More Journeyman

I’m sitting watching tonight’s episode of Journeyman, which I wrote about a few months ago. I’m impressed with it so far, after 8 episodes: It’s consistent and intriguing, and the story seems to be moving right along.

One unexpected bonus is that NBC has been so completely off-base in promoting most episodes: It seems like they often promote elements of the show which are sensational but pretty minor. For example, a few weeks ago the previews played up the fact that our hero, Dan Vassar, was out with his son Zack at a farmer’s market when he disappears into the past, leaving Zack alone in a crowd of strangers. Sure, it’s good copy (as they say), but it had almost nothing to do with the crux of the episode. This means that I’m usually surprised – and pleasantly so – by what really happens in the episode.

The series’ story arc is pretty nifty, too: Dan’s time-travelling ex-girlfriend Livia is gradually revealing her background and Dan’s disappearances are slowly catching up to him in the present. And there are lots of little hints that one other character might know what’s going on. The acting is also strong, especially Dan and Jack. It’s a nicely-blended mix of character drama (the Dan-Katie-Jack triangle is intense) and plot (each episode is self-contained, but the overall storyline is moving forward).

I’m usually very skeptical that a TV series has a plan and direction – almost every one I’ve ever seen is obviously plotted on-the-fly, and this becomes painfully evident after a couple of years. (I gave up on The X-Files early in the third season when this became clear for that series.) But Journeyman certainly feels like it’s got a plan behind it. And even if the direction is somewhat loose, the theme of self-determination in the face of what seems like an overwhelming cosmic force might be able to carry it for quite a while.

I’ll be pretty bummed if the series gets cancelled, or if the Hollywood writer’s strike blows the series off-course, although in principle I support the writers in their walkout. But hopefully the series will have a decent run with a satisfying conclusion. It’s got me pretty well hooked so far.

Heroes and Journeyman

So this new TV season: I’ll probably skip Bionic Woman, and not much else attracted my attention even a little bit.

Tonight we watched the first episode of the second season of Heroes. It takes place four months after the first season, and we catch up with what the characters are doing. I found the first season to be pretty slow, so I don’t know whether I’ll make it through the second season. This episode bored me when it came to the Claire-and-Noah stuff (Hayden Panettiere & Jack Coleman), and more than once I thought that I’d really just like to have a whole episode of Hiro (Masi Oka). The show spends too much time lingering on boring stuff, and the dialogue isn’t especially clever so there’s very little to carry the viewer through those scenes.

The episode kicks it up a notch at the end, though, with several intriguing scenes. If it can build on these bits rather than stepping back and taking its usual time-outs then it could keep me watching. But it has to keep moving.

I stuck around afterwards to watch the first episode of Journeyman. While watching the story of Dan Vassar, it struck me how much Kevin McKidd reminded me of Reed Diamond of Homicide, and who should show up playing Dan’s older brother Jack but – Reed Diamond. I swear, I had no clue!

In Journeyman, Dan is a journalist in San Francisco who starts disappearing from his present life and appearing in the past, apparently following the life of a man whose wife and child died some years ago. Meanwhile his marriage is falling apart since his wife Katie (Gretchen Egolf) and friends thinks he’s having trouble with drug abuse. The set-up is slightly reminiscent of the book The Time Traveler’s Wife, since Dan has no control over what’s happening to him, though at least he does travel with his clothes.

The episode started a little slowly, and I cringed a little at Dan’s encounters with people he knows in his travels to the past, but it grabbed me with two scenes late in the episode: A sudden appearance by a very unexpected character, and then taking the big step of having Dan act smart in explaining his dilemma to his wife. The implication that there’s something larger going on, and that Dan’s not going to be an oaf while forces manipulate him makes me optimistic that this could be a good series. So that leaves the biggest question of all: Is the series going to go somewhere?

Maybe not, but I’m motivated at least to watch the next couple of episodes to see.

