One star to rule them all: TV stars who eclipse the cast of their break out show

 

Last week, as my friend Warren and I sat discussing what we had and hadn’t enjoyed about the new iteration of Total Recall starring Colin Farrell and former 7th Heaven star Jessica Biel – for the record we liked it much more than many critics did – we started compiling a list of stars who owe their start in the business to a show where the rest of the cast have slid quickly into relative oblivion.

The obvious starting point for such a list of course was Ms Biel herself who started her now ascendant cinema career as Mary Camden in the show 7th Heaven when she was just 14 in 1996. While she stayed with the show till 2006 (it ended just a year later in 2007) – her appearances were increasingly infrequent as time went on – she begin forging a lasting career almost immediately, landing roles in Ulee’s Gold in 1997 (for which she won The Young Artist Award for Best Supporting Actress) and I’ll Be Home For Christmas in 1998 playing the love interest of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who was then riding a wave of soon to ebb popularity as Tool Time’s resident teen heartthrob.

 

 

A series of other roles followed, usually during breaks in the filming of 7th Heaven, as did a controversial topless photo shoot for Gear magazine in March 2000, until she landed her first leading role in a remark of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003. While the film was not much loved by film critics, it did extremely well at the box office and helped Jessica’s star to shine that little bit brighter.

OK a whole lot brighter. She’s starred in many movies since, is marrying Justin Timberlake, and even performed the role of Sarah Brown in a production of Guys and Dolls at The Hollywood Bowl with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra in 2009.

Clearly she has arrived and in a big way. She has come a long way since she was little Mary Camden and it’s safe to say that she will likely continue to blaze a bright trail through the Hollywood firmament.

 

Barry Watson guest-starring on “Gossip Girl” as a love interest for series star Blake Lively (image via justjared.com)

 

But what sets her apart from Stephen Collins, who was already a respected actor prior to his stint as Jessica’s TV dad, Eric Camden, and has worked steadily since, or Barry Watson, who has gone on to roles in shows like Samantha Who? or Gossip Girl? Or even the blond heartthrob of the family, David Lee Gallagher (Simon Camden) who has been acting since childhood and has starred in movies like Super 8, and TV shows like The Vampire Diaries.

 

David Gallagher as Ray Sutton in “The Vampire Diaries” (image via tv fanatic.com)

 

They are hardly washed-up has beens trying to eek out a humble living at the nether regions of stardom’s glow, and have the sort of careers many wannabe actors would crave.

Yet none of them has reached Jessica Biel’s heights.

Now the purpose of this post isn’t to necessarily dissect why Jessica Biel, or anyone else for that matter eclipses the fame of their former co-stars. Perhaps Jessica Biel is more driven or simply got noticed at just the right time or has that “x” factor that the others lack? Who really knows, and frankly since I am neither in her brain nor those of her former co-stars, or the people who gave them work, it’d be nigh impossible to guess.

Suffice to say, she has leaped ahead of the people in her former TV family, both in the scope of the work she does, and the fame she has accrued. But she’s not alone, with the phenomenon being observed among other stars who have grown far beyond the small screen roots of their early acting career.

 

(image via people.com)

 

Take Leonard DiCaprio for instance.

His meteoric rise to the top of the Hollywood food chain began with a recurring role in the late 1980s – early 1990s sitcom, Growing Pains – after starting life in front of the camera in commercials and a recurring role in the soap Santa Barbara – and while he was only in the show for one season as foster kid Luke Brower, he made enough of an impact in that short space of time that many people think he was in the show for much longer.

 

The cast of “Growing Pains” in the last season of the show, 1991-92 (image via thetalkingbox.com)

 

That’s the mark of a star in waiting. While little is heard these days of the other cast members – apart from the pronouncements by right wing activism of then teen heart throb, now conservative social commentator and pastor, Kirk Cameron – Leonard DiCaprio has risen up the celebrity ranks in leaps and bounds.

He did this by quickly sidestepping into movies and again was noticed for all the right reasons in movies like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993) and Marvin’s Room (1996) but really hit the big time with all conquering cinematic hit, Titanic in 1997 as ill-fated Jack Dawson who risks all to save his newly found lady love, Rose (Kate Winslet).

Teenage girls and gay men everywhere swooned, box office receipts burgeoned but most importantly Leonard showed he had the acting chops to take on any role and make it his own.

 

(image via impawards.com)

 

He has parlayed this success into dramatic and commercial successes like Catch Me If You Can and Gangs of New York (which marked the beginning of a fruitful working partnership which also includes The Aviator and the soon to be filmed Wolf of Wall Street), both in 2002, and Inception in 2010.

There is no denying that he is the breakout star of the sitcom, which I think we can largely attribute to his charismatic presence and acting chops, but whatever the reason for his rise to stardom, he has certainly left the early years of Growing Pains far behind him.

It’s a pattern repeated by the likes of Joseph Gordon Levitt, who has leaped to become a darling of the paparazzi, I think, on the strength of a gift for both real passion and believability to his roles from Third Rock From the Sun (which to be fair also starred the amazingly talented and critically lauded John Lithgow) to movies like Brick, 500 Days of Summer and the soon to be released Looper.

 

(image via 500days.com)

 

And Jason Batemen, who parlayed early fame on 1980s and 1990s sitcoms like It’s Your Move and The Hogan Family, where he flashed his magnetic smile at every opportunity, into a movie and TV career, most notable for the single camera sitcom Arrested Development which will be back on screens in 2013 courtesy of Netflix after being cancelled back in the mid 2000s.

 

(image via howsyourrobot.com)

 

All of these people, and countless others besides had that extra something, whatever it was, that took them far beyond where they began their journey to film and television stardom, and while they may have starred with other notable names at the time, they’re the ones who, for whatever reason have endured, and taken their place in the pop culture firmament, while other shining lights have faded, flickered out or died.

It will be interesting to see which of today’s sitcom or drama stars make a similar leap and outshine those with whom they started their rise to the top.

I will be watching eagerly.

