Tag Archives: DVD

Review: Battlestar Galactica – “The Plan”

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“The Plan”

October 27th, 2009

There has been an odd lack of excitement surrounding “The Plan,” which isn’t exactly surprising. On the one hand, the show’s finale proved somewhat divisive, which could have turned some fans away from revisiting the series. On the other, there is more long term interest in a project like Caprica which could run for multiple seasons than a one-off movie, which might have fans focusing more on its impending premiere. However, I really shouldn’t fit into either of these camps, as I’ve yet to get truly excited about Caprica (although I am certainly intrigued) and I quite loved the finale. And yet, nonetheless, the DVD release of The Plan (in stores today, October 27th) snuck up on me in a way I had not anticipated, and its release seems to lack the fanfare one would expect for what will be our last time spent with this universe (or this time period in this universe).

Perhaps it is best that one goes into this one with low expectations, however. As someone who loves this show, having written an undergraduate thesis about it and spending four hours writing about the series finale into the middle of the night with no regard for my personal health, the purpose of this film should excite me. Promising to explain the Cylon plan to destroy humanity, and to detail how the individual Cylon models came to play their roles in the first two seasons of the series, one feels as if there is some really compelling material to be had here, the kind of stuff that would have me wishing I could go back and rewrite my chapter on the Cylon/Human binary all over again.

And yet, “The Plan” is a qualified failure, raising some intriguing issues but in an indulgent fashion that in its relentless need to fill in the gaps of where this is happening relative to the show’s narrative proves more distracting than informative, more confusing than enlightening. I feel as if there is an intriguing narrative waiting to be found somewhere in this mess of a two-hour television movie, but that narrative is lost when it is so clearly segmented to fit into the series’ existing structure. While we’re busy playing the game of “spot which footage was from the show and which was shot new for the movie,” there’s something interesting going on here that’s just not coming through as clearly as it needed to.

In individual moments, this feels like Battlestar Galactica – as a whole, it feels like a DVD extra where you can click a button and see what the Cylons are busy plotting at that particular time, something which would be more interesting if they hadn’t tried to turn it into a motion picture event.

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Theories on The Big Bang Theory: Why I Hated the Pilot

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Why I Hated the Pilot

June 30th, 2009

[While I’ve blogged about some episodes of the show, and even covered the PaleyFest panel about the show in April, I haven’t actually watched The Big Bang Theory with any consistency. I’m watching the show as my thesis breaks over the next few weeks, and while I have no intentions of any indepth thoughts (not that kind of show), I do have a few things to say about the show, and will stop by with them on occasion.]

For a good year, the only thing on this blog on the subject of The Big Bang Theory was an article lumping it in with Cavemen, a problematic judgment that I knew needed to be addressed but didn’t really see any rush in fixing. The show just really turned me off with its pilot, and after watching it there was absolutely nothing that could convince me to keep watching…or so I told myself.

In my head, I had sworn off the show after the pilot, never to watch again after it had offended me so – watching the first season, however, I appear to have watched at least a few of the episodes that followed, whether randomly or purposefully but without much intention. Clearly, my experience with them didn’t override my disdain for the pilot, so going back to that first episode I was still very curious to see if I could pinpoint just what it was that resulted in such vitriol.

I think I’ve found the answer: the thing that made me hate this pilot is, rather than the existence of a laugh track, the execution of said sitcom device.

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“Those Stories Plus…” – Sports Night Season One

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Those Stories Plus…

Sports Night Season One

It’s no secret around these parts that Alan Sepinwall’s criticism is a fairly big influence on both what I do and how I do it, but what I find is his most influential contribution to the television watching community is his summer coverage of various shows. Last summer, I started watching The Wire when I did because of his detailed writeups of first season episodes; yes, I knew the show existed and had even purchased some DVD sets ahead of time, but Alan’s work was the motivating factor that made me commit to the series wholeheartedly. Alan’s devotion and commitment to these shows motivates people to watch TV, to buy TV on DVD, and more importantly to discuss that television within a community of like-minded surveyers of moving image.

