Tag Archives: Heroes

A Serialized Man: The Narrative Pleasures of The Tobolowsky Files

When character actor Stephen Tobolowsky was a guest on the /Filmcast, a podcast which (as some long-time readers might remember) I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in myself, I remember being shocked at his level of preparedness: for his first show he watched several movies as research just to be able to offer as much to the conversation as possible, and he was both candid and conversational in regards to the subject at hand. I will admit to not knowing much of Tobolowsky’s work heading into that appearance, but his enthusiasm for that simple podcast gave me a great deal of respect for the man himself.

On its own, that would be enough to recommend his own podcasting project, The Tobolowsky Files, which is entering its second season this week. The podcast, produced by /Filmcast host and friend of the blog David Chen, is a series of stories about “life, love, and the entertainment industry;” it’s a new outlet for his enthusiasm, as he takes hours out of his week to write and record these stories for us to enjoy. The stories are reflections of his personality, hilarious but also able to delve into more emotional territory, and there is a genuine honesty about the podcast which completely erodes any sense that he is simply reading a script. These podcasts are not so much performances as they are expressions of emotions, and the result is a really great way to spend roughly a half-hour of your time each week.

However, I had expected to be entertained: I knew Stephen was a gifted storyteller (he produced a movie, Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party, which is built around this ability), so of course he can spin a good yarn. What shocked me, however, was that this podcast has become an extended serialized narrative, turning his past into an ongoing story which has me more involved than I could have imagined. I figured I would enjoy episodes talking about his time in the entertainment industry or his experience on Deadwood or Glee, but I did not expect that I would get sucked into his past, terrified of being spoiled about how certain stories about life and love end.

And that’s something I never expected from a podcast: a true triumph of storytelling from a master of the art form, and something that lovers of narrative storytelling should certainly be listening to.

Continue reading

12 Comments

Filed under Podcasts

Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains – “Episode Nine”

“Survivor History”

April 15th, 2010

If you caught last week’s episode of Survivor, you could have written the basic plot of this week’s episode: the preview for “Survivor History” very clearly laid out the narrative stakes, right down to the seemingly ludicrous plan that was laid out by J.T. following the reward challenge. It played us a series of clips of past decisions, focusing on the history of stupidity in the game of Survivor. Of course, it was a selective history: while they focus on Ian sacrificing himself for Katie in Palau, James getting voted out with two immunity Idols, Jason believing his obviously fake Idol to be real in Micronesia, and Erik giving his immunity to Natalie in the same season, they don’t include decisions like Colby taking Tina to the end of Australian Outback.

This is because while they want us to believe that Survivor has had some stupid moves in its past, which is a factual statement, they don’t want us to realize that Survivors do stupid things every week, and sometimes the effects are subtle, and sometimes the stupidity is not entirely clear. While they want to lump in this week’s “stupid” move in with those other mind-numbingly idiotic plays, I would very argue that what they term “Survivor History” is the result of ignorance more than stupidity, and that difference makes it a strategic misstep more than a scenario of self-destruction or anything similar.

And, frankly, I’d argue that there’s a larger and less logical mistake later in the episode, demonstrating that while the basic thesis statement of “Survivor players can be stupid” may be spot on, their use of examples could use some work.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Survivor

Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains – “Episode Eight”

“Expectations”

April 8th, 2010

After the recent exit of Boston Rob Mariano, I was convinced that Survivor’s twentieth season was headed off the rails. Rob was basically single-handedly keeping the fairly over-matched Villains tribe in this game, and his exit signaled that Russell Hantz, a good Survivor player who is unfortunately convinced that he is the greatest of all time, now had control of that side of the game. And while I respected Rob, and enjoyed seeing him try to bring together a rag tag group, I don’t really want to see Russell’s ego run roughshod over the game from this point forward.

So when everyone on the Villains tribe is desperate for a merge at the start of this week’s episode, I’m right there with them: it’s not that I want them to be protected from the inevitably challenge defeats in their future due (partially) to Rob’s absence, but rather that I want the game to shift into a new form of gameplay that regains a sense of unpredictability and shuffles around alliances and the like. And so when that merge doesn’t happen, and the teams are back to competing against one another, I felt like this episode was going to be a complete chore.

Instead, it turns out that even though the merge proved to be wishful thinking, the merge nonetheless remained so on the mind of every single player that decisions, conversations, and strategies were all designed with it in mind. So while the merge will have to wait until next week, it already shook things up enough to keep me interested in this game even with Rob sitting on the sidelines.

