Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

HE is legend

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Richard Matheson
1926-2013 

This blog wouldn’t exist without him. This writer wouldn’t exist without him. Richard Matheson was my earliest inspiration to become a writer. I devoured his fantasy and science fiction short stories in paperback collections such as Shock! (previously published in men’s pulp magazines) as a normal suburban child starving for something completely different. The first story I vividly remember called “Children of Noah” had a city dweller driver pulled over in a speed trap in a way out-of-the-way town, arrested, and confined in a metal box of a cell that kept getting increasingly hotter, until our protagonist finally realized he was being cooked by a town inhabited by the descendants of cannibals.

Smokin’ twist. I was hooked.

Then there were the infamous “Twilight Zone” episodes. Think of the most memorable ones and chances are some were episodes he wrote, including: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” where William Shatner can’t convince the crew of the passenger plane he’s flying on that a monster gremlin has been peeling back the wing fuselage. Or “Third from the Sun,” where two families desperate to escape a big brother government flee in a rocket targeted for a planet called… Earth. Or “The Invaders” episode, where a mute farm woman fends off the relentless attack of tiny spacemen with ray guns until she beats them and their spaceship to pulp with an ax and we hear their final distress signal calling… Earth. These perspective-shift stories might seem predictable today, but they weren’t back in the fifties and sixties when writers such as Matheson, Rod Serling and Charles Beaumont invented them.

My first published stories were pale Xeroxes of Matheson-style stories and perspectives, appearing in magazines like Creepy and Eerie. I wasn’t alone. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Stephen King and all the pioneers of our contemporary fantasy fiction and cinema acknowledge the overwhelming influence of those early Matheson stories. Spielberg even directed a TV movie based on a Playboy magazine story by Matheson called “Duel” about a hapless driver stalked by a maniacal truck driver along barren stretches of desert highway. These were stories derived from our own deepest anxieties and experiences – dangerous truckers on highways, fear of small town speed traps –  but played for maximum suspense and unexpected pay offs.

I have the original first edition paperback of his seminal vampire novel, “I Am Legend.” It seems everyone’s tried to make a film out of it, from the laughably race-charged version, “The Omega Man,” with Charlton Heston, to the over-the-top CGI version with Will Smith. The truest version is 1964’s “The Last Man on Earth” with Vincent Price. It maintains the ultimate creepy quality of the book, where the plague vampires flail with planks beating against your boarded up house all night trying to get in while you hole up listening to classical music on vinyl. That version preserves Matheson’s own devout appreciation and love of a composer’s music (he was a huge fan of Richard Wagner) as something still worth living for in an apocalyptic world.

I never met Matheson. I met his contemporaries, Ray Bradbury and Robert Bloch, at book signings at the Change of Hobbit bookstore in Santa Monica. I went to Alfred Hitchcock’s funeral (I first read some of Matheson’s stories in collections published under Hitchcock’s name). I arrived in L.A. too late to meet Rod Serling or attend one of his writing classes before he died. But I haunted the bookstores and studios that housed original copies of Matheson’s books, or that filmed versions such as, “Somewhere in Time,” “What Dreams May Come,” “A Stir of Echoes,” “Hell House,” or “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

I lived in the same city and plied at the same trade as my unmet writer hero and mentor. I strived to write stories with relate-able characters and good twists and I tried to have them turned into movies. I continually improved at my craft, but never attained his prolific output of published or produced work, or his notoriety. And I’m fine with all that. He IS legend. I remain fan.

A. Wayne Carter
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The Dark Night never ends

Monday, June 10th, 2013

America has been in a dark mood for a long time now and, frankly, I’m ready for some light at the end of the credits.

The history of America’s mood can be measured by Batman. He began in the comics just before World War II as a capitalist billionaire patriot crimefighter sworn to uphold justice in Gotham City against insane megalomaniac villains. This no doubt helped comfort young readers facing a world potentially overrun by Hitler. Just shine a beacon in the sky if you need his help, Batman promised. By the 1960’s, no one could take such one-dimensional altruism seriously and he was played for a joke by pudgy Adam West in bright Technicolor on national television. Crash! Boom! Pow! He was later reclaimed in the 80’s as a brooding, nihilistic vigilante in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series, and that’s the vision our present culture chose to embrace in a trilogy culminating with The Dark Knight Rises last year.

But this dark virus hasn’t just infected Batman; it’s everywhere. The latest Star Trek feature is also subtitled; Into Darkness. Talk about a 180-degree attitude adjustment. It uses the loveable, benign, peace seeking, optimistic characters created by Gene Roddenberry from the original series in the mid-1960s, but recast under the pall of domestic terrorism overshadowing their every move or instinct. Dammit, Jim, we’re supposed to be do-gooders, not a downer!

