Monday, December 29, 2008

Best of 2008...

The following list of my favorite things from 2008 is for your eyes only. Also, people who are not you can read it as well. You may feel free to read it to others nearby, or over the phone if you feel so inclined.

Big laughs:
Step Brothers is the funniest movie I have seen in ages, and Big Bang Theory makes me chuckle every week and Hamlet 2 is the new Napoleon Dynamite. SNL had a few great moments (most courtesy of Anne Hathaway) and Jizz in my Pants will be around for a while. Eddie Izzard is incredible live, and I am lucky to still be breathing after his performance. I am also hilarious. You are welcome world.

Braid: Play Braid. Complete Braid. Send your gratitude.

Dr Horrible: I met Neil Patrick Harris. I actually met Dr Horrible. The DVD arrived this week, and "Commentary! The Musical!" is fantastic. More music was written for the all signing commentary track than for the actual movie, features most of the cast, and contains a rock ballad about an online flash game, a song about a guy with a lisp, and a tune on how there are no Asian actors/actresses in movies and TV. Also, I want to have Felicia Day groomed by Tycho...

Rock Band: I have spent more time with Rock Band (and now Rock Band 2) than I have with any game since Tetris. I have played with different people ranging from 5 year old children, to classy "I don't play video games" girls, to senior citizens, and everyone found immense pleasure from the experience. I currently own 203 songs, and with more coming every week, including the just released No Doubt pack (sadly lacking "New"(but containing "Running!? WHY?!)) and March's release of Pearl Jam's "Ten". Harmonix has an amazing IP on their hands. Now if only they can get the whole Beatles thing right...

New music: 2007 was an amazing year for music, and while 2008 wasn't as great, there was a lot to love. Kings of Leon now have some fame, and Sex on Fire was a great way to introduce them to the world. Viva La Vida is a great album, with the title track being one of the best songs of the year. Death Cab for Cutie's Narrow Stairs struck a unique chord with its finely tuned mixes and wonderful I Will Possess Your Heart. My favorite lyric of the year is courtesy of Katy Perry with "the taste of her cherry Chapstick" even if she hasn't struck a permanent chord with with me quite yet. With solid releases from Weezer and The Killers and Vampire Weekend, not a lot to complain about.

Prince of Persia: Stop your whining you whiners! Who cares if the game is very simple, easy to pick up and play, simple to master, and if it steals/borrows the main conventions of superior titles like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. IF IT IS FUN, THEN SHUT UP AND ENJOY YOURSELF. While I am not as enamored as certain people like IGN's Hilary, I had a lot of fun with the Prince. Simple yet great flowing gameplay, wonderful story with a solid ending, and the best visuals and artistic style since Okami. I am looking forward to a sequel.

Comic book movies: Between Iron Man, Dark Knight, Hellboy 2 and now The Spirit, this has been a great year for the comic book movies. Even the previews, like Watchmen and Wolverine, have made the year better. While I might only read the occasional comic nowadays (Buffy) they were a large part of my youth and I keep up with the big news. I still don't care for anything Hulk related, though.

Me: Yes, I am one of my favorite things this year. I have found an incredible group of friends, made dramatic self improvement by losing another 30lbs on top of building up my muscles, and I love my job. I also have a nicer TV than you... unless yours is nicer... in which case, gimme.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Only the Good Get Cancelled Young- Part 3...

Veronica Mars: If your best friends (the industry's best and brightest) told you that there was this amazing girl (Veronica Mars) and that you would enjoy her company, that she is perfect for you, then you would give her a call, wouldn't you? Well if you were UPN/CW and the American Public in general, you never even picked up the phone. Veronica Mars was one of those shows that did absolutely everything right, but never drew the audience it needed to stick around. The show stars Kristen Bell as teenager Veronica Mars. She lives in a California coast town, Neptune, that is deeply divided between the haves and have-nots. She lives with her father, the former town sheriff who was forced out of office when he was unable to solve the mysterious death of Lily Kane, Veronica's best friend, sister to her true love (at the time) Duncan, and daughter to some very rich and powerful people. Keith, Veronica's father, opens up a detective agency, and young Veronica quickly shows her knack for solving mysteries, both for her father's agency, and for her class mates at school. The show uses Lily's murder as it's main plot point for the first season (another tradegy fills that role for seasons 2 and 3) with each weekly episode showing a little more of the truth, while Veronica and father solve other crimes, while also keeping normal social lives and going to high school.

