Soap Opera Weekly: 9/11/09

Dear Diary,
OMG, it finally happened — THE VAMPIRE DIARIES premiered on The CW last night! But why do I feel sorta dirty the morning after? Over the course of the whole show, I swapped IMs with my colleague Mala, who was horrified by what she saw — and not in a good way.

Basically, the pilot episode seemed to be trying too hard to evoke Twilight while simultaneously trying not to be a carbon copy. Elena (Nina Dobrev)was changed from a blonde golden girl to a morose, slightly clumsy gal who literally runs into Stefan while she’s emerging from the boy’s room. And Stefan can’t help but remind viewers of that other, sparkly, high school vampire. My biggest question about Stefan is, why was trying so hard to get into high school — to the point of hypnotizing an administrator? Did he already know Elena was a student there, or did he get lucky to find a doppelganger for his lost love in history class? Being a centuries-old vampire helps compensate for the fact that Paul Wesley (ex-Max, GUIDING LIGHT) looks too old for high school. And lucky for vampires, leather jackets and sunglasses are eternally cool, so he doesn’t have to change his wardrobe. (Apparently a foray into grunge was a disaster.) Does anyone else remember that Paul played werewolf Luke on WOLF LAKE?

Stefan’s adversarial relationship with his brother, Damon (Ian Somerhalder, ex-Boone, LOST), was the best thing about the show. Brotherly banter was taken to extreme with vamp strength, and Damon’s smirking self-assurance was a great counterbalance to Stefan’s emo brooding.

I was hoping the eponymous diaries would be metaphorical, but sadly, they were all too real — and used to justify cloying narration. (Stefan was not a diarist in the books, but that is only one of the numerous changes in this small-screen adaptation of the young-adult series). As if the narration wasn’t bad enough, there was also one of those closing musical montages that I find so odious and unoriginal.

Well, Diary, that’s all for now. See you next time!

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STARGATE UNIVERSE 1.3 Air (and sand)

Lots of air and sand

Well, nobody came down with a case of the warm fuzzies for the third part of STARGATE UNIVERSE’s initial story, “Air.” Everyone still barely tolerates everyone else – at best. To me, this dynamic worked even better this week, because it was believable that nerves would be frayed as the breathable atmosphere was consumed. There was not much support for pulling together for the greater good, and making their last breaths meaningful or noble. Newly sown grudges were maintained, and the appearance of Col. Telford simply added more fuel to the fire.

While Rush and Scott led an expedition to an unknown planet looking for lime to repair the air scrubbers, the rest of the crew remained aboard Destiny and squabbled about what to do. From Earth, Telford and Dr. Mehta switched bodies with Col. Young and Chloe, so Chloe could to tell her mother about her father’s death and Young could report to Gen. O’Neill. Telford used the switch to inspect Destiny. Or rather, try to. Telford was shocked to find Young’s body badly wounded, yet he insisted on pushing the injured body to extremes while stalking about the ship, tearing the trapped crew new ones. What a jerk! I know Telford feels guilty because he was supposed to lead the team through the gate to the ninth chevron location, but he should have vacated Young’s body and switched with someone else. (On another note, maybe the crew lucked out that the taskmaster didn’t get to make the trip!) Props to Lou Diamond Phillips for playing unsympathetic. Bravo to TJ for sedating Telford! And I have to take one tiny issue with Jack’s assertion that no one is “qualified” to go through the gate; as I recall, O’Neill was selected for the original (suicide) mission because he felt he had nothing left to live for after the death of his son. That’s a sort of qualification (although, technically, not specifically for stargate travel. But I digress…).
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R.I.P. Barry Letts (1925-2009)

I was greatly saddened to hear of the death of former DOCTOR WHO producer/director/writer Barry Letts on Friday, Oct. 9. With his passing, another important link to the series’ formative years is gone forever. Verity Lambert, Sydney Newman, Barry Letts… (not to mention the Doctors we’ve lost…)

Letts started working on the show during Patrick Troughton‘s tenure, and took over as producer during Jon Pertwee‘s first season. Chief among his accomplishments were the creation of arguably the greatest companion ever, Sarah Jane Smith (Lis Sladen in “The Time Warrior”), and the casting of Tom Baker as the highly influential fourth incarnation of the Doctor! (I’m not looking to start a fight over the relative merits of companions; I’m just saying it can be argued that Sarah is the best.)

