Month: January 2013

Continuum, “Wasting Time”

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That green chick from Star Trek sure cleans up nice.

Look, I know I said that I admire the creators of Continuum for their commitment to putting a gunfight into every episode, but this week’s shootout was kind of dull. Maybe it was because Kierra’s partner Carlos was the one taking aim at Liber8 member Curtis, and boy, Carlos is just eight different flavors of vanilla. More likely, it was just that the action itself wasn’t exciting. They’re both firing at each other behind cover, nothing really seems to be at stake, and the whole thing is just static… that is, until Curtis pops out from behind his cover, jumps off of a wall and punches Carlos in the face.

At that point, what was a dull gunfight turns into an exciting fistfight. Even more exciting was that Kierra got involved after a few minutes. I was worried that the show was having Carlos trade blows with Curtis because the creators were uncomfortable having a man and woman wail on each other, but I let go of that when Curtis threw Kierra through a window. Kierra is supposed to be a tough-as-nails future-cop action hero, and I’m glad the show lets her get down and dirty. I’ll even forgive the fact that the fight ends with a trick used to better (and gorier) effect in Dredd 3D. Up until then, it’s a good fight, surprisingly good for a television show. There’s a real dearth of good fight scenes on TV.

I’m willing to forgive Continuum for a lot of flaws because the show itself is something we don’t have a lot of: a serialized sci-fi action/drama. Yeah, I know, we all miss Firefly, but it ain’t coming back, and what do you expect me to watch, Revolution? Please. Besides, Continuum has one major advantage over both of those shows: time travel. I’m struggling to come up with another show that has used time travel as the basis of its plot the way Continuum does… the closest I can think of is Samurai Jack.

Too old, too cancelled, too British.

Too old, too cancelled, too British.

“Wasting Time” is the least time-travel-centric episode of Continuum yet. Sure, that trip into the past is still hanging on the edge of the plot, influencing the actions of almost every character, but this episode was more about the immediate needs of Liber8 and how that puts them into conflict with Kierra. Those needs have something to do with an mysterious illness contracted by the leader of Liber8, and the lengths that one member (Sonya, aka The Queen of Hearts”) will go through to save him. The flashback at the episode’s beginning gives the impression that “Wasting Time” will be all about Kierra’s attempt to stop Sonya’s killing spree, which includes removing the pituitary gland of her victims so she can use their genetic code to synthesize a super-steroid… or something. Turns out, not so much.

(Sidebar here: I have no idea what’s going on with Liber8. Their situation and their goals seem to change episode-to-episode. In the pilot, I got the impression that they were stranded in 2012, but that they intended to carry out their pre-revolution anyway. When the second episode opened, they were talking about a plan to get back to their original destination. In this episode, Travis is suddenly dying of an unexplained illness. I don’t know if SyFy is airing these episodes with scenes missing, but it sure felt like it this week. They’re certainly placing the commercial breaks at the wrong point, which is especially awkward when we come back from commercial just in time for the dramatic act break. But I digress.)

The whole pituitary-gland thing just fizzles out—or, rather, Liber8’s plans to synthesize a cure for their leader work out exactly as planned. But the possibility of Travis’s death drives a wedge between members Curtis and Kellog, which leads to the aforementioned shootout/fistfight and to Kellog’s banishment from the group. Kellog claims to be a non-violent member of Liber8 and wants to start a new life in 2012, so he strikes up a bargain with Kierra.

Kellog’s alliance with Kierra is a welcome development because it gives Kierra an ally that isn’t Alec—though Alec is awesome—or Carlos (aka GuyCop McBlanderson) and because it provides some much-needed character development for the supporting cast. So far, the members of Liber8 have been characterized just enough to serve as cannon fodder. Don’t get me wrong, I think Curtis’s actions in this episode made sense for his character, it would just be nice if his character was more than “kill innocents and also everyone else”. But, he’s dead now, so maybe that would have just been wasted time. Oh, hey, that’s the name of the episode. How fun!

