Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Reaper Madness

Yeah, another review, and yeah, this is going to be shorter than the last one...I get more wound up about things I can't stand. Today's subject is Reaper, which debuted last night on the CW network (and I still think that's an unfortunate acronym, since it makes me think of country-western music).

Quick and dirty: Strange things are happening to Sam (Brett Harrison) on his 21st birthday. Packs of dogs chase him through the Home Depot-style store, he pushes falling merchandise away from a coworker without actually touching it, and a guy who says he's the Devil (Ray Wise) keeps showing up in odd places to tell Sam he's got a job for him to do. Sam finds out his dad promised the soul of his first-born (that'd be Sam) to the Devil for the health of Sam's mom. But this Devil is a sport, to a point, because rather than immediately taking Sam to Dante-land, Satan has a proposition. Hell's borders have become remarkably porous in recent years (prison overcrowding...go figure), so Sam's earthly task is to be a bounty hunter, sending escaped evil souls back to the fiery furnace. If he refuses, the contract with Sam's parents is broken...and his mom dies.

As it turns out, Sam is just aimless enough that finding out his soul belongs to the Devil is the jump start his life needs, and with a few nudges from his new boss, he soon finds himself with a makeshift Scooby Gang, including best bud Sock (Tyler Labine) and Sock's ex, who (conveniently for the premise) has information access at the courthouse (and feeds some priceless shouting matches).

Thinking back to the last new fantasy adventure I sampled, Reaper gives me the type of fun the dour "modernized" Flash Gordon denied me. This is the type of show where the initial capture vessel is a Dirt Devil minivac...and it doesn't work at first because the Prince of Lies is also the Prince of Not Giving You One With A Charged Battery. Harrison is really likable in the lead role and makes a great two-act with the boisterous Labine. Ray Wise (hey, it's Laura Palmer's dad!) gives us a Prince of Darkness with an oily smoothness mixed with a touch of menace. Of course Satan comes off as corporate; this is America, and we all know the score.

Behind the camera, Kevin Smith (hero to us all) gives the pilot a nice sendoff; it should be interesting to see how the regular team measures up. The verdict: if I had my way, this one would go the distance. It's devilicious. HAHAHAHAokayI'mdone.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Big Bang Theory Makes Me Wish For Intelligent Design

One of the perks of having a funky sleep schedule is that sometimes infomercial time will surprise you, as it did just now when CBS dropped a sneak preview of the new comedy The Big Bang Theory, the latest product from the Dharma and Greg/Two and a Half Men factory, in an overnight slot where Comedy Central usually airs continuous Girls Gone Wild ads. Some people would call that "better". I'd just call it "a different kind of bad".

The premise, such as it is: Leonard (the short one with the glasses) and Sheldon (the tall the glasses) are two all-purpose stereotypical science nerds who live the all-purpose stereotypical nerd lifestyle, until a cute blonde with a lighter-than-air brain moves in across the hall. Leonard falls for her like a ton of bricks, setting up what I'm sure they'd like us to believe is a madcap love story, with Sheldon taking on the Greek chorus role. And really, that's all there is. All kinds of fun things have been built on premises you can write on an index card with room enough for the lyrics to "American Pie". From early indications, this isn't one of those.

If you're familiar with me at all, you'd know I consider myself a geek, mainly because the path of nerddom sounded like hard work. So let's do the geek/nerd/jerk thing and parse the above elements, which also gives me an excuse to not write something that, you know, actually has a flow to it.

NERRRRRRRRRRRDS!: The two main nerds are Leonard and Sheldon (Johnny Galecki and Tim Parsons), and I can't think of a single nerd signifier the writers skipped in crafting these characters apart from the sledgehammer-obvious bow tie/high-water pants/snort-laugh made famous in Revenge of the Nerds. They speak in that supposedly intimidating spectacles-on-end-of-nose style that decades of popular media has taught us means "I R SMRT," but in my experience can also be either a bludgeon of snob superiority or a self-defense mechanism to drive out the infidels who think of "black holes" only as a perfect setup for a dirty rejoinder. There were references to World of Warcraft and Klingon Boggle (perpetuating the lie that there are people in the world who are fluent in Klingon). There was a scientific theorem written on the side of the refrigerator in dry marker. There were "bootleg" Stephen Hawking videos brought over by a friend with a bad haircut and questionable fashion sense. For God's sake, Leonard and Sheldon even get pantsed, in a scene that had me rolling my eyes so hard that I could see my own brain. And those names. Leonard. Sheldon. Really. No, really?

The point is if you're going to make a comedy about smart people, you shouldn't be afraid to make it a smart comedy, and not just settle for a typically lame sitcom with bigger words.

Totally irrelevant point: if Sheldon isn't supposed to be borderline OCD, I'll be stupefied. His explanation of why the far end of the sofa was "his seat" was a bit creepy if you allow yourself to think about it.

The Hot Chick (not a Rob Schneider reference): Penny (Kaley Cuoco, who I'm told was in 8 Simple Rules For Making Another Show Eric Didn't Watch) is a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory, and who are we kidding, she is cheesecake factory. Ba-dump-dump. She's not just dumb, she's painfully dumb, the type of dumb that gives you a headache you have to sleep off. She's a depressingly common sitcom type, attractive but completely oblivious to her effect on others, especially when walking around strange men's apartments in nothing but a bath towel...gee, haven't seen that one lately. And when she opens her mouth, oh! what "delightful things" fall out. A vacuum opens in the space over your Tivo which will take days to dissipate. Warning to future writers: There's a special circle in Hell for writers who steal (pardon me, repurpose) lines from Paris Hilton interviews.

