Thursday, December 22, 2011

black dream

My brother Jeff and i were back in the suburban home of our youth. It was a grey, cold day. I looked into the back yard, and there was a man in a black trenchcoat peering through the back wooden fence. It had been wedged open a foot or so. He was holding what might have been a sniper rifle. I told Jeff to go upstairs. I went into the yard to confront the man. He was black and incredibly tall, with icy demeanor. After i spoke a couple sentences, he calmly fired a couple of shots between my legs. I hastened back into the house. Jeff hadn't gone upstairs yet, and as i was urgently whispering to him to go up and call the police, we noticed that the sliding glass door was broken, and that a black bear was coming into the room. Jeff went up, and i went back onto the porch. I told the man i had no problem with him. I followed him into the house, and asked him whether he needed food for his bear. He looked at me icily, then said that would be fine. He handed me his lit cigarette, which was light blue. I searched for an ashtray, remembering Jeff was a smoker. I found one on top of the phone. I doubted i'd be able to find meat for this bear, but there were several packages of ground beef right on the top refrigerator shelf. I offered it to him, and he said "Heated?" I threw it into the microwave, then hurried the steaming, dripping meat to the bear.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"The Larry Sanders Show"

1992-1998
One of the seminal shows in television history, LARRY SANDERS showed the backstage workings of a network late night talk show perpetually destined for second-best. It was the first TV comedy with dialogue both scripted and improvised. In bringing the show to life, star and creator Garry Shandling called on his experience as a recurring guest host for Johnny Carson. Rip Torn (MEN IN BLACK, BEASTMASTER) plays the gruff, capable producer Artie. Jeffrey Tambor (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, THE ROPERS) is Hank, the no-talent sidekick. Every episode dared you to not realize this show was funny in a way you'd never seen.
ULTIMATE LARRYTHON (season)
-What Have You Done For Me Lately? (1)
How many more brilliant pilots have there ever been? The network forces Larry to do on-air product promos, an idea he loathes so much he sabotages the promo with snark. Hank saves the day. The Garden Weasel! And Robert Hays!
-Party (1)
Larry's wife invites Artie and his wife over to dinner, an idea Larry is none too thrilled with. One by one, the staff wheedles invitations. Artie drinks salty dogs, you pussies!
-Off Camera (2)
An entertainment writer (Joshua Malina - SPORTS NIGHT, THE WEST WING) takes notes backstage for a story. Pettiness and mayhem abound. Guests Gene Siskel, John Ritter, and Warren Zevon are beautiful.
-Hank's Wedding (2)
Hank proposes on-air to a young woman he's known for a couple weeks. They marry on-air. Everyone except Artie thinks it's a horrible idea. Alex Trebek officiates. The strip club bachelor party with Ed McMahon is too classic.
-Roseanne's Return (4)
Larry's ex Roseanne is scheduled to appear, sending him into a neurotic tizzy. The cast is watching the O.J. trial. Hank, who lives on O.J.'s street, defends his neighbor. An enraged Phil eggs Hank's Bentley, leaving yolk on his shoes and eggs in his office. As Hank is furious over Phil's obvious guilt, a point is made with hilarity and razor-sharp incisiveness. Larry's contentious banter with Roseanne is high-wire hysterical.
-Putting the 'Gay' Back in Litigation (6)
The odds against lightning striking on all fronts when a show divides into three plotlines are staggering. Brian, fed up with Phil's gay jokes, sues the show for harassment. Scott Thompson's greatest moment. Both Wallace Langham's jokes and the pressures he's under are perfectly rendered...with an audacious climax between the two that would have missed the mark 99 tries out of a hundred. Meanwhile, Larry worries that his new girlfriend Ileana Douglas isn't a good enough guest to date. He bumbles around, then has a humorless moment that makes you realize for the first time in six seasons that he understands how fucked up he is. Over on track C, Hank mines comic gold as he films celebrity friends doing farewell tributes to Larry. Bruno Kirby and Drew Barrymore are priceless.
-Flip (6)
The hour-long series finale. Even though a few of the segments are just a hair off razor sharp, it doesn't stop the whole from being perfect. The perfect ending to this show that gave us the flip side of TV...the dysfunctional mess that stars are offstage, and the ugly, embarrassing creative process that goes into probably every real show we've ever loved. It's a sign of how close to the bone this show went, in the unspooling of stars who showed up at the end. Warren Beatty is chased by Larry in a parking lot. Jim Carrey's on-air tribute is an eye-popping wonderment. David Duchovny's invoking of Sharon Stone's most iconic scene is comic perfection. Plus Jerry Seinfeld, Sean Penn, Carol Burnett, Tim Allen, Tom Petty, Ellen Degeneres, Greg Kinnear, and...someone i'm forgetting...oh yes, Bruno Kirby! And again how bizarre, in that it would all mirror reality so closely, the willingness of stars to appear on a highly-rated, beloved series finale. You can't help wondering where the fantasy stops, and where the reality begins. The show within the show was never more than semi-beloved, so it almost strains credibilty to have this many celebrities. But it doesn't quite cross that implausible line. Jeremy Piven and Linda Doucett return after long absences. And at the core, the big three knock out some of their most poignant scenes ever. Artie cries, alone in the costume room. Hank's kiss-off scene is towering (as is his tail-between-legs apology). Do NOT miss the deleted scenes. The last moment, as Larry looks back...you might just shed a tear yourself.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

"Starhunter"

