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Canned TV Show #24: Something Wilder

August 30, 2016 Leave a comment

If you were a child in the last 50 years, odds are good that you love Gene Wilder, either from his untouchable turn as Willy Wonka or, if you had weird parents like I did, you may have seen some of his Mel Brooks collaborations a few years before you should’ve.  We all have a soft spot in our hearts for the man and his particular brand of genius, and that’s why the news of his passing yesterday hit home for so many, myself included.

something_gene_wilder_cast_photo

Wilder was a unique talent whose approach to comedy performance has been imitated by countless actors in his wake.  He didn’t view himself as a comedian, and approached acting in comedies with the same level of commitment that other actors would approach a serious drama.  He understood that the best comedies are ones that aren’t played for laughs, but rather take their situations seriously and allow the laughs to happen as a result.  While he was a master of frantic mugging, as evidenced by his work with Brooks, it was always rooted in the character he was playing.  He possessed a subtle but powerful intellect, which only made the silliness even more effective (it takes really smart people to pull off that kind of silliness, I’ve found).  I could go on and on about those films and how important they are, both personally and to comedy in general, but other people have said it a lot better than I could, so I’ll spare you my retread.

So it seems sort of strange to try to cram Wilder’s genius into the confines of a 90s multi-camera family sitcom, but that’s just what Something Wilder attempted to do.  Due to Mr. Wilder’s heartbreaking passing, I figured it was the perfect time to come out of semi-retirement from this blog (by that I mean doing other things) to write about this short-lived blip in the man’s career.

I’d like to say up front that I only watched four episodes of the show, so this is by no means not meant to be a comprehensive view of the series.  Shows from the pre-digital age are hard to track down if they haven’t been released on any sort of home media which, to my knowledge at least, Something Wilder has not.  So I had to settle for a handful of episodes uploaded to Youtube, ripped from a copy (of a copy of a copy, if the quality is any indication) of a VHS that someone taped onto.  Not the ideal medium to experience anything, but desperate times…

Something Wilder premiered on NBC on October 1st, 1994, where it lasted one season before being dropped in June of 1995, having aired 15 of its 18 total episodes.  It seems that, despite his fame, audiences weren’t up for watching Wilder in a run-of-the-mill family sitcom.

The series finds Wilder playing Gene Bergman, a 50-something ad man married to a younger woman, struggling to raise two curly-haired toddler twins, with all of the foibles that entails.  What follows (at least in the episodes I saw) is a lot of typical family sitcom wackiness, following the usual setup/complication/resolution structure that pretty much every comedy of the era followed.  The plots of the episodes I viewed centered around 1.) Gene’s ex-wife coming back to make trouble; 2.) an annoying mother of the boys’ best friend annoying Gene and his wife, Annie; 3.) Gene misplacing a tie that his son Sam gave him, leading to all sorts of hijinks; 4.) a romantic night without the kids for Gene and Annie doesn’t go as planned.  If this sounds at least similar to plots you’ve experienced on other sitcoms, that’s not surprising.

It’s actually fairly surreal to see Wilder, a comedic innovator and singular performer, in the clearly artificial world of a “live before a studio audience” style sitcom.  The phoniness of the sets and the lighting, along with the uninspired writing, combine to create a sense of cognitive dissonance when compared to the star performer’s most beloved projects.  It’s sort of difficult to fathom why this sort of thing would appeal to an artist of Wilder’s caliber, though its proximity to live theatre may have been part of it, since he began his career there.  The ability to feed off the energy of the audience is a crucial component of live comedy, and to his credit, Wilder is still a terrific performer in this setting.  Gene is a nervous, neurotic character, and Wilder gives it his all, bringing the same tightly coiled mania he brought to Leo Bloom and Fredrick (or Froedrick?) Frankenstein.  In fact, my experience of the show was made much more enjoyable imagining that Gene actually was Leo Bloom, having gotten out of jail, cutting his ties with Max Bialystock, and reinventing himself as a suburban dad.  Maybe someday I’ll work out an elaborate fan theory about how that works, but the performances themselves provide all the link you need.

The rest of the cast, what I saw of them anyway, do a nice job with their stock roles (that sounds like a backhanded compliment but I don’t really mean it as such, I promise!).  Hillary B. Smith invests Annie with strength and a willingness to go broad when necessary.  Gregory Itzin, as Gene’s business partner Jack, gets some laughs for his more level-headed reactions.  The two boys, Ian Bottiglieri and Carl Michael Lindner, are kid actors, but they do fine (the rips that I watched had such muddled sound that their kid-banter was almost unintelligible, but I’m sure it was adorable).  Wilder obviously steals the show, but since it’s his vehicle, that’s to be expected.

