How do you create and write a series like Burn Notice? What influences – from life and classic TV – go into the unique mix that is Burn Notice [USA, Thursdays, 10/9C]? Series creator Matt Nix answers these questions and more…
Tomorrow marks the return of one of the summer’s brightest lights, Burn Notice [USA, Thursdays, 10/9C]. When last we saw burnt agent Michael Westen [Jeffrey Donovan], he was caught in a freeze frame in mid-air after a bomb planted inside his door had gone off. It should come as no surprise that the winter premiere of the show picks up right at that precise instant. Nor will it come as a surprise that Westen survives – though he is banged up enough that he’s less than subtle in both his dealings with Carla [Tricia Helfer] and the con artists who benefited financially at the expense of a perhaps terminally ill boy named Jack. Westen saves Jack’s father from a terrible mistake [suicide] and after a very brief conversation, Kenny [David Barry Gray] becomes his next “side job” [as Carla puts it].
In our interview with Bruce Campbell [Westen’s right-hand man, Sam Axe] mentioned that he thought the show had a core of innocence, like The Rockford Files. Actually, I’d take that a couple of steps further and suggest that Burn Notice is a mash-up of Rockford and It Takes a Thief – only the hero is I Spy’s Kelly Robinson [in an upcoming interview, Nix talks about the way classic TV influenced the show].
In Do No Harm, the Season 2.5 premiere, Westen, who was pretty banged up after surviving the explosion, decides that he’s not exactly in the mood for subtle –something to do with almost dying [attempts on his life, he says, “are like snowflakes. Each one is different – and icy cold]. This puts Sam a bit on edge, and makes Fiona [Gabriel Anwar] a hair crazier than usual. It also means babysitting duty for Westen’s mom, Madeline [Sharon Gless].
The episode – which was written and directed by creator Matt Nix – seems to move a bit faster than usual. Probably because of Westen’s decision to forego subtlety. Also probably because of a twist in regard to his would-be assassin. Mostly, though it’s the combination of the above and con artists who target fatally ill children. As a result, the voiceovers aren’t quite as matter-of-fact as usual. There’s just a slight tonal difference, but we can tell Westen’s objectivity isn’t exactly intact.
Nix proves to be a capable director. He keeps the pace up and knows when to let the show’s trademark humor relieve the tension. Because he is so good, it should come as no surprise that Do Not Harm is one of the series’ best episodes, to date. After all, there’s compromising of the writer’s vision.
Final Grade: A
USA’s popular spy series, Burn Notice, is returning this week [Thursday, 10/9C] and we had the opportunity to chat with Bruce Campbell [crusty, semi-retired spy Sam Axe] on what to expect in Season Three. Campbell didn’t dip into any classified intel, but it was definitely a fun interview…
It’s been a while since the Powerpuff Girls have had a new adventure, but that all changes this evening following the Cartoon Network’s Powerpuff Girls Marathon! The new, special, double-length Powerpuffs Rule! [8/7C] brings back this smart, semi-satirical superhero series for the team’s most outrageous adventure yet!
It seems that the Key to the World is coming to Townsville for one day – despite The City of Townsville being Supervillain Central. Worse, The Mayor loses the key – setting everyone of the Girls’ enemies after it. Now, not only do the Girls have to find the key, they have to undo the chaos that the villains are catching in their.
And what if the Key makes the girls decide that only they are capable of ruling? And what happens if Mojo Jojo should get his paws on the key? Just how evil are his plans for ruling the world – and where do the puppies come in?
Once again, Craig McCracken and his cohorts have come up with a unique adventure for Bubbles, Blossom and Buttercup – including some wisdom from another source on the subject of great responsibility; listening to their father, and generally putting their heads together to find ways to stop the ever reliable Mojo JoJo [and make fun of his manner of speech]. [C’mon, the guy is redundancy on legs!]
McCracken’s crack creative pepper the double-length ep with pop culture references – the great responsibility this is only one several. The Powerpuff Girls don’t work without a dash of satire, a few pop culture references [into which category, Mojo JoJo’s songs clearly fall] and a bit of cartoon violence, cleverly concealed beneath streaks of red, blue and green.
All The Powerpuff Girls Rule!!! Because they’ve been brought up right and love their father, whose radical experiment went, as the PR material puts it, horribly right. So, once again the City of Townsville is saved by The Powerpuff Girls! And really, they are so swell, how could we want things any other way? Happy Anniversary, Powerpuff Girls!
