Thursday, October 16, 2014

In Defence of Gracepoint

I am currently recapping Gracepoint on FOX for Happy Nice Time People.  Like this one, it's a snarky website that makes fun of the shows it features. For all the snark I show over there, I am going to give my real feelings about this miniseries over here, because I think it's getting a really bum rap and I wish more people would tune in.

Gracepoint is an American remake of the British blockbuster Broadchurch. A huge commercial hit and enormous critical darling, Broadchurch won a huge stack of awards from every conceivable organization, including three BAFTAs (the British Emmy) and the Peabody Award. The program chronicled the many ways in which the murder of a young boy sent shock waves through various residents in a sleepy coastal town. Through their reactions to this tragedy, we learned the truth of these people behind the pleasant facades they showed to each other daily. Those revelations, in many ways, cut closer to the heart of the show's meaning and significance than the mystery of the surprise murderer did.

When it was announced that the creative team behind Broadchurch was recreating the show for an American audience, the reaction to the news was overwhelmingly negative, and it appeared in the press that people were pulling desperately for this remake to fail. David Tennant, who played lead detective Alex Hardy in the original, was invited to reprise his role as Emmett Carver, but he was also asked to put aside his distinctive Scottish brogue and substitute an American accent. Once again, people went looking for reasons to tear down his work here, even before it had actually begun.

The story that developed in the press, long before a single shot was displayed to the public, was that this new version, written by exactly the same man, Chris Chibnall, and produced by exactly the same production team, was doomed to be a disaster.  Why, they asked, was it necessary to remake it at all?

The reason isn't very nice, but it's quite clear. Broadchurch wasn't easily available in the United States. It was shown on BBCAmerica, a cable channel that few homes have access to, and it's initial American audience was quite small. By remaking it and placing it on FOX, Chibnall increased his potential audience for this stunning story. Tennant was retained, most likely, because he was the one person from the original cast who has a substantive fan following in America due to his notoriety as the beloved Tenth Doctor on Doctor Who. He was asked to change his accent because his natural Scottish dialect is very thick, and not always completely understandable to American ears. By making Gracepoint, Chibnall not only widens his story for an international audience, but increases the likelihood that viewers in the huge American market would develop enough interest to investigate the original. In one way, Gracepoint is an advertisement for Broadchurch.

Now that it is actually airing, the two big knocks against it seem to run at cross-purposes with each other. The first argument is that Gracepoint recreates Broadchurch, virtually line for line and scene for scene. The second argument is that Broadchurch was a masterpiece and Gracepoint is terrible. If you stop and think for a second, you have to see that both these statements can't really be right.  Indeed, the American version does follow the British version extremely closely. BAFTA-winning actress Olivia Coleman has been replaced with Emmy-winning actress Anna Gunn, but detective Ellie Miller is basically the same character doing the same things in both versions, in a script revised by the same writer.

Having seen both versions, my own take on it is that the two productions are virtually identical; all that's really changed is the accents, and some of the quirky colloquialisms that are common on one side of the pond and a bit exotic on the other side.  David Tennant is no stranger to performing with an accent other than the one uses naturally; during his entire celebrated Doctor Who run, he had to perform with a British Estuary accent rather than a Scottish one. He essentially had to turn cockney; this is not a bigger stretch, and it's no less skillfully delivered.  Broadchurch was an intriguing mystery and taut, wrenching emotional ride over there; change its name, and it still is, over here. I can understand why people who have seen Broadchurch might not feel the need to watch it again with an American accent, but those who have not seen the former should not reject Gracepoint simply because it's a remake. It's still one of the most gripping mysteries currently on American television. Those who have not seen Broadchurch have been given the opportunity to experience it now, for free, on ordinary network TV.   I urge you to give it a chance. Really, it's a great show. It always was.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Doctor Who Recap: The Caretaker

Clara, Clara, Clara.

Let me give you a little piece of advice. Hiding the Doctor from the other people in your life? It never, ever, ever works.


Indeed, in some cases (cough, Barbara and Ian, cough, Tegan and Turlough, cough, probably a bunch of others) once you run with the Doctor, you can't even get home again at all.  And for those he is able to return to Earth occasionally?

