Thank The Stars The 2010-11 TV Season Is Over. No, Really, Thank The Stars. We Insist. (Micro-Spoiler Alert)
Originally published in 2011, this recap of the 2010-11 TV season also includes your popGeezer’s “TV Sit-Com 101″ class. That prominently features a rant on the importance of “The Larry Sanders Show.”
With news today of Garry Shandling’s untimely death, allow us to pay tribute again to his most influential and important work.
I don’t know how you feel, but I’m exhausted.
I’m in such bad shape, Lauren’s “Momma” song on American Idol reduced me to blubbering jelly. I’m in such a state that Hines Ward’s DWTS victory required me to grab a terrible towel (okay, a hankie), and Kurt Hummel and Rachel Berry’s Wicked duet on the last Glee required nose-blowing and an eyeglass squeegie. Don’t even try and ask about the last four minutes of this season’s How I Met Your Mother. I’m still a mess. (Oh, Lilypad. [sniff])
The 2010-11 TV season was, frankly, just too darn exhausting. But now that Scotty McDreary has won Idol, it’s finally over. And with that, it’s time for a recap of the trends, the joys, the train-wrecks and the perplexing moments that broadcast network TV brought us this season. Take a breath, and let’s begin…
Good Lord, GLEE. Make Up Your Mind!
Perhaps the most bipolar scripted show on TV exhibited even more schizophrenic symptoms this season. When this show hits its groove – evidenced by episodes like “Funeral”, “Born This Way”, ”Never Been Kissed”, and much of finale “New York” - you get to enjoy solid performances, sensitive writing, and lovely covers of hit pop tunes. When Glee goes off the rails – in episodes like “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle”, “The Rocky Horror Glee Show”, “Prom Queen”, “Grilled Cheesus”, “Sexy” or some parts of “New York” – you get more laughs (usually supplied by Jane Lynch), a more diverse set of offbeat cover tunes, and mostly you get to experience what Time Magazine’s TV writer James Poniewozik so perfectly calls “Glee’s elastic relationship to reality”.
Here’s what we have to accept. Glee is a TV version of a classic musical comedy. There are conventions of that musical form which the show exploits, often to wonderful results. However, as we’ve pointed out here before, Glee started life in its first season appearing to reject those conventions – most obviously by forcing the on-screen music to have an organic, reality-based and visible source – but by 44th episode “New York”, those organic music sources have vanished. The aforementioned Berry/Hummel duet on Wicked’s “For Good” broke my heart with an imaginary full orchestra. The kids took to the streets of the Big Apple to delightfully re-imagine the fantasy of the iconic On The Town.
Here’s a simple way to illustrate that Glee makes us crazy by acting crazy. How is the Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith) who prayed to a grilled cheese sandwich the very same kid who organized a breathtaking funeral for Sue Sylvester’s sister Jean? How can Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron) have gone through an unplanned pregnancy, even surrendering the child to adoption, and then snap back to being the privileged brat she was at the outsetof the series? Even with the ret-con madness of the secret ”fat Quinn”, who saw this prom queen obsession coming? She went back to the Cheerios squad, after Sue Sylvester discarded her, then quit the squad in moving solidarity with the glee club. Despite that, she was ready to take steps to sink the club’s competition in NYC, until her other ex-cheerleader pals convinced her to behave after a two-minute conversation. And was I tripping, or did Sue actually join the glee club this year and sing My ChemicalRomance with them? Really?
While Finn and Quinn get the worst scripting whiplash of all the regular cast, both Monteith and Agron do a solid job of carrying out these dreadful assignments. And while they getsavaged with “who are we this week” from writers/co-creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennen, this trio gives Lea Michele’s Berry and Chris Colfer’s Hummel characters the most consistency and a progressive emotional development that is guaranteed Emmy-bait. (The exception being Kurt’s season one journey to Cheerios-land.) In addition, what they have provided for Heather Morris‘ Britney S. Pierce, has taken her from a cute dumb-bunny punchline to the most valuable player of the second-line cast. More than almost any other cast member, the last six episodes of the second season were just simply hers. Having been responsible for the writing of every episode so far, these three guys are obviously capable of something more effective than what they’ve produced in Glee’s second season.
Contrasting first season finale “Journey To Regionals” with season two closer “New York” is further evidence that something simply has to change here. Both are written and directed by co-creator Falchuk, who has absolutely shown he should be the series director of record. The act from “Regionals”, which is rivalgroup Vocal Adrenaline’s performance of “Bohemian Rhapsody” intercut withthe birthof Quinn’s baby, was the best directed five minutes of TV in the 2009-10 season. The last act, featuring the club’s two-hankie performance of “To Sir With Love”, Morrison’s of the Israel Kamakawiwoʻole version of “Over The Rainbow”, and Sue and Shue’s new understanding scene, was an emotionally spot-on button of the first season. Season two’s “New York” ended with the cast in the choir room just looking at their tiny trophy, as the camera moved into the darkness of a wall. There was also no music in this “coda” of a final act. That’s a rock-solid metaphor for a show (or hopefully just a season) that’s run out of gas.
In two seasons, Glee has generated 11 albums or EPs, put some 148 tracks into the Billboard Hot 100 – setting an insane record that no other act will likely match or top – and stacks of DVDs. The second annual live tour just launched in Vegas, and that tour will become the Glee Live! In 3D movie to be released on August 12th. The magnitude of this cash-cow phenomenon is on a Simpsons-level, but in a post-modern era of maximum digital exploitation. Sony Music and FOX are not going to let this thing whither on the vine. How do you potentially right the ship – the TV show at the heart of this industry?
Well, for one thing, Glee’s writing staff is moving from trio to quartet. The first new hire is theatrical (and comic-book) veteran Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who wrote the book for the 2010 revised version of musical It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman, and who was called upon to rework the book of the soon-to-be greatest Broadway flop of all time - Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Also of key consideration, this experienced scriptwriter is gay, as is co-creator Murphy, which is a major issue given the show’s emphasis on the challenges faced by openly-gay teen Kurt Hummelin the overwhelmingly stereotypical McKinley High. Also rumored for season three is a relocation of Blaine (Darren Criss) from his private academy to the public school the main cast calls home.
Thank y0u, Darren Criss. Thank you for being so charismatic, so talented, such a terrific performer. You lit this show up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. And, though I do like Cory Monteith, you not getting the role of Finn was a boneheaded decision on someone’s part.
And thank you, Chris Colfer. Though you are one of the youngest cast members of the show, with almost no professional experience before landing the role of Kurt Hummel, you are the heart and soul of this series. When Kurt fled the school for Dalton Academy, after being bullied and threatened, the split-school narrative resulted in episodes without you and/or Darren. We learned quickly that there’s no Glee without Kurt. And we think you have a darn good shot at the Comedy Supporting Actor Emmy, though your best work this year was far from funny. If anyone can watch you perform “As If We Never Said Goodbye” and not fall apart, they have no soul.
