot more. Some of the best episodes have been the ones that don’t follow this formula, such as Grey Room, where House talks with a rape victim, as well as a handful of others. What we should see more of is a better focus on the actual medical mysteries and the cure, rather than the bickering of the team.

At the end of Season 3, House fired one member of his team, and had two others leave. This was a bold thing for a television show, to ditch most of its cast, but they didn’t follow through. For the first half of Season 4 had a bloated cast, with 40 people starting out on House’s team, which was fine, until we settled on the remaining three team members and Amber, who was still around through to the end of Season 4 as Wilson’s girlfriend. This worked, to a point, but the main problem was that the creative team kept the original cast, bringing in old dramas from the old team members, and generally crowding everything. As a result, there haven’t been any clinic visits to speak of, which was a great part of the first couple seasons.

With the new team, we have new dramas and problems, and much of what I really liked about the first three seasons has largely been forgotten or ignored. There isn’t as much medical information as it’s spewed out as team members work to try and overcome their counterparts, while House and everyone else attempt to try and figure out what everyone’s motives are. In my mind, it’s largely irrelevant as to what everyone is trying to do – it’s shallow, trite and insulting to the viewer. This isn’t good television.

House himself needs a lot of work. For the first couple of seasons, it was fairly easy to get away with the sarcastic, bitter doctor, but over the course of those three seasons, House has been through a board transition that almost left him without friends and a team, a gunshot wound, and Wilson turning his back on him, not to mention the various storylines with Vicoden. All of these storylines should have worked to improve and bring along some character development. This hasn’t happened – House essentially resets back to normal. After five seasons, it’s beginning to wear thin. All of the characters in the show are smart enough to figure out and prioritize exactly what matters in any given situation. House honestly should know, or be able to figure out what people’s motives are, and people should just be able to tell him motives aren’t going to matter, as long as the end result is achived – generally saving the patient or figuring out what’s killing them. Repeated snarky comments every time just doesn’t work too well, especially over five years.

Best Television of 2008

My top TV episodes of 2008:

10 – Fringe: Pilot / Leverage: The Nigerian Job

This was a bit of a tie, because both these shows aren’t all that great, but they are fun to watch. Fringe was one that I was really looking forwards to, and I’ve been somewhat disappointed by how it’s been handled over the season that I’ve watched thus far. Hopefully I’ll get to marathon the entire thing at some point. That being said, the pilot for the show was very fun to watch – it was interesting, had a fun concept and was so over the top that it’s laughable, but again, fun.
Leverage is a show that I’ve started watching because I like Heist shows, and this one is certainly one of the better ones that I’ve seen, ever since the show Smith a couple years ago. There’s a fun cast dynamic and some good hooks in this episode for future episodes.

9 – Big Bang Theory: The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis
I’ve been wary of this show until this season, and now, I’ve really gotten into it for some reason. The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis really takes the show away from some of the easy jabs at the characters and makes some room for some real character development at the end. Plus, the following quote from Leonard is just plain gold:

Do you know what this means? If I can get a healthy ovum, I can grow my own Leonard Nimoy!

8 – Barack Obama 30 Minute TV Spot
No matter what side of the aisle you support, this TV spot was a brilliant move on the part of the Obama administration. It consumed a news cycle of talk show, talking heads and really outlined the priorities of the incoming administration and helped put Pres/Elect Obama into the lead, furthering his momentum. I personally was a supported of the Democratic Ticket, and while this TV spot showed us nothing terribly new to supporters, and essentially reiterated his position, it was a good introduction to people who still weren’t sure who to support.

7 – John Adams: Join or Die
The John Adams miniseries was a very well done series based off of the book by David McCullough by the same title. This pilot episode demonstrated fantastic production values and is an outstanding adaptation of history, from the characters and casting to the look and feel of the sets. These first episodes showed the American War for Independence, a crucial time in our history, in a way that has largely been glossed over in a few short lessons in school.