First impressions: “GCB (Good Christian Bitches/Belles)”

 

THE SHOW

Based on the novel of (almost) the same name by Kim Gatlin – the title was shortened in deference to the fact that the comic drama was shown one of the main broadcast networks in the US, ABC, which operate under far stricter criteria than their cable cousins – GCB or Good Christian Bitches, and more recently, Good Christian Belles is a riotously funny satirical look at what happens when you try to return home after many years away.

In this case, the one doing the returning is Amanda Vaughan (Leslie Bibb, Popular, ER) who goes back to the affluent Dallas neighbourhood in which she grew up after her husband, implicated in a failed Ponzi scheme and running away with her best friend, is killed in a road accident.

But if she was expecting to be greeted with wide open arms by those she left behind 20 years ago, she was wrong. Moving back in with her mother, Elizabeth “Gigi” Stopper (Annie Potts, Designing Women) with whom she has a loving but fractious relationship – the reason she left and moved “far away” in the first place was to escape her mother’s “helicopter parenting” – she discovers to her cost that while she has changed and is no longer the head cheerleader bitch of old, those around her are much the same and remember every last detail of her “intolerable cruelty”.

 

The cast of GCB (Image via crazyyetwise.com)

 

That cruelty, which she is never allowed to forget, is thrown in her face again and again by a posse of women led by the duplicitous Carlene (Kristine Chenoweth who plays the role of pillar of the community and “Queen Bitch” to perfection), and which also includes Cricket Caruth-Reilly (Miriam Shor, Damages, Mildred Pierce) and Sharon Peacham (Jennifer Aspen, Party of Five, Glee).

While Amanda tries to apologise to these women, horrified that the system she instituted at high school, where girls were either designated “Foxes” (initiated into the club by being sprinkled with glitter) or “Javelinas” (Texan pigs; inducted by being covered in, um, not glitter shall we say) is still in existence, only Heather Cruz (Marisol Cruz, 24, The Gates) accepts her apologies and becomes her friend.

 

GCBs indeed! (Image via ottawacitizen.com)

 

The others meanwhile take delight in charting her every social disgrace – she is, for instance, only able to find work at “Boobylicious”a Hooters-like bar, ironically owned by Carlene (in secret until Amanda reveals all at church one day to Carlene’s horror; Carlene of course responds by singing a song dedicated to Amanda called “Jesus Take The Wheel” by Carrie Underwood which is a nasty dig at the way Amanda’s husband left his earth) – and make her life as unpleasant as possible, all under the guise of being good upstanding Christian ladies, which of course they aren’t.

MY THOUGHTS 

And this is where the series is a real joy for me, as someone who grew up in the same church and is well aware how often the artifice of the practise of Christianity, with its arcane rituals and crippling expectations too often supplants the genuine observance of Christianity.

Everything about the lives of Carlene and her posse of bitches and the centrality of their religion in their lives is manufactured.

Bible verses may be uttered at every available opportunity – although its clear Cricket has absolutely no idea what’s in the book that underpins the religion she is supposedly devoted to – but they are used more as weapons and tossed around like verbal grenades  than as words of comfort, healing or devotion.

 

The GCBs with Pastor Tudor (Tylor Jacob Moore, “Drop Dead Diva”) who is one of the many good looking men in the show (image via goodchristianbelles.maxupdates.tv)

 

And while the women may attend church every week without fail, their attendance is designed purely to shore up their social standing and reinforce the power they wield, and not as any real show of worship to God.

Even their marriages are, for the most part, at least, shams of the highest order.

Cricket’s marriage to Blake (Mark Deklin, Desperate Housewives, Lone Star), who she is aware is gay, continues on only because he is the only man who has ever loved her for who she is and not for her wealth. They genuinely care for each other but it’s not a real marriage in any sense. She is a serial adulterer, who covers up her affairs with her fitness instructors under the guise of a never ending round of exercise activities.

 

Cricket and Blake keep up the pretense of the perfect marriage at a single night at the church they attend, where Carlene infamously proclaims their aim as married couples is to help the attendees at the group take the “sin” out of “singles (image via themortonreport.com)

 

Sharon’s marriage is the real deal but it is tired and old, and she is no longer the dazzling beauty she was in high school, having stacked on the weight and settled into the stultifying role of dutiful housewife. There is affection between her and her husband, Zack (Brad Beyer, Third Watch, Sex in the City) but it is stale and there is a gulf between them and she is convinced that Amanda is after Zack which encourages her to do everything she can to save her marriage (in truth it is Zack who makes a move on Amanda, which is rejected immediately).

And finally the “Queen Bitch”, Carlene actually does a great marriage, interestingly enough. While her actions are questionable at times, she is always supported by her husband, Ripp (David James Elliott, JAG, Close To Home) who naturally enough has his own agenda regarding Amanda (this being a sudsy comedic drama and all). True it is by no means perfect but at least it is functioning somewhat, which interestingly marks Carlene as the least hypocritical of her friends in this regard at least.

So it is a show suffused with hypocrisy, fakery and subterfuge, with pretty much everyone, bar Amanda, unable to see that they are teetering on the edge of the abyss into self-parody, if they haven’t already reached it. Sounds deliciously dark right, and it is in a way.

 

(image via tvlistings.zap2it.com)

 

But it also retains a certain charm, thanks largely to the scripts penned by Robert Harling, who penned the classic soapie-send up, titled appropriately enough, Soap. I will grant you it is probably not his best work, with the satire of blighted suburbia much better handled in the now-departed Desperate Housewives, and the consistently excellent Suburgatory where the satire takes on almost Monty Pythonesque tones at times.

And it’s true at times that Amanda becomes so virtuous that she threatens to slip into blandness, and her own peculiar brand of annoying self-righteousness, which is not a good look for the protagonist in any show, but it’s hardly a fatal flaw and GCB is still entertaining, funny, and wilfully mocking in the tradition of all the best satires.

 

 

It has been dismissed as “Good Con Broadcasters or perhaps Generic Channel Backfill” by  Giles Hardie in the Sydney Morning Herald, who wasn’t surprised it was cancelled after only 10 episodes but I think that is a bit harsh.

Perfect it is not, but it is a delightfully wicked kick in the pants to the delusions of suburban bliss and a timely reminder that we leave our lives unexamined, and unlaughed at, at our peril.