Final Grade: A-
Tara Gregson [Toni Collette] is a struggling artist/designer with a charming husband, Max [John Corbett] and two kids – studious Marshall [Kier Gilchrist] and uber-brat Kate [Brie Larson]. She also has three more personalities [slutty teen, T; macho redneck Buck, and super Betty Crocker, Alice – and a sister, Charmaine [Rosemarie DeWitt] who thinks she’s faking [“that’s not even a real disease,” she tells Max after an early incident]. Fortunately, Max is a little more open minded than she is – though the exchange does basically set up two schools of thought on DID. The United States of Tara [Showtime, Sundays, 10/9C] is yet another reason that Showtime is sometimes referred to as “the new HBO.”
UST was created by Steven Spielberg and developed by Diablo Cody – which as likely a combination as Juno and Paulie from Cody’s first film, and turns out to be as an unexpectedly good one. It takes a lot of nerve to tackle DID in the manner of UST – the premise is that Tara has gone of her meds with the approval of her family and therapist in the hope that the appearance and behaviour of her alter-egos might lead to the discovery of the events that led her to develop them in the first place. Not the simplest premise, and one that probably be watched closely by mental health professionals and families of DID victims.
From the moment we meet each of Tara’s “alters,” it becomes apparent that Cody is playing for keeps. There moments with each alter that reach almost profound levels of accuracy – and the humor that arises from these situations ranges from dark to light to dark again. In most instances, the humor is used to relieve the impact of the drama, as when Alice takes umbrage with Kate’s attitude and language in the third ep, Aftermath [in which the family attempts to clean up after the damage T and Buck caused in the first two eps.
The United States of Tara is not an easy show to watch, but despite it flaws [the children are woefully underdeveloped and it’s a tribute to Gilchrist and Larson that they have any presence at all], it is smart and refuses to take it easy on its audience. There are moments that are genuinely raw – that will definitely have an impact on you – and moments that leave you rolling with laughter [and you might feel guilty only about half the time].
The United States of Tara will make you think and feel – and isn’t that what the best television should do?
Final Grade: B+
When The L Word [Showtime, Sundays, 9/8C] returns this evening, it does so with a bang and whole heaping helping of crazy. By the time the teaser has ended, Jenny [Mia Kirshner] is dead and it looks like murder – and the determined investigating detective is Sgt. Duffy [Lucy Lawless]. Then the show skips back in time by three months and we get to see how events led to this point.
As a straight fan of the show who enjoyed the way the series dealt head-on with issues and various types of relationships within the lesbian community [which pretty much mirrored relationships in the straight world – except with hot lipstick lesbian sex], I got to know and love [or hate] the characters for who they were as people, from the exceedingly promiscuous Shane [Katherine Moennig] to the fruitcake that is Alice [Leisha Hailey] to the steady and motherly Kit [Pam Grier].
Over the four episodes I received from Showtime, I found that everything I enjoyed about the series has been taken to new levels – levels to which they, perhaps, should not have been forced to go. Alice [my least favorite character] and her black girlfriend, Tasha [Rose Rollins], have hijacked a disproportionate amount of the series – and their relationship woes are so obvious [and boring] that a couples therapist flat out tells them that he’s never seen two people who have less in common.
Meanwhile, Bette’s [Jennifer Beals] old college roommate, Kelly [Elizabeth Berkley], is back in town and despite knowing that Bette and Tina [Laurel Holloman] are together, seems pretty intent on getting with Bette. Then there’s Max Daniela Sea], who has learned, the hard way, that taking testosterone for her sex change has not prevented her from having some major problems [which, I have to admit, I saw coming for miles]; the return of Dylan [Alexandra Hedison] complicates Helena’s [Rachel Shelley] life; Phyllis [Cybill Shepherd] gets a marriage proposal; Jenny reveals the one true love of her life – and shakes up things for everyone. And have I mentioned the way that the studio has tampered with Lez Girls – turning it from a lesbian love story into a hetero love story?
Somehow, The L Word has gone from cool lesbian soap opera to way-over-the-top lesbian soap opera. The sex may still be hot, but I’m not sure the new levels of crazy are necessarily the right way to go here. Of course, there may be some entertaining value is seeing how much crazier the show can get – it’s not like it’s being done less well technically, or anything. I’m just finding it to quite as compelling, this season. It’s kind of like standing on a hill above an intersection and looking down at two cars speeding toward that intersection. You know it could end badly, but you can’t look away.
Final Grade: B-
Secret Diary of a Call Girl [Showtime, Sundays, 10:30/9:30C] may be best known as the television program that helped Billie Piper escape the stereotyping that could have followed her from two seasons as The Doctor’s most popular companion ever on Doctor Who, but it is also a charmingly oddball look at the oldest profession as seen through the eyes of Belle/Hannah [Piper], a high-end, independent call girl.