Well, just taking New Who alone into account:

- Rose never hid the Doctor from anybody.  He also became her job and her life after he blew up her store.
- Martha hid the Doctor from her family, and her mom turned him in to the bad guys, with really terrible consequences for the entire world.
- Donna hid the Doctor from her mom, which led to a bunch of friction, at least until he gave Donna a shitload of money, and he became Sylvia's favorite person ever.
- Amy tried to hide the Doctor from Rory, even though he already knew, and it nearly broke them up.

So this double life you are leading now? Doomed to failure.  Sure, go ahead and try, anyway, you little control freak. (That accusation is finally beginning to make sense now! Yay for Clara having a personality!)

How did you get out of there, anyway?

You travel in a TIME MACHINE.  You couldn't come back five minutes sooner and change clothes?

Since when does the Doctor hate soldiers quite that much?  The Brigadier would be quite insulted. Did you blot your ninth life completely out of your mind again? Hypocrite.

You do not have it all under control. Nobody does - least of all, the Doctor.  So take a deep breath, dear, because your life is about to come crashing down around your ears.  The Irresistible Force is about to meet the Immovable Object.

By his standards, the Doctor is actually being something that slightly resembles considerate when he tells Clara they can't go try to get themselves killed today. He's got to do a Thing. This Thing thing is his new Thing, and I am getting irritated. Maybe he wants to protect her from the Thing.  Of course, this Thing involves drawing a deadly monster to her place of employment, so maybe he was just  trying to keep her from protesting. When the Doctor visits your job site, stuff explodes and it's terrible for business.

Or maybe he knows that deliberately keeping Clara out of the loop will absolutely ensure that she can't possibly stay away, because now she's a narcissistic control freak.

Why is a control freak running with the Doctor, anyway? It's impossible to control anything that happens to him!

Why does Clara think she can hide the Doctor from her regular life? She can't even hide her romance with Danny from her students.  Danny thinks she's been acting weird lately, but Clara says she just had a Thing, so I guess the Doctor picked up this Thing thing from her, and the Thing is gone, so she will devote her entire time and energy completely to her man.

Famous last words, in more ways that one.  You know, the last time we saw Danny and Clara, he threw quite a fit at her because she was lying to him. Possibly she could have taken the hint that this was a bad idea.

You know when she really should have known that lying was a terrible idea? When John Smith waltzed into the Teacher's Lounge and announced he was the new janitor/caretaker.

Expect explosions, terror and the death of a minor character. You know the next time Clara should have known that lying was a terrible idea? When Danny could immediately tell that John Smith and Clara knew each other. You know the third time she should have known? When it became painfully obvious that she was terrible at it and couldn't fool a baby.

Clara marches right back in to learn... virtually nothing... from the Doctor, because he won't tell her why he's undercover at the school. He wants her to just stay out of his way. He is, however, quite happy to inform us that he and River Song once had a fight so fierce she threw him out of the house for a month, or something like that.  Ah, so they were a properly married couple!  And it was a disaster!  One psychopath per relationship, don't you think?

I would also like to point out that once again, the only character relationships that Moffat finds fit to acknowledge with affection or respect are from his own era. The Doctor remembers Amy and River Song. He does not remember or discuss any other companion who ever came before. Reinette is forgotten. He refuses to think about Rose, Martha or Donna. He can't even remember who he got his own current face from. Nothing of any real value exists before Moffat. Sorry, pet peeve.

 A white cop busts two black kids for hanging out off-campus during their off period.

Now, did Moffat just make two troublemakers black, or did he have a white officer harass two innocent kids because of the color of their skin? You decide.  Of course, since the Robot of the Week is hiding inside - a lot of robots this season, hmmm..... it's possible that this poor sap was a Hero Who Gave His Life To Save The Students. Or he's a Racist Asshole Who Got What He Deserved. You decide.

Clara appears to be a very boring teacher.  The kids are struggling listlessly through Pride and Prejudice, which is actually hysterical if you read it properly, when something exciting happens that gives Clara her next clue that she needs to stop trying to hide this shit from Danny. The Doctor pops his head in through the second-story window - after telling Clara to stay out of his way - just to tell her that the novel was not completed in 1797, because he's got the inside scoop.  After she tells him off - in front of the class - for knowing historical figures personally, she should probably get a clue that she needs to come clean. But no! She's a control freak! She's got it all under control! Easy as putting six angry cats in heat in one paper bag.  She proceeds to blow off  her students and her boss so she can prevent the Doctor from dealing with a piece of mechanical equipment.  Because he can't fix anything, ever, without her interference. Clara, that's one thing he actually DOES do well! For centuries, now! With thirteen different faces, all of whom some part of you has met!

