Archive for December, 2010

Canadian Fakin’ : 13 American Science Fiction Shows Produced in Canada

Posted in Film/TV, Nerding Out on 09/12/2010 by todcrouch

Our hero, who hides with baited frozen breath behind an evergreen tree, a fully articulated robot autotunes out, “Stoop, or I’ll shout, eh?”

The protagonist fires a laser blast through the robot and says, “Soory, this suregosh ain’t your lucky day, don’tcha know.”

“Wait.  What?” you say to yourself watching just about anything on the Sci-Fi channel (I refuse their more contemporary rebranding FAIL, and I don’t need to elaborate), “Did some interplanetary supersoldier just say ‘Soory’?  Are the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri frackin’ Canucks?”

Think what you will about the peaceful inhabitants of the Great White North, but their less gluttonous approach to filmmaking allows many Post-Millennial Science Fiction television shows to thrive.  Although I grudgingly accept the lukewarm standards of the Sci-Fi Channel, which sacrifices many great mature themes and heady concepts, I grudgingly accept the notion that a great idea need not be violent, profane, or thought-provoking—-even if it gives birth to infinite demons of banality like a Lilith of Sheer Dross.  Rather than bitch and moan about the masochism of such original movies as Rock Monster, I’d prefer to focus on the attention which gave the first five seasons of The X-Files their creative start,  blowing the door wide open to other groundbreaking series.

The Truth is oout there.

 

 

13:  Jeremiah

Though it only received 35 episodes and did absolutely nothing for the careers of teen heartthrob has-beens Luke Perry and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Showtime filmed this in Vancouver and the premise is worthy of investigation.  Jeremiah (Perry) and Kurdy (Warner) survived an apocalypse which killed off all the ‘dults some fifteen years ago, leaving a world of emotionally stunted scavengers to fend for themselves.  An interesting critique of a baby boomer on younger generations provides the backdrop for the teenage fantasy of a world without parents, or more importantly, the societal rules set in place by tradition.  Oh yeah, and Post-Lord of the Rings Sean Astin brings some pretty heavy acting thunder in the second season, proving he can save Frodo, but not Theo and Dylan.

"We used to get so much ass, Mal."

 

 

12: Lone Gunmen

This X-files spin-off had great potential following three conspiracy theorists who attempt to uncover the truth behind the urban legend.  Ironically, one episode has a conspiracy theory of its own:  the pilot involves the United States Government crashing into New York City seven months before 9/11.  It only lasted one season, but was filmed in Vancouver.  The weakest aspects of the show were not the concepts or the execution of three nerds looking for the truth, but weak writing (and the stereotypical self-serving female thief who couldn’t act her way out of a catsuit) hammered the nails into this coffin.

 

 

 

11: Caprica

Filmed in Vancouver, this prequel to Battlestar Galactica explains the rise and origins of the robots (Cylons) and the posh world in which General Adama grew up in.  If the creators had not conceived of this as “Dynasty in Space” and hadn’t wasted their talents on theological masturbation, this could have been amazing.  Rather than work off a winning formula, they pulled a She-Ra, marketing a predominately male idea to a female audience on a network that’s predominately male.  Throughout production, creators Ronald Moore and David Eick were more or less in a constant battle with the Sci-Fi channel, since the network refused to take the risks that made people pay attention to their little cable nerd table in the lunchroom to begin with.

One day in the future, we'll lose our humanity to becoming machines.

 

 

 

10:  The 4400

USA network jumped into the fray in 2004, shoving as many popular sci-fi themes as possible into one show: alien abduction, time travel, unexplained phenomenon, the destiny/free will argument, creepy kids, government conspiracies,  and of course superhuman powers.  Similar in tone to Heroes, LOST, and a healthy portion of the X-Files, it garnered a strong following until the Writer’s Strike of 2007 killed this show along with countless others.  The premise involves alien abductees—4,400 of them to be precise—who suddenly appear one day from various times in history who all have some kind of superhuman power.  Government agents attempt to gather intel while a cult-type adversary clashes with them.  With no premeditation, it ended in its fourth season with 44 episodes total.  Well done, synchronicity!

And YOU get a probe! And YOU get a probe! And YOU get a probe! All 4400 of you get a probe!

 

 

 

9: Dark Angel

James Cameron directs Jessica Alba–what more do you need?  How about a high profile soundtrack?  Filming in Vancouver?  Done, done, done and done!  Do you know what else is done?  The series after two seasons.  The Fox network thought the show was popular enough to endure the no man’s land of Friday night television–but since any dude with a pulse lively enough to get his Alba on is probably randy enough to go and get the real deal on a Friday night.  Not that JimmyCam or J-Ba went down with the titanic loss of 4 million viewers the second season–and the 44 episodes of Jessica catsuiting around are enough to give nerdy fourteen-year-olds the stinky palm between gunfights.

