A heaping helping of TV-viewing gumbo, served to you by an array of tasteful individuals.
Based on the pilot, "Spartacus: Blood And Sand" will divide the people that view it. To call the series vastly derivative would be an understatement; the entire thing is nothing more than a long-winded cobbling-together of Gladiator and 300, with even more stylization, sex and violence. This isn't to say I didn't enjoy it or find it promising. In fact, it could prove to be very interesting. But buyer beware: this one won't be for everyone.
Produced by Sam Raimi's company, it's got a certain bit of that atmosphere left over from shows like "Hercules" and "Xena", now moved to their new creation "Legend Of The Seeker". It's a certain cheapness that comes with TV productions of period shows. In this case, their apeing of the style of 300, often to the point of copying shots, may help or hinder the feel of the show, but at least it's more interesting than the standard fare. This is no "Rome"; I don't think anyone will confuse this with a character drama.
The plot is more or less straight from the script of Gladiator. The character to be known as Spartacus goes to war, is betrayed by Romans, heads home to save his wife from murder and saves her only to have her taken from him and to be forced into slavery as a gladiator to fight his way back to freedom. There is the prerequisite amount of conniving douchebag Romans who plot and seek to gain the upper hand on the others. And titties. Lots of tittles. There's almost as much in the way of sex scenes as there are of digital gore. I suppose it helps that all the women are beautiful and the men ripple with muscle. It works for "True Blood".
As mentioned, there's quite a bit of violence, as one would imagine from a show about gladitorial combat. The fact that it's digital and often overly stylized to the point of being artistic is often a bit much and kind of weird-looking. It definitely doesn't look real all of the time, but it does prove to be interesting, even if it is inconsistent in the capacity to which they use it.
There's also a pleasing amount of cursing. It's not every day you hear Romans call someone a "cunt". There's a certain novelty to that, though it often seems a bit silly and anachronistic, like a bunch of Cockney thugs yelling at each other. And the actual dialogue, while not bad, is a bit trite and standard.
One of the interesting things about the writing is that the producers actually seem to want to be historically accurate with the series, at least as much as you can be about these virtually unknown eras of history. No plots here based on Howard Fast novels. No, this tale of Spartacus tacks together all of the various legendary notes and rumors of Spartacus' origin, as well as his name being derived from an ancient king. The way in which the elements are brought together are rather canny on the part of the show's creators. And it's surprising that it's as good as it is, coming from the loins of one of Joss Whedon's acolytes.
Given that the pilot of a series is not always the strongest episode of the series, "Spartacus" does have some promise. It's a very simple story and concept. The character portrayals are also rather simple, but, as I said, it's no character drama. It's all a setup for the sex and violence. Were it not very R-rated material, you'd think it was made for Spike TV instead of Starz.
For those looking to drink more from the font of 300, this may be for you. For those not looking for a bunch of silly violent shit, well, you might want to look elsewhere.
I’m a lifelong Star Trek fan. I was obsessed with the original & animated series and movies as a kid; I’ve played the video games, read the comics and played the tabletop roleplaying games, and still do every chance I get. I’ve had starship models and own every Trek tech manual and background book published. I stayed with Trek right up through Voyager, where I began to stray slightly… but that may have been due to all the booze I was drinking and all the skirts I was chasing at the time. Eventually, Nemesis came along and shot a pair of photon torpedoes right through my Trek love*. I never gave Enterprise a chance because I never made time for it… and the theme music did not help one bit.
(*I’ll re-watch Nemesis soon and maybe I’ll jot down my thoughts on it.)
Eventually 2009 arrived with a bold and fascinating treat: The new Star Trek film. I loved it, and even though my love for Trek in general hadn’t died, it was definitely operating at only one-quarter impulse. Star Trek changed that. It switched out my warp coils and gave me Warp 12 capability. All of a sudden I needed more Trek, and fast. I picked up all four seasons of Enterprise, and that helped to continue my Trek Love rekindling.
Rather than write a huge essay chock full my Enterprise thoughts as eloquent prose, I figured I’d just give you guys the bullet-point version. It’s easier that way for me since I just jot down things as they come to me and then I don’t have bother with a real “write up”.
Tactical Alert: This stellar region is riddled with spoilers and other space/time distortions. Also, if blue language offends you, you may need to engage a vocab-filter. You have been warned, pink-skin.
HBO's "Hung" is the latest in their attempts to recapture the glory of past years' pay cable ratings bonanzas.
Initially, exclusive programming on pay cable networks was an enticement to subscribers aside from the same old reruns of movies shown a thousand times. Later on, the made-for-pay-cable series was a jewel in the network's crown, award bait, and people lined up to catch the episodes as soon as they aired. HBO had been the leader in this area for most of pay cable history, churning out early series like "Not Necessarily The News", "1st & Ten", and, more recently, powerhouses like "The Sopranos", "Six Feet Under", and "Sex And The City". Aside from the actual quality or merit of these particular shows, they paved the way for the concept of non-network programming, edgy television, and award-winning television.