 

 

Sesame Street: Sad day for The Count … and all of us

The Count and Jerry Nelson

 

I have written often of my enduring love affair with Sesame Street, a magical TV program that is as funny as it is clever and educational.

Central to the show from the beginning were the wonderful Muppet characters that, despite warnings from child psychologists in the late 1960s that seeing humans and puppets together would scramble young minds, were integral to the lessons taught by people such as Bob, and Gordon and Maria.

Among my favourite characters, which included Grover and Oscar the Grouch was Count von Count, who premiered on the show during its fourth season in 1972-1973 and who naturally enough spent his time teaching young kids the basics of maths.

To say he was entertaining was a massive understatement. He was bright, exuberant, and while not goofy like Grover, or Bert and Ernie, had a sense of fun about that made learning maths seem like a lark, which was a miraculous achievement for kids like men who valued words far more than they valued cold sterile numbers.

 

Count von Count and Jerry Nelson (image via chron.com)

 

But the Count made them fun and that was largely due to the puppeteer who gave him life and personality – Jerry Nelson.

Of course at my tender age, I had no idea who Jerry Nelson was, and that was exactly as he, and the producers of Sesame Street wanted it. No peeking behind the fourth wall to see the behind-the-scenes goings on – the Muppets who populated the show were alive and as real as the people they interacted with, and no one, certainly someone was dedicated to his craft and the show’s mission as Jerry Nelson was going to disabuse any found kids of that notion.

 

Jerry Nelson with The Count and Herry Monster (image via broadsheet.ie)

 

Also the man behind Herry Monster, Sherlock Hemlock, The Amazing Mumford (all from Sesame Street) and Gobo Fraggle on Fraggle Rock, Jerry Nelson personality came through loud and clear in his creations as Sesame Street executive producer, Carol-Lynn Palente noted in her tribute to the much loved puppeteer:

“Every description of his characters describes Jerry as well. Silly, funny, vulnerable, passionate and musical, for sure. That voice of his was superb.”

Although he’d been in declining health for some time “his attitude was never bad,” Parente said Friday.

“He was always so grateful for what he had in his life.”

“We’re having a rough day on the Street,” she said.

(source: foxnews.com)

Jerry Nelson had been ill for some time with emphysema and died August 23 US time at his home on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

While he could no longer handle the strenuous job of physically operating the Count in recent years, he continued to voice him and his voice will be heard in the new season of Sesame Street, which kicks off next month.

His legacy, of course, will extend far beyond that as long as there are kids (much like I was so many years ago) who struggle to get their head around maths and need someone like the Count to make it fun.

RIP Jerry Nelson. You will be greatly missed.

 

 

 

 

New season’s US TV shows 2012: Part 2

Yes more exciting enticing shows and as always it brings up the great question of life – is sleep really necessary? I mean, really?

After all, I am already way behind on number of shows and barely keeping up with a number of others and so I do wonder just how much sleep you can get away and still, you know, function? Because if all these shows are as good as they appear, and the buzz is they are, then I shall need to exist on minimal sleep, caffeine, and a copious supply of toothpicks to keep my eyes open.

Don’t think I won’t do it. I am pop culture obsessive after all, and all these new shows do is get me excited about all the amazing hours I will spend watching them, sleep be damned…

 

THE FOLLOWING

 

(image via lauryallan.hubpages.com)

 

 

The Following, from the creator of The Vampire Diaries and the Scream franchise, Kevin Williamson, has a premise that is at once both intriguing, and horrifyingly unsettling.

It is build around the idea that serial killers are no longer working alone, lone wolves killing off people one by one, but rather networked in some sort of bizarre cult, all orchestrated by one man, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy, Rome).

He was convicted of the murder of 14 young women at a campus in Virginia, and brought to justice by an FBI agent, Ryan Hardy (played by Emmy-nominated actor Kevin Bacon, X-Men: First Class), who knew, and still knows, everything there was to know about this psychotic killer. The FBI, naturally, wants him to do what he does best and find Carroll … again.

The only problem? Hunting down this murderous madman cost him a great deal emotionally, mentally and physically and he has withdrawn from the public eye to lick how wounds, and is in no fit state to resume the chase he though he had successfully completed years earlier.

But resume it he does, and he is joined by a team that includes a woman dedicated to the job above all else, Jennifer Masson (Jeananne Goossen, The Vow,  Alcatraz) and whippet-smart young agent  Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore, X-Men) that initially see him as more of a liability than an asset thanks to his damaged condition.

But once back on the trail again, Hardy gets back into the groove, gets close again to Carroll’s ex-wife Claire Matthews who was instrumental in helping Hardy capture her husband (Natalie Zea, Justified) and son Joey (newcomer Kyle Catlett) and and uncovers Carroll’s attempts to bring together a deadly cabal of killers who once united will pose a formidable threat to law and enforcement, one so great it may even be beyond Hardy’s powers to prevent its rise.

 

The cast of “The Following” (image via vampirediaries.alloyentertainment.com)

 

MY TAKE

Does this look insanely unnerving? Yes.

Do I really want to expose myself to this kind of darkness and horror? I am not entirely sure I do on one level but the concept is a bold and imaginative one and with Kevin Williamson behind it, and Kevin Bacon starring in it, it has much to recommend it.

It is also a return to a good old fashioned good against evil pursuit where the evil is demonstrably evil yes and the good is as good as it gets but flawed. In lesser hands it may descend into some sort of dull police procedural that simply replays the same premise week after stultifying week.

But I get the impression it will lend itself to far greater thematic arcs than that, and while there may be individual cases to solve, they will all be set against an emerging nationwide tableau of horror as the serial killers draw together into the sort of union no one wants.

Given that larger-than-life backdrop, I think this show has a better than average chance of remaining fresh and inventive, and thus becoming compelling must see TV.

 

 

BEN AND KATE

On paper this looks like a heartwarming family family that ticks all the boxes you’d expect it to.

Goofy irresponsible brother? Tick. Conscientious single mum sister who  though she loves him, sighs a lot when she surveys the latest wreckage left by her man-boy sibling? Tick. A couple of goofy but wise and insightful friends who may also possibly have issues of their own? Tick and tick and tick!

But it looks like it will be more robust than just another assembly line sitcom.