No show is without flaws, but Continuum is surprisingly well made for a Canadian import doing a second-run on SyFy. I realize that a show’s genre or its channel/country of origin is no excuse for sloppy storytelling, but the fact that this show is so unique makes me more forgiving when episodes come out lumpy and weird. I only hope the creators can tighten things up so that this show can live up to the highest standard it can hope to achieve: solid B-level television. You know what? Make that B+. Reach for the stars, Continuum, reach for the stars.

  • Kierra’s longing stare at the happy family in the restaurant was a nice way to remind us of how much she misses her home without beating us over the head with it.
  • Dredd 3D is pretty okay, if you were wondering. It’s better than you would expect but the story is still kind of dull. I wish I’d seen it in 3D.
  • “You’re a terrorist and a revolutionary.”“No, that guy won’t be born until 2041.” Dang, that’s cool. Time travel is cool. 
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Continuum, “Fast Times”

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Time travel is cool. If you don’t get too hung up on the confusing bits—or pull a Looper and just have fun with them—it’s a fantastic storytelling engine, offering up plenty of ways to explore predetermination, destiny, chaos theory, and other things like that. The first episode of Continuum provided the bare bones of a time-travel story that would be light on philosophy but heavy on action. The premise just screams “pulpy fun:” a police officer from the future has to track down a group of terrorists that have escaped into the past? It’s like a reverse-Alcatraz! In another reversal of Alcatraz, it was actually good.

It wasn’t perfect, though. The main character, Kiera Cameron, was a bit of blank slate, not helped out by the underwhelming performance of Rachel Nichols. The emotional core of the show is that Kiera is trapped in the past, separated by sixty years from her husband and son. However, we only spent about ten minutes in Kiera’s time before she and the prisoners vanished, so we don’t get to spend any time with her family. I applaud the show for wanting to get things moving, but it’s hard to sympathize with Kiera when her husband and child only exist in an abstract sense… and it doesn’t help that her son is the kind of annoying child character that no one likes.

Once Kiera arrived in the past, she hooked up with a local police force in order to track down the escaped terrorists, which is fine, except Kiera passed herself off as Portland police officer and no one ever asked for her badge. It was the kind of plot hole I was willing to overlook as long as the show offered more cool stuff with Liber8 (the terrorists) and Alex (Kiera’s new paradox-inducing sidekick) but it did make the show a little stupider than it needed to be.

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To my delight, the second episode of Continuum, “Fast Times,” addresses the show’s biggest problems in the first ten minutes. We open with a flashback to Kiera’s first day as a Protector (read: future-cop), and I’m not sure if it’s because Rachel Nichols stepped her game up or if the writers realized that the main character needed to be a little more human, but she is immediately more interesting to watch. We see a bit of social-awkwardness peeking out through the cracks in her tough-as-nails future-cop exterior, making her more relatable. To me, at least. Maybe you don’t have that sort of problem, I don’t know.

Anyway, Kiera’s discomfort in social situations continues into the next present-day scene, where the false identity she used in the first episode is immediately revealed. By the end of the episode she’s got the whole thing settled, setting up a more thorough false identity with the help of her super-hacker sidekick. I was a little disappointed that the show was sticking with the police precinct setting, but I was just glad that they addressed it.

Even if the law-enforcement setting/supporting characters are a played-out television cliché, it makes sense that Kiera would hook up with a new team to take down Liber8. The only worry I really have about the setting is that it would transform the show into another boring procedural. Alcatraz—boy, that show is really taking a beating—had a lot of promise but immediately squandered it and became a run-of-the-mill cop show, with the science-fiction aspect reduced to window dressing.

All you ever did was disappoint us, you stupid, stupid show

All you ever did was disappoint us, you stupid, stupid show

Continuum put any fears I had to rest in this episode. Whether it was furthering several interesting plotlines—what’s the deal with Alec’s family? Is that one member of Liber8 starting a new life in the past?—or building the climax around a failed attempt to utilize nuclear fission to activate a time-travel orb, the writers have made it clear that this is not going to be another CSI clone.