Turn on your television and you’d think the world were more populated by mindless zombies, hedonistic vampires and serial killers than anything resembling your ordinary family, friends, or neighbors. Psycho serial killers Norman Bates and Hannibal Lector now have their own prime time network TV series. What’s next, The Charlie Manson Family Hour?

Don’t get attached to any characters on Game of Thrones because, as George R. R. Martin constantly reminds us; noble acts are futile, justice is blind, and everyone dies randomly without purpose or redemption (but we’ll cut him more slack than his characters get until we get to the final body count by Book Six).

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan tells us the character arc that inspired his series was taking a mild-mannered teacher like Mr. Chips and turning him into a violent and maniacal Scarface. Congratulations, Vince, you did a brilliant job and certainly hooked me. But now that you’ve lead us into that dark abyss of Walter White’s mind, how about reminding us there’s also a way out? Rumor has it he wants to do a spin-off on the slimy, moral-free, self-serving lawyer, Saul Goodman. Here’s an idea for a twist: How about going the opposite direction with that show and taking this unredeemable ambulance chaser and transforming him into a respectable Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court by the end of his character arc? Couldn’t we believe that twist is possible?

I’m not suggesting our culture need return to the carefree optimism of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Happy Days, or even the truth, justice and American way of Superman. Shit, even George Reeves, the original TV Superman, blew his own brains out for some dark-shrouded reason. But, Jesus, can’t we have a little bit of sunlight as a cultural trend for a while; heroes who aren’t mentally tortured more by their own self-doubts than by this week’s villain?  (Don’t even get me started on the new brooding, bloated take on Superman in Man of Steel.)

Yes, we get it; life is complex, we all have self-doubts, threats abound. But do we have to wallow in this dark, brooding cloud as the only self-reflecting form of entertainment that prevails… and goes on… and on?

When Batman became silly in the 1960s, the world was anything but. Our president had been assassinated, bodies of our young men were coming back from Vietnam by the scores daily, and Russia had more than 4,500 ICBMs with nuclear warheads aimed down our throats with both our countries only a hair trigger away from mutual annihilation. And yet we still had the ability to not take everything so damn seriously, and laugh at ourselves and our heroes.

The people who create our movies, television shows, and literature enjoy the rarified privilege of making big money doing something fun that they love. So why are they so fucking pessimistic? Shouldn’t their output somehow reflect their good fortune rather than projecting some deep, often misperceived, collective funk?

Are they afraid if they actually show us the light at the end of the tunnel it might inspire or illuminate the way for us to create our own entertainment that replaces the dark brew they keep trying to spoon feed us?

It’s been said before, and much more eloquently, but maybe we should approach what we consume with our eyes and ears the same way we take care to watch what we eat. Feed on pessimism and darkness and you eventually create a self-fulfilling prophecy of how you look at life and what you can expect. Most healthy stuff grows under the sun’s light. Mushrooms are the only thing I can think of that grow in shit and darkness.

It’s time to Lighten our diet.

– A. Wayne Carter

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Predictions for 2013

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

 

Happy New Year!

Aren’t you  glad that last one is over? I know I am.

I’m also relieved to report that, despite some interpretations of the ending of the 5,000 year cycle Mayan calendar, the world did not come to an end on December 21, 2012.

However, it’s a fact the Mayan calendar NEVER actually predicted the end of civilization; it only predicted the coming of Honey Boo Boo.

Of course, most scholars say that’s the same thing.

But in the spirit of wildly speculative predictions attributed to the Mayan calendar, I hereby present MY wildly speculative predictions for 2013:

 

… Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones will join the cast of “The Walking Dead” next season… playing himself.

…It’s possible the universe WILL implode when matter and anti-matter collide in the form of Mariah Carey and Nikki Minaj working together on American Idol.

…The Supreme Court will legalize gay marriage AND marijuana, but everyone will be too stoned to remember what sex they are.

… Redskins 5,000; Patriots 50. Wait a minute, sorry about the mix up, but that’s not a prediction for the Super Bowl… that was the final score of Custer’s Last Stand.

…Dedicated doctors and research scientists will finally find a cure once and for all… for Gangnam Style.

… The world WILL come to a cruel end for teenage girls everywhere when Taylor Swift DOES NOT break up with her latest bad boy boyfriend, Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un, Jr., and fails to release a new album of chirpy revenge songs.
…In a major Oscar Ballot screw-up , Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” will lose Best Picture at the Academy Awards to “Lincoln the Vampire Slayer” at the Oscars. Way to swing an ax, Abe.

… The world will be miraculously spared any more sequels to “Twilight.”

The first new gun control law will be a test for mental illness to prevent you from owning a gun. If you are a civilian and want to own an assault weapon… you are mentally ill.