It also means that this summer, as Alan turns his attention to three different projects (The Wire Season 2, Band of Brothers and Sports Night), many wallets are somewhat lighter, including my own: while I have already seen The Wire’s second season, his other two projects served as the right motivation to keep catching up on shows or miniseries that I missed in the days before my television addiction. It is as a result that I now own a copy of Band of Brothers and the complete series of Sport Night; I’d blame Alan for my dwindling bank account, but then I’d have to lie and say that they weren’t worth every penny.

Sports Night, which aired on ABC from 1998-2000, is something that I’ve always known about, but to be honest I really didn’t know much about its origin, or its format, or really anything to really recommend the series beyond its pedigree. Serving as the training ground for The West Wing for writer Aaron Sorkin and director Thomas Schlamme, the show covers the behind the scenes goings-on at a cable news show (ala SportsCenter), and relies heavily on the dynamic of its cast, led by the show’s two anchors (Josh Charles and Peter Krause) and the show’s executive producer (Felicity Huffman).

I’m not going to go episode by episode, or really even offer any sort of constructive thoughts about the show’s storylines – it’s a damn good show, one that I suggest everyone watch, but there’s more important things to discuss. For now (I’m only done the first season), I want to talk about what works, what doesn’t, and how I’m absolutely fascinated that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip fell apart like it did when Sorkin had these lessons to fall back on.

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The Imprint Lives On: FOX bets on Dollhouse Season 2

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The Imprint Lives On: Dollhouse Renewed

May 15th, 2009

After rumours earlier in the day were flying about via James Hibberd over at The Hollywood Reporter, the idea of a second season of Dollhouse actually became a probability as opposed to a pipe dream. Sure, the first season ended on a stronger note than it started on, giving us critical types a glimmer of potential that we could mentally build on in constructing a second season (Todd VanDerWerff has a great “Save this Show” piece over at The House Next Door), but its ratings were the series’ lowest yet, and for all the talk of DVR and Online viewers the fact of the matter is that advertisers care most about those shiny demographic numbers more than anything else.

But, for reasons that at this point remain mostly speculation, it appears that FOX has made the decision few expected them to make: within hours of the rumours first starting to spread around the web, word comes that it’s (more or less) official. Joss Whedon has bucked the trend (which really isn’t a trend considering it was only Firefly, but that was so tragic that it counts as three on its own) of network disappointment, and Dollhouse will be getting a second season of 13 episodes to air this Fall on Fridays. Let the rejoicing begin.

Well, let the rejoicing begin for anyone but the advertisers – and frankly, I’m tired of them rejoicing over the wrong shows, and it’s about time we won one for the good guys. And this truly is, in more ways than one, a victory for the internet, for fans, and for the value of television.

Just don’t count on a third season.

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“Caprica” DVD Review

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“Pilot”

A Special DVD “Review

There is no hiding the fact that the end of Battlestar Galactica was, for me, a cathartic experience, a chance to say goodbye to something that has been a fairly large part of both my critical and academic investigations into the world of television. However, there was always that lingering sense that the journey wasn’t really over: TV Movie “The Plan” is airing this fall, and on April 20th “Caprica,” the backdoor pilot for the upcoming series of the same name, released online and on DVD.

The former project is designed to give more time to characters shafted by the main narrative, and to answer/address some questions that have been lingering but may have proved too tangential for the show’s fourth and final season. In that sense, we know what to anticipate: we know that it will address the Cylon plan to attack Caprica, and that’s pretty well enough to create expectation.

But Caprica is an entirely different monster, primarily because it sits in that odd position somewhere between prequel and spinoff, the communication between it and its predecessor minor in most ways. The decision to release the pilot, always planned as a stand-alone project which could be turned into a series should executives be pleased with the final product, eight months before we have any chance of seeing the series is a calculated risk, and one that feels like a concerted effort to link Galactica and this new series more than may actually be logical, or beneficial.