6 – Lost: The Constant
This was possibly one of my favorite episodes of the entire series, where Desmond begins his own time jumps back and forth through. While Lost has overdone the lifes of some of the other characters like Jack and Kate, this episode really got into Desmond’s head and proved that the writers could still write compelling and interesting characters, while advancing the story forward while doing so, rather than just exploition on why the characters are the way they are.

5 – Battlestar Galactica: Revelations
Episode 410 of Battlestar Galactica brings the show to a point that we’ve been looking for for the past four years on the show : Earth. Four of the last unknown Cylons come forward to their friends, and Kara finally leads the fleet to the people, only to find a devastated landscape. There was a lot of emotion and storylines caught up here. Characters were not what their friends thought they were, and the episode represents a culmination of a number of storylines, and ends on a killer cliffhanger.

4 – Pushing Daisies: Comfort Food
I’m very sad to see this show go – it’s one of my absolute favorites. Comfort Food follows Ned and Olive during a cooking contest, while Chuck has brought her father back to life, at the cost of Dwight Dixon. This was the end/middle of a mini-arc, and it really does a fantastic job with both Ned and Chuck – Chuck with seeing her father return, and Ned for having his trust betrayed. And there’s a Colonel who’s been deep fried.

3 – When We Left Earth: Landing the Eagle / The Explorers
This year was the 50th Anniversary of NASA, and to celebrate, Discovery released a documentary on NASA’s human exploration of the solar system. This episode, Landing the Eagle, details the Apollo program through to Apollo 11, while The Explorers follows the remaining five moon landings. The footage here is absolutely stunning, and even includes interviews with Neil Armstrong. I get chills watching the landing.

2 – Life on Mars: Out Here in the Fields
I was very skeptical about the remake, and the first pilot didn’t leave me with any confidence here at all. But Out Here in the Fields, the second pilot to the UK remake, helped to allay my fears that this would be a poorly done show and showed not only could this re-make be a good one, but one that would stand on its own, with its own qualities. I can’t wait for its return later on.

1 – House, MD : Wilson’s Heart
Season 4 of House was pretty lackluster. The change up with new staff only marginally worked, and while we saw some new characters, they’re not quite to the point of Chase, Cameron and Foreman. The newcomers are interesting, but too similar, except for the fanatic character Amber, whom I can’t stand. This episode made me entirely rethink her character, but also saw an incredible amount into the characters of House and Wilson. These episodes of House are the best ones, when we see real development, and it’s happening fewer and further between episodes now. The last ten or so minutes of this episode are possibly the best minutes of the show that I’ve seen yet.

Pushing Daisies will be pushing daisies

Another one bites the dust, and ironic titles aside, Pushing Daisies is the latest wonderful and brilliant show to get axed far before its time. The show, which was the first one last year to be awarded a full season, was cut short by the writer’s strike last year, and like a lot of shows affected by the long hiatus, saw diminishing ratings this time around. The good news is that they’ve filmed through Episode 13, which means that we’ll get to see them finish up the show at some point, either broadcast or on DVD. The problem with Episode 13 is that it’s reported to be ending on a cliffhanger.

Honestly, while I’m completely in love with this show, I’m a little surprised that it’s lasted as long as it has so far – 2 short seasons. The reason that I’m surprised is because of the extremely quirky nature of the show. It’s out there. While there’s a lot to be said for the rush of genre shows such as LOST, Heroes and Terminator, Pushing Daisies is best considered a fairy tale. Where the other shows are fairly rough around the edges, dark and brooding at points, Pushing Daisies, while it has some fairly dark edges to it, is a light, bright and cheery show.