And, finally.

… Zombies will invade Washington,D.C.seeking to eat the brains of our Congressmen… and will promptly starve and die. Again.

— A. Wayne Carter

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What’s on the DVR – Fall 2012 Edition

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Who knew I’d actually be watching some prime-time network shows for a change?

The Last Resort
Here’s a terrific popcorn action series on ABC about a nuclear sub that goes rogue after disobeying an order from a dubious White House to nuke Pakistan. How did this ever get on the network? It looks like a major motion picture, has great acting from Andre Braugher as the sub commander, Scott Speedman, and Robert Patrick, and a solid pedigree from show-runner Shawn Ryan, who created The Shield on FX. Naturally, the only thing this sub couldn’t take on was Admiral Nielson and the U.S.S. Ratings. It’s been cancelled. But that’s a shame and a blessing. A shame because the show did a fantastic job of sustaining good plotlines despite looking like they shot their whole wad in the pilot, and a blessing because it probably should have been a mini-series all along. Playing it out longer than a season might have stretched credibility, especially since Pakistan got nuked and China had already invaded Taiwan by episode four and no television budget could possibly contain what would happen next.

Nashville
ABC scores again with an All About Eve meets country superstars. Sure, it’s a soap, but so was The Sopranos and Downton Abbey if you get down to it. What lifts something beyond the corn flakes is great writing and acting, and this one was created and launched by Callie Khouri, the veteran feature screenwriter behind Thelma and Louise. Connie Britton as the fading Reba McIntire superstar and Hayden Pantierre as a conniving bitch version of Taylor Swift trying to upstage her make for a tasty rivalry. And T-Bone Burnett provides non-cheesy country songs that ultimately make this hybrid musical wear easier than NBC’s Broadway-set version called Smash. Throw in Powers Booth as the Britton’s sleazy kingmaker dad busy Karl Rove-ing her dim husband’s run for mayor and this show can rest comfortably in the shadow of Robert Altman’s classic political movie of the same name.

Revolution
I bailed out after the third episode. The premise of society without any electrical or battery power is tasty, but watching the blue-eyed Hunger Games archer babe and her ninja uncle roam through Detroit – er, I mean a decaying apocalyptic America looking for her brother starts to wear thin very quickly. Especially with the cliché dialogue, two-expression acting by Billy Burke and what is basically an alternate universe, weaker version of the pioneer series LOST, which was the first television series out of the J. J. Abrams playbook. Many of the moves that show made, including introducing big characters just to kill them off within a couple episodes, are here. That this show is a hit and The Last Resort gets overlooked is a testament to why I default back to cable shows.

Dexter
Here’s a cable show that still has some good acting, but completely lost the plot on story and dialogue. It’s descended into Dexter and his sister Deb going back and forth and back and forth wrestling with his legacy as a serial killer who kills bad guys and whether that’s ultimately a deal breaker between them or not. It’s an annoying whine-athon. Here was a show that got better each year the first four seasons, but has jumped the shark big time trying to wring more blood out of a corpse that died around the same time Colin Hanks showed up as a religious-obsessed villain wannabe. Ray Stevenson as the Ukraine baddy running a strip club and plotting revenge against Dexter for killing his male lover is always a good presence, but it’s just not enough. Stick a big blade in it, Dex, and let this once excellent series die in peace.

Boardwalk Empire
This show used to be about Steve Buscemi as 1920’s Atlantic City boss Nucky Thompson walking the thin line between being a respectable politician or a bootleg gangster. After he blew away his co-star and figurative son at the end of last season, that balancing act was obliterated. Now the show is about all the side characters; Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein, and a new psycho gangster Gyp Rosetti, who makes Joe Pesci in Goodfellows look reasonably sane, and… it works. Nucky Thompson is now the least interesting character on the show, but this wild assortment of blossoming gangsters more than fills the bottle. Maybe they should REALLY surprise us by the end of this season and kill off Nucky himself. The title still works without him.

The Walking Dead
Who alive isn’t watching this show? Oh, right, my wife and anyone else who doesn’t appreciate well-choreographed mayhem and gore. They killed (do you actually ‘kill’ a zombie?) more flesh eaters in the first episode of this season than the previous two seasons combined. It’s not the most wholesome father-son bonding experience, but my sixteen year-old son and I enjoy the creative ways each week the ‘living’ versions of the walking dead characters mush, mangle, stab, shoot, shovel and Louisville slugger the brains of the ‘dead’ walking dead. The only reason we actually DVR this show is to watch it 15 minutes after the start time to zip through the commercials and try to maintain the ‘mood,’ which is often destroyed by that over-caffeinated Talking Dead host dope popping up mid-show to do a plug. If we didn’t watch this show the first night on, my son would hear all the spoilers of who died next in the episode by his buddies in first period at high school the next morning. This may be the only series on television where more brains are destroyed on the screen, than those sitting before a television screen.