When you first start watching Battlestar Galactica, one of the things that strikes you is that which wasn’t explained, or wasn’t exposited in some sort of speech. The polytheism of humanity was less a topic of discussion and more a stated fact, and it was less a selling point of the series than it was a sign that this show was going to go beyond the boundaries of traditional science fiction to offer something more nuanced.

In Caprica, however, this is front and center; in many ways, it feels like some of the themes that Galactica took for granted or didn’t often highlight put on display in an effort to provoke the viewer more than actually engaging with the show’s characters…at least on a conceptual level. As executed, I think there’s a lot to like about this project, and in particular there are some really intriguing ideas surrounding the main pairing of Joseph Adama and Daniel Greystone which elevate the show above its lack of subtlety and into a place where I am, more than before, looking forward to seeing what happens when this goes to series.

As for what that series will look like, however, is a question that I don’t know if we can really answer – in the meantime, let’s delve into the series in what I really can’t call a review, since it isn’t particularly objective in its tone, but more of an analysis of sorts. A long one (big surprise, eh?).

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The Wire – “Complete Series”

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“Complete Series”

Release Date: December 9th, 2008

Yes, I know this is cheating, but I have my reasons for refusing to choose only one episode of The Wire’s fifth season to include within this set. Yes, only the show’s fifth season aired this year, but on a personal level I got to experience all five seasons of fantastic dramatic television in the past calendar year. Since this is my Television Time Capsule, and because the Complete Series boxset is both readily available and surprisingly compact, the entire series makes it into the Time Capsule.

When the season started airing, I posted to a message board about whether it would be possible for me to jump in without watching the previous four seasons. Almost immediately, I received the resounding response of an empathic no; jumping in at the end was entirely misguided. It was the first time I had seen such a passionate response about it, but over time I was able to discover many more such responses, and eventually the reason why.

Considering the three-hour long podcast, and the rather lengthy piece I wrote in conjunction with it, I won’t say much more on the show’s merits. What I will say is that its fifth season deserves it spot here just as much as the previous four, not quite as perfect but nonetheless one of the finest specimens of television which aired during the period.

One thing I will add is that I understand the frustrations with the fifth season’s newspaper storylines: while the political world was given a slow introduction in Seasons three and four that allowed it to integrate into this world, and the education system had a clear enough relationship with what we’d seen before it, the media had been surprisingly absent at every other stage of the series. It felt like the most “left field” argument, and many of the connections to the main narrative felt coincidental as opposed to consequential. I don’t think it was an irreparable concern, but it helped contribute to a sort of paradox of getting our final moments with these characters, at least partially, through a lens more unfamiliar to the series than the ones previous introduced.

So while saying goodbye to the show was no doubt difficult, it was kind of nice to be able to say Hello to it in the same year: the balance helps elevate the series’ impact on my year in television, and hopefully the years of many more people to come.

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[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Generation Kill (Miniseries)

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Complete Miniseries (HBO)

Airdate: Summer 2008

Debuting in the summer, David Simon and Ed Burns’ HBO miniseries was one of those shows that went largely without hype, a fact which shouldn’t surprise anyone after the previous year had seen a myriad of Iraq War films fail to capture the nation’s attention. Dramatizing reality has its benefits, but when it is reality that so often hits close to home there is often not enough distance to allow a show to capture a piece of the public eye.

Generation Kill felt too real to me by half, but this is perhaps what kept me most interested. With the same sense of character-driven storylines and a similar investigation into bureaucratic failures as their work on The Wire, Simon and Burns bring to life something that doesn’t need dramatizing: the consequences of the events seen within the series are today’s headlines, and the people they depict are not amalgams but individuals (one, even, played themselves in the miniseries).

