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Bonus Edition of Canned: Two Worthwhile TV Pilots That Didn’t Become Full-fledged Series

January 16, 2010 1 comment

Greetings all, as a little bonus for your weekend I thought I’d share with you a couple more one-and-done series.  However, unlike the last batch, these two pilots have the distinction of, for one reason or another, not making it on the air.  This is pretty unfortunate, as they both happen to be pretty good pilots.  But I know what you’re thinking, if they’re so good, why didn’t they make it to TV?  It’s hard to say really; it seems the networks were about to take a chance and decided to change their minds at the last minute.  So all we’re left with are the introductions to worlds we would never come to know, and questions we would never have answered, even if only a very small percentage of the population is really wondering all that much.

The first of these is a 2006 animated series called The Amazing Screw-On Head, based on the one-shot comic book by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, who was brilliant at combining dark humor and occult intrigue in those comics.  Screw-On Head is certainly more of a straight comedy than the Hellboy series, and is just as fun in its own way.  The plot concerns a strange superhero-type figure called Screw-On Head, whose name describes his principal ability; namely, that he is essentially a head that can screw on to various robotic bodies for different purposes.  He works for none other than Abraham Lincoln (it takes place in the 19th century), solving supernatural cases and protecting America.  The idea is that there are two versions of our country’s history: one that everyone knows and one that involves the occult and the supernatural, which is kept secret.  I think that’s a pretty neat idea, and the way it ties in with the real history is pretty cool too.

Paul Giamatti voices our hero, who along with his trusty manservant Mr. Groin (Patton Oswalt) and dog Mr. Dog, has to stop an evil plot by the villainous Emperor Zombie (a hilarious David Hyde Pierce), an undead nemesis and former manservant of Screw-On Head.  His plan is to resurrect a demigod used to almost take over the world eons ago, and use him for that purpose once again.  He is aided by “two horrible old women and a monkey,” along with Patience, Screw-On Head’s former lover who was kidnapped by Zombie and turned into a vampire.  It all sounds pretty ridiculous, but it’s a lot of fun, and it’s all handled in a very tongue-in-cheek way.  Apparently the show was going to be on the Sci-Fi channel, and they put the pilot up online with a survey asking whether or not the pilot should be made into a series.  I’m not sure if response was too negative or what, but for whatever reason Sci-Fi decided not to produce the series.  It was also executive produced by Bryan Fuller, who is no stranger to short-lived but high quality TV series (his shows Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me, and Pushing Daisies all got cancelled before their time).  Luckily, what was made is available on DVD and on google video, but it really only wets your whistle with the promise of what could have been a great series.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5434666681046246946&ei=6S5SS_jrHoXSqgKK-7m1BQ&q=the+amazing+screw-on+head#


The next of these unfortunate cases came a year later, in the form of a pilot called Babylon Fields.  This show has the curious distinction of having been greenlit by CBS, and then randomly cancelled before airing its pilot.  On paper, the premise might sound kind of silly: the dead rise from the grave, but instead of wanting to eat brains and tear people limb from limb, these zombies simply want to go back to their former lives.  It could’ve been played for laughs, as in “oh jeez, my dead nagging wife is back to bug me again!  What a ridiculous happenstance!”  But instead, the show actually attempted to examine what it would really be like to have dead loved ones and acquaintances back in your life, for good or bad, and how people deal with that.  One woman is overjoyed to have her husband back, another woman and her daughter (Kathy Baker and Amber Tamblyn, respectively) are terrified that their abusive husband/father is back in their lives.  A cop (Ray Stevenson) is both excited and scared to see his dead wife again.  While there were elements of dark humor in it, it actually deals with it in a believable, emotional way that is really interesting.  Some people are outright outraged by the undead uprising, beating and shooting the zombies, which is all the more disturbing since they act like regular people.  It examines the conflicting emotions that would most likely occur if something like that would happen, and does so in an interesting way.  There’s also a French zombie flick called They Came Back from 2004 that has a similar premise, which could’ve been an influence on the show.  It’s an interesting concept, and one that could’ve been mined for some pretty effective pathos.

It’s really a shame this didn’t get made; the pilot sets up the premise and introduces us to the major characters and conflicts well, and ends with a cliffhanger in which one zombie discovers he was murdered and wants to find out who did it.  There was a lot of potential there, but unfortunately CBS was more interested in giving the awful Viva Laughlin a chance to grow (they both came out in the same year, for the same network). CBS dangled the promise of a mid-season pickup of the show, but opted not to do it.  Maybe if Babylon Fields were on a cable network, it could’ve lasted longer.  Luckily the pilot is available to watch on google video as well, and I’d recommend it.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3315295143249630002&ei=yC5SS7aWIoXSqgKK-7m1BQ&q=babylon+fields#

So there’s a couple bonus shows to check out for the weekend, and I hope you stay tuned for our regularly scheduled programming, which will next be an examination of the 90s sci-fi series Earth 2!  I know a while ago I said I’d look at Aliens in America, and I will soon, but the Earth 2 DVDs are borrowed from a friend, so I must watch them and give them back posthaste.