2000-2001
I actually got through the entire series. I'd like to tell you that i did so out of a faint feeling of guilt for having dismissed so many sci fi series after less than a full season. Yeah, that's the reason i gutted it out.
Or perhaps it had to do with the fact that in the pilot, my eyes fell out when i saw some of the most beautiful boobies we'll ever see, entirely unaugmented by surgery (or the costume department). Hungrily, i stayed with this turkey through the rest of the 22 episodes, hoping that similar helpings of heaven would be regular stops along the way. If you are moved by similar delight...
Then stop the moment actress Helen Latham, um, shuffles off this mortal flesh in a pyrotechnic blaze. Turn off the disc, and run to the next contestant in the eternal quest for non-crappy sci fi.
And pardon me for being so moved by Miss Latham, but is it so much to ask that sci fi produce a series that acknowledges the importance of sex to human beings, and not in such a way that makes you think your shrewish Aunt Gladys isn't peering over the producers' shoulders, ready to swat them with a ruler should they fail to live up to the Hayes censorship code of 19-FREAKING-30!?
I'm just saying.
As for STARHUNTER, i'd like to tell you that it's second-rate. That, however, would be a lie. Workable performances, decent visuals, a concept with potential (hundreds of years in the future, warp travel is just a dream, Earth is a wasteland, and human spaceships clutter our solar system)...but you had the feeling that there weren't enough good writers, and too many memos from producers who didn't know spit about storytelling. It's nice to see star Michael Pare' again, but the only people i'd recommend this one to are those who call EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS the bestest flick ever.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mark, Luke, John

Mark 14:51-52
What a fascinating 29-word mention; who WAS this young man?
Luke 14:26
It stretches the boundaries of reason and logic to suggest that hatred of self and others is necessary for religious purity. The only way to justify this would be to believe that all humans possess innate evil. There are, indeed, many who hold such a view. But does it seem credible that the Lord could create (in It's own image?) innately evil beings? Wouldn't the Lord have to be evil to do so?
John 2:6-11
If the Christ were to come today, might It perform miracles of creating marijuana, or peyote, or heroin, or some other drug? If the Christ is willing to create alcohol, let's not quibble over the potency of any other mind-altering drug of your choice. While he never advocated drugs as a path to Heaven, he obviously endorsed their use. Many religions have more overtly paired drugs with spiritual experience. I have no point, merely a curious observation…

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Buried Child

THEATER 57
-spring 2001
I returned to the Orpheus. Why? A couple reasons. I believed in what we'd been trying to create, and had strong loyalty to Tony. In his besieged life, i wanted to energize his dream a bit longer. At the same time, i knew that an era had passed, and that my time at the Orpheus was ending. I knew i wouldn't be able to create the intense theater i was interested in, not there. But i wanted others to keep the Orpheus Theater going. These were the thoughts in my head as i decided to have Donna McDonald direct a show. She had co-run a theater on Lasqueti Island in Canada for a number of years. I thought i might step all the way back, and be just the producer. The show she chose was a Sam Shepard piece about a dysfunctional family (or am i being redundant?). Estrangement, incest, a baby buried in the backyard, fresh produce...this play had it all. For the role of Dodge, the patriarch, i got Joe Porter, a delightful life-long theater vet and semi-retired doctor. Joe had been in touch with me for a few months, and here was finally a great part for him. Donna found beach resident Carrie Hill to play Halie, the matriarch. Auditioner Tony Turiano was cast as the lost eldest son, Tilden. I got Michael Weeg for the part of Bradley, the crippled, angry son. Michael was the husband of Jennifer from sex, lies, and videotape. For Father Dewis, i called on my ODD COUPLE buddy, John Thomas. Amanda returned to play Shelly, girlfriend of the grandson, Vince. We had trouble casting Vince. Donna wanted me, and i said i'd do it if we didn't find someone else. For four or five days we searched, with Donna telling me to just do the part. But a part of me wanted to see how she operated before acting under her. Also, i didn't fancy playing Amanda's boyfriend, as my feelings for her had been pretty intense far too recently. Thankfully, Jim Hawley from SEXUAL PERVERSITY surfaced. I threw myself into producing, and only attended one or two rehearsals the first few weeks. It was an enjoyable break, wearing just the one hat. I attended most rehearsals the last two weeks, even running some that Donna couldn't make. I gave a fair bit of direction to a couple actors who wanted more than Donna was giving them. Tony Turiano called me the best producer he'd ever had. The cast chemistry was good, if not overly close. Tony was a recovering alcoholic, and came on a little strong for some. Amanda in particular felt that he was trying to get too close, a situation i did my best to defuse. Carrie was new to acting, but doing her best. She was good company. Joe and John were consummate pros, and Jim his usual puckish self. Michael and Amanda were very dedicated. Donna and i ran the show together, her out front, me backstage. Tony M. relayed to me how angry his family still was with me, and said that they wanted me to run the show from outside the restaurant, perhaps using a...get this...walkie-talkie. There was prop placement and cleanup to do backstage, plus set and actor dressing. It all came together well, and we played to good crowds. We finally were working on an actual stage, assembled by volunteer community member Peter. This meant several more heavy pieces to be lugged behind the restaurant after each show, which usually fell to Dwayne Ernst and myself. Dwayne was Donna's boyfriend, and for several shows that year, he did work that was well beyond the call of duty. He'd lived a hard life, and i was touched by how much he opened up to me. The prop i was most proud of was the baby skeleton. I'd tried to find one at schools and hospitals, but was told that there had been a ban on baby-skeleton construction. I found a doll, shaved her hair, cut eye, ear, nose, and jaw sections out, and painted it white. In the final scene, Tony carries the baby in, wrapped in cloth, and the effect was very disturbing to some. The most-imitated lines were Joe's, especially "Boo-koos!", "My rough rasp, my lathe…", and "Two bucks is two bucks. Don't sneer." Jim continued to ad-lib a bit in finding his particular brand of comedy (literally speaking out his ass at one point), but he did it well, so was given rein. He played a funny drunk, turning "Beasts from the deep!" into "Beans from the dip!" Michael's "Gimme back my leg!" was mimiced as well...his frustrated rage was both comic and frightening (and yes, we had an actual prosthetic leg, thanks to Dr. Joe). At one point, Amanda hurls a mug offstage, shattering it. I'm backstage to clean up, so the actors don't step on the pieces. I began to wonder what might happen if the cup didn't break, and i finally decided to wait closer to the crash point. The first night i did this (after weeks of successful crashes), the cup failed to break. I smashed it, but maybe not quickly enough, because Amanda felt there was a lag. I never waited that closely again, and it was never a problem again (i always wondered whether my mental energy had somehow created the failed crash). The most memorable moment came on closing night. Throughout the run, Jim had been leaning on a TV stand in one scene, and on the final night it collapsed. Joe and Jim proceeded to provide dead-on ad-libs. It was an incredibly dirty production, and not figuratively. Mud and shucked corn everywhere. The mayor came to see an Orpheus show for the first time, and had a great time, but i was so busy cleaning up that i barely met him, and got no credit for being the guy that started and ran this whole endeavor. Oh well. Donna favored a more choreographed curtain call than i, but i allowed myself to be called out on the final night. I enjoyed being just the producer more than i expected. In a way, it was like my first non-acting experience in college, and the unexpected pride i'd felt in acquiring that elusive diaphragm prop. Giving some control of expenses to Donna, the show became the most expensive we ever did, at $1200. I accepted a $300 investment from her, which i paid back by week two. It was a group and show to be proud of.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Galactica '03