Homeland
Showtime really knocked one out of the park with this series and the fantastic cast of Claire Danes, Damien Lewis and Mandy Patinkin. But since it was immortalized (or should I say molested) in a Saturday Night Live sketch highlighting Carrie’s bulging eye hysterics and Brody’s tiny-mouthed outbursts, I haven’t been able to watch it as seriously since. I love that they didn’t stretch out the ‘Is Carrie crazy or is Brody really a sleeper terrorist?’ plot past the third episode this season, but where do you go once you’ve had Mandy Patinkin’s character Saul sighing and rubbing his brow while listening to Carrie and Brody loudly bonk each other’s brains out while being monitored by the CIA in a cheap motel room as she tries to keep their precious double agent in play. There’s no place left to go but another sketch on Saturday Night Live.

Add The Amazing Race, which we watch in real time, and once again Sunday night dominates about 47 percent of my regular series television viewing. Just call us one of those ‘victims’ and ‘takers’ of what Sunday night generously has to give.

— A. Wayne Carter

 

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Shot putting NBC, an unofficial Olympic event

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

The most popular event at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games… Trashing NBC’s coverage, of course.

Let the games begin!

Top Ten Beefs about NBC’s Olympic Coverage

10. Not showing the marquee events live on network television. I don’t care if it’s 2:30 in the afternoon, I’d like to have the option to watch the premiere events live on network television instead of in a packaged edit program every night when I already know the results from them being blasted on every form of social media.

9. Not showing gymnastic scoring. In the women’s gymnastics all-around finals you tell us how many points the Russian gymnast will need to upset American leader Gabby Douglas on the last event, but when she finishes her final floor exercise routine in spectacular fashion, we never even get her score. Gabby wins, but why tell us that the Russian needed 15.3 to beat her, and then not bother to show the score first?

8. Bob Costas, the Talking Dead. Hey, we like Bob Costas, but not with dyed hair, Botox, and surgically lifted eyes making him appear somewhat corpse-like. We’re old enough to remember Jim McKay never bothered to dye his hair or artificially hold back time for vanity’s sake. It just doesn’t become a man covering sports. He looks a bit like some creepy painted ventriloquist doll sitting in those interview chairs that are too big for him.

7.  Where are the other competitors? Sure, we’re patriotic, we’re gung ho jingoistic Americans, but in some events you get the impression no one else is competing. I can’t even name what country came in third in women’s gymnastics overall. We never saw them compete. We’re all about the thrill of victory, but it’s the agony of defeat that often makes for the best drama (like that sobbing Russian girl). Let’s have some perspective and remember what these games are about – the world, not just US. Maybe you need an Atlas. FOX News certainly does, they reported one Iranian Gold Medal winner as from… Baghdad.

6. What the hell is Ryan Seacrest doing there? Is there an Olympic karaoke competition I missed? Is he there to make Bob Costas look larger? Is he doing the radio play-by-play for NBC? Just exactly what credentials does he have to be a sportscaster commentator for Olympic coverage? Or does he actually own NBC now, which is entirely possible.

5. Bob Costas’ mid-point interview with Michael Phelps. “What happened to you?” “What’s with not medaling in one event?” “And getting a Silver in another, no less?” “What kind of slacker are you?” “We know you spend a lot of time in the water, but are you all washed up?” Maybe he wasn’t that direct, but that’s how it came across. Excuse us, Bob, but you’re lucky he didn’t freestyle shot put your puny nonathletic frame into the Thames.

4. Saving all the best events until near midnight. We understand the marketing value of making viewers stick around without telling them when you’re actually going to air a final event (which networks used to do in previous years), but prime time ends at 11 p.m. for anyone who has to go to work, or go to school (hey, band camp), or is worn out from waiting through four previous hours of canned events, quarter and semi-finals, heats, and Progressive Insurance commercials.

3. Using up all our DVR space. The only way to circumvent your diabolical programming strategy is to record the entire evening’s programming so we can fast forward through all those commercials, Bob Costas yakking, and events we don’t care about until we get to those 11 p.m. events… which we still have to watch the next day to avoid all the fill.

2. All those Revolution TV series promotions. Let me get this straight. You’re using the electronic medium of television to incessantly promote a new Fall television series about people living in a future world devoid of electricity. If your goal is to make us start to appreciate what an attractive reality that actually might be, it just might be working.

1. Oh, what, the hell, all is forgiven. Nobody’s ever going to please everyone with such a diverse event of this magnitude, you’re doing the best you can, and this is the only time when seeing half-exposed asses on prime time television is considered great family viewing.