Which takes us to our final point, and possibly the biggest one. Glee got a two-season renewal after its first year. Co-executive producer Ryan Murphy has made it clear that we’re following real-time school years. In this week’s “New York” episode, Rachel, Kurt and Finn plainly pointed out that the coming year is their SENIOR year. Rachel, Kurt and Blaine all have an exodus to NYC after graduation planned. What would a fourth season of Glee portend? Option one – a mainly new cast continues like at McKinley High in Lima, Ohio? Option two – do we follow the kids we know and love – who maybe stay together in a big pack – to new adventures in NYC? (Did you see Saved By The Bell: The College Years?) Option three – a split narrative that tries to encompass both?
The bottom line here, if Glee cannot start to produce a more creatively consistent and satisfying product, it cannot survive a scenario where Michele, Colfer, Criss, Montieth, Agron, Morris… hell, et. al. departs the show after three seasons.
Driving Into A House on HOUSE? Really?
Another issue for FOX is the loss of House after next season. If we take this year’s seventh season as a whole, we’d say they should have gotten out this year while the show had a smidgen of its old spark. The renewal of House for season eight was such a nail-biter that this year’s finale had to hedge its bets, hence the “tropicalisland” closing. A nasty little war erupted between FOX (the network) and Universal (the producer and show owner) over the renewal. Rumors circulated that the post-Comcast Universal, who also owns NBC, would not have been sad to see the show leave FOX and go somewhere more synergistic. However, additionalrumors in late April and early May said that a tiny bit of language in the most recent license for the show looked to prohibit moving the show to NBC upon a FOX cancellation or agreement expiration. So, FOX and Universalmade their deal, leaving House having to dealwith a signficantly reduced budget for the last round-up. Star Hugh Laurie and co-star Olivia Wilde were already locked in for year eight, so the folks getting to bear the brunt of the costs for this looked to be Omar Epps (Foreman), Robert Sean Leonard (Wilson) and/or Lisa Edelstein (Cuddy). One of the these folks decided to… pass on that generous offer.
So, anyways, we get an eighth season of House, when season seven didn’t get me in a really fuzzy mood for that. If nothing else, the overwhelming sense of formula that shrouded season seven took the bloom off of the rose. We literally could start to call the point when Dr. Gregory House would come into the patient-of-the-week’s room (usually between 29:00 to 32:41 each week). The mechanics of the traditional episode plotting got so loud, you’d have to turn on your closed captions to follow the dialogue. But on the plus side, the less routine episodes still had something to offer. “Two Stories“, though cursed with a horribly obvious title, featured the fun of House let loose on elementary school students. “The Dig” brought back Olivia Wilde’s Thirteen (thankfully), put House and Thirteen on the road, featured an insane Damon Lindelof cameo, gave euthanasia a pretty reasoned hearing, and revealed House’s previously unkownpotato-based rivalry with a teenaged boy. And “After Hours”, capping off the left-field arc of House’s experimental drug self-testing, featured some of the most unpleasently intense footage surrounding House’s equally insane self-surgery on tumors in his already-damaged leg.
Which brings us to the finale, another effective outside-the-box episode titled “Moving On“, easily the high-water mark of this weaker season. The case of the week, featuring Shohreh Aghdashloo (24) as a dying performace artist turning House’s race to diagnose her into her last project, created the most House/patient interaction since last season’s formula-busting “Lockdown“. Making the case the most direct (or, obvious) metaphor for House’s current work/personal/psychological situation helps force House into confronting tons of supressed emotions – most specifically his real pain at having lost Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) after years of obnoxious pursuit. And while driving a car into Cuddy’s house is not the healthiest way of expressing this pain, at least it’s a direct expression of anger. Executive producer David Shore says the dramatic finish was not originally intended as the capper to send Cuddy into the sunset. But Edelstein’s decision to not return for season eight at a discounted rate has turned it into just that. Shore says House will come home to Princeton Plainsboro, but, for me, the island bit would have been a reasonably acceptable finish if season seven had been it. The order for a new finale is much taller, given the vents of sesaon seven and the more generic “case of the week” episodes.
But, before we forget… Thank you, Hugh Laurie, for playing the most unrepentant rat ba*tard on network TV. We may have Tony Soprano to blame for you, but at least he had a wife and kids.
Hard-Core Sci-Fi Is Dead on Network TV, Or Is It?
People just don’t watch hard sci-fi on network TV. As Fringe dove deeply into the theoretical physics pool this year, ratings plummeted from their modest season two levels, and the show was booted from Thursday to the legendary FOX fantasy/sci-fi ghetto of Friday nights… having to follow the least popular of Gordon Ramsay’s three FOX food-based reality shows. NBC’s The Event… wasn’t one. And ABC’s V, though vastly improved from its truncated first season, got its episode order cut back again- to ten from thirteen – and slowly leaked ratings weekly on Tuesday nights in early 2011. The new age of fantasy/sci-fi ushered in by Smallville, Lost and Supernatural is over, with only Supernatural still to be airing in Fall 2011, and a laundry list of semi-successful to failed shows stacked up like cord-wood – Firefly, Heroes, Dollhouse, Terminator:SDCC or The Cape have all come and gone.
The CW still has a solid commitment to the otherworldy genres. Smallville got ten seasons, becoming the longest running super-hero and sci-fi series in broadcast network TV history. Vampire Diaries and Supernatural are both major anchors for the CW schedule, but they’re fantasy, not true hard-core sci-fi.
But back to FOX – wow they’ve turned into the theme of this post, huh? The broadcast network which has shown the most enthusiasm for sci-fi has also cancelled a bunch of geek TV. For arguments sake, here’s FOX’s semi-complete sci-fi curriculum vitae, from TV.com:
So either a) FOX doesn’t know when to quit, or b) somebody out there thinks this genre has a hit waiting to happen. In terms of the latter, Terra Nova could be that hit. But, as we detailed a bit ago, finding out won’t come cheap.
And what of, at least in terms of the 2010-11 season, that last man standing? Whither Fringe? Deciding to totally go for broke, in creative terms, executive producers Bryan Burk and Jeff Pinkner (pick a Bad Robot show for their credits) and Oscar-winning consulting producer and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind, Batman And Robin, Batman Forever) threw alternate realities, giant universe-eating machines, a computer-animated WTF, and a red-wigged sex bomb of an Anna Torv at us this season. Noted Twitter-dude the Masked Scheduler (@maskedscheduler), a reallive person inside the FOX TV machine, communicated with me after this season’s episode “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide“that the epectation at Fringe all season long was cancellation. So, with no expectations, nothing to lose, and getting abandoned on Fridays, Fringe’s decision to go bonkers and as hard-core sci-fi as any serious network show ever did, led them to a creative peak by indulging in unrestrained imagination.
