Regular readers of this column know that I do not usually write about the so-called “reality series” because I do not like them. I would rather listen to a sink backing up than the caterwauling on AMERICAN IDOL (and the singers are pretty tough on the ears, too!) And I would rather be homeless than endure a night in the BIG BROTHER house. However, SURVIVOR is one of the few unscripted series I enjoy (along with THE AMAZING RACE and UNDERCOVER BOSS — yay, Tiffany Network!) and, as I have pointed out before, this season’s HEROES VS. VILLAINS is SURVIVOR at its absolute best.
Not only are the competitions exciting, but the intra-tribe squabbling is great soap opera. Each physical challenge was played in a previous season, so some contestants are already familiar with the obstacles. Add that to the familiarity with the other players, and practically every challenge — reward or immunity — becomes a grudge match. At least the rate of physical injuries has slowed.
The power struggles within the camps earlier in the season were a riot, as would-be alpha dogs battled for supremacy. But now that the power structures have stabilized the emphasis is on…well, survival. As veterans of the game, everybody knows there are “secret” alliances among players, so they all talk openly about alliances; seeing what people reveal (or don’t reveal) shows home viewers a lot about character.
FRINGE always does strange and off-the-wall pretty well, but this week’s episode excelled at creating a sense of melancholy that hung over the story like low cloud cover.
Genre demigod Peter Weller – RoboCop himself, who will always be known as the eponymous hero of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension – guested as Alistair Peck, a scientist who discovered a way to travel back in time. While his mission was selfless – he wanted a chance to stop his fiancée from being killed in a car crash 10 months ago – his methods were selfish: His technology consumed huge quantities of energy; energy that was sucked out of electrical devices and human beings alike, killing them. Mad scientists like Peck are usually played with eye-rolling mania or loopy enthusiasm, but Weller played Peck with quiet determination. He was undermining his own humanity by replacing his own body with mechanical parts, so matter if were to lose something as ephemeral as a soul? Peck said it himself, that science itself is God; technology is the only higher power he needs. (And no, the irony was not lost on me that Weller was playing yet another tragic character that was more machine than man – and this time it was his own doing.)
Give Erica a hand...
Before moving on to the greatest time-travel series of all…er, time this weeked – a little series called DOCTOR WHO — I would like to close the book on the most recent season of the best time-travel series currently on the air that is not called…well, you know.
The second season saw humungous changes for Erica Strange (the adorable Erin Karpluk). She went from a bewildered patient undergoing time therapy she barely understood, to essentially a therapist-in-training when she was enlisted to help Kai understand the limits of this line of treatment. Along the way, Erica’s relationship with Ethan blossomed and then withered, as she grew to understand that they were simply not right for each. Erin and Ethan experienced everything from a foray into a sex club to arguments over her career – and they locked horns every step of the way. Ethan’s lack of support for Erica’s business aspirations devastated her – almost as much as his vision of the future, in which they are married with kids and a dog. “We are in completely different places,” Erica sniffled, her eyes welling up. “I don’t think that we’re right for each other. And there’s no amount of talking that will fix it. I think we should break up.”