The storyline is conventional enough – brother and sister, the titular Ben (Nat Faxon) and Kate (Dakota Johnson) grow up in a dysfunctional household and have to rely on each other to get through the mess. But Kate grows up, while Ben doesn’t, and while she diligently works and raises her child, Ben sails in and out of her life, restless, and never really committing to anything.

But realising that Kate needs help, he moves in with her, to the scepticism of his best friend, and her friend, that he will actually stick around. But he does, and so begins what will no doubt be a journey of discovery for all concerned.

 

(image via fox.com)

 

MY TAKE

The trailer, one of the best I’ve seen by the way for this season, reveals that the synopsis by Fox – “the comedy follows a pair of odd-couple siblings – one, an overly responsible single mom; the other, an exuberant kid-at-heart – and their friends as they push each other out of their comfort zones and into real life” – only tells you part of the story.

While it will no doubt be “heartwarming”, as Fox also promises, it has that manic, wacky edge that has made Raising Hope, with whom Ben and Kate, is paired on the US schedule, such a fan favourite.

For a start Kate’s best friend, BJ (Lucy Punch) has a warm, personable idiosyncratic British that may well be the making of the show. It wouldn’t be the first time that a supporting character has pretty much upstaged the main characters – Will and Grace anyone? – and I have high hopes for Tommy (Echo Kellum), Ben’s best friend, shows great promise too.

If the writers, principally Dana Fox, who was a producer on New Girl and who scripted Couple Retreat and Wedding Date can stay the course and deftly combine sweet and heartwarming with a dose of offbeat hilarity al a Modern Family or of course, Raising Hope, then this show has every chance of transcending its happy family premise and becoming a sitcom staple that could be around for years.

 

The cast of “Ben and Kate” (image via fox.com)

 

 

ARROW

Hot on the heels of the latest wave of superhero movies, and stepping into the TV void left by Smallville, Arrow, from the hands of Andrew Kreisberg, Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim, may well be one of the hits of the new season

With a pilot episode directed by Smallville veteran David Nutter (the use of Smallville alum makes sense since both shows spring from the creative well of DC comics, and both found a home on the CW network), the show’s premises centres on billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), presumed lost at sea and dead for five years, who is found on a remote island by fishermen.

Returned to his former life of luxury, which was marked by indolence, self-indulgence, and a predilection for doing whatever the hell he pleased as long as it was fun, Oliver  returns a different man determined to make up for his former reckless lifestyle and the sins of visa family who dominate Starling City.

By day he returns to this lifestyle of old, and is welcomed back by his mother Moira (played by Susanna Thompson, who is more ruthless than even her son realises and may have a connection with the shipwreck that stranded him in the Pacific), his much-loved sister Thea (Willa Holland), and his best friend Tommy (Colin Donnell).

But only his faithful bodyguard/chauffeur John Diggle (David Ramsey) knows the truth – that he is secretly a vigilante called the Arrow, who is seeking to right the wrongs of his family and make a difference to his much-benighted home city, all the while trying to woo  back his former girlfriend, Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) while fending off her detective father, Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) who is on a quest to bring the vigilante to justice.

 

(image via greenarrowtv.com)

 

MY TAKE

It’s an intriguing premise and I am excited at the idea of a well written, well executed tale of superhero derring-do back on the small screen.

By all accounts, it’s as good as the storyline promises. My only reservation would be the fact that it’s on the CW network, which while producing fine shows, does skew toward a younger demographic which is, um, not me.

Having said that though, and worried it may trade on a Revenge-like formula of sorts since adversarial soaps are back in a big way (I am not a fan of big sudsy soaps sorry to say), if properly handled this could be well be an engrossing drama with superhero elements.

At this point, I am going to go with the buzz which predicts great things for the show and leave any misgiving aside for now.

 

(image via comicbooked.com

 

 

 

LAST RESORT

 

From writer/producer Karl Gadjusek and the man who brought you The Shield and The Unit, Shawn Ryan, comes a bold new show that jumps right into the middle of the power plays and geo political manoeuvrings that define the modern world.

When the US ballistic submarine Colorado, skippered by Captain Marcus Chaplain (Andre Braugher) is ordered to fire nuclear weapons into major population areas in Pakistan via a secure radio channel that is only to be used if the USA has been devastated by a nuclear attack, he sensibly seeks clarification of the orders, only to be relieved of his command when he refuses to comply.

Command thus falls to his second-in-command, XO Sam Kendall (Scott Speedman) who also refuses to follow the unconfirmed orders, and the sub is attacked by a US ship and severely damaged limps to a nearby island where they set up an autonomous society while they try to clear their names, and get to the bottom of the murky politics underlying the incident which has completely upturned their lives.

 

 

(image via tvlistings.zap2it.com)

 

MY TAKE

I am not entirely sure about this show.

While the premise is gripping – the idea of a nuclear sub going rogue based on upholding the very values its country of origin, the USA, has abrogated – and the promise of some labyrinthine conspiracy powering it all is compelling, the trailer left me with the impression that it might be a cheer-leading squad of sorts for the country that gave us “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I am somewhat reassured by the fact that Shawn Ryan has unflinchingly gritty shows like The Shield in his resume, which don’t shy away from telling and showing it like it is, but I am not sure that will be enough to counter the uber-patriotism that cannot be far from the surface (no pun intended) in a show.

I can only hope that they will focus on the potential for great political and relational drama and steer clear of overt jingoism, because the premise as it stands has a great deal of promise.

 

 

(image via tvlistings.zap2it.com)

 

 

 

PARTNERS

Based on the real life friendship and business partnership of David Kohan and Max Mutchnik, who brought the classic comedy, Will and Grace, to our screens, Partners features two architects, Joe (David Krumholtz, Numbers) and Louis (Michael Urie, Ugly Betty) friends since childhood, who set up a practice together.

The catch is that one is straight and one is gay, mirroring the real life partnership of the show’s creators, and the sitcom will take a look at the life and loves of these two friends and what happens when each finds the love of their life.

It’s hard for either of the new romantic partners to compete with a friendship of such long standing – Ali (Sophia Bush, One Tree Hill) who ends up with Joe, and Wyatt (Brandon Routh, Superman) and  it’s the exploration of how the two friends accommodate their changed personal circumstances that underpins much of the show.

