TELEVISION AS ART: KINGS one of the 10 best Pilots of All Time!

“Dreams are a 60th part prophesy…

Learn to read the signs.”


And with those words TVs most elegant, and eloquent parable rose, briefly but brightly, on our screens.

Mixing equal parts religious allegory, alternate history, future tinged fantasy and cautionary tale, Creator/Writer Michael Green and Director Francis Lawrence’s KINGS was something decidedly new and fresh and vibrant and exciting and challenging and smart and of course… being all these things, NBC pulled the plug on it in less than a season, in favor of yet more carbon copy cop dramas.

It is the shame of mass media that tv is littered with stale, boring, uninspired, and ultimately lowest common denominator CSIs and LAW & ORDERS and AMERICAN IDOLS that get renewed year after predictable year, and truly brilliant and revolutionary television, has to fight tooth and nail to make it to a complete season. It’s a shame that Networks are filled with decision makers who continually make the uninspired decision.

The purpose of a pilot, should be to allow the network to be invested enough to grant a show at least an entire season, breathing room to develop and fulfill the promise of that pilot. Unfortunately more often than not, such as with KINGS, the network vultures and ax men begin circling nearly immediately, and the show has to be rushed into episodes and avenues it wasn’t planning for in order to try to assuage networks.

A ploy that seldom works, and didn’t in this situation. In KINGS case the show goes from brilliant with its first 6 episodes (counting the pilot) to floundering, and into a clunky and forced feeling death dive with its 7th episode SABBATH QUEEN, and stays in that rushed uneven keel, till its alternately bombastic and very forced conclusion.

The strength of the first 6 episodes is that lyric writing, and the slow but strong arcs of the characters, which becomes completely erratic, and again forced, with the need to wrap up the story in less than a season.

But the failings of the network in hounding this show to an unsatisfying and unfortunate demise aside, this series is very much worth following and owning for the promise and brilliance of the pilot and the five episodes that follow it.

Because up till then it’s a great example of television as art, with great actors (Eamonn Walker, of BLOOD & BONE and MOSES JONES fame, is one of my favorite actors, anything he is in he brings a weight and gravitas to it, that you can’t see anyone else doing his role as well as him. And KINGS is filled with such brilliant actors), powerhouse performances, lyric, ambitious scripts, feature film sets and scope, great cinematography and location filming, and arguably the most effective and yet understated use of CGI on television, using it seamlessly and invisibly to help create the world and the wonders of KINGS.

And another real strength of the series for me is in its ethnic diversity and casting of strong striking characters who don’t all look like escapees from Dawson’s Creek or Smallville or Whitebread USA.

I’m really put off by shows that have no characters of color or characters of color in token or dismissive/denigrating roles. KINGS is the rare series that is filled with diversity, but that’s not the point of the show, the show is a fantastic riveting, larger than life fable, that just so happens to have astonishing actors of color, portraying people rather than stereotypes, and that’s what I love to see.

And I think part of the issue is NBC didn’t want a show that was ethnically diverse, as all the limited marketing they did… tried to make this look like DALLAS or 90210, something boring and 20something (compare the pics at the top and bottom of this post. The former is what they should have used to publicize this series, and I found only through much hunting, the latter is what they chose to use. If you’re anything like me you find the latter picture extremely uninteresting). NBC had gold, and marketed it like tin.

So KINGS gets the nod as one of the ten best pilots of all time. And its aborted 2009 season, failings and all, stands out as better television than all the inane CSIs combined. Stands out as television, worth your time. And add a commentary and the DVD Boxset gets a grade of B+.

A must own series.

KINGS: Check Prices Here!


Old Time Radio Episode of the Day: SHADOW: DEATH HUNT from 26 Oct 1947

A pretty ludicrous episode of THE SHADOW radio series from 1947, as a man who loses a bunch of money gambling, is so afraid for his wife to know because of her weak heart, that his brilliant idea is to challenge a famous hunter to hunt him for 24hours, and if he survives he’ll win $50000 to pay off his gambling death. Of course if he loses he gets killed messily, and I can’t see that doing his wife’s heart any good.

Like I said, ludicrous.

The problem with latter day Shadow episodes, most of the ones post 1941, is they are scripts stolen from other shows with the Shadow just shoehorned in, and that’s the case with this one as well. The character of the Shadow is largely superfluous to the actual story.

A minor Shadow episode at best. Grade: C-.

********

Now to listen to this show and any other episode of the Shadow, you have a few options. None of them great. It makes me angry, that a show that is definitely public domain, should be kept out of it by greedy fat suits. All 200+ episodes of the SHADOW were readily available on the internet as were the pulp novels back in the late 90s, and even through the aughts when I started my OTR collection. But in the last decade or so unscrupulous types have been subverting public domain, and actually yanking things out of public domain, so they can make their greedy dollar on a product they had no fucking part in creating, producing, etc. They are bloody leeches, buying and locking down something that for good reason should be in public domain and readily available to all.