The basic premise, for people who aren’t familiar with the show, is this: Ned, an isolated, shy and nervous man, has a unique ability – he can bring dead people back to life with a touch, but only for a minute. Longer than that, they’ll remain alive, but someone nearby will die. If he touches those who he’s just awoken, they’re back to dead, and he can’t bring them back. He accidentally killed his mother and a neighbor when he discovered this ability (to be distinguished as something very different from the abilities of heroes), and as the show opens, keeps his childhood sweetheart alive after coming across her body. He makes a living running a pie shop, and helping a private investigator find out about murder victims by asking the bodies who killed them. Yeah, it’s a weird show, but it had such a wonderful sense of humor, dialog and quirky plots that made this something to look forwards to week after week. Unfortunately, it seems like it was just too out there for audiences.

I like dramas and science fiction shows when they go dark. Comparing the two Battlestar Galactica TV shows (the original and new version) and it’s pretty clear which one has the superior story, characters and conflicts, and since Battlestar, there’s been a whole group of shows that really go darker, which, as a story mechanism, is a good thing, because it allows writers to go places with their characters and really tell a good story. Pushing Daisies, on the other hand, showed that there was an alternative, that we don’t necessarily need a brooding cast of characters – flawed and neurotic, maybe – and that something can tell a very good story and be lighter at the same time.

An inevitable comparison to this show might be Heroes. Indeed, Brian Fuller, the show’s creator, worked on Heroes, and will likely be returning to it once Pushing Daisies run is over. On the surface, there’s the obvious similarities that there are characters with abilities that make them unique. Daisies and Heroes are radically different once you get past the initial similarities. The stories are more personal, not as interconnected or complex and at times, far more relatable than anything that heroes has done.

I’m very saddened about the loss of this show – it’s one less thing to look forwards to, and it’s so unique that there’s unlikely to be anything to fill its gap anytime soon. However, a shorter show-life means that the show doesn’t go bad – Arguably the case with Heroes at the moment – and I’ve been seeing that shows with shorter lives seem to be the really good ones because they haven’t had time to become bad shows. Pushing Daisies is a good, great and brilliant show. I shall treasure the remaining episodes.

Real Life Mirroring Fiction

The New York Times has an interesting article posted today about a number of startling similarities between the current presidential race and the fictional Santos/Vinick race in the television show The West Wing. When I first saw the entire series of the West Wing, I was drawn in by its realism and dialog. While it’s not a perfect show, I’ve been told that it really captures what goes on in the White House.

What’s interesting is the last two seasons, where President Bartlett‘s second term in office is coming to a close, and a new presidential race is coming up. In the race is Senator Matt Santos, a Hispanic Democratic senator from Texas, who enters the race wanting to change things up, bring a new perspective on Washington and goes from a relatively unknown contender, to a nationally known one after the first couple of races.

Sound familiar?

Similarly, the Republican candidate is Senator Arnold Vinick, who is a moderate conservative, who is direct and wants to control the spending in Washington. He’s somewhat anti-religion in government, and was a member of the Senate for a long time.

The similarities are deliberate, to a point. Santos was directly based off of Senator Barack Obama, when the show’s creators were looking for material. Sen. Obama had just given the speech that gave him wide recognition around the nation during the 2004 presidential election, and he was incorporated into the show. What’s interesting is how similar this presidential race has become to the fictional one.I don’t know to what extent McCain was used for Vinick, but I’m sure that there is some basis in his character, at least superficially.

A couple crisis’ come forth at the tail end of the election – a nuclear power plant goes critical, while a major confrontation between Russia and China puts US troops in action in Asia, which puts both candidates in a tough spot when it comes to their own plans for office. Here, we’ve got the Iraq war, while longer, it is going to cause some problems for the candidates, and the current financial crisis that has exploded in the past couple of months, which will further crimp some plans. Interestingly, I haven’t heard Obama talk a whole lot about education lately since the crisis has come out, but that could just be because I haven’t been following the news lately.

I will be very interested to see just how well this race follows the West Wing race. In that one, Santos narrowly defeats Vinick. Vermont turns to be a red state (which was odd, although not unsurprising, considering the state’s fiscal conservatism, which honestly makes me wonder a little just which way VT will go. I forsee Obama taking the state, but McCain making some good showing), and the vice presidencial candidate for Santos, Leo McGarry, dies of a heart attack. Hopefully, we’ll have one of those three actually happening next week.

