The Idiot’s Lantern

Studio 60 near cancellation. Sorkin’s frustratingly misfiring series is seeing a massive ratings drop-off from Heroes, and looks to be not long for this world. As the article says: “There’s nothing wrong with the acting, directing, or dialogue writing. But the premise is faulty. No one cares whether a bunch of over caffeinated, well off yuppies, some with expensive drug habits, put on a weekly comedy sketch show from Los Angeles.” Disappointing, but true.

Speaking of Heroes, we’ve now seen the first five episodes and I’m finding it highly enjoyable. The early episodes stumble slightly under the weight of trying to sound portentous (episode 2’s “Previously on…” narration is so cheesy it has to be heard to be believed), and the science is uniformly of the stupid kind, but ultimately the story and the characters are interesting enough to rise above the scripting flaws. The ensemble cast of characters is intriguingly diverse, and the unfolding mystery of who has what powers and, more interestingly, what they’ll choose to do with them, is very absorbing. It’s also a show which deftly deploys little reversals and unexpected SF elements to keep your attention. Whether it’ll remain this tightly plotted when it runs beyond its initial 13 episode order or whether, like Lost, it’ll find itself adrift in uncharted territory remains to be seen – but so far the evidence is that this is a very good show indeed. Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me creator Bryan Fuller is on board, which is generally a good thing.

Speaking of Wonderfalls, showrunner Tim Minear’s new series Drive has the greenlight for 13 episodes (12 plus the already filmed pilot). Given Minear’s track record with Firefly, Wonderfalls and The Inside I doubt that anyone would be taking bets on this show outlasting 13 episodes. I can’t say that the premise of Drive – an illegal cross-country road race focusing on an ensemble cast of characters – fills me with excitement; it comes off sounding like a cross between Cannonball Run and Lost. However Minear has a great eye for characterisation and a sharp genre sensibility, and I can see the potential for the show to subvert its premise in interesting ways. Mention of the excellent David Fincher movie The Game bodes well in that respect.

Lastly, having watched both Torchwood and Spooks recently it’s clear to me that Torchwood thinks it’s as gritty as Spooks, but is actually as gritty as Blake’s 7. This is an important distinction. Spooks is always ludicrous, increasingly so with each passing year, but somehow manages to ground its cartoonish plots and outlandish 24-isms in a world which feels adult and real. Torchwood is in many ways no less dark in concept, but it remains persistently adolescent in feel, as if the writers are instinctively hewing too closely to the conventions of the genre rather setting their own rules. Episode 3 of Torchwood was a distinct improvement on episode 2, and went some way to redeeming the unlikeable Owen’s behaviour in the pilot by placing him on the flipside of the abuse of women. His flashback scene was very effective, and there were some atmospheric moments throughout, but the pacing and tone of the episode were uneven, leaving the series to date feeling bitty, superficial and predictable. The team remain insubordinate and unprofessional in ways that do make you wonder who’s paying the bills and what they’re getting for their money. Probably the most enjoyable scene in the episode was the bizarrely out of context sequence – all but dropped in from a different episode – in which Gwen becomes a crack markswoman while flirting outrageously with her boss; cheesy but successful fun. We also learn that Captain Jack is apparently not just immortal but also doesn’t need to sleep, making him more Angel-like than ever but sadly without much sign of the existential angst that made Angel a compelling character. I want to like this series, but sometimes I feel like the show doesn’t want to like me back. Although to be fair it’s 100% more enjoyable than the BBC’s new version of Robin Hood which has already exhausted my patience.

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