Monday, November 15, 2010

Behind the Scenes

Various friends, intent on sharing their favorite new shows, have urged me to check them out. The list keeps growing and I finally managed to get through a few of them, three to be exact: Hawaii Five-O, The Walking Dead and Mike and Molly. I have opinions about them all.

First of all, I do not like zombies. I almost want to add, "Sam I am." I have read very few zombie stories that actually had more in them that literary versions of George Romero's classic movie, Night of the Living Dead. There is not much about zombies to like and most people get the biology completely wrong, unaware as they are of the decomposition of the human body and that rate at which the decomposition compromises function. I have seldom been entranced, awed or even not disgusted by zombie stories. It's no wonder vampires are more interesting and palatable as forbidden fruit; they can talk and move without bits of them falling off and there's the whole being able to interact with humans on an intellectual and personal level that is absent with zombies. Few writers, or filmmakers, make it to the top of my list when zombies are in the mix. Cast a Deadly Spell with Fred Ward is a good example of an interesting story with zombies where they are mindless workers and muscle for the bad guys. In those capacities, they make sense, and there is also the mention that they come cheaper by the dozen and have a very short shelf life, although I doubt I would want to live in a tract house built by zombie labor simply because there would undoubtedly be pieces of rotting flesh in the plaster, beneath the flooring and in the walls that would make the houses uninhabitable for at least a few months until the bits dried out and were less smelly. The only writer who makes the addition of zombies about something other than the inevitable apocalypse and armies of animated rotting corpses interesting add other elements, like Brian Keene's old race coming into our world through a wormhole and animating the dead in order to take back this dimension and Scott Edelman's zombies that provide the backdrop to a larger human truth. Those stories are interesting.

And there is Mary Ann who wrote a fascinating short story that remains with me. It is she, who dislikes zombies as much as I do, who raved about The Walking Dead from the AMC channel and pointedly urged me to watch the show. And I did. Aside from what seems at this point to be a very short-lived series since the main goals are gained within the first three shows, I cannot see how it can continue and not fall into supernatural soap opera territory. However, the show is interesting and I was quickly engaged.

The story revolves around a wounded cop and his search for his family, which he believes survived the zombie apocalypse. I won't tell the story or spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen this well written and acted series, but I will say it held my interest and I went back to watch the second installment. I was not expecting to make it through the first half hour, let alone two shows, which is all that is available at this point. The main character is handsome, but he has brains and compassion. He is a thoughtful and well rounded character with depth and he can act. The other characters he meets along the way, apart from the walking, shambling and sometimes running zombies, have depth and purpose and the actors portraying them get it right. The show is smart and interesting and very well done. The budget is not endless and there aren't a lot of explosions, other than gun fire, but the cast and crew make the most of what they have. This show is definitely worth watching, although I do believe it will have to pull a zombie rabbit out of the hat to keep up the momentum and set new goals to reach since the original goal is fast running out of time and heading toward what could be a soap opera cliche moment.

Christy suggested I watch Mike & Molly, the story of two fat people looking for an possibly finding love while surrounded by skinny people who torture them with advice while gorging themselves on massive quantities of food.

I read some of the articles and forum postings about this show and I don't agree that the fat jokes over shadow and outweigh the relationship between Mike and Molly. Mike is a cop and Molly is a fourth grade teacher who meet by chance at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting (OA) and are interested. Mike makes a fool of himself, as some guys do, and Molly is baffled by what seems to be his interest and his rapid retreat, until she has to take matters into her own hands, as women often do when faced with clueless and socially inept men, or at least men whose social skills are rusty and stiff from lack of use. One blogger complained that she found it disgusting to see Mike and Molly in a romantic clinch, but I did not. Romance is romance no matter the size of the people involved, and a kiss is still a kiss. The fat jokes do tend toward the sophomoric, but they are, at least from the four shows I watched, not out of place, if a bit mean at times. I wasn't completely put off because that is how most people, the fat and the thin, deal with the issue of obesity -- by self deprecating humor and meanness. I still have quite a few shows to get through before I decide whether or not the fat jokes take away from the awkward and burgeoning romance of two very nice and complex people.

The final show is Hawaii Five-O and I wasn't as put off by the show as most of the critic have been. It is a show about blowing things up, car chases, gun battles and beating up the bad (and good) guys. I remember the original series and was suitably interested in Jack McGarret and Dan-o, but my favorite character was Chin Ho, now played by Daniel Dae Kim, who is much younger than the original character and Korean and not Chinese. The other character on the team, previously played by another Asian and quite forgettable as characters go, is now played by Grace Park and is Chin Ho's cousin. Grace Park, of BSG fame, is also Korean. I guess the Asian races are interchangeable, at least in television.

Alex O'Loughlin plays Jack McGarrett and he is real eye candy. I liked him the first time I saw him and loved him as the vampire detective in Moonlight, the CBS series canceled after one season. I guess they are planning to cancel him again and put him into another detective or cop or enforcer slot on another remake show if the howling over low ratings continues. CBS obviously likes the actor, but can't come up with the right vehicle for his considerable talents.

