A Good Weekend for Television

No, I didn’t watch The Walking Dead. Frankly, I was impressed with the one or two episodes I saw, but it isn’t my show. I more or less gave up on the undead when they started twinkling in the sunlight… Not that I even want to hint that TWD zombies do, but I stopped caring about the whole genre or movement at that point.

What I am talking about are the other two major players, a couple of other [dark] dra-medies, and one hell of a twist in a favorite of mine, that blew me the hell away.

Lets start with the obvious: two shows this weekend hard their season premieres… In chronological order, no pun intended, Doctor Who and Game of Thrones. Lets not kid ourselves, these were probably the two most anticipated shows on television this weekend, and frankly I don’t think either one disappointed. Mind you, I don’t think either one impressed me or made my jaw drop, but they were pretty damned good. I won’t talk about either show because I probably would literally receive death threats over the lack of spoiler warnings for either or both, even though my average readership is about 5 people per month, and I personally know 4 of them… Still, I’m pleased with the Doctor & Oswin, and she’s gotten hotter since her previous two appearances. On Thrones, I barely recognized some of the key characters I love (and one I despise though it’s not the actress’ fault) because they gained weight since last season, and I was pleased that a character survived a seemingly imminent death though it wasn’t explained how… I could have stood to have seen my favorite characters a bit more in the episode (one of which I don’t think was seen at all) but I have nothing negative to say at all about it.

Don Cheadle and House of Lies continue to impress me, though I really do miss the fourth wall breeches from the first season!! There have been some, and more importantly, there have been some looks that Don has given the camera that have been priceless, but I admit that I’m feeling a little disappointed that the lightheartedness in the face of the serious situations the characters were going through last season isn’t quite there… There are some serious issues going on with them, and it’s undoubtedly going to come to a head in the season finale, which I believe is next week, but that spark has been missing this season… I believe I heard it got picked up for another season, and I’d hate to see it go, but if that spark doesn’t return I’m not sure viewers like myself will…

Californication… Well, needless to say I continue to wish I was Hank Moody… That’s all I’m going to say about the show.

So that brings me to the show that most impressed me this weekend. Strictly speaking, it’s out of chronological order in terms of air time, but I did watch it last, so my timing counts. When I realized that this weekend was going to be the season premieres of Doctor Who and Game of Thrones, I immediately decided that there was no way in hell I was going to miss the first run of the new episode of Thrones, and I set this surprising show aside, deciding I’d either watch it at its encore time or later in the week. While I’m not sorry I watched Thrones, I really wish I had been able to watch both it and Shameless at the exact same time, so that I could’ve watch Shameless again during the encore presentation.

Ever since I watched Shameless when it debuted on Showtime a couple years ago, I enjoyed it. I thought it showed a beautiful little cross section of the fucked up realities of this world and a family doing what was necessary to survive. I’ve loved the cast since minute one episode one, and while I concede that the second season didn’t feel as good as the first, and this third season at times has been as much a struggle for me as it has been for the characters, I still watched it regularly, and pulled for the characters.

I said no spoiler warnings on this site, and I’m keeping to it, but I will tell you honestly, watch this fucking episode if you can, even if you don’t regularly watch.

To give you a quick series summary and briefer, Fiona Gallagher takes care of her younger siblings because her alcoholic drug addict father neglects and steals from them and her equally fucked up mother is mostly absent from the series. The family has a knack for petty crime and theft, selling drugs, and doing other crimes more or less to survive, and they have a knack for not getting caught and avoiding serious punishment when they do. The second oldest child is Lip a brilliant high school student resigned to play the role of a streetwise criminal and following mostly in Fiona’s footsteps, making his family his priority in his life over all other things, though he is caught between his love for a pain in the ass slut that recently returned to Chicago that he thought he was over and a psychotic girl that literally tried to kill the rival for Lip’s affections by running her over. Just a little younger than Lip is Ian, who is in love with Lip’s psycho girlfriend’s brother and the idea of being in the military. Ian is just as focused on the family as Lip and Fiona, but takes a more practical approach to most things except the men he cares about, in which case he chooses the hopeless romantic routes. Carl and Debbie are the comic relief pre-teens and exact opposites of one another: Carl isn’t very bright and is constantly getting into trouble, Debbie is smart, a little mischievous but otherwise a good kid if a bit naive. Then there’s Liam, the baby brother that proves that the Gallagher bloodline is a little more colorful than people would expect… Fiona has a boyfriend Jimmy that used to go by the name of Steve while he was being a car thief. His secret problem this season is that he’s married to a druglord’s daughter and was trying to help her get her green card. I’ll discuss this situation more in a moment. The family’s best friends are Kevin and Veronica, neighbors from a couple houses down the street. They may as well be blood relatives, because they couldn’t be any more family otherwise.