I just love underage boys who own the Boba Fett action figure.

 

 

8: Smallville

I remember seeing Tom Welling strapped to a scarecrow’s post in all his liver-lipped, icy-eyed, washboard abs glory–with an ‘S’ spray painted on his chest.  I also remember feeling like a total fucking tool when it was revealed that this was the new Superman vehicle.  For the hero who stands for truth, justice, and the American way, what better way to represent this than to outsource it to Vancouver?  Although Smallville tends to mimic Buffy the Vampire Slayer in approach and appeals more to chicks than dudes, it’s still leaps and bounds (tall buildings and single bounds) better than Lois and Clark, where Krypton’s mightiest hero came off so goddamned pussywhipped to the whiniest bitch imaginable, you wondered why his villains didn’t just let Lois kill Superman with her constant nagging.  Smallville introduces most of Superman’s villains and associates, which is a delight to to see reinvented.  I would be remiss if I did not swoon at Aquaman, played rather sexually ambiguous surfer boy by aqua-dreamboat Alan Ritchson.  After ten seasons, Superman and company are calling it quits, which is probably for the best.

Deleted scene of Aquaman having wet dream about himself, complete with O-face.

 

 

7: Eureka

Probably one of the most solid television shows on Sci-Fi is Eureka.  It follows an idiot cop in a town full of geniuses who build things that generally misfire, kill people, and threaten the demise of the entire world.  There is somewhat an element of mystery, which usually involves two one-off characters per episode (here’s a hint: one of them dies and the other one gets arrested).  It’s entertaining in a cynical way, providing fodder for plot holes among the scientifically-minded nerd community and yet still has enough masochistically wacky entertainment value for people to keep coming back.  Decent special effects and reasonable acting manifest itself in a safe premise to create a family-friendly tepidity.  It remains to be one of the few shows that jumped the shark and managed to make it work by spending an entire season in an alternate universe, thereby refreshing the series without shooting themselves in the foot.  As long as it’s on the air, I’ll continue to watch it and suspend disbelief about the sleepy little town of scientists with an unusually high mortality rate.

 

Are you aware that your plot was traveling 5 miles an hour in a 30 mile an hour speed zone?

 

 

6: Warehouse 13

One of the more clever approaches in recent years has been this little show depicting the trials and tribulations of two secret service agents who must hunt down psychically charged historical artifacts which wreck havoc in various ways for containment in the eponymous warehouse.  Filmed in Toronto and Montreal, the atmosphere and weather distinguishes it from many of the shows filmed in the damp, overcast Vancouver.   Aside from clever nods to various historical figures (Sylvia Plath’s typewriter causes people to fall into hysterical depression), the real delight is the interplay between Saul Rubinek and Allison Scagliotti, whose father/daughter nerd relationship is as touching as it is hilarious.  Rubinek and Scagliotti perform so well together that it tends to overshadow (and enhance) the painful presence of Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelley–the wacky Mulder-and-Scully duo who serve no real purpose when other characters prove themselves far more competent in the field.  It’s not McClintock or Kelley’s fault (in one episode, they exchange minds and convincingly act like their character’s counterpart); it’s a flaw in the writing.  Everyone else in the cast has such a strong sense of purpose, you wonder why the hell these two are even around.  Marginally better than Eureka, both traded cameos coexist in the same universe; a nice touch.  I just wish they would sack or sack-up their (ahem) man up their main protagonists.  But hey, you can’t have your Canadian bacon without a bit of fat.

 

"Hey Myka, is our lack of chemistry making you nauseous, too?"

 

 

5: Dead Like Me

Shot in Vancouver and lasting two seasons, this Showtime series follows a grim reaper who frees people from their bodies shortly before they die.  After getting over the initial shock of what happened to Jasmine Guy (I swear, her make up artist hated her), viewers will immediately revel in the glee of seeing Mandy Pantinkin (His name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed his father.  Prepare to die).  Patinkin is not only a badass swashbuckler, but also Broadway musical royalty, though this incarnation as a gruff handler of a handful of reapers is a welcome addition to his vast range.  Patinkin’s tough-love tutelage of the main character, a chick named George, drives the point home that life is not easy, not even when it’s over.  Quirky and full of poignant voice overs, DLM creates a reasonable supernatural philosophy over it’s two seasons.  There’s never been a clear reason for cancellation, though a lackluster direct-to-DVD movie exists out there.

 

R.I.P. Whitley, consumed by her own ass.

