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Monday, Jul 20, 2009

On a dark night in 1965, a busload of Scottish children is driving down a deserted road. The bus comes to a stop and the children nervously get out. A bright light appears in the sky and the children go towards it. As they get closer one child runs away unnoticed. The light gets brighter and suddenly the night is dark again and the other children have vanished.


Switch to a bright sunny day in 2009. Children are playing in the park or at school recess. Then they suddenly stop everything and are frozen in place. Frantic parents and teachers desperately try to find out what’s wrong but the children are mute and immobile. After a few moments they say in a flat voice “We are coming” over and over. Then it stops as suddenly as it started and the children resume what they were doing completely unaware of what has happened. It all happens at the exact time to every child in the world.


Now of course as anyone who’s been watching the Torchwood series knows, that the obvious thing for the British government to do at this point is to call the Torchwood team and ask them to sort it all out. But not this time since it turns out that the government has a secret that they want kept very badly. So the Prime Minister (Nicholas Farrell) wants all evidence of the secret to be literally wiped out and instructs a senior civil servant, Mr. Frobisher (Peter Capaldi) to make sure it happens.


Tagged as: doctor who, torchwood
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Friday, Jul 17, 2009

The History Channel is about to launch a new series focusing on the somewhat unpromising subject of a pawnshop. The series goes by the rather prurient but, I suppose, amusing moniker of Pawn Stars and features three generations working together in the pawn business, a business that served as the main form of credit in the United States until about 1950 and remains one of the oldest forms of banking.  This particular business is apparently the only family-run pawnshop in Los Angeles and indeed the family tensions and camaraderie make up a large part of the premiere episode. Thus the History Channel enters the world of (quasi-) reality TV in a manner in which only The History Channel could—mixing family and business dynamics with a genuine interest in historical artifacts.

Richard Harrison (often simply called “the Old Man”) started his “Gold & Silver Pawn Shop” in 1988 after losing millions in real estate. He dresses, at least for the credits, as an underachieving mob boss and because of his poor eyesight (presumably) he squints no end. Supposedly, he assesses the value of any piece of merchandise with remarkable exactitude (at least according to the press material) but in this episode he is exposed as having made a rather serious gaffe—he priced a Carson City coin worth roughly $500 at a mere $50 because he could not accurately read the back of the coin. His son and grandson finally convince him to visit the eye doctor but he insists on driving to the appointment!


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Friday, Jul 10, 2009
Here's hoping that CBS' murder mystery series will end with a bang (or a slice, thwack, or thunk) and not a whimper.

Harper’s Island finishes its run with a two-hour series finale on Saturday night. For those few of us who are still watching, it will be a kick to finally see who was behind it all. The main killer has already been revealed, but the question of which cast member or members were his accomplices is still up in the air. But the answer to the question “Why are there so few viewers left?” is worth pondering. Harper’s Island premiered to much fanfare in early April. CBS promoted it relentlessly during its primetime shows and during its coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament in March. The network even gave it a plum schedule slot, right after the still-powerful CSI on Thursday nights. The premiere episode scored great ratings, and yet by May the show was airing in the network dead zone of Saturday night. Even worse, CBS pre-empted the program during the final week of May sweeps in favor of airing reruns of other shows.


So what went wrong? Well, the viewers who tuned into that first episode expecting a taut murder mystery with a healthy helping of violence received the latter, but not much of the former. Truth is, Harper’s Island is not a very good show. There are too many cast members running around to give any character depth to all but the primary three or four leads. The rest are typical stereotypes you see in any soap opera or horror movie. There’s the rich daddy who isn’t happy that his daughter is marrying a commoner, the sleazy uncle who parties too much, the sullen drugged-out brother, the blonde princess with a tiny yappy dog, the earnest foreigner, the bride’s menacing ex, the bumbling fat guy, the douchebag, and the token black guy. Not to mention the residents of the island where the wedding was supposed to take place: the groom’s female best friend, her nice but sorta creepy ex-boyfriend, the bully with a chip on his shoulder, and the sheriff with a history. They needed all these characters because it was a given that the body count was going to be high. But in the early episodes this cast was handled with all the finesse of a daytime soap. They all came with pre-existing backgrounds with each other, but we couldn’t be bothered to care about any of it, especially since we knew most of them were just going to be offed anyway.


Tagged as: harper's island
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Monday, Jun 29, 2009
It's 10 p.m. -- do you know where your teenager is? The parents of NYC Prep probably don't.

On NYC Prep it’s not enough just to be rich.


Taylor, the lone public school student among the private school elite of the new Bravo reality show, would easily be the queen bee in any other corner of the world. But she’s cast in the role of the striver here, the Jenny Humphrey trying to keep up with a group of unfathomably wealthy teens for whom trivial things like credit card limits, curfews and parents just don’t exist.


Taylor and her frenemies cruise from one New York hotspot to another, BlackBerrys surgically attached to their hands. Though one of the girls emphatically proclaims her hatred for Gossip Girl, these kids revel in living out every cliché the fictional series has introduced to the masses.


With his Peter Frampton haircut and husky mumble, Nate Archibald clone Sebastian is a magnet for unsuspecting teenage girls. Just one hair flip and they treat him like a long-lost Jonas brother. PC, Chuck Bass surrogate and real-life step-grandson of the woman who created Sesame Street, provides a tutorial on how this society works: it’s all about money and connections. He’s got them; the rest of us don’t.


Tagged as: nyc prep
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Sunday, Jun 28, 2009

In Doctor Who: The Next Doctor, the Doctor (David Tennant), arrives in London on Christmas Eve, 1851. As the Doctor exits the TARDIS he finds himself in scene out of Dickens. It’s snowing and the happy Londoners are singing carols, roasting chestnuts and doing other wholesome Christmasy things. Fortunately this state of affairs ends quickly when the Doctor notices an ape-like Cybershade running through the streets. Taking up the chase the Doctor meets Rosita (Velile Tshabalala) who happens to be the comely companion of The Next Doctor (David Morrissey).


After a great deal of confusion the Doctors decide to join forces and start to sort things out. They have quite a bit to do. Cybermen are bad news wherever they show up but of course everything is slightly worse in the Victorian era. Finding out what the nefarious schemes of the Cybermen are and thwarting them will be quite a challenge.


The challenge is made much more difficult by the machinations of the fiendish Miss Hartigan (Dervla Kirwan). She runs a workhouse for orphans but that’s just her hobby. Her real passion is to create the Cyberking and help the Cybermen take over the world. She also ruins funerals, shocks the clergy and wastes a good chunk of London before she’s done.


As if this weren’t enough there’s the vexing question of which Who is Who and how this all came about. The Next Doctor has the Doctor’s aplomb and his tools (sort of) but has no memories before he started fighting the Cybermen. Neither Doctor can remember the other so both are quite baffled. Is one an incarnation of the other?


With both the Doctor and the Cybermen forced to use steam-age technology the visual effects are very imaginative with a touch of H.G. Wells. Miss Hartigan is one of the better villains of the series and Morrissey had better watch out because he makes a good Doctor. (The fate of most actors who play the Doctor isn’t that great) The fans of “classic” Doctor Who will find the pace to be very quick and will wistfully dream of what Tom Baker and the old gang could have done with a budget. Everyone else will just enjoy a ripping good story even if it is a Christmas special airing a week after midsummer. But then again the Doctor doesn’t pay much heed to the seasons so why should the BBC?


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