Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Review: Fringe and Life on Mars

Some of you have written recently asking about my thoughts on Fringe (Fox) and Life on Mars (ABC) two new shows in the same sci-fi vein as Lost. To be frank, I'm not a fan of either, though I'll admit some of my reasons are unreasonably subjective.

Let's begin with Life on Mars, which is actually a remake of a popular British show by the same name. I've never seen the original and have nothing in principle against remakes. Some of my best, favorite flicks and shows are remakes. I'm a big fan of both the U.K. and U.S. versions of the Office. I adore the new Battlestar Galactica. I even prefer Soderbergh's remake of Solaris to the Tarkovsky original, which is among the most sacred of movie cows.

What annoys me about Life on Mars is the casting. You'd think they can't go wrong with the likes of Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli, and the uber-sexy Gretchen Mol in major roles. But all that star power just distracts from the story. I keep thinking how goofy Imperioli looks with a Ringo Starr mustache, and that Mol is just too preposterously hot to be a policewoman. The show reached a new low recently with Whoopie Goldberg's cameo as a gender-bending radio DJ.

Here's where things become unreasonably subjective. The episode with Whoopie featured several actors from the Wire (HBO) which is one of my all-time favorite shows. My initial excitement, however, turned to annoyance as the Wire guys were relegated to bit parts that made them look ridiculous. Chris Bauer's wig was laughably bad and Chad Coleman's Black Panther "uniform" looked like something recycled from an old Bond film -- one of the campy ones.

I was particularly troubled by the treatment of Clarke Peters. He had no lines of significance -- they cast him as a corpse. I'm not sure what troubled me more, the waste of talent or the disturbing image itself. To paraphrase the great Clay Davis: Lester a coffin? Sheeeit! Still, I'm fascinated enough by the premise of Life on Mars that I'll probably check out the ballyhooed British series. At the very least, I won't be distracted by the same casting issues I have with the U.S. version.

Related concerns drive my distaste for Fringe, which isn't technically a remake but might as well be. Everything about it seems calculated to evoke the X-Files -- from the opening credits, which reference a series of paranormal subjects, to the actual stories, one of which involved accelerated aging. I happen to love the X-Files, and the writers of Fringe have, in fairness, been quite forthright about their creative debt. The show simply suffers by comparison to a classic.

One change Fringe makes to the formula is to have a team of three paranormal investigators, instead of a pair like Mulder and Scully. Unfortunately, the addition just confirms the adage that three is a crowd. Anna Torv is appealing enough (I've got a thing for Home-Pride haircuts) and Walter Bishop is probably the best thing going for the show. But the latter's son, played by Joshua Jackson, rubs me all the wrong ways. I just can't get past my distaste for Pacey...feh!

Then there's the problem of Lance Reddick. He was brilliant as Lt. Cedric Daniels on the Wire and has been perfect as Matthew Abbadon on Lost. But Reddick strikes me as horribly miscast as Agent Broyles on Fringe. It seems to me they want him to strike a hostile note that's totally at odds with his cool persona. I can still hear his shrill refrain of "Li-a-son" from the Pilot ringing awkwardly in my ears. It really irks me to see such a supremely talented actor misused.

Here again, however, you see my unreasonable subjectivity in full effect, so take my reviews with a grain of salt.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Heroes: Sylar and Peter Must Die...

Forget for a minute that Sylar is horribly miscast and the actor playing Peter is just plain horrible. The real problem with these characters is that they're way too powerful. Sure the writers might come up with ever more contrived ways for them to lose control of their powers or become otherwise disabled.

At some point, however, the show will become implausible, uninteresting, or both. Every season will boil down to yet another showdown between the two most powerful characters. The way I see it, there's only one way out of this narrative trap: Sylar and Peter must both die.

I've made no secret of my displeasure with the frankly sloppy writing that's marred the start of this season. The rock paintings that never fade after years in the sun was ridiculous. And the suggestion that Sylar and Peter are brothers strikes me as too much like a soap opera or fairy tale.

But the latter storyline may have a possible saving grace. I'd like to think Angela is plotting to change the future by ridding the world of evil mutantkind using Sylar. Once he's killed them and accumulated their powers, she will sacrifice Peter to rid the world of Sylar.

It's admittedly dark, but if Heroes has balls, that's where they'll go...