The bummer of it is that the premise of the show–a 50-something new father struggling to co-parent two young kids–could actually be mined for some interesting pathos that hasn’t been explored all that often in TV shows even now.  One episode I watched, the tie one, did find Gene fretting over the fear that he won’t live to see some of his son’s big milestones, like driving a car or dating, but it was mostly played for laughs about what a worrywart Gene is.  This setup, on a different show in a different era, may have made for a winning dramedy, and I have no doubt Wilder could have pulled off that more melancholy material with ease.

All in all, Something Wilder, while certainly not insufferable, is just not a project that’s at the level of its star.  It’s sort of hard to pin down just what made Wilder such an effective comic actor, but for me, it lies in his intelligence and warmth.  Both of these are probably most obviously on display in Willy Wonka, where his eccentric candy maker is always ready with an erudite quip or an esoteric reference, but also exhibits genuine affection for Charlie at the end of the film.  Wilder could be deadpan, he could be wacky, he could be neurotic or the coolest guy in the room.  He’ll always be the One True Wonka.  For comedy fans, his Frankenstein will always be more iconic than even its source material.  He was the rare performer who elevated anything he was in.  His brilliance and grace are on display even in a tacky 90s sitcom.  Even though he’d retreated from the public eye for well over a decade at the time of his death, his presence was always felt, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wishing he’d make one final film, if the right project came along (he said himself he’d be up for it for the right script).  While that isn’t going to happen now, he’ll never be far from our minds.

So, should it have stayed on the air?  Eh, not really.  There were plenty of sitcoms on the air that were basically this same show, so we didn’t really need this one, even with such a great performer at the center.

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Canned TV Show #23: Andy Barker, P.I.

February 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Well hello there.

I’m not gonna dwell on the fact that it’s been a long time since I’ve been on here, because if you’re at all a fan of these, you’ve probably realized that already.  Not that I have much excuse; it was just something that got put on the back burner for a long time.  In fact, I actually considered ceasing altogether, particularly when the A.V. Club, the site whose “My Year of Flops” columns served as the inspiration for my own blog, started up a new column specifically examining one-season series.  Despite the fact that, yeah, I’ve been doing it a while, their far superior readership and credibility made this seem more like an amateur project than ever.  But then I decided, you know what?  There’s room enough for both of us on this rock to cover canceled TV shows, right?  Besides, where will people go to read about all the two season series that are out there?  I’m still covering those.

Andy Barker cast

But not today.  Today, our show sadly only lasted six episodes.  The show is of course Andy Barker, P.I., the unfortunately short-lived vehicle for funnyman and beloved Conan O’Brien sideman Andy Richter, co-created by O’Brien and Jonathan Groff (not the guy from Glee, at least I don’t think so.  That would be surprising!).  Apparently, with three canceled series to his name, Andy Richter is a hard sell for the American public to accept as a leading man, which is a real shame, because he deserves a vehicle for his particular brand of charm.  I had originally planned to do a whole sequence of posts about Richter’s past flops, but I’ve had a hard time locating Andy Richter Controls the Universe in any free capacity.  I haven’t much looked into his other show, Quintuplets, but maybe I will one of these days.

Barker follows Richter as the titular character, a milquetoast accountant who goes into business for himself, renting an office in a shopping plaza populated with colorful characters like Simon (the great Tony Hale), owner of a video store (so 2007!), and Wally (Marshall Manesh, one of those actors who gets cast as all the ethnic types, regardless of whether he is actually from the same country or even general region as his character, such as his recurring role as the cab driver Ranjit on How I Met Your Mother), an Afghani immigrant who runs a restaurant and “went a little overboard with the patriotic stuff after 9/11.”  Business isn’t really happening for Andy, until a mysterious Russian woman strolls in, hands him $4,000, and asks him to find her husband.  See, Andy’s office was previously occupied by private investigator Lew Staziak (the great Harve Presnell, from Fargo), and with rent due and an interest in the truth, Andy decides to take the case.  Turns out, he’s surprisingly good at the whole private investigator thing, and decides to balance his accounting career with his burgeoning one in this very different field.  With Simon as his bumbling sidekick and assists from Wally, Lew, and his wife (who starts out opposing his new career, but to the show’s credit, it ditches that rather tiring aspect quickly and just gets her in on the fun), Andy solves a new case each week, and of course can’t get a moment’s peace.