We hope you see gold with your ratings and revenue, but we’ll only go so far as to award you… Silver.

UPDATE: NBC’s Silver medal was unceremoniously withdrawn for postive testing to DOPING. That’s right, they were the unbelievable huge dopes who blundered by interrupting the closing ceremony program to show a lame sitcom about pet doctors, and postponing the grand finale performance of the legendary rock band the Who until after midnight. Unforgiveable. This should automatically disqualify them for participating in this event in the future. We won’t forget.

And we won’t get fooled again.

— A. Wayne Carter

 

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Getting my kicks on Route 66

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

In honor of the complete series of the classic television series Route 66 being released on DVD this past month, I offer this replay blog from my book related to the show, and written at a time I was seriously fed up with L.A. and wanting to get the hell out.

April 16, 1986

My Route 66 story…

I’ve been watching the old Kerouac-inspired show every night on Nickelodeon with a passion. Stirling Silliphant, the principal author, is a brilliant character writer and scenarist with a poet’s heart. He always writes about people on the edge; alcoholic women drowning out their failed loves, children suddenly forced to grow up faster than they deserve, adventurers beginning to feel vulnerable to the presence of the grim reaper – people walking on tightropes at critical turning points in their lives.

Route_66_TV_ShowYoung bucks Tod (Martin Milner) and Buz (George Maharis) cruise into a new town each week and sweep us into the story. One’s a preppie (conscience and reason), one’s a street kid (instinct and volatility), and they act as a catalyst to the story, but quickly recede into the background for the telling. Silliphant used to go to some town, hang out for a week and get the feel of it, then hole up in some cheap motel for two days and write a script. The production crew and cast would follow the next week and, presto, a series is made with hip episode titles like “Hell is empty, all the devils are here,” or “Bird cage on my foot,” (with Robert Duvall as a heroin addict), and lines from children’s poems, etc.

So I get hooked on this vicarious traveling to the point where the show is really helping me through a dull period. I’m craving to leave L.A., but I’m trapped by economics, so this show becomes my way out. It inspires me. I start writing again. I’m 64 pages into a new script but, dammit, I still hate living in L.A. at this time. One night after work, I agree to meet a couple buddies in a new chi-chi bar/restaurant near the beach in Santa Monica. I get there at eight, my buddies don’t show up – but who does instead? … Buz (George Maharis), 25 years later.

I can’t resist but to go over and talk to him. We get into a cool conversation about the show. I’m asking him about the writing of particular episodes and he’s getting off remembering and wondering about the actresses’ names – “What was her name… Audrey… something…” I go, “Totter.” His eyes light up. “Yeah!”

I ask him how old he was when he did the series. He says 25. I tell him he must have been on top of the world. He smiles and tells me he’s 59 now (which, I got the feeling, was my cue for me to say, “Wow, you look great for 59 – he was obviously very vain with a finely-coifed toupee and a fancy-trimmed sailing jacket). Then I realized the ages didn’t tally. If he were 25 years old when he did the show, which is what the character was supposed to be, he’d only be 49 now. But why would he lie ten years UP? Then I realize he must’ve lied ten years DOWN for the age he was doing the show at the time. The conditioned lie was that, when he was 34 and doing the show, he told everyone he was 25. Danette and I figured out from his physique that he was definitely in his 30s for the show. That’s an odd twist for Hollywood vanity; tell the truth about your current age and lie about something 25 years past.

Anyway, he goes to dinner, I go home to catch the 11 p.m. episode. I’m driving home feeling pretty excited. I ask myself what this encounter meant – what this was an omen of – the one night I go out in weeks I run into this particular character. The answer was obvious; this couldn’t have happened anywhere else. Only in L.A. can you have an experience like this. I felt glad to be here again. It was so simple. Little triggers. Big results. The following Sunday I saw John Mellencamp at the Forum and danced my ass off for three hours.

_______________

I mailed my writer buddy John a postcard from Sante Fe less than a month later – a black & white shot of lightning striking over the high New Mexico desert. The postcard simply said “Lightning has struck.” I had just sold my new Voodoo thriller script Trance to Paramount Pictures.

I gave the first 30 pages of the script to a studio Vice President (Lindsay Doran) who had been a fan of my Recess script when she was with another studio. She liked the pages of the new script and asked me to come in and pitch her the rest of the story. When I was finished, she simply told me that she would contact my agent and make the deal. Paramount wanted the script.