But, in a genuine surprise, FOX renewed the ratings-starved show for a fourth year, despite the third season finale being the lowest-rated episode of the series ever. And after a mind-bending cliffhanger, where two universes were linked inside one building on Liberty Island and Joshua Jackson’s Peter Bishop winked out of existence, we are chomping at the bit for the show’s return.
Thank you, Anna Torv, for showing us that putting on a wig can make you hotter than anyone ever imagined. And thank you, John Noble, for doing Emmy caliber work on a sci-fi show, which means you’ll never even getnominated for one. And, hey, thank you Australia, for the both of these fine people. And a belated thank you to TV’s Pacey for getting his girlfriend Diane Krugerto play an unbilled victim of the week on Fringe in season two.
Who’s Laughing Now, And At What?
Network situation comedies break down into two big, basic formats. A single-camera sitcom is shot like a movie, scene by scene, and there is no audience. A multi-camera sitcom is shot by – usually – four cameras at once, and is performed more or less like a play in front of a studio audience. When there are problems or glitches, scenes are reshot, and most of these shows employ a scene by scene shooting breakdown anyway. After these two operationaldifferences, the actual show styles get a bit more complicated. Let’s break down the comedy sub-genres into four detailed flavors:
1. The mock-documentary format is most easily represented by The Office, but is also the format of Modern Family and Parks And Recreation. These are obviously cinematic, single-camera shows. The major bonus of doing a show this way is that you get to use pretend interviews, where a character or characters address the camera (and supposedly an interviewer) directly. If you regularly watch any of these three comedies, think about how many laughs and how much character information is presented in these fake interviews? And consider how much mileage John Krasinski (Jim) gets out of doing takes directly into the camera. But guess what all those takes don’t do for Kasinski? Earn him an Emmy nomination. Star Steve Carell (5 nominations) and Rainn Wilson (3 nominations) are the only two Dunder-Mifflin employees to get noticed by by the Academy. Prior to 2010, this type of sitcom did not generate the amount of Emmy buzz one would expect from this very exploitable sitcom format. However, Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet, Jesse Tyler Ferguason and Ty Burrellall were nominated in 2010, with Stonestreet winning. What’s the trick? Well, performace and material matter a lot, but keep in mind that Modern Family is a post-modern approach to the family sitcom. And the extended family of this series is absolutely lovable. Does that sound like Michael Scott or Dwight Schrute? In terms of the overall series itself, Modern Family and The Office have each one for Comedy Series.
2. The classic four-camera wisecracker sitcom is about a family, or friends who are as close as a family, or co-workers who are like a family, or a gay man and straight woman living together who are bascially family, but it’s always about some kind of family. It often stars a stand-up comic who either pretends to be a doctor, a ex-tool salesman turned TV host, a working-class mom, or a thin, neat stand-up comic from New York. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The jokes come fast, are snappily delivered, and sometimes there is hugging. Think Mary Tyler Moore, Cheers, Cosby Show, Roseanne and even Seinfeld. Even though Larry David’s “The Contest”, from Seinfeld, is shocking and ground-breaking in its subject matter, it is above all a perfectly written four-camera sitcom episode. Today, the masters of this format are usually on CBS, and come from Chuck Lorre’s stable of shows – i.e. Two And A Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. The form and format is traditional, while the language, subject matter and execution is contemporary. Now they’re more about “special huggging” than traditional hugging. As the amount of network TV situation comedies have, in the main, moved away from this format in the past eleven years, it’s interesting to see how this format has done at the Emmys. With only three significant examples of their format, these mockumentaries have gone two for eleven in Comedy Series since 2000. The four-camera classicists have gone four for eleven – Everybody Loves Raymond (2), Will And Grace and Friends – from a much larger representation of the format actually on-air. In terms of all the acting categories, four-camera show castmates have won twenty-two out of forty-four possible statues. Though that fifty percent hit rate looks good on paper, only one of those winners – Jon Cryer – won for a show that is still on the air. And eight of these wins (18%) are for the cast of Everybody Loves Raymond. So the majority of the classic family four-camera wins came in the first five years of the 2000’s.
3. The cinematic single-camera show moves at much slower pace than the classic four camera sitcom, or the irregular rhythm of the fake documentary. The best examples of this genre in recent times are Entourage, Sex And The City, Nurse Jackie or Weeds. Notice the trend? The half-hour versions of these shows aren’t on broadcast network TV. They’re the children of premium cable TV. If you have to find network examples, you have to expand to an hour – Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewivesare, as far as the Emmys are concerned, the broadcast examples. If you go back into history, shows as different as Father Knows Best, My Three Sons, M*A*S*H, The Partridge Family, I Remember Mama and Hogan’s Heroes count in this category. Structurally, even Gilligan’s Island and Get Smartactually belong here. But we’ll come back to them in the next section thanks to their approach to their material. The modern examples can push at the boundary of “family” sitcoms, but the most well-recevied of them still value or revolve around some kind of family unit. Even Vince, when he’s not snorting coke and schtuppingporn stars, hangs with his brother and two childhood friends on Entourage. This is also the kind of show that is much more at home on basic cable. While these shows, and their stars, can gettheir share of acclaim, they don’t really dominate during awards season. In terms of the Emmy, actors win more often than the actual series do. This is where Tony Shaloub won three consecutive Emmys for Monk. If we do the overall math, performers have gone five for forty-four (Shalhoub’s three, Sarah Jessica Parker and Edie Falco’s one each). Only Sex And The City has won one series Emmy. So, if we’re counting awards, where can the single-camera sitcom really compete against the classic four-camera show..?
4. The “crazy make ‘em up” anything goes single camera comedy is, at its heart, free from sticking to the rules of any of these other formats. As we said, in terms of the “hellzapoppin’” approach to the scripts and performances, Get Smart and Gilligan’s Island might be among the pioneers of the form. But the (post-)modern mold was created in 1992, aired on HBO, and goes by the title The Larry Sanders Show. Shot with a lot of handheld camera, having the real world appear on film and the “TV world” appear on videotape, painting the tone of the TV sitcom deadly black, and gleefully evacuating itself on the spirit of “family”, Gary Shandling’s satire on late-night TV and the soulessness of Hollywood is the alpha and the omega of this revolutionary/radical/cranky form of sitcom. Here’s Wikipedia’s take:
The Larry Sanders Show is a satirical television sitcom that aired from August 1992 to May 1998 on the HBO cable television network in the United States. It starred stand-up comedian Garry Shandling as vain, neurotic talk show host Larry Sanders, and centered on the running of his TV show, and the many people behind the scenes. It is notable for featuring celebrities playing exaggerated, self-parodying versions of themselves, and for its character-based humor. Other series which subsequently aired on HBO, such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, Extras, and Entourage, shared these traits.