Or maybe she's just trying to control the conversation he's having with Danny.

The Doctor has discovered that Danny was a soldier, so he's decided Danny can't possibly be anything other than the P.E. teacher. Of course, given that the very first time we saw Danny, he was training the Coal Hill Cadets, that might actually be genuinely confusing. Danny DOES sideline in P.E. On the other hand, given that the Brigadier retired from the army to teach MATHS, and the Doctor saw him in this capacity during Mawdryn Undead, possibly he should have just assumed that all ex-soldiers are math teachers. Ah, but once again, that would involve genuinely acknowledging relationships that existed before the Moffat era, and we can't have that.

Clara tells the Doctor that Danny looks like Orson Pink, but the Doctor has completely unbelievable blinders on. This is an alien who has spent his very, very long life saving the day by being very, very observant about tiny details, and now he can't see the resemblance between this:

and this:

Not believable. He is, however, narcissistic enough to approve very highly of Clara's new boyfriend, as long as he isn't a soldier and he looks like this:

Because former Doctors are to be treated with affection and respect as long as - and ONLY IF - they existed during the Moffat era. Yes, it really bothers me, and it has for long before Capaldi came. There was a nasty subtext to that running all through the 50th Anniversary Special that several older Doctor actors, particularly Davison and C. Baker, picked up on and mentioned to the media. Please notice that the only speaking character in Day of the Doctor who was not a Moffat creation was given a crap, unfinished storyline and made to look very foolish compared to the other two Moffat-created Doctors. It's not accidental.  Of course, Tom Baker came off well, because if he hadn't Moffat would have gotten rightly boiled in oil. But I digress.

The Doctor is putting little round electronic things up all over campus. There's a really great bit where Clara screams at a couple of kids for playing ball around the life-sized chess board, and the Doctor responds by whistling from Pink Floyd's The Wall.

We don't need no education.
We don't need no thought control. 
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teacher, leave those kids alone. 

So, he does remember the 70's! Hey, he was wearing the long scarf and giving out jelly babies when that song came out! Surely he can remember that his great friend, the soldier and magnificent companion, Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, ended up being a Maths teacher?

Anyway, a child who has previously been portrayed as an insufferable little brat is finally given a name: Courtney. She finds the Tardis in the caretaker's tool room, and after listening to a short list of very bad lies, makes an astute statement to Doctor Caretaker John Smith.

"You're weird." That would be correct.  But then, apparently she's a Disruptive Influence, which I suspect is code language for Exceptionally Bright Kid Who is 100% Done With Adult Bullshit, Incompetence and Hypocrisy, and I also suspect we will be seeing very, very much more of her.  Also, Clara? The Disruptive Influence knows that Ozzie loves the Squaddie, and she's making sure the whole world knows, so there's another clue that you are shit at keeping secrets. Stop it.

Clara insists that the Doctor is endangering the school by being there, and he replies that he's there because the school is in danger. That's actually another argument that gives me pause regarding the Doctor. The ongoing riff is that death and destruction follows in his wake, when it appears to me that he follows death and destruction around, trying to stop it, especially during seasons like this one, where Moffat has not been dedicating every single episode to the purpose of declaring the Doctor to be the most important being in the universe.  Most of the time, with not all that many exceptions, blaming the Doctor for the danger is like blaming a fireman every time a house goes up in flames. Yes, he puts the companions in danger, but that's kind of an occupational hazard when you join the fire department. Just tell your loved ones that you've joined the fire department, and stop blaming it on him when blazes break out! What did he once call himself? The Maintenance Man of the Universe? Yes, but oh, wait. That was Tennant. A Davies - era Doctor. Never mind, he never existed except to mock, bitterly and with almost palpable resentment. Moving on.