Some things still come a little too easy, like when the wife of the kidnapped doctor helps out Kiera. Her husband was just kidnapped by terrorists, but when another stranger comes to the door looking for him, the woman offers her total assistance almost immediately. It’s a small problem, though, and I still can’t fault the show for wanting to keep things moving. Continuum ain’t Looper, and my enthusiasm might fall off if Kiera spends the entire second half of this season sitting around on a farm.

Hopefully, the show will continue to use flashbacks to flesh out Kiera’s character, although her son is still grating, even in the small glimpse we get of him in this episode. Maybe the whole “I get two tuck-ins?” doe-eyed innocence thing plays better for people who have children. For the rest of us, it’s like nails on a chalkboard… or maybe that’s just me, too. Either way, if Continuum can keep developing its characters and deliver a cool gunfight in every episode, it’s going to turn into quite the show.

The Following, “Pilot”

You can tell what kind of show The Following is going to be in the opening seconds of the pilot. The first thing you see is the exterior of a prison that will soon be the sight of a violent break-out, and the first sounds you hear are the opening strains of Marilyn Manson’s cover of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)”. Released right as Manson was breaking into the mainstream, the song pretty much sums up his entire persona: dark and grim to the point of dreariness and “creepy” in a way that flirts with self-awareness but never quite gets there. Manson was all about flash, surface-over-substance, and a healthy dose of shock value. Coincidentally, that’s also a perfect description of The Following.

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The premise for The Following (developed by Kevin Williamson, writer/creator of Scream and Dawson’s Creek) is so outrageous and dumb that it goes back around to being good again. The long version is something like this: Kevin Bacon plays a disgraced, alcoholic FBI agent who is called out of retirement after the serial killer (played by James Purefoy) he put away escapes and starts killing again… only this time, the killer has help. The short version is: the guy from Wild Things fights a cult of serial killers.

A cult of serial killers. Now, neither cults nor serial killers are fun in real life, but when you cram them together into a tv show, it has the potential for trashy, pulpy fun. It sounds like a forgotten horror movie from the early-80’s, a blood-soaked nightmare of pop-culture death-obsession and Reagan-era paranoia. If you don’t think any of that sounds a little awesome, well, you’re entitled to your opinion, but remember it is possible for your taste to be too refined.

Think of all the possibilities: maybe the cult worships a made-up “Egyptian” god of death, or maybe they treat all the famous real-life serial killers as saints. It might be in bad taste, but there’s room for a little bad taste on television. This show could be great as long as it didn’t take itself too seriously. Think of how boring that could get, if The Following was so dark and humorless that even the violence started to feel perfunctory? Or if the writers peppered the script with literary references in a failed reach at meaning? Boy, a show like that wouldn’t be very good at all.

Unfortunately, the show we got is not a silly, over-the-top story that the premise calls to mind, but is actually a pretty dour affair. The term ‘misery porn’ gets bandied about a little too frequently, but it conjures up an image of misery for misery’s sake, and that’s a good description of this show. At least in the pilot, the world of The Following is filled to the brim with evil people doing evil things. It’s such a depressing place to be that every time a character tries to crack a joke–which happens rarely–it comes across as awkward and forced.

Speaking of misery porn, there’s another lesser-known term that fits this show: ‘gorn’. Gorn is a portmanteau of ‘gore’ and ‘porn’, and there’s about as much of that here as you could get on a major network. If you have any ocular mutilation phobias or just a general aversion to animals being harmed, you should probably skip out on this one.

If you can get past the bleakness and the bloodshed, though… you might want to stick around. The Following is never going to be great, and it probably won’t even live up to its admittedly meager pedigree (“The guy who wrote Cursed and the villain from Hollow Man? Sign me up!” says no one). But it could be reasonably entertaining if it just chose a side. Obviously, the trashy/over-the-top/Saint-Ed-Gein version of the show would be great, but there’s also a version of this show where all the Edgar Allen Poe stuff seems necessary instead of just a coming across as a pretentious affectation. That version of the show peeks its head out for about five minutes at the end of the pilot.