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
2003-2009
Creator ronald moore had a long history as a writer/producer for the TREK franchise, before taking center stage for this re-boot of the BSG franchise. Not everything was as ground-breaking as it felt (the hand-held camera shots hark back to HILL STREET BLUES). But the emotional/physical grittiness, moral ambiguity, and realistic space visuals were mostly new ground. All that, plus edward james olmos? Bloody brilliant. The classic had mystical mumbo jumbo too, so why is it so hard to stomach in the new incarnation? Because the classic was never so insistent on being taken seriously. The show's excellence declined precipitously in the final seasons...was moore trying to make the point that life itself hardly ever has a coherent narrative structure? Probably not, but ultimately the show suffered for not having a point. Chaos could have been the point, and could have been brilliantly encapsulated in the discovery that Earth turns out to be a nuclear wasteland. Had that been the show's finale, it might have been one of the greatest endings in television history. But the show just meandered on, settling for an exciting but obligatory finale. As for specifics, the teaser sequence was a time-wasting conceit that showed us things we didn't need to see. There are some lovely deleted scenes, but the moore commentaries are a bit boring (producer/writer/tech commentaries tend to be dry, and the fact that he's usually alone doesn't help). If i'm focusing on the negative, it's only a reflection of love...but ultimately, dehumanizing mysticism and writing flaws keep BSG from the greatness in its grasp. Debates about where it might have belonged in the pantheon of best shows ever are reduced to arguing over which is better, the new or the classic. Still in all, when it was great, it was like no sci fi ever.
SERIES EPISODE AVERAGE: 2.7
BY SEASON:
1) 3.0
2) 2.9
3) 2.4
4) 2.7
FOUR-STAR EPISODES (season)
-mini-series
-33 (1)
-You Can't Go Home Again (1)
-Scattered (2)
-Valley of Darkness (2)
-Pegasus [extended] (2)
-RAZOR
-Dirty Hands (3)
-The Ties that Bind (4)
-THE PLAN