Continue reading

6 Comments

Filed under Survivor

Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains – “Episode Six”

“Banana Etiquette”

March 24th, 2010

Survivor has done episodes like this one before: by sending both teams to tribal council, it means that a single hour becomes packed with wall-to-wall strategy, which is usually when the game is at its best. And, accordingly, “Banana Etiquette” delivers shockers from both the Heroes and the Villains, cramming together one of the most ridiculous tribal councils in Survivor history with one of the most low-key of the season.

The difference, though, is that the presence of two tribal councils means that the editing of the episode played a largely role than usual in terms of guiding the audience to particular conclusions. While the “Villains” drama was just a wondrous stage comedy from the word go, and would have been entertaining regardless, the final “shocker” with the “Heroes” was entirely based on keeping the audience out of the loop in regards to their thinking. It was only surprising in that we had been given absolutely no intention of where things were going.

By comparisons, not even the “Villains” knew how their tribal council was going to end, and that’s the kind of drama that Survivor can’t manufacture.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Survivor

What’s my Genre Again?: The In(s)anity of the Saturn Awards

The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films comes together every year to recognize the best in genre entertainment (in both film and television) at the Saturn Awards. This is, at least in my view, a noble endeavour, and the awards have offered a space where shows like Battlestar Galactica and movies like The Dark Knight have been awarded deserved prizes that may not have been awarded at the Emmys or Oscars thanks to what is considered a bias against genre entertainment in general.

The problem is that, over time, the Saturn Awards have stretched the meaning of genre so far that it legitimately has no meaning, welcoming both genuine confusion and some outright derision based on some of their categories. The sheer volume of nominees and the rather ridiculous range of categories means that this year the Saturn Awards skew dangerously close to the Oscar while simultaneously veering dangerously towards an opposite and unflattering direction, while on the Television side their definition of what defines as genre may be the most confounding awards show process I’ve ever confronted, as demonstrated by this year’s nominees.

Rather than seeming like a legitimate celebration of science fiction, fantasy or horror, the Saturn Awards read like an unflattering and at points embarrassing collection of films and television series which reflect not the best that genre has to offer, but rather a desperate attempt to tap into the cultural zeitgeist while masquerading as a celebration of the underappreciated.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Award Shows

Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains – “Episode Two”

“It’s Getting the Best of Me”

February 18th, 2010

I don’t know if Mark Burnett and his fellow producers are really excited about the direction that Survivor’s twentieth season is heading in, or if they’re actively concerned about it. What’s interesting about the Heroes vs. Villains premise is that, in Survivor, the tribes are only rarely within the same space, so the rivalry the title implies doesn’t really materialize in most of a single episode. Sure, over time the rivalry between the two sides will grow, but in the short term the show shifts away from that narrative to the systematic deconstruction of both tribes.

On that front, I think the show should be glad that early on the titles of hero and villain are slowly shifting away from their typical classifications, as it means that more of each episode will be particularly engaging. However, the clash of various ego has gone so far this time that I don’t know if they’ll ever be able to fully reclaim that broader feud, the internal divisions growing too larger for one side to group together and pretend that they are any sort of team under any sort of pre-determined classification.

And I don’t know if Mark Burnett wanted that part of this game to go off the rails quite so quickly.

Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Survivor

I’ve Been In This Town So Long: The Serial Subtexts of Survivor’s “Heroes vs. Villains”

“Slay Everyone, Trust No One”

February 11th, 2010

Every season of Survivor is effectively the same as the one before: the players might change, but more often than not they bring nothing new to the game that hasn’t been seen in some form before. For every “twist” the producers have tried to throw into the game, it all ends up being the same in the end, which isn’t really a problem since the game is at its most compelling when it finds itself in familiar territory. Because we know what’s happened before, and because we have no idea whether the players involved know what’s happened before, we get to watch them walk in the shoes of the players who came before, either triumphing where they failed or tripping up where others succeeded.

What’s interesting about “Heroes vs. Villains,” the twentieth season of the show, is that it simultaneously reduces the game to a simple battle between good and evil while creating a game structure that is without question the most complex the show has ever seen, layered with subtexts (previous alliances, previous rivalries, personal experiences, etc.) that stretch back far into our memory of the show’s early seasons in a more overt way than ever before. By bringing the tribal competition to the surface, along with the binary that often emerges between those the audience loves to hate and those the audience wants to see go to the end, the show is creating the ultimate mind game: they are forcing characters with more emotional and gameplay baggage than ever before into a game which threatens to rigidly define them, ignoring the various subtexts in such a way that they can’t help but surface the first time anyone dares mention the word alliance or whispers about how successful some players have been in the past.