So yeah you can buy the expensive 9 episode sets that the ‘company that will rename nameless aka radio garbage’ is gouging people with online and via Amazon, but seriously, eff those guys. Do a bit of a search and you can find these episodes online. You can also rent them via libraries, or just borrow it from someone who did buy their overpriced merchandise. And considering their crap is priced 9 times too high, I would (if I purchased it) loan my copy out 9 times, just so others get it.

God don’t like greedy.

It’s really immoral what these companies are doing to public domain.

Okay I’m calm now. Really.

But, If you really want my take on public domain, and greedy fat-cats, do a search for my post on public domain. Here endeth my rant for today.

RATING THE DOCTORS! The Best and Worst of Dr Who! The Most Melodious Dr?!

“You will be brought to account Gavrok, and made to pay for your actions.” -Doctor

“Give me Delta, and I will give you… your life!” -Gavrock

“Life?!! What do you know about life, Gavrok?! You deal in death, lies. Treachery and murder are your currency. You promise life, but in the end it will be life that defeats you!” -Doctor

“You have said enough. I have traversed time and space to find the Chimeron queen. I will not be defeated.” -Gavrok

“You will. I came here under a white flag, and I will leave under that same white flag. And woe betide any man who breeches its integrity!” -Doctor

—from DELTA AND THE BANNERMEN

I just adore the above exchange. Lines delivered only the way Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, could deliver them. Raising even a ludicrous episode like the Bannermen (which I am aware of the dislike for, and can understand the dislike. It is all over the place) to something I find quite enjoyable. I mean “woe betide” come on, you have to be pretty good to use that in a sentence and make it work! 🙂

Who…. is The Most melodious Doctor Who?

All of the actors , well most of them, that have portrayed Doctor Who, have impressive voices. Part and parcel of the role is being able to ramble off this scifi and apocalyptic jargon, not just competently, but believably. With authenticity.

You have to be able to sell to an audience… urgency and belief.

And all of the doctors to varying degrees were good at this, but I would say the top 3, are Tom Baker, David Tenant and surprisingly enough Sylvester McCoy. I think Sylvester McCoy, because he had the bad luck to be on the sinking ship of Doctor Who when it sunk, and follow up the inglorious run of Colin Baker, is often overlooked, or judged out of hand as the bottom of a rather steep slide into cancellation.

I myself had that impression of McCoy, based I admit unfairly, on nothing more than his rather clownish appearance. But his episodes finally watched what amazes is his… commitment, his intensity and particularly his delivery.

He’s a rare word-smith.

“There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea’s asleep and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Ace, we’ve got work to do.”
― Sylvester McCoy

That quote sums up everything that made McCoy’s Doctor, and McCoy’s era (once he got rid of Mel [another poor John Nathan-Turner companion] and teamed up with Ace) one of the strongest since early Tom Baker.

Tom Baker may be the quintessential Doctor Who and the one with the most commanding voice, Jon Pertwee may be the most ‘man of action’ Doctor Who and the one with the most number of great episodes, and David Tenant may be across the board the most consistently excellent Doctor Who, but Sylvester McCoy can deliver a line, better than any of them. His delivery is like a song.

So he gets my vote for the most Melodious Doctor Who. 🙂

DELTA AND THE BANNERMEN is typically not mentioned on anyone’s best of list :), but it is definitely a three part story worth finding a copy of.

The first episode starts a bit slow, but stick with it because it becomes a pretty great three parter, and McCoy earns his word-smith title, delivering great lines, and making them even greater with his delivery. Check him out on the cliffhanger of Episode #2 I believe, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

That episode and the four part REMEMBRANCE OF THE DALEKS is must own McCoy era Dr. Who. Definitely recommended.

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks (Special Edition) (Story 152) (See all Sci-Fi & Fantasy Cult Movies)

Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermen – Story 150 (See all Sci-Fi & Fantasy Cult Movies)

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks (Special Edition) (Story 152)

RATING THE SEASON! Review of DOCTOR WHO (2005) Season 5

Review of DOCTOR WHO Season 5 (that’s New Series numbering, it’s actually Season 31 overall).

I re-watched this season, the first with Matt Smith as the eponymous Doctor and Steven Moffat as show runner to see if my opinion of it changed any.

And I have to say it didn’t.

Overall, outside of the quite compelling scoring, I still find the season dreadfully flawed, for two main reasons. The first is the companions.

Doctor Who is only as good as the companions/writing, and just as Ecleston’s years were hurt by the character of Mickey, and the Baker and Davidson years hurt by the character of Adric, the Matt Baker Doctor is hurt by the Dawson’s Creek/Smallville annoying soap opera antics of the companions Amy Pond and Rory.