Galactica, season 4

FOUR-STAR EPISODES: 2
AVERAGE EPISODE RATING: 2.7
-He That Believeth in Me ***
Baltar's cult of nubile supplicants is a nice touch. The starbuck resurrection almost works, as does lee's resignation as a pilot...but "almost" is a bit painful in this context. She returns in a factory-showroom viper, looking pristine herself...am i the only one who thinks to check for her old surgery scars? Gripping action sequences. They dropped the ball in editing, taking out an athena/kara and kara/anders scene that would have restored some coherence.
-Six of One ***
Why is a naked boomer so much...fun? Roslin's aide tory (rekha sharma - DARK ANGEL, ALIEN VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM) cries when she has sex, and it's the first time i've been genuinely glad to have her around. Laura attempts to kill the starbuck-ghost...why is no one else acting so sanely? Lee's military send-off feels overdone, and his farewell to dee underdone. Boomer's breaking of the cylon council deadlock feels contrived; it might have been more realistic to go against the 8s in the other direction. The beginnings of a cylon civil war are fantastic.
-The Ties That Bind ****
Galactica is back! Galactica is BACK!!! Or that's what i was saying to myself, as cally walks her baby into the airlock. For most of season three, the show felt lost, but suddenly...i was shouting "No! No! NO! Yes! NO!!!". Cally had just found out that the father of her child is a cylon. Does she get sentimental and uncertain? Yup...then she clubs him insensate with a WRENCH! Thank you, cal. There are more off moments than one might expect from a four-star episode, but boomer snogging cavill plus base star fleets tearing into one another, put this one over the top. Starbuck-ghost's Demetrius mission is tedious, but it's been a long time since you had me on the edge of my seat, BSG. And can someone please order a cylon test on laura and cally, because their teeth look INHUMANLY WHITE this season?
-Escape Velocity ***
In a season in which the chief finds out he's not human, he gives the most rawly human speech of anyone, on how life is about not ending up with the people we most want to be with. Olmos and mcdonnell could make an ingredient list great goddamned drama.
-The Road Less Traveled **
The Demetrius mission still holds no water, and the mystical babble back at the fleet threatens to swallow the show (again). There's a deleted helo/athena scene that ought not have been.
-Faith **
A gripping, albeit convoluted mutiny on the Demetrius! Plus nana visitor (STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, TED 2)! A fine turn (the only BSG ever by a TREK regular) swallowed up by a tedious character in a mawkish, mumbo jumbo plot. They find the remains of the cylon renegade fleet, with the 6s, sharons, and leobens who want to form an alliance with the humans. Anders has an unprecedented great moment, when he tries to slide his hand into the cylon water data stream, his cylon identity unknown to all.
-Guess What's Coming to Dinner **
Gaeta loses a leg, apollo's elected to the Quorum, humans and cylons in a tenuous truce plot betrayal...zzzzzzzzzzz. Perhaps the most inoffensive two-star effort of the series, but are we to applaud a lack of anything patently wrong? The writers, time and again, put the characters in situations where their responses don't quite ring true. A nice 1.29-second appearance by dee. Oh yeah, athena kills a 6, but i'm giving up the ghost, because i'm not entirely sure which 6. If athena can kill one character per episode, by the finale we'll be left with a buddy comedy starring her and her trusty centurion, entitled "Naked Boomer and Sparky Ride a Tandem Bike"...which, frankly, would be fine.
-Sine Qua Non **
Adama abandons his post to wait for laura, and lee agonizes over whom to pick as the replacement President. Let's bring lawyer lampkin back. Why? Who knows. What's your poison, a plotline that's contrived, or foregone? When romo threatens to kill lee, we get both. Ah well, at least caprica 6, in the brig, is pregnant. And the father is...tigh?
-The Hub **
Aaaaaah! Elosha's back! Nooooooooooooo! She's faffing on a ferry of folderol. Adama and laura finally declare their love...zzzzzzzz. Baltar is shot...will laura save or kill him? Can she kill us instead? This one is so vapid, it's only by a miracle of high-octane action (in the form of a battle in which the cylon resurrection "hub" is destroyed) that one-star land is skirted.
-Revelations **
Gonna be a standoff! They find Earth! Four of the five final cylons are outed (tigh, tory, anders, and the chief), and the renegade cylons threaten a nuke strike unless they are handed over. Adama is incapacitated with grief (?). Lee plays hardball as president...but everybody makes nice, and they all go to Earth. The fleet-wide scenes of joy and relief are one whopper of a masturbatory montage. Why is this turd a floater, not a sinker? The revelation that Earth is a nuclear wasteland. Damn right, ronald moore. In a season of crap, you found the chewy golden center. If the entire series had built to this point, without the mumbo jumbo that doomed it, this could have been one of the most powerful series finales ever.
-Sometimes a Great Notion ***
Starbuck-ghost finds starbuck's remains in a cockpit on Earth...zzzzzz. The two-thousand year old remains of the earthlings turn out to be...cylon! Never mind that they weren't invented before the current century. It's time to cowboy up, so...adama gets weepy-wooey and suicidal. Roslin burns the scriptures ('bout fucking time!). What elevates this one is a huge helping of dee-light. She and apollo have a date. They kiss. She returns to her quarters, still glowing...as she kills herself. *&^%ing *&^%ity *&^%ers! There had better be some high-level justification coming, or someone's getting a *&^%ing letter. The fifth cylon is the long-dead ellen..zzzz.
