Posted by Zan Romanoff
So there's no news on the Hulu deal yet-- hopefully updates will be forthcoming when everyone has slipped out of their post-long weekend haze.
But speaking of alternative content distribution, there's a little baby rumor going around that James Franco might appear in the upcoming Veronica Mars movie. Personally I'm a little tired of Franco popping up all over the place-- he's not good enough, and it's not a funny enough joke to justify how long it's gone on-- but maybe I'll come back around if he just keeps doing it. Stockholm Franco'ed. It sounds like a thing that could happen.
Either way, this does nothing to dim my excitement for the movie, which is based on one of my all-time favorite shows. For anyone who missed it, Mars' original run aired on UPN and then The CW from 2004 to 2007; it's a sharp, clever show about a high school (and then college) girl detective, a modern take on southern California noir. The show's creator, Rob Thomas, has always agreed with fans that it met an untimely demise, and in March he and lead actress Kristen Bell created a Kickstarter for the purpose of funding a follow-up film. There was some controversy about this-- the property is still owned by Warner Brothers, who didn't feel that a film was a worthwhile financial investment but will get a cut of its profits; Willa Paskin nicely sums up many of the early reactions here. (Also worth reading: Joss Whedon's excellent reaction, and some words of the possibility of a Serenity sequel, here.) Obviously it's likely to be impossible to fund television shows via Kickstarter-- the money required for, say, twelve 28 minutes episodes at a minimum is going to be significantly more than the $5 million Mars earned-- but it's exciting to see old material getting new life, and fans being offered the opportunity to fund seeing more of their favorites.
I did donate to the Veronica Mars Kickstarter (though to be fair, this was before the national letdown that was Arrested Development season 4); my feeling is that I fund good art by seeing bad art all the time-- that's how studios work, essentially, using blockbusters to pay for smaller stuff-- and that I'd rather pay more for something I'm dying to see. I have a weakness for tough, tiny blondes (see: Buffy Summers) and cultural experiments that ask us to re-think how we fund the culture we like. Doesn't mean I'm shelling out for the Garden State sequel-- or any of Franco's various personal projects-- but then, that's the whole point, that under this system, I don't have to.
10.10.13 at 9:53 am | Stylish, unsettling, ultimately predictable.
10.9.13 at 8:34 am | Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets boring.
10.8.13 at 6:07 pm | Last week, a certain finale brought an epically. . .
10.8.13 at 9:20 am | HIMYM limps ever closer to its finale with an. . .
10.7.13 at 11:16 am | Diablo Cody, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. . .
10.4.13 at 9:20 am | The show's sixth season doesn't show any signs of. . .
10.8.13 at 9:20 am | HIMYM limps ever closer to its finale with an. . . (6)
7.29.13 at 2:22 pm | All right, I'll admit it: I just don't get Orange. . . (6)
7.18.13 at 2:01 pm | If you like Korean soap operas, this is the one. . . (5)
July 5, 2013 | 4:41 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Just as important as what we watch, often, is how we choose to watch it. I was in college when streaming video became widespread, illegal sites like tv-links supplemented by torrented downloads in the days before Netflix streaming changed everything. Now most of my professional twentysomething friends get by with laptops and shared subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu, maybe borrowing their parents' password for access to premium channels like HBO. So the winner of today's bid for Hulu may be getting a bargain, even with the price reportedly at $500 million-- there are a lot of young viewers too accustomed to the on-demand streaming-everywhere model to ever go back to the traditional way of watching. It used to be that not owning a television was considered a sign of self-serious intellectualism; now it's just practical. No one I know owns a television but everyone watches their shows. Whoever buys Hulu today will have a big say in how, at least for the forseeable future. We'll check in with the winners of that bid on Monday; in the mean time, shabbat shalom, and enjoy the long weekend!
July 3, 2013 | 12:10 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Yesterday we covered the latest happenings on MTV's Teen Wolf, which I find delightful, but I can understand might not be for everyone. So today let's tak about a grown up show: BBC America's Orphan Black, which is one of the best shows I've seen in a long while. It's a smart, fast-paced dystopian near-future exploration of family and government and identity, the possibilities and problems posed by continuing scientific advancement. The pilot, which first aired at WonderCon this March, follows a down-on-her-luck sometimes-grifter named Sarah Manning who witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks exactly like her and decides to assume the dead woman's identity in an attempt to escape her own troubles: a deadbeat ex-boyfriend, a drug deal gone wrong, and estrangement from her daughter, Kira, who she hasn't seen in ten months. The plan is to steal whatever she can carry out of the woman, Beth's apartment, reunite with Kira and get out of town.