Despite doing everything right, Veronica Mars never made it out of the bottom of the ratings bucket... of failure...? On average, Veronica Mars reached about 2 million viewers, a solid number, but for it's Tuesday night slot, not nearly enough. The fact that it was on the unpopular UPN/CW did not help Veronica's case. It steadily gained new viewers each year, despite a difficult transition to a college setting for the final season. Veronica never got the ending it deserved either, as it was never really cancelled, but put on hiatus in the winter (replaced with the Pussycat Dolls reality show), after which 5 more episodes were produced to make it a complete season, and then just not renewed. Creator Rob Thomas (Dawson's Creek, not the singer) made a great preview for season 4 where Veronica became a rookie FBI agent, several years after the 3rd season concluded. Sometimes a show can do everything right, from the theme song ("We Use to be Friends" by the Dandy Warhols) to the amazing cast (Bell and Enrico Colantoni as Keith Mars) to critical acclaim (Joss Whedon calls it the "Best. Show. Ever.") and never find the audience it deserves. So the next time that you get told to call the girl, pick up the phone.

Angel: Fox hates (hated?) Joss Whedon, and Angel is the last nail in the coffin of proof. To keep it simple, Angel remade itself from 2 years of serial storytelling into a weekly series and turned the character's world upside down. Now in charge of the evil lawfirm (ya read that right) Wolfram and Hart, Angel and co. now had the power to make a true difference in the world. Angel had a great run, and truly became it's own show, seperating itself from Buffy quite well, but the timing and nature of the cancellation is what hurts. Whedon was given JUST enough time to make a good finale (I want to fight the dragon) and the series found new life in comic book form (don't bother reading past issue 5 unless you are a big fan, in which case, you are already reading). Despite gaining it's highest ratings since it's premier, Angel was cancelled during the celebration of the 100th episode. No reason was provided at all. Costs were down, ratings up, it was the only Whedon show on the air, fans loved the new premise, dogs and cats were working together... everything was lined up for a 6th season to continue the magic, but Jordan Levin (WB's Head of Entertainment) cancelled the show without ever providing a valid reason. Ouch.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Only the Good Get Cancelled Young- Part 2...

Garth Marenghi's Darkplace: Darkplace is a show within a show, and sadly, only lasted 6 episodes back in 2004. Here is the premise; Garth Merenghi (played by Matthew Holness) is a horror writer with a giant British ego (the rest of him is British too) who describes himself as a "dream weaver" and "shaman" among other things. Garth decided to adapt his books into a TV series based in a hospital, where strange and horrific incidents happen. It is a cheesy, cheaply produced, poorly written (by Marenghi himself) 80s drama. Sadly, the show Garth Marenghi created never made it to air. What we as viewers watch is Garth Marenghi (Holness) airing his lost 80s TV drama, which stars himself as the lead doctor Dr Rick Dagless (Holness plays Marenghi who plays Dagless), producer/costar Dean Leaner (actor is Richard Ayoade) who plays hospital admin Thornton Reed, costar Todd Rivers who plays Dr Lucien Sanchez (also played by Holness...) and Madeline Wool playing Dr Liz Asher (Alice Lowe in real life). We not only watch these characters play these characters, but they also do commentary of the original show, with exception of Lowe/Wool/Asher, who mysteriously disappeared after Darkplace was produced. Go ahead and re-read those last 2 sentences again, I understand.

The show is a spoof of itself, and makes no apologies. Imagine if Mystery Science Theater 3000 had the cast acting as other characters... that is the best way to describe Darkplace. It takes place in modern times, with Marenghi showing his failed 80s TV series, and complimenting himself and his "art" all along the way. Marenghi's ego is what really makes the show work, with his name appearing in nearly every credit, including the music "based on melodies originally whistled by Garth Marenghi." You can find the majority of the show on YouTube (HERE YA GO). This is one of those rare shows that may BENEFIT from a short lifespan, but I would love to see a few more hours of what Dr Rick Dagless, aka Garth Marenghi, aka Matthew Holness had in him.