Trance is a humorous-but-scary detective story of a down-on-his-luck radio disc jockey who gets mired into love and Voodoo intrigue in New Orleans. He’s hired by a rich, paranoid media magnate Ted Turner character to find out if his beautiful Creole wife is using black magic to slowly kill him. The detective, Michael Dove, of course becomes romantically involved with the woman, who turns out to be a Voodoo queen. The story builds to a point where Dove has to believe or not believe that Voodoo is real. When he rejects the notion and tosses the effigy doll of the husband out the window and, coincidentally, the husband suffers a fatal fall at the same time, he is sucked into the reality of it with no chance to turn back.

Lindsay liked the “fish out of water” premise to the story, which was a studio trait (they recently had tremendous success with the Eddie Murphy Beverly Hills Cop film), but she most of all liked the twists and turns and surprises. The only other script she was devoting as much time to developing was a little thing called, Ghost.

Despite getting a green light from the team of Vice Presidents at Paramount, Trance never made it to the screen when the studio president at the time nixed the go ahead because another picture with voodoo elements from competitor Warner Bros. was coming out called Angel Heart. Nevermind the two films could not be more remotely different in tone or topic (Angel Heart was a very dark tale involving a deal with Lucifer); those are the whims upon which films and fortunes turn.
— A. Wayne Carter

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What’s on the DVR – Spring 2012 edition

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

We’ve joined everyone else who basically watch nothing live anymore except a show that might actually play live: sports, Bill Maher, Saturday Night Live, or the Nightly News.

The Amazing Race
We also don’t travel much anymore, so why not vicariously travel the world and watch couples bitch at each other and stress out in taxis and airports without every having a single moment to enjoy the scenery or the local culture. It’s like speed-dating the world. You don’t have any real time to decide if you’re actually compatible with a country or city, or would ever actually want to spend more time there, but you can say you did the face time and get stamped on your passport.

Game of Thrones
Yes, I know which king is which of which territory, but only by their hair, don’t ask me to remember any of their names or spellings.  I also know that author George R.R. Martin is one horny dude. Either that, or HBO has a horny 15 year-old combing through each book’s 1,000 pages or more to find the fornication parts. Combine this show with the genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are? and you can probably trace every lineage in our collective ancestry back to one very nasty and incestuous relationship.

Mad Men
No show on television gives each character on the show a more wittily and perfectly crafted line than this one. But the characters have become so familiar in their peculiar peccadilloes that it’s starting to come across like a predictable sit-com. Oh, there goes Don again having another affair (but this one’s just a fever dream). Peggy’s indignant about something again this week. Pete has his douchebag moment. Roger’s getting more desperate trying to appear relevant. Betty’s on the cusp of finally being called out as a bitch by her daughter, Sally. Joan’s husband or Roger both seem oblivious to the math on when she got pregnant and had her baby. And Don’s evil twin just showed up and strangled a woman, but it was only in a fever dream again. Take a stiff shot; we still love it.

American Idol
If you DVR this two-hour show, skip the commercials, skip the introductions, skip Ryan schmoozing with the judges, skip the Ford commercials and just watch the Jimmy Iovine mentor sessions, the performances and the judges’ comments (and actually you can pretty much skip those now) the show comes out to less than 35 minutes. All the top ten performers are basically professionals ready to go this season, so the main entertainment is watching the judges shamelessly pimp for the contestant they want to see survive 30 million text votes by 12 year-old girls who usually go for whoever the cute guy is (this year it’s both Colton and Phillip). It’s a hoot to watch the judges and producers push the black guy who oversings everything by giving him songs about loving women to steer him away from the curse of the obviously or ‘potentially’ gay singers always coming up short of the winner’s circle (hey, we loved you, Adam Lambert, but the 12 year-old girls ran for the hillbillies).

Justified
Best show on television when Breaking Bad isn’t playing, especially if you love Elmore Leonard’s penchant for making the lowlife criminals the most entertaining characters in all of his stories. This show blew it out of the house the second season, and had a strong third season with the best collection of live grenade hillbilly fun factor in their repertoire of sleazebags, suspects and psychos. It almost makes you get over the premature burial of Deadwood for best update of a Western.

The Killing
Most viewers of the first season of this show were so pissed off that they didn’t resolve ‘the killing’ during that season – not to mention the red-herring suspect-of-the-week approach – that it’s dropped thirty percent of its viewers this time around. But most viewers probably weren’t there for Twin Peaks, whose creator understood that mood, character and setting (rainy, foggy Seattle) were ultimately more interesting than who killed Laura Palmer. We’ll find out who killed Rosie Larson sometime this season, but the characters and tone and creepy vibe is interesting enough to justify cutting a very dark and interesting show some slack.

Smash
Count this as our token prime time network scripted show. I think the two women vying to be Marilyn Monroe in the evolving Broadway musical within a musical are both overly self-conscious in the way they pose constantly, but hey, Marilyn probably did, too. Debra Messing is terrific; her son is the worst actor on television; Angelica Huston needs a better wig; the dancer numbers fondly make us long for Bob Fosse, but we still find the show entertaining and love the New York locales. Call this one Glee for grown ups.

