Saturday, October 03, 2009

Who Knows Where The Time Goes

I’d be more than happy to blame my recent malaise on the changing season, and in particular the recent Autumnal equinox. But it would be too easy to apportion the blame elsewhere, thereby neglecting any or all the contributing factors involved. To blithely ignore them would no doubt leave the way open for the Black Dog to come snuffling back around, and I can do without that intrusion now or some time in the foreseeable future.

Strangely enough, as we enter the new month things are turning out quite well. Thanks to a new combined zeledronic acid and celecoxib drug trail the earlier bad news from home isn’t as bad as initially thought. If the writing has recently fallen into a rut due to a wayward writing partner, a couple days back I was invited to a party she’s going to be attending, and her assistant is already helping devise a plan where we hold her down and administer Chinese burns until she promises to adhere to our revised schedule.

As a bonus, a producer and a couple of directors it would be worth talking to are also expected to be there, along with a few other industry herberts. No sooner had my RSVP gone out, I received an email from an American jewellery designer I met a long time back in a bar on the Upper East Side and sadly lost contact with over the last few years. Much as I don’t see the point in people posting their Scrabble scores of whatever the hell it is they’re doing with some nonsense called FarmVille, facebook has finally proved useful for something.

So all things considered, things are on the up. Whether everything goes to plan remains to be seen, which I suppose brings me to FlashForward. Gradually purchasing less and less newspapers and magazines over the years, instead reading whatever interests me on the various publications’ websites, I’ve reached the point of pretty where I now only buy The Times on Saturday – and that’s specifically for the Samurai Sudoku, which isn’t available online, and the television listings in the Playlist supplement.

So unless I’ve read an article promoting an upcoming drama, comedy or documentary, it’s only at pretty much the last minute that I discover what’s on the television. That really wasn’t much of a bother during the summer months, where for most of the time turning on the set was the equivalent of staring into a bathtub filled with raw sewage, but now that the nights are started to draw in a few diamonds have begun to appear amongst the usual turds, like the recent chilling three-part documentary series The Last Nazis.

Then there was the return of Waking the Dead and Spiral, both of which I had expected to have at least got wind of in one of the many press releases regularly posted on the BBC website. But obviously they were more concerned with trumpeting the bunch of gormless, leaden-footed D-listers about to be squeezed into glad rags, spunked with sequins, and sent out onto the dance floor to aimlessly clomp around with all the graceless precision of a tranquillized water buffalo. So seeing the pair of dramas suddenly being tossed into the schedules was a welcome surprise.

This past Monday, Five sprang FastForward upon us, less than a week after it had premiered in the US. I knew it was coming but didn’t realise it would be so soon. Missing the initial broadcast because the grim concluding part of Waking the Dead had precedence, I tried watching it on the channel’s website. Foiled by repeated buffering issues, which wasn’t that surprising since the internet here had been playing silly buggers for the best part of the week, I simply waited until yesterday’s repeat.

After stumbling during its third season, when Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof had the smarts to explain to the network that they needed an end date for Lost, asking for two more years, it’s obvious that the suits at ABC got them to agree to the same number of episodes spread over three years just so they had the extra time to find its replacement. Even without the Oceanic Airlines prominent in the background during the FBI stakeout, from just the first act of FlashForward it was obvious that the drama got the green light because it met the brief of being like Lost but different.

To be honest I could have done without the kangaroo and the overdone devastation wrought on downtown LA following the collective blackout. Given the importance of the arterial freeways running through the heart of the city, all manner of car crashes and extensive pile-ups were to be expected. But since the twisted steel of automobiles wasn’t as cinematically sexy as, say, the remnants of a commercial airliner spread across the virgin sands of a tropical island, the programme makers seemed to feel the need to set a fair number of buildings on fire as well.

However briefly the dancing tongues of flame brightened up the screen, they ultimately proved to be a distraction, simply because I found myself taken out of the drama to wonder what had started the more isolated fires, especially since with the enforced smoking bans in the workplace they couldn’t be explained away by a dropped cigarette. Obviously there was the news helicopter that had flown into the side of one skyscraper, proving that either wounds have sufficiently healed or that TV waits for no man. It was just a shame that the company Digital Deeds Done Dirt Cheap seemed to have been hired to carry out the effects work.