 

 

4) Sanctuary

Before I start in on my nerd crush of Princess Leia proportions for Amanda Tapping, this science fiction story ties in some of the more popular themes of contemporary genre such as steampunk, mutation, and conspiracy.  Whereas other shows beat the mutant idea to death, Sanctuary rubber suits and goes straight for grotesque monsters.  During one of the cast commentaries, Amanda Tapping (who sounds just like a regular chick you could have a beer with–and she’d probably kick your ass at pool) mentioned it was one of the biggest budget shows Sci-Fi produced, and a viewer can tell.  Very heavy-handed on the CGI, contemporary viewers will update their suspensions of disbelief: where once we ignored puppets and guys in rubber suits, now we ignore inconsistent shadows and strangely still outdoor winds.  But the acting carries the story about an ageless woman and her oddball group of associates as they hunt down ‘abnormals’ who range from earthquake-causing spiders to a Bigfoot butler.  Where this series excels over other adventure dramas follows the pattern of what made X-Files such a hit:  They take their professions very seriously by treating crime scenes as crime scenes, quarantines as potentially lethal, and supernatural threats with a believable severity.  And Amanda Tapping has an English accent, easily putting the “tappin” in Tapping.

 

They're much more attractive when they aren't listening to their iPods.

 

 

3)  Battlestar Galactica (Redux)

It could have been great.  It came so close.  I first became aware of it during my ‘year of 1000 movies’, under the impression I could  clean my boxy apartment to the pilot episode.  Two hours later, I realized I remained motionless and in rapt attention during one of the most engrossing science fiction stories ever shown on TV.  Basically, the human population gets their collective ass handed to them by robots and the last 50,000 humans in existence are on the run through the cosmos–and they never (and I mean never) get a fucking break.  In doing so, it successfully shows the incredible endurance human beings are capable of without getting patriotic.  After the producers started meddling around the third season, BSG started getting hokey and preachy, failing to thoroughly resolve some of the largest mysteries of the series.  Though the prequel, Caprica, was a mind-numbing waste of time, Sci-Fi Announced in November 2010 that a new pilot called Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome would return to its space opera roots.

 

"Hey Baltar! You gonna eat that?"

 

 

2) Fringe

J.J. Abrams is a master at reinterpretation; therefore it should be him to come up with the re-envisioning the X-Files.  Though Abrams is more well-known for making crazy people crazier from his mind-melting series, LOST, Fringe is much more accessible and explains the drama quite plainly without sacrificing suspense.  So we enter the world of Fringe Division, which concerns itself less with aliens and more with pseudosciences such as alternate realities and teleportation.  Two FBI agents end up in scientifically improbable situations, aided by the befuddled (and oft-high) genius ex-professor played by John Noble (the dude who set himself on fire and jumped off a cliff in LOTR).  The pilot was shot in Toronto and permanently started filming the second series in Vancouver.

 

Would you like to see my, ahem, spontaneous combustion routine?

 

 

1) Stargate: SG-1

SG-1 is the longest running American Science Fiction Television show (though it’s still left in the cosmic dust by Doctor Who), though Smallville will claim this award next year.  SG-1 birthed three spinoffs and two direct-to-DVD movies–all born from the tepidly received 1994 film.  I put this at the top of the list for the mere reason that every known science fiction cliche can be found in the 155 1/2 hours of episodes.  Alien lands, bizarre technology, military procedures, conspiracy theories, cultural conflicts–the list goes on and on.  Richard Dean Anderson’s character, Jack O’Neill,  leads a crack team of scientists and soldiers into strange new lands while (wait for it) Amanda Tapping rattles off page after page of tech jargon.  I couldn’t shake this sense that Anderson has no idea how to approach his character and that is the who his Jack O’Neill is–annoyed, reluctant, and a tad bitchy.  Still, this attitude is consistent through his run of the series, and makes for a believable field leader.  One marvelous difference this series holds against the others is the male and female lead maintain a professional relationship–which is welcome to a fan base who can ignore their relationship status more effectively without onscreen kisses.

 

"Sure Selma, I can get you a Stargate. All I need is a pair of tweezers, a condom, and enough whiskey to get me blackout drunk.

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Whedon need no education

Posted in Film/TV on 01/12/2010 by todcrouch

When I first heard grumblings of Joss Whedon in the comic book stores I would frequent, where those shunned by even the social outcasts hovered about and regaled in the most recent episodes of “Buffy”.  I couldn’t judge, being 19 and mainlining such cartoons as Animaniacs, Batman: The Animated Series, Tiny Toon Adventures,  Superman: The Animated Series, and Batman Beyond.   And there would be advertisements for ‘that Buffy show’.  Time marched forward and I somehow came across a review of Firefly, even though it only lasted one season, which described it as roughly as a Star Wars without the force, but starring Han Solo.