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After Purefoy is re-captured, Bacon confronts him in a holding facility. Purefoy sees his killing as art (he’s a literary professor, which at least gives some context for the never-ending barrage of references to “The Raven”) and he’s getting ready to start up a new work. He considers it a sequel to his first “story,” and he’s cast Bacon in the lead role. Purefoy’s monologue takes the familiar tropes and archetypes of serial-killer story and pokes at them. For example, Bacon’s character is one of the most clichéd “troubled man seeking redemption” characters to come around in a while, but his one-note, scowl-y persona is almost redeemed when Purefoy explicitly calls him out as a “troubled man seeking redemption.”

Purefoy’s monologue also addresses the most unpleasant part of the episode: the death of Sarah, the only one of Purefoy’s targets that Bacon was able to save, and the person he spends the entire episode trying to protect. When she dies, it’s more disappointing than scary: the show could have done several interesting things with her character that didn’t involve killing her. However, Purefoy taunts Bacon by framing her death as “the inciting incident” of his new work, something to give Bacon motivation, and it comes close to making it seem not only necessary, but kind of smart. The whole thing is very Kevin Williamson-y, which is absolutely a real word.

This one self-aware scene isn’t enough to make the rest of the pilot any less of a drag, but it does point the way to a version of this show that’s closer to Scream. Scream is sometimes criticized for thinking that meta-commentary is clever in itself, as if just pointing out a cliché makes it okay to indulge in that cliché. Scream does fall into this trap sometimes, but it’s mostly effective in using that commentary to liven up the proceedings while delivering a thrilling and entertaining slasher movie.

You can almost see a version of The Following that works the same way: a tense cat-and-mouse game played out between the disgraced hero and a villain that uses his own genre-saviness to gain the upper-hand. It would be thrilling, it would be meta-fictional, and it would almost certainly fall apart after one or two seasons. But boy, what a show it would be.

It’s also the sort of show you wouldn’t normally find on a network like Fox, and while Fox has claimed in advertisements that “you won’t believe The Following isn’t on a cable network,” you absolutely will believe it isn’t on a cable network. Sure, it looks good, it’s got famous actors, and it approaches Starz-levels of gore, but most successful cable dramas are defined by one of two things: they’re either highly cerebral stories like The Sopranos or Deadwood, or they fully embrace their trashiness, like the Strike Backs and Sparatcus’s of the world. You can’t have it both ways, and the creators of The Following would do well to realize that as soon as possible.

Dispatches From The Mainstream: 1/16/2013

Ludacris feat. Usher & David Guetta – Rest of My Life

Is someone trying to turn Ludacris into Pitbull? Because “Rest of My Life” is basically a remake of “Give Me Everything”—complete with the rallying cry of partying as a life-affirming act—with Usher standing in for Ne-Yo and the original breadwinner for D.T.P. in the place of Mr. Worldwide.

I’m not even complaining, really. Ludacris has enough personality in his voice alone to still be fun in the measly eight-line verses that Pitbull has restricted himself to, and a team-up with Usher is always welcome if just to hear Ludacris call him “Ursher.” A David Guetta-produced “here’s to life”-anthem just seems like an odd fit for a guy who once released an album called Chicken-n-Beer and whose two best songs are about getting into fights for no reason. Then again, one of Luda’s biggest hits was the uncharacteristically dramatic “Runaway Love,” so I guess most people are just looking for a different version of Ludacris than I am.

Whether this song is a case of executive meddling—entirely possible, as Luda’s recent singles have not been charting well—or just an artist exploring his secret love of European dance music, it’s not that bad. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the friction between Luda’s low-brow “Women, Weed and Alcohol”-based persona and D. Guetta’s unabashed pursuit of epic highs . The music video is especially bizarre, since Luda’s videos have historically been a little less “slow motion, emerging from the smoke” and a little more “giant cartoon hands” and “Austin Powers homage”. It’s a fun kind of bizarre, but I hope that Luda’s next single has a little more Luda.