HBO has hit on harder times. The days of "The Soparanos" are gone. All their once-powerful, award-winning shows have ended. Showtime, after many false, sputtering starts has not only managed to develop a comparable level of programming but have totally surpassed HBO with a wave of fan favorites like "Dead Like Me", "Dexter", "Weeds", "The L Word" and a variety of new material that seems to make HBO's programming feel like a cheap, shallow imitation in comparison.
In many ways, it is this particular situation that works to the detriment of a show like "Hung", as the avid viewer's first reaction is that the new series has the feel of a darker, less-humorous, hour-long "Californication". This comparison might be apt in some capacity, but is a bit unfair to Thomas Jane's fledgling series, paired up with the overtly-sexual "True Blood".
Though some comparisons could be made between the elements and tones of the two shows, there are a variety of differences between "Californication" and "Hung" that could prove to be interesting in the future. Where David Duchovny portrayed a man giving in endlessly to his vices when he should know better, leading the audience to frustration that the character they are expected to relate to is too god-damned stupid to just move on to where we all know he's going. While it did prove amusing to some extent and offered humorous situations for Hank Moody to flounder in, "Californication" fell into a trap of providing the audience with a smart, likable lead that should know better and is regressing out of personal flaws and obstinance. His only conflict was internal: a man against his own subconscious desire to ruin his life through immature acts.
"Hung" at least provides a more compelling starting point for our ostensible hero. Ray Drecker, played by the afore-mentioned Thomas Jane, is a single dad to a set of twins, divorced, a teacher and a coach. After being left by his former beauty queen wife, Ray moves back into his childhood home with his twins and continues his bland life as father, history teacher, and coach until a house fire leaves him alone, camping in his back yard, trying to scrounge enough to rebuild his ruined home. Realizing that he's a nobody, a complete loser who's never accomplished anything, he desperately looks for a get-rich quick scheme to return his life to normal and provide a home for his ever-more-distant children. The particular get-rich-quick scheme that Ray is led to is whoring himself out as a gigolo.
Now, on one hand you have a promising talent that wastes his gifts and acts like a retarded child, on the other you have a nobody that is trying to make anything of his life to better his family situation and give some meaning to a wasted existence. The latter is, ultimately, a deeper and more sustainable story, but whether it will come to fruition at all remains to be seen. The first episode was interesting and amusing in a slightly perverse way, but gives little indication as to where the season will lead.
One of the more interesting points is the total avoidance of attractive characters. Typically, any TV show will feature inordinately attractive individuals in as many main roles as possible, as it's TV... Hot people are nice to look at. But this show actively avoids the beautiful people. Ray's twins are chunky nerds, his former prom queen ex-wife is average-looking, and most other people in the cast are anywhere between weathered and somewhat ugly. The show does take place in Detroit, but everyone is surprisingly plain, which could also prove to be an interesting element of the show.
In the coming weeks, "Hung" will either prove to be an interesting addition to HBO's line-up or will be another weak attempt to match Showtime's lead.
From the time I was about 11 until I was out of high school (so this puts us at about 1987-1994) I was a big fan of sitcoms. Not all sitcoms mind you. Being a child of the eighties there was literally not enough time in the day to watch every sitcom that NBC, ABC and CBS produced, though to be fair I can't remember a single CBS sitcom until "Murphy Brown" or so.
But ABC and NBC? It was a new golden age for sitcoms."The Cosby Show." "Night Court." "Cheers." "Diff'rent Strokes." "Facts of Life." "Webster." "Who's The Boss." "Growing Pains." Sweet Christmas, it was a time to watch some situation comedies, I tell you!
(CBS had the previously mentioned "Murphy Brown" in addition to "Evening Shade," which was brilliant, but those were the exceptions to the CBS rule. CBS existed for one purpose for me; to show "The Flash" series and since that only lasted one season the whole channel could have gone up in flames for all I cared.)
The sitcom died for me the day "Seinfeld" and "Friends" came on the scene. Both of these were immensely popular, which to this day baffles me. I know people liked these series and I can't for the life of me figure out why. They were boring. Boring and retarded really. I mean it's like Corky from "Life Goes On" reading the phone book: sure you can laugh at the guy with Down's Syndrome and the weird way in which he talks, but he's reading the goddam phone book, so what's the point?
"Friends" was about six people I didn't give a shit about doing things that, in the end, annoyed the piss out of me. "Seinfeld" was NEVER FUNNY! It wasn't. If you thought it was that's fine, but for me the show was about four douche bags who were constantly trying to humiliate and fuck each other over on a weekly basis. Sure George had that bad ass Justice League poster over his bed, but I'm not going to watch a show because of a poster. And then there's Kramer. Why did this man become a cultural icon? Can someone explain this to me?