McGarrett was born on Oahu, the main Hawaiian island, and is drawn back there by a continuing hunt for terrorists led by two brothers, one of whom he has captured in South Korea. One brother is killed in a failed rescue attempt and McGarrett's father is killed by the remaining brother, thus luring McGarrett back to Hawaii to bury his father and continue his five-year-long hunt to end the international arms trafficking and terrorism fronted by the brothers. Jean Smart, once Charlene of Designing Women fame, is suitably a tough politico governor who is willing to give McGarrett carte blanche and immunity to form a task force to rid her turf of terrorists and bad guys. She wants them off her island. McGarrett initially refuses until he is caught trying to remove evidence from an active crime scene by the haole from the Mainland assigned to his father's murder investigation, the new and not much improved Dan-o, an arrogant cop from New Jersey who relocated to be closer to his daughter, his wife having remarried and moved to the tropical paradise. Dan-o doesn't understand why anyone would want to live in Hawaii since there are no big cities, no skyscrapers and too much beach and water. He doesn't swim for fun and doesn't like the sun unfiltered by smog and mile-high buildings.

Chin Ho is a security guard who was kicked off the force because he was suspected of being on the take who got caught and his cousin is a world class surfer who blew out her knee and is one week shy of graduating from the police academy who will not be taken seriously because she's a woman and his cousin. Chin Ho is not eager to join forces with his old high school buddy, the guy who broke his high school football record, and his cousin is only along for the ride because she is unknown and can go undercover with the head human trafficker in humans on the island. All in all, a fair mix of talent and sexes that supposedly mirrors a PC cross section of the social classes.

There is plenty of action and lots of explosions in the first few moments of the show and they predictably continue throughout. On that side at least the show works. It does what it is meant to do, give those jonesing for summer action films a dose of special effects, blood and bullets on the small screen to ease their cravings. The relationships work less. Dan-o is insubordinate and cocky and a smart ass. McGarrett is far too belligerent and tough with a mere ounce of humor and compassion, which is probably because his father was just killed and he is on the trail of his murderer. McGarrett is smart, savvy and very unorthodox and that does work in his favor. However, he has been away from Hawaii too long to understand how the island works even though that is why the governor chose him for the task, because he understands how the island works. Definitely a fail in dialogue and stated motives. The Governor is a no-nonsense, tough talking politico who folds under pressure even though she has extended the offer of immunity, and must be reminded of how things work. A bit on the wishy-washy side, although I still cannot figure out why a cop would need immunity in the first place, unless it's another way of saying McGarrett and his future team will not be subject to the law and will be in essence a black operations team.

One of the things I liked most about the original show was the integrity of the members of McGarrett's team. They may brush the edges of the law, but they stayed within its confines. Maybe that says more about the current state of affairs in the war on terrorism -- excuse me, the situation of terrorism since there is no more war with the current administration -- and the techniques used to gain information and bring down suspected and known terrorists. It's like saying water boarding is all right with the Governor and the team can do whatever they like without fear of reprisal, although I doubt that is an issue for the current McGarrett's team.

Chin Ho signs on and brings his cousin, Kono, with him. As Kono, Grace Park looks suitably waif-like, which is part of what worked for her as a Cylon in Battlestar Galactica and made her a sympathetic character even though she was a mole for the bad guys, but she is far from being a conflicted waif. She is as rough and tough and ready to smash in a guy's face with a "love tap" as any of the team. What happened to women who were women and not men in drag? I remember the women on the Mission Impossible team and how they finessed their opponents, not merely resorted to kick boxing and love taps. Kono is about as soft as a granite bed and just about as engaging. Daniel Dae Kim is more a prop than an actual character, a mine of information about the way things are done on the island, but barely there when it comes down to brass knuckles and gun battles. That is McGarrett and Dan-o's turf, and they do it without winning too easily and come away with a few battle scars. Well, at least McGarrett got a few bruises and battle scars while Dan-o remained clean and unruffled throughout, still trash talking and smart mouthing to the end.

Hawaii Five-O is a commentary on what Hollywood, on the small and large screens, thinks the real world is like and less about a smart cop show with beautiful vistas and lots of sand and surf. The characters mirror those goals and are good for a fight and show up well against the backdrop of crime, blood, explosions, and bullets. Don't expect any real depth, although there were glimmers that no doubt will be eradicated in future shows. Even the stated reason for forming the task force with McGarrett at its head -- because he knows how the island works -- is refuted in the first few minutes of the show when McGarrett meets Dan-o and signs him on because he has a new and different perspective and then bumps into Chin Ho Kelly for the first time in 15 years and is told he is out of the loop. This version of the original in no way improves on the original formula and is all about action and special effects and not so much about people or any insights into current world politics, methods, and means. It is a Band-Aid for die hard Die Hard fans and little more. Too bad, because it has the right talent and the potential for much more, and it fails. Still, Alex O'Loughlin and Daniel Dae Kim, what I saw of him in his rubber bullet uniform, are worth watching just as eye candy.

That's it for some of the shows I have been urged to watch. In short, The Walking Dead is surprisingly good and a smart, well written show. Mike & Molly has potential and is charming and the new and special effects improved Hawaii Five-O is not new, special or much improved. It would be better to wait until everyone who remembers the original shows when they were smarter, funnier and just better to die before remaking another old series. It seldom works out.

That is all. Disperse.

No comments: