Caprica, “Pilot” part 1

Television, 2010

I watched the first episode, or first half of the pilot (whatever “Episode 1” on Netflix is), and was underwhelmed by this, ad I’d heard I would be. The opening moments- a rave scene that would have been cliche in 1997- set the bar low. You can tear it apart technically. Bad direction in the form of jarring shifts from wide to tight shots, artless, even sloppy editing and some straight-up ugly special effects suck the life out of anything good that’s going on here. Worst of all are the actors- all flat and without personality, certainly the opposite of the cast of the show that spawned this, Battlestar Galactica. (The stiffness among the cast’s many young members is especially cumbersome.) The shaky cam Caprica inherited from BSG doesn’t fit to me. We’re in a very different world from BSG, and it should be communicated in a distinct way from BSG’s singular aesthetic (If I were calling the shots here, I’d make them watch the trailer for I Am Love- that’s how you show bloated to the point of bursting society.) Still has the same great music though. I may watch another episode or two, due to my love of BSG, hoping they find a little more footing here.

Battlestar Galactica: Season 3, Episodes 9-14

Television, 2006-2007

Although it was fairly absent from the show’s abysmal second season, Apollo and Starbuck’s romance is my least favorite part of Battlestar. It seemed forced when the show first started, and now that the characters have developed into completely different directions it seems preposterous. As such, we don’t see them rediscover their feelings for each other. We’re just told that it happens, and they’re forced to act completely out of character in order to make it work. It’s hard to watch. A few episodes before this arc I had the thought that it was very cool how that particular romantic thread slowly disappeared due to the organic growth of the characters, and how much respect for the show I’d have if it was allowed to die. This section of the third season starts to slip back into the aimlessness of the second season, but more interesting subject matter is found to explore. It seems like we might be biding our time until the third season finale, when the actual story will presumably start again. I wish I could stop talking about how bad the second season of this show is. But I’m unable to shake it and am constantly holding everything new I see up to it to see how it compares. 3


Doctor Who: Season 2, Episode 7; Season 4, Episodes 8 through 11

Television, 2006-2008

Attention everyone I kept asking what a good episode to get into Doctor Who with was: The answer was Season 4, Epsiode 10: “Midnight”. It has a bold horror vibe used to rattle the cage of a handful of really well defined characters, resulting in something like a neo-Twilight Zone. I really can’t recommend watching it enough. The rest of the episodes were okay, the arc in Episodes 8 and 9, “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead” having some worthwhile moments, but it was all a little continuity heavy for me. I usually find continuity heavy genre fiction to be dreadfully boring. The writing can almost never support the weight of the gravitas, and the inherent silliness of the proceedings makes it even harder to swallow, and Doctor Who certainly has those drawbacks, but to a lesser extent than most. Also, it’s nice to see such normal looking women in a television show. Bravo for that Doctor. “Midnight” 4, Everything else 3


Battlestar Galactica: Season 3, Episodes 6-8

Television, 2006

Battlestar is good again, but still not as good as the first season. There’s tension again; it’s a blow every time a fighter plane gets damaged, but now it’s more “aw dang” than “holy shit”. But maybe that’s not fair. It would be almost impossible to hold on to the levels of tension, drama and even action of the first few episodes of this season. Not that it doesn’t have it’s definite flaws. A lot of the plot is propelled more by convenience than reason, and explicitly stated directly to the audience to compensate. I half expected Baltar to look directly into the camera and say “Hear that folks, there are five more Cylons” or Lucy Lawless to hold up a picture of the planet Earth with the words “Do want” written above it. One thing that never gets old for me is how deeply unloveable the character of Starbuck is. She’s selfish, stubborn, close-minded, mean and even a little dumb. And not for reasons that give you sympathy for her. She’s just kind of awful. But I actually don’t dislike Starbuck. I like her almost exclusively because of her complete lack of admirable qualities- I’m thrilled at her awfulness, every time she puts it on full display, which is like all the time. She’s so terrible it’s respectable. I mean, she is independent, tough and strong-willed, but even those positive qualities come from a selfish place. The creators may not have set out to make her that way, but they may not have minded that she ended up that way either. From what I hear the show was pretty organic- they didn’t have much planned out when they first started it (hence some of the retcons mocked above). 3.5


Battlestar Galactica: Season 3, Episodes 1 through 4

Television, 2006

Hey, this show got really good again. After a soul-crushing drop in quality in season two, the beginning of Battlestar Galactica‘s third season is, I’m tempted to say, just as thrilling as the first. I’m not yet sure if it has as much going on thematically, but it’s taking me right back to the first season in that I can’t stop watching the episodes once I’ve started. There are a fair amount of minor plot quibbles; “Why would they do that”type stuff that you feel like shouldn’t bother you. But really, if it’s so bad that it’s removing you from the narrative then it’s a problem. That never happened for me in season one. I was really impressed with the end of the second season’s bold “Let’s throw it all out and make ourselves a new show” plot apocalypse, but I can’t say I’m too surprised that the status quo seems to have been regained. 4