The series, in which Shandling used his experience as a guest host on The Tonight Show, is ranked by various critics and fans as one of the best TV comedies of the 1990s. The series ranked #38 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, the only HBO comedy to make the list. It was also included in Time magazine’s list of the “100 Best TV Shows of All Time.”
The show won 24 awards, including three Primetime Emmy Awards, five CableACE Awards four American Comedy Awards, two British Comedy Awards, a BAFTA Award and a Satellite Award. It also received 86 nominations, including 56 Primetime Emmy Awards nominations, five Directors’ Guild of America nominations, six Writers’ Guild of America nominations, six American Comedy Awards nominations, three Golden Globe nominations, three Satellite Awards nominations and a GLAAD Award nomination.
Todd Holland won for direction in 1998, while creating the visual blueprint of how this kind of sitcom looks. Shandling and Peter Tolan won for writing in 1998. And Rip Torn – while creating as indelible a character and doing work for the ages – won in 1996 for playing Larry Sanders’ executive producer Artie [no surname ever given]. Torn may be troubled by his demons, but this was epic, time-capsule work.
In general, this kind of sitcom cannot make use of the benefit of the “interview” gift of the mocumentary format – unless we are satarizing mocku- or documentaries – but otherwise, all bets are off. Integration of fantasy elements, using every gimmick arrow in the quiver of filmmaking, and generally having a bad attitude in the service of satire all combine to make this the most vital and contemporary of the sitcom forms. Our finest active examples come from network, cable and premium cable – 30 Rock, Glee, Community, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Cougar Town, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and South Park and Family Guy and Archer and Robot Chicken[animated division, cable exemption granted]. Other past classics of the form include Arrested Devlopment (surely the best since Sanders), Extras (Ricky Gervais’ follow-up to The Office), My Name Is Earl, Scrubs (which introduced an insanely fast-pace as well as the almost sketch-like approach to overall narrative) and The Monkees (pioneering for its integration of music and a 1967 Emmy award winner).
In terms of overall Emmy success, you see the academy granting a kind of begrudging respect to the form until the 2000’s. Arrested Development did win a series Emmy, but when 30 Rock arrived the genre could not be denied. Stars Tina Fey and Alec Baldinw won three, as did the series itself. The 2011 Emmy nominations will be a brand-new litmus test. Consider that the three mockumentary shows had particularly strong seasons, that Community spent their second season foucsing the satirical essence of this format on a brilliant deconstruction of TV comedy itself, that there are so many possible acting nominees that the cut-downs will be heartbreaking, and the best acting work on Gleethis year was either dramatic or in performance fo a song (i.e. Chris Colfer’s already praised “As If We Never Said Goodbye” or “Mama’s Turn” from Gypsy.
One has to stop just short of calling this a new golden age of TVcomedy, but things are looking pretty funny from here. And we have the second season of rapidly improving comer Happy Endings, a resurgence of the multi-camera format on NBC, and a third season of Community all to look forward to. And if we have to, Parks And Recreation was this season’s funniest, Community was the most ambitious, The Big Bang Theory was both the best multi-camera show and the show with best cast additions (a.k.a. TV’s Blossom is still a killer), and The Office had the single finest moment with the absurd and heart-rending version of “Seasons Of Love” in episode seventeen.
Thank you, Mindy Kaling, for imagining that moment in your script. Thank you, Steve Carell, for seven seasons of finding the sweetness at the heart of Michael Scott’s idiocy.
Thank you, Tina Fey. Still the best. Thank you, Dan Harmon, you’re a genius with an apparent dual PhD in TV Comedy Anthropology and Biology.
Thank you, F/X, for Archer. You’re not a broadcast network, but you have a naughty cartoon show that’s good enough to be on one.
Thank you, ABC Wednesday sitcoms, you make me laugh so much. Oh, sorry The Middle, I forgot you were on Wednesdays too. You don’t get any candy.
And thank you Eliza Coupe for just being you… a really filthy Twitterer.
The Surprises, Trends, and My Still-Loaded DVR
The less genre-specific procedural dramas/dramedies had a trend of the big shock ending this year – at least on the few I actually watch. Shocking gunfire ended the season on Castle and The Mentalist. Both of these closing sequences were surely WTF-ers, with The Mentalist being the most potentially game-changing… if we really saw what we thought we saw. Hawaii Five-0, whose greatest strength lay in the constant bickering of the best (unintentionally) gay married couple of the season, literally blew up the central premise of the show while telling you everything you knew was wrong.
Many of our favorite – and not-so-favorite – shows dropped regulars this year. TV Guide gives the significant ones a pleasant curtain call.
Some shows that many critics perceived as average, at least on first viewing, actually weren’t. The ones that come to mind are Happy Endings (which got better every week), Perfect Couples (which wasn’t ever as bad as we were told), and even Outsourced, which was well-intentioned while clearly questionable in terms of racially troubling jokes.
And some shows were as bad as promised, if not worse. Yes, I’m talking about you Paul Reiser, Matthew Perry, Bill Shatner, Forrest Whitaker and Will Arnett. I mean, honestly, what were you thinking?!?
But the biggest trend of the 2010-11 season is more operational than creative. The DVR is now a ubiquitous home entertainment device, and your set-top box not only has one of those, it likely links to some kind of “On Demand” server. Even a family that consumes as much TV as mine doesn’t have time to squeeze it all in. Between the DirecTV box and two cable DVR’s, Mrs. popGeezer and I have yet to completely clear the 2010-11 runs of Hawaii Five-0, Castle (though we jumped ahead to that finale), Chuck (no comment on quality here, as season four was TIGHT, yo!), Gossip Girl, Body Of Proof, Parks And Recreation, and a bushel of basic cable series. This technological trend has had such an impact on us that we avoid real-time viewing on most scripted shows. We just don’t have the time to wait/suffer through commercial breaks. Technology has also forced shows to integrate more product placement and virtual commercials into the show. I, for one, enjoy this, as most of the obvious ones are truly hysterical to see. Chuck has made comedic hay with Subway, the Sleep Sheep and carmakers a-plenty. And the early response to HBO’s HBO-Go, which offers practically the entire HBO series library to qualified PC, iPad and mobile tech users, could be the next monstrous game-changer by putting critical-path TV “on the cloud”. As an example, this is how I’ve watched Lady Gaga: Monster Ball NYC, part of Scott Pilgrim, and even some Game Of Thrones.
The future is here, geezoids.
A significant technical issue knocked us out in July of 2015, just as we posted Cadillac Jack’s review of Marvel’s Ant-Man. It didn’t take us offline, but a corrupted database left us unable to save ANYTHING until late yesterday.