Heroes: Season One

Brief thoughts on the wrap-up of the first season of the TV series Heroes.

Heroes wrapped up its first season tonight. I still have basically the same criticisms that I had early in its run: It’s very slow, the writing is very inconsistent, and the characters are erratic.

I feel somewhat unhappy with the resolution of the “blowing up New York” storyline. It was never convincing to me that the culprit would be either Sylar (since he obviously had to be stopped somehow) or Peter (why would he lose control of his powers in the first place? And why would he stick around in New York rather than flying away?). But I think the writers backed themselves into a corner there.

The series’ protagonist has always been Hiro, I think, and his arc comes to a satisfying conclusion. His main challenger, Mohinder, spent just about the whole season with almost nothing to do, which is too bad since Sendhil Ramamurthy is one of the stronger actors on the show. But overall the season ended up being rather muddled from a storytelling standpoint, more soap opera than adventure.

So Heroes rates as “okay” television, which – to be honest – puts it ahead of most television. (At least it’s not Yet Another Police Procedural. Heck, even House is basically Yet Another Police Proecedural, in that it’s got exactly the same structure, just with medicine instead of law.) It doesn’t look like NBC will take long to stretch it too thin, as Heroes: Origins is already slated for the fall. Sheesh.

Anyway, now I can spend the summer catching up on Veronica Mars and/or Battlestar Galactica. Although what I really want is to just bludgeon my way through the whole series of Justice League Unlimited. Unfortunately, most of it isn’t available on DVD yet.

Five Years Gone

People seem really excited about this week’s episode of Heroes, “Five Years Gone”. I enjoyed it too, but I don’t quite get the widespread enthusiasm for it.

(Spoilers for Heroes follow.)

First of all, it’s the sort of episode I wish they’d had, oh, in the fifth or sixth episode. It would have jump-started what was an extremely slow beginning to this series. (At least half of the first six episode seemed superfluous, intended to maintain suspense, while really just making the show boring.) Granted, the Sylar reveal (which was cool) wouldn’t have been possible had the episode occurred that early, but that and other obstacles could have been written around. For instance, Hiro could have made multiple trips to this future, revealing more a little bit each time. (Heck, it would have been better than Hiro and Ando’s tedious adventures in Las Vegas.)

Second – and more importantly – the story in this episode isn’t really new to me. The story is actually a pretty clearly templated on (if not lifted from) “Days of Future Past”, a story from the X-Men comic book series from 1981. This doesn’t really surprise me, since comic book writer Jeph Loeb is a co-executive producer of Heroes, and no doubt creator Tim Kring and many other members of the writers and crew are comic book fans. Both stories feature a dystopian future in which superpowered figures are being oppressed and marginalized due to political reactions in the wake of a superhuman-driven disaster.

The story is substantially similar to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, too, down to the pyrrhic-victory-in-the-present-but-returning-to-win-a-full-victory-in-the-past conclusion. Someone in Ceej’s entry on “FYG” said he wanted to see the outcome of the fight between Peter and Sylar, but it seemed clear to me that nothing in the future was going to end well for our heroes; probably Peter and Sylar managed to annihilate each other and take out the rest of what was left of New York.

Sheridan’s trip to the future in the Babylon 5 episode “War Without End” also bears some similarities, although the crux of that story is basically different. But my point is that the key elements of “Five Years Gone” are hardly new; the story has its chilling elements, but to me it was basically old-hat.

Heroes is a moderately entertaining series, but I find it frustrating because it’s so slow. Several of the characters frustrate me, too (I wish someone would just smack Mohinder, for instance, and I really hate the Niki/Jessica character). I am glad that the main story will actually conclude this season, and they’ll have a new story next season. A seasonal cliffhanger I think would just make me give up on the show.