Take away Sunday night and I think you’d knock off about 40% of our entire regular television DVR schedule. But thanks to DVR, water cooler conversations and spoilers are put on hold most of the week. American viewers are no longer in sync. Which explains a lot.

— A. Wayne Carter

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Who wants to survive a Zombie Apocalypse?

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

I don’t know why zombies are all the rage these days. They’re more popular than when Val Newton directed I Walked With a Zombie in 1943, or when George Romero redirected them at us in Night of the Living Dead in 1968.

Is it a manifestation of our global pessimism? Is it a reflection of a culture that often seems devoid of passion and ‘going through the motions’ – working, shopping, school, and groceries? I believe Shaun of the Dead covered that territory quite hysterically. The fact it took Shaun days to realize that everyone around him had already turned into zombies said everything. We are self-involved and clueless. More often than not in our daily routines, we’re just going through the motions.

My son has played Left 4 Dead on xBox for a couple years now. He’s a veteran zombie killer. I even bought him a Zombie Survival Guide for Christmas one year. It’s fun to strategize exactly where you’d best hold out against the zombie hoards longing to eat your flesh or brain: Someplace accessible to food, but also where you are inaccessible asfood.

At times, my son revealed a fear of zombies, as if they could be real. No scientific or biological explanation of the impossibilities of reanimated flesh or organs after brain death can ease such anxiety once repetitive media viewings without any real science or biology have taken hold. Just ask the climate change and evolution deniers who get their information from FOX News.

But my question isn’t about how zombies actually function, or whether they move fast or slow, prefer human brain to animal brains, or why our culture is so agog with them.

My question is why anyone would want to survive in a world overrun by zombies after some apocalyptic event or plague. Not your run of the mill plague, mind you, but some global catastrophe where 95% of the world is either dead or infected: A scenario such as the one in Colson Whitehead’s new bestseller, Zone One; or in the popular AMC series, The Walking Dead.

One of the characters in the TV series, Andrea, is denied access to a gun because, God forbid, she might actually want to kill herself rather than go on dodging brain munchers. But in the face of an unrelenting world of the walking dead, where everyone you ever loved is either dead or infected, and any chance of some quality of life is long gone … what’s so crazy about that? She may be the last rational human on Earth.

The idea that there’s this inner drive to live no matter how horrific the circumstances strikes me as no better than being a zombie yourself; As if we also have some emotionless, soulless drive to keep moving, keep devouring flesh, and without any general purpose. We live just to move and continue living? Is that really enough? One of the surviving characters in the show even says, “is living just a habit?”

Oh, what, you think you’re going to re-populate the earth like Adam and Eve? Good luck with that fantasy. Again, you’re talking about some basic mindless drive to propagate the species, and not any reasonable grasp of the situation. You think romance will bloom among the rotting corpses and devastation surrounding you? Only in the movies.

The despair, the horror, the loss, the physical degradation … the lack of anything life-affirming, the relentless pursuit of you by nightmarish walking corpses … Is that really the scenario for turning on your auto-pilot to keep pushing on?

Am I off way base here? Am I all alone in the world with this idea? Is Andrea in The Walking Dead wrong for contemplating the quickest exit? Or the tormented father at the end of The Mist (okay, bad example, he doesn’t realize help is on the way and the monsters were just in the mist).

Holocaust survivors who survived concentration camps in World War II at least knew there was a world outside the camps where family and life might actually still be continuing and could return to normal after the conflict. But we’re talking Zombie Apocalypse here. The entire population of Earth is wiped out. You know this because you heard the reports up until the moment there was no one left to give the reports. So now you think you’re going to walk along The Road, or find an army base 28 Days Later where things are going to vastly improve? Where you can start your comic book collection again?

Writers and filmmakers are always going to create stories about The Last Man on Earth. It’s an irresistible fantasy in a world where we are so often annoyed by those living all around us. Richard Matheson, my favorite author growing up, did just that with that last man classic (remade as The Omega Man, and later with his original title, I Am Legend).

It’s an author’s conceit to destroy and re-imagine the world in his head, and then on paper, or for your Kindle. But let’s be honest. In a world where you spend your days alone, your loved ones dead, your food sources reduced to expired canned beans, and the never-ending grind of zombies shuffling slowly (or rapidly) after you to devour your brain; wouldn’t it ultimately be the worst fate of all … to survive?