I did a little research into Letts’ contributions to the series, I discovered that some well-regarded serials bore his fingerprints. For example, he directed “Terror of the Autons” (which introduced new companion Jo Grant, opposite number the Master and UNIT sidekick Mike Yates) and Pertwee’s swan song, “Planet of the Spiders.” (He also helmed “Enemy of the World,” “Carnival of Monsters” and much of “The Android Invasion.”) His last story as producer was “Robot,” Baker’s first. By the time of Baker’s final tale, “Logopolis,” Letts had become executive producer, and was widely viewed as a shadow producer, looking over newbie John Nathan-Turner‘s shoulder.

Terror of the Autons

Terror of the Autons

The Third Doctor was never my favorite incarnation, but that’s no reflection on Letts. I know my opinion is in the minority, and that lots of people consider Pertwee’s James Bond-inspired persona to be just…dandy. But to me, the Earth-bound era was just not as exciting. For me, much of the appeal of DOCTOR WHO lies in the limitless storytelling canvas. The Doctor can literally go anywhere and anywhen. It’s hard to conceive of a more open-ended story premise, and I like tales that take maximum advantage of the show’s possibilities. And for me, confining the Doctor to Earth, where he primarily defended London, seemed to hobble to creators. Of course a couple of the most-loved tales on the “classic” era came from here, under Letts’ tenure. And, like most people, I love “Inferno” and “The Daemons” (which he co-wrote with Robert Sloman) “Spearhead from Space,” and I can appreciate how 1970s audiences would have been terrified by the Autons. And where would we be without the Master? But despite my biases, Letts’ stories were always well-made. (Okay, okay, not “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” but the budget constraints were not Letts’ fault. And let’s see you make a clay dinosaur appear more realistic, especially with primitive chromakey technology!) He used the resources available to make the best serials he could.

So rest in peace, Barry Letts.

Doctor Who’s new logo: 11th time’s the charm

newest logo

newest logo

Change is the very essence of DOCTOR WHO. In fact, it’s practically the only constant about the entire series. The Doctor himself has worn 10 different faces and exhibited 10 distinct personalities, and when 2010 rolls around we will be introduced to his 11th persona. And the show will deploy its 11th logo. The latest logo was unveiled this week, and it is very (very) different. Take a look:
11th logo

11th logo

No, the switch has not always been keyed to a new Doctor; Tom Baker served so long as the 4th incarnation that he spanned two title designs. Peter Davison‘s and Colin Baker‘s fifth and sixth Time Lords also shared Tom’s second, “neon” logo, while the 9th and 10th both employed the 10th, the current oblate-spheroid look.

10th logo

10th logo

I have to say I like the new look. But perhaps that’s more because I never really liked the current logo, which came along when the series was reimagined in 2005. I loved (and still love!) everything else about the relaunch, but the stretched-out, flattened, yellow-orange graphic just never clicked with me. Perhaps that’s why the blockier, more solid design appeals to me. I also like adding the TARDIS lamp on top and creating “official” alternate looks, including an abbreviation that mimics the shape of the TARDIS itself.

A new logo, new show-runner (Peter Moffat), new Doctor (Matt Smith) new companion (Karen Gillan) and even a new sonic screwdriver (!) make the show seem new again in a wonderful way. I just hope the rumor that the new season will again be designated “Series 1” proves false. It should be referred to as “Series 5.” Actually I have been hoping that fan-made-good Moffat will be the kind of traditionalist who might revert to the “proper” original numbering – which would make the new series Season 32. (That’s how I think of it, anyway.) Hope regenerates.

