Posts Tagged ‘Drama’

Canned TV Show #22: Sym-Bionic Titan

June 10, 2012 1 comment

So I was planning a month of all animation but that kind of didn’t pan out.  But here’s another animated series anyway!  This one’s a little different from what I’ve done before, since it’s geared toward a younger audience than the more adult-friendly animated shows I’ve covered so far.  But make no mistake, it’s a mature, thoughtful show all the same.

Today’s show is Sym-Bionic Titan, co-created by the great Genndy Tartakovsky, who was also responsible for Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack, two tentpoles of my childhood.  I have great affection for this guy’s work, so I was excited to watch this to say the least.  Credit where credit is due though: Bryan Andrews and Paul Rudish also share a creator credit, so it’s hard to know exactly who was responsible for what, though it certainly shares some important similarities to past Tartakovsky work.  Much like Jack, this show features a more serialized plotline, and pays homage to a whole host of pop culture.  Whereas Jack was an extended tribute to everything from samurai flicks (duh), spaghetti westerns, and dystopian sci-fi, Titan references nearly the whole of science fiction cinema, as well as some other, less expected elements.  It’s slightly less serialized than Jack, which was, to my memory at least, one of Cartoon Network’s first attempts and doing more long-form storytelling, more like an anime (another important influence on both Jack and Titan), and that continues here.

So what is the story, you might ask?  It concerns three individuals: Ilana (voiced by Tara Strong), the princess of a planet called Galaluna, a sort of quasi-Victorian world with futuristic technology; Lance (voiced by Kevin Thoms), a military prodigy; and Octus (voiced by Brian Posehn, who is just great), a super-intelligent robot who can change form.  Lance is charged with protecting Ilana, who is hiding out on Earth while fleeing her home planet due to a military coup in progress.  The man responsible for the coup is General Modula, who used to be the king’s right-hand man.  He’s enlisted the help of the Mutraddi, a race of horrifying aliens, in order to sieze power (listen, I don’t wanna be “that guy,” but is it a coincidence that the ugly, violent “other” in this scenario has a name that sounds vaguely Arab, or is there some secret anti-Islamicism at work here?  It’s probably just me.  God, I never wanna be “that guy” again).  Modula is holding the king hostage, and sends a range of giant beasts to Earth to kill Ilana, beasts which are continually defeated by the titular Titan.

About that Titan: it’s essentially a giant robot formed from three smaller robots, two commandeered by Lance and Ilana, and the third is just Octus.  They work in tandem to control it and harness it’s power, hence the sym part of the title.  It’s a pretty neat example of “work together and you can do anything!” kind of thinking.

The show balances a number of plotlines, including the trio’s attempts to assimilate into high-school culture and keep a low profile while also protecting Earth from the monsters sent to destroy them.  Ilana and Octus (as a nerdy student named Newton) are ostracized, but Lance becomes surprisingly popular in a dark and mysterious kind of way.  In addition, the military views Titan as a threat, and they’re also being monitored by G3, a sort of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Men in Black-esque group that monitors alien activities.  There’s sort of a romance teased between Ilana and Lance, though each of them also has their own separate beau at one point.  In one of the show’s stranger (but pretty charming) subplots, Newton begins dating Kimmy, the most popular girl at school, after he helps her with her math test and actually treats her like a person, which causes him to begin questioning his newly emerging feelings.  It’s pretty unlikely that the most popular girl would ever date an oddly shaped nerd in the real world, ever, but it’s affecting, and prompts one of the show’s most stylish sequences:

As you can imagine, Sym-Bionic Titan is composed of some pretty unexpected influences.  Tartakovsky said he was equally influenced by giant robot anime as he was by John Hughes movies, and it’s surprisingly effective.  It’s enjoyable to pick out the different sci-fi genres on display, from the obvious giant robot and monster of the week shows to movies like Robocop, Blade Runner, and The Thing. The show feels like an affectionate love letter to sci-fi as a genre.

Titan does follow a formula in its early going, where some dispute divides the group, then a monster comes, and the group must get past their differences to defeat it.  Happily, the show demonstrates a willingness to play with or even abandon the monster of the week formula, which does get a little tedious after a while.  Some of the series’ best episodes are devoted to showing us what happened before our heroes ended up on Earth, or are more character-based.  Sometimes, weirdly enough, a giant monster appears just to be easily dispatched, almost as a matter of course.  Unfortunately, the Galaluna subplot is abandoned for several episodes at a time, our only information being that yep, General Modula’s still in power and yep, he still wants Ilana dead.  There’s a little bit of time devoted to showing Galalunians fighting in resistance to the Mutraddi takeover, but it doesn’t get developed very much, at least in the episodes we get. Perhaps had the show been able to continue, it would have explored these plotlines in more depth.

There are plenty of things to like though; the show is really beautifully designed and realized, featuring a combo of Jack’s stylish, outline-free animation style, and the more traditional feel of Dexter’s Lab.  Different episodes do have a slightly different feel, no doubt the product of different directors.  But it’s always wonderfully animated and dynamically constructed.  Even at their most tedious and generic, the monster battles are always well staged and exciting to look at.  The show balances its darker, graver moments with some very funny ones, such as Octus’ (who also poses as Lance and Ilana’s father) attempts to use a little kid’s cartoon to help him better understand how to communicate with humans (or humanoids):

Though the show is geared towards a younger set, it’s also surprisingly dark and even sexual at times, like when Kimmy does a sort of stiptease for Newton (minus any clothing removal) in an attempt to get him to give her the test answers:

That wouldn’t have flown when I was a kid, by golly!  (this sentence brought to you by your grandfather)