— A. Wayne Carter

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What’s on the DVR – Fall 2011 edition

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Fringe

We’re more than four episodes into the fourth season and Peter has only appeared as reflections in shiny objects or as a disembodied voice. Okay, what the hell did actor Joshua Jackson do to be exiled from being the co-star to missing in action? Did he ask for too much money? Did he show up late due to a feature film schedule? Did he throw a hissy fit when he realized he was being upstaged by John Noble as his father, Walter? Was he jealous Anna Torv got to play Olivia and her red-wigged evil twin counterpoint? These are the amber-encrusted questions only an alternate universe fringe division can investigate and answer.

Dexter

After the season premiere, do we call this Dumbing Dexter Down? Our somber, brooding, Dexter with a dark passenger (and a darker secret) can be found … goofily electro shocking two paramedics to death with their defibrillators; making faces while doing a ridiculous version of MC Hammer’s ‘hammer’ dance at his 20-year high school reunion; and shamelessly mugging while bent over backwards in a science room lab table getting a bj from a former high school hottie who now finds him intriguing. Did I tune in the wrong show? Is this Fringe again and I’m watching an alternate universe Dexter? Is this a Judd Apatow directed Seth Rogan picture on pay-per-view? Okay, Michael C. Hall looked like he was having fun. And anyone should be allowed to lighten up after surviving cancer. But where was the dark Dexter that only got better in seasons 1-3? By episode two things have calmed down, but is this the season where Dexter stabs the shark?

Boardwalk Empire

I still haven’t figured out what this show is about. If The Sopranos was a mob-filtered look at the nuclear family, what is this? A mob-filtered version of a mob-developed resort city? Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson is walking the thin line between decent caretaker patron to an Irish immigrant woman and her brood, and ruthless patrician of Atlantic City’s coming of age. Then there’s the weird religious fanatic federal agent keeping the prostitute bearing his child in captivity while he tries to bust bootleggers. He’s so tortured by his own demons and secret hypocritical behavior, he’ll later run as a family values Republican candidate for Congress. But I still don’t know what this show is about. Yet I keep coming back, so I guess it’s doing something right. And the production design is incredible. I don’t know if I’d ever pay to see it again on blu-ray, but I might spring for the bootleg. Did anyone get that?

Parenthood

This one’s on my wife’s DVR list, and not wanting to completely alienate her with all the HBO or Showtime sex-and-violence shows I seem to gravitate to, I started watching this as my ‘family time’ penance. The show airs at 10 p.m. but doesn’t find much edge there when it comes to contrived family conflicts. And they’re usually resolved by the end of one, two or three episodes at most. But with actors like Peter Krause, Craig T. Nelson, and Bonnie Bedelia (remember her?) aboard, you’re bound to see something fresh in the performances (but don’t get me started on everyone using the Robert Altman-patented ‘everyone talking on top of each other’ technique). There are moments here you can start to identify with, but everyone is so achingly polite to one another, I just have to check the channel and time to make sure I’m not watching that Fringe alternate universe again. Still, there’s nothing wrong with getting a little warm and fuzzy in this universe.

Real Time with Bill Maher

Sure, he’s a smarmy wise-ass, but at least he’s OUR smarmy wise ass. And he casts the show with enough offbeat public figures every week to either nod or scratch your head to. This show could be easily have sider appeal if his attitude didn’t play so smugly superior. And if you read my earlier blog on his religious rants, you know I think he has some issues beyond his own version of intolerance there. But where else are you going to see your congressman use the f-word? I have a sneaking suspicion that Maher loosens everyone up before the show in the Green room with some Afghan Red.

Breaking Bad

Has there ever been a more OMG finale than the season four ender? What more can anyone blog or post about the best drama on television this summer bleeding into Fall? This show featured better suspense sequences than most feature film thrillers, and certainly ones more ingeniously devised. The show should come with a defibrillator. Sometimes tight budgets begat out-of-the-box creativity. Only this show could turn an innocent hotel clerk bell into the best suspense sequence in season two and glorious pay-off for season four. And here’s a show on a pace that never stalled, and by episode nine was already in finale roller coaster descent mode. It just NEVER LET UP through four more episodes into the nail-gnawing finale. Pardon me while I take a moment to straighten my clip-on tie. The acting was breaking badass.  Bryan Cranston took home three Emmys in a row don’t forget, and the only reason he didn’t win this past September was timing – he wasn’t eligible due to timing of the past season’s schedule. Aaron Paul’s already nailed a supporting actor Emmy. He’ll collect one again for this season with some tour de force moments of intensity that will have you reaching for a meth pipe just to calm down. Get on board with the blu-ray if you haven’t broken some Bad, yet. Tell them Heisenberg sent you.

— A. Wayne Carter

Mrs. Hollywoodaholic with Jesse- er … Aaron Paul at the Las Vegas Film Festival 2011

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You’ve come a long way, baby

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

And, gee, I guess so has America.

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