Television

Some people call it the "idiot box"; we call it a good 10 hours of our day.

fringe.jpgrating-3.0Already one of the most hyped and heavily-advertised shows of the Fox fall season (even though it won't premiere for at least another three months), "Fringe" is a product of J.J. Abrams and "the writers of Transformers" if you believe the commercials. Abrams is still riding high on being the man behind "Felicity", "Alias" and "Lost" (even though he directed the reprehensibly bad Mission: Impossible III) and this new show for Fox is reminding us hard of that fact. Oh, how Fox would like to segue this pilot into a "Lost"-level success for their network, but, if the pilot is any indication, all they'll be recreating is their own history.

A biological disaster on a plane segues into a weak and somewhat incoherent tale of an FBI agent trying to cure her boyfriend of some science-fiction ailment that turns his body clear, exposing the inner workings to look "cool". She recruits Joshua Jackson of "Dawson's Creek" to get his father out of the looney bin, as he was a secret government scientist who used to work on all manner of sci-fi bullshit.

Well, as quick as you can say "X-Files", you're up to your balls in weirdness, nebulous conspiracies that exist only to make the viewers tune in to find out more, and flimsy plotting. In fact, the whole thing reeks of the early 90's Fox era, including all the old hits like "The X-Files", "VR.5" and "Strange Luck". It's like one of the huge failures of generic Friday night sci-fi Fox televison was cracked out of cyrofreeze and had modern effects slapped all over it to make it seem like more than just another rehashing of the "government dabbles in pseudoscience and keeps it secret with the help of shadowy conspiracy figures so that they can control the world" type crap, which at this point just stinks of cliche.

The plot is desperately slim, providing very little of interesting substance for its fairly two-dimensional characters. In fact, you'll be lucky if you even catch most of their names. And if you're surprised by the ending, well then I have a series of children's books you'll surely enjoy. The lead, Anna Torv, is yet another import, pulling off a not-entirely-natural American accent and character, but is more or less decent, though not one of the more charasmatic or interesting leads of the past many years. Joshua Jackson, on the other hand, is and it's good to see him again after only catching him in fare like Cursed, The Skulls, Cruel Intentions, and Urban Legend. While some of those films were enjoyable (definitely not talking about The Skulls), Jackson has been severely underused, as he's a very amusing, amiable, and charasmatic actor and this kind of lead suits him. Unfortunately, the show might not be up to the snuff that would be beneficial to Jackson's career. Most of the acting is decent, but it's not the kind of character-driven writing that will really give any of the actors anything much to do.

The visuals take a step to be cinematic and give an above-standard appearance, but in this day and age nothing about the whole thing is impressive and it's all about 5 years behind the times and badly in need of much better writing if it hopes to make it through the fall. And knowing Fox's predilictions for destroying sci-fi shows with bad ratings, not even the "Lost" buzz and the Abrams name can keep it afloat if it's just a snore-worthy "X-Files" riff that brings nothing new or interesting to the table. In fact, it could stand to step up to the bar set by "The X-Files", a show I don't even really like, as it's still not there yet. Hopefully Abrams and his team will think long and hard about these things over the coming months, otherwise it'll probably be cancelled in six months.

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cracker.jpg"Cracker" was the short-lived American adaptation of the popular British series starring Robbie Coltraine. The Jimmy McGovern-created BBC series told the tale of a flawed, deeply-damaged forensic psychiatrist dealing with the decay of his family and his gambling and alcoholism while helping to solve difficult cases.

The American version featured "Murphey Brown" alumnus Robert Pastorelli as the titualar suspect-breaker, Dr. Gerry Fitzgerald (modified from the British "Eddie Fitzgerald"), better known to all as "Fitz".

Pastorelli excels playing the very damaged and bitter drunk, gambling away the family funds while dealing with a wife, teenage son and daughter, and unplanned newborn baby. He veers wildly back and forth from hollow human being on the verge of self-destruction to a driven man with a gift to understand the human mind. And he uses the brute force of his intellect to tear down everyone around him.

The better moments of "Cracker" come in the rebuilding of episodes from the British series, but the real joy is not in the plot so much as the excellent performances put together for this series.