So what happened to Sym-Bionic Titan?  Was it low ratings or network disinterest?  Surprisingly, it may be neither of those things.  Some unnamed industry insider said that, while ratings were decent, Cartoon Network opted not to renew the show because it didn’t have enough toys connected to it.  Seriously.  Only in the world of animation is that a concern.  Though it’s basically the same as any other show’s need for merchandising capability, I can’t help but picture a hyper nine-year-old in a business suit surrounded by action figures shouting “I demand more toys!”  Clearly, my mind is a strange place.  I suppose it makes sense that toys would be a concern, but the show isn’t really geared towards the age of kid who would really play with toys, anyway.  That is, unless you’re weird and still collect action figures at 14 or 15 (though to be fair, that’s probably the same group that would also watch cartoons at 14 or 15…unlike myself, who is an adult and hasn’t just spent over 1,000 words writing about a cartoon).  The other sad thing is the toys for this show would probably be pretty badass.  I mean, who doesn’t love giant robots and monsters?  Built in money right there.

So, should it be back on the air? absolutely.  It’s an engrossing, well-made piece of storytelling, despite a few flaws.  Unfortunately, though fans rallied in support, Cartoon Network has shown no interest in reviving the show, and Tartakovsky moved onto Sony Pictures Animation to direct the upcoming CGI film Hotel Transylvania.  Here’s hoping it ends up being good, though with him involved, chances are high.

Join us next time!


Canned TV Show #18: The Playboy Club

October 25, 2011 3 comments

One of my favorite parts of the fall TV season is predicting which TV shows will be cancelled first, and which will make it to at least a season.  It’s a little depressing, I know, to be preemptively dooming shows to failure, but hey, when you spend enough time watching cancelled shows, you get better at calling them as you see them, deserved or otherwise.

Initially, I had some hopes for The Playboy Club, the first cancellation of the season and today’s Canned subject.  When I first heard about it, I thought maybe we’d be in for some early-60s cool, a sort-of network-TV Mad Men, or at the very least something with high camp (read: entertainment) factor that grabbed you by the neck and forced you to watch.  I mean, a TV show set in the infamous Playboy gentlemen’s club couldn’t be all bad, right?  I mean, look at this trailer.  Seems enticing enough:

Then, I watched a clip.  Specifically, this clip:

I was…well, I was unimpressed.  It looked too earnest to be silly and campy, but just a little too silly to be taken seriously.  But hey, no need to damn the show based on one clip, I’d have to wait and see how it all panned out.  Then the reviews started coming in, and they weren’t too great.  I decided not to watch (though a large portion of my decision was based on the fact that I don’t have cable.  I mean, c’mon, what am I gonna do, have a Playboy Club watching party at someone else’s house?  Like any of my friends would let me host one of those.  Like I would even want to host one of those), and a scant three episodes later, the show was off the air.  Seven episodes were filmed, but who knows if those final four will ever see the light of day?

To the show’s credit, it doesn’t waste a whole lot of time on exposition before getting to the main action.  The general plot is as follows: Bunny Maurine (Amber Heard) is new at Chicago’s own legendary Playboy Club.  Hugh Hefner himself provides some voiceover narration, in which he makes himself sound like history’s greatest saint because he opened a place where men could wear suits and hit on hot women wearing creepy, infantile bunny costumes.  She’s preyed upon by a licentious businessman, who attempts to force himself on her in the back room.  She manages to defend herself, stabbing him in the neck with her stiletto (which either must have been whittled down to a sharp point or she has the kicking power of a goddamn kangaroo), killing him.  She’s helped out by handsome lawyer Nick Dalton (Canned alum Eddie Cibrian, fresh off another win at the Jon Hamm look-alike contest), who helps her dispose of the body, hopefully sweeping it under the rug.  That is, until that businessman’s (who actually turned out to be the head of the Mob) son comes snooping around trying to find out what happened.  There’s also some other subplots, including Nick’s girlfriend Carol-Lynne (Laura Benanti), an older bunny (meaning like mid 30s, in bunny talk, that’s like 80) who’s none too pleased with Nick’s seemingly new attention to Maureen.  There’s also Brenda (Naturi Naughton), a black bunny who dreams of being the first African-American centerfold, along with Alice (Leah Renee), a closeted lesbian in a marriage of convenience with Sean (fellow Canned alum Sean Maher), who are part of the burgeoning gay rights movement in the city.  So as you can see, the show deals with a time of tumultuous political upheaval, and seems to set its titular club as the vanguard of social change in America.

That, in fact, could be one of the most obnoxious parts of the show.  It’s so intent on proving to us that The Playboy Club is the Place that Dreams are Made Of ™ via ultra-corny monologues and wide-eyed bunnies sharing how working there has made their lives sooooo much better.  Now, look, I’m not gonna say that Playboy is some sort of horrible organization that objectifies women and should be destroyed, but I’m also not gonna say that women dressing up in skimpy bunny suits is somehow empowering them.  While, yes, Playboy probably was influential in changing sexual politics in America and breaking down taboos, the idea that the Playboy Club was at the forefront of feminism is downright laughable.

Probably my biggest problem, however, is with the characters.  I know this show only got three episodes, and hopefully would have fleshed out its characters further as it went along, but in those three episodes we’re really not given anything to make them compelling and interesting and more than just stock characters.  As I mentioned before, Cibrian does a passable Jon Hamm imitation, but his character has none of the mystery or complexity that makes Don Draper interesting.  Most of the social issues brought up on the show such as racial politics or gay rights, seem there simply because the creators want us to know they’re aware they exist, and none of these marginalized characters are rounded out at all.  So many conflicts repeat ad infinitum without any variation, and it just gets plain boring after a while.  Some actors try to give it their all, but are often stuck playing out the same scenarios and not given anything new to do.  Again, there were only three episodes, but even by then a show needs to give us something beyond just rehashing the same beats over and over.

