Archiving: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again…

No, you haven’t slipped backward in time through a wormhole; those recent entries below are back-dated from last November and October. I had to do a little housekeeping, archiving a bunch of columns from my professional blog on the Soap Opera Weekly Web site (where my blog is also called “Read at Joe’s” for simplicity’s sake). If you haven’t been reading ’em over there, then you can just scroll through these latest entries and get a concentrated shot of my views.

If you have been a dutiful reader and keeping up with both blogs, well, then you’re off the hook. For now. More new stuff will be coming here soon. And, of course, my Weekly blog still has more recent material that has not been archived yet.

Soap Opera Weekly: 11/22/09

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: 11/20/09

First impressions of GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Franco, as portrayed by movie star James Franco? Cautiously optimistic. Franco the actor did not have a chance to really do much beyond act all shadowy and mysterious. But Franco the character does seem really twisted — like someone out of one of those lurid prime-time procedurals. Okay, so he’s an artist, but that doesn’t make it right that he likes to play with corpses — and live girls playing dead bodies.

Was I the only one a little creeped out when Kate was instructing Maxie to do whatever is necessary to land the reclusive artist Franco for a Crimson photo shoot? Now, Kate is always very demanding, but the way she noted that Franco had been a recluse in recent years and how Maxie is such a pretty and perky blonde…well, it seemed clear that Kate was urging Maxie to seduce him. Too bad it looks like Franco’s idea of foreplay may just be to have Maxie lie in a chalk body outline. (Maxie is an “open-minded” chick, but that might be too much even for her.) Still, once she gets a gander at exactly how “facially challenged” he is, who knows what she would say?

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Soap Opera Weekly: 11/19/09

There has not been a more consistently wonderful show this fall than Fox’s GLEE. What started as a lark of a musical comedy set in a high school has matured into a complicated drama with deep characters and layered stories. And songs.

Take this week’s installment, which saw the choir kids assigned to work on ballads. The task uncovered hidden passions, some surprising, some not so much. Kurt tried to manage his crush on Finn by helping the football hero in his struggle to deal with Quinn’s pregnancy. Kurt’s romantic advice — which may have been colored by his wish to free up Finn for himself — led to a hilarious scene in which Finn crooned “(You’re) Havin’ My Baby” in front of Quinn’s mortified parents (which included DAYS OF OUR LIVES’ former Eve, Charlotte Ross). The staunchly conservative couple had no idea their princess was pregnant, and in a shattering scene, threw their wayward daughter out of the house! I felt sure Quinn would feel guilty enough to tell Finn he is not really her baby-daddy, but…no. The story also examined Kurt’s and Finn’s feelings for their dead parents (Kurt lost his mother at a young age, and Finn never knew his soldier father) in a heartbreaking sequence. Those heavy emotional sequences were contrasted with Rachel’s loopy schoolgirl crush on Will, which resulted in a fun mash-up of The Police‘s “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” with Gary Puckett and the Union Gap‘s “Young Girl.” And it all ended with an uplifting (if ultimately misguided) version of “Lean On Me.”

And that is what I like best about GLEE and makes it the most entertaining new show of the fall: It’s funny and sad at alternating (and unexpected) moments, just like real life. But with songs.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 11/18/09

In case anyone is just emerging from a cave today, the big news about last night’s TV lineup was not some model being kicked off DANCING WITH THE STARS or the epic fail of that PRISONER remake; it was the return of Heather Locklear to MELROSE PLACE in her signature role, überbitch Amanda Woodward. And, just as she was credited with saving the original series, I think Locklear might just improve the odds for the remake, which has been plagued by shaky ratings.

Suddenly, the entire show — not just Amanda’s scenes — seemed sexier and more tightly focused. The storytelling was not as scattershot as it was in the past when trying to service the large cast. Locklear was the star, and she got right to work. Amanda promptly blew up the silly “Riley is a model” plot, and gave Ella a lesson in how to really play the vixen game: by taking no prisoners. Amanda demonstrated she has not lost a step in the ruthlessness department when she got Riley fired for sinking the Anton V account. Nobody crosses Amanda Woodward! It also taught Riley that there are consequences for having values. It’s one thing talk about honesty being the best policy in an AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL kind of way; it’s another to get fired from a teaching job for it. When Amanda wanted to test Ella’s loyalty to the agency, she sent a woman to try to seduce Ella, both professionally and personally. I really like Katie Cassidy‘s work on this show, so I hope Amanda mentors her, rather than supplants her.

