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.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

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…”

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

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…)

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

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.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

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?

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

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.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

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 GENERAL HOSPITAL’s 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?

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

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.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

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.

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.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com