On an unrelated note, I do kind of enjoy the whole concept of bringing contemporary artists on to play recognizable 60s acts, which this show was planning to make a regular thing.  This isn’t exactly novel–shows like American Dreams made it a gimmick–but it’s always kind of fun.  Unfortunately, the only one we really got was Colbie Caillat as Leslie Gore, sounding about as far from that singer as possible.  This kind of rankled me, but then clearly this show isn’t too concerned with verisimilitude.  I would’ve liked to see Raphael Saadiq play Sam Cooke, which apparently was supposed to happen in episode 4, though.

So why did The Playboy Club tank so quickly?  I mean, it had a cool 60s aesthetic, lots of T&A, some mafia-related intrigue, and dudes in nice suits: seems like a no-brainer, right?  Well, apparently the public just didn’t latch onto the series, and the network didn’t seem to have too high of hopes for it, either.  Both this show and Pan Am attempt to catch that Mad Men magic, making it serviceable to a network TV audience.  Many of the show’s creators expressed desire for the show to be picked up by a cable network, which may have allowed the writers to be a tad less inhibited.  But then, a lot of the problems with the show have nothing to do with its inherent raciness and more to do with weak writing, something that really isn’t dependent on one network or another.  There’s still the off-chance that a fan campaign could bring it back, but I’m not optimistic.  If that petition comes around, let’s just say I won’t be signing it.

So, should it be back on the air? ehhhhh, nahhhh.  Maybe if the show decided on a consistent tone and ironed out the kinks, it could be an entertaining-enough time waster, but as is, it doesn’t have what it takes to be a long-running series.  Besides, who knows how much longer the whole nostalgia for the casual sexism and functioning alcoholism of the 60s bit is gonna last?  Sorry, Hef, you’ll have to console yourself on a bed made of gorgeous naked women.

So this is the part where I’d apologize for taking so long between posts and promise to be more prompt, but honestly, who the hell knows when I’ll write next?  Hopefully soon, but if not, don’t be surprised.  I blew my chance to finish Kings on Hulu, so I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be covering next, but you’ll be the first to know!

Canned TV Show #14: Invasion

August 4, 2010 Leave a comment

“People have been acting weird since the hurricane.”

That simple line just may be the most important phrase uttered in the ABC sci fi drama Invasion, cancelled after one season and today’s Canned subject.  It just about pares down the plot of the whole series to its essence.

But you probably want more detail, don’t you?  Very well, you’ll get it, but be warned; it’s hard to talk too in-depth about this show without getting too spoiler-y, but I will try my best.

Invasion tells the story of the residents of Homestead, Florida, a small town in the Everglades, which is hit by a hurricane in the very first episode.  Only something is strange about this hurricane: people have reported seeing strange orange lights in the water, and an Air Force helicopter is knocked out of the sky by a cascade of orange globs.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, more on that in a moment.

The story revolves mostly around a particular group of interconnected Homestead residents.  There’s hunky park ranger/Jon Hamm look-alike contestant Russell (Eddie Cibiran), who lives with his pregnant wife Larkin (Lisa Sheridan), who is also a local news anchor, and her brother Dave (Tyler Labine).  Russell also shares custody of his kids Jesse (Evan Peters) and Rose (Ariel Gade) with his ex-wife Mariel (Kari Matchett), a local doctor.  Mariel is married to sheriff Tom Underlay (the great character actor William Fitchner), who has a daughter of his own named Kira (Alexis Dziena), and enjoys playing the “you’re a worse parent than I am” game with her ex-husband.  Other various residents of the town factor into the plot over the course of the season, but they comprise the main group with whom we spend most of our time.

So anyway, there’s this hurricane, right?  And it ravages the town, knocking out phones, electricity, running water, and causing mass destruction.  One other curious after effect: some people who survived the hurricane are now not acting quite like themselves.  Certain folks who spent the night of the hurricane exposed to the elements seem somehow different–including Mariel (gasp!)–though at first nobody can put their finger on it.  That is, except Dave, the resident crazy of the town, who is convinced after finding the skeleton of a man with strange things surrounding it, that the strangeness can be attributed to the work of EBEs, or extraterrestrial biological entities.  Initially Russell doesn’t agree with Dave’s theories, which he documents in a blog (ah the blogoshpere, where all the crazies come to share their views), but even he can’t shake the feeling that what’s going on is outside the realm of logic.

So that’s the initial setup, and it only gets crazier from there.  For one, Tom seems to know more about what’s going on than he initially lets on, which is made all the more mysterious by the fact that he himself was the sole survivor of a plane crash from which he emerged without a scrape.  Could he be “changed” in a similar way to the hurricane surivors?  As Russell and Dave try to uncover the truth, they uncover more and more mystery.  Has this sort of phenomenon happened before?  Does the military know, and is trying to cover it up?  Just what is Tom’s role in all this, anyway?  All questions that you should watch the show to uncover (trust me, it’s well worth it).

For a show about an alien invasion, Invasion definitely takes its time parceling out information.  While the audience is pretty much certain that the “lights” in the water are actually weird orange fish-aliens that are the cause of all the changes, it isn’t until almost halfway through the season that we really know all that much about what’s really going on.  It’s kind of like a long-form mystery, getting twistier and more dense as it goes.  Some people might find it frustrating, but I think it’s an effective way to tell a story over the course of a season.  This is a difficult type of show for a studio to get behind, given that it requires that its viewers will tune in week after week to find out what’s going on, and will have to have seen all the previous episodes to know exactly what’s happening.  Sometimes, as in this case or the case of another ABC show that seemed to work pretty well, Lost, it can be worth it.  Other times, it can be too much of a pain to keep up.