I had literally given up on MP and stopped watching, but I’m willing to give it another shot when it returns in December.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 11/17/09

Night two of the AMC miniseries adaptation of the cult series THE PRISONER found No. 6 getting a new job, but still trapped in the desert — and the series itself still lost in the wilderness.

But let me be positive for a moment. I have thoroughly enjoyed the photography and high production values. Last night’s installments looked really spectacular, especially the first hour, which dealt with characters spying on each other. Filming scenes from a distance, through windows, from behind plants and grates or reflected in mirrors or car fenders really expressed a feeling of voyeurism, and adding creative shots through holes in walls and ceilings, or even peering upward out of the cup on a putting green honed the creepiness factor into outright paranoia, as if every character is spying on every other one.

But while it all looked fantastic, the actual storytelling has been crap. Director Nick Hurran seems less interested in telling a story than making sure there are lots of pretty pictures on the screen. For example, the entire sequence when 11-12 helps 6 go undercover in the tunnels was completely incoherent. What happened? Did anything actually happen, or was it a dream? Was 6 drugged? Instead of mysterious, it’s all just confusing. Too much of the story still appears to be odd merely for the sake of being weird: Why does 313 appear seemingly at random nearly everywhere? One moment she’s chiding 6 for skulking on the roof of her building, but the next moment she’s with 6 at 147’s place? Are the other denizens of the Village in the same boat as 6, or all planted there to work him? Why did 6 agree to work the surveillance unit with 909? That entire story felt tacked on; the idea of the mysterious Dreamers as a threat came out of the blue and was left undeveloped.

That’s assuming that there is an overarching story. I have a sinking feeling that the Village is going to be explained as just another part of the evil corporation 6 quit, and the whole enterprise is going to be written off as the machinations of just another greedy multinational that went too far in the pursuit of profits.

Based on the first 4 parts, I do not hold out much hope THE PRISONER will be able to replicate the mind-bending denouement of the original series (although I have my ideas about how I would accomplish it), but I’ve come this far, so I might as well see it through tonight. So, for the last time I will say, “Be seeing you…”

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Soap Opera Weekly: 11/16/09

AMC launched the first two installments of its six-part remake of the British series THE PRISONER last night, and I can honestly say this is not your grandfather’s PRISONER. And that’s not a good thing: The show is as dry as the desert that surrounds the Village on all sides.

This 2009 version uses the 1967-’68 series as a jumping-off point, but it leaves out a key ingredient that made the original such bracing television: tension. In the original, Patrick McGoohan played a secret agent who quit and found himself trapped in a mysterious Village — a seemingly idyllic resort designed to uncover the secret of his disenchantment. There, his name was replaced by number: 6. The Village is run by the mysterious No. 2, an ever-changing bureaucrat. But in the 2009 version, No. 2 gets humanized with a family life, and is played by Sir Ian McKellen as a delightfully sinister predator. However, as the new No. 6, James Caviezel seems to take playing a mystery man as license to avoid giving him a personality.

It’s still early, but the new version has adopted only some of the better-known tropes of the original run: The characters repeat the catchphrase “Be seeing you” — but without the accompanying hand gesture (which resembles the “OK” sign). And, strangely, only one old man wears the characteristic cricket jacket that was the ‘60s uniform of the Village. And while Caviezel says, “I am not a number,” repeatedly, I missed McGoohan’s defiant motto: “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered!”

Well, at least soap fans must have chuckled to see the entire Village addicted to the (fictional) soap opera WONKERS!

Based on last night’s two-parter, I’m not really holding out much hope for tonight’s Parts 3-4, but despite my better judgment I’ll say, “Be seeing you.” (For one more night, at least…)

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Soap Opera Weekly: 11/11/09

Tonight is the night that Gleeks everywhere will get a chance to convert their skeptical friends into true believers when GLEE airs its most moving episode so far this season. Appropriately called “Wheels,” tonight’s installment (at 9 p.m. on Fox) focuses on Artie (Kevin McHale) and delves into his life with a story that is sensitive without being maudlin. In fact, the entire episode is intensely moving and features redefining revelations about a host of characters you only think you know.