Now, with accessibility restored, and a giant back-up of the entire site safely stashed away, it’s time for a quick update and a teaser of what’s coming in 2016 on your reawakened popGeezer.com.
First, we need to talk about popGeezer Radio….
From our high of net-casting on eight stations/streams simultaneously, we are now down to one… officially. Our own streams went offline in 2015. due to neglect and starvation. JDX1029.com went dark for several months, is now in a nascent re-booting phase, and the future of classic shows on the stream is undetermined.
The LateNightRockerNetwork.com is still pumping out the tunes, but I’m currently unsure how many streams are running. PlanetZ102.com still exists, and I think we’re about to lock down a Friday night slot for classic encores.
Our work with our dear, dear radio friend Peter Christian, on both his planned ZZQ1029.com and the location of a version of the “popGeezer Radio Weekend Experience” there, ended abruptly with Peter’s untimely death on November 10, 2015. While a stream continues at that location, it is in a sort of stasis, with no details on what may happen with that stream or that domain name. All love to the spirit of Peter C, though. [Pictured holding his first grandchild.]
While our new Christmas show ran on TCR1100.com, I’m not 100% sure what the fate of our encore shows are there for the future.
And our 17-month run on AbramRadio.Net’s WMCR ended on 12/27/2015. No rancor – No childishness was involved in this departure. The station ceased operation on 12/31/2015, due to the falling of the titular “Great Darkness“.
On December 16, 2015, the Copyright Royalty Board handed down a long-awaited decision on royalties to be paid by streaming net-casters to the copyright holders of recorded popular music. These net-casters are the small but proud operations where popGeezer Radio – the shows and the streams – have been heard since August 2009. Their decision, that these broadcasters owe $0.0017 per song they play to rights holders, doesn’t look that nasty does it. But it is enough of a change that, on 1/1/2016, as this policy takes effect, internet radio stations will wink out of existence like The Enterprise beamed them all up. WMCR is one of those that will shut down. The owner estimates a monthly royalty bill of between $1000 and $1500 a month. That’s not a fitting figure for a hobby, but is mortgage payment. There may be a legal battle, or some change to the decision, but these remedies won’t appear in time to stop the “Great Darkness” from falling.
With WMCR’s shut-down, both Cadillac Jack and myself have radio shows that end.
Which leaves us with NeighborhoodRadioNetwork.com, good old NRN.
They, too, are facing a new financial paradigm with royalties. As of this writing, “The Senator” plans on keeping NRN on-air as long as financially viable. This means that – for some time to come – the “popGeezer Radio Morning Show” continues from 6-11:59 AM ET every weekday.
Now, with radio resolved, what about this website???
Honestly, I can’t give you a huge long-term answer. The very special terms under which this site has operated will end in 2016. I’m faced with a new cost structure there, or moving this site to another host. While that host is already paid for 2016 and is standing by, the mechanics of successfully migrating eight years of content is a scary mystery to me. The last time the site had major work done, we lost all the graphics from our first six months of operation. If you ever navigate back to those posts, you can see many empty picture frames. I deleted a good chunk of superfluous content previously, and will probably hack at more of it in the weeks ahead. But I just don’t know….
I know that Cadillac Jack wants to resume supplying TV and Movie content. [Lord, don't you want to read a spoiler-laden "Double-Team" review of The Force Awakens??]
I know that I want to run a 2016 reader-voted “popGeezer Hall Of Fame” campaign and induction.
But I don’t know if we have any readership left after being silent since mid-July. So what are we to do……? Do YOU have an opinion???
“AND THERE SHALL COME AN ANT-MAN!” – Cadillac Jack Goes Mano-a-mano with his Inner Child Over the Merits of Marvel’s Latest Masterpiece, and the Verdict? Everybody Wins (Mostly)!
What’s the most telling indicator of what makes a great movie? The way you feel while you watch it; sitting there in the dark clutching your popcorn and jujubes as the film washes over you in all it’s IMAX 3D Technicolor glory, or later, when you lie awake in the night, watching the movie spool out again against the backs of your eyelids while you play armchair director in the quiet of your own head? That’s the dilemma I faced this past weekend as I weighed Marvel’s twelfth film, the final film in its Phase Two story-telling, Ant-Man and found it to be both perfect and wanting in equal measure.
As I emerged from the theatre and into the daylight this past Friday, I wrote the following text to your popGeezer, expressing my adolescent enthusiasm for what I had just seen:
Ant-Man is amazing! Really solid from beginning to end. As good asanything Marvel has ever made. I would put it right up there withAvengers one and Winter Soldier. You’re going to love it!
And as I continued walking to my car, still operating on the auto-pilot set by my inner twelve year old, I amended that statement to say Ant-Man was not only as good as The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but also Guardians of the Galaxy and the first Iron Man. Putting it mildly, I’d had a thoroughly wonderful time at the movies and was pumped up about it. Nothing wrong with that, and I’m certainly as entitled to my opinion as the next guy, right? But…what if my opinion doesn’t quite stay my opinion?
Before going any further, let me state categorically that I’m not one of those people whose enjoyment of a movie or TV show is slanted toward or influenced by the people around me. My opinions are my own and I take responsibility for them. That said, however, no man is an island and I like to think of myself as open-minded enough to accept that other people have a point and its okay to incorporate their insights into my own if I agree. I don’t usually read reviews of movies if I know I’m going to be writing about the same movie (although I did read a largely positive review of Ant-Man in Variety a couple of weeks ago-just being honest), but I do read a number of movie-related websites; io9.com, blastr.com, eonline.com, among many others and on those websites, I read articles and interviews and fanboy expectations of upcoming movies, so my headspace going into any film is hardly virginal. And as I went about the rest of my day, still chugging along on the adrenaline of Ant-Man and trying to decide what I would write about and how I would write it, a number kept coming to mind; a number that made my brow furrow in consternation and doubt fill my brain: 75%.
75% is the Freshness rating Ant-Man had on the Rotten Tomatoes website going into the weekend. That means that while three quarters of the reviews hailed the film, one quarter of them did not and since I had already grouped Ant-Man in with films whose Freshness ratings were in the nineties-often the high nineties-something didn’t make sense and like a dog with a new bone, my febrile mind just wouldn’t let it alone.
Part of the reason for the negativity, I rationalized, could just come from the fact that it’s Ant-Man. Hardly one of Marvel’s more marquee stars, Ant-Man is a hero that requires you to embrace it’s rather silly premise (he’s a guy who can shrink down to microscopic size, but still beat the crap out of people!) from the jump and maybe a lot of folks just couldn’t do that. Maybe their willing suspension of their disbelief just couldn’t be stretched that far. Still, Iron Man was hardly a household name when his first film debuted and the movie-going public embraced him whole-heartedly, so what was the difference?