Kirk, You Ignorant…

Today I had coffee with Subrata, Cliff and Whump and as we usually do we were geeking out about various things. The conversation turned to the Mirror Universe two-parter toward the end of Enterprise, “In A Mirror, Darkly”, which Cliff hadn’t seen. So I described the premise, and eventually got to mentioning my favorite part:

“And we get to see Scott Bakula in Kirk’s slut uniform!”

A great thing about my friends is that they all know exactly which outfit I mean when I say that.

Doctor Who, Season Two

My thoughts on the second season of Doctor Who.

We finished watching the second season of the new Doctor Who series. As I did for the first season, here’s my ranking of the episodes, from best to worst:

  • School Reunion
  • The Girl in the Fireplace
  • Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
  • Tooth and Claw
  • Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel
  • The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
  • New Earth
  • The Christmas Invasion (technially part of season one, but I saw it as part of season two)
  • The Idiot’s Lantern
  • Fear Her
  • Love & Monsters

Overall I was disappointed with this season, especially in comparison with the first season. There were several episodes which I thought were really quite poor (the last three in the list), and most that were either pretty shaky (“The Christmas Invasion” had some cute moments, but didn’t make a lot of sense) or seemed just rather routine (“Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel”). Fundamentally, I think the problem is that the stories strive to be creepy or suspenseful without having a solid plot. It’s situation-based plotting: “How can we get to the point that our heroes are about to be killed by a Christmas tree?”, or “How can we have people actually be sucked into a television set?”

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor: I think he’s fine, although I don’t think he’s nearly as good as Christopher Eccleston was as the Ninth Doctor. Eccleston really grabbed the role and made it his own: Different from his predecessors, with his own visual look, and convincingly coping with PTSD following the Time War. I don’t think Tennant comes out looking as good, and his manias and eccentricities remind me of both the Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy Doctors. Of course, it could just be that the writing wasn’t as good, and so the lead character didn’t feel as strong. Then again, Eccleston did have a really hard act to follow.

Okay, on to the episodes. Spoilers ahead:

As with “Dalek” in season one, “School Reunion” is the clear winner of the second season, and not just because it has Sarah Jane Smith in it (although she is my favorite companion of the original series). Although the emotional tension between the Doctor and Rose has never been a big seller of the series to me, retconning in Sarah’s crush on the Doctor, and her devastation when he abandoned her and never came back was just marvelous, and using her as a cautionary tale for Rose was equally clever. It’s an emotionally powerful story with a happy ending, as well as a treat for fans of the first series, to see Sarah Jane and K-9 again.

“The Girl in the Fireplace” is one of those stories whose plot doesn’t make a lot of sense (everything seems to work out just conveniently enough to hang a plot on), but it gets A’s for atmosphere and central tension: A woman in 18th century France has occasional visitations from the Doctor throughout her life, even as she is menaced by frightening-looking androids. Her attachment to the Doctor from these brief visits is very well drawn, and the episode as a whole has a wonderful sense of pyrrhic victory.

I was looking forward to the return of the Cybermen, but was kind of disappointed in it. The first two-parter (“Rise/Age”) was a decent adventure, but I was baffled by why the whole parallel-world angle needed to be introduced, since the Cybermen were a part of established continuity for the Doctor. The season-ender (“Army/Doomsday”) explained it: It was a convenient way to write out the whole supporting cast, and, I admit, a rather clever way. Plus it gave us the added bonus of answering the old question of what would happen if the Cybermen ever faced the Daleks (answer: The Daleks are seriously badass). And I admit that the appearance of thousands of Cybermen at the end of “Army” was very chilling.

(But: Raise your hands if you thought that the Genesis Ark would open and the Master would step out. I did!)

The other two-parter (“Planet/Satan Pit”) started off really strong (“What the heck is going on here?”), then kind of petered out (“Oh, it’s a Really Big Monster story and an excuse for the Doctor to pontificate to himself”). While I appreciate the effort to recapture some of the Tom Baker-era horror sensibilities (this one reminded me of “Planet of Evil”), I think bringing the devil into it and having the plot hinge on the Doctor making not one but two leaps of faith really undercuts the story. (And you know when I’m comparing you unfavorably to “Planet of Evil” that you’ve got some problems.)