The Doctor shows Clara that he is scanning for the alien technology that he himself did not actually place in the school grounds, because he didn't start this fire. The thing in the green light is a Skovox - Blitzer, the most deadly killing machine ever created.  Except of course, for the Cybermen and the Robots of Death and the Adherents of the Repeated Meme and Sharaz Jek's androids and the Autons and the Gundans and you get the idea. But this one robot is special! It can destroy the entire planet by itself! Wow, how are they gonna top this one during the Season Finale? No, Clara, it's probably best that the Doctor NOT leave this alone. Or are you under the impression that things are not dangerous unless you address them?  Do you ignore the termite infection in your house, too?

The Doctor also has a new gadget we will probably see much more of. Remember how he gave that homeless guy his watch? Well, he made himself a new one - and he can make himself invisible!  He's going to lure the robot - which is about to destroy the entire planet, remember - back to the Tardis, keep invisible so it can't scan him, and then all those little electric things he's been placing all over the school - time bombs - will suck the robot billions of years into the future.

Clara objects that he's doing it on her campus. Because it would be morally preferable for him to do it in another crowded area full of people? Clara, it's a deadly robot that wants to blow up the world. He didn't cause the thing, he's trying to get rid of it. The fireman is an arrogant asshole, but he's not an arsonist, (at least, not recently,) and your students aren't safe anywhere until the robot is gone.

Oh, so now Clara wants to help! The Doctor does not want her help. The Doctor wants her to go make out with Matt Smith 2.0.  Unfortunately, she thinks that means he likes Danny, so yes, there will be farcical romantic comedy fireworks galore, because not one of these people has communication skills worth a damn.

Ah, and now the lies are coming to a head. Danny cancels the evening's date with Clara, now that she's been ordered to canoodle, because he's got his own thing. He's going to find out what that weird caretaker has been doing, and most of worst danger could have been avoided if Clara had told Danny what was going on and let the Doctor do his job.

Night comes. The Doctor sets off to destroy the threat the planet, and Danny sets off to remove all those nasty-looking bomb things that creepy caretaker has been setting up all over campus. Danny's a dedicated teacher! Clara's a delusional idiot! The Doctor's plan is screwed, but somehow it's solely his own fault!

After some forced farcical running around, involving many characters missing the chance to explain things to each other by seconds, the Doctor, Danny,Clara and the Skovox - Blitzer all convene in the auditorium just in time for the Doctor to realize his time bomb idea is a bomb, because Danny's been busy. This is a pretty huge "Oh, FUCK!" moment.

The robot's about to turn the Doctor into little regenerating pieces, but Danny just happens to burst through the door at the perfect moment, and the Skovox-Blitzer decides to shred Danny instead. Hey, Danny. This is the Doctor. Welcome to hell. Fortunately, the Doctor's idea does actually work - kind of - and the Skovox-Blitzer is sucked into a time vortex that will now last a day instead of eons because Danny's been running around ruining everything because Clara has secrets. This is the Doctor's fault, apparently.

The Doctor begins bellowing at "P.E" for destroying his carefully planned rescue mission, with so many layers of obnoxious sarcasm I feel like asking him to guest - write a recap for me. Danny wants to know what the hell the caretaker was doing and why there are terrifying alien monsters on his campus. Clara wants to know if everybody is safe. The answer is no - the robot will be back for Parent's Weekend. He has to check up on his little Skovax-Blitzer and see if it's been a disruptive influence.

And Danny's biggest concern? Clara has a clue what the Caretaker is talking about. He's dating a space alien thingy with a really scary Space Dad! He's got Space Cooties, and their children will all look like Martians! And most important of all, Clara couldn't tell the truth if a lie bit her in the face!  Because Clara tries to pretend the Doctor and she are rehearsing a play that will never, ever be performed anywhere, so Danny can't get advance tickets to cheer her on. I really wouldn't blame him if he walked out for good on her the moment she pulls that crap. Or if the Doctor threw her out of the Tardis, to boot. Then he finds out that Clara is dating P.E. rather than Matt Smith 2.0, and he can add a huge ego smash to his problems for the day. The Doctor thinks Clara dating a soldier has to be a mistake, and Clara rather suddenly declares that she loves Danny after one month of dating and 13 billion lies.  This might be yet another reason for him to run into the hills screaming.