Then there’s Frank, the patriarch. Frank, honestly, is the asshole that has somehow wormed his way into my heart as a viewer and time and again, as evidenced by the pained expressions on everyone’s faces on the show, found a way to abuse just about every major and minor character on the show in some way, shape, or form, and yet remains popular and likable enough that no one has killed him yet, but no one is ever happy to see him. He’s played masterfully by William H. Macy. If I ever write a movie about my dad, I want Macy playing him, even though there is a slight racial difference… Frank has done many, many, many terrible things to his family in the course of this show, including calling child protective services on them to get back at Fiona for kicking him out of the house. There are many reasons to completely hate him, but you find yourself drawn to him, and I think that’s a testament to Macy’s performances. And because Frank was the most surprising element of tonight’s episode, I’ll come back to him…

Back to Jimmy… Jimmy is from a well to do Chicago family, had gone to the University of Michigan Medical School, and somehow became a car thief in Chicago when we meet him in the first season. Fiona had the opportunity to run away with him at the end of the first season, but chose her family over him, and he left. When he returns in the second season, we discover that he’s married to a woman but we don’t know much about her or why, we just know that while she likes him and in particular to have sex with him, that neither one is particularly interested in their marriage. This year, we find out that it was arranged by the druglord to allow his daughter to have an education in the United States and get a green card. All season, we’ve felt bad for Jimmy because he’s caught in this terrible situation: he can’t dump his wife and be with Fiona, the woman he loves, because his father-in-law would have no qualms in killing him. He loves Fiona and wants to be with her, but he can’t tell her about his wife. He struggles to help make ends meet, but at just about every turn he’s essentially getting kicked in the balls by life. And now, it looks like Jimmy is about to go away permanently, because his wife got deported and her father was none too pleased.

That was big enough on its own.

That could have made this episode all by itself.

But it’s not the highlight of tonight’s episode. Hell, it’s barely a side show by comparison.

Tonight, we got to see that Frank actually does give a damn about his kids, at least to some extent. Although it was purely selfish, he caught up with Carl on his way to school and asked to see if he could stay the night at the house, and Carl said yes. Mind you that Frank convinced Carl earlier in the season that he had terminal cancer so that he could somehow score money and possibly a signed basketball from the Chicago Bulls, though none of that panned out. Carl, not being the brightest of the Gallagher children, still hasn’t figured out that it was a scam that Frank pulled. But Frank and Carl got to talking later that night about how Frank’s father had pulled a heist with him when he was Carl’s age, and Carl liked the idea enough that he proposed that they rob the couple that had taken him in for a few days or weeks as foster parents. (Let’s just say that Carl wasn’t happy to be there.) They go and do the heist, and appear to have gotten away scott-free, and Carl is very pleased with himself and his budding relationship with his father.

That is, until, the police show up in the final minutes and are carting him off to jail. Lip and Ian try to defend their little brother and get the police to leave him alone, but it’s Frank that wakes up and willingly and happily takes the blame for the theft, swearing that Carl didn’t have the brains to tie his shoes, that gets the kid freed and yells encouragement to the boy as the police drive off down the street.

Needless to say, Lip and Ian were just about as stunned and shocked as I was over it. To quote Lip, “hell just froze over.”

I love Doctor Who. I love Game of Thrones. I enjoy the hell out of House of Lies and Californication. But tonight, maybe even this weekend, belonged to Shameless! A great fucking weekend for television, but Shameless made me write this post.

