Thanksgiving Thought Balloons…

Technical difficulties at the office prevented this blog from being posted at the SOAPOPERAWEEKLY.COM site. Figures that a time-sensitive piece would be delayed. Anyway, I figured if it cannnot run there, why not post it here?

Thanksgiving is upon us, and genius that I am, I stumbled upon the shockingly original idea of compiling a list of things for which I am grateful. (Hopefully no one else will copy me!) Being thankful for family and friends almost goes without saying, but we already don’t say it enough, so it’s worth repeating: I am thankful you are all in my life. But now, here are just a few of the TV-related things (in no particular order) which are worth acknowledging:

•Carly is back on AS THE WORLD TURNS, meaning Maura West and Michael Park get to work their wonderful alchemy together again. The CarJack whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
•GUIDING LIGHT went out on a high note that almost compensated for being canceled. (Okay, it didn’t even come close to compensating; it just made the loss more painful. But it’s a holiday and I’m trying to be charitable.)
•THE SHIELD also ended its run on a near-perfect note.
•JON AND KATE PLUS 8 was canceled! Thank you! If only we could erase any record of the show ever existing…
•Fox gave a show as “out there” as GLEE a chance to not only survive, but thrive. I am a confirmed Gleek!
•STARGATE UNIVERSE got to take flight on SyFy, despite the spotty record of STARGATE: ATLANTIS.
•24 returns next month!
Tom Pelphrey is back on a soap (this time ATWT).
•Even though the brilliant David Tennant is leaving DOCTOR WHO, the show — as always — will carry on with a new face (Matt Smith’s) in 2010.
•After this weekend, I won’t have to hear the words “Black Friday” for another year.
•Soaps are slowly (but surely) making the transition to online.
•There are still seven soap operas on the air! Hang in there, folks!

Remembrance of the Doctor

Exactly 46 years ago, on Nov. 23, 1963, DOCTOR WHO first flickered to life on TV screens in the United Kingdom. BBC Head of Drama Sydney Newman and first producer Verity Lambert are generally acknowledged as the “parents” of DOCTOR WHO, but legions of writers, producers, directors and actors have all contributed to make the series what it is today: my favorite TV series of all time.

The Doctors

The Doctors

DOCTOR WHO has the most flexible format imaginable: The lead character can change his appearance, and has his TARDIS, a vehicle that allows him to travel anyplace in the universe, at any time in the past, present or future. And the series has made great use of that creative freedom, crafting stories of adventure, comedy, drama and pathos that fall into categories of science fiction, fantasy, history and even romance. The Doctor is incredibly smart yet quirky, with an insatiable curiosity and a deep sense of right and wrong. All filtered through an alien perspective that makes him appear wildly eccentric and fun. There have been 10 versions of the Doctor to date, with an 11th persona about to debut in 2010. Each of these personalities has been as different as the faces he has worn.

My earliest memories of the series stem from Tom Baker‘s reign as the Fourth Doctor, as syndicated here in the USA in the late 1970s. It was shown on WWOR Channel 9 in New York, and actor Howard DaSilva would provide recaps of the previous episode (always referring to the lead character as “Doctor Who”). I have very vivid memories of the hallowed story “Genesis of the Daleks,” which introduced Davros, as well as “The Deadly Assassin,” featuring the desiccated, corpse-like Master. I remember being fascinated by the weird program with the wobbly sets, rubber-masked monsters, and the guy with the floppy hair and mile-long scarf. This was not STAR TREK, which I had watched religiously in reruns. I quickly realized that what the program lacked in budget, it made up for with heart and good intentions. There was an awful lot of love invested in those wacky stories – and Captain Kirk had never met anyone like Leela! The cliff-hanger format was perfect for hooking younger viewers, and I almost looked forward to the scream of the musical stinger that would sound just as the Doctor or one of his comely companions was in peril.
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The Prisoner (2009): Please Release Me…

Sadly, AMC’s version of THE PRISONER lived down (way down) to my very low expectations. I can honestly say this was not your grandfather’s PRISONER — and that’
s not a good thing. The series was as dry as the desert that surrounded the new Village on all sides.