Life on Mars Updates

One of the shows coming out this year that I’m anticipating and worried about the most is the ABC remake of Life On Mars. A little while ago, I watched the leaked pilot episode and was pretty dismayed at the effort put into the show. It was a pretty close copy of the original UK version (which is brilliant, and one of the best TV shows out there) but far, far worse.

Since then, things have been looking up, somewhat. Following the general reaction of the US pilot, the producers have gone and done a huge shakeup of the cast – all new actors, save for the original guy who plays Sam Tyler and judging from the pictures, they’ve re-worked a lot of the things that were put in the original for no reason, such as making Annie a detective right off the bat, seemingly to keep her around for a love interest.

Here’s a recent trailer that was posted up:

And, a clip from the show:

These new changes have instilled a sense of optimism and a little more confidence in me regarding this new re-make. I’ve been very hesitant to be hopeful about any remake of the US show, because the first version was so well crafted that it borders on perfection, and I don’t say that lightly. The acting, sets, concepts and scripts were absolutely wonderful, and I was at the edge of my seat the entire time I watched an episode.

What worried, and still worries me a little is that a lot of the subtle elements were seemingly being disregarded with this new version. I’m not so much worried that things will be changed up dramatically – I’m worried that story elements will be changed only for the sake of appearance, and not story. In the original version, there’s some sparks between Sam and Annie. In the US version, this seems to have been started right out of the gate, which seems very superficial and it’s something that could harm the show in the long run.

Most of all, what I appreciated about the UK version was the real historical theme that ran with it – for someone who lived in England for only a little while, I suspect that I’m just seeing the tip of the iceberg here. The original dealt with issues such as the introduction of heroin, immigration, IRA and terrorism, gambling, corruption, all things that were highlighted by introducing a character with knowledge of how things would turn out into the 1970s. Automatically, this makes the show an intelligent idea, and the same can be true of the US version, so long as the producers don’t insist upon copying every move. There are a number of differences between US and UK social history, especially when it comes to immigration, drugs, social order, etc. What I’d most like to see is something on US race relations during the 1970s, as well as Women’s rights, not to mention the various other things you can do with a crime drama. I suspect that there are a number of stories and story lines that can be done about corruption, immigration, drugs, homicide, etc. Using the show as a sort of social commentary, I think, is the original’s strength

The second big concern was that the characters would be retaining as much of their original flavor. While I’m not as big on some of the story lines, I was concerned that the cast didn’t have the same weight as the original cast. The characters here really made the show, because of their complexity, and the subtle cues that the actors brought to the screen. The original pilot had a decent attempt, but I had, and still have a number of reservations about the lead, Jason O’Mara, but from clips, it looks like Harvey Keitel will do a good job as Gene Hunt. Just so long as he utters the following at some point:

Hands up! You’re surrounded by armed bastards!

Fringe: Where Science Meets JJ Abrams

Fox’s much-hyped show Fringe hit the airwaves last night, a multi-million dollar pilot episode that combines some of the more interesting elements of CSI, Alias and the X-Files. The show is to be about an FBI team (and consultants) who investigate odd happenings around the world, fringe science.

The pilot is certainly one to catch attention – on a flight to Logan International, a man is panicky, injects himself with something and within moments, the passengers have been killed, their connective tissue and muscles turning to gel and oozing off, leaving skin and skeletons. Thus, the some of the key characters are brought in to investigate – Agent Olivia Dunham, who tracks down a warehouse with her partner and lover, John Scott. They come across the man responsible, but Scott is infected in the process. Dunham pulls in Peter Bishop to get his father, Walter Bishop, to help, as he seems to have been an expert in the field of fringe science. There’s some shooting, some weird techno babble talk and a car chase later, and we find the truth – someone is a double agent, and that there are things in this world that you’re better off not knowing, but while the band’s together, we might as well investigate.