It's impossible to get into what happens next without some general spoilers, but you'll be unsurprised to hear that it isn't nearly that simple. Sarah tries to take a massive withdrawl out of Beth's savings account and ends up having to wait a day for the transfer to go through; she gets swept up into the complications of Beth's life, and ultimately discovers that she and Beth weren't the only women running around town with indetical faces. In fact, the two women are part of a set of at least ten other clones; several of them have recently become aware of one another, though they don't know who created them or why.
The rest of the season deals with women of what Sarah calls Clone Club making those discoveries and dealing with their consequences. One of the things the show does remarkably well is to set up a twisty, complicated plot that never seems either impenetrable or overly obvious. Every episode it explains three or four things and creates mystery around two or three more: the season asks a series of smaller, building questions instead of the same big one over and over again. It's a nice break from the more standard supernatural thriller format, which establishes one Big Bad each season and then pads it out with one-off case-centric episodes, characters solving smaller mysteries that more often than not have no bearing on the endgame drama we're geared towards.
The show is also unusual in its focus on women, the time and space it gives its female characters to speak. Each clone is distinct from the others, and we get to know three of them (Sarah, soccer mom Allison and scientist Cosima) fairly well. Their primary relationships are with one another; they have lovers and friends and chlidren, but the show it ultimately about the complicated bonds of sisterhood, and the construction of the families we are born into, and those we create for ourselves. Sarah grew up with a foster mother, Mrs. S., and a foster brother named Felix who's one of the show's few male main characters. He's a bit of a gay stereotype, a flamboyant artist who lives in a graffitti-covered loft and teaches kids to crossdress when he babysits-- but Jordan Gavaris plays him with so much nuance and warmth that what otherwise might be too broad stays human, and very often endearing.
The real star, though, is Tatiana Maslany, who has to play Sarah and Beth and Allison and Cosima, plus the various other clones who show up for shorter periods along the way. Each one has a distinct look (and often her own accent) which helps distinguish them, but it's Maslany's acting that animates the women, makes them more than a collection of traits, a haircut or accent, a soccer mom or scientist. That's the reason the show works, ultimately: it's an exploration of identity, and it wouldn't be nearly so powerful without Maslany's thoughtful performances, the sense that each of these women is fully formed and entirely human, tied by DNA to her sisters but undoubtedly leading her very own life.
The first season finished airing on BBC America in June; the second will be coming in 2014.
July 2, 2013 | 3:17 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
The first thing you should know about me is that I've got incorrgibly lowbrow taste: I grew up in a golden age of teen movies and gross out comedy, somewhere between American Pie and Judd Apatow, after Sixteen Candles but just contemporary with its sucessors, Clueless through Mean Girls. I can appreciate a well-told story and a seriously smart plot twist but I like kitsch and humor almost as much, and I am a sucker for twentysomethings playing teenagers. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which combines all of the above, is my idea of perfect television.
So summer is the perfect time for me to start writing about what's on the small screen: there are more new shows airing now than ever before, sure, but they're still mostly in the horror/thriller/supernatural genre, or at the very least twisted dramas where humans conspire to make one anothers' lives miserable-- standard summer blockbuster fare. We'll talk about serious business when things cool down, in the fall. Between now and Labor Day it's going to be a lot of fast-paced fun stuff, an investigation of what other people might call guilty pleasures but what I think of as my bread and butter.
So: Teen Wolf. The MTV drama is now four episodes into its fourth season, and despite an expanded effects budget and doubled episode order (previous seasons were 12 eps a piece, the third will be 24) it's still remarkably shaky and uneven. There's speculation that some of the confusion is intentional-- creator Jeff Davis has hinted in interviews and Q&As that the resident villains, a pack of Alpha werewolves, have mind control powers that are affecting what we see-- but that doesn't excuse the lack of craft and strange narrative constructions of the last few episodes.
(I'm going to talk about them now; if you're not caught up, please be wary of spoilers ahead!)
Television stories tend to happen in three episode arcs, so we're just past the first one of the season. It, too, was strangely constructed, but it got the point across: titular Teen Wolf Scott McCall's determination to do well in school and get back together with his ex-girlfriend, spawn-of-werewolf hunters Allison Argent, is not going well. That's in part because there's a pack of Alphas newly arrived on the scene, intent on convincing current Alpha Derek to kill his own pack, including Scott, absorb their powers and get out of town with them, and in part because some kind of dark Druid is arranging murders in sets of three. (I said this stuff was fun; I never said it was dignified.)