I know some people are found of the Amy Pond character, but having watched all of season 5, she is, to me, like fingernails on a chalk board.

Largely it’s a combination of the pouty, annoying way she is written and the pouty annoying way she plays the character. More the latter than the former. As even in scenes where she is saying nothing, just supposed to be looking meaningfully, I find her among the most annoying things I’ve ever seen. Give me back Martha Jones or Rose Tyler any-day.

That said there were moments where she didn’t annoy me in season 5 (or more precisely, gave a performance that did something other than annoy me), most notably the 2nd episode of the season ,THE BEAST BELOW, where the Amy character saves the day in a way. A nice bit of storytelling, and cutting down on the annoying poutiness Karen Gillan tends to do, rather than act.

But largely I found her annoying, and add the Cory character, played by Arthur Darvill, to that already uninteresting dynamic, and the show becomes exponentially annoying.

Which leads me to the 2nd flaw of the season. Steven Moffat’s writing. Steven Moffat is a great writer when on his game, episodes like BLINK and THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE showing the writing chops that got him the job of Show Runner, replacing Doctor Who Resurrectionist Russell T. Davies. However this season he gets away from what are his strengths, and tries to beat Russell T. Davies at his game; of large universe ending threats.

Which tends to get old, after a while. Russell T. Davies himself playing that card one time too many, till by his last story, THE END OF TIME , it just came off as tired, and forced, and a chore.

So Moffat trying for that epic overarching universe ending scope in season 5, just did not work for me.

The small intimate stories in season 5 were fine, but those were few and far between, and most of the season was given over to this crack of time Storyline, that I thought was largely rubbish through most of season 5.

Exceptions being:

BEAST BELOW Grade B+

THE TIME OF ANGELS Grade B. A really strong first half, with a great cliffhanger. But the 2nd part is a letdown, exhibiting the diminishing returns of more is less. One weeping angel in the Season 3 episode BLINK, brilliantly directed by Hettie MacDonald, was scary, but here an army of Weeping Angels are just… boring and a disappointment. And the director fails to use the conventions that Hettie MacDonald devised to make this conceit… scary. It shows Directors are not interchangeable, and when you get a great one like Hettie MacDonald you should keep using her. Particularly on as iconic and fragile an idea as Weeping Angels.

VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR- Grade B. An intimate, standalone episode.

THE LODGER- Grade B-.

Those 4, standalones primarily, are the highlights of season 5. The remaining episodes I would chuck with the bath water. Your mileage may vary.

Moffat when on his game is great at small intimate tales, that have less to do with saving worlds then saving one person. His stories more fable than scifi, tales as much of sleeping beauties and spells and ogres and handsome knights, as anything to do with space faring threats.

There’s an immediacy, a personalization to Moffat’s writing that comes through in places, However the season finale fails to be one of those places. The finale stumbles over its own, “let me outdo the last universe ending threat” pattern.

And did I mention I really can’t stand the companions?

So the whole season hinges on you caring for Amy Pond, and accepting the “tell don’t show” greatness of the Doctor, that he does nothing this season to earn.

Matt Smith is an okay Doctor, Moffat has written some great dialog for him, but as stated he’s encumbered by the writing of the companions. I’d like to see a season with him, with non-annoying companions ( I overall like River Song– though the ‘spoilers’ mantra, gets a bit old), and more intimate, less hyperbole ridden universe saving episodes.

Overall a season worth viewing free or if you can rent it cheap, but not one I would suggest buying. Here’s hoping Season 6 when finally available in box set rental, is an improvement. Final grade for DOCTOR WHO: SEASON 5 is C-.

Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series (See all Sci-Fi & Fantasy Cult Movies)

Doctor Who: Series Six, Part 1

Favorite DOCTOR WHO Episodes from Original Series Seasons 1-6!

Favorite DOCTOR WHO Episodes from Original Series Seasons 1-6!

AN UNEARTHLY CHILD, THE AZTECS (Season 1)
Doctor Who – The Aztecs (Story 6) (See all Sci-Fi & Fantasy Cult Movies)

PLANET OF GIANTS, THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH (Season 2)

Doctor Who – Planet of Giants [VHS]

Doctor Who: The Dalek Invasion of Earth (Story 10) (See all Robot & Android Movies & TV)

THE DALEK’S MASTER PLAN, THE ARK (Season 3)

THE MOONBASE (Season 4)

THE ICE WARRIORS (Season 5)

THE DOMINATORS, THE MIND ROBBER-ends weak but good buildup, THE INVASION, THE SEEDS OF DEATH, THE WAR GAMES (Season 6)

Doctor Who: The Invasion (Story 46) (See all Sci-Fi & Fantasy Cult Movies)

More of the best from other seasons next time!