 

(image via buncee.com)

 

MY TAKE

This looks like one of the most promising sitcoms of the new season.

It’s a whippet-smart, clever and deceptively simple premise that mirrors what many people go through in life as they march into the full throes of adulthood, and have to grapple with all sorts of new variables and the unexpected effects they have on relationships that have survived through the turbulent childhood and teenage years.

If Will and Grace is any guide, a classic sitcom by any estimation that managed to stay fresh and relevant throughout the full length of its eight year run, a credit to Kohan and Mutchnik’s gift for perfectly balanced comic storytelling, then Partners has a long, fruitful and hilarious season ahead of it, with no doubt many more to come.

This one has me laughing in anticipation already …

 

(image via collider.com)

 

 

Naturally I can’t wait till September to see what rises, what falls and which shows I have room in my crowded schedule for. Stay tuned!

Sneak peek: “Glee” season 4 posters released

(image via hypable.com)

 

I will admit it.

I am tad behind viewing the last of Glee’s season 3 episodes.

It’s not from a lack of enthusiasm at all, but rather the clamour of so many shows baying for my attention. But I have a feeling that these new posters, just released to promote season 4, will light a fire under me and spur me to finish the last few episodes languishing unloved and unwatched on my iPod.

The first poster (see above), which was released, shows the cast sans Quinn (Diann Agron) and Sugar Motta (Vanessa Lengies) and while Sugar’s absence hasn’t been explained, Ryan Murphy was quick to assure everyone via Twitter that Quinn is still very much a part of the show.

 

Ryan Murphy’s tweet about Dianna Agron

 

Just before the main poster hit the “streets” of social media-land, Ryan Murphy released this other poster which shows Rachel (Lea Michele) who has gone to New York to pursue her dreams of showbiz stardom with Kurt (Chris Colfer), with her dance instructor Cassandra (Kate Hudson).

It harkens back to the much loved “L for Loser” motif which was used extensively in Glee‘s season 1 promotional posters.

 

(image via hypable.com)

 

You can view a promo video showing Rachel and Cassandra together here.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the rest of season 3 to watch before my iPod explodes from all those neglected episodes burning a hole through its sleekly designed casing …

Movie review: “Total Recall”

 

The first thing anyone needs walking into a fast-moving action-saturated movie like this is a suspension of belief so large and weighty you need a cherry picker to hoist it into the cinema seat next to you.

Once that’s done, Total Recall, directed by Underworld’s Len Wiseman, and based loosely, very loosely (in common with many Hollywood book adaptations) on Phillip Dick’s We Can Remember It For You Wholesale about a restless clerk, Douglas Quail who find out he is in fact a spy, is a rollicking good ride.

From the elegantly done set up, where in a matter of minutes, with minimal exposition, you learn that the Earth has been rendered largely uninhabitable by a devastating chemical war that has left the United Federation of Britain (or the UFB, where the moneyed classes and true power resides) and Australia, renamed The Colony and the source of the grunt labour that keep the UFB humming along, to the somewhat tacked on final fight scene high atop the remains of a blown apart building, the movie barely pauses for breath.

 

(image via gamezone.com)

 

That is both a good and a bad thing.

On the positive side, it propels the action forward at the sort of frenetic blinding speed you would expect of a movie where the protagonist is running for his life. (After all, with people pursuing you with the means to cause you life-ending harm, you don’t exactly stop for extended sessions pondering the meaning of your fake life, or hitherto unknown actual life.)

Awoken from his slumbering existence as a assembly line worker in a factory producing robots for the security forces, and restless for something more but stymied at every turn (he is denies job promotions, is bored by sitting in the same seat each day on The Fall which takes people via the planet’s core from The Colony to the UFB), Douglas Quade (Colin Farrell in the role originally played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 movie of the same name), suddenly finds his world imploding and his life in danger after a visit to Rekall in a dingy part of the train wreck of an urban conurbation that is The Colony’s main city.

 

Quade (Farrell) straps in for the right of his life (image via joyhog.com)

 

And so he runs. And fights. And discovers that he has all these skills and memories that he never knew existed. With his world turned upside down, Quade is on a desperate mission in both the Colony and the UFB to piece together the puzzle set before him, a puzzle that if unsolved will lead to his death.

So clearly there is a lot to motivate him, and Farrell does a stellar job of representing a man struggling to reconcile his fake past and his real one, with all the conflicting emotions this would stir up, who ultimately must make a choice about which one is real, and pursue that wholeheartedly lest he become lost in a limbo of non-existence.

He is ably supported by Jessica Biel as Melina, a member of the resistance seeking to win The Colony’s independence from their overlords in the UFB and his lover, and Kate Beckinsale as Lori Quaid, Douglas’s fake wife, and the UFB Intel agent assigned to track him down and ensure the secrets he holds die with him.

 

Melina (Jessica Biel) and Douglas (Colin Farrell) in one of the tight situations this movie delights in throwing them into (image via film.com)

 

Lori in particular is relentless, merciless, and determined that Douglas Quade won’t escape her grasp.

So far, so manic and exactly what a movie like this needs to be since running for your life is not, as I said, exactly a walk in the existential park.

However, on the less than positive side, this means the movie, which visually is a lush treat with a richly detailed realisation of a slick, technologically-fuelled but dystopian society to its credit (and flying cars!), is short on some of the wise cracks and personable moments that defined Verhoeven’s version.

While that is not exactly a fatal oversight since the seriousness of the action does graphically underline the gargantuan struggle that the resistance movement has to wrestle power out of the hands of the leadership of the UFB headed by Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) who has plans to plan and subjugate The Colony, it does make for a movie with not quite enough of a personality.

 

Bryan Cranston plays Cohaagen, flawed leader of the United Federation of Britain (image via dailyactor.com)

 

And far too many firefights. Endless firefights seemingly jumbled one on top of the other till you can’t remember where one finished and the next one began. To be fair, the fight scenes are well executed, and while the light injuries sustained from what I would assume would normally be body-crushing blows do seem a little incongruous, there is a rich tradition of movie protagonists sustaining injuries that would fell mere mortals and getting up to fight another day … or 300.