My First Doctor Who Experience

Since the summer premiere of Doctor Who, BBC America has been asking viewers to tweet their first Who experience. While I’m following the spirit of the campaign, I’m afraid I can’t stick to the letter of the law. (Well, they’re really more like guidelines…) You see, I’ve had several first Doctor Who experiences. I think the Doctor would be proud that I violated the rules and kept to the spirit; the show and the Doctor deserve as much…

When I first heard of Doctor Who, I was a teenager in the mid eighties growing up in Detroit, Michigan, where I once again reside. There were no American broadcasters showing the TV series here in Detroit, however, on the occasional random evening, without any sort of rhyme or reason, a Canadian station would periodically come in just clear enough that I could watch whatever they happened to be broadcasting at the time. Until the U.S. digital television switch over, we in Detroit could easily pick up CBC channel 9 from Windsor, but this channel of which I speak was decidedly not channel 9. If I remember correctly, it was somewhere in the 30s… Anyway, I recall one day stumbling across Doctor Who and watched two or three episodes in a row trying to figure out exactly what the hell it was all about. I couldn’t pick out the Doctor any of the episodes, at the time, and couldn’t understand why. I now realize that the station had been running a marathon at the time, and showing different Doctors played by different actors. But at the time it left me very confused and I didn’t try to figure it out. So, for the next twenty years or so, I’d hear murmurings of Doctor Who and the TARDIS, but I really didn’t get it. I respected it, but I didn’t get it. It just wasn’t my thing.


When the channel formerly known as the SciFi Channel started showing the rebooted — or should I say, regenerated — incarnation with Christopher Eccleston, I decided to give it another try. I don’t remember which episode was my first episode… It might have been Dalek or Father’s Day, I’m really not sure. I just remember thinking that I once again didn’t understand it, and I didn’t watch it all the way through. There were other shows on, in the same time slot that I knew something about and cared more for. Looking back on that first season, however, I think the problem was that I never latched on to Eccleston, though I certainly liked Billie Piper as Rose. I kept wondering why he kept treating her like an idiot. Now, it’s no fault of Eccleston’s, but I think that incarnation of the Doctor was intended to be something of a jerk, but nonetheless, I’ve generally disliked the actor ever since.


At this time, I still didn’t know much about the show in all honesty. Hell, I’ve been watching Doctor Who since 2010 and understand a tremendous amount about it now, but I still don’t know everything. That goes to show that there is an incredible amount of depth to it and its mythology. I love depth and history in a show. Especially one that bounces around real and imagined history…


If I had to, if I absolutely positively had to pick a single moment as a definitive first experience with Doctor Who, I think it would have to be the David Tennant and Martha Agyeman episode Gridlock. That is the earliest specific episode I can honestly recall that I watched any significant portion. I still didn’t know what was going on, but I found it fascinating. I thought Tennant’s performance was spectacular, and it was written in such a witty and zany style as to just mock criticism of the absurdities. I still wasn’t hooked, per se, but I started to see the beauty of the show.


Sadly, I didn’t get hooked on the show until after Tennant’s term was up. By that point in 2009, I’d moved back home, gotten laid off from my job, and got enrolled at Oakland University, in its Cinema Studies program. On mornings when I had a late class, I would get up, turn on the TV and browse around the channels looking for something to watch while I got ready for class. And that’s when I fell in love with the show and David Tennant’s performances.  Tennant’s energy, activity, underlying excitement, warm embraces and occasional cold and calculating performances drew me in day after day, even when it was an episode I’d seen several times before. Not to mention the Scottish accent… I’m not a Scot nor am I homosexual, but there are times listening to David talk — usually as the Doctor but not exclusively — that make me wish I were… But, I digress… Regardless of the companion du jour,  I’m a Tenth Doctor Man. David’s performances varied from excited to cocky to tired to moody depending on the companion and the situation, but Piper, Agyeman, and Catherine Tate all felt perfectly at home by his side. And to this day, I get choked up watching the final minutes of The End of Time, especially when he says his final words as number ten: “I don’t want to go.”