The difference, I realized upon further thought, is that Iron Man was the first purely Marvel movie (yes, the X-Men and Spider-Man movies came before Iron Man, but Iron Man was the first movie Marvel had made itself) and Ant-Man is the twelfth. Maybe the film is just a victim of the over-saturation of the super hero market and the public is growing jaded about its costumed adventurers and what it takes to make them work. Could that be it? Both ideas had their merits and I’m sure factor in to one degree or another, but I felt I was still missing something. That there was something about the movie itself others were seeing that my inner adolescent and I had not. Normally, I don’t let these differences of opinion bother me, but this time I couldn’t let it go, so I got out my list.
That’s right, I have a list of what it takes to make a movie work. It’s a mental list that I keep tucked out of the way in a dark, unused corner of my brain, somewhere in between the phone numbers of old girlfriends and the answers to my Lost in Space trivia questions (How many times did the Robot actually say, “Danger, Will Robinson?”) and I use it to keep myself honest and judge all movies I review by the same basic rule of thumb. Currently it was folded up like the Origami Fortune Teller game used in the opening credits of Community, so I unfolded it, dusted off the crumbs and wiped away a left-over shmear of Nutella and took a look. It’s a broad, simple list really and not hard to answer:
- Is the movie well-written? Is its internal logic consistent and does it make sense? Yes. The story was clear and the characters’ goals were straight-forward and clearly stated. The Hero Arc was clean and uncluttered and moved at an appropriate, easy-to-understand pace. The good guys were obviously good guys and the bad guys were obviously bad (which is what you want for what is basically, Marvel’s first stab at a family movie). There were no noticeable discrepancies or inconsistencies between Edgar Wright’s original script and the additions made by Adam McKay and star Paul Rudd.
- Is the movie directed well? Do artsy angles and fancy camera moves or special effects interfere with the story? Yes to the first part and No to the second. The film, directed by Peyton Reed (Yes Man, The Break Up), is well directed, especially the scenes where Ant-Man is miniaturized and working against the much larger “real world.” The effects are top notch and, being a much smaller story than say, Avengers or Captain America: Winter Soldier, allows for a much less frenetic directing style that seems to suit Reed well.
- Is the movie well-cast and do the performances seem genuine? Yes and yes. Paul Rudd (Anchorman, Role Models) is an unlikely super-hero, but he is also the perfect choice to play a character like Ant-Man. With his charm and boyish twinkle, he brings a glee to the proceedings I don’t think many other actors could have managed. Like Iron Man before him with the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Marvel was smart enough to cast the perfect guy as Scott Lang and then not try to change him into something else. This is Rudd’s movie and a good 80% if its success is in his hands. As for the other casting, Michael Douglas (Fatal Attraction) makes for a grounded Hank Pym who makes the whole idea of “Pym Particles” and shrinking a man down to the size of an ant seem realistic and reasonable. Evangeline Lilley (Real Steel, Lost) is also effective as Pym’s daughter, Hope and will make a good Wasp in the next film should she be called to put on the helmet and Corey Stoll (House of Cards, The Strain) is good with what little he gets as Pym’s embittered mentee, Darren Cross, AKA Yellowjacket.
- Are the characters three-dimensional and do they go beyond their cookie-cutter stereotypes? Oops. Here it is. Here’s the reason for the 75% on Rotten Tomatoes and why the film came in at $58 million its opening weekend when everyone expected $60-65 million. Ant-Man, while fun and exciting and the best thing my inner child has seen in ages, comes up exceedingly short in the “heart department.”
From here on out, there be spoilers, matey…
You see, for all that Ant-Man is supposed to be a heist film masquerading as a comic book movie (or vice versa; I can never keep all that straight), it’s built on the back of the relationships between two fathers and their daughters. Rudd’s Scott Lang and his young daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) and Hank Pym and his bitter daughter, Hope.
Scott and Cassie’s relationship is a bit better defined than Hank and Hope, but it’s still sketchy at best. You see, Scott was an employee (I think; its never made very clear) of a large corporate entity named Vista (or something like that) and Vista steals a bunch of money from it’s employees (the pension fund-it’s always the pension fund) and Scott takes it upon himself to steal it back. Apparently, Scott is a master hacker (we never see any evidence of this in the film, but okay) who broke through Vista’s supposedly impenetrable firewall and gave all the employees their money back. The only problem is, Scott gets caught and goes to jail, while his wife Maggie (Judy Greer, Jurassic World), who apparently doesn’t see the romance in Scott’s grand altruistic moment, dumps him, only to hook up with a cop, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale, Chef) and lose all faith in her ex. Cassie loves her daddy, which is strange since he’s been in jail for most of her life and how would she even know him, and wants him to be the Daddy she’s been dreaming of. Oh, and somehow Scott has all these crazy parkour skills even before becoming Ant-Man. Nobody tells us how, but the other impression you get from the film is that Scott was a Robin Hood-type villain who specialized in this sort of crime even before the Vista job, but that doesn’t match up with his home life or the story about him being a Vista employee, so I’m really confused. Either way, it was so poorly explained, I didn’t get it and I usually don’t miss stuff like that.
As for the Pyms, Hank worked for SHIELD back in the 80’s (hey, it’s Hayley Atwell everybody! Nobody told me Hayley Atwell was in this movie!) for whom he developed the Ant-Man technology in the first place, keeping the secret of those pesky “Pym Particles” to himself. Operating as the Ant-Man, Pym goes on secret missions with his wife Janet, aka The Wasp, who is lost on one such mission when she is forced to shrink down to the sub-atomic level and can’t come back. The official story is that she died in a plane crash, which daughter Hope never believes. When SHIELD tries to co-opt the Ant-Man tech away from Hank, he quits SHIELD and, according to Hope later in the movie, sends her off to boarding school, while he goes into seclusion to try to find a way to rescue his wife. Somewhere along the way, he also founds a billion dollar tech company, Pym Technologies, which, like Scott’s parkour abilities doesn’t make sense, but hey, we all grieve in different ways. Hope is so hurt and feels so betrayed by her father and his refusal to tell her what really happened to her mother (even after she knows about the Ant-Man tech, which doesn’t really make sense), that she helps Hank’s protégé, Darren Cross overthrow Hank and remove him from his own company. By the time the movie opens, however, she’s realized that her pal Darren is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and has enlisted her father in a plot to bring him down. Rather than heal their relationship, however, things only get more strained because Hank won’t let Hope wear the Ant-Man suit even though she’s much more proficient at using it than Scott is.