Speaking of Lost, ABC has really tried their darndest to find a replacement series that shares that same sort of storytelling; namely one filled with dense mythology and twisty plots that often don’t resolve itself for a long time.  So far, they haven’t had much luck (see Flashforward for proof).  But Invasion feels as close to a worthy Lost successor as ABC has been able to greenlight.  This is somewhat ironic, given that Invasion premiered as Lost started its second season.  Hardly time to worry about a replacement already, right?  It makes me wonder if Invasion would have done better if it came out closer to Lost’s conclusion.  To me, it seems like a dead ringer to take up the Lost mantle.  Its plot requires careful, repeated viewing, and it expects that its audience hasn’t missed an episode.  However, I think Invasion’s plot is more linear; almost like a really long movie.

But don’t get me wrong, the show’s not without its problems.  Some of the acting is pretty hokey, and it’s clear that the writers don’t really know how to write dialogue for anyone under the age of 25 that sounds very natural.  Some of the young actors, particularly Peters, give it their all, but others are just distracting.  Also, some of the episode’s payoffs aren’t as exciting or revealing as they should be.  But for the most part, it’s a well-conceived, well-written show with some good performances, particularly from Fitchner, who rarely gets a lead role like this to flex his acting muscles.  There’s also some memorable guest spots, including a creepy turn from Mad Men‘s Elizabeth Moss as the psycho half-alien bitch from hell, and from Rocky Carroll as a mysterious man named Healy who has information about this alien epidemic, as he lived through one already.

Here’s some clips of Moss’ character being creepy:

So what stopped Invasion from becoming another hit for ABC?  Besides the usual culprit of poor ratings, Invasion had the misfortune to come out around the time that an acutal, non alien-containing hurricane called Katrina ravaged the New Orleans region.  This made some of the show’s marketing material very touchy, as it showed the aftermath of a hurricane.  To compensate, ABC shifted its advertising completely to the invasion aspect of the show, which may have been a little misleading, given how slowly the show gets into its main conflict.  ABC put the show on hiatus twice without airing repeats, which may have caused viewers to lose interest, and caused new viewers to be more confused than riveted.  I admit, it’s not a show you can jump into halfway through, but it’s definitely worth taking the time to watch.

A good chunk of this cast I had never seen before or since, but some have gone on to future success post-Invasion. Labine appeared in the possible future Canned subject Reaper, also killed after two seasons, and starred alongside fellow Canned alum Alan Tudyk (from Firefly) in the upcoming hillbilly slasher parody Tucker and Dale Versus Evil, which looks pretty hilarious.  Dziena has been in a bunch of stuff, including Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and the recent crappy rom-com When in Rome.  Fitchner continues working, as he should, because he’s awesome.  Peters played one of Dave Lizewski’s dumb buddies in Kick-Ass recently.  I haven’t seen much of Matchett, Sheridan, or some of the others, but then again I haven’t really been looking.  I hope they all get plenty of work though; they all deserve it.

So, should it be back on the air? definitely.  It’s the kind of show that isn’t on TV much these days, namely one that challenges the viewer and is intriguing enough to keep coming back.  Perhaps a TV movie could be made to tie up the loose ends, though it’s unlikely, given that she show’s been off the air for five years and everyone’s pretty much moved on.  But hey, stranger things have happened right?  Get on it, Shawn Cassidy.

Tune in next time when I’ll be reviewing the short-lived comedy Testees!  Oh boy, this is gonna be rough.

Canned TV Show #11: Earth 2

March 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Hello loyal readers.  It’s been a while.  How’s the wife?  Really?  You’re kidding!  Well, I wish her a full recovery.

But in all seriousness, I’m sorry it’s been so long since I did one of these.  It’s been a busy couple of months, and it’s been tough to find much time to sit and watch old TV shows of late.  But hopefully such a long and unfortunate break between posts won’t happen again.  Today, we’re going to go back in time, to a magical, far off world called the Clinton administration.  It’s hard to believe that 1990 was twenty years ago, but there it is.  The 90s will no doubt soon become the 80s, where a nostalgia boom will undoubtedly happen, more so than has already occurred.  I grew up watching 90s TV shows, primarily of the animated variety, but any 90s show, cartoon or not, has an undeniable sensibility that makes it instantly recognizable.  Often, it’s a winningly cheesy sensibility, but one that we have to forgive.  I did not watch the show I’m covering today in the 90s.  In fact, I hadn’t heard of it until my good pal Michael offered to let me borrow the DVDs for this blog (thanks for the loan Michael, by the way).  Despite not hearing about it until late last year, while watching it I felt completely at home in its 90s-ness.  The show I refer to is the forgotten (by most) sci-fi series Earth 2, which crashed and burned after one twenty-two episode season.  Did it deserve such a fate?  Is more like Lost in Space, or is it more like Lost, in space?  More on that soon enough.

Given that this show is from 15 years ago, I think it’s a little pointless to say whether or not it should be back on the air, because it’s undoubtedly a product of its time.  So, instead of my usual final statement, I will change it to “should it have stayed on the air?”  Just so y’all don’t think I’m being inconsistent.