In-between all these big productions, “Tooth and Claw” was a pretty good monster episode in Victorian England, with some terrific dialogue and an interesting teaser for the season’s running theme of the Torchwood Institute.

Speaking of Torchwood, I was troubled by how it was presented: Given that it was set up in answer to the Doctor, is ostensibly opposed to alien activity on Earth, and is over a hundred years old, it seems to clash rather badly with the presence of the Doctor-friendly organization UNIT in Doctor Who continuity.

The rest of the stories I thought were either unremarkable, or poor. I would like to say that I appreciated the spirit of what they were trying to do in “Love & Monsters” – not entirely unlike the Doctor Who novel Who Killed Kennedy in its portrayal of how the Doctor is perceived from outside his own adventures. I found the sitcom-like set-up of the story to be extremely bland, and the narrator, Elton, to be too goofy to be likeable. And the kicker at the end to be downright nauseating. A promising idea, but the story really went wrong at every turn, and it was the sort of story which was going to be a delicate balancing act from the get-go. Yick.

I was pleased with the handling of writing out Rose, although it’s sad that her Mum gets to have a happy ending and she doesn’t. (Although, if there is another Doctor in that parallel world…) I didn’t think the series really relied on the romantic tension between the Doctor and Rose, and I was glad it rarely became more than a vague undercurrent.

So all in all, the season felt like a step backwards. Ultimately, I think the problem was with the writing: Some uninspired or ridiculous stories, and not enough attention to premises that made sense. I also admit I’m eager to see the Doctor spend a little time away from Earth (only two stories in the season fit that bill). Here’s hoping season three will be better!

Bones

Tonight we’ve watched a couple of episode of the TV series Bones. I’d sum up the series thus:

“The adventures of Mr. Spock as a woman in the FBI.”

And if that weren’t odd enough, all of her co-workers call Ms. Spock “Bones”.

Anyway, it’s otherwise your basic police procedural with a somewhat disfunctional protagonist. And these days “police procedural” is another term for “entertaining, but not essential”.

Heroes

Debbi and I have been watching Heroes since its debut, and haven’t missed an episode. We’ve watched it faithfully for one fundamental reason: It airs on Monday, and Monday is the one night of the week when we typically have nothing else planned. By contrast, it didn’t take long to bail on Jericho, since that airs on Wednesdays, which is both comic book night and gaming night.

Heroes features a world in which some humans have developed super powers, and so far it mainly involves the characters finding how in what ways their life has changed as a result. Two characters have learned that in a month New York City will be destroyed in what seems to be a nuclear blast, and the key to preventing this is to save a cheerleader from Texas. (The series’ tag line is “Save the cheerleader, save the world.”) There are several forces working at cross purposes to this, or so it seems, and the main characters themselves are often of mixed or dubious moral character.

The pacing of Heroes is extremely slow, with a great deal of time spent on the characters’ personal problems and foibles rather than moving the overall story along, and since several of the characters are either dull or not very likeable, this means that the feel of the show is one of “Something interesting happens!” followed by 20 minutes of “I wonder if they’re showing poker on ESPN2?”

The individual characters have their own story arcs which cross but rarely directly relate. Here’s how I feel about each of them:

  • Claire Bennett (Hayden Panettiere) is the cheerleader, who heals from almost any wound. She spent the first episode documenting on videotape her attempts to kill herself, and then changed her mind – a change in motivation which made no sense at all. Her stepfather is the man in horn-rimmed glasses (Jack Coleman) who is investigating powered individuals, and who was described in one episode’s promo as “the face of evil”, but this week’s promo suggests he’s a more ambiguous figure. Claire’s arc is deadly dull, being mainly a boring little soap opera.
  • Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) is a Japanese businessman who can teleport and freeze time. He jumped to New York in the future just before the bomb blast, then returned to the present and flew to America with his friend Ando (James Kyson Lee) to try to stop it. Since then they’ve gotten delayed in Las Vegas encountering several other characters. Oka is hands-down the actor who comes out the best in this series, and his character is the most likeable, which does a lot to keep his arc interesting even though it’s been stalled out for several weeks.
  • Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) is a telepathic policeman who’s having trouble with his marriage. He’s also working with the FBI to investigate a serial killer who seems to have powers (apparently telekinesis). His professional life is interesting, his personal life varies between boring and painful, so his arc is a Jeckyll-and-Hyde one to watch.
  • Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) is the son of a man who was trying to learn about the powered individuals springing up around the globe. He travels to America from India after his father’s death to find out what he knew. Unlike the others, he has no powers that we know of. Although he’s gotten involved with a woman (Nora Zehetner) working for the horn-rimmed glasses man. When Mohinder is around, the story tends to move forward a little, and he seems like a good guy, and Ramamurthy is an engaging actor, so I am encouraged when he’s on screen.
  • Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) is a prospective New York Senator who can fly, but who is not interested in using his powers. His wife is paraplegic, and Petrelli is kind of a slimeball, involved with a mobster and cheating on his wife on a trip to Las Vegas. He also treats his brother like crap. I hate him as a person, so when he’s on screen I mostly hope he’ll get his comeuppance.
  • Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) is Nathan’s brother. Peter thinks he can fly, too, but his actual abilities are somewhat different (I won’t spoil them here). He’s a good guy who is getting involved with the destruction-of-New-York element, but other than a subway encounter with one of the other characters, he hasn’t had a lot to do yet. I’m hopeful, though.
  • Niki Sanders (Ali Larter) is a single mother to Micah (Noah Grey-Cabey) whose reflection in the mirror has a mind – and powers – of her own. She lives in Las Vegas and was an Internet stripper before her debt to the mob sent her on the run. Most recently, her husband D.L. (Leonard Roberts) has shown up and taken Micah away. The story around Niki’s powers is interesting, but her personal problems got old really quickly, around the second episode. Overall a net minus.
  • Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera) is a painter and drug user who paints pictures of the future, including the destruction of New York. Other than meeting Peter, his story has gone nowhere at all.

You can see the common thread here, right? There’s a lot of soap opera plotting going on and it’s just plain boring. The series feels like it’s stuck in its prologue and can’t manage to get the main plot moving. In retrospect, the first episode seems almost entirely redundant. When I think back over the episodes to date, it seems like there’s a lot more motion than progress, and it feels like a series badly in need of editing down to fewer episodes.

The series bend over backward to portray the characters as flawed but not evil, but the writing doesn’t feel consistent. It feels like the writers want us to be able to root for any of the characters, but also not to be able to see what’s coming. Consequently, several characters feel like they’re being pulled in different directions for no good reason; the characterization often feels made-to-order rather than natural.

To me, what drives the interesting bits of Heroes is a set of questions: Who is Claire’s father, and what’s he doing? Who is the killer the cop is tracking? Who’s going to blow up New York, and why? And, of course, why are people developing super powers?

So my fear for this show is that it’s going to fall into the trap of The X-Files and Smallville and (I hear) Lost of not really resolving things. If most of the questions in the preceding paragraph aren’t satisfactorily resolved this season, then I’ll know that the show isn’t serious about telling a story, but just wants to string us along. I bailed on The X-Files in its third season when I realized it wasn’t serious about going anywhere. A series with ongoing storylines needs to deliver a payoff in a timely manner or else it just feels like a cynical effort on the part of the producers and writers: “Keep watching, because something might happen at any minute!”

Overall, I feel that the series isn’t very original from a comic book superhero standpoint, and not very lively from a character drama standpoint. It has the potential to be a good series, but it needs to live up to that potential sometime soon, or I’m going to lose interest, even if it does air on Mondays.

Another view: Scott Marshall