Then the Doctor decides that the truth might be long overdue, so he shows Danny the Tardis, just to make sure he's freaked out enough to dump Clara's prevaricating ass. Yep, still bigger on the inside, although for once the newest visitor doesn't really give a shit. He thinks they should evacuate the school before the killer robot comes back, and I actually think that's probably the best idea anybody's had all day. Clara and Doctor are too busy bickering to notice; the Doctor  wants Clara to explain her new boyfriend and see if he passes the Doctor Daddy test. Danny wants to know why Clara elopes with the Doctor every five minutes and whether she's capable of being straight with him. Why does she do it at all? Because defying death is so exciting, Danny! There might be Daleks for dessert!

Strangely enough, Danny does not insist on evacuating the school after all. That doesn't really make sense, given what little he knows and how many lies he's been told. Clara tries to make things all better by lying to the Doctor next, because that strategy has worked so well for her. ; she's brought Danny into the Tardis wearing the invisibility watch, and the Doctor figures that shit out in seconds flat. Suddenly, he wants to go for a drive around the universe!  Danny gets back at the Doctor for uncovering his ruse with a lot of barbed comments about the aristocracy and army officers; if he's a Time Lord, he's got to be ripe for insults, and never mind that Danny just sneaked into the man's home without an invitation.

As Clara and Danny march out, bickering over the degree to which she's betrayed him - and the Doctor, too, really - Courtney pokes her head in to ask about the box and to audition for a spot as the Doctor's new companion. Maybe later. He might have a vacancy, but there's still a world to save, even if nobody appreciates his efforts. Possibly he needs to work on his PR approach. In other news, Courtney's parents have arrived at Parent's Day to make excuses for their kid, and the Skovox-Blitzer has returned to make sure everything goes off with a bang. The Doctor does not have two days to fix this. He's got about two minutes. He signals to Clara and Danny, in the middle of the parent conferences to come help him - for God's sakes, WHY? - and they both come a little closer to getting sacked as they rush out the door, leaving Matt Smith 2.0 to deal with the mob of parents alone.

The Doctor's new plan is to use Clara as a decoy to distract the Skovox-Blitzer until he can get there to shoot at it, or something. His plan for Danny is to SHUT UP! SHUT UP!!! SHUTTITY -UP! UP!
(New catchphrase alert!)  Clara is successful at getting this malevolent, deadly robot to follow her, and the Doctor is completely unsuccessful at getting Danny to keep out of it. One look at Clara running for her life, and the soldier bolts into action. Clara leads the Robot of the Week into the Caretaker's closet, routine deadly setbacks ensue, and Danny somehow saves the day by leaping over the robot.

That gives the Doctor time to get in the right commands to shut this thing down. Or something like that. Danny and Clara get all mushy - for some reason, Clara's avalanche of lies aren't bothering Danny at the moment - and Danny decides he needs to be good enough for Clara so that the Doctor will be OK with their relationship. Danny needs to be good enough for a woman who hasn't said the truth the entire episode? Really? He must be really hard up. That is, however, the Doctor's concern, and he decides that Danny's single leap of faith means he's not a complete waste of space. And so we have an episode that raises huge questions and problems and then tacks on a fake, hurried happy ending. Of course, Danny does make Clara promise to tell Danny if the Doctor pushes her too far, which virtually guarantees that he will. Soon.

Courtney Woods gets her ride in the Tardis and celebrates by barfing on the floor. I'm surprised that hasn't happened more often, to be frank.

And, now, a word from the Nethersphere. Missy has gotten much too busy processing all the deaths that have occurred on the Doctor's watch to be available today, but this new guy, Seb, will be happy to answer any questions new arrivals might have about the afterlife. That includes you, cop that got fried earlier in the broadcast. Would you like a spot of tea? Or a nice, calming place to lie down? Death can be so stressful. We'll call you when we need you to help take over the world.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Doctor Who: Time Heist

The clothes in the laundry go 'round and 'round...

"Clara! Pleeeeeeese come out and play with meeeeeeeeee!" begs the Doctor, while pondering the mechanics of ordinary household chores.

Clara can't be bothered. She's got a hot date with Mr. Head-on-the-Desk. They've been going out a whole month now! You had your chance, Doctor, and you blew it by getting all old and icy and incapable of giving hugs. The thrill of deadly dangerous adventures with a grey-haired stick insect has lost its charm. Face it... she's just not that into you.