Last night Scott and co. headed out of their hometown, Beacon Hills, for an away track meet. One of the things the show tends to do well is integrating the unavoidable goofiness of high school into its more serious life-or-death stuff: the first episode had Scott studying for the SATs with a word-a-day website that taught him about the meaning of ephemeral, a fitting way to set the tone for an hour dedicated to transitions and new tattoos. This one started off with more of the same: Scott's best friend, Stiles, quizzing him on anachronism, intransigent and incongruous while the two of them kept an eye on various flirtations happening elsewhere on the bus. It was only when Scott's side wound started bleeding through his shirt that the episode's central drama became clear: apparently between last week and this one Scott and his pack battled the Alphas and Derek died.
We spend the episode watching Scott's wound worsen; theoretically the drama comes from wondering why he's not just healing, and whether Derek is really dead. But anyone who's seen a television show knows that Derek, a major character beloved by the show's fanbase, isn't in danger of actually kicking it, and I was too busy questioning why Scott hasn't used herbs on the wound-- Derek showed him how in the first episode of the season-- to care that, as it turned out, it was all in his head, that he was bleeding out as a psychosomatic expression of guilt because he believes Derek's "death" was his fault.
The present-tense narrative is studded with flashback sequences to a low-lit slo-mo fight scene in an abandoned mall (abandoned structure count in this season so far is two, a bank and a mall, but based on past evidence that figure will only rise). It's padding and it feels like it: the fight reveals nothing except the specific action sequence that leads to Scott's literally crushing guilt. It all works to establish Scott's probable character arc for the season-- the kid is taking the Very Moral stance of being Anti-Death-- but it doesn't really function like a plot, which moves from A through B to C. This is just beating us over the head with what we already know.
Instead last night's episode was carried by the female characters. Allison's mother died at the end of last season in a complicated bit of dramatics: she tried to kill Scott, Derek saved Scott and bit her, she decided she'd rather die than turn into a werewolf herself. Scott had been, to that point, Allison's first love; to say that their relationship is complicated in the aftermath is putting it mildly. So it's incredibly affecting to see her crouched over his prone body in a grimy rest-stop bathroom while a hallucination of her militant mother berates her for her shaking hands as she tries to thread a needle, to stitch everything up. Teen Wolf isn't always fantastic at handling its female characters, but Allison so far this season has been fantastic: a complex, shadowy figure, whose main action has been swooping in to save her friends' hides when they can't handle a fight (she's a trained archer) and figuring out how much she wants to be involved with supernatural drama, and exactly whose side she's on.
The bus gets stuck in a traffic jam and is forced to pull off the road and stop for the night. Next week's episode, Motel California, will hopefully be taking place in the present tense-- and moving the story forward more effectively. You can watch a trailer for it here, and let me know what you're looking forward to in the comments!
July 1, 2013 | 3:53 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Hi, my name is Zan and I’m a pop culture junkie. I can reliably name that show, movie, or song snippet and tell you who sings it, who she’s dating, who he’s rumored to be dating on the side. Television is my substance of choice: I grew up on Nickelodeon and Disney’s TGIF programming block, progressed to the WB’s teen dramas and spent a good chunk of my college education borrowing DVDs and learning how to stream shows (oh those dark pre-Netflix days!) so I could catch up on the really good stuff—The West Wing, The Wire, the second season of the American Office: you know, the classics.
I’m thrilled to be the Jewish Journal’s new television blogger. It is, as I think everyone agrees, a great time for TV, with the format really coming into its own creatively and narratively as companies like Netflix and Hulu open up new possibilities on the business side. Summer is traditionally a quiet season for new content but as we move towards a more year-round model there’s plenty to see and talk about right now, both old favorites returning and new contenders stepping up to the plate.
My plan is to try a mix of coverage, writing overnight recaps of what I’m watching (True Blood, MTV’s surprisingly dark and interesting Teen Wolf, ABC Family’s new show Twisted) plus some up-to-the-minute news and longer-form pieces on full seasons already aired.
So sit back, relax and tune in along with me—and please feel free to get in touch if there’s something I should be watching, covering or thinking about. I’m hoping to build a really interactive community here, so conversation is always welcome!