Battlestar Galactica: Season 2.5

Television, 2006

With the exception of maybe Twin Peaks, I’ve never experienced a drop in the quality in a television show as drastic as the second season of Battlestar Galactica. The first season easily ranks among the best television I’ve ever seen in my life. But the second season get so awful, that it took me about six months to force myself to drudge through the episodes. (I believe the writer’s strike happened in between seasons 2 and 2.5, so make of that what you will.) I would have given up on it completely, but I was assured by everyone who had made it through the series that it gets better again. And indeed, by the last three episodes of the season, the show does stop being a hollow space opera and resumes using it’s plot to explore interesting ideas of race and war. The last episode in particular seems to be an intentional reset button on the part of the writing staff. As if they said “Okay, we messed this show up pretty bad. Let’s make a new one.” At the beginning of this season I was fully addicted to it, by the middle I hated it, and now I’m cautiously optimistic for the next. 3


The Walking Dead, Season 1 Episode 1: “Days Gone By”

Television, 2010

I pretty much agree with everything Sean T Collins says about this episode here. Namely, the slow burn of the pace and the music being good, but the cheesy coma effect and music cue at the end being bad to the point of distraction. Gotta say though, I think they nailed it. 3.5


Party Down: Season Two

Television, 2010

The second season of Party Down is not as entertaining as the first. It’s not worse, it just isn’t as fun to watch. (But it’s a comedy, so maybe that does make it worse.) Although it’s only the second season of the show, and the first season was only ten episodes long, it spends much of it’s run trying to squeeze interest out of putting the characters where they don’t belong. Ken Marino’s character should never have been the boss, and Adam Scott’s character was the smartest person on the show. Take Marino’s undeserved power away and give Scott the power he deserves, and the characters lose their edge. The resulting misery that the characters face dulls the show down, and it was already suffering from the loss of Jane Lynch. I did realize another thing that distinguishes this show from most other Apatow-inspired productions though; it’s characters aren’t dull-witted man-babies. They’re intelligent, relatable characters. Advantage Party Down. Also, points for realizing that their low rated Starz original show might not get a next season and giving all of their characters happy endings. 3


Party Down: Season One

Television, 2009

Not inventive enough to be really good, Party Down is a fun watch if you’re up for killing some time by watching a par, maybe above par, Apatow style comedy. What Party Down has going for it that most Apatow-esque projects don’t is that it’s a tv show. So while it’s going to suck up a lot more of your time, you’re also going to become a lot more invested in the characters. Maybe not in a way that pays off spectacularly, but certainly in a way that will make it hard for you to stop watching episodes. Other differences it has over Apatow projects is the less recognisable cast (advantage) and a higher level of drama (which can be good or bad, depending on your taste). But like I said, it’s not edgy enough to be anything truly noteworthy. Everyone’s white, the two lead characters are the blandest, most attractive and most witty in the cast and of course they fall in love. The “will they or wont they?” factor is more engrossing than average here, even stressful, as they are both genuinely likable and have a hard time truly connecting. For me, it’s probably the best propulsion a show has gotten from it’s central romance since the British Office. The 40 Year Old Virgin really was a big turning point in comedy, for better or for worse. So if you liked the improv silliness of Virgin or Knocked Up or Role Models or Undeclared or Sarah Marshall or whatever, good news. Here’s another pretty good one of those. 3.5


Channel 101 roundup

Channel 101 is a great monthly short film festival in California, started by the guys who did the Scud: The Disposable Assassin comic book and the great unaired pilot Heat Vision and Jack. Anyone can submit an entry, which gets shown at the monthly screening. The shows are then voted on by an audience, and the top five are put into “Prime Time” which means that another episode is expected the next month. Some shows make it to the double digits, some are one hit wonders.

It started out with some pretty varied stuff, lots of animation, some weird comedy, and even some drama. But a particular style has dominated Channel 101 the last year or so. It’s a weird socially inept humor that embraces its poor production values and is usually Science Fiction to some extent.

Here’s a review of this month’s Channel 101 lineup.

 

 

YACHT ROCK #5
I really haven’t even watched this show since it premiered a while back, even thought it’s pretty much been number one since it started. The first episode seemed pretty lame to me, and I never gave it another chance. It seemed like an SNL skit, and about as funny. Even after watching this episode I’m not entirely sure what the premise is, but I think it’s some sort of VH1 Behind the Music parody thing.

All that said, I was surprised to find out that this was pretty funny. The plot involves Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen trying to kill smooth rock forever because hard rock gets them more pussy. I don’t know if this was me suffering for not seeing the previous episodes, but I got pretty lost after that. Vincent Price comes along and summons a ghost… just watch it, it’s pretty funny. It’s pretty much just humorous pop culture references, but they’re pretty good ones (and not stuff we’ve heard a million times).