Dead Like Me: Any TV show that has it's title based on a classic novel written by John Howard Griffin must be a winner, and Dead Like Me is no exception. This Showtime program aired in June 2003 through October 2004, for 2 seasons. We follow 18 year old Georgia Lass. George, as she prefers to be called, is a slacker who cares about nothing, lives with her parents and sister, and is being forced to get a job by her mother now that she is no longer taking classes. While on lunch at her first day of work at the Happy Time Temp agency, a toilet seat falls from the sky from Mir space station, incinerating young George where she stands. Instead of dying, George finds herself wandering around, and learns she must become a grim reaper. Her task is to take the souls of those who are about to die in painful and gory situations, and escort them to the other side. She must also lead a "normal" human life, however she cannot be harmed or killed again.

Georgia works with several other reapers. The incomparable Mandy Patinkin plays Rube, the eldest and leader of the reapers. She is also joined by Mason, a British stoner, Roxy, a hard skinned traffic enforcer, Betty, an upbeat woman who quickly befriends George, and later Daisy, a starlet from the 30s. George returns to her Happy Time job as her new persona Millie, and finds herself living life for the first time despite now being dead. She works with the wonderful Delores Herbig played by the hilarious Christine Willes. The show lost a lot of the zest that made it unique in the first season, especially after creator Bryan Fuller left due to arguements with MGM. While some reports say that the ratings were over three times higher than the average show on Showtime, the full numbers, and reason for cancellation, have never been released. A direct to DVD movie has been commisioned, but is now 18 months behind schedule. Dead Like Me remains one of the most petitioned shows online and continues to have a very strong fan base.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Only the Good Get Cancelled Young- Part 1...

For those of you who don’t remember (AND HOW DARE YOU!) I purchase a nice new big screen back in May. Don’t believe me? HERE YA GO. Since then, I have had a lot of fun. I have played some great Xbox 360 games, watched some Blu-Rays on a borrowed PS3 (Speed Racer is the movie equivalent to dropping acid) and watched lots of TV in HD. Sadly, most of the TV I have watched has sucked.

For some reason, this year’s crop of new TV shows has been below my normal TV viewing standards. The only shows I look forward to watching are House, Big Bang Theory, Fringe and The Office. Chuck is fun on occasion, but Heroes and other former favorites (and anything new) have been big let downs. What have I done instead of watching new TV programming? I have dug back into the TV archives with some great DVD collections. So which shows do I think were cut loose before their prime? 6 great series come to mind right off the bat.

Firefly: I will say very little about Firefly, because so much has been said, and so much has been done in regards to this instant Joss Whedon classic. Fox hopefully learned its lesson for the most part after manhandling this show, giving Whedon another chance with this fall’s Dollhouse. Firefly is clever, wonderfully written, atmospheric and deep. Thankfully we got a taste of what was to come with the movie Serenity, but Firefly will long remain the number one “cancelled before its time” show for many of us.

Carnivale: Carnivale premiered on HBO in September 2003 with a critically acclaimed first season, but after a slow start to the second season, the show was cancelled before the 3rd season went into production. Set in the 1930s dustbowl, Carnivale follows the story of Ben Hawkins as he loses his mother and joins a travelling carnival of freaks and weirdoes. Ben has the power to heal people, but does not understand how his power works, or the consequences it brings. He slowly learns about his past, and how he is connected to those are the carnival, and why he has this power. We also follow the story of Methodist preacher Brother Justin Crowe and his sister Iris in California. Justin is a God fearing man, a Russian immigrant who survived a train crash along with his sister, and was taken in by the church. He slowly comes to realize he has incredible dark powers, and begins amassing an army of loyal followers of the church, close to 20,000 at his side and hundreds of thousands via the radio, by the time the show ends. Ben and Justin are the opposing forces of good and evil, and are on a quest to destroy the other, though they have never met.

The show focuses on magic and mystery, the stories of the fellow carnies, and the ultimate battle that is to come. The story is told in flashbacks that the main characters suddenly have, as if their destiny is magically written for them. Sadly, due to a very slow 2nd season start, the show was cancelled just as things became truly interesting. Ben has found his boon and inherited new powers, we learn how sick and twisted Justin truly is, and even the secondary and tertiary characters shine bright. I would love to follow the story in any medium, either film or television or book or comics or anything. They planned a total of 6 seasons, and many small clues that appeared since the first episode will continue to remain mysteries now and forever.