May 152014

Network television still manages to occasionally surprise me. NBC recently announced that it picked up Constantine, a series based on the rather dark Hellblazer comic. The story focuses on John Constantine, a demon hunter and exorcist who is not a terribly happy person. Will it be any good? I’m skeptical, but at least they hired a proper British bloke to play the lead, so it should be at least more watchable than that awful Keanu Reeves movie from several years ago. Perhaps NBC can do the same thing here that they did with Hannibal: create a low-rated series that has a devoted fanbase large enough to keep it alive. Again, doubtful, but I’ll likely be watching in the fall.

The trailer doesn’t look terrible, for what it’s worth.

Apr 252014

Joel Hodgson, creator of the original Mystery Science Theater 3000, revealed that he may revive the series online sometime in the not-so-distant future. For us long-suffering MSTies, this is promising news. MST3K could find great success as a streaming series and I would gladly contribute to a related Kickstarter. I get a little giddy just thinking about all the riffing possibilities that our hyperactive 21st century pop culture would provide for a series reboot. And the movies! If Hodgson could get the rights to something truly awful like The Happening, we may witness true brilliance unfold before us.

Apr 102014

Well, that was fast. Only a week after David Letterman announced that he was retiring from the Late Show, CBS announced that Stephen Colbert would be the show’s new host. The Colbert Report has been such a consistently well-crafted piece of satire and I’ll be sorry to see it go at the end of the year. Colbert has already stated that he won’t bring his current persona to CBS, which is understandable. His schtick would only confuse the older viewers that CBS attracts, but I do hope he finds a way to deviate from the standard late-night construct of monologue, interview, and music. Colbert will probably the smartest person working on late-night network TV and his new show should reflect that.

Mar 122014

The Times’ David Carr has a difficult time keeping up with all the good stuff on TV. He writes:

I was never one of those snobby people who would claim to not own a television when the subject came up, but I was generally more a reader than a watcher. That was before the explosion in quality television tipped me over into a viewing frenzy.

Something tangible, and technical, is at work. The addition of ancillary devices onto what had been a dumb box has made us the programming masters of our own universes. Including the cable box — with its video on demand and digital video recorder — and Apple TV, Chromecast, PlayStation, Roku, Wii and Xbox, that universe is constantly expanding. Time-shifting allows not just greater flexibility, but increased consumption. According to Nielsen, Americans watched almost 15 hours of time-shifted television a month in 2013, two more hours a month than the year before.

Of course, I can relate. After I finish a few things on-line, this evening will be devoted to catching up on The Walking Dead and The Americans. I might even squeeze in an episode of The Daily Show before trying to make some progress on my book club selection.

I’m old enough to remember when people first started talking about television’s “golden age” in the late 90s, with the rise of shows like The X-Files and The Sopranos. But the proliferation of quality series over the last few years has been remarkable. Players like Amazon and Netflix will only accelerate this trend, throwing more content at me than I can possibly consume. I’m more than okay with that. I still love books and movies and music and comics and games, but serialized TV really has become my primary jam.

Mar 052014

I’m looking forward to the relaunch of Cosmos this Sunday. I have vague but pleasant memories of watching the original Carl Sagan series with my parents and it provided my introduction to the notion of scale; both in terms of the vastness of the universe and the deepness of time. I’m still a bit surprised that Fox and Seth MacFarlane are behind this project, but the early reviews seem positive and make no mention of dick jokes or climate change denialism. The fact that it’s airing on Sundays seems to indicate that Fox is hoping to attract a large audience. I’m skeptical that Americans will watch a general-interest science series in droves, but I would love to be proven wrong.

I should also try to re-read Sagan’s Contact, which made a big impression on me when I first read it back in the mid-80s.

Feb 182014

The blog has suffered a few technical issues over the last week, rendering it inaccessible for large chunks of time. The problems seem to be related to server transfers at my hosting company, which hopefully are now resolved. Since I’m no longer posting every day and I don’t always notice problems when they arise, feel free to e-mail or tweet me if the blog is misbehaving (thanks, Rose!).