But even in a movie as adrenaline-fuelled as this one, the fight scenes blur into each other without much of a pause for breath, and this obscures somewhat the intelligence that underlies the movie. It is a cut above many of these types of movies, and wastes some of that storytelling superiority on trying to have battles where some extended tension may have served the story just as well.

On balance though the movie is essentially a well-executed fast-paced  futuristic thriller replete with some token geo-political posturing and suffused with just the right amount of dystopian bleakness (but not so bleak that it veers into caricature; by and large most people in Total Recall are simply getting on with life), that captures the desperate race by one man to save not just his life, whoever he may be, but those of everyone around him.

 

Fox on NBC and an NBC alum on FOX

Michael J Fox is back on TV with a brand new sitcom based on his life (image via badassdigest.com)

 

Never have two news releases prompted so much fun with a headline.

Well for this blog at least.

On Monday, it was announced that one of the most loved stars in the world, Michael J Fox who has found fame on both the small and big screens is returning to series television, after brief stints on both The Good Wife and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

 

(image via rickey.org)

 

He has inked a deal with NBC, after being pursued by all the major broadcast networks, for an unheard of (well in this day and age at least of tight budgets and shortened series) on air full season pick up with the as-yet-untitled series premiering during the Fall TV season in 2013.

It is a homecoming of sorts for Fox, who shot to stardom with an NBC comedy, Family Ties, 30 years ago, a show that is still in syndication and holds up well after all this time.

 

Michael J Fox with the rest of the cast of “Family Ties” in the show’s heyday (Image via celebrityviplounge.com)

 

His new single camera sitcom – which follows the trend of comedies such as The Office and Parks and Recreation in doing away with multiple camera angles – will be helmed by an experience team including Will Gluck (director of Easy A) who will direct the pilot episode written by Sam Laybourne (a writer on edgy comedy Cougartown).

The show will focus on Fox’s character as he juggles the demands of a marriage, family, career, and yes, Parkinson’s disease since it is loosely based on Fox’s own life, and his quest to live as normal a life as possible with the disease which forced him to relinquish his role in Spin City in 2000 at the end of the show’s fourth season.

NBC Chairman, Bob Greenblatt had this to say about the deal with Fox:

“From the moment we met with Michael to hear his unique point of view about this new show, we were completely captivated and on board. He is utterly relatable, optimistic, and in a class by himself, and I have no doubt that the character he will create – and the vivid family characters surrounding him – will be both instantly recognizable and hilarious.”

I know the show’s debut is a year away but as a long time fan of the man, in both his TV and movie incarnations, I can’t wait to see his infectiously charming smile and mischievous wit back in full force.

 

Parks and Recreation creator, Mike Schur, has sold a new comedy to Fox based on a group of detectives working in a precinct on the outskirts of New York City (image via fbcoverstreet.com)

 

Meanwhile, the creator of Parks and Recreation, which currently screens on NBC, has sold a new sitcom to the FOX network (which frankly should have bought Michael J Fox’s sitcom thus making the headlines even better than they already are) about a diverse group of detectives working in a precinct on the outskirts of New York City.

It will be filmed as a single camera comedy, a style that as mentioned is much in vogue, and was the subject of a bidding war which reflects the cachet that Mike Schur has built up with the critical and commercial success that is Parks and Recreation.

 

Mike Schur (image via blog.zap2it.com)

 

Alas he, and Parks and Recreation producer, Dan Goor haven’t been showered with anything as generous as full season pick up despite the new unnamed show being the object of a bidding war, but they have been green lit for a pilot, and given their pedigree – Schur was a staff writer on Saturday Night Live before moving to Parks – it would be surprising indeed if this isn’t picked up in some form.

It is good times indeed for the sitcom and a clear sign as I noted in an earlier post, that there is much life left in the genre yet.

Sonic Bliss #13: My favourite songs of the week

 

Time for another dive into the pools of musical goodness and see who has been creating beautiful music in the last little while.

So sit back, strap on the headphones – memo to self: must get the ginormous ones so large that if they fell from my ears whole derelict neighbourhoods would be crushed to dust – and lose yourself in this week’s exquisite dose of Sonic Bliss

 

ELLIE GOULDING: “Anything Could Happen”

 

(image via officialdjwm.wordpress.com)

 

Hailing from Lyonshall, a small village near Kington in the UK, Ellie Goulding has made quite a splash on the musical scene since releasing her first single, “Under the Sheets” as a digital single on 15 November 2009.

She followed that song up with her debut album Lights in March 2010, which has been through a few permutations since, most notably as Bright Lights in November 2010, which sported six additional songs including “Your Song” which Ellie had the honour of singing at the wedding reception of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Suffice to say with that kind of attention following her, and musically-themed advertising campaigns for the likes of Nike – the EP Run Into the Light which contained remixes of songs from Lights was released in August 2010 – anticipation is high for new album Halcyon which debuts on October 8, 2012.

It has been preceded by the otherworldly upbeat groove of “Anything Could Happen”, a synth-drenched track so insistently catchy and poppy that it is refusing to leave the virtual turntable that is my iPod and has been whizzing around for weeks now. It has been described thus on the excellent  The Prophet Blog:

“Poetic and realistically optimistic, Ellie puts a twist on the typical breakup-themed pop song with this open-ended exploration of love and moving on. Fuzzy synths are swathed over folky piano and shots of electronica zip through uplifting refrains, giving “Anything Could Happen” the soul of a classic singer-songwriter record with the sound of today’s chart-friendly pop.

When the keyboard isn’t doing the talking for her, Ellie’s either revealing the quirky rasp in her lower register or singing as high as she can go, finally finishing the song in an epic blaze of glory with a full-fledged fist-in-the-air-and-shout moment.”

Seriously it is that good, and has me salivating with excitement at the thought of all the synth pop lushness to come in just over a month.

 

 

MIKA: “Make You Happy”

 

(image via alienhits.blogspot.com)

 

Talk about flying under the radar!

Mika, real name Michael Holbrook Penniman, Jr., has managed something I never thought possible – quietly released a series of tracks in preparation for an album release that caught many music obsessives including me well and truly by surprise.