Though it is often criticized as inferior to the original, I have always found the American version to be a brighter, more humorous, lighter affair, but it trims away the fat from the exceptionally long UK episodes to create lean 1-hour stories that may strip away some nuance but leaves nothing but the best meat to chew on and the best scenes to watch and leaving behind the bleak and boring moments.

Far too early for its time, the show would play well today, as it possesses the qualities of many of today's most popular hits. For its time period, it featured an uncomfortable level of forensic accuracy and detail that would delight today's more "C.S.I."-centric audiences. And Fitz's brusque and caustic nature harkens to our Dr. House and his imitators, a sharp and flawed persona that undoubtedly struck a sour note with the audiences of 1997, who had no interest in the show, but would easily draw in audiences in this day and age.

A network could do worse than to try to resurrect this show yet again, though it would be called derivative and pointless today, though it birthed much of what you see on TV and is more intellectually pleasing, in either version, than anything on the air.

The episodes themselves are often acting tour de forces or real mindfucks, often both. If you're not drawn in by the end of the two-part first episode to the character and the dialogue, then you'll have no interest in watching further to see the excellent writing and the array of impressive cameos by then-unknowns, including the ditching of "Law & Order: SVU" star Mariska Hargitay after the pilot episode to be replaced by Angela Featherstone (not necessarily a bad move at the time).

I can't think of another dramatic series that I have so longed to see return to TV and hoped that, maybe someday, the networks would realize the terrible error they had made, brining it back to TV with the original cast... Until the moment Robert Pastorelli died.

The set of double-sided DVD's fits the 16 filmed episodes of the series onto four discs. The set may be inexpensive and a bit cheaply-made, but the series is not. Probably one of the best and most wrongly unacclaimed shows to appear on television in the past 20 years, at least the series finally has its moment to be seen and for Pastorelli's brilliant legacy to live on.

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haeckels_talerating-1.5"Clive Barker's Haeckel's Tale", as they like to sell it, is a real piece of shit.

John McNaughton's involvement is a selling point of the episode, yet Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer was eons ago and seems like a fluke in his career, the odd interesting and visceral movie amongst a sea of crap. More recent is McNaughton's Wild Things and a series of other second-rate unknown pictures. Why he was invited to be involved, based solely on the weight of Henry, is a question I will always ask myself... Well, I would say "whenever I watch this episode," but I will never watch it again.

Clive Barker's involvement is no great selling point either, even if it's just based on a short story, as he is something of an incredible hack and the few decent ideas he's had have come more out of stylization and concept design than execution, invention, or any semblance of interesting writing. If this is any representation of his work, he should have his ability to write revoked.

Though I imagine much of the script's blame is on "Masters Of Horror" creator Mick Garris, whose tin ear for a worthwhile plot comes through yet again in this turd, which is on the same level as Orgy Of The Dead, nothing more than a softcore porn with zombified people standing around to watch the sex act.

In fact, as stupid as it is, I'm surprised anyone bothered writing a script. McNaughton shows much more similarity to Wild Things in this movie than anything like Henry's dark documentarian style. It's a seemingly Victorian fable that quickly takes a turn toward the too-colorful and too-sexual, barely having enough material to even fill the time of the alotted show, instead padding it out with long sections of nothing.

If this episode teaches you anything it's that John McNaughton is severely overrated, Clive Barker can't fucking write worth a shit, and Mick Garris should only perform in a production capacity, because he's a shitty writer, mediocre director, and bad fucking judge of worthwhile story.

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pick_me_uprating-3.0"Pick Me Up" is one of the better episodes, not because of the story but because its another Larry Cohen adventure. Cohen has a long history of off movies from Q: The Winged Serpent to God Told Me To to It's Alive! It's great to see another opportunity to see Cohen produce something strange and interesting and it's also a good chance to see him reunited with former collaborator Michael Moriarty, who does an excellent job of getting to his dark side as a serial killer in this tale of two serial killers fighting over a single piece of prey, a girl played by Fairuza Balk.

The particulars of the plot are fairly inconsequental, though they play out nicely, but the actors are the real stars of the show. The juxtapostion of the young, hitchhiking serial killer and his older, truck-driving rival are interesting, especially in the handling of their alternate motivations and the frictions between them.

There's plenty of violence to keep people entertained, but it's Cohen and his gang of excellent actors that take the day on this one, which, otherwise, would have been as dull as half of the rest of the season.

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