Olly Murs feat. Flo-Rida – Troublemaker

Olly Murs is fine. He made a nice little career for himself in the UK before breaking through in America with “Heart Skips A Beat.” His only crime so far has been inadvertently tricking me into listening to Chiddy Bang. But I don’t want to talk about Olly Murs, I want to talk about Flo-Rida.

I don’t know if Flo-Rida has ever enjoyed rapping. The best things about his songs have always been the beat and the chorus. The chorus usually features a guest artist, but the weird thing is, Flo-Rida sings along with the chorus. He’s been doing it since “Low,” and while that sort of thing isn’t unusual for a singer, it’s kind of weird for a rapper. It’s there, though, if you listen closely: somewhere in the mix of every Flo-Rida chorus is the man himself, drenched in auto-tune and wailing along with whatever pop star/sample he’s built his song around.

Even in what we’ll charitably call Flo-Rida’s “lyrics,” the actual words have always taken a backseat to the rhythm he delivers them in. “Club Can’t Handle Me” is a fantastic song, but Flo’s verses are only good in the way they enhance the beat underneath. Then there are catastrophes like “I Cry,” which veers between condescending and disrespectful. Oh, really, Flo? The mass shooting in Norway made your whole day go sour? That’s rough, buddy. Not to mention the bridge: “When I need a healing, I just look up to the ceiling/I see the sun coming down, I know it’s all better now.” Flo is (probably) trying to tell us that his faith helps him through hard times, but it’s like he doesn’t know quite how to put the words together to form a coherent thought.

And now, in Troublemaker, Flo-Rida abandons rapping entirely. He’s just singing. It’s not as out-of-place as it would be if he featured on a rap song, but it’s still strange that he doesn’t even pretend to do the thing he was hired to do. Thing is, it’s not actually a bad bridge, even if it falls apart on close inspection: Flo, that’s not what Wyclef Jean was talking about when he said he would be gone ‘till November. It turned out better than it would have if he had tried to rap.

At this point, Flo needs to fully commit. He should go full-on 808s And Heartbreak (or, let’s be honest, full-on Rebirth) and just do an album full of straight singing. The vocals may be processed into oblivion, but at least it’ll be catchy… though the lyrics probably won’t make sense.

OneDirection – Little Things

In the morally deficient world of the “pickup artist” there’s this thing called “negging,” which basically means insulting a girl in order to lower her defenses, leaving her vulnerable to your lame, gross advances. The way I understand it, an effective neg has to be part of a longer, less overtly creepy conversation. After all, just walking up to a woman and insulting her isn’t going to get you anywhere; you have to at least say something nice so that she’ll have a reason to keep paying attention to you. Anyway, that’s what I think is happening in the new OneDirection song.

I’ve complained before about the darker side of OneDirection, and I understand that I’m being a little sensitive, but here’s the thing with boy bands: their songs are made to appeal to teenage girls. It’s different from a genre like hip-hop, which is highly problematic and often attracts a young audience, but at least isn’t built from the top-down to appeal to 12-year-olds. When you listen to the lyrics of an OneDirection song, you need to hear them the way a young girl would hear them.

And yeah, I get it: most girls are going to listen to this song and take it the way it was meant to be taken, as a proclamation of devotion in which the smaller, flawed things about a person are part of what make them special. I’m not against that in theory, but some of the things that the song singles out—“You still have to squeeze into your jeans”—seem less like little quirks and more like things that a guy points out to make his target feel self-conscious. Not letting your girlfriend know that she talks in her sleep isn’t cute, it’s actually kind of creepy. The worst part is the bridge. “You’ll never love yourself half as much as I love you”, like the chorus of “What Make You Beautiful”, is only sweet on the surface.  It suggests that if the girl ever gained any self-worth, the guy would split. It’s about 5% adorable and 95% manipulative. In fact, that pretty much sums up the entire band.