While low key releases might seem completely out of character for the artist who shot to fame on the back of monster hit album, Life in Cartoon Motion in 2007 with lead single “Grace Kelly” sweeping all before it – some might see it as the equivalent of Lady Gaga going out in public in tracky daks and a hoodie after dark to avoid being seen – it is entirely in keeping with an artist who off stage is relatively low key and family-oriented.

And frankly in today’s frenetically paced and information-saturated pop culture universe where being surprised by anything is a rarity – see how surprised I was here – having a new release by an artist this talented sneak up on you is a joy.

As is the song “Make You Happy”, a joyous frisson of synth and auto tuned pop that transcends its admittedly infectious electronic roots and radiates a warmth and happiness that has you grinning ear to ear every time you hear it.

Mika has stated in an interview with Digital Spy that his new album The Origin of Love, to be released 6 September this year, will be “”more simplistic pop, less layered than the last one” and “Makes You Happy” certainly fits in with aspiration. It is pure and simple pop to delight the senses.

I dare you not to smile when listening to it.

 

 

RUBY FROST: “Water To Ice”

 

(image via bloglovin.com)

 

Hailing from the fair climes of Auckland, New Zealand, just “across the ditch” as Aussies like to say, Ruby Frost released her debut single, “Moonlight” in December 2010 after winning nationwide MTV 42Unheard competition in 2009.

As evidence of her songwriting prowess, which shines through in “Water to Ice” bright and clear, she also won the Grand Prize for the Pop category in Section I of the international 2010 John Lennon Songwriting Contest with another song completely “Hazy”. (Thanks to wikipedia for these fabulous facts.)

So clearly she is a talented lady, and she comes with a voice powerful and nuanced enough to deliver “Water and Ice” with all the emotional urgency it demands. It also has a mystical Kate Bush-esque anthemic quality to it that sends shivers up and down the spine and will ensure this is one of those songs that stops a concert as people soak up the emotion-charged moment it effortlessly conjures up.

It is also pop of the highest order – pure and untrammelled – and marks this young lady as one to watch especially with a song this compelling as a lead single.

I am looking forward to her much-awaited debut album, Volition, dropping in the next few months.

 

 

M– USE: “Unsustainable”

 

(image via weallwantsomeone.org)

 

There is a grand mythic operatic feel to the first single from Muse’s new album 2nd Law that screams big blockbuster movie moment in the dusk-laden forests of some northern European country … and that appears to be exactly what Muse have gone for in the official clip.

When the band announced that their first single would have a Skrillex quality to it – Skrillex, the stage name of electronic music producer, Sonny John Moore, is known for his hardcore-influenced electronic – many fans were simultaneously intrigued and concerned, wondering what this meant for the band’s sound.

What it means, my friends, is that Muse have simply amped up the soaring theatricality of their music, which was always evident in tracks like “Undisclosed Desires” and “Resistance” (they have always been known for their love of merging many genres like alternative rock, classical music and electronica) and it works well for them.

“Unsustainable” draws from this wellspring of majesty and occasion, and their inherent knack for melodic richness, transporting you to places far away where a sense of romantic urgency prevails.

Oh and where apparently Cylons live too. You have been warned.

 

 

FRIGHTENED RABBIT: “State Hospital”

 

(image via the-fly.co.uk)

 

The raw quiet beauty of Frightened Rabbit’s music can be deceiving.

Don’t get me wrong – it is beautiful and their sound is fragile and haunting. (It makes sense that the music would have this quality since lead singer and songwriter for the band, Scott Hutchinson, who hails from Selkirk, Scotland, along with the rest of the band, named the band after a nickname his mother gave him when he was younger to describe his shyness.)

But there is a robustness to it too – both melodically and lyrically. The band aren’t afraid to make a statement or several, and you would be underestimating them entirely if you equated a softer folk-tinged sound with any lack of vision or emotional rigour on their part. They aren’t afraid of laying their hearts on their line, telling it like it is; they are just as willing to declare “life is shit” as “life is wonderful” and that makes them a complex and rewarding band to listen to.

Take that sharp, honest songwriting and add in the evolution of their alt-folk sound to include some extra rock-oriented bells and whistles, and it’s no wonder that “State Hospital” is such an inspired creation.

 

 

So which songs are going to go flying into your iPod with unseemly haste?

“Husbands” season 2 premieres

 

Husbands is that rare beast of a sitcom.

It is a side-splittingly funny satire, replete with more pop culture references that an attendee at Comic-Con, which also manages to be a political call to action for equality, all without being preachy or overly earnest.

How does it manage this almost impossible feat?

You can thank series co-creators and co-writers Brad Bell (aka “Cheeks”) and Jane Espenson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Caprica, Once Upon a Time) who bring considerable writing and producing talents to the table. It has been obvious since the show’s debut on September 13, 2011 that these skills, honed, in Espenson’s case at least over a 20 year writing career, have all been brought to bear on this show which channels perfectly the spirit of a newlywed sitcom.

With one crucial difference. Both the partners in this unexpected marriage – a baseball player just of the closet, Brady (Sean Hemeon) and a TV star Cheeks with a penchant for courting controversy (Brad Bell) who wake up one morning in Las Vegas to discover they have married in a drunken blur the night before; and stay married to prove a point to themselves and the world around them – are men.

 

(image via whedonopolis.com)

 

It is set in a world where gay marriage has been legalised at a federal level and the beauty of the premise is that it portrays this couple as much like any other couple, which of course, head-exploding predicting-the-end-of-civilisation-as-we-know-it rhetoric from far right moralisers aside, is exactly what they are.

And so we find Brady and Cheeks at the start of season 2, which premiered August 15 to great expectation (not least from the many people, including yours truly, who contributed $60,001 USD to get the second series, which consists of 3 roughly 9 minute episodes made) struggling, like all new couples do, to work out exactly what will and won’t work within the bounds of their relationship.

It builds beautifully on season 1, which saw the pair trying to get their heads around the fact they were married, that they might possibly be in love (despite only having dated for something like six week before their accidental nuptials) and that there might be a future in their newly minted official union.

Season 2 takes the reality of their relationship and runs with it, and shows Brady and Cheeks grappling with the sort of fusing together of two disparate lives that every new couple grows through.