With those occasional misfires aside, it certainly appeared to be an intriguing premise. Whereas Lost could take its own sweet time during the first year to establish the connections between the not so disparate strangers exploring the strange land, hopefully FastForward will see the lead characters get on and concentrate more on the investigation of the global event rather than have characters get all touchy-feely as they try to come to terms with the aftermath. With a due date already fixed there’s liable to be less fannying around as the pieces gradually start to come together.

Obviously the characters have to have their doubts and I liked that Joseph Fiennes’ FBI partner didn’t experience a future vision, suggesting that he’ll be dead by season’s end. Of course it could be that the chap finds himself either asleep or knocked unconscious at the time, or it could be that in casting John Cho in the role creator David S. Goyer was on the phone to JJ, asking how long they had before the actor was needed for the next Star Trek movie.

Whatever his outcome, it’s obvious that the answers the first season finale provides will instigate an event that leads into the next year, and that can cause problems with certain plot-driven dramas. While characters on screen indulge in scenes of weeping and rending of garments, for the audience at home there’s always some trepidation investing in a new, untried show.

If viewers tail off further down the line there is always the danger that the ratings drop leads to the show’s cancellation before it reaches its resolution. Not having the prescience to know whether FastForward will be a success, the danger is in buying into the drama now only to find it has all been a waste of time.


At 8:14 am, Blogger Brian Sibley said...

Thanks for the insight into the show - have been noticing the huge posters all over London and wondered...

It sounds potentially good (apart from crap effects) but as someone who managed to kick the Lost habit, it's doubtful if I ought to start on this one...

Still, Kangaroos.............

At 3:01 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

I missed the posters, but I’ve just seen in the listings that the channel is showing the first episode again tonight. So that’s three times it has been on in the first week. Five certainly want people to catch the show. But then since the show has been touted as the new US drama to watch for some months and, I assume, has been relentless hyped in TV-related magazines, Five must have written a pretty decent cheque to snatch this away from Sky.

Of course that doesn’t mean it’s going to keep the show. If FastForward takes off and becomes really popular, no doubt Murdoch’s evil minions will be lurking in the shadows, ready to snatch it away like they did with House and Lost from Channel 4.

I stuck with Lost, and have so say that once an end point was in place the drama seriously picked up and started to get really interesting. But the thing I find with a lot of these densely-plotted, long-running dramas is whether they are actually being made for TV broadcast or DVD boxset sales. When an ongoing, plot-driven drama has numerous story threads in play, it’s easier to watch on disc – when you can immediately watch the next episode – rather than watch it in weekly instalments, spread out over five or six months.

As for the kangaroo... After the incident, once everyone comes round and we’re with the FBI agents (who were in pursuit of some felons) a petrol tanker blows up. That instantly reminded me of the jet engine exploding on the beach in Lost. So it was like they had a Lost pilot checklist and were ticking off the boxes in turn. The kangaroo was standing in for the polar bear. Shame they didn’t go for an emperor penguin that had misplaced the egg it was incubating and was spoiling for a fight.

At 5:44 pm, Blogger Brian Sibley said...

I well remember my initial excitement about the surreal appearance of the polar bear...

It was like the moment in one of my favourite books - T H White's The Once and Future King - when, towards the end of the final battle, someone comes to King Arthur and says: "It's Mordred, sire... He's using guns!"

At 9:26 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Oh yeah, they really nailed their colours to the mast with the polar bear.

The smoke monster that chews up the pilot had already made an appearance by that point. But it reminded me of the punchline at the end of Deep Rising when the survivors of the luxury liner attacked by the deep sea beastie pitch up on a desert island after the ship had gone kablooey. Just as they catch their breath there’s a loud roar beyond the tree line and all the branches start shaking. So it wasn’t exactly original.

But introducing something as alien as a polar bear to the tropical environs certainly showed this was new and very different, and certainly on a par with Modred’s guns. T.H. White stated that The Once and Future King was loosely based on Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, obviously with emphasis on “loosely”.

At 11:54 pm, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

There's always the fact that it's based on a novel, of course, to guarantee that they at least started their thinking with a shape and the sense of a destination in mind.