Favorite New Generation Doctor Who Episodes

Well it looks like the research is in and here’s the list of the favorite New Generation Doctor Who Episodes. Working on a proper article but till that’s ready below is a sneak-peak. The first name is the writer, the second the director. Amazing that this show was able to keep such consistent quality while rarely using the same director. But I guess the consistency in look/feel between episodes is due to the music, cinematography, and editing that was consistent, used the same team, for large chunks of the show. Those stalwart camera/editing/music teams listed at the bottom of this article:

BLINK- Season 3- Grade: A+ Stephen Moffat Hettie Macdonald

THE EMPTY CHILD/THE DOCTOR DANCES- Season 1- Grade: B+ Stephen Moffat James Hawes

THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE- Season 2- Grade: B+/A- Stephen Moffat Euros Lyn

THE ARMY OF GHOSTS/ DOOMSDAY- Season 2- Grade: A- Russel T. Davies Graeme Harper

SILENCE IN THE LIBRARY/FOREST OF THE DEAD- Season 4- by Stephen Moffat ends up on a lot of people’s best of list. But not mine, I like it, but don’t love it. Instead I would recommend the claustrophobic Russell T. Davies MIDNIGHT where the Doctor is in a LIFEBOAT type situation. Pretty intense. Followed by TURN LEFT, also by RTD, which I initially wanted to dismiss as rubbish, but grew on me. Both solid B+.

Season 4, Episode 12: The Stolen Earth
Original Air Date—28 June 2008- Balls That’s what RTD has, huge, humongous balls. He thinks bigger than anybody else, no one but him would write a story this big. You have to admire him for that. Just for the sheer audacity of this episode, despite it perhaps not really achieving the grandeur it’s aping (feeling a bit contrived, which is a problem with most of RTDs’s big stories, for the last couple of seasons) it gets an A- for being crazy enough to make the attempt. Pt 1 of 2.

Season 4, Episode 13: Journey’s End- This episode is not a favorite but it is part 2 of the above, so it’s a package deal and needs to be mentioned. There are some spoilers so beware. Okay, there are a lot of great big ideas in this season finale, I mean making a reality destroying gun out of planets, that’s genius. But ultimately it is perhaps too many ideas, there is a fine line between blowing minds, and blowing the own fantastic rules of your fantastic fiction. The whole defeat of the Daleks, rang more than a bit hollow and anti-climatic, and add to that the whole towing of the planet, and it is “check please” time. But those are just symptoms, the real problem is it all just comes out forced and contrived. I like the places the characters are in by show’s end, it’s just the process of getting them there was… flawed. Contrived and forced, there is no better way to say it. So glad I saw it, but definitely some problematic writing. B. I think it was definitely a good time for RTD to step down as lead writer.

HUMAN NATURE/THE FAMILY OF BLOOD- Season 3- Grade:B+ Paul Cornell Charles Palmer

There is a line at the end of this two parter, about the doctor hiding in the skin of humanity to avoid a family of blood, that is possibly the best line that I’ve come across dealing with the doctor (a character that, let’s be honest started out as a bit of nonsensical kids tv/scifi fluff), and that is saying a lot, as a lot of good writing has gone into this character.

It completely encapsulates, what it really means to be the last Time Lord. The horror of that, and the majesty, and the contradiction of that. This seemingly innocuous and affable temporal vagabond and pacifist, who beneath his trappings of humanity, has that within, to make even stars… dim. Wonderful work by director Charles Palmer as well as writer Paul Cornell.

THE SONTARAN STRATAGEM/THE POISION SKY- Season 4- Grade:A- Helen Raynor Douglas Mackinnon

This 2 part episode does not typically get mentioned, but it is one of my favorite two-parters.
The Return of the ravishing Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones (“God, she’s well fit” as the Brits would say :)). Bill Gates 2.0. An Insidious Alien invasion, and cars as weapons. What’s not to love? This episode just worked for me, one of my favorite ones since BLINK. Well written and excellently directed. Great cliffhanger. And the second half is just as great.

THE DOCTOR’S DAUGHTER- Season 4- Grade:B+ Stephen Greenhorn Alice Troughton

Cinematography by
Ernest Vincze (director of photography) (as Ernie Vincze)

Film Editing by
Liana Del Giudice

Original Music by
Murray Gold

Cinematography by
Rory Taylor

Film Editing by
Mike Hopkins

More to come, and feel free to suggest your own favorite episodes.

Doctor Who: The Complete First Series (See all Sci-Fi & Fantasy Cult Movies)

Doctor Who: The Complete Second Series (See all Sci-Fi & Fantasy Cult Movies)

Doctor Who: The Complete Third Series (See all Sci-Fi & Fantasy Cult Movies)

Doctor Who: The Complete Fourth Series (See all Sci-Fi & Fantasy Cult Movies)

Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series (See all Sci-Fi & Fantasy Cult Movies)