This was a good pilot – not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but interesting, intriguing, entertaining and fun. I’m a bit of a JJ Abrams fanboy with his work in the creation of Alias, Lost, Cloverfield and even Mission Impossible III. As a creator, he has a knack for putting things together from really well known elements. Alias is a spy show, Mission Impossible is more spies in an established franchise, Cloverfield is a fantastic take on the Godzilla/monster-trashes-city genre and LOSTLOST is a bad example there, but you know what I mean. One of the things that I like about Abrams is the way that his shows and films are quirky, with odd dialogue, characters that are somewhat offbeat. In LOST, one of my favorite moments is right in the beginning, when we first see Jack – he’s a man in a suit in the middle of a jungle. It has a certain offbeat flavor that is very appealing. Fringe does this pretty well – throughout the pilot, we are teased with little elements and mentions of things that are sure to really make up much of the mythology later on. There’s conspiracy theories, especially around a major corporation, the improbably named Massive Dynamics, which shares connections to the elder Bishop, one of the guys behind the attack on the airplane, and some of the main characters. Scott turns out to have been threatening the terrorist already, and seems to have been in league with the company, if the order to question him five hours after his death turns out to mean anything.

Fringe science fits perfectly with this type of show, and has been touched upon a little in various other Abrams shows – Alias had its share of paranormal elements with Rambaldi and random doomsday scientists trying to do something. LOST is all crazy science stuff at most points, Cloverfield has its monster, and MI3 has the Rabbit’s Foot, an unknown pathogen or something. With things like mind-control, sheep circles, earthquakes, people waking up from a coma and writing nothing but numbers and children vanishing then reappearing later on, un-aged, fit right in with Abrams and his style, and the way that the pilot works, and presumably, the rest of the show, it should be a fascinating and interesting ride.

Most of all, I’m interested to see what will happen with Massive Dynamics – one of their employees is a cyborg (robotic arm), and they seem to have a lot of knowledge of the Fringe science area, as questioning someone who has been dead for 5 hours seems to be a pretty easy thing to do. The name drop of the Pattern is very typical of Abrams, and I suspect that they’ll have something to do with it.

There are some flaws here. A couple of the characters are pretty flat, most notably Peter Bishop, who has ‘daddy problems’ and is a little too typical of some of the aforementioned projects. He’s brilliant, attractive and annoying, but comes around in the end and agrees to help Agent Dunham. Dunham herself is almost a background character, but far from a bad one – she’s just overshadowed by some of the others in the show. Duhnam’s boss, Phillip Broyles comes on very strong and flat, but evens out a little towards the end. The best character is easily Walter Bishop, the mad scientist, with a bunch of fun quotes and a crazy drive.

One of my main complaints with the show is that some of this stuff isn’t new or breaking the mold with the other shows. Alias and LOST both have characters that are similar with ones here in this show. They’re brilliant, attractive, have problems with their parents, etc. A little variation here would be nice, and I’ll be annoyed if we’re back to square one with Walter and his son every episode. Similarly, the show begins with problems on an airplane. Where have we seen that before?

This show isn’t any of the other ones already mentioned – there’s certainly enough between them that they aren’t copies, and although there are influences, Fringe stands well on its own two feet with the setup of this pilot. We have the beginnings of a large, overarching mythology that involves weird things and corporations, and a set of characters that shows some real promise. This also isn’t X-Files, despite the numerous comparisons, and I think that a huge amount of credit goes to the writers for making this show its own thing, not an X-Files copy.

All in all, it’s a solid start to what is one of the more promising shows of this season. I can’t wait to see the next episode. One word of warning, – don’t eat before watching. Next week’s episode is apparently about a woman who gets pregnant and gives birth in a matter of hours, and the child ages very quickly – 80 years in minutes. Sounds very, very interesting. If anything, it looks like it’s going to be far better than CBS’s own Science show, the Eleventh Hour, based off of a UK drama by the same name.