Zombieland: The Laughing Dead

Step right up, folks! Don’t miss your opportunity to visit the one and only Zombieland! See! the amazing traveling zombie-killers Tallahassee and Columbus! Witness! the beguiling sibling con artists, Wichita and Little Rock! Marvel! at the last famous person on Earth, Bill Murray! Watch! in horror as the undead walk and ooze assorted unidentifiable bodily fluids…

In the near future, a virus will sweep the world, turning almost everyone into flesh-eating, undead monsters with lightning reflexes and ravenous appetites. Civilization has collapsed, and very few living humans remain. Some things, however, never change: Murray is still at the top of the Hollywood food chain, and still insouciant. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg; Adventureland) is one of the few survivors – mainly because he has always been a skittish germophobe and budding recluse. Columbus adheres to a rigid set of rules, apparently derived from horror movie clichés, which has kept him alive. (Rule No. 31: Always check the back seat. Rule No. 17: Don’t be a hero.) He runs into Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), who is the Steve McQueen of zombie-killers: bloodlessly efficient and almost too cool for words. Tallahassee’s only weakness is a mad craving for Twinkies. The corpse-grinding guys meet their match in a pair of sisters dubbed Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who survive on a wicked mix of brains and sex appeal. The boys just cannot stop underestimating them and falling for their cons. Complications inevitably arise when the group’s “every man for himself” ethos – the characters are designated by hometowns rather than names to keep each other at arm’s length – collides with simple human concern for one another.
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Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 09/09/09

I love that BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL’s Ridge and Brooke traipsed down to the city clerk’s office to obtain a marriage license. You never see that sort of nuts-and-bolts detail! Soap weddings usually gloss over the technicalities and legalities in favor of romance. It’s so much more dramatic to swap out brides before a ceremony than worry about the names on the documents that make it all count. But here we had Brooke and Ridge go through the actual process of getting a license; trundling out their IDs, accounting for the fees and wrangling the pile of legacy paperwork. Then it got all goofy with the couple harassing the clerk with photos of their previous weddings… (all…what, 300 of them?) and then they made him pronounce them man and wife. Or rather, husband and wife. Or whatever. When he proclaimed, “You may now kiss the bride,” everyone cheered for those crazy, lovesick kids.

Speaking of kids, MELROSE PLACE has been officially rebooted with a (mostly) new cast, and my verdict on last night’s premiere is cautiously optimistic. It kicked off with a cloud of sexy intrigue, but as the hour wore on the major players were exposed as more easy “types” than characters. But MP recovered in its final half-hour, and I am actually looking forward to next week.

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Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 9/8/09

This week’s MAD MEN was all about fathers and sons. The episode opened with Horace, the son of wealthy shipping magnate, eager to blow his inheritance on a bid to popularize jai alai. The fact that many of you don’t even know what that is (let alone how it’s spelled) indicates what a pipe dream that was. But we’re looking at it with 40 years of hindsight. I almost laughed out loud when Horace demanded to show jai alai on all three networks at the same time.The ’60s really were an idealistic time, eh?

But the week’s big development was Betty’s father passing away. Gene only recently moved in with the Drapers, but he quickly spiraled out of control, causing chaos like letting Sally drive, giving Bobby a World War II souvenir German helmet — even eating ice cream with salt on it! Gene foreshadowed his own death by discussing his will with Betty (The mere mention of it creeped her out!), and the very next day he died while standing in line to buy fruit at the A&P. It would be fitting if he was shopping for oranges, because just the night before he had mentioned smelling oranges. And oranges always portended death in the Godfather movies.

Speaking of movies, Sal directed the Patio commercial and turned in a spot-on pastiche of Bye, Bye, Birdie that the Pepsi people rejected as simply “not right.” Don’s lackluster defense of Sal’s work was not right, but I guess the customer always is. Don was also looking out for the customer when he tried to submarine the jai alai deal as a waste of Horace’s money. Clearly, Don is growing more and more detached from his job, as well as his homelife. It’s a drift that is paralleled by Sal. His wife, Kitty (is that really innocent Sarah Drew from EVERWOOD?), tried to seduce him in a little green nightie, but he was all about work. I guess she was wearing green because she’s jealous of the attention his job gets….