This season finds Hannah attending a christening as godmother, and having to deal with the prospect of being the featured prostitute in a political scandal; considering cosmetic surgery, and trying to figure out a way to have a real relationship without leaving the profession. The potential relationship thing begins with Belle picking up a guy named Alex [Callum Blue, Dead Like Me], thinking he’s a client, and then being unable to stop thinking about him. This is complicated by a would-be call girl named Bambi [Ashley Madekwe] who picks Belle’s mind for pointers – and steals one of her clients, with near disastrous results.
Season Two of Secrets of a Call Girl is pretty much what you might expect if you saw Season One. Belle’s clients are the source of some humor – as well as some drama, and her personal life, her real life, continues to intrude on her professional one in ways that make her think about changing her line of work. The writing is mostly frothy, but occasionally darker, with the result that we can laugh, cry, shudder and, occasionally, cringe as we watch.
The characters continue to be drawn well enough for us to care about at least a few of them. Blue’s Alex is awkwardly charming; Madekwe’s Bambi is an innocent who thinks she isn’t, and there’s always ex-boyfriend Ben [Iddo Goldberg] to call Hannah on her BS [being the only person from her real life who knows about her profession].
Technically, the show is as glossy and sleek as ever – though the rather awkward cuts from Belle to her body double are a weak point. Secret Life of a Call Girl is occasionally erotic enough to make us feel naughty as we watch, bit just as often so matter-of-fact that we can relate to the characters as people.
Final Grade: B-
SCI FI Channel has announced Justin Louis, David Blue, Brian J. Smith and Jamil Walker Smith will join the cast of the highly anticipated new original series Stargate Universe. The four will enlist alongside Robert Carlyle (Dr. Nicholas Rush) in the latest adventure in the Stargate franchise produced by MGM television. Production will begin in Vancouver in February 2009 with an eye toward a fall ‘09 premiere.
Edgier and younger in tone than the two previous series, SGU follows a band of soldiers, scientists and civilians, who must fend for themselves as they are forced through a Stargate when their hidden base comes under attack. The desperate survivors emerge aboard an ancient ship, which is locked on an unknown course and unable to return to Earth.
“…You are one of a small number of trusted BSG enthusiasts with whom we are sharing a review copy.”
While that statement from the letter that accompanies the mid-season premiere of BSG [Sci Fi, Fridays, 10/9C], Sometimes a Great Notion, doesn’t exactly hurt my ego, it does come with some hefty caveats. I can’t give away a couple of HUGE plot points – like they’d have to tell me that in the first place – and then there’s the scene that has been withheld from screener in the interests of maintaining “the secrecy surrounding an extremely sensitive reveal” [which only guarantees that I’ll be in front of my TV for the premiere – but I’d have been there anyway, the ep is that good].
What’s left? Forty-two minutes of pretty frakkin’ awesome stuff! [Remember, I saw it without commercials.] Which means you should set your TiVo for an extra three minutes or so…
In the past, I’ve been known to complain about episodes that are way too talky and slow – episodes where it’s all about exposition, or recapitulation of themes that maybe didn’t need to be recapitulated – or about the Messiah Baltar [James Callis] and his harem. Well, Sometimes a Great Notion is a talky episode – the one burst of unexpected violence [not counting a fist fight in one of the Galactica’s corridors as a major character walks by] is one of things I can’t talk about – but even without the violence, so much happens here that it will be one of the best television episodes of 2009 [and that’s without the missing scene]!
The episode begins mere moments after the conclusion of Revelations with the various human and Cylon characters wandering about in a daze. The only one who is actively doing something, really, is Starbuck [Katie Sackhoff], who is looking for something. Before the teaser is over, there have been answers to at least a couple of major questions, including one about the Final Five – not to mention… but that would be too much to say here…
Essentially, Sometimes a Great Notion is about what happens when your biggest and best hopes and dreams are dangled before your eyes then ripped ruthlessly away. Some of the responses are dire [see HUGE plot point #2] while some are just there – a kind enervation. Then there are those who see the situation not as an invalidation of their hopes and dreams, but an opportunity to be completely free from any expectations, or prophecies. The characters who fall into these categories might not necessarily be the ones you’ll be expecting.
Written by David Weddle and Bradley Thompson [they wrote Revelations – every resolution of a cliffhanger should be written by the same writer[s] who did the cliffhanger] and directed by Michael Nankin, Sometimes a Great Notion is an amazing example of how a mostly violence-free episode should be done. Nankin’s pacing is best described as deliberate – just slow enough that we can pick up on the many subtleties of the episode [watch the reactions of the crew in the background after the announcement is made about the state of the Earth] – even as we watch the main characters fall apart, go into shock, or buck up and decide to keep going forward.
The bleached palette of the bleak Earth scenes contrast with the much warmer palette aboard the Galactica [warmer tones that make that one burst of violence even more mind-boggling]. It’s partly because of contrasts such as these that we buy into most of the responses to the news about the Earth – though, as in real life, some will never be understood. Though I haven’t said much about the Cylons who allied themselves with the humans, they, too, are caught up in the situation with an equally wide range of reactions – especially Leoben [Callum Keith Rennie] and D’Anna [Lucy Lawless].
Because of the missing scene, I can’t give Sometimes a Great Notion an unqualified A+ – but it is close to perfect as it can be without that scene [and I can’t wait to see what it is!].
Final Grade: A
The new A&E series, The Beast [Thursdays, 10/9C], is built around a familiar premise – the veteran cop/FBI/CIA agent being teamed up with a green partner. The main difference between most movies and TV series that use this premise is that this one has Patrick Swayze and some very effective writing.
Swayze is the unorthodox [and possibly corrupt] veteran FBI agent, Charles Barker, who is partnered with the wet-behind-the-ears Ellis Dove [Travis Fimmel – who’s learned to act since The WB’s Tarzan]. Dove was handpicked by the cantankerous Barker to become his new partner, though you’d never know it from the way he treats him. The show opens with the two working undercover – and Barker shoots him! When they’re not actively pursuing a case, Barker has Dove fetch coffee, deal with obnoxious drunks and generally act as a gopher. By hitting the kid in his pride, Barker is pushing him to work on his undercover skills.
Then there’s the Internal Affairs thing. In the premiere, Ellis is approached by a handful of IA people who try to recruit him to prove Barker’s corruption – of the four, only “Ray” [Larry Gilliard Jr.] reappears in the second episode, and then to give Dove a DVD that allegedly implicates Barker in something illegal. Throw in something that disappears from the evidence room, and a woman who lives in Dove’s apartment building [Rose, played by Lindsay Pulsipher], and you’ve got most of the ingredients for a formula show.
Fortunately, series creators Vincent Angell and William L. Rothko aren’t interested in the standard tropes of the genre. Instead, they set up a selection of standard characters and play with their motivations and situations. The result is a smarter, darker show than you’d expect on basic cable – and an entertainment that would be more engrossing than most even without Swayze. With him, though, the show has serious heft.
Michael Dinner directs the first two episodes with an eye toward mixing noir-ish lighting with slightly bleached colors to give the show an individual look. He has a knack for lighting his characters so that we get a sense of who they are even before they say anything. Dinner does a good job of exploiting the chemistry between Swayze and Fimmel – not to mention Fimmel and Pulsipher – in a way that doesn’t seem forced. When you put it all together, it’s safe to say that The Beast is the best hour-long series that A&E has had since Nero Wolfe.
Final Grade: B+
I’ve just seen the two-hour premiere of season five of Lost [ABC Wednesdays, 8/7C, beginning on Jan. 21st]. You think it was strange and wild and exhilarating before? Just wait until you see what’s next!
Although my agreement with ABC is that I can’t give away plot points, I can, perhaps, give clues. I can tell you that Vincent’s back – and that Sawyer plays a more prominent role. I can tell you that things have changed between Benjamin Linus [Michael Emerson] and Sayid [Naveen Andrews]; that Hurley [Jorge Garcia] has reached his limit on lying – and that Sayid’s life may depend on him; I can tell you that a potential legal problem may change Kate’s [Evangeline Lilly] and Aaron’s lives, and that Charlotte [Rebecca Mader] may not be well. And speaking of Hurley, remember Dave? And Charlie’s enigmatic appearance at the mental institution [“I’m dead. And I’m here”]? I can safely say that Hurley sees dead people.
There are lots more clues that I could give you in that vein, but when the events to which they allude happen, all that’ll happen is that some answers will be given [like why Hurley finally reaches his limit with The Lie] and more will be asked [like what’s happening to the people who were left on the island]. Even the titles of the two parts of this season’s premiere have titles [Because You Left & The Lie] that are carefully gauged to give hints that spawn unexpected answers and set the stage for more [and possibly bigger] questions. As is always the case with Lost, context is everything.
Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof co-wrote Because You Left and Stephen Williams’s direction keeps up a pace that matches that of last season’s three-hour finale. Revelations are given in quick bursts and emotional moments in almost a state suspension – but no scene lasts for more a few moments. The Lie, written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz and directed by Jack Bender, keeps up that pace, for the most part but lingers a bit more over the key emotional sequences, giving them more heft as the give and take of answers and questions mounts.
I have to say that I enjoyed the season five premiere episodes as much as the three-part season four finale. Everyone we care about gets a choice moment or two and the plot forges onward. The rollercoaster ride that is Lost is definitely maintaining the quality level it regained last season.
Final Grade: A+