Caviezel and McKellen

It’s important to start out by noting that a remake was doomed from the moment it was greenlit — there was no way to improve on the original and a straight frame-for-frame remake would be pointless, so the only place to go was down. But I did not think it would stoop this low. The 2009 version used the 1967-’68, 17-part series as a jumping-off point only. P2009 left behind almost everything that made the original such bracing television — especially the tension, and a definite sense of time and place. Both series are superficially the same: Each concerns a man who wakes up to find himself living in a mysterious Village with a strangely placid population. But the man’s name has been replaced by a number — 6 —

and he cannot leave, due to the rugged terrain and unique security system: a giant white balloon. A man known only as No. 2 appears to be in charge. So far, so good. But the bungling comes in tone and treatment.

The original was all about alienation and rebellion in the face of conformity. The Village itself represented the rigid social system of Britain, and 6’s struggle to resist mirrored the counter-culture movement of the late ’60s. This PRISONER, however, clearly has been filtered through the refracting lens of LOST, and the result is a distorted version of the modern touchstone, rather than a reflection of the social dreads of the early 21st century. The initial two hours of P2009 were obsessed with piling up “mysteries” instead of story elements, and the middle chapters served purely as bald-faced filler to mask a few sequences that would “justify”

the addle-minded finale. The elements that were retained only serve to heighten the differences. 6 still meets a taxi driver first, and then goes to a shop to buy a map, but in the modern version, the encounter with the shopkeeper is an excuse for a sight gag about the map unfolding to unwieldy size.
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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/8/09

I think Wednesday night is the perfect time for Fox’s GLEE. We all need a boost in the middle of week, and the Mckinley High gang is right there to offer some high-octane song-and-dance along with LOL lines. GLEE never fails to entertain me with its mixture of great music, vivid characters and raunchy comedy.

Even this week’s slightly sub-par episode was still better than most of the rest of what’s on the air. (Let’s face it, last week’s show, featuring that guest appearance by Kristin Chenoweth was a highlight of the fall season so far.) There were only two musical numbers this week, but they were doozies! The rest of the episode started to chip away at the harpy facade of Jessalyn Gilsig‘s Terri, hinting (but only hinting) at the humanity hidden (deep) below the surface. But at least Terri is an entertaining monster: Witness her obliviously handing out pseudoephedrine to the glee club while acting as school nurse. Terri’s jealousy of Will’s connection to mousy Emma really boosted the soap quotient. Terri and Ken teamed up to derail Will’s friendship with Emma so they could claim the pieces for themselves. Boorish slob Ken and doe-eyed germophobe Emma are a riot together. His marriage proposal and her acceptance with (hilarious) conditions was pure soap opera! So is Quinn and Finn struggle with her unwanted pregnancy. AS THE WORLD TURNS is doing practically the same storyline right now! Only without the singing. Maybe that’s what Liberty and co. need: a rousing rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’.” I know I sure believe in GLEE!

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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/29/09

The moment he first appeared on Tuesday, wriggling his eyebrows and asking Elizabeth, “Remember me?” Jonathan Jackson effortlessly reclaimed the role of Lucky. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Greg Vaughan‘s work as Lucky and not looking to disparage him at all — but I instantly liked Jackson. And maybe I was imagining it, but even perky Rebecca Herbst (Elizabeth) seemed to have an extra glow about her and spring in her step as a jaunty Lucky declared, “I feel lucky tonight.”

Lucky’s thrust-and-parry with Luke carried more of an edge when played by Jackson and Tony Geary. Even the scene in which father and son lounged on a bench and growled at each other felt livelier because Jackson looked so dialed in and focused. I hope that concentration eventually translates to the character, and GH stops walking all over Lucky. The man is a detective, remember, yet he’s always the last one to know important things like, oh, say, his wife is screwing around on him. Stop making him a dupe. If Lucky can look different, why can’t GH look at him differently?