Now, onto the show itself.  Earth 2 tells the story of a ragtag group of pioneers who are on a mission to set up a colony on a planet similar to Earth.  The reason they need to do this is because the original Earth has become an almost uninhabitable place, and most of humanity has moved to orbiting space stations.  However, this doesn’t seem to solve all their problems, as some kids born on the stations are afflicted with a disease called The Syndrome, which causes them to die by the age of eight.  This is due to the fact that apparently spending every waking and sleeping hour cooped up in a space station really isn’t so good for developing bodies.  Not content to sit idly by and watch her son, Ulysses (Joey Zimmerman), perish of this disease, rich lady Devon Adair (Debrah Farentino) leads and expedition to a planet known as G889, in the hopes of building a new colony where all the sick children can run and play and hopefully not be sick anymore.  With her on this expedition is Yale (Sullivan Walker), a reformed criminal whose brain has been wiped and is now a tutor; John Danziger (Clancy Brown), a gruff but kind blue-collar worker and his daughter True (J. Madison Wright); Morgan Martin (John Gegenhuber), a snivelly government guy and his wife Bess (Rebecca Gayheart); Julia Heller (Jessica Steen), who was genetically programmed to be the group’s doctor, and Alonzo Solace (Antonio Sabato Jr.), the ship’s pilot, who is a lot older than he looks, due to all the time spent in cold sleep.  On the way to the planet, the ship is sabotaged and crash-lands on the other side from where the colony was supposed to be set up.  So this group of reluctant pilgrims must traverse a harsh landscape that looks suspiciously like New Mexico, to get to where they need to set up the colony.  Along the way, they discover that the planet is basically one living organism, and that a group of creatures called the Terrians have a special connection with the planet’s resources.  When they take Ulysses and cure him of his illness, they give him certain Terrian abilities, making him a link between their world and the humans.  This makes a secret government group called the council, run by a man named Reilly (Terry O’Quinn in an excellent recurring role), interested in harvesting this link for future use in controlling the planet.

Here’s the opening credits that give you a nice feel of the series:

That’s the basic premise, without getting too detailed or spoiler-y on you.  A reliably good, campy Tim Curry shows up early on as a mysterious stranger who claims to be a marooned astronaut, but is actually hiding some dark secrets.  There’s also some creatures called Grendlers that play a part in some episodes, either causing trouble or actually helping the crew in some way.  Every episode has the same basic premise: something is putting the crew in danger and they have to stop it.  It gets a little repetitive, but for the most part it works.  The overlying message has an environmental vibe, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it too much.  The idea is that in order to live on the planet, or our planet, for that matter, we have to coexist with our surroundings and not just barge in and take over.  It’s hard not to see the Terrians as sort of a stand-in for Native Americans who were forced off their land as we settled the frontier, but none of the environmental stuff really distracts too much from the story and characters.

One of Earth 2‘s strengths is that it seems most concerned with developing its characters, and seeing how each one of them grows in this new, unpredictable world.  Pretty much all the characters get their own storylines, and most of them are pretty interesting.  Like any series, it’s the characters that keep us coming back week after week, and it’s nice to see that underneath all the weird sciencey mumbo-jumbo talk and the constant peril, the show is really invested in letting its characters grow and change in their new environment.  Most of the acting is pretty solid, though I have to say sometime Sabato’s acting is a little questionable.  I know he was on General Hospital before this, but still.  I especially liked Brown and Farentino, who both very well play the sort of put-upon leader roles and complement each other while also being complete opposites.  They’re often at odds but have a very clear sexual tension between them that I’m sure would’ve been more deeply explored if the show had more time.  There’s one time where this tension really comes to a head, when Devon has to grab Danziger’s canteen with her mouth, given that they’re both tied up.  She has to bend down basically to his crotch and grab it with her teeth, it what can only be described as a mildly disturbing pantomime of oral sex.  I don’t think that’s my dirty mind making that up; I really think that’s what they were planning.  I wish I could find a clip to show you.

I should tell you though, weird oral sex thing aside, not everything in Earth 2 works.  It does fall victim to a lot of 90s cheesiness, even if it is endearing cheesiness.  Also, some of the plotlines are just plain ridiculous, and some of the science involved just seems like complete bullshit.  I know it’s in the future and all, but some of it sounds like total bologna, especially if, like me, you’re not one of those science loving folk.  There’s one really odd one where the crew finds an ancient Terrian body frozen in ice, and somehow its spirit, which is evil for some reason, manages to possess Danziger, at which point Alonzo has to enter the dream plain (which, I realize now, I neglected to mention.  Basically, Alonzo can communicate with the Terrians through his dreams, on what is known as the dream plain.  There.) and fight the evil Terrian to save Danziger.  It’s not a terrible episode, but it feels kind of out of place with the rest of them, especially since it does nothing to advance the story.  Think of it like the diamond thieves episode of Lost, only a little less stupid and not featuring Billy Dee Williams.

A few highlights, of many solid episodes, would have to be some of the final ones of the season.  I really liked one where 25 year-old Ulysses communicates with his mother via the dream scape, telling her she has to send his younger self into a cave with the secrets that could save the syndrome kids in the future.  We also get a glimpse at what the colony will look like, and it really doesn’t look too much better than the stations.  Sometimes these future episodes just seem like a filler when a show has no more new ideas, but I have to say it worked this time.  It was a legitimately interesting look at the future, and what would happen with Devon and Ulysses.  I also liked a two-parter where Yale starts to think his mind wash is going to malfunction and he’ll revert back to his criminal ways, but later he finds out the truth about what he did in the past, and it’s different than he thinks.  I like how the show wasn’t afraid to let a story play out over a couple episodes, instead of wrapping it up neatly at the end every time, like some shows do.