Of the two, the problems Scott/Cassie relationship are the easiest to recognize and the easiest to fix. Scott and Cassie simply don’t spend enough time together (in the movie) to make us invest in the bond they have with one another. Forgetting for a moment that he was in jail almost her entire life and that a mom like Maggie probably didn’t bring her on visiting day (hell, from the look of this, Maggie didn’t even come on visiting day), exactly what has Cassie been building this almost hero-like devotion to her dad on in the first place? And even if you accept that devotion sight unseen, as the film asks you to do, you only really get two Scott and Cassie scenes to get invested in and in one of those, Cassie is asleep! We are shown nothing of what Scott’s family life was like before he was arrested and most of what we’re told is vague and contradictory. We’re being asked to believe Scott is ready to change his whole life for his daughter, but that’s all we’re given; a thin plea on the part of the film-makers to buy into this relationship with very little evidence to support it.
The Hank/Hope dynamic is a lot more murky and hard to figure out. One assumes (again, we’re not shown and only barely told) that prior to Janet’s death, the Pym family was a haven of happiness and familial bliss. But once Janet dies and Hank won’t tell Hope how it happened (why she doesn’t believe the plane crash story is something else that wasn’t shared with us-just that she knew is wasn’t true), he retreats into his work and closes himself off to his daughter (and again, we only get Hope’s side of this; Hank never explains a damn thing) and ships her off to boarding school, their relationship hits the skids. Obviously, not completely, because Hope was sitting on the board of Pym Technologies when Darren Cross executed his take-over of the company (it was her vote that put her dad out of his own company!), but we’re told it’s pretty bad. And even though Hope has turned her back on Darren (a pattern with the men in her life, Dr. Freud? Hmmm, what do you think?) at the start of the film and joined forces with her father, she’s still not happy. She’s not happy about the cover-up over her mom’s death (and explain to me again, if Hope now knows about the Ant-Man tech, why is she still in the dark about how her mom died?), she’s not happy Hank turned his back on her, she’s not happy Darren went nutzo, she’s not happy that Scott gets to be Ant-Man…girl friend is just. Not. Happy.
Again, part of the problem is, we never get any look at what the Pyms were like before Janet’s death. Was it a happy family? Was it a happy marriage? We’re only left to assume and that makes it very difficult to root for reconciliation here. For me, the major problem with the Pym family storyline is that we never even get to see Janet! The only time she’s on-screen, she’s in The Wasp costume and that has a full helmet like the Ant-Man costume does. From a film-making standpoint, the reason for this is obvious; by the end of the film, Scott proves you can shrink down to a quantum level and return and the producers are planning to use that story thread to fuel Ant-Man 2 or 3 down the road and they don’t want to cast an actress yet, just in case something happens or they change their minds. I get it, but from a story-telling standpoint, it’s very difficult to invest in a suit and for us, that’s all Janet Van Dyne is; a suit. She never speaks, never emotes, nothing. Our total investment in her storyline is her sacrifice of herself to get the job done. That’s very admirable, but it doesn’t help us much. Investing in the Pym family dynamic as presented in Ant-Man is like the story of the blind men each trying to describe an elephant by only touching one part of it. You don’t get the whole picture.
And apparently, Hope is equally confused because once she finds out how her mother really died and why Hank doesn’t want her wearing the suit, she does a complete about-face character-wise and two seconds later gets caught kissing Scott behind a closed door, a development that was isn’t surprising but was never even hinted at!
Off the father/daughter thing for a second, but still on the subject of character development, you’ve got poor Darren Cross. Stoll does the best he can with a thinly-written character sketch of your basic stock comic book villain, but since they give us nothing to compare it to, his whole descent into madness thing just comes across as part and parcel of being the bad guy. Again, we’re told that Darren Cross was Hank’s protégé and that they had a very father and son relationship. We see nothing in the film to support that notion, but several people tell us it’s so, so it must be so. We’re told that Darren wants Hank to confirm the rumors about the Ant-Man project and the Pym Particles and is furious that Hank keeps it from him. Really? The guy has the run of a billion dollar company and gets pissed because his boss wants to keep one project for himself? ‘Sounds like ol’ Darren might have been a couple test tubes short of a lab from the get-go, doesn’t it? Like the character of Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, the Ant-Man team spends so much time building the rest of the movie that the villain almost seems like an after-thought; a piece of scenery instead of an actual, living person with their own goals and motivations.
Ultimately, the problem with Ant-Man is the same problem as any origin story. There’s just too much to accomplish to do justice to all of it. You have to introduce the hero and his back-story. You have to introduce the hero’s pre-origin challenge and show us how becoming a super hero will fix it. You have to introduce us to his friends and family and sidekicks and make us care and invest in each of them. You have to introduce the inevitable love interest and her story. THEN you have to have an origin; one that not only sets up our hero, but our villain and the ultimate conflict between them that will come to a head in Act Three as well. You also need to introduce the villain’s back-story and explain why he’s the bad guy and how his motivations differ from our hero’s. Oh, and in a Marvel movie, you have to make time for a couple of cameo appearances (Hi Hayley! Hi Falcon!) and to set up connections to other films in the shared universe. Whew! That’s a lot of housekeeping. It’s not hard to see why Edgar Wright bucked when Marvel came to him, several years into the writing and pre-production process, and asked him to hook his film up to the over-all MCU.
The long and the short of it is that if you sit back and let your inner twelve year-old drive, Ant-Man is a fast and funny thrill ride of a comic book movie with an appealing star and lots of great special effects and lots of Marvel Easter eggs. If you let the adult in you drive, then you’re going to enjoy the movie, but you’ll still get tangled up in some serious holes in the story and lack of character development that have made many of Marvel’s other heroes shine so brightly. To go back to my original text to your pG; instead of comparing Ant-Man to Avengers or Iron Man or Cap 2, you’d have to compare it to Thor or Cap 1 or Avengers 2. It’s still a really good movie, but it coulda’ been, shoulda’ been a great one.
“LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN!” Ah-nold is Back in a Brand New Terminator Film and the Best News is, This One Doesn’t Suck (Much)!
OK, to start off by answering the most important non-question of all, no, Terminator: Genysis isn’t anywhere near as good as the first Terminator movie or T2: Judgment Day. But it is worlds better than the absolutely disastrous T3: Rise of the Machines or the much-lamented Terminator: Salvation. However, keep foremost in your mind that it’s a popcorn movie; a big, chaotic cornucopia of blood and destruction and you need to let it just wash on over you and carry you away. If you spend too much time trying to pay attention to the intricacies of plot and story, you’ll find the whole thing has about as much substance as the emperor’s new clothes, which is to say, none at all. Fortunately (or unfortunately as the case may be), screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier realize you’re not going to get Das Boot out of an Ah-nold picture and duct tape the thing together just enough that you don’t hear it groaning under the weight of it’s own absurdity and just let it run.