Assuming you can focus through the tears — we’ve seen the episode here at WEEKLY, and certain people almost needed to be sedated afterward — you (and the grateful new best friend you have just converted) will see fun interpretations of some pretty well-known songs, and an elaborate finale quite unlike anything you’ve seen before.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 11/4/09

The new version of V is designed to be a reboot, but tacking on the conventions of our current TV landscape calls attention to the familiarity of the concept. Of course a little of this is part-and-parcel of being a remake, and thus unavoidable, however, everything that is being ladled on top is also all too familiar. V feels like we’ve seen it all before because we have seen it all before. Literally.

This time around, the idea is, when 21st-century aliens invade, they will not come as warriors, but rather as marketing agents. They will invade via advertising, with pamphlets, white teeth, long legs and tight butts. And a subtle message of inclusiveness and the common good. Heck, the Visitors were even offering “universal health care” — red meat for TV talking head Chad Decker (Scott Wolf), if only he hadn’t compromised his morals in exchange for ratings. Blast!

It was clever to cast Morena Baccarin (ex-Inara, FIREFLY/Serenity) as Anna, the beautiful public face of the Visitors; Baccarin also played Adria, the beautiful public face of the invading Ori cult on STARGATE SG-1. And well, the Visitors are practically setting themselves up as a cult, to the point of recruiting confused young people. Getting Laura Vandervoort, whose big break came playing the alien Supergirl…er, Kara on SMALLVILLE, for Lisa was another sly casting move, as was bringing aboard Joel Gretsch (as Father Jack), who knows a thing or two about alien abduction after starring on THE 4400. Oh, Alan Tudyk used to play Wash alongside Baccarin on FIREFLY. Gee, one begins to understand why everything feels familiar, even without seeing ALIEN NATION before or District 9 this summer.

Of course, that could be due to the clichés in the plotline: Morris Chestnut played a man with a mysterious past that comes back to haunt him just as he’s about to propose. And the FBI office investigating the case has a mole tipping off the bad guys, so our heroine — played by Elizabeth Mitchell, who has loads of science-fiction cred herself, thanks to her much-admired run as LOST’s Juliet — has to act as a lone wolf. That is, when she isn’t playing heroic single mom to surly teen Tyler, who has the requisite doofus best friend and a thing for comely newcomer Lisa. Zzzz…

Chad was told, “Compromising one’s principles for the greater good is not a shameful act. It is a noble one.” So if you want to watch V as currently constituted, then that’s fine. It’s diverting enough. But don’t delude yourself into thinking it’s for the greater good; it’s actually more of a lowest common denominator.

Contrast all this with STARGATE UNIVERSE, which takes some familiar ideas (It’s basically STARGATE crossed with STAR TREK: VOYAGER and a dash of LOST IN SPACE) and mashes them up into something greater than the sum of its parts. All SGU did was add a bunch of interesting character conflict, and really think about its premise; what’s really powerful and interesting about it? Then the-powers-that-be wrote good stories around those characters and ideas. Simple, right?

Simple as A-B-C. But can ABC pull it off with V?

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Soap Opera Weekly: 11/2/09

MAD MEN set itself a tall order in dealing with a historical moment as well-documented as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, but the Emmy-winning AMC drama succeeded in evoking what it felt like to get the news that the president had been suddenly murdered. (BTW, Walter Cronkite‘s legendary announcement came when he cut into AS THE WORLD TURNS.)

There was a palpable sense of societal vertigo to go with the characters feeling torn asunder themselves. Don and Betty still had not found their footing following the ugly revelation of his former identity, and so many other characters — Pete, Jane, Roger, Betty — were still questioning where they fit in the world. And then the entire old order dropped out beneath their feet. “What is happening?” Betty cried when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot dead right before her eyes on national TV. In those days, the political globe was more rigidly segmented into the Free World and the Communists, with the West held up as the model of peace and stability. So to have its leader savagely struck down by seemingly random violence made everything seem potentially unstable and nonsensical. So many other historical treatments of Nov. 22, 1963 tend to focus on the sadness, but MAD MEN went for the disorientation of a nation decapitated. The Draper family has also lost its head, and is stumbling around, disoriented, like a chicken with its head cut off that doesn’t know enough to lay down and die.

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