In one of those odd juxtapositions of the TV schedule, this week’s GREEK was entitled, “Our Fathers,” and dealt with ZBZ’s Daddy/Daughter weekend. This gave Thomas Calabro a chance to once again play Rebecca’s father, the scandal-plagued Senator Logan, before reprising the dastardly Michael on tonight’s reboot of MELROSE PLACE on The CW. Somehow, I doubt Michael has undergone a similar spiritual awakening. Tom Amandes (I guess this is EVERWOOD week!) played Jordan’s father, Jack Reed, while Kadeem Hardison portrayed Ashley’s daddy, Brian. Predictably, guy each sided with his own daughter in a mini-spat of their own. But family problems were not the only dirty laundry aired: Ashley’s boyfriend Fisher confessed to Casey that he and Rebecca kissed at the party, and Casey reluctantly agreed to keep the secret to spare Ash’s feelings. Too bad Rebecca decided to tell Ashley — and to point out that Casey knew and hid it from her. Rebecca is a great villainess, because that pretty smile always distracts from the knife going in your back.

The line of the night belonged to Dale, who was so upset over breaking his chastity vow that he described the encounter thusly: “It was magical…ly disgusting!” Dale’s self-flagellation led him to consider Catholicism, as embodied by Catholic schoolgirl Mary-Elyse, who also captured Cappie’s eye — but he was interested in more earthly delights.

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Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 9/3/09

It’s a Wonderful Life — well, at least it seems that way on GUIDING LIGHT, lately. I was reminded of that Frank Capra classic because today’s episode was so heavy on feelings of despair and then redemption.

Phillip telling his family about his terminal illness reflected the same sort of hopelessness that the movie’s George Bailey felt; neither would get to live the life he wanted. Phillip is actually dying, but George lost his grip on his destiny when he had to take over the Bailey Building & Loan and let his little brother go to college. From that point on, George faced a long, slow death march through Bedford Falls.

The sequences with Buzz and the Cooper clan moping around Company waiting for the bank to foreclose on them was very similar to George, Mary and Uncle Billy trying to keep the Building & Loan open until close of business on the day of the bank run. Meanwhile, Blake, Ashlee and Cyrus raced to finish their book manuscript by 6 p.m., in order to qualify for an advance that would keep the wolves away from the Cooper door. The authors submitted their book with two minutes left — just like George ended the day with $2. Then Blake and pals marched into Company with their check, just like the townsfolk brought baskets of money to the Bailey house to stave off financial ruin.

And that was one amazing book advance! It was enough to pay off both mortgages on Company, buy a new stove, replace the roof and send Daisy to college! Blake claimed the sum was so large because Coop had a “good reputation.” Whatever that rep was based on, it must have been pretty terrific.

And the final parallel: Every time Cyrus lies, an angel gets its wings!

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Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 9/2/09

Now that’s hot! Bravo, Denis Leary and Peter Tolan! I was shocked and awed by the spectacular fifth-season finale to RESCUE ME, which featured a truly harrowing cliffhanger. At 22 episodes, this was the longest season ever, and (from beginning to end) the best. So this was the finale the series deserved. The story was all about waiting for the other shoe to drop — more than one shoe, in fact. And when they did, they landed with devastating effects.

First of all, Janet finally served Tommy with divorce papers. As Lou pointed out, this has been years in the making; years that Tommy has spent alternately looking over his shoulder and trying to rescue a long-dead marriage. But the relationship is burned beyond recognition. And it is not helped by Tommy’s dalliance with Sheila. He seems to have a good thing going — but Sheila’s idea of a “no strings” relationship seems even more binding than Janet’s idea of marriage. (Tommy is supposed to be watching over Sheila’s son Damian at the firehouse, but Damian is actually keeping an eye on Tommy for his mother). Not even new gal Kelly is what she seems to be. She seems to offer the ultimate “no strings attached” relationship — she can barely remember Tommy’s name. But even she draws the line at sharing personal information. When word of Kelly reached Sheila, she declared a truce with Janet long enough to tag-team Kelly. But of course they could not keep the claws sheathed long enough to take down a common enemy. The Sheila/Janet catfight turned into a rumble in the jungle, with the gals hurling shoes and bricks at each, and it ended with Sheila using a garbage can lid to beat down a passerby who tried to intervene. Which was fitting, because in a lot of ways, this has been Callie Thorne’s season, and she has really run with the role of Sheila. By turns shrill and crazy-sexy-cool, Sheila is the model of a passive-aggressive nightmare girlfriend.