-A Disquiet Follows My Soul (extended) ***
An appropriate title for season four. Roslin can't face her job, nor her cancer treatments. The fleet is offered advanced FTL technology from the renegade cylons, in exchange for citizenship. The chief finds out that cally's baby isn't his. An anti-cylon movement is founded by zarek and gaeta. An otherwise average episode is elevated by not even one hint of mumbo jumbo.
-The Oath ***
Early-season worthy...if the human touches had rung just a bit more true, four stars was reachable. With roslin in seclusion and adama telling the Quorum to stick their reservations about a cylon alliance up their collective ass, full-scale mutiny erupts, spearheaded by zarek and gaeta (as much as i love our heroes, i might find myself on the anti-cylon side). Ex-Pegasus chief laird is the first victim, and the body count is on. Gaeta takes over the CIC. Apollo and starbuck-ghost fight side by side. Adama and tigh are taken, then escape, then get grenaded. Nasty. The idea of a civil war fought over an uncomfortable alliance with a bitter enemy is another gem that gets lost in a failed season.
-Blood on the Scales ***
Adama is alive, and put through a kangaroo trial. Zarek massacres the Quorum. The mutiny fractures, as roslin stands firm aboard the base ship. Zarek and gaeta are killed by firing squad.
-No Exit **
A stirring recap of the entire series mythology gets this one going, and anders' brain death ends it (don't celebrate, it probably won't stick). There's mumbo jumbo, and a curious drama between cavil, boomer, and ellen. Adama reinstates the chief, who tells him that cylon organic metal is the only thing that can save Galactica's bulwarks. Adama says never. Then yes.
-Deadlock **
Sigh. Put the Galactica-is-back vuvuzelas away. Boomer brings ellen back to the fleet, who then gets into pissyfights with the other cylons. Caprica 6 miscarries sol's baby.
-Someone to Watch Over Me ***
This episode makes me almost care about starbuck-ghost. More compelling is the reuniting of boomer and the chief. She's never stopped living in the projection of their dream home, and he's never let go of the greatest love of his life. A wonderful episode falls apart when he frees her...but passes on a chance to go with her. In order to escape, she pretends to be athena. Helo interrupts her while she's dressing, offering a quickie. Not wanting to alarm him, she accepts. Athena, bound and gagged in a closet, views the fucking. It's upsetting, it's sexy, it's what BSG should be. Do NOT miss the deleted post-coital scene.
-Islanded in a Stream of Stars **
Baltar reveals that the original starbuck died. Boomer brings a kidnapped hera back to cavill. Adama gives the order to abandon the beyond-repair Galactica. It's not soporific, but praise doesn't get much feebler than that. I can't even muster much giddiness over getting to see starbuck crap.
-Daybreak (extended) ***
A weary franchise gamely brings it home. Considering the mumbo jumbo and contrivance of the last two seasons, that's no tiny feat. Pre-holocaust flashbacks meld with Galactica's final mission, a rescue of hera in the heart of the cylon empire - it's so grand and adrenalized (a defending force of classic centurions!), that it almost rises above. The chief kills tory when he discovers that she killed cally. Caprica 6 reconciles in love with baltar, when he finally makes a selfless gesture. The visuals are great, they don't give in entirely to sentimentality, and it very nearly works. At the end, they destroy their fleet, to disperse onto a planet with pre-industrial humans (a pristine "alter Earth"...just go with it). There's a great deleted kara/zack scene. They bring back cally too, but no dee?? Adama (dying laura) and lee (disappearing starbuck-ghost) are both going to be alone, but say sayonara to each other anyway? Really? Okay, i guess.
-THE PLAN ****
It took a post-series telemovie to crystallize how the mysticism of the final seasons crippled this series. This is NOT my anti-divine bias having a tantrum because someone might have a differing point of view. This movie, about the handful of cylons living within the fleet, ironically brings back what BSG had lost: its humanity. The cylons struggle with love, self-doubt, betrayal and a million other human conditions. When one of the series' main characters is a resurrected ghost, and everyone is a pawn in some divine hybrid revelation, you've dehumanized the affair. But here, humanity (in all its glory and stupidity) is restored. The poignance might make your chest tight. Not enough? It's also pulse-pounding, literally. The visuals are the most ambitious and awe-inspiring of any BSG, and the way the story interweaves with events and footage from the entire series, illuminating many of the more inscrutable moments, is meticulously stunning. And in one way, it even tops BSG's best: for all the previous grittiness, we never before saw literal human nakedness. It also benefits from a pounding, darker version of the theme music, which had long since become faintly annoying due to its resemblance to a rather unfortunate sting tune. The actions of the cylons, who never could have imagined they'd be trapped within a human fleet, are given depth and resonance. Cavil is megalomaniacally relentless...boomer's tortured conflict shines...a simon commits suicide over love for his human wife...and more. Worthy, helfer, stockwell, and lymari nadal (AMERICAN GANGSTER, AMERICA) shine. Edward james olmos directed, giving BSG the finale it richly deserved.