So that brings us to my final first Doctor Who experience, with the most recent incarnation, the eleventh Doctor played by Matt Smith. My experience with this Doctor, however, really isn’t about him. I like Matt Smith, and I think he’s doing a great job as the Doctor, and frankly, I love the feel that his Doctor is a paradox in and of itself: an incredibly old being lying beneath the surface of a young body. Matt does an outstanding job, but my final first experience isn’t about him or the Doctor. It’s about his companions. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill as Amy Pond and Rory Williams are the first companions I have genuinely loved as characters. Their relationship and interactions with each other and the Doctor have been absolutely amazing since day one, and I am so very, very sad to see them leave the show. As the summer finale just went off a little more than an hour ago, I’m not going to comment on it, but Amy and Rory have been the most spectacular characters I could have imagined on the show, and considering they were “merely” companions of the Doctor, as many have been before, I find myself wondering how anyone could possibly fill their shoes or the spots they left in my heart and the Doctor’s hearts. As clear as it is that the Doctor was in love with Rose, it’s clear to me that the Ponds will be missed much, much more. Clara Oswin, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, will have two pairs of really big shoes to fill by herself… While I loved her early appearance in the show, I think it’s too early to really say how well she’ll mesh with the newly heartbroken Doctor.


And so, those are my first Doctor Who experiences… Decades after my earliest experience, I can now say I’m a fan of the show, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for the Doctor. Mr. Moffat, Mr. Davies, Mr. Smith, Mr. Tennant, Ms. Tate, Ms. Piper, Ms. Agyeman, Ms. Gillan, and Mr. Darvill: THANK YOU ALL VERY MUCH FOR ALL THE ENTERTAINMENT THAT YOU’VE PROVIDED ME!


Ms. Gillan and Mr. Darvill, I hope to see you both in something else in the very near future, preferably together if you can swing it!

Attack of the Clones

Despite what the title my imply, I’m not referring to the Star Wars film by George Lucas. In fact, I’m not referring to the movie industry at all, but to some of the television networks many Americans turn to for daily entertainment. What I am referring to is the reimplementation of popular British television series here in the United States for no good reason. It started off innocently enough: versions of various reality shows produced with people from the United States instead of the United Kingdom. You know their names: American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and so on. As much as I detest them, especially because they’re “reality shows,” at least it made sense to do localized versions of them.

Now, a few years later, it’s taking a turn for the worst.  Tired of not knowing anything about it, I started watching Doctor Who last year via both Netflix and BBC America. I quickly fell in love with the series, David Tennant, Freema Agyeman, Billie Piper, and more recently Karen Gillan. (Matt Smith is still growing on me.) Watching BBCA for so many hours on a regular basis got me to be familiar, in concept at least, with some of their other shows, especially Top Gear, Being Human, and Skins. Aside from Top Gear, I decided that these other shows simply weren’t for me, and chose not to watch them. Being from Detroit, Top Gear tickles my automotive funny bone, and the three hosts — Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May — are hilarious. So, I started tuning in to Top Gear whenever I got the chance.

Then I saw a commercial on the History Channel that I simply couldn’t believe: Top Gear was coming to the U.S.. Well, it was sort of coming to the U.S.; Clarkson, Hammond, and May weren’t coming with it. Instead, it was going to be filled with homegrown motorheads, that don’t seem to have any working chemistry with one another at all. While TG is indeed a television show about fast cars and silly challenges, I’d like to point out that it is driven strongly by the personalities, chemistry, and relationships of its hosts; so much so that if it lost any two of them, the show would fall flat on its face. Having watched the American version of Top Gear, I have to conclude that I was entirely correct.

I don’t blame the hosts on the American show, it’s not their fault. They were tasked to do the impossible: start filming from scratch with a known formula but with their individual and different personalities substituted for those in the U.K. version and make it work right from the start. The problem is their relationships or at least the roles they’re trying to fulfill may be similar to those of the original show, but they are not the same. The three hosts, Adam Ferrara, Tanner Foust, and Rutledge Wood try and fail to bring the same excitement and entertainment of the original to their version. What the producers have done, at best, is to create a mockery of the original Top Gear by trying to use the same formula down to some of the smallest details. It’s a shame that the producers and the History Channel think that the U.S. version is acceptable to anyone that has watched even a single episode of the U.K. original.