What resulted was a wakeup call to how easily a situation like Iraq can happen: the mistakes made were in some cases driven by incompetence, in other cases by communication failures, but the miniseries’ main purpose is to place us in the middle of all of it to get a sense of what the people on the ground could do about it. As we become personally attached to the men in Bravo Company, we see that they could only do so much: with flawed strategies driving them, poorly trained reserve units botching their missions, and many of the soldiers there driven by the lust of gunfire more than the pride of searching for one’s country, Iraq becomes less a headline and more an experience that seems simultaneously very small and very large.

Based on Evan Wright’s best-selling novel of the same name, and released on DVD in December, Generation Kill will likely beat out a myriad of other potential Emmy nominees as the one I will campaign for most of all: strong performances, amazing production values, stunning direction, and assured writing deliver a miniseries that more people should experience.

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[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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Forgive My Ambivalence: ‘90210’ and Network Screeners

During the summer months, it’s hard to get excited about television. Now, I don’t mean to say that I’m not enjoying the summer runs of shows like The Middleman, Burn Notice, Mad Men or Generation Kill – it’s the opposite actually, as I’ve enjoyed them immensely. The issue, however, is that this great medium we call television is just less interesting up until about this late August period.

And so, Cultural Learnings has been all about the reviews and not so much with grand statements evaluating the state of television as a whole; and while my more established colleagues (Read: actual TV critics) usually receive screeners that help them handicap the year ahead, my lack of such screeners means that I rely on their coverage in order to design my own. This year, of course, this is proving difficult: some shows are barely finishing their pilots, and the result is a lack of coverage of what Fall will truly have to offer.

I’ve dealt with this screener question before, arguing last year that the networks should do more to get pilots out to people other than TV critics in an effort to rustle up support and build a fan base that can support the show through tough times. So, the recent news that The CW is not sending out screener DVDs of its ‘90210’ reboot should be something that has me up in arms, ready to pounce on their ignorance of the power of these screeners to get people interested about their show.

But, at least for now, I can’t really say that I care either way – and that kind of ambivalence is, for the networks, probably their best case scenario heading into this pilot season.

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Review: My Boys Season One (+ 2 Episodes of Season Two)

For anyone who has been following my Twitter feed (Located both on the sidebar and at the link), you’ll have noticed that I’ve been watching more TV than I’ve been blogging recently. With the television season over, and with the summer shows trickling more than pouring in, I’ve devoted more time watching rather than writing about my favourite pasttime. As of this week, I’m into the fifth season of Six Feet Under, five episodes into The Wire’s first season, and while I enjoying them to varying degrees, there was a serious problem: I was getting a tad bit depressed.

You see, there’s a lot of death and harsh reality in these shows; Six Feet Under is literally a weekly funeral for hope and love, and The Wire is a cold picture of a structurally corrupt organization and the drug trade on the streets of Baltimore. And so, when searching for my next show to catch up on, I decided to go with a killer combination: light-hearted comedy, a recent DVD release, and currently airing weekly episodes.

And thus, along came TBS’ comedy series My Boys. And while I certainly wouldn’t place it in upper echelon of current television comedies, the show is everything I needed: familiar, comfortable, clever and funny enough to overcome some of its less inspired moments.

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TV on DVD: Dexter – The First Season

While it technically released yesterday, I figure that today is as good a day as any to suggest that any TV fan out there should get their hands on Showtime’s Dexter. The show’s first season debuted on DVD yesterday, at a fairly reasonable price for its 12 episodes, and the show’s second season premieres on September 30th.

The show’s first season, perhaps out of any series that aired last year, feels like a cohesive piece of storytelling. Based on Jeff Lindsay’s novel, the series take the characters and over-arching plot of that book and expands it into something I personally feel is far superior.

Amazon.com: Dexter – The First Season

It tells the story of Dexter Morgan, who according to press for the series is America’s most lovable serial killer. I think this is perhaps an oversimplification: if anything, I think that Dexter isn’t lovable at all. Michael C. Hall’s award-nominated performance is unsettling, as it gets under your skin. He isn’t someone you like, necessarily, but someone you’re rooting for even in his creepy, creepy way.

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