But alas, the show was unable to flesh out its characters too much, as it was cancelled after the first season, despite an extensive campaign by fans to keep it on TV, due to dropping ratings.  Evidently there was more at work than just your average ratings drop, however.  According to one site, NBC fired the producers of the show and made a promo video showing the direction they wanted to take the series.  When people finally saw this promo, including the cast and crew, they decided it was better off cancelled.  Apparently the network wanted to dumb the show down and make it more appealing to mass audience.  I get the sneaking feeling maybe sci-fi shows don’t really belong on major networks, especially the smart ones.  Luckily, what was made has been preserved on DVD, though unfortunately it is in broadcast order, which puts two unaired episodes at the very end, even though they belong earlier in the season.  Why they didn’t just put them in the right order, I have no idea.

So, should it have stayed on the air? I think so.  It may not have worked all of the time, but it had an intriguing premise, interesting characters, a constantly changing world, some compelling drama and some decent for the time special effects.  Sure, it appeals more to the sci-fi crowd than anybody else, but it’s still a reasonably compelling series.  It would’ve also given its actors more work, as not many of them have really had very illustrious careers after this show.  Clancy Brown went on to appear in numerous movies and shows, including memorable stints on Carnivale and in The Shawshank Redemption.  Also, my brain literally almost exploded when I found out he voiced Mr. Crabs.  All this time, and I never realized it was him!  Crazy.  He’s probably the most successful post-series; Farentino’s appeared in some stuff, as have Steen and Gayheart.  Antonio Sabato Jr. attempted a movie career, and largely failed.  Gegenhuber and Walker didn’t fare much better; his last notable film role was in the largely worthless 50 Cent vehicle Get Rich or Die Tryin’.  What a shame.  What’s also a shame, and a tragedy, is that J. Madison Wright, who played True Danziger, died of a heart attack at age 22.  That’s insanely young to have a heart attack.

Overall, while not spectacular, I’d recommend giving it a watch.  If for nothing else, than simply to bask in it’s wonderful 90sness.

Come back next time (though let’s be honest, who knows when that’ll be?  Hopefully soon) when I’ll be watching the recently cancelled Aliens in America!  I’ve heard good things.

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?

Canned TV Show #6: Firefly

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment

Well fans, the hour is upon us.  Possibly the most beloved cancelled show of all time is here, and after five long entries, it is surely the moment you’ve all been waiting for.  For today, I will be reviewing the show most often mentioned when it comes to the idea of shows cancelled before their time: Joss Whedon’s Firefly.

Joss Whedon could have one of the most substantial pedigrees of anybody working in the TV medium.  He’s created numerous shows which have developed massive cult followings, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff, Angel.  His most recent show, Dollhouse, was recently cancelled by FOX before airing the rest of its second season, but will surely develop its own cult, most likely made up of the people who comprise the cults for his other shows.  Instead of it being his shows that have fan bases, Whedon himself commands a very large group of followers who will love and support pretty much anything he does, which is something very few TV show creators can say.  In fact, the work done by said fan base even lead to a comeback of sorts for this series, but more on that later.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of hype circulating Firefly, and so I had high expectations of the show.  I mean, an intensely loyal fan base, which included several of my close friends, must see something, right?  I entered my viewing experience expecting nothing less than literal TV gold, something that would change my life and the way I thought about it for eons to come.  Ok, so maybe that was a little high, but I certainly didn’t leave the show feeling disappointed.  I admit, it isn’t a perfect show, but it isn’t hard to see why so many people rallied so hard to keep it afloat, to see it return in some way.

The plot is really nothing too radical; but the characters, like any good series, are where the real reward of the show lies.  It’s centuries in the future, after the human population has grown to large for earth to sustain it, humanity leaves to terraform new planets and spread out over the galaxy.  There’s a central governing body called The Alliance, which is similar to your totalitarian governments of most future-set sci-fi, who represent a shadowy antagonist to our heroes, a ragtag group of outlaws who fly through the galaxy in a “firefly-class” spaceship looking for jobs of varying legality to sustain them.  They live outside of alliance rule, and frequently come into opposition with them.  Onboard the ship, the motley crew consists of captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), the stubborn but intensely loyal leader; his first mate Zoe Alleyne Washburne (Gina Torres), who in turn is extremely loyal to him; her husband Hoban “Wash” Washburne (Alan Tudyk), the ship’s pilot; Kaywinnit Lee “Kaylee” Frye (Jewel Staite), the ship’s bubbly mechanic; and Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin), the hired muscle of the crew.  Also on board is Inara Serra (the gorgeous Morena Baccarin), a registered “companion,” basically a high class prostitute who is afforded almost royalty status, who rents out one of the smaller shuttles attached to the ship.  In the pilot episode, they also pick up holy man Shepherd Derrial Book (Ron Glass), who ends up serving as Mal’s conscience many a time, and Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher), who is carrying cargo which contains his sister River (Summer Glau), whom he rescued from The Alliance, which was performing experiments on her.

So if you managed to make it through that lengthy description of the crew, it’s not hard to see that the ensemble is really the heart of the show, and the characters’ conflicts with one another and with themselves is what keeps the show interesting from week to week.  Really, it’s one of the most interesting and entertaining ensembles ever assembled; everyone gets something interesting to do, and were all on their way to being very fleshed out, well-rounded characters before the show was cancelled.  The fact that even our heroes’ heroism is continually called into question offers a thought-provoking moral paradox to the series.  Each episode pretty much serves as its own adventure, and you don’t necessarily have to watch it from the beginning to get what’s going on at any given moment.  There is a larger storyline and some unanswered questions that carry over, but unfortunately the show didn’t get around to answering them before the ax fell.  What exactly were they doing to River?  Why does Shepherd Book seem to have such intimate knowledge of guns and combat?  Will Simon ever kiss Kaylee (there was a romance developing between them)?  Some things we’ll never know, and some things were cleared up a couple years later, in the form of a feature film called Serenity which gives some closure to the series.  I won’t really go into it, other than the fact that it has the awesome Chiwetel Ejiofor as the villain is reason enough to see it, but fans of the show can’t have a complete experience unless they watch it, and I’m sure pretty much all of them have by now.

