Monday, July 30, 2012

James Bond farm teams

As a James Bond fan, I've been interested in the use of copycat casting in the films. Let's think about this for a second. As James Bond became a big phenomena, naturally, imitation being the most sincere form of television, the copycats began. In "The Avengers" we have dapper international crime fighters.
Now, when the James Bond filmmakers needed a love interest for Goldfinger, they turn to the Avengers and recruit Honor Blackman.

OK, as they say in the novel Goldfinger, once is happenstance.

Then Honor Blackman was replaced in the Avengers by Diana Rigg. And when the Bond producers needed a love interest for "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," they get...Diana Rigg.

Twice is coincidence.

When it was time to replace Sean Connery (for the second time), they turned to "The Saint," a TV show about a dapper, tuxedo-wearing globetrotting crime fighter and snagged Roger Moore.

Three times is enemy actions.

(In fairness, the literary Saint predated the literary James Bond.)

But it doesn't stop there. When it was time to replace Moore, the first choice was Pierce Brosnan, who at the time was playing a dapper, tuxedo-wearing globetrotting crime fighter in "Remington Steele." (a Bond footnote. "Remington Steele was as good as cancelled when it was announced Brosnan would be the new Bond. NBC happy with all this publicity, un-cancelled Remington Steele, forcing Brosnan to sit out the next two Bond films. (This worked out for the best I think. I think Brosnan needed time to age into the role.)

All in all, not a lot of imagination in these casting choices. This is why they should get credit for taking chances on the actors with no Bond farm team experience: George Lazenby (a model), Timothy Dalton (who had never played a contemporary role in a film before), and Daniel Craig (who had experience playing gun-toting tough guys, but not as a good guy.).

They should also get credit for casting Sean Connery after his role in "Darby O'Gill and the Little People," in a role obviously written for Cary Grant or David Niven.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The dead-wife contrivance

Another contrivance that bothers me is the dead-wife-running-sub-plot. "The Fugitive" invented this so they get a lifetime pass. The premise being, through the course of a series, there's a background mystery in which the hero must find his wife's killer. But in practice, only relatively few episodes hit on this, or they might mention it once in a while. The unspoken promise is by the last episode the mystery will be solved.

Let's look at "The Fugitive," sure he was looking for his wife's killer, but that was the string that pulled him from city to city where he'd eventually do other stuff. Protect a single mom from the town bully, stand up to union busters, whatever. All the while he's on the run from Det. Girard.

This was of course wonderful. It started turning into a cliche when others jumped on the bandwagon.

The worst offender was the '70s TV version of the Hulk. A man who occasionally turned into a big green monster wasn't enough of a plot, someone thought, so the running subplot was he was on the run because he was somehow framed for his wife's death, but in the meanwhile he's protecting single moms from town bullies and standing up to union busters. You can see the pitch meeting, "I tell ya' J.L., it writes itself. It's just like "The Fugitive," but David Janssen turns into a big green monster every week!" And, he's being pursued by a tabloid reporter instead of a dogged cop. Absolutely unnecessary. It's the Hulk for heaven's sake.

The X-Files variation was Mulder was on the trail of the aliens (or shady government arm) who kidnapped his sister. The producers seemed almost embarrassed by this, and it was only brought out once in a great while, mostly, it was hardly ever mentioned.

Then came "Monk." Once again, you can hear the pitch meeting. "He's a brilliant detective, but he has crippling, hysterical OCD. It'll be just like those NBC Mystery Movies back in the '70s, like Columbo or McCloud, the brilliant detective with a quirky personality." And then some TV executive pees on it by saying, "Yeah, sounds good, but he needs a dead wife subplot in the background." And the creators relented and said, "OK." It seemed very tacked on.