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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/28/09

I have to give mad props to MAD MEN’s Jon Hamm for his moving confession scene in this week’s episode. Confronted with evidence of his past as “Dick Whitman,” a haggard Don fingered the fading photographs and finally talked about his childhood. Hamm was sedate, and there was a bitter tang of defeat in his voice, as if all his years of careful subterfuge were now wasted. (And maybe they were.) Viewers could see that dredging up the past was tearing Don up. But when Don recounted the story of his younger brother’s suicide, Hamm was simply brilliant. For years, Don has been haunted with guilt that he “failed” his sibling by not recognizing his cries for help, and Hamm showed every minute of that torment in his posture, gestures and weary tone. Hamm’s voice was choked with long-suppressed emotion as he admitted that he valued his new life as Betty’s husband more than his old identity, and could not risk his current family by reaching out to his troubled old one. (Yet he constantly risks that marriage with his philandering!) Hunched over and sobbing, Hamm never lost Don’s sense masculinity, even as he gave viewers a glimpse at the shattered man behind the cool facade. Don Draper, the man who can talk clients (and women) into anything, could not finagle his way out of this one, and in the process, left me practically speechless.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/22/09

I am really glad that GLEE is on the air, and that Fox has picked up the back nine, giving it a full season of 22 episodes.

GLEE is generating a lot of positive buzz and good ratings because the stories tend to be edgy and raunchy, often addressing the ugly realities of real teen issues like popularity, and sexual and religious identity. Sure, the cast looks politically correct (There’s a guy in a wheelchair, as well as various ethnic minorities!), but the way the kids are treated is so not PC. Artie’s (Kevin McHale) wheelchair was wedged into a portable toilet by “pranksters,” for example. This week’s episode, in which cool kids Finn (Cory Monteith) and Quinn (Dianna Agron) were knocked to the bottom of the social totem pole because of their association with glee club, was hilarious. From quarterback and head cheerleader to objects of ridicule and slushie attacks overnight!

Of course the songs are always a highlight, but I have to give special props to Puck’s (Mark Salling) rendition of “Sweet Caroline,” which was possibly better than Neil Diamond himself, and will make you forget every time you had to suffer through some drunken rendition of it at karaoke night. Will (Matthew Morrison, ex-Adam, ATWT) busted a move like Young MC, and Emma (HEROES’ Jayma Mays) finally got to strut her vocal stuff. I could have watched all night…

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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/21/09

It looks like last night was my last time watching the rebooted MELROSE PLACE, because the clichés are so overwhelming that it feels like I’ve seen it all before.

Let’s start with Riley’s adventures in modeling. Designer Anton V. supposedly chose Riley as the…er, face of his his jeans because she’s real” and “not a model,” but then he dispatched her to a photo shoot where she was given the standard fantasy makeover that transformed her into a standard-issue model.Instead of “real,” Riley looked real fake, just like any other model. And why did Anton hire photojournalist Jo Reynolds to shoot a campaign that looks like every ad, ever. (The returning Daphne Zuniga has a nice gig over on ONE TREE HILL, so she probably didn’t need the work). When a half-naked Riley stormed off the set, it proved she has really big principles! But then again, Anton liked the photos (of course), so she’ll take the $10,000 anyway?

Perhaps Riley’s plot was a cliché for the same reason that her fiancé, Jonah, was dispatched to the famous Paramount Pictures lot to meet a megaproducer Andy, who “loved” everything about his film — and only wants to change everything! Oh, Hollywood, you’re all the same!