Last night was the premiere of Being Human on Siffie. (Yes, I know that they spell their channel name SyFy and pronounce it “sci-fi” but I refuse to call them by that title since they decided to abandon the audience, the hardcore and not so hardcore science fiction junkies that kept them in business all these years.) As I stated above, I had previously decided that the U.K. version of the show wasn’t for me, but at the urging of a close friend that just moved to England, I watched it last night to report to him. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Being Human, the show’s premise is that a werewolf, vampire, and a ghost end up living together in a townhouse and try to take care of one another as they each try to overcome their monstrous nature. In truth, the show wasn’t too bad; in fact it was almost enjoyable. But it did somethings that I simply didn’t like. Given the nature of the show, the first rule is that YOU DON’T TALK ABOUT TWILIGHT! The second rule is quite simply, YOU DON’T TALK ABOUT TWILIGHT! Go do your own thing, don’t even acknowledge the existence of another franchise in another medium that uses some similar formula, especially not one that is as both loved and hated as the Twilight saga. What did Being Human USA do in the very first hour? Make Twilight references. A good television series like the original Being Human can stand alone without depending on silly and stupid references to other pop culture curiosities; the premiere episode irritated me as a result of that reference because I now fully expect other silly crap like that to appear throughout the rest of the season.

Putting that aside, my other irritation with the show is really and truly insignificant: they changed the names of the main characters. I’m assuming that Mitchell, Annie, and George, the names of the main characters in the U.K. version, were just a little too European for the producers’ tastes, so they instead changed them to Aidan, Sally, and Josh. With the exception of Aidan, and with no offense intended to anyone, they successfully dumbed down the names. I’m not trying to say that Sally and Josh are dumb names, but they’re simpler and I guess more common than Annie and George, but in truth, it really doesn’t make any sense to me why they changed the names at all. It may be a stretch, but I’d bet that just about every American has known a Mitchell, Annie, and/or George at some point in their lives, so why change the names? I’d have to say that the producers looked at statistics of popular names among their target audiences and picked the most popular ones. With the exception of Aidan that is.

I’ve never met anyone by that name, and while I do recall it being one of the more popular baby names in recent years, I suspect I know why the producers chose that name for the vampire character in the U.S. version. In the U.K. version, the vampire Mitchell is played by actor Aidan Turner, so what the U.S. producers have done is create a bridge between the two versions by naming the vampire character after the actor that originally portrayed him. Call it an Easter Egg. Call it homage. Call it whatever you like. The simple fact is that they wouldn’t have needed to do that if they had just kept the original character names. But, seeing as I one day would like to work in film or television as a screenwriter, I’ll just write this irritation off to contractual obligations that necessitated the change in character names.

All that said, I’ve heard tale that the U.S. version will being using the original scripts from the U.K. version, touched up here and there for the States. If that’s true, then this could be a pretty good series as long as they steer clear of pointless pop culture references that weren’t in the original. I still haven’t seen any of the original series, but I just added the first DVD of the series to my Netflix queue so I can compare the first episodes. Over all, though, it’s still not my cup of tea. Oh, and one more thing. “F” you Siffie.

This brings me around to the last clone I definitely want to mention today: Skins. This also debuted last night, on MTV, and is the only show that I think could possibly work in the U.S. as a rip off reimagining of the original. I’ve only watched a few episodes of the original series thus far, but intend to watch it from the beginning at some point in the future because of the gratuitous panty shots. I’m a pervert, deal with it. What I have seen, however, would fit naturally in MTV’s line up of television shows assuming that MTV decides to label it as a work of fiction, rather than the endless lineup of crappy reality shows they usually air. Since I didn’t watch the U.S. version last night, and I really don’t know a whole lot about the U.K. series,  this is going to be brief: Skins might fit in perfectly among the network’s lineup, but wouldn’t it have been a hell of a lot cheaper to just license and syndicate the original series rather than recreate it from scratch? Face it, MTV, you got us used to foreign accents by doing The Real World all over the world, so don’t you think we could have dealt with the British version of Skins? Think about how much more you’re spending to shoot each episode versus the licensing fee to just use the already available episodes… Is this about future DVD sales? Come on…!

Now, I’ve heard rumor that there’s been some casting efforts for the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, but I’m not sure if it’s to create a U.S. version of the show, or to just revive the original. I like Torchwood, but I’m not a regular watcher. But if I even hear through whispers of rumored conversations overheard in a crowded restaurant of Doctor Who being cloned for a U.S. version, there will be hell to pay… Doctor and Amy, I look forward to your visit to the States, but I want you to know that this is the one official warning that my domestic television producers will get regarding you: DON’T CLONE THE DOCTOR!

Sunday January 23, 2011 11:30 pm EST: Just a quick follow-up, I can summarize Being Human UK vs US like this: UK > US.