Galactica, season 3

FOUR-STAR EPISODES: 1
AVERAGE EPISODE RATING: 2.4
-Occupation **
On New Caprica, starbuck and anders are married, and she's been in detention isolation since the cylons arrived. Leoben tries to get her to love him, and brings a baby he says is hers. Lt. gaeta (alessandro juliani - SMALLVILLE, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES) is baltar's aide, covertly funneling information to the resistance led by the chief, anders, and tigh. Cally and the chief are married with a baby. Ellen has sex with a cavil to get tigh out of prison, where he's lost an eye to torture. On Pegasus, apollo is married and fat. Adama plans a rescue, using sharon (now married to helo) to penetrate the cylon defenses. He frees her and reinstates her rank...which you may have a hard time buying. It's also irksome to be denied seeing the chief/cally and dee/apollo romances come to fruition.
-The Resistance **
Webisodes that nicely flesh out the story, centering on duck and jammer.
-Precipice **
Suicide bombings prompt the cylons to arrange a mass execution of political detainees, including zarek and roslin. Baltar signs the order, with a gun to his head. Ex-deckhand jammer (dominic zamprogna - THE L WORD, 2012) is now a member of the secret new caprican police, who carry out the cylons' grim orders, and are targeted as collaborators. He secretly frees cally.
-Exodus ***
A two-parter heavy on religious babble. The detainees are saved from the firing squad. Zarek and roslin have a fun moment of rapprochement. Apollo thinks the rescue mission is doomed, and urges adama to continue on to Earth. Adama orders apollo to continue on with the Pegasus and what's left of the fleet, as he mounts the rescue alone. Tigh kills ellen for collaborating. Galactica attacks four base stars, and is almost destroyed, when Pegasus jumps in, taking out two base stars before being destroyed itself. Galactica rescues the civilians. So ends lee's first command. Fantastic visuals.
-Collaborators ***
A secret tribunal (with tigh and the chief) executes accused collaborators. Baltar faces a similar trial with the cylons, but is spared. Anders quits the tribunal, and is replaced by starbuck. Gaeta is tried, and refuses to beg. Laura is re-elected. Any gaeta-heavy episode is neato-keen.
-Torn **
Great googily, a naked boomer doing tai chi. An adrift base star is found, victim of a virus - baltar volunteers to investigate for the cylons. Tigh and starbuck foment a rift between those who lived through the occupation and those who didn't. Adama disowns starbuck, and relieves tigh of duty. Sharon is given the call sign "athena".
-A Measure of Salvation **
Apollo devises a plan to download the fatal cylon virus into their entire race. The attack is sabotaged by helo. The emotional impact of humanity having a chance to eliminate the cylons, is glossed over. One of the deleted scenes gives that idea the weight it deserves. I have trouble with sharon's actions. Imagine helo joining her with the cylons...reverse the roles, then posit a storyline in which he's complicit in the extermination of humanity. It just doesn't sit right. Aren't her actions as heinous as baltar's? The original, no less?
-Hero ***
Great googily, a threesome between 6, baltar, and d'eanna! One of adama's pilots (carl lumbly - M.A.N.T.I.S., CAGNEY & LACEY) from the battlestar Valkyrie, captured by cylons three years ago, returns in a stolen raider. Flashbacks abound, and questions arise about adama's role in starting the war.
-Unfinished Business (extended) ***
Some of the tightest, brightest one-liners of the series. Grudge boxing matches are held aboard Galactica, to help the crew let off steam. Rank is dropped. Apollo fights helo, Adama fights the chief. Apollo and starbuck are both in unhappy marriages. Amid flashbacks to a fling they had on New Caprica, the tension between them ends up in the ring. Despite the bloodsport glorification and a dramatic thrust that teeters on the border of melodrama, this one actually knocks on that four-star door.
-The Passage ***
Continuing the show's unflinching habit of killing off beloved supporting characters, kat dies in a semi-intentional noble suicide, after starbuck discovers her hidden past. An adama/tigh scene has the best laughter of the series.
-The Eye of Jupiter **
Amid mystical mumbo jumbo, there's a standoff above a planet with a temple that points the way to Earth. The cylons offer baltar as a bargaining chip.
-Rapture **
The standoff continues, as ground forces kill each other in the quest for the temple's knowledge. Is baltar a cylon? Is the chief? Does anyone care?
-Taking a Break From All Your Worries **
Baltar is interrogated, and attempts suicide. Apollo and starbuck continue to moon over each other. Now she's the one willing to leave sam for him. Apollo, i'm not a violent person and i don't believe in marriage, but you make me imagine dee's family kicking the crapola out of you.
-The Woman King **
Despite a fine turn from guest bruce davison (V, SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION), this one's foregone and conventional, as a civilian doctor commits racially-profiled murders.
-A Day in the Life ***
Cally and the chief are trapped in a decompressing bay, without space suits. The rescue is edge-of-your-seat, as aiming them into a waiting raptor outside the bay is the only option.
-Dirty Hands ****
The chief is given the unenviable job of getting production going aboard the tylium refining ship. There's not one single thing flashy or sexy about this episode, which cannot be said about any other four-star entry. This is about people doing dirty, brutal jobs. It's about class struggle, and human rights. When people talked about this being not just the best sci fi on TV, but the best show, this is what they were talking about. You fret that the episode will take the cheap Hollywood ending - they don't avoid it entirely, but close enough.
-Maelstrom *
The plunge into religious twaddle is no longer a minor plot point, it's the entire masturbatory focus. Don't watch if you A) love this show, or B) have a weak stomach. It actually made me not care that starbuck dies.
-The Son Also Rises **
Baltar's trial begins, with lee on the defense team. Overall a lack of deftness in the writing, a recurring problem this season. The adama/lee conflict feels a bit contrived and overdone.
-Crossroads **
The trial continues. The usually brilliant rymer can't help this'n, even though the cliffhanger gets the heart pumping. The conclusion of baltar's trial is jamie bamber's greatest moment of the series.