The result is Survivor at its most confident, pushing all the right buttons and getting some all-time great moments, some substantial comedy mixed with some engaging drama, and enough introspection to quite literally sink any other reality show that wasn’t build for just that sort of psychological inquisition.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Survivor

A Policy of Appeasement: Confronting Jay Leno and Heroes’ Role in NBC’s Future

A Policy of Appeasement: Confronting Jay Leno and Heroes’ Role in NBC’s Future

January 7th, 2010

[Edit: now TMZ is reporting that the plan is for Leno to take over from Conan O’Brien at 11:30, either doing a half-hour show leading into Conan or a full-hour pushing the entire Late Night schedule back with it. As someone who likes Conan, this new is sad on a personal level, but it’s even more sad professionally. While NBC can’t entirely throw away what they’ve started, they apparently believe that they can turn back the clock as if nothing happened. However, they barely have the programming to schedule what they’ve currently got, so what are they going to do with five hours of primetime plus the hellstorm that will come with angering Conan (even if angering Leno by promoting Conan is what created this mess). It’s a move that, if true (as I tweeted, it’s odd that I trust TMZ on celebrity deaths as opposed to something ultimately trivial like this, but I’m skeptical), would demonstrate that NBC believes they are still caught up in correcting mistakes as opposed to turning those mistakes into successes, which isn’t easy but would be more preferable to the madness they’re stirring up if the rumour pans out. Either way, my analysis of what NBC should do below stands.]

There are a lot of problems at NBC. The network is suffering from poor leadership, poor performance from a large bulk of its lineup, and the black hole that is The Jay Leno Show. So when news broke today that a) NBC executives are seriously considering (aka rethinking) Leno’s future and b) Greg Grunberg is convinced that Heroes will definitely be returning for a fifth season, the immediate response amongst people who follow television closely is “Yes!” and “No!” respectively.

These reactions come with a strange sense of certainty, as if the idea that NBC isn’t entirely convinced Leno will be sticking around is a clear sign that he will be cancelled, and that Grunberg’s statement of Heroes “definitely” returning is a sign that the show won’t be deservedly canned before heading into the new year (not everyone reacted with such certainty, but I saw enough of it to make a note of it). And yet, while critically speaking both of these shows would easily be cancelled, NBC is in such a state of flux that any decision could upend whatever sense of stability they have: throwing Leno out too soon, or without attempting to revamp the show first, could anger affiliates/shareholders just as much as pretending nothing is wrong, and cancelling Heroes (which remains a worldwide franchise for the network) could create enough chaos to justify keeping the creatively dead show on the air.

The problems for NBC right now are so great that I don’t put anything past them, and while I have my own opinions about how these two situations will resolve themselves (which I’ll discuss below the fold) I think that NBC is trapped between a rock and a hard place: they’re at the point where accepting defeat isn’t an option as it would only further deflate their reputation, even if it results in a slight uptick in their ratings, as there are simply too many people they need to appease to start over from scratch without damaging those relationships.

Because NBC needs more than a Nielsen point to bounce back.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under NBC

Survivor Samoa Season Finale: There’s Something about Russell

Survivor Samoa Finale: There’s Something About Russell

December 20th, 2009

When Survivor started its nineteenth season, there was a man named Russell. Pot-bellied and stubborn, Russell emerged as if pre-fabricated to play the role of villain in Mark Burnett’s game. He came in with no desire to make friends, and started emptying out canteens and burning socks. It was the most aggressive villain edit the show had ever seen, which meant one of two things to me: either Russell was going to be leaving very quickly (hence the show maximizing his villainy time) or else there was more to Russell’s game than this villainy would seem to indicate.

Russell proved inherently divisive in those early weeks: some people hated him, and felt as if he was ruining the season with his heartless ways. But something changed in the game that made Russell seem less villainous. His tribe, Foa Foa, started getting clobbered in challenges, which meant that Russell’s victims were becoming victims of the game itself. And so Russell didn’t have to be a villain anymore, just watching as his tribe lost every challenge and revelling in his ability to manipulate his tribe into voting how he wanted them to vote. And suddenly instead of someone who was operating against the game (burning socks, disrupting daily life), Russell was simply a puppetmaster enjoying as the rest of his tribe stopped thinking for themselves.