Canned TV Shows #8, 9, & 10: Anchorwoman, Viva Laughlin, & Heil Honey, I’m Home!: A One-or-two Episode Extravaganza!

January 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Greetings faithful readers, I’m very sorry for my long absence from my usual posts.  I’m sure the five of you who visit regularly have been feeling lost and depressed, waiting anxiously for the next post to brighten up your usually  miserable day-to-day existence.  Well fear no longer, dear friends!  It’s a new year, and a whole plethora of cancelled TV shows to watch and share with all of you!  And just to show that I missed you as much as you missed me, I’m going to cover not one, not two, but three cancelled TV shows in one fell swoop.  Today, we’ll be covering shows that feature a former WWE diva’s stint as an anchor on a Texas TV news station, a musical dramedy about a driven casino owner’s quest to make his casino the best outside of Las Vegas, and a 50s family sitcom spoof featuring a cartoonish Hitler and Eva Braun.  What do these three wildly different series have in common?  They all only lasted at the most two episodes.  For a show to have that short a run, it either has to be really terrible, or on at like 3 in the morning.  Well let me assure all of you, these are all pretty terrible shows.

In lieu of my usual “should it be back on the air?” final conclusion, I’m instead going to evaluate these three shows based on “just how terrible are they?”  I’ll tell you right now, friends, none of these deserve to be back on TV, and even if they had managed to finish their seasons, I don’t think they would’ve lasted much more than that.  A show with such a painfully short run is an interesting canned subject to study.  Your ratings have to be extremely low to be cancelled after less than, at most, four episodes, so backlash had to be pretty extreme.  One of these may have had other motives for being cancelled besides just its poor ratings and general lack of quality, but more on that later.  I want to alert you now, valued readers, there will be no dusty gems in this pile tonight, everything in here deserves to be here.

But enough about that, onto the evaluating!

Canned TV Show #8: Anchorwoman


The concept of an attractive blonde female trying to succeed in a world she wouldn’t typically belong is nothing new to this project (see Stacked if you don’t believe me).  While Stacked was no one’s idea of a good show, it handled this a whole lot better than Anchorwoman, an obnoxious, one-note sitcom/reality show hybrid.  The show puts Lauren Jones, former Barker Beauty and WWE diva, on the set of a TV news station in Tyler, Texas.  As you might assume, some people are none too pleased about this, especially one girl who disapproves of Lauren’s lack of experience.  She spends the majority of the episodes glaring at Lauren from the sidelines, with copious close ups to remind us that she does not approve of the situation.  However, also predictably, Lauren proves to be a little smarter than everybody thought, but really no less annoying.  It’s hard to feel sympathy for her when she acts like an idiot in the background of a shot and then cries when her boss very politely chews her out for it (you can see it in the clip below.  Apparently people in the news industry find it a lot funnier than the rest of us).

Unfortunately, the TV news industry workers demographic wasn’t quite large enough, and Anchorwoman‘s premiere, two back-to-back half hour episodes, earned disastrously low ratings.  So disastrous, it turned out, that FOX pulled the show the day after it started.  It looks like we’ll never know if the people at the station accept Lauren or whether she’s ever able to acclimate herself to the hectic world of television news.  Watching the first couple episodes, though, I had to wonder: does anybody really care?  Jones is not a compelling subject to base a series around, and the show basically revolves around the same sequence of events over and over.  Lauren messes up, the other girl looks pissed and complains, the boss wants to give her another chance, and there’s a fluffy dog that wanders around the station of his own free will.  The whole thing got me thinking about the concerns of Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks’ characters in the wonderful behind-the-scenes of TV news movie Broadcast News, and how they were worried that pretty anchors would be taking the place of real journalists.  I think that’s a valid concern, but apparently Anchorwoman does not.

So, just how terrible is it? Pretty freakin’ terrible.  It’s an interesting mix of reality-style unscriptedness and sitcom-style stock situations and character types.  Apparently they exist in real life, or at least the editors make it appear that way.  Above everything, my biggest problem is that I really didn’t care.  A show should make you care about its characters, and quickly, so you keep coming back week after week.  It wasn’t even an endearing train wreck like some reality shows.  It was just crap.

Canned TV Show #9: Viva Laughlin


For a much more interesting failure, let’s switch gears to sunny Laughlin, NV, where ambitious casino owner Ripley Holden is trying to get his gambling house off the ground, while facing investigation for the murder of his business partner.  And there’s singing!  And there’s dancing!  And there’s Melanie Griffith acting drunk constantly!  Sounds pretty awesome, right?  Well, bad writing and mediocre acting sunk this admittedly ambitious but ridiculous American adaptation of the British series Blackpool.