To me, the best thing about Terminator: Genysis is it’s unwillingness to keep looking for new ways to wag the same dog. I watched the original Terminator just this morning for kicks and the one thing that struck me during the film was how that original sense of surprise is gone. In James Cameron’s film, we spent all of Act One and part of Act Two just trying to catch up with the story and figure out what the heck was going on. Who was Sarah Connor? Who was this Reese guy? Why was Arnold naked? Now, in 2015, the Terminator story is so embedded in our cultural consciousness that you could probably go to the lost jungles of Borneo or someplace, pop in on some old guy living in a grass hut, whip out a picture of Arnold with the metal cheekbones and the glowing red eye and still have to sit there for ten minutes while the old guy runs around yelling, “I’ll be back” at the top of his lungs. In Genysis, director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World, Game of Thrones) and crew don’t fall back on the same old same old. These guys are here to mix it up.
The movie starts off just as you’d expect. Judgment Day happened in 1997 and for the next forty-two years mankind has been embroiled in a hard-fought defense to save humanity from Skynet and the machines. The leader of the human rebellion is John Connor (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) whose mother knew what was coming and trained him to fight the machines long before there were even machines around to fight. How did she know? See the first movie. Anyway, on the eve of human victory over the machines, Skynet sends a T-800 Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger reprising the role that made him famous) back in time to kill a not even pregnant yet Sarah Connor (Emily Clarke, Game of Thrones) before John can ever be born. Quickly (even though he knew this was all going to happen for like, his whole life), John decides to send his right-hand man and future father (time travel, it’s crazy, right?), Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, A Good Day to Die Hard, the Divergent series) into the past after the Terminator to protect Sarah. So far, it’s just as we all remember…we are lulled…we are complacent…
Bam! Suddenly, something’s different. Just as Kyle is whisked away into the quantum mechanics of the time stream, Doctor Who’s Matt Smith (hey, everybody! The Doctor’s in a time travel movie!) wraps a burning hand around John Connor’s head, Connor screams and…fade out. But before we get to 1984 and the fun part of the movie, Kyle starts having memories of a past he hasn’t lived…a past where Judgment Day didn’t happen until 2017…oh my god, what does it mean?
Not much, at first. Arnold arrives back in 1984 in pretty much a shot-for-shot recreation of his arrival in the original film and Kyle comes in right behind him, again pretty much exactly like Michael Biehn did the first time around, but with slicker effects. I really hoped they were going to ask Bill Paxton (Titanic, Weird Science) to reprise his roles as the Juvenile Delinquent with the Mohawk, but no such luck. Still, the shot-for-shot tribute to the 1984 original continues as Arnie barters for clothes with his fists and Kyle breaks into a nameless department store to steal the exact same t-shirt and black Nike high tops with the Velcro strap he grabbed in the first film. Ah, serendipity…thy name is Alan Taylor. No wonder James Cameron loved this new movie so much! It’s exactly like the one he made!
Bam! Something’s different again! It’s a T-1000 with the liquid metal skin! How did he get here? Bam! Sarah’s here, but now she knows Kyle’s coming and what it means and Bam! She’s got her very own Arnold Terminator! Not the one that Kyle came back after, but another one that got sent back by somebody else to protect Sarah when she was nine, and dude is old! Holy crap! Sarah’s not even wearing Guess jeans! What is happening here??
Welcome to the conceit of Terminator: Genysis. That Matt Smith’s attacking John in the future somehow changed the past (don’t ask; you won’t like the answer) and everything that was old is new again! Old Arnold beat the crap out of Young Arnold before he ever even got his pants on and he’s out of it. The T-1000 vanishes pretty quickly as well (if they explained it, I don’t remember-sorry), Old Arnold is now called Pops and he’s a good guy and as for the villain of the piece…OK, I’m not going to tell. If you’ve seen the trailers, you already know what happens, but just in case you haven’t, we’ll leave that little tidbit for you to find out at the theatre.
The point of it is, I like the changes. Instead of trying to find new ways of re-hashing the same old story and fixing the same old timeline, T:Genysis just throws the baby out with the bathwater and re-sets from square one. The sequel (if there is a sequel) can go pretty much anywhere it wants to, which for a franchise as rode hard and hung up wet as the Terminator franchise is by now, that’s not a bad thing.
So, Cadillac…you like the changes in the story, but how about the changes in the cast? How did those work out for you? Not bad. Emily Clarke has a very Linda Hamilton vibe and with the fatigues and the machine gun (and without the awful 80’s shag haircut), she looks a lot like her too. She can pull off the action pretty well and is more than capable of rising to the few acting challenges a Terminator film has to offer. As for Jai Courtney as Kyle and Jason Clarke as John, I’ve never really been a big fan of either actor, but they do good work here (primarily running and jumping and shooting, but still). And a warm welcome to Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons (the first three Spider-Man movies, Whiplash) who gets shoe-horned into the story as a cop who survived the department store shoot-out with the T-1000 in 1984 to become the local cops’ version of a conspiracy nut in 2017. Thank god he’s signed for sequels; he will be back. As for Mr. Schwarzenegger, the O.G. Terminator himself, it seems the years and a couple of terms as the Governator of California have mellowed him a bit and he seems much more comfortable in his own skin. How weird is it that the most human performance in the whole friggin’ movie is coming from the guy who plays the freakin’ robot? I particularly like the bit where Arnie keeps asking Sarah if she’s mated with Kyle yet to insure John’s birth. Very cute. Very funny.
All in all, the whole thing runs pretty well til we get to Act Three and the whole thing just collapses into an endless loop of disaster porn. Unanswered questions: who sent Arnie back to Sarah when she was nine? How did a T-1000 get back to 1984? How come Arnie can build a time machine, but the guys at Cyberdine Systems can’t? With the upgrade he gets at the end of the movie, does Arnie also get a built-in cup holder? Some of these questions were certainly left for the sequels to deal with while other questions I’m sure will just be swept under the rug and forgotten about, because that’s the problem with action movies today. You start off trying to very carefully construct something that makes sense and has weight and consequence and as soon as $#!+ starts blowing up, it all goes out the window to make the twelve year olds happy. I love action, but whatever happened to those old wonderful, thoughtful SF movies full of big ideas and questions of morality, like 2001 or Silent Running? If you tried to make 2001 today, you’d never get it out of the pitch meeting unless you promised that all the monoliths were going to turn out to be bombs that were all going to go off in the middle of Act Three unless Bruce Willis somehow managed to save the day. Argh.
Anyway, like I said, Terminator: Genysis is a popcorn movie and in that sense it certainly succeeds. So far, it’s not doing as well over the Fourth of July weekend as expected, but after the underwhelming results of the last two installments it may take a couple of weeks of positive word of mouth to get the B.O. numbers up. T:Genysis is certainly a flawed film and there is more than enough room for improvement, but I hope they get a sequel. I’d really like to see where this story can go, now that the story can go, well…anywhere at all.