One of the show’s central conceits is that the future is basically the same as the present; we’ll be dealing with the same problems we do now, just maybe on a different scale.  The sort of “future meets old west” look the show has going reflects this idea of the past and the future colliding, and it gives the show a unique and creative style.  Occasionally it doesn’t work quite as well, and the deliberate “blue collar” sound to the dialog occasionally sounds clunky coming out of the actors’ mouths.  Some can pull it off, but some sound a little awkward with the phrasing.  Also, the fact that the characters will occasionally slip into Chinese when they want to curse, because evidently the only two superpowers left are the U.S. (woot woot) and China (well of course), can be a little distracting.  I love the colorful ways sci-fi shows and movies get around not being able to swear, like the Chinese phrases here or the use of the word “frak” on Battlestar Galactica, with the excuse that “in the future there’ll be new swear words!”  But these are by and large nitpicky details to an otherwise massively entertaining series.

It’s hard to pick out which episodes are the best, since they all have great moments of their own.  If I had to choose, I’d say one of the standouts is the pilot, which introduces us to our crew and sets up the conflicts that will continue throughout.  The episode “Out of Gas,” in which a wounded Mal stumbles towards the back of an empty Serenity to replace a part which has caused her to break down, which is intercut with flashbacks explaining the origin of the crew and how Mal came to possess the ship we know and love, is another one.  The finale is also great, in which Richard Brooks (who would later reteam with Fillion on FOX’s Drive, which I covered a few weeks ago) plays a philosophical bounty hunter who subdues the crew and then tries to find River, not realizing she’s better at mind games than he is.  These are only a few, but really any given episode warrants a recommendation for some reason or another.  I enjoyed when the show was able to balance a scrappy comic tone and a heavier, more dramatic one, with Wash and Jayne providing a large amount of the comedy.  The closest the show comes to straight comedy would probably be “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” in which sexpot Christina Hendricks plays a con artist who tries to subdue the crew and take their ship, and it’s pretty hilarious.  Shepard Book warns Mal, who believes he accidentally married the girl during a recent celebration on an outer planet, “if you take sexual advantage of her, you’ll go to a special place in hell usually reserved for child molesters, or people who talk at the theater,” and later reiterates, “you were kissing, eh?  That sounds…special.”

So what caused such a beloved show to die an early death?  Probably the most obvious answer would be that FOX seriously mishandled the show.  They ended up not airing the pilot first, and instead aired the second episode, apparently concerned the pilot didn’t bring viewers into the action fast enough, which ultimately made the overall plot more difficult to follow.  More episodes were aired out of order as well, and FOX apparently didn’t believe keeping Whedon’s vision alive was a risk worth taking.  They also stuck the series in a bad time slot, and didn’t advertise it the way they should have.  While the series had a devoted following while it was on, it wasn’t enough to keep it on the air, even though said following sent in postcards and tried to get other networks to pick it up.  While they weren’t successful in keeping it on the air, their vigilance inspired Whedon to bring it back in some way.  I was probably still a tad too young to get into it while it was on, I’m sure had I been older I would have done my part to bring it back.  However, it makes me wonder if it’s better to be a short lived much much beloved show that will live a second life on DVD, to be continually rediscovered and relived, or to be on for several seasons and go without much fanfare.  If I made a TV series, I think I’d prefer the former.

For those who haven’t seen it, you can watch it all on hulu, though I’d recommend giving the DVD a look as well, as there’s some interesting bonus material on there.

So, should it be back in the air? I’m afraid I’m not going to break the trend here: yes, it most certainly should.  I think the thing I would’ve most liked to have found out about is Shepherd Book’s past; he obviously has some experience with fighting and possibly even killing, and it would’ve been cool to see where that came from.  Perhaps a prequel series could be arranged?

To send us out, here’s the kick ass opening title sequence with a kick ass theme song written by Whedon himself, and performed by Sonny Rhodes:

Come back next time when I’ll be reviewing the Pamela Anderson bookstore comedy Stacked!  Is Anderson’s ample cleavage enough to salvage the show?  Based on her acting skills in the past, I’m certain it might have to be.

Canned TV Show #4: Drive

November 13, 2009 2 comments

So far on Canned, I’ve reviewed shows that have managed to make it through one season, or in the case of last week, two whole freakin’ seasons.  After last time, which was torturous, this week is a breath of air in a sense.  Today, I’m reviewing a show that was, by contrast, extremely short.  Six episodes, in fact.  And only four of which were even aired on TV.  The show is Drive, a fast-paced actioner about various individuals drafted into an illegal, cross country road race (a fact they are gracious enough to remind us of almost every episode).

After the unfortunate failure of Firefly, star Nathan Fillion and co-creator Tim Minear decided to reteam for this, which would end up another unfortunate failure.  FOX promoted the show pretty heavily, and while the premiere of Drive racked up six million viewers, which isn’t great but not terrible, the rest of the episodes dropped off considerably, and after only four had aired, FOX pulled the series.  The remaining two were later posted online after it was made clear that FOX, which initially promised to air the final two episodes as a one night event, would not be airing them.  Though Drivewas on before the wildly popular 24, that connection wasn’t enough to keep it on the air.

The fact that FOX pulled the plug on the show so quickly leads me to believe they really didn’t have much faith in it to begin with.  It seems like other shows have started out with low ratings but were able to build up positive word-of-mouth and take off, but this one didn’t have that opportunity.  Fans of the show were just left with the frustration of not knowing who wins the race.