 

Writing: 7 Direction: 6 Acting: 7 Visuals: 7 Humor: 7 Obligatory Michael Jackson child molestation joke: 1 Overall: 7

 

 

THE WASTELANDER #2
This show is so good it’s unbelievable. The costumes and special effects are numerous and look great. The direction is very effective, there are moments where you feel emotions other than humor (anticipation, nervousness, fear). This show’s plot borrows heavily from Mad Max, but gives the Max character a proper gentlemen of a servant. Despite the fact that they live in a wasteland, they live in a pretty nice looking suburban home. In this episode The Wastelander’s servant becomes unsure of the Wastelander’s intentions, due to the advice of some spooooooky viiisitors.

This show is so well done that it almost works against it. You hold up a much higher standard for it, and if it fails to meet it in any way, you might become overly critical. The opening credits seemed a little over the top, but I guess they were supposed to be. And too much emphasis is put on production value, and not enough on the humor. This teams previous show Utopia was hysterical, in a way that lets me know that humor isn’t their intention here.

All this really means anyway is that The Wastelander is in a class of its own, and it’s always hard not to hate the smartest fastest kid in class.

 

Writing: 8 Direction: 8 Acting: 9 Visuals: 9 Humor: 7 Overall: 8

 

 

 

THE MUSTACHE CONTEST
Uh, okay. Here’s a cute little cartoon about some sea life that have a mustache growing contest. Each animal finds a different way to grow their mustaches fast, until they are all trumped at the end by a strange visitor. The art is simple and cute, and so are the animals. They swear occasionally, and there is a murder, but this is pretty tame. I do like how all the sound effects are mouth created.

I don’t know how some stuff gets voted into prime time lately. Certain shows give me the feeling that the creators have all their friends attend the screening and vote for them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a terrible show. But it’s not the kind of thing I see getting a million votes from the audience.

(Note: After I wrote this review there were some discrepencies over who the true creator of this animation was and the show was removed from the site. The bottom slot was filled in by Roots of Justice… Schrab and Hartman still denied!)

 

Writing: 6 Direction: 7 Acting: 6 Visuals: 8 Humor: 6 Plausible facial hair growing strategies: 0 Overall: 6

 

 

THE WRIGHT STUFF #3
This is another show that has been doing very well ratings wise on Channel 101 that I never watched for one reason or another. And again I was pretty pleasantly surprised, although I do think that this suffers the same deficiency as The Wastelander- heavy production values and light on the humor. This episode involves Amelia Earhart falling into a vortex in the Bermuda Triangle and being transported to the time of the Wright Brothers. She unwittingly brings a bunch of zombies with her and the boys (along with a baseball bat wielding Theodore Roosevelt).

The visuals are pretty great. They did really good giving it that faux old film look, and the zombies and accompanying gore look pretty great too. There’s some funny moments, and a couple not so funny moments. There’s a robot head on the Wright Brother’s plane for some reason, who seemed to deliver all the worst jokes. This is good enough to watch, certainly. But I don’t think it would be very popular without the professional looking visuals.

 

Writing: 7 Direction: 8 Acting: 7 Visuals: 8 Humor: 6 Plausible facial hair growing strategies: 0 Overall: 7

 

 

CHANNEL101: THE MUSICAL #3
Okay, and then there’s this. It’s very very hard to like humor like this. First of all, I hate musicals. To the extent that I also hate parodies of musicals. I just don’t want to know about it. Second, this is a self referential show about Channel 101. A musical about the pressures and difficulties about making a show. This makes it really hard to like this show. Self referential stuff is cheap humor. It panders to the Channel 101 audience, and has little value outside of it. And it puts Channel 101 as an institution on a pedestal, which I don’t find appropriate either.

All of that said, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. This episode features Dan Harmon, one of the people who runs Channel 101 in a catchy little number called “I’m Dan Harmon and I shit gold” (referring to all of the great shows Dan Harmon has made). Dan Harmon’s performance and singing has some personality, and goes beyond the other actors who seem to be trying to make a straight musical. I understand that this stuff is funny when played with a straight face, but play it too straight and you are boring. I don’t not recommend this, but uh…

 

Writing: 7 Direction: 6 Acting: 7 Visuals: 5 Humor: 6 Overall: 6

 

Not a bad group of shows, I was pretty surprised by some stuff I hadn’t previously given a chance. To anyone who’s curios, here’s some of my all time favorite Channel 101 shows:
Twigger’s Holiday
Documentary: The Series
Laser Fart
It’s Twissleton
House of Cosbys (can’t find this one- they may have removed it again due to Cosby related legal reasons)
Adventurous und Magick Haus
and of course… RIP Most Extraordinary Space Investigations