The pilot takes Andy from in over his head to competent P.I. maybe a little too quickly, but such is the requirement of a pilot: to get us into the main action of the show, especially in a case-a-week kind of format like this.  Andy seems to take the job for a number of reasons.  One, he needs the money, since things at his office aren’t exactly going great; two, he seems to enjoy the excitement of it to an extent–not that his life is crappy, just kind of boring and predictable; three, he just really seems to have a hard time saying no.  Other characters push him into service more often than he pushes himself.  Whether it’s Simon’s enthusiasm, Lew’s hard-headedness, or even his wife’s gentle nudging, Andy’s just too nice of a guy to not help people out.  Richter plays him pretty perfectly, almost like a husband out of a 50s movie. but with a more nerdy feel.  He can’t seem to bring himself to swear, and is certainly nowhere near as grizzled as other P.I.s in pop culture.  In the pilot, he hadn’t even seen Chinatown!  It’s a strange thing to build a show around a sort of passive character, but it works in this case because everything around him is so wacky.  The show takes place in one of those sitcom universes where even though people have businesses to run, they never seem to actually have to go to work, and instead can hang out and leave at a moment’s notice.  Seriously, does Simon have any other employees?  I don’t think so.  And since he’s gone so much, how does he stay in business?  I know video stores weren’t totally obsolete by 2007, but they were on their way.  Even if it seems a little bit of a stretch, you have to just accept it as a part of this show’s weird universe and go with it.

The best episodes of the show are ones that crank up the silliness and play like well-crafted farcical nuggets.  A particular standout for me is “Three Days of the Chicken,”  in which Andy and company try to figure out why Wally’s chicken supplier keeps giving him sub-par chicken, and get in way deeper than they bargained for.  The idea of a chicken-company mafia is funny enough on its own, but the show throws in a handful of other fun bits.  For one, Lew is deathly afraid of chickens, though he’d never admit it.  Presnell is always very funny as the aging Sam Spade type whose attitude and outlook hasn’t seemed to have changed since the 1950s.  But here, he gets to show a slightly different side, as his hyper-macho act crumbles in the face of his feathered nemesis.  The show never reveals why he is so afraid of them, only hints at some past trauma when Lew points a gun at one and says “Remember me?  I’m Lew Staziak, and I’m all grown up now.” Luckily, Andy pulls him away, pushing the chicken into an open door, saying “You’ll be safe here.”  As the doors close, the words “Slaughter Room 2” can be read.  That’s a well-crafted bit.  And the show has quite a few of those.  While not all the episodes are quite as finely tuned, there are more hits than misses, which is good, since there’s only six anyway.  Other highlights include “Fairway, My Lovely,” where Andy investigates the death of a very obese client, and continues to be baffled by how many people, including his wife, find the man irresistibly sexy.  Also the final episode, “The Lady Varnishes,” which features an appearance by the great Ed Asner as Lew’s crooked ex-partner.  That episode explores a bit more of Lew’s backstory, and gives him a nice showcase.  Basically, I would watch a whole spinoff of Lew Staziak, geriatric P.I.  That would be quite humorous.  I  may giggle or even guffaw at such a premise.  Overall, while it’s not the most innovative or spectacular TV comedy, there are enough funny bits to make it a worthwhile way to spend a few hours.

So what happened?  Hard to tell, most likely just low ratings.  Apparently America has a hard time finding it in their hearts to accept Richter as a leading man, which is a shame, because the dude is funny in a low-key, quiet kinda way.  Maybe someday he’ll get the sort of headlining gig that he can hold onto.

So, should it be back on the air? I’m gonna say sure, with the caveat that I don’t think it had a lot of time in it from the get-go.  The formula may have gotten a little tiring after too long, but who knows whether they would’ve switched it up over time?  I’d say maybe a couple seasons is the perfect length for a show like this; enough to make it a cult hit, but short enough that it wouldn’t get old.  If you want to watch it, it’s all on Hulu right now, so it’s easy enough to find (though you need a Hulu Plus account).  Put it on next time you’re home sick or stuck in by the sub-arctic temperatures (if you’re here in the midwest) and laugh for a couple hours!

Hopefully I’ll be able to do these more often, but who’s to say?  I also hope if I have any readers left, they haven’t abandoned me forever.  Also, I started another blog recently, unrelated to this one, but if you like what I do here and want to read a similar thing but about books, then hop on over to http://conorhastoomanybooks.wordpress.com/!  Catch ya 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:

http://www.nbc.com/assets/video/widget/widget.html?vid=1356307

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 #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.