But how about the show itself?  Well, I’m pleased to report, I was thoroughly entertained by Drive.  While it wasn’t a great show and occasionally suffered from predictable plotting and inane dialogue, it was a fast-paced, entertaining, often exhilarating show.  It was twisty enough to keep you coming back, and a fair amount of the characters are compelling and interesting, not to mention well acted.  The plot goes like this: a diverse group of people are given mysterious cell phones and are brought to a location, and told that they are now part of an illegal, cross-country road race (see?  They repeat it a ton of times on the show, so I’m going to also).  The grand prize for winning this illegal, cross-country road race is $32 million.  However, some of the racers are not trying to win this illegal, cross-country road race just for the moolah; some, like Fillion’s character, have higher stakes.

The contestants in this illegal, cross-country road race (ok I’ll stop) range from interesting to, sadly, not so interesting.  First, we’ll run down the interesting ones.  Fillion is great as Alex Tully, a man driven to compete and win the race because his wife is being held by the people who run it.  He also has a dark past, one that his wife managed to “save” him from.  He’s riding with Corinna Wiles (played by Kristin Lehman, also good), a mysterious woman who wants a way to break into the race in order to take them down from inside, in revenge for what they did to her as a child.  Also in the race is John Trimble, an astrophysicist and his daughter Violet (played by Dylan Baker and Emma Stone, respectively).  John is suffering from a fatal disease and wants to go on this adventure with his daughter before he goes.  I enjoy Baker in almost everything I see him in, and here he shows a much sweeter side in contrast to the creeps he usually plays.  The scenes with him and Stone feel really believable, and they feel like a real father and daughter team.  In addition, there’s Winston Salazar (Kevin Alejandro), an ex-con who reunites with his estranged half-brother Sean (J.D. Pardo) and the two become partners.  Winston wants to know who broke him out of prison just to be in the race, and why.  Watching the two brothers form a shaky bond is enjoyable, and the actors pull it off reasonably well.  Last in the interesting pile is Wendy Patrakas (Melanie Lynskey), a new mother racing to help protect her baby, and also running from her abusive husband.  She seems like a nice, normal mother driven to do something drastic for her son, and Lynskey plays it well.

In the not so interesting pile are, luckily, only two groups, but with so few episodes, any time with them onscreen is time wasted.  First, there’s Rob (Riley Smith), an Iraq veteran who is officially AWOL after his deployment is hidden from him by his wife Ellie (Micrea Monroe).  This duo just isn’t as compelling as the others, and the actors sadly aren’t that convincing.  Ellie doesn’t wanna see Rob get hurt, but Rob is understandably upset when he finds out, since he’s now in a heap of trouble.  The end of the season sets it up that perhaps Ellie isn’t as innocent as she seems, but it’s really kind of stupid.  Finally, we have the least compelling trio in the bunch, three women who met during Hurricane Katrina and formed a bond.  There’s Leigh (Rochelle Aytes), Susan (Michael Hyatt), and Ivy (Taryn Manning).  While Leigh and Susan are boring, Ivy is straight-up annoying, and she eventually ditches the other two to join Wendy in her car.  This is upsetting, seeing as she’s the biggest part of the three being attached to Wendy, who is a much more interesting character.

Here’s a quick clip that shows the main characters and their reasons for being in the race (though be careful, there are spoilers):

So as you can tell, not everything in Drive works.  Which is a shame, since some of it works really well.  I admit some of the plotting is downright silly, and occasionally cliche.  Occasionally also, the dialogue is pretty weak, but just as often it’s surprisingly funny.  After being last to the first checkpoint, Wendy is forced to “eliminate” Ivy from her car with the bland twins.  When she admits she’d do anything for her son, Ivy decides she has a better chance of winning with her, and comes up with the idea that they ride together.  Upon entering the car and saying something undoubtedly annoying, Wendy pauses and then says “I think maybe I should’ve shot you.”  I’m not an advocate of violence, but I think the show would’ve been better off if she had.

Despite its problems, Drive was compulsively entertaining, and left me wanting to find out who won, and what happened to the characters.  The pilot was a really great 40 minutes of TV, setting up the situations and characters and featuring plenty of the car on car racing action that the premise promises.  It did make me wonder, however, just how long this race would go on.  I strongly doubt they’d be able to stretch it out for very long before it got ridiculous.  Luckily, the fine people over at shared some of what the creators said would happen had the show continued (read the article here, it’s pretty interesting).  According to Minear and co-creator Craig Silverstein, the show would have featured new contestants in subsequent seasons, with former ones taking on new jobs in the competition.  I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I’m also not sure I like that idea.  If viewers get invested in the characters, I have a feeling it’d be hard to uproot them and ask them to get invested in a whole new set.

So, should it be back on the air? I think so.  The series ends, as you can imagine, in the middle of things, with Violet and John stranded after Ivy steals their car, Wendy in the hands of her jerk husband, and Corinna in the hands of the puppet masters behind the race.  It left me wanting the loose threads to be tied up; did Alex find his wife?  What would become of John, who was dying last we knew?  What’s gonna happen with Corinna?  How about Wendy?  Will Ivy ever cease being annoying?  So much left unanswered.  Forever.  I think, however, the show may have worked better as some sort of miniseries, where it could’ve told the stories of this group and then ended, instead of starting over with a new group next season.  The article above answers some of those questions, but some will probably never be answered.

Check back next week, when I’ll be watching the one-season ABC Family sci-fi comedy The Middleman!  Wrong fit for that channel?  So I’ve read, but I’ll find out for sure.