Though whether the book provides a useful key to the show depends on whether they're following it as a source or just lifting its premise.

At 12:33 am, Blogger Good Dog said...


I can’t say I’ve read Robert Sawyer’s novel, but just from nosing around a few newspaper and magazine articles online it seems Goyer and Marc Guggenheim have just kept the basic concept. That said they know where it’s going and have a fair bit already mapped out, so it doesn’t look like they’re going to be busking it anytime soon.

I suppose to begin with it’s going to be all about filling out the FBI’s Usual Suspects-like corkboard as well as seriously messing with the audiences preconceptions, which should be fun. My only hope with dramas like this is that, if it becomes a hit and gets renewed year after year, both the showrunners and the network suits know where it ends, rather than trying to keep milking it.

So I’m certainly going to be sitting in front of the box for the second episode tomorrow. Even when I had reservations about Lost I still kept watching it simply because Terry O’Quinn was in the cast. The intriguing concept aside, just having the great Barry Shabaka Henley appear as an FBI agent in FastForward was good enough for me. Though he was listed as a guest star in the opening credits and appeared in the one scene, hopefully he’ll become a recurring character.

At 6:42 pm, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

Did you spot Seth MacFarlane in there? I imagine the casting director barricaded in his/her office, making all these wild deals while Security are drilling the lock out.

From what I've observed, the tendency here seems to be to put tons of creative energy into getting a show created and sold with just blind faith for what might happen thereafter. I don't know how else you'd explain THREE RIVERS, which both made its debut and died on its arse last night; an over-engineered concept (3 interwoven narratives about the donor, recipient and staff in a transplant case), and one which I'd hate to be stuck with -- what do you do in week 2? And by midseason you've run out of body parts.

I've heard of at least two shows that have taken a fortnight's production hiatus to give the writers time to figure out where to go with them.

And re Terry O'Quinn -- they're running promos for a remake of his movie THE STEPFATHER, which I remember seeing at some all-night horror bash. Yet another remake of a movie that feels dismayingly recent to me...

At 7:40 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

I have to admit I actually had to look Seth MacFarlane up to see who he was. I do like Family Guy but I keep forgetting when it’s on BBC Three. So he was the guy across the table from Joseph Fiennes and Barry Shabaka Henley, talking about the date. How odd. It reminds me of that Stephen Merchant cameo in 24. It seems an odd choice because surely something like that is going to be one hell of a distraction?

I’d read that none of the new medical dramas were having a particularly good time of it. At least NBC’s Trauma gets out and about with the paramedics and Mercy follows three nurses. Three Rivers sounds like it has defined itself with such narrow parameters that it doesn’t have the room to grow. (And what’s this thing about threes?!)

I just had a check to see who is in it. While Alfre Woodard deserves better, oh jeez, it’s got the guy from Moonlight, which Virgin 1 is currently showing. I watched the first couple episodes to see how close to Angel it was going to be and Alex O’Loughlin seemed to have taken the role too far: acting like he didn’t have a pulse.

Since er has finally shut up shop, leaving House and Gray’s Anatomy on the air, is this a case of networks eager for new medicals shows but, not wanting to tread on already established toes, after something that falls into the “same but different” category? Someone needing a new pancreas probably isn't going to cut it with the audience.

I read a news article (I think on the Entertainment Weekly site) about V shutting down, with ABC deciding to broadcast only a handful of episodes to begin with and then put the rest out next year. When anything like that happens it’s like putting blood in the water and waiting for the sharks to arrive. Surely Dollhouse suffered from all the production shenanigans this time last year. It can’t be good for anyone’s peace of mind.

I started to watch a trailer for The Stepfather and ran away screaming. I’ve nothing against Dylan Walsh, he was great in Brooklyn South but... No! That film was the first time I probably saw Terry O’Quinn where he really made an impact. There’s a scene toward the end where he just switches personas that was staggering. So after that I looked out for him.

And... I saw The Stepfather when it was previewed at The Scala in King’s Cross during one of their weekend all-afternoon and all-nighters. This was a serious film marathon and I think Hellraiser was on the bill as well. I wish I’d kept the old programmes to remind myself of what else was showing. 1987 it must have been.


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