Broadcast TV, Rewatch

The Great 'X-Files' Rewatch: season 1, episode 23, 'The Erlenmeyer Flask'

By Will Levith on Fri Dec 17 2010

Erlenmeyer Flask

As far as first-season finales go, at least for me, this one ranks at the top. It just takes great, suspenseful TV to the nth degree—to that cinematic level. The plot is nothing short of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle–esque. And X-Files mastermind Chris Carter ties it all up at the end with a big red bow on this holiday gift of an episode (that's a bit of a misnomer, I realize; the finale originally aired in mid-May 1994).
  I'll break this episode down into its key moments, all of which point to future episodes, seasons, plots, themes and even the X-Files theatrical:
  1. Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin) again contacts Mulder and leads him directly into that great government conspiracy plot line, which weaves its way in and out of the first season (and appears as early as the pilot). This sequence of events gets Mulder closer than he ever has been to the "truth," which he so desperately wants to learn. And by truth, I suppose it's greater than just new knowledge for Mulder at this point in his career. The seed, we know, was the abduction of his sister, Samantha, by what he believes were aliens.
  1a) I will not give away what happens in the last few minutes of the episode, but consider it epic and Deep Throat related.

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Cable

Great debates: 'Sopranos' vs. 'The Wire'

By Craig Russell on Thu Dec 16 2010

Sopranos

Today, HBO is arguably the most respected and critically acclaimed network on television. But back in January 1999, when The Sopranos debuted, that certainly wasn't the case. Not that HBO didn't feature original programming pre-Sopranos: There was the terrific Dream On, which told the story of the lovably single Martin Tupper, and ran from 1990-96. And The Larry Sanders Show (1992-98) might be the funniest sitcom of all-time. Yet The Sopranos, which was in the simplest definition a small-screen version of Goodfellas, clearly raised the stakes for HBO and cable as a whole. Suddenly, it wasn't just about the big networks anymore.

Wire

  The Wire premiered to rabid critical praise almost immediately upon its premiere in June 2002. But viewership never came close to Sopranos numbers. It was grittier, to be sure—focusing on inner-city Baltimore, and with a far more racially diverse cast. And oh, what a cast it was. While The Wire's universe revolved around deeply flawed street cop Jimmy McNulty, the drama could still put him in the background and not miss a beat. The Wire had more solid characters than any show this side of Twin Peaks.

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Broadcast TV, Cable

Golden Globe nominees: hits and misses

By T.L. Stanley on Wed Dec 15 2010

Sofia_vergara_julie_bowen

There's much chatter this week about the Golden Globe nominations and what the Hollywood Foreign Press Association got wrong in its annual list of top movies and TV shows. So, let's pile on, shall we?
  Just dealing with television—because there's not enough time in the day to pick apart that Burlesque nod for best picture, musical or comedy—I have some major bones to pick. On the drama front, the Globes overlooked the real HBO gem, David Simon's Treme, in favor of the vastly overrated Boardwalk Empire. (I wanted desperately to love the Prohibition-era bootlegger tale, but after sticking with the entire short-run series, I found it to be a (highball) glass half empty.) I love that AMC's zombiepocalypse The Walking Dead is in the mix, but my jaw drops that Breaking Bad was left out. Whuck?

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Broadcast TV, Rewatch

The Great 'X-Files' Rewatch: season 1, episode 22, 'Roland'

By Will Levith on Wed Dec 15 2010

Roland

In this second-to-last episode of the first season of the nascent X-Files series, we find Chris Carter working with an extremely sensitive topic that's been dealt with quite poorly over the years on the silver and small screens: developmental disability. When I think of how many times I've seen a terrible portrayal of a person with a developmental disability on TV, it makes me cringe. Riding the Bus With My Sister, I Am Sam … I mean, the list goes on and on. There's always this underlying feeling that these people aren't people at all; they're different, objects of shame and sorrow. Why else would Rosie O'Donnell or Sean Penn play these characters? To expose the world to the plight of the developmentally disabled? (Yeah, right. Actors are always thinking gold statue, no matter what they say about their moral ethic.) Developmentally disabled people get a bad rap.
  Not so, says Chris Carter, resoundingly, with this top-notch episode. Carter makes Roland, a developmentally disabled janitor at a rocket science laboratory, the unequivocal star of the show—a creepy, double-life-living savant who, like a puppeteer, orchestrates the arc of the plot from stunning beginning to climactic end.

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Broadcast TV, Rewatch

The Great 'X-Files' Rewatch: season 1, episode 21, 'Born Again'

By Will Levith on Wed Dec 15 2010

Born-again

First, a few addenda to the "Tooms" recap: I forgot to mention that FBI Assistant Director Skinner, who will show up in a recurring role, makes his first appearance in the episode. And it is also the first time we hear the Smoking Man say a line.
  Now, to episode 21. Thank G-d this episode had nothing to do with proselytizing Southern crazies like "Miracle Man" did (it was 150 times better, too). Think of "Born Again" as Chris Carter's second chance with a tasty kernel morsel of an idea—the one from episode 14, "Lazarus," which, as you might remember, I gave a so-so rating to (as an episode) but thought had a creative premise (with a good lead actor).
  In terms of the rewatch, I didn't initially remember watching this episode; hell, it's been 16 years. But then, as if in a dream, there was a specific scene involving a tiny statue of a diver at the bottom of a saltwater fish tank, and voila! A flash came over me, and I was 14 years old again, sitting on the couch on a Friday night, goosebumps rising on my arms, completely freaked out.