Galactica, season 2

FOUR-STAR EPISODES: 4
AVERAGE EPISODE RATING: 2.9
-Scattered ****
Adama is dying, and Galactica loses the fleet (along with doc cottle). Apollo and roslin are in the brig for treason, while tigh (michael hogan - THE L WORD, RED RIDING HOOD) declares martial law. On Caprica, helo tells starbuck that he's in love with a cylon. Starbuck tries to kill her. Can gaeta save the day? Yes, but it requires facing a cylon fleet while vital information gets downloaded.
-Valley of Darkness ****
Galactica is plunged into darkness by a cylon virus and boarded by centurions, who decimate all opposition in their attempt to vent the oxygen from the ship. Can tigh hold it together? Can apollo get his team to aft damage control? Blistering. Nobody directs like michael rymer.
-Fragged ***
Tigh struggles with leadership of the fleet, and the doomed crashdown struggles as the leader of the downed survivors on Kobol.
-Resistance ***
Tigh loses his grip on the fleet. Cally kills boomer. Civilians are killed by security forces, and apollo plots a prison break for the president. A resistance movement is found on Caprica. Doc cottle gets the great lines.
-The Farm **
Starbuck is shot on Caprica, and wakes up in a resistance hospital...or is it, and why does she have a scar on her abdomen? We meet new cylon simon (rick worthy - ENTERPRISE, HEROES).
-Home ***
One third of the fleet defects with roslin, to go back to Kobol. Starbuck, helo, and boomer#2 return to the fleet. Petty officer dee (kandyse mcclure - SEVENTH SON, DA VINCI'S INQUEST) gives adama a piece of her mind. Elosha steps on a mine (yay!). The episode we've been waiting for, in the baltar/6 storyline, as she appears as a de-glamorized version of herself (looking more attractive than ever), and tells him his visions are a symptom of psychosis. Adama embraces forgiveness, and rushes to Kobol.
-Final Cut ***
A muckraking journalist gets permission to do an all-access documentary on Galactica. The journalist happens to be lucy lawless (ZENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, PARKS AND RECREATION), and she happens to be a self-aware cylon. An episode that teeters on the brink, but when the classic BSG theme plays over d'anna's summation, you're misty-eyed and satisfied.
-Flight of the Phoenix ***
Deck chief tyrol (aaron douglas - CATWOMAN, I ROBOT) combats malaise by building a stealth fighter. We love ya, chief.
-Pegasus (extended) ****
FANfanfanfan-tastic. Another surviving battlestar is discovered, led by the legendary admiral cain (michelle forbes - STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, TRUE BLOOD). The ultimate BSG marathon would be these three, and the classic "The Living Legend". Joy sours, as she outranks adama and begins mixing the crews, sending apollo and starbuck to Pegasus. Pegasus' interrogators get their hands on the boomer copy sharon. Helo and the chief (boomer's former lover) rush to her, as she is being raped. They accidentally kill the interrogator, and are sentenced to die on Pegasus. Adama orders an armed rescue.
-Resurrection Ship ***
Roslin negotiates a truce between the commanders. The discovery of a cylon resurrection ship, which allows dead cylons to download into new bodies, unites cain and adama around a strike plan. Cain makes starbuck the Pegasus CAG. It's discovered that cain murdered a disobedient X.O., and ordered civilian ships plundered and abandoned to die. Convinced that cain will kill adama, roslin urges him to kill her. Counter-assassinations are plotted. The strike is a success, and the assassinations are aborted. Baltar frees the Pegasus cylon prisoner, a 6 who had been brutalized into a catatonic state. She kills cain. Roslin promotes adama to admiral. Forbes, you were wonderful. This two-parter plus "Pegasus" are the high point of the series. If you want to remember BSG only at its best, this is the place to end your journey (plus "Razor" and "The Plan", of course).
-Epiphanies **
Dying of cancer, roslin orders the abortion of sharon's hybrid baby. Helo, the father, is defiantly in love. Spurred by his visions of 6, baltar discovers a way to keep the baby alive using the fetal blood to save the president.
-Black Market **
Apollo tracks down the black market traders who murdered the new Pegasus commander. He has an affair with a prostitute who has a child and reminds him of a woman he once loved but left, because she wanted to have his baby. This overly conventional episode is impactful because of lee's paying for sex and murdering a man in cold blood.
-Scar ***
The resurrection ship destroyed, the cylons resort to hit and run attacks. Colonial pilot losses mount. Starbuck and kat (luciana carro - CAPRICA, THE L WORD) vow to be the first to destroy the most deadly raider, called scar. Starbuck is off-balance at having left resistance fighter anders behind on Caprica. She plunges into drink, almost has reckless sex with apollo, and loses her top gun billing.
-Sacrifice **
Roslin's aide, billy (paul campbell - ALMOST HEROES, SPUN OUT), whom laura envisioned becoming president, has had an on-again, off-again romance with dee. He proposes to her, and she declines. He discovers her on a date with lee, when the bar they're in is taken by terrorists, whose leader (dana delaney - CHINA BEACH, TOMBSTONE) demands the execution of sharon. The rescue is bungled, with apollo shot by starbuck (thank you, producers, for showing what actually happens when you get emotionally involved with someone as damaged as starbuck). Billy, trying to impress dee, is killed. Not even apollo is worthy of dee, but we forgave you, billy, and didn't want you to die. It's the first death of a beloved character who's been around since the mini-series. There's a lot to love in this one, but it's a little flat and forced.
-The Captain's Hand ***
The Pegasus' new commander is garner (the excellent john heard - BIG, AWAKENINGS), promoted from the engine room. Two raptors are lost on a training mission, and he jumps the Pegasus to rescue them - against adama's orders. It's a trap, and he puts lee in command as he repairs the jump drive. He succeeds, but asphyxiates. Adama promotes apollo to commander. Roslin, a lifelong defender of abortion, is forced by depopulation to make it illegal. Might have been four stars, had the writing been less contrived.
-RAZOR (extended) ****
The tale of lee's first mission as Pegasus commander. What starts as a Pegasus origin story, gives way to four further flashback plots - it's amazing that it stays coherent. We see adama as a young pilot, and the darker aspects of cain's command. The impetus behind this two-hour special was no doubt to make more use of the wonderful forbes. It's told from the perspective of lt. kendra shaw (stephany jacobsen - PIZZA, TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES), former protege to cain, whom lee taps to be his exec. She and starbuck enjoy instant enmity, then must go on a mission inside a base star...as if all else weren't enough, there's an attack by classic raiders and centurions. Bloody fantastic.
-Downloaded ***
A curious detour into the cylon world, as boomer and caprica 6 are downloaded into new bodies, and meet on Caprica. Both have trouble re-assimilating into cylon society. In a brilliant twist, 6 has a vision of baltar in her head, talking to her! The first cylon-on-cylon homicide.
-Lay Down Your Burdens **
Baltar runs for president. Behind in the polls, he surges ahead when campaign manager zarek suggests he make his platform the settlement of the fleet on a newly-discovered planet hidden inside a nebula. Starbuck leads a resistance rescue operation to Caprica. The chief has nightmares, and maims cally when she tries to wake him. He gets counseling from an unconventional priest, cavil (dean stockwell - QUANTUM LEAP, THE TONY DANZA SHOW)...a cylon! Roslin fixes the election, but is talked out of it by adama. Baltar becomes president! Suddenly it's a year later, and New Caprica is occupied by the cylons. The fleet, with skeleton crews, has long since jumped away. The producers took a huge leap with this one, and a lot went right, but there's a flatness that will stay with the series for the rest of the run.

Friday, December 9, 2011

"The Time Tunnel"

1966
I tried to love this series, i really did.
The shortest-lived of Irwin Allen's shows (LOST IN SPACE, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA). Set in 1968, it stars Robert Colbert (AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON) and James Darren (T.J. HOOKER, DEEP SPACE NINE) as time-traveling scientists who have lost control over when or where they'll land. The performances are charming, and the show's a visual delight. The network wanted to cut the season 2 budget, so Irwin called it quits. Some have called Allen's work the triumph of style over substance, and that about nails it. No one on the writing staff was advanced enough to embrace the notion that TV situations and characters could or should be realistic. It's worth watching for hard-core sci fi fans, and an episode or two might be fun at one a' them rowdy geek parties. It's also fun for anyone who wants to see Robert Duvall or Ellen Burstyn or Carroll O'Connor or Tom Skeritt before they were stars. But that's about it. In the spirit of appreciation for at least trying, here's my review of the pilot.
-Rendezvous with Yesterday ***
Four decades on, this show's formula of unsophisticated earnestness with charming production values adds up to fun. The writing is less than sharp, and the vision goes little further than the spirit of adventure, but i laughed out loud and raised my fist several times in appreciation. Tony and Doug's first timeleap lands them on the Titanic. Michael Rennie (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL) and John Winston (STAR TREK) lend resonance. Showing none of that nitpicky preserve-the-timeline consciousness, they try to stop the accident!