On the other hand, don't. I don't want to vomit blood tonight.
So the sitcom I loved as a youth was dead. A wacky family (either those related to each other or those that chose to be) thrown together with messed up situations coming their way was out. In their place we got the friends living near each other and doing a whole hell of a lot of nothing. Sometimes there were married couples, like "Mad About You," but that never made the situation better. Outside of "Wings" the nineties were a dead zone of humor and things in the new millennium weren't any better.
"Everybody Loves Raymond" makes me want to kill. I hate this show. I want this show to burn in hell for eternity. I know it has ended, but TBS and other channels refuse to let it die. This show created a template for sitcoms that causes me to wake up in a cold sweat and then have to cry myself to sleep because such a thing exists in the same world that I live in.
The format is simple: take a husband and father who means well but always seems to screw up, usually by saying or doing something so stupid that retarded kids mock him on an hourly basis. He has a wife, who delights in proving how much smarter she is than her husband and constantly berates him for the dumb things he does. The supporting cast is up in the air, but will usually involve a parent-in-law that the wife or the husband is forced to deal with and a brother or friend of some sort. Sometimes there are even kids. Put it all in a pot and you have a shit stew that is guaranteed five-year run. There were some variations on the theme. For a time it was the chubby guy with the hot wife, but mostly it was the guy getting into some situation that a friend or his wife or the in-laws or Cousin Ricky the child molester has to get him out of.
I loathe sitcoms now.
So why the hell did I participate in an audience survey for one?
Last week I got a call from some group that wanted me to watch a sitcom and tell them what I thought about it. Having nothing much going on I figured what the hell and had them send me the package. Yesterday, the day I was supposed to watch the show, the package arrived in the mail and contained:
It hit me while looking through the first book that the endeavour had more to do with commercials than the show. Suddenly I smelled a rat. The whole thing felt like a set-up. I read through the rest of the directions and found out what was expected of me. Apparently there are prizes involved, which I don't care about because I participated more out of boredom than to get free shit. Still, it's amazing how much crap was in that book.
The instructions told me not to put the DVD into my computer, not to take notes and to watch the show only once. On the back was a survey to take after the show which contained the usual bullshit questions that all surveys contain. After doing all of that I popped the DVD into my player (which had to be connected to a television, they were very firm on this) and after going through a few menus I finally got to the show.
I want to have the people who were involved in this killed. Killed only after watching their families getting raped and killed Death Wish style. This show was... God, I can't articulate how moronic this show was.
It was called "The Rocky LaPorte Show" and it goes like this: Rocky is an average guy who works for the phone company. He has a wife, a smart ass daughter, a brainy son and a wacky friend. The plot (and I insult all plots by calling it a plot) is that Rocky (played by supposed stand up comedian Rocky LaPorte) is trying to figure out what to get his wife (played by one of the Cusaks) for their anniversary. His daughter pleads with him to get something good because she's tired of her mother coming into her room and crying after Rocky has fucked up in some way. After consulting his friend Sean (played by Matthew Glave, who was Glenn in The Wedding Singer) he buys a large fake diamond for $1,000 and then can't give it to her after she gets him season tickets to his favorite team. So he returns the fake diamond (to the jewelry store which was first staffed by the very amusing Missi Pyle and then by the guy from the WaMu commercials) after learning how to dance and impresses his wife with a romantic evening.
About as funny finding out you have the HIV.
Sure Sean was kind of amusing. Sure Missi Pyle was funny. But that was it. This show was a cookie cutter sitcom that would probably do well on Monday nights on CBS. Nothing about this show was original and Rocky had the stiffest delivery ever. It's like they shot the dress rehearsal and called it a day. It makes me wonder if this is how pilots usually look because if that's the case I'm surprised that anything gets green-lit.
Filling out the program evaluation was problematic mostly because I couldn't find enough space to write, "What the hell were you people thinking? Is this the best you have to offer? I know it said that this show is old and that it may be broken down in its component parts to be used in other sitcoms but, sweet baby Jesus on fire, this show sucked. And why were there commercials? What the fuck were commercials doing on a DVD like this? Oh wait, you wanted to see if I would remember the commercials later. That's why you gave me those books that look like the ordering guide to a convenience store. It all makes sense now. It wasn't about the show at all, was it? You bastards. How can you sleep at night by fooling those who are simpler than I am? Well, I see through your game now. So you need to just fuck off and die and you need to fuck off and die right now."
There wasn't room for this. Instead I wrote, "The whole show is like every other sitcom CBS produces." Which gets my point across but isn't as dramatic.
So that was my experience as being a member of a test audience and this is what I've learned: the next time someone calls and asks if I watch sitcoms and then offers me a chance to see a new show I am going to tell them to go to hell and die.
Thank you for your time and attention.