Which is the problem. Everything about this MP is more of the same. Apparently the-powers-that-be are banking on the target audience of preteen girls being so young they have no frame of reference for a nighttime soap beyond 90210, GOSSIP GIRL and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES. Well, the legendary newspaperman H.L. Mencken famously noted, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” (He didn’t know from Nielsen ratings, though…)

Finally, I leave you with the laugh line of the night, courtesy of Colin Egglesfield’s Auggie: “Riley, I don’t know if you know this, but it’s kind of impossible to hate you.” Uh, no, it’s not. It’s actually quite easy to hate Riley. And her little show, too.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/14/09

I’ve been sort of watching THE GOOD WIFE; I have it on so I can listen and occasionally glance at it while doing other things, but my colleague Mala has really been stumping for it, so I made the effort to pay attention to last night’s episode — and was rewarded with an interesting story of suspected jury-tampering.

Alicia Florrick is the titular character; her state’s attorney husband was jailed following a public sex scandal, and Alicia was seen grimly “standing by her man” at his press conference. Star Julianna Margulies is a very appealing actress who imbues the wronged wife with an amiability that really works. The show’s premise is original, and Margulies runs with the character. Alicia shows more than a little vulnerability, but projects a facade of competence and dignity that keeps her from looking silly. The big question is obvious: How could she not know? Was she that oblivious? Was she just a stooge? Alicia asks herself those same probing questions with every home video and gift she reconsiders.

As a bonus, the-powers-that-be are able to find intriguing legal storylines to go with the interesting characters. Alicia has returned to her career as a lawyer and — surprise, surprise — she’s pretty darn good at it. Her compassion for the victims in cases is often the key to victory. (Gee, wonder where that comes from?) But the cases also take lots of legwork, and luckily Alicia meshes well with “in house” investigator Kalinda Sharma (portrayed by British actress Archie Panjabi). Kalinda boasts a more streetwise, edgy persona. Alicia also works with Cary, despite the fact that actor Matt Czuchry (ex-Logan, GILMORE GIRLS) looks too young to be a law student, let alone a litigator. Margulies seems to have a real connection with LAW & ORDER vet Chris Noth, who plays her crooked, incarcerated hubby Peter. (Hey, what’s not to like about SEX AND THE CITY’s Big and ER’s Carol Hathaway hooking up?) I like that Peter is still in the picture as a kind of Yoda peddling a jaded insider’s view of the way the game is really played. Alicia resists the Dark Side because she wants to be…y’know, good.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/13/09

I was all set to drop HEROES when, just in the nick of time, this week’s episode turned out to be pretty good.

If HEROES was in the public consciousness at all, it was because this episode featured Hayden Panettiere‘s Claire getting kissed by her roommate Gretchen (played by CALIFORNICATION’s Madeline Zima). So that happened — but in the context of the story, it was actually rather creepy, because Gretchen had been exhibiting stalkerish behavior, and her explanation was that she’s “crushing” on Claire. I’m going to keep an eye on this plotline and see where they take it.

The story that made this week’s episode memorable concerned Peter and Emma bonding when he absorbs her synesthesia power, enabling him to see sound as light. Ironically, this low-key plot contrivance actually made the show look more like a comic book than all the previous super-powered battles combined. The ability to see sounds aped the visual language of a comic book, where sound is represented by wavy vibration lines or onomatopoeia. HEROES showed Emma and Peter perceiving sound as a cloud of multicolored lights, and the two characters were able to connect on a deep (and quiet!) level. (Emma’s power reminds me of X-Men’s Dazzler, but she converts sound into light.) I definitely want to see where this relationship goes.

Meanwhile, Sylar was in Baltimore, getting the third degree from Ghostbusters‘ Winston Zeddemore — I mean, Ernie Hudson. Hudson played Warden Glynn on OZ, which was set in Baltimore. Sylar decided to kidnap his pretty therapist with the odd accent, just like Bruce Willis did in 12 Monkeys (which was also set in Baltimore). That led to the reveal that the Sullivan Brothers carnival can literally travel from place to place. Talk about a roadshow!

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