And a pop culture update: I’m really enjoying HBO’s True Detective series. It’s a successful mashup of Southern Gothic and existential noir that has kept me interested since the first episode. Sure, it’s another serial killer tale in a television landscape littered with such tales, but the character studies give this pulpy material some heft. The show is further evidence of Matthew McConaughey’s transformation from shirtless goofball to Serious Actor. And Woody Harrelson must have cut way back on the bud to imbue his alpha male detective with just the right amount of swagger.

Like American Horror StoryTrue Detective also represents a resurgence of anthologized storytelling on TV. A new story every season should keep the series fresh and keep people like me paying for HBO subscriptions.

Feb 102014

HBO has posted a surprisingly lengthy trailer/behind-the-scenes look for the fourth season of Game of Thrones. The brief glimpses of various scenes in the video seem to confirm that this season will generally follow the latter half of the third book in the series (Storm of Swords). The show’s producers broadly hint that even more surprises await in this new seasons and I’m curious to see how fans unfamiliar with the books react to certain…unexpected…developments.

Here’s the video:

I’m finally making my way through the fifth book (Dance of Dragons) and, while it’s never boring, it has a certain plodding quality that often besets the middle volumes of fantasy series. I can see that Martin is arranging the pieces on the board for what I hope will be a satisfying endgame, but he probably could have accomplished this in substantially fewer pages. The TV series will need to find a way to remain faithful to Martin’s vision while sustaining narrative momentum, which won’t be an easy task.

Dec 252013

Breaking Bad concluded its remarkable run with a final season that saw Walter White meet the end that fans (and most likely, Walter) knew was coming. We had spent the past few years watching Walt’s greed and anger devour his humanity, but the final episode gave him some measure of the redemption that he had sought. The show’s writers and cast leave us with one of television’s most finely polished gems while setting a lofty new standard for episodic storytelling to which many successors will aspire, but few will reach. I expect Breaking Bad to represent a healthy portion of Netfllix’s streaming business for years to come.

Meanwhile, Game of Thrones became a truly formidable pop culture force, propelled by the strength of a particularly riveting and brutal episode. And Hannibal schooled everyone else in the art of finding beauty in the most horrible things. It was a remarkable year for TV and I’m eager to see what fills up my TiVo in 2014.

Nov 222013

Fellow Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans may remember the annual Turkey Day marathons that aired during the Comedy Central years. I missed out on these because I didn’t catch the fever until the Scifi Channel era. Fortunately for me, creator Joel Hodgson will be hosting an online Turkey Day marathon this year to mark the show’s 25th anniversary. Hodgson will be selecting the episodes and I can only hope he chooses Pod People and Final Sacrifice, the best episodes from the Joel and Mike eras respectively. Depending on whether Aaron Rodgers returns in time for next Thursday’s game against Detroit, this may be my best option for Thanksgiving entertainment.

Sep 162013

AMC was once a little-watched cable network that showed nothing but old movies. In an effort to attract more viewers, it greenlit series like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead. These shows became critical and ratings successes, earning AMC the kind of prestige that had once been reserved for the likes of HBO. But Breaking Bad ends its magnificent run in a few weeks and Mad Men will wrap up next year, leaving AMC with two gaping holes in its schedule. How can it bottle that kind of lightning again?


AMC’s answer: spinoffs! In addition to the recently announced Breaking Bad spinoff featuring underworld attorney Saul Goodman, the network is also developing a companion series for The Walking Dead. It isn’t difficult to understand AMC’s rationale: people liked the original series, so perhaps they’ll like these similar shows. While this strategy sometimes works (see Frasier and The Colbert Report), it more often doesn’t (see Caprica and Stargate Universe). One of these new shows might get traction, but the odds are long that both will be successful. For a network that made its name taking risks on unconventional stories, AMC’s investment in these new shows bears a noticeable whiff of desperation.