And then the game became Russell’s, to the point where behaviour that before felt obnoxious (like finding the immunity idol without a clue) suddenly became genius, and where his manipulations went from an unnecessary force in the game to a brilliant strategic advantage that took the four remaining Foa Foa members from a severe disadvantage to standing as four members of the final five heading into the show’s finale. And somewhere along the way, the game went from being Russell’s to ruin to being Russell’s to win, and in many ways this finale has come down less to who wins and more to whether or not that person is Russell.

That’s the joy of Survivor, really: if you had told me that at the beginning of the season, I never would have believed you.

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Survivor

The Cancelled and the Underrepresented: The 2009 Creative Arts Emmy Awards

Emmy2009Title

The Cancelled and the Underrepresented

The 2009 Creative Arts Emmy Awards

For those who aren’t particularly interested in the seedy underbelly of the Emmy Awards process, the Creative Arts Emmys aren’t particularly interesting. Generally, the awards tend to be a bit more scattershot than the main awards, meaning that few “favourite” shows take victories and thus there isn’t a lot of mainstream attention generated by them. However, more and more each year there’s interest in terms of smaller shows getting a chance to shine in awards not deemed worthy for network television consumption, and more importantly for us pundits there’s a chance to see if there are any trends emerging (as tenuous as any trend can be when different voting bodies determine each set of awards).

Complete Winners List – 2009 Creative Arts Emmys

This year, through the joys of Twitter, I was able to both share the news of various winners and be able to get some response (from Todd VanDerWerff, Alan Sepinwall, and in particular Jaime Weinman), which resulted in some interesting discussion. So, to kind of pick up on that, here’s a few of the key areas of interest from the awards that made me pause either out of interest, excitement or concern.

Pushing Daisies wins Big, Still Cancelled

The Emmys were never Pushing Daisies’ problem: although the show wasn’t able to garner a nomination as a series in its first season, it did grab nominations for Lee Pace and Kristin Chenoweth, as well as some attention in the creative arts categories. This year, though, the show received a really fitting swan song as it picked up three awards (art direction, costumes and makeup), showing that even in an ill-fated and shortened season the show was noticed by voters in terms of its craftsmanship. The show has now won six Emmys total (picking up trophies for Directing, Music Composition and Editing last year), which helps cement the show’s legacy as a wonderful if tragic moment in television history.

Battlestar Galactica finds Mixed Bag in Final Year

After two back to back wins in Visual Effects, and a hugely effects-driven finale, one would have expected the show to dominate in that category. However, to my shock at least, Heroes picked up the Special Visual Effects award for the first time, although BSG didn’t go home empty handed. Spreading the love around, the show picked up the award for sound editing, which is well deserved if not quite the award one would have expected them to be contending as closely for. Either way, it’s great to see another part of the show’s great team behind the scenes pick up an award, and its unfortunate that areas where the show should have contended (See: Bear McCreary’s amazing scoring work) were uncontested.

Changes Wreak Havoc on Comedy Guest Acting

Of the changes made to the Emmys this year, the one that sort of slipped under the radar (and didn’t face a lot of pressure from any particular group) is the elimination of the individual performance in a variety/comedy/music special/series. This was the category that Stephen Colbert infamously lost to Barry Manilow, and in which musical performers, talk show hosts, and (most interesting for our purposes) Saturday Night Live hosts contended.

This year, both Tina Fey and Justin Timberlake won awards for their appearances on Saturday Night Live, and in both instances it raises some really interesting questions. Now, in Fey’s case, this actually was a guest performance: she wasn’t the host in that episode, and her stint as Sarah Palin really was a guest spot (albeit in the really strange variety show format, which would have put her in the old category especially since they submitted a clip show of ALL of her appearances). However, Timberlake’s win is an example of something that would certainly have remained in the Variety Performance award, which makes for an interesting test case. Considering how much of each individual episode an SNL host is in, I think it’s a strange comparison with other guest stars, and I can see why voters would lean towards Timberlake in comparison with the other contenders.

It just raises the question of whether the loss of that category has now opened the door for the more showy SNL roles to elbow out some more complex supporting work on the comedy side of things…although, realistically, they probably would have given it to the oldest possible nominee if not to them, so I’d still be complaining. Although, what else is new?

Continue reading

6 Comments

Filed under Emmy Awards