But the life-and-death stakes came from Uncle Teddy, who was inconsolable over Ellie’s death. He finally found solace in a warm gun. This comes as no surprise to longtime viewers, who doubtless remember that Teddy shot the drunken driver who killed Tommy’s son Connor. (Teddy’s stint in jail for that slaying led to him meeting Ellie in the first place!) Calling attention to the fact that while Tommy himself is a train wreck, it’s always everyone else who ends up dead, Teddy decided to punish Tommy for pushing Ellie off the wagon. So Tommy shot him. Twice. In front of all his buddies from 62 Engine. So the season ended with Tommy lying on the floor of his bar, bleeding out while his closest friends look on, helplessly, held at bay by the crazed Teddy. Now that’s a cliff-hanger!

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Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 8/31/09

The good news about the Daytime Emmys was that the show moved at an entertaining clip. The bad news was the lack of actual clips. In fact, soaps seemed to be pushed to the margins a bit. Sure, the first award went to ALL MY CHILDREN’s Vincent Irizarry as outstanding supporting actor, but after that the broadcast felt like game shows, talk fests and SESAME STREET dominated. Tons of attention was devoted to other programming, as if to prove to casual viewers that daytime has more to offer than “just” soaps. Hence the recurring bits with SESAME STREET’s Elmo and Gordon, and the obsessive cut-aways to JEOPARDY!’s Alex Trebek. The ultimate insult came at the very end, though, when BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL was announced as Outstanding Drama and then the credits rolled. Viewers barely got a glance at the stage as the B&B folks gathered. That was sort of disgraceful, especially in light of all the time wasted by hostess Vanessa Williams. Did she really need two song-and-dance numbers? No, she did not. This is not the Oscars, which needs production numbers to sell the show to overseas markets that demand such spectacle. This is the Daytime Emmys! We don’t need no stinkin’ songs; we got…er, Elmo!

But back to the good stuff. I cover GENERAL HOSPITAL, so I was particularly pleased by Julie Marie Berman’s supporting actress win, and the victory of Robert Guza Jr. and the writing team! Irizarry had the best speech. He hit all the bases — by turns touching without being maudlin, and funny yet respectful. The other great “speech” came from DAYS OF OUR LIVES’ Darin Brooks, whose expletive-laden stream-of-consciousness was mostly bleeped out. And the look of horror on his face when he realized that he’d blown all his time was priceless! The tribute to GUIDING LIGHT was terrific, but over way too soon. Just like the show itself. Probably everyone will agree that Tamara Braun taking the statue for supporting actress was the biggest surprise. That’s no diss on her, it’s just that she wasn’t in Salem very long. But obviously she made an impression.

I am no fashion maven, but even I noticed the amorphous white blob that seemed to be eating the dresses worn by GH’s Kirsten Storms and GL’s Kim Zimmer. My colleague Mala noticed it, too, and we shared theories via IM. (I feared an alien symbiote was lurking backstage and attaching itself to the couture.) Mala also explained that the cravat sported by B&B’s Ronn Moss was unrelated to the poofy white infestation. Sadly, I missed YOUNG AND RESTLESS’ Stacy Haiduk and her “escort/accessory,” Mr. Kitty during the red carpet preshow.

The CW was totally committed to using the awards broadcast to launch its fall lineup. I’m calling that a good thing. Since the entire network is aimed at young women, this means CW execs saw the awards as a good platform to reach young women. And maybe there will be some cross-pollination from MELROSE PLACE and 90210 and GOSSIP GIRL and VAMPIRE DIARIES to Y&R and DAYS and GH.

When I flipped over to MAD MEN at 10 p.m., I was delighted to see a daytime connection: Peyton List (ex-Lucy, AS THE WORLD TURNS) was back as Roger Sterling’s scandalously young wife. Welcome back, Peyton. Though I have a feeling that scene with John Slattery’s Roger in blackface is going to generate a firestorm! I have to admit the episode was rather boring overall, so why not add a minstrel show to the pot-smoking and pill-popping?

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