"Earth: Final Conflict"

1997-2002
No no no no no no no.
Sigh.
Roddenberry scribbled some notes on napkins, then years after his death, his widow (TREK veteran Majel Barrett) executive produces the scribbles into a series, playing a recurring character. Sounds promising, no?
No.
It's not good enough to like, not bad enough to hate. Aliens (who may have a hidden agenda) come to Earth bearing gifts. Great. Sure. It was overhauled in the second season, with the series star replaced by an ensemble vibe. Once i knew how middling it was, i thought i'd get through the first season, then watch the second just out of curiosity (if i came across it cheap).
I almost made it. With only an episode and a half left, i hit my breaking point.
When watching a show, the most significant question one can ask is, "What does this show have to say?" Were the EFC creators hoping that if they brought the other elements together well, nobody would mind the show's lack of a voice? Some shows can get away with that - LAW & ORDER being the most successful example. You don't even have to have a vision as distinct as TREK (or M*A*S*H, or CHAPELLE'S SHOW). But it becomes obvious fairly quickly when there's no active intelligence at work. Churning out an adventure that's a cookie cutter for the values and ideals of the time is an almost foolproof ticket for swift delivery to history's dustbin.

Monday, December 5, 2011

sanityized lyrics 1

TURN AWAY
(a re-write of Chicago's "Look Away")

When cetera left the band
We all feared we'd lost our sound
We were bummin' baby
Really bummin' baby

Found someone else
A new kid in town
His name is jason, baby
It's really jason, baby, whoa...

We made Chicago 18
David foster was still around
We kicked some righteous tunes
With that sweet brass rockin' sound
And so we came right back for more
Made Chicago 19 as we kicked foster out the door

But if we're on the radio
And you don't know where to go
Turn away, baby, turn away
If you remember Hard Habit to Break
And it's more than you can take
Turn away, baby, turn away
Don't listen to this
We don't want you to hear us this way

It's so hard for us to say we're sorry
For offering up this turd
It's a power ballad, baby
michael bolton passed on, baby, whoa

The charts say it's fine
But that's pretty damn absurd
This song could use some brass
Could really use some brass, whoa...

We just never thought
That cetera'd up and run
Feelin' weaker every day, how could this be #1?
The days of multi-plats are old
Our next album, it won't even go gold

And if we're on the radio
And you don't know where to go
Turn away, baby, turn away
If you remember Hard Habit to Break
And it's more than you can take
Turn away, baby, turn away
Don't listen to this
We don't want you to hear us this way

When cetera left the band
We all feared we'd lost our sound
We were bummin' baby
Really bummin' baby

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Farscape"

1999-2003
This series is not a crashing disaster.
It just feels like one.
It starts promisingly, with beautiful production values, winning performances, and top-notch space visuals...but the derailment comes quickly. Filmed in Australia and produced by the Henson Company, with advanced puppets alongside human actors, it's the tale of an astronaut hurled to the other side of the galaxy, who falls in with a band of escaped prisoners on a living spaceship. Amid mistrust, they work together to survive...and save the galaxy.
As concepts go, it could work.
The problem is, the writers want it both ways. The mistrust is undercut by a touchy-feely vibe. The reality of the former is negated by the needs of the latter, in a way that feels forced. Get ugly, get raw, or put on a production of UP WITH PEOPLE. Yet it still might have worked, if the lead weren't such a whiny asshat. John crichton (ben browder - STARGATE SG-1, PARTY OF FIVE) too often says or does the wrong thing, making it hard to root for him. Part of the show's charm was supposed to be his pop-culture references (that only the audience would get), but he's too much of a macho pretty boy for it to work (that may be bad casting and bad writing - the americana references feel a bit forced). Zhaan (virginia hey - MAD MAX 2, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS) has great potential, but her nudism and seeker's wisdom peter out through writerly neglect...and despite her failings, the show never recovers from her departure. Chiana (gigi edgley - RESCUE SPECIAL OPS, TRICKY BUSINESS) should also be fascinating, as an alien whose non-possessive hypersexuality is a hallmark of her species, but the writers never dive deeply into the reality and ramifications. Dargo (anthony simcoe - THE CASTLE, NIM'S ISLAND), a hulking warrior with anger issues, has too much of his character arc eaten up by maudlin, regressive sexual possessiveness. The puppet character rygel (jonathan hardy - MAD MAX, MOULIN ROUGE!), an arrogant, selfish slug, is rendered little more than a prop. Kent mccord (ADAM-12, AIRPLANE 2) is charming as the father back on Earth. And dehumanized soldier-turned-fugitive aeryn (claudia black - PITCH BLACK, STARGATE SG-1) is the best of the batch. But the only fully-realized character is crichton, and it's just not a happy realization. Plus, something about the chemistry and tone just never locks in. The fact that the show is almost clever, almost innovative, and almost daring make it more frustrating than all those shows which are none of those things. Did the producers think a group of good writers could make greatness, without a visionary to guide them? Had jim henson been alive, could he have been that missing spark? There's one great episode in four seasons, the tight and dark "A Human Reaction", and another, "A Constellation of Doubt", that manages to be simultaneously brilliant and tedious (yep, that's a head-scratcher). The last season is the best, but also shows the signs of a series in crisis mode - like a string of new female characters who look like they were found not at the Melbourne Academy of Arts, but the Perth Hardbodies Yoga Center. With the female villain in particular, they should have embraced their costuming choices completely and just made her a pair of six-foot breasts with little feet. The reunion movie is actually fantastic for a while...filmmaking so tight it hums. But around the time of the childbirth, it becomes gratuitously violent and cringingly overwritten.