Wasn't it easier when she thought you were her boyfriend? Life choices. Live with them.

But hey - the Tardis phone rings. That never happens! Nobody ever calls the Doctor, because he's a mean old stick insect. If somebody is calling him, that can only mean one thing... monsters are about to make Clara late for her date.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Doctor Who: Listen

Listen by Steven Moffat

My recap of Doctor Who: Listen.  The Doctor, after all these centuries, finally goes completely over the deep end, and Clara ends up having to act as his psychologist. Also, Clara and Danny have a really,  really terrible date. The end.

What, you want more than that?

Okay. I'll put a little more effort into it. Just sit back and listen.  Comfy? There you go. Doctor, come out from up there. There's no gravity in space. You'll fly away.

The Doctor meditates

All alone in the Tardis, the Doctor is babbling to himself. He's finally lost it. Completely. He's babbling at the empty room, asking why he's doing that - why anybody does that. Conjecture: he's turned into a paranoid schizophrenic and he thinks somebody's following him.  Actually, the Tardis, a living creature, is listening when he babbles to himself, but he's forgotten that. He's seen perfect hunters and perfect defenders, but why is there no creature who is perfect at hiding?

Uh, you've actually met several creatures who are perfect at hiding, Doctor. The Vashta Nerada, the Weeping Angels, the Silence... remember them? Oh, wait... maybe not. But maybe there's another one out there, in the room while you babble nonsense. What would they do when you address them directly?

Somebody has written an answer on the chalkboard.

Listen chalkboard
The Tardis is alive, but she doesn't normally communicate with words, so it probably wasn't her.   Holy shit, somebody get Clara.  The Doctor's going to need a straitjacket after that.  Let's roll the credits while we get some soft place for the Doctor to lie down. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Utopia On Fox: Why It's Failing

Utopia on Fox

I have been recapping the new reality Utopia on Fox for Happy Nice for an entire, excruciating week now, and it looks like this "social experiment" they've been trying isn't going to last a year. Actually, I will be surprised if it lasts another month. After a fairly respectable audience of 4.6 million viewers for the opening show, the ratings plummeted a dismal 55% the following Tuesday and decreased again on Friday. Why is it flailing so badly? Well, it would be easy and flip to say that it's failing because it's a revolting pile of horse manure, but there's more to this debacle than that. Reality shows are full of unpleasant people doing despicable things, and the TV audience often gobbles them up like candy.  This time, it's different.

Here's why.

Dave Green

1. The cast chosen for this trainwreck are unusually poorly suited for the task they've been chosen to carry out.   IF, indeed, this is meant to be a genuine social experiment in community building, and not a deliberately staged freak show. After watching the first two episodes, I began to question that concept seriously.  I originally signed up to cover this show because I thought it might be interesting to see people work together to perform a really difficult, but ultimately worthwhile endeavor - to turn a tiny farm that can't really support them into a thriving, productive community. They've got people in this cast who, on paper, should be able to perform the tasks required to accomplish this. Josh Johnston, a general contractor, successfully installed working electricity and running water in the compound with some help from his friend, Rob Hospidor. Several people, including Bella Chartrand, Chris Tuorto, and Bri Nyugen, have backgrounds in farming and animal husbandry. Army chef Aaron Thomas has shown himself to be remarkably capable at managing the food supply. Hex Vanisles is very skilled with her crossbow and may be every bit as good a hunter as she claims to be. But if these mess isn't canceled soon, this Utopian society is going to resemble the Donner Party by Christmas.

Instead of working together, they've been at each other's throats. The laziest, meanest, most destructive and most useless people in the party have been getting most of the air time. Yes, Dave Green, I am looking at YOU, and your useless little hillbilly friend, Red VanWinkle. A day or two into the experiment, these two idiots declared themselves unwilling to cooperate with anybody else, and announced that they were seceding and creating a rebel state - The Utopia State of Freedom. Unfortunately, they couldn't actually leave the compound and become a real separate state; what they did, mostly, was lie around, refusing to do any chores. They also stole money from the group safe, declaring their booty to be their "equal share" of the meager $5000 given to the entire group to sustain them for a year. Dave eventually stormed out of the community forever in one of his many violent, terrifying tantrums, but not until he'd wasted an enormous amount of cash, fractured the community and grossly alienated the viewing audience. He wasn't an exciting character who made the show more interesting, which I suspect is what the producers were looking for when they cast this drug-dealing ex-convict. He was repulsive, destructive, and he turned the audience off.