Only in their case, it’s all done bait more publicly than either had bargained for. In the opening episode, “Appropriate is Not the Word”, Cheeks playfully snaps a photo of himself and Brady in bed kissing and then impetuously tweets it as a way of celebrating their three week anniversary with the world. So sweet, so modern right? What could go wrong?

 

Joss Whedon couldn't be more clueless if he was Clouseau as Brady's manager Wes (Image via crushable.com)

 

Quite a bit as it turns out.

Cheek’s romantic gesture prompts a hilarious but nonsensical backlash from the likes of the Billion Moms (a spot-on parody of the now largely discredited Million Moms March), a phone call from Brady’s manager Wes (played beautifully by geek hero, Joss Whedon, whose hip-to-the-gay-cause attempts to sound empathetic end up sounding more than a little hollow, even as you laugh yourself silly at his self-justifying pretzel-like word plays) worried that Brady may risk triggering the morality clause in his Dodgers contract … and of course an inevitable fight with Brady.

But as an indication of just how Husbands balances with aplomb its dual role to get society thinking about its inbuilt prejudices and send us into comedic comas of mirth at the same time, the argument takes place in front of a TV that firstly showcases a news report blasting the immorality of two men kissing (in the most affectionate chaste way possible) then follows that up with an ad where a woman (Felicia Day,  in yet another fabulous geek cameo) essentially gives fellatio to a piece of pizza.

Cheeks initially dismisses the furore over the tweeted photo of them kissing saying “We’re a married couple kissing. Total non-troversy”, but Brady reminds via an hilarious (there’s that word again but trust me – it’s warranted each and every time; yes the show is that funny) montage that Cheeks has a predilection for putting his Dolce and Gabbana-adorned feet into his mouth quite a bit more than they are standing on solid ground.

 

Cheeks once again displays his unique charm in a media interview, much to Brady's chagrin (image via hypable.com))

 

This has the effect of chastening Cheeks who though he reacts unhappily to Brady’s suggestion that he be “less gay”, begrudgingly acknowledges that while he shouldn’t have to be more “appropriate” for anyone, that he has a responsibility for his partner’s welfare that supersedes any need he may have to throw society’s hypocrisy back in its face.

At least right at this point.

Of course Cheeks being Cheeks it can’t possibly be as straightforward as simple agreement on his part to behave so you can expect that the unfolding of his attempts to keep the peace will no doubt be as entertaining as this episode which managed to cram references to a now-out Anderson Cooper, and Star Wars, and a parody of every straight guy’s lesbian fantasies where Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse) and Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica) comically experiment with pillow-fighting initiated sapphic longings.

That’s quite a lot in one episode but Husbands manages to stay focused on its mission – which incidentally is made all the more cutting edge by virtue of the fact that it is at the moment a purely net-based undertaking, a further sign that traditional media is no longer where all the action is any more –  while keeping the hilarity at side-hugging fever pitch throughout.

My only complaint is that I will only get three episodes of Husbands archly comedic ways in this season but given the richness of its creation, it is worth a season’s worth of laughter by many less creatively rich sitcoms and I am eagerly awaiting the next two episodes in a show that is not only very much a product of its times but if it has its way, a pointer to the future too.

 

Sneak peek: “Falling Skies”, final episode season 2

(image via falling-skies.org)

 

We have almost reached the final episode of season 2 and all I can say is that ten episodes go by so fast!

But my haven’t the team behind Falling Skies used them well this season.

The 2nd Mass. have successfully traversed the eastern seaboard of the USA, from Boston, Massachusetts to Charleston, South Carolina (which is quite a distance – see below; I love the fact that episode 9 “The Price of Greatness” included an “Are we there yet?” moment when Matt Mason (Maxim Knight) asks his dad Tom (Noah Wylie) if they have arrived at their destination), all the time under threat of annihilation by the alien invaders.

 

 

Forged enduring relationships, many romantic, which are all the more poignant given what so many of them have lost, and the fact they live in an age when it would be very easy to abandon all hope.

Joined in with a Skitter rebellion against the gangly yet imposing alien overlords, despite all the fear and paranoia in the world urging them not to, believing that this represents their best chance to grab our planet back from the usurpers.

 

Red Eye, leader of the Skitter rebellion (image via tvline.com)

 

And bonded ever more tightly as a group, even in the face of fears Ben and Tom Mason may have been compromised, or it might be best to simply hide and let the aliens do their thing. Against every test they have faced, the 2nd Mass. has drawn together, the odd wavering and times of dissension aside, and faced down all threats real and imagined, and in the process forge bonds that will not be easily broken.

That was very much in evidence in “The Price of Greatness” but becomes even more starkly clear in the final episode for this season, “A More Perfect Union”. In the sneak peek below, we witness the 2nd Mass., who have essentially become the moral centre of humanity in an age when simply pretending the aliens have gone (as many in the underground city in Charleston have done) or hiding from them look like increasingly appealing options, step up, prepared to lay their lives down for what they believe is the only way to save humanity – joining the Skitter rebellion.

 

Tom and Ben face down the human military who see the Skitter rebels as a real and present danger

 

It is a powerful moment as first Tom and then Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood), Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel), Capt Weaver (Will Patton), Hal Mason (Drew Roy), Maggie (Sarah Carter), and so many others rush to form a circle around the Skitter rebels, led by Red Eye and Ben Mason (Connor Jessup), without a thought for their safety knowing it’s the right thing to do.

It is a triumphant re-assertion of basic humanity that has almost been lost in the desperate scrabble to survive since the aliens invaded, and sends a message not just to the military forces arrayed around them, but also to the Skitter rebels that mankind is capable of holding onto the noble facets of its character even in the face of genocidal threat.

I found it inspiring and the perfect summation of everything that the 2nd Mass. has represented throughout the first two gripping seasons of this masterful show.

 

 

And here’s the preview of the episode which foreshadows an impressively epic end to the season and ushers in what will likely be a dramatic season 3.

 

 

* my thanks to the awesome Robert Prentice at threeifbyspace.net for his consistently excellent coverage of Falling Skies and for the information that inspired this post. Keep up the great work!