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Broadcast TV, Film, Newspapers

James Franco, the new king of all media

By T.L. Stanley on Tue Dec 14 2010

James-franco

Howard Stern may still be the self-crowned King of All Media, especially since he just sealed another obscenely lucrative deal with Sirius XM Radio. But James Franco is fast becoming the media man of the hour. See him seduce and make out with himself in a mirror! (It's part of a New York Times series called "14 Actors Acting.") Weigh in on whether you think he'll be a good Oscars co-host with Anne Hathaway! Check out his award-worthy performance in 127 Hours, where his life-saving (and arm-detaching) move as hiker Aron Ralston is so overwhelming it's caused moviegoers to puke and pass out! And for General Hospital junkies, breathlessly await Franco's return in February to the daytime drama! (He's been on the show twice before, starting in '09, and his psycho artist character, named Franco, apparently isn't finished wreaking havoc on the melodrama's denizens.) That's scads of exposure. Lucky for him, Franco is so unassuming and non-Hollywood that he's not likely to face a backlash from all this attention. Anyway, who could get tired of looking at that face? Not me.

Broadcast TV, Rewatch

The Great 'X-Files' Rewatch: season, 1, episode 20, 'Tooms'

By Will Levith on Mon Dec 13 2010

Tooms

I realized a couple of things while rewatching episode 20 of the first season of The X-Files:
  a) There are a whole lot of episodes in a full broadcast television season. Think about it: You have to be pretty interested in the plot arc of, say, a one-hour drama or sci-fi series to be a rapt audience to it for 22 hours (usually, a full-season run is 22 episodes, if you're keeping count). That's nearly an entire day of your life gone in a full TV season. That's a serious time commitment. Even with the ads stripped out later, it's an investment.
  b) And that gets you realizing why so many shows get canceled. (Shows bite the dust a lot faster these days than they used to—think about how fast Lonestar was pulled.) It's almost an impossible equation—like trying to make it in the music business. A good show that sticks around for several seasons is a total shot in the dark.
  Now, to "Tooms." This episode is greatly important to the series in one distinct way: It reprises the role of a great character who got a turn on the show in just its second episode (Eugene Victor Tooms starred in the freaky-as-shit "Squeeze"), foreshadowing similar "reappearances" of popular characters throughout the series (like a comic book's format, say). This would become one of The X-Files's franchises, so to speak.

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Broadcast TV

Great debates: 'My So-Called Life' vs. 'Freaks and Geeks'

By Craig Russell on Fri Dec 10 2010

Great-debates-2

These are two of the best five shows of all time to last only one season. ABC didn't know what to do with My So-Called Life in 1994. NBC couldn't figure out Freaks and Geeks five years later. Both helped to jump-start too many careers to count. Both are more popular now than they were when they aired, and will forever have a place in the Cult TV Hall of Fame. The question is: Which was better?
  For all the similarities, there were differences as well. MSCL was certainly heavier, even a little too mid-'90s angsty for some. Chalk that up to coming from thirtysomething producers Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, who helped shape the show for creator Winnie Holzman. But it portrayed that time pretty fairly, in my humble opinion. And it also had an underrated sense of humor: Rayanne Graff and Brian Krakow were very funny characters.
  Freaks and Geeks came from a happier, more innocent place: early-Reagan-era Michigan, circa 1980. Sure, there were depressing times for the Weir clan, just as there were for the Chases, but creator Paul Feig and producer Judd Apatow kept things lighter in tone. Plus, they wore their pop-culture loves of the time proudly on their sleeve: whether it was music (Rush), movies (The Jerk) or TV (Dallas).

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Cable

Adult Swim ready to parody police dramas

By T.L. Stanley on Thu Dec 9 2010

This looks way better than MacGruber, and by that I mean the ill-fated movie, not the chuckle-worthy Saturday Night Live skits. (At least the late-night bits are only a few minutes long.) Adult Swim has ordered 12 episodes of a cop parody called NTSF:SF:SUV that's stuffed with more clichéd dialogue, intentional overacting and melodramatic tropes than you can wave a .44 Magnum at. When the show launches (date still TBA), it'll move the young-guy-targeted programming block further into straight-faced send-ups of TV's well-worn formats. Childrens Hospital, an over-the-top medical satire from comedian Rob Corddry, has already proven to be a hit. If NTSF follows, it'll be because creator Paul Scheer and crew deliver on the promise of the clip above. The show began its life as a mock commercial during Childrens Hospital, says Deadline.com, and leaped right to a series. Since none of the crime procedurals that dot the network schedules seem to realize they're already a parody of themselves, there should be plenty of inspiration for these guys.

Cable

Starz greenlights its own 'Mad Men' clone

By T.L. Stanley on Thu Dec 9 2010

Miami1

What has the stylish, smoke-filled world of Mad Men wrought? Holiday parties where Boxcars are served, Joan Harris wannabes sporting skin tight dresses, and men being men (whatever that means). On television, the Emmy-winning AMC series is just beginning to show its influence, with other networks starting to put swingin'-'60s-themed projects into the pipeline. Premium cable channel Starz, dipping deeper into original programming, has given the greenlight to a series called Magic City, based at a Miami Beach hotel at the height of the Rat Pack era. The network has ordered 10 episodes of the drama, described as a peek into a place that was once America's Casablanca, for launch in 2012. This comes on the heels of an ABC pilot order for a Catch Me If You Can-reminiscent show about Pan Am stewardesses in the '60s. This is probably the tip of the iceberg and not necessarily a sign of good things to come. Hits beget clones, but few of them are successful. The outfits and scenery alone might make these shows sample-worthy, though. With a good stiff cocktail, that is.


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CONTRIBUTORS

  • Katy Bachman
  • Marc Berman
  • Michael Burgi
  • James Cooper (co-editor)
  • Anthony Crupi
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  • Will Levith
  • Lucia Moses
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