It's worthwhile to note two things here:
  1. Red VanWinkle was also on a reality show called Blue Grass Boys. He's making a name for himself as a very stereotypical hick on television. You have to wonder how much of what he did was specifically to get on camera. 
  2. Red and Dave protested one of Aaron's grocery lists by stomping on a bunch of canned fruits and vegetables. Those cans got smashed awfully easily. There's a lot of speculation going around that the cans were made of tinfoil, and the entire scene was staged.  
Is this really a nascent community, or is it a bunch of morons behaving badly on camera because that's what they were hired to do? 

2 . The show format lacks formal structure.  Of course, casting reprehensible turds like Dave Green is nothing new for reality shows; you can't go through a season of Survivor without meeting at least one person who looks to be in desperate need of intense psychological therapy. However, Survivor has survived for over a decade because there's a specific reason for much of the bad behavior; the contestants are playing a game for money, and one possible strategy is to mess with the other people's heads. Also, there's the promise of possible retribution for really outlandish behavior. The tribe can elect to vote out really obnoxious people if they want, and part of the show's appeal lies in the audience's desire to see if this will actually happen, or how long it might take. The opportunity for justice (or lack thereof) is built in, lurking for every contestant at the end of every episode. On Utopia, formal votes only happen once a month, so the audience may go for eight episodes without experiencing that chance to watch retribution take place. If somebody relatively benign ends up getting axed instead, as is certain to happen this week, we have to wait another entire month for the chance to see the toxins purged. One of the most satisfying aspects of Survivor is gone.

3. There is virtually no real suspense.  Because of the 24/7 video feed, anybody who is interested can know what is going on in that compound at any given time. As of this blog entry, the only person who has left the show is Dave Green, and the tribe is about to vote out one of two new women to the complex: Rhonda or Kristen. However, anybody who is following the show at all knows that Rhonda (pictured above) was voted out, that a new guy named Taylor is coming in, (which does not seem at all fair to Rhonda,) and that pastor Jonathan had to withdraw because of medical issues. This is not because moles managed to leak information that may or may not be reputable; it's part of the show's structure to give us instantly updated information, so the broadcast shows don't really tell us anything new.

So, what are we left with? A show about a bunch of very unlikeable people doing a task so poorly there's almost no chance of success, when the most interesting upcoming televised events have already been spoiled for the handful of audience members who actually care.

It's no great surprise that there's so little audience for that. If I weren't reviewing it, I would not be watching, either. It's disappointing, because I was hoping to see the ambitious social experiment that was advertised, but Utopia has turned into Survivor with all the most compelling parts missing.

If anybody is interested in reading my recaps on this show, they are at

Episode One: It's Not Utopia, It's Lord of the Flies for Adults.

Episode Two: Give Me Ramen or Give Me A Really Stupid Lingering Death from Starvation or Malnutrition.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood

Robot of Sherwood

Now that he's done putting out fires that pop up in his (brand new) face, the Doctor would like to take Clara someplace special - anywhere she wants in time and space! Anywhere at all!  As long as it's someplace he actually wants to go, of course.

Clara's got just the place, and a person she really, really, really, really wants to meet, even though he's not real.

Robin Hood!

The Doctor and Clara
The Doctor hates the idea, because it isn't his, and because he can only take her to meet people who have actually existed - like Daleks. Seems like the Doctor is allergic to meeting any imaginary heroes that aren't him, and The Mind Robber was forty-six years and eleven faces ago. Wouldn't she rather go someplace more interesting to him, like Mars? Of course, given what happened to him the last time he went to Mars, I am stunned that the Doctor is eager to return. Still, Clara insists, and the Doctor keeps his promise for the delicious satisfaction of saying "I told you so."

He pulls his gears and pops his levers, and pretty soon the Tardis is taking him exactly where he's sent her... somewhere, after 2000 years, he actually learned how to navigate that thing. As they settle down in a lush, green forest near a sparkling river, the Doctor saunters out of the box and announces smugly, "No damsels in distress, no pretty castles, no such thing as Robin Hood!"