Both Blackpool and Viva Laughlin owe a debt to British television writer Dennis Potter, who often blended stark realism with surreal musical numbers, to songs which would be lipsynched by the actors.  Laughlin sort of does that, except that instead of lipsynch, the actors sing along with the song, which is also played in its original form.  It’s kind of a weird choice, and it doesn’t really work, especially because it doesn’t disguise the fact that none of the leads are very good singers.  Lloyd Owen plays Ripley Holden, the driven owner of the new casino called the Viva, and at the start of the series he has just lost an important investor.  When that investor ends up dead in the end of the episode, Holden’s the prime suspect.  A detective is hot on his trail, but we don’t come close to finding out who killed him, and we don’t really care.  Owen’s really not very convincing in the lead, and Melanie Griffith, who plays his business partner’s slutty wife, is just plain terrible.  No disrespect to Ms. Griffith, but she is really bad here.  Maybe it’s the bad writing, but even so, she’s terrible.  Hugh Jackman injects some smarmy menace into his role as a hotshot casino owner and rival of Holden, but he only shows up in one of the episodes.

The song numbers aren’t quite as terrible, but they’re kind of flat and repetitive, and the song choices are pretty obvious (“Viva Las Vegas,” “Money (That’s What I Want),” and BTO’s “Let it Ride” all are used).  There’s also a lot of jumping on poker tables and strutting about, and some hilarious extras in the background.  Ripley pulls a wad of cash out of his pocket to place a bet, and one particularly unnecessary extra asks her friend (and us) “did you see all that money?”  That to me was funnier than any joke the show actually made.

So, just how terrible is it? Ambitious, but still pretty terrible.  It’s not as bad as Anchorwoman, but it’s bad in its own ways.  I haven’t seen the British version except for a couple clips, but I’ve heard it’s much better, as they often are.  It seems more tongue-in-cheek on the British version, and also more interesting songs.  It’s been pretty much forgotten by now, and isn’t available on DVD, but I doubt there’s much demand for it.

Here’s The Soup reporting on the tragic news of its cancellation.  Do you think he’s sincere?

Canned TV Show #10: Heil Honey, I’m Home!

Now we come to the show that has the dubious “honor” of being the “best” of the three programs, 1990’s BBC series Heil Honey, I’m Home! which, as you may have guessed from the title, features Hitler and Eva Braun in a sendup of American sitcoms from the 1950s.  Yes, you heard right.  I know it sounds like a Family Guy joke, but I assure you it’s a full-fledged series.  Gee, I wonder why that didn’t become a major hit?

As far as offensiveness goes, it’s really no worse than anything on the aforementioned Family Guy, but I can understand that certain people may not want it to be something that would be gracing their TV screens every week.  I get the satire, and I don’t think the creators of the show were trying to offend anybody (Hitler’s pretty cartoonish, after all), but they had to imagine that people might be a little upset by seeing Hitler as a main character on a spoof sitcom.  The whole thing almost feels like an elaborate prank, like they knew the show would get axed almost as soon as it went up.  I have to wonder what they would’ve done if the show had continued.  At best, the episode feels like an hour long MAD TV sketch, or maybe lowbrow SNL, but it doesn’t feel like a series.  It has some funny moments and the actors are game, but over all it just doesn’t work.

The first and only episode involves Hitler and Eva getting ready for Neville Chamberlain to come over to discuss the matter of Hitler’s invading of the Sudetenland and the whole appeasement idea and all that, and introduces us to their domestic life, which involves dealing with two Jewish neighbors!  How positively wacky!  Because, you know, Hitler didn’t like those Jewish folk very much.  Eva spills the beans that Chamberlain is coming over, and madcap hilarity ensues when the Jewish neighbors come over, get drunk, and make fools of themselves in front of old Neville, much to Hitler’s dismay!  Oh how delightfully absurd!  Ok, I’m being a little sarcastic here, but you get the idea.  It’s a kind of funny premise that couldn’t possibly amount to more than a quick joke, and that quick joke wears off pretty quickly.  There are a handful of lines that are funny in their cheesiness, but nothing really to warrant much of a recommendation, besides the obvious curiosity factor.

So, just how terrible is it? Not as terrible, but still pretty bad.  I’m not sure what mindset the folks at the BBC were in when they greenlit this, but I have to hope they knew what they were getting into.  Luckily, someone on youtube has preserved this for posterity, so if you’re looking to fulfill that curiosity factor, here’s part 1:

So there you have it.  Three shows down in one not so concise post.  Three wildly different shows, brought together by their tragically short lives, and then buried again, hopefully forever.  Join us next time when we’ll be looking at the forgotten sci-fi series Earth 2!  Did it deserve to be forgotten with years, or is it a dusty gem worth digging up?