I thought, Huh.  I’ll give it a shot. What surprised me about Firefly was the re-watchability of the series.   Much later, I was in Forbidden Planet where I saw a t-shirt that read Joss Whedon is God.  I found this to be a rather bold statement, but realized the shirt was probably only available in XXL–and nerd-world’s answer to Bruce Vilanch accepted the fact that God abandoned him in his world of orange Dorito fingers and compulsive masturbation and in his best Yoda impression said, “No.  There is another.”  And in my acceptance of seein’ what the kids are into these days, I decided to examine the whedon oevre more closely for those who have better things to do with their time…

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)

If ever there was a template to praise/blame on the definitive “supernatural teen dramedy” that exploded onto the scene (Charmed, Roswell, Vampire Diaries, True Blood, etc.) of practically unwatchable banality, it’s Buffy.  However, Buffy is the best of the worst, as if it openly accepts its campy dialogue, cliched characters and plots, and push/pull relationships.  A vampire hunter falling in love with a vampire?  A lesbian wiccan?  Surely, we delve into the realm of the impossible…

Don’t get me  wrong, Buffy has its moments.  Most of the actors in this series went on to have (ahem) real careers, and I do find Alyson Hannigan’s role as the nerdy Character Willow to be excellently executed.  Whedon really shows off his talents for one-liners in this series and of all the 144 episodes, there are two that stand out as 5-star television experiences: Hush (season 4, episode 10) and Once More, With Feeling (Season 6, Episode 7).  In Hush, a genuinely frightening group of villains steal the sound from the city, causing the practically the entire episode to be performed in absolute silence.  In Once More with Feeling, the town ends up under the spell causing the cast to break out in song–yes, it’s a musical episode.  It’s weird little tricks like these that make this show unique from its abysmal clones:  When no one’s looking, you can do anything–just don’t take yourself too seriously when they do.

Angel (1999-2004)

Welp, you can’t win ’em all.  Just as people go completely bufguck (Bufguck: when you go so bugfuck, you can’t even hold your shit)  for any nerd-oriented media like Star Wars or Trek, this show’s only for die hards.  Aside from my perpetual disdain for bolt-necked, Homo Erectus Frankenhunk  David Boreanaz, there’s not much going on here besides an extra paycheck for Joss and his ragtag team of second-fiddle characters who no longer have a place in the Buffy universe proper.  I do respect Joss for continuing to give work to likable actors, even if the characters no longer have a reason for existing.  It’s a nice thing to do for those who helped Buffy rocket into cult status and the show lasted 5 seasons, proving somebody was watching it–all very utilitarian reasons for creating this spinoff, even if in hindsight it’s like watching the corpse of creativity float painfully down a stagnate river.   If you look closely, you’ll find LOST actor Josh Holloway (Sawyer) as a non-speaking role as a vampire who gets killed in the first five minutes of the pilot–and then it’s all down hill from there.

Firefly (2002)

This seems to be Joss Whedon’s best-yet attempt at articulating his atheistic existentialist beliefs in the hard luck ways of space pirates.  No vamps, no magical talismans–just man and the void of space.  This is one of those shows that make people associate the FOX network with arson:  after showing the episodes out of order, pre-empting the show for sports, FOX canceled the series with three episodes left unaired.  Pulling some serious nods to the manga Cowboy Bebop, the show still features Whedonesque one-liners with more evolved interpretations of stock western characters (the preacher with the shady past, the ditzy know-it-all, the golden-hearted hooker, etc.)  Firefly also serves as the nexus of of a veritable six-degrees-of-Joss-Whedon, considering the cast:  Nathan Fillion (Castle), Jewel Stait (Stargate Atlantis), Moreana Baccarin (V), Gina Torres (Matrix Reloaded), Summer Glau (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles),  Alan Tudyk (The dude has a bit part in practically everything), and Adam Baldwin (Chuck).  I’d say this is probably the most accessible of his catalogue with realistic characters, solid plots, and just flashy enough to hold interest for repeated viewing.  It was one of those rare shows that had such a strong fan with only 11 episodes aired, to warrant a follow-up movie,  Serenity.

Dollhouse (2009-2010)

This show is, simply, the shit.  The premise is this:  A person can make a small fortune to become a ‘doll’–a reprogrammable human slave with no recollections of whatever assignments occur during tenure in the Dollhouse.  The super wealthy rent temporarily imprinted dolls with certain personality requests, usually for incredibly elaborate psychosexual fantasies .  What begins as a fairly episodic storyline of dolls in peculiar adventures, quickly spirals into a maddening vortex as the tech gets a little ‘buggy’.  Suddenly, people are switching identities like once-worn undies and the moral and social ambiguities continues an exponential, escalating fever pitch where you really just have no fucking clue how far it’s going to go.  It’s one of the few shows that I actually could not wait until the upcoming week to see what would happen next.  When I think of “hi-sci-fi” (a la Neal Stephenson), Dollhouse is probably as close as TV would allow, since there will probably never be a Soap Opera based on the short stories of Jorge Borges.  I’ll be interested in what Whedon can do to top himself with this one.  If he does, It’ll be the best damn TV show that no one will see.