THWACK! An arrow punctures the Tardis.

Robin Hood's arrow hits the Tardis

 Robin, don't insist on proving the Doctor wrong. It makes him very cranky and difficult. Actually, getting up in the morning makes this Doctor cranky and difficult, so carry on.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Quick Guide to Reality Shows for the Perpetually Confused

I've got a new gig writing humor for the site Happy Nice Time People, and I've made a deal with the website owner.  When I post an article there, I can post the first part of the article here as well. If you like it, I'll tell you where to read on.

They’re everywhere—ordinary folks doing extraordinary things just to get on TV. And by “extraordinary,” we generally mean “stupid,” “frightening,” “earsplitting,” and sometimes just plain “gross.” From singing off-key to leaping out of airplanes… from dining on enormous insects (while the host cheers them on for trying the local “delicacy”) to dating and sometimes marrying total strangers… you name it, somebody has done it on television.

But who are all these people, and how can you keep them all straight? Fear not, confused reader, for we will break it all down for you.

Dancing With the Stars

Proving that English is in fact a living language by devaluing the word “star” further and further every season, this is America’s number one most watched reality show. People who are only famous for being on other reality shows often end up here, along with sitcom sidekicks, 80s heartthrobs, and someone you’re pretty sure you went to high school with but you actually recognize from a 1994 episode of Power Rangers. Sometimes the producers add some washed-up athletes to the cast to so wives can lean over to their husbands and say, “See? Someone you know!” The winner is usually the woman paired with pro dancer Derek Hough.


The mother of the modern network reality boom. And like most mothers, she’ll abandon you in the wilderness for weeks at a time and force you to become a lying, manipulative, underhanded scoundrel in hopes of someday getting your hands on her money. The object of the game is to make it to the final vote with the weakest competition possible; therefore, the best players are least likely to win the million dollar prize. Warning: This program is prone to grossly unfair results; do not watch if easily enraged.

American Idol

Very young people compete for a chance to sleep with Paula Abdul Jennifer Lopez Mariah Carey Jennifer Lopez again. Runners-up are automatically qualified to run for Congress in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Most of the show is karaoke of inexplicably popular classic rock, pop, and country hits. Sometimes they throw Broadway songs into the mix so that the geriatrics in the audience can recognize some of the tunes. There’s a panel of three people who are supposedly there to judge, but mostly they grandstand, bicker with each other, and attempt to draw attention to themselves. Originally, the winner got to make one album before fading into obscurity, but after season four they reversed the order.

The Voice

A cross between American Idol and rescuing a stray from the pound. Contestants sing their hearts out as they try desperately to convince one of four celebrity coaches to take them home and let them sleep on the foot of their bed. Meanwhile, the coaches banter viciously among themselves to build and keep the best possible stable of talent. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the coaches are really impressed with the singers or if they just want to piss off the other coaches. The winner is the coach with the biggest ego. The best singer gets an automatic spot on Dancing With the Stars Season 48.

The Bachelor

Hot, sexy women vie for one guy’s attention in a dating competition held in an exotic, romantic location. You’ve got to wonder why all these hot, sexy women need a televised dating service at all, especially since they’ve all been asked to act as one guy’s personal harem. Are they here to find love, get on television, enjoy a free vacation, or just hook up with a conceited stranger? Contestants advance when the Bachelor gives them a rose; the winner gets a full vase of wilted roses and the opportunity to find out what a jerk her “prize” really is when they get back home and reality sets in. Losers may end up coming back for another season as the Bachelorette. This season, we’ve got losers of both sexes competing for each other’s roses, and it’s really looking like an orgy.

America’s Next Top Model

Aspiring models compete to see who is best at strutting in heels with pouty attitude while kissing Tyra Bank’s butt. The winner is the one who leaves the most lipstick stains on her perfectly toned posterior. Winning may involve a single, short-term modeling contract with… somebody. Winners should not quit their day jobs.

 Other shows covered at Happy Nice Time People:

- American Ninja Warrior
- The Amazing Race
- Keeping Up With the Kardashians
- 19 Kids and Counting
- The Real Housewives of...
- The Apprentice
- The Biggest Loser
- MasterChef