I was disappointed in the "Night Stalker" remake of a few years back. They totally disassembled it and reassembled it as "The X-Files II" (this is funny because Chris Carter listed "The Night Stalker" as one of the influences of "The X-Files.") So instead of a shlubby down-on-his luck reporter in a beat-up Mustang, the new "Night Stalker" had a handsome, well-dressed reporter who drove a new Mustang. Guys, you sucked the fun out of it! Also he was given a skeptical partner, and, finally.... a subplot dead wife mystery going on in the background. How disappointing, instead of "Night Stalker" they just should have called it "X-Files: The Next Generation."

In fairness, as a "Night Stalker" reboot it was awful, but as an X-Files copy, it was really good.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Needlessly complicated contrivances

I've sensed a whole new genre on television. I've deemed it the Needlessly Complicated Contrivance genre. This would be where the premise has a hook that at first seems intriguing, then as you watch the show you think: They don't need that hook at all. And since all these shows had really short runs, I might be on to something

Some examples:
Life on Mars. Premise: A cop from the present is transported to the 70s to be a cop with 70s cops. Why can't it just be a show called "70s Cops."? That'd be good: Cops still bitter over the Miranda ruling, some pre-Rodney King suspect abuse, pre-DNA detective work. This could be a good drama. You don't need the observer-participant from the future premise at all. It was kind of self-defeating.

My Own Worst Enemy. Premise: By day a suburban dad, by night a secret agent. The hook: But due to some computer chip in his head or something, each of his identities knows nothing of the other! Why couldn't it just be suburban dad by day, secret agent at night?

Awake. Premise Jason Isaacs is an incredibly handsome cop who's living in two realities (a la Sliding Doors), one in which his wife died in a car crash, the other in which his son died in the accident. Once again, needlessly complicated contrivance.  Can't he just be a dashingly handsome cop? Ideally producers want shows to last at least 4-5 seasons. How long could you do this? In fairness, of the shows I'm writing about I never watched this one, so maybe it was the best show on TV. But I'm thinking, like the others, it had high production values and was a pleasure to watch...but...

Doll House. Premise: Eliza Dushku is an agent of some mysterious corporation that sends out "dolls" to fulfill wishes, do secret agent work, and when she's done, her memory is erased until her next assignment where she's programmed to do what's needed. Why can't she just be an agent who does stuff? In fairness the show was cancelled pretty quickly and it was just starting to explore who the real Eliza Dushku was and what exactly was behind the mysterious corporation. But still, let's look at another Joss Whedon show for contrast: Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Premise: Vampire slayer slays vampires. OK. Simple. She wasn't a vampire slayer who traveled through time, she wasn't a vampire slayer with amnesia. No!

There are several others whose runs were over so quick I can't even remember their names. One was a cop inexplicably pulled back and forth through time and in the episode I saw he functioned as a family counselor. Just stop.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cowardly lions

So we're thinking, why was it so hard for the people at Penn State to do the right thing? Then we brush the dirt off our hands and think, "Well it's over now. Let's move on."

No, it's not over yet. And we're still not doing the right thing.

Take the statue down.



And they took it down. I was afraid it would take years of hand-wringing, procrastination and emails, which is exactly how they got in trouble in the first place.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Something else my son got me hooked on

I'm watching "Gravity Falls" on the Disney Channel. And like "Phineas and Ferb" it's perfectly enjoyable for kids and their parents. It's a mixture of "Twin Peaks," "Eerie Indiana" and "X-Files." Just funnier. (in fact, the theme song has these "X-Files" touches to it.)

Kristen Schaal is somehow funnier on the cartoon than she is on "The Daily Show."

Well worth checking out.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Blondie still a hottie

I'm of the belief that once a comic strip's creator dies, the syndicate should pull the plug on the strip. The strip becomes a lifeless zombie otherwise (I'm looking at you Hagar the Horrible). The one exception I'd make though is Blondie. Though not consistently funny, every once in a while it will blindside me and make me laugh out loud.

The writer has been working at keeping up on the times, Dagwood has an iMac, his kids use cell phones. They've made Facebook jokes. Sometimes this seems forced and sometimes it works just right.

I like that Dithers hasn't changed in 80 years. Dagwood still has that universal, timeless appeal of being a slouch. And Blondie has a great rack.