The Inevitably Unfair Comparison: I hope I haven't made this sound more interesting than it is, even in a trainwreck sort of way. The pilot is never a good judge of a show's potential, but this one is particularly weak sauce. Maybe this just shows you how far gone I am, but I'm the type of geek who thinks the perennially low-rated NBC Thursday block, the stuff you're not watching because you got hooked on Grey's Anatomy or C.S.I., represents the best and brightest of the current generation of American TV comedies. I'm one of the "dozens and dozens of viewers" mentioned in Tina Fey's 30 Rock Emmy acceptance speech (you're welcome). The NBC shows are intelligently written, run at a brisk pace that a live audience setup makes difficult, and have fun with their chosen format rather than just residing in it (Scrubs is a master of the last point). At its best, The Big Bang Theory is just there, and at worst it's still there at a point when you want it go away. Say what you want about 30 Rock, but since it found its groove it's never "just there".

While the acting is competent enough for this type of sitcom and I wouldn't mind seeing these people again in something that didn't actively piss me off, it'll be a major surprise if this one isn't long gone by midseason.

The pilot is online at the above link, so you can sample it now and get it out of your system before the Monday night debut.

(Edit @ 8:58: Here's someone who hated the show more than I did, and in a fraction of the time, too!)
(Edit #2 on 11/23: A reader points out that the two previews CBS posted on YouTube look like a significant improvement, and son-of-a-gun, they do. Also, son-of-a-gun, I have readers! Obviously this case requires further study. Also, before this edit I got Dharma and Greg mixed up with Will and Grace (not to mention the wrong number and a half of men), so obviously I must atone. Expect a follow-up in a few weeks...)

Monday, September 17, 2007

7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable reads in places like the misfit branch office of SomethingAwful (just like the now-twice-dead magazine often had a "Mad's slow cousin" vibe), but as with any site that cranks out copious amounts of regular material, sometimes you strike gold like this piece which takes a look at the dramatic increase of pathetic bastards in the 21st century.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Corner Gas: A Great Big Place Filled With Nothin' But Space

Next week is when Corner Gas, a Canadian sitcom with the subtle taste that goes down smooth, makes its official debut on the WGN superstation. If you have no idea whether you can deal with a show about some guy's prairie home that isn't hosted by Garrison Keillor, they've posted sneak preview episodes on the WGN website. Start at the bottom of the list and work your way up. Trust me, it's worth the trouble.

Friday, September 14, 2007


And now, an important message from someone who's supposed to be President Bush.

Never let it be said I'm above bandwagon jumping...and (edit @ 12:47am) never let it be said that non-YouTube video embeds aren't a pain in the ass.

Monday, September 10, 2007

BONUS! The Show MTV Didn't Think You Wanted On Your TV

Just to prove a point from the previous post, here's what in a perfect world would've been a great VMA moment that, in our universe, apparently streaked through the crackheaded on-air travesty for all of 10 seconds: the singer from Gnarls Barkley tag-teaming with the Foo Fighters on a Prince classic.

At this point, I'd give credit for stepping up to the job the people who program the main network refuse to do, but as I just found out, they put up an embed code for a video which isn't embeddable. The right hand gives, the left hand takes.

MTV: Hang It Up, Already

There's a scene in the Huckleberry Finn novel where the townspeople, believing Huck is dead, fire a series of cannon shots into the river based on the theory that the concussion of the shot would dislodge his body from the river bed. It seems appropriate to mention this, since you could view tonight's MTV Video Music Awards as the blast attempting to drive the bloated, rotting corpse of the "good channel" back to the surface. But no, all we get is the stench of death and despair.

I admit that I didn't see it all, didn't even know it was on, or that Britney Spears' "big comeback" was a part of it, since MTV is about as relevant to the life I live as the infant's department of Walmart. Having said that...JESUS, that was one of the most depressingly inept things I've ever seen on a major channel that wasn't connected to the Adult Swim schedule. The focus was on a badly lit, badly dressed main stage, with random cutaways to snatches of songs played in barely lit hotel suites which nevertheless made it look like the show we didn't see was ten times as fun.

Sarah Silverman's scowl at the end of her unfortunate routine told volumes. This is the shit that will bring the kids back, eh? The Chabad telethon was probably a better time all around.

That brings us to Britney, and busting on her performance would imply that she actually performed, instead of literally walking through the whole production. Her costume designer must be out to get her, since the bra and panties look only served to accentuate her mommy waist and give her a whiff of desperation. They should've talked her into a one-piece.

Still, the Channel In Question smacks of "whiff of desperation" every time I decide to subject myself to it, insisting on itself too much, becoming the televisual equivalent of the guy who thinks drinking himself into an incoherent stupor and making an ass of himself in public makes him "edgy", not a "pain in the ass" or a "candidate for early death". My advice is the same as ever, and will never be heard (let alone followed): burn the channel down for the insurance money. At least after you get The Human Giant out of the neighborhood.

Somebody at the New York Times actually watched it all the way through, so you can go to them for a proper recap.