felicity (1)Who else is on a J.J. Abrams high? I’ve been catching up on Revolution, binge-watching Fringe, and catching Star Trek whenever it’s aired on basic cable. (I do own it on DVD, but it’s always on.) And SO MANY Bad Robot/Star Wars/Star Trek mash-up memes.

We’ve come to associate Abrams with time- and universe-hopping, futuristic warfare, and badassery. All good omens for the new Star Wars. But you do know he created Felicity, right? That teeny-bopper mellow-drama from the era of Dawson’s Creek? Fanboys and girls, I think this show warrants some examination. Continue reading

Breaking In, or Trying to Speak Geek

Some pilots want nothing more than to convey to the viewer what the creators imagine to be the unique style and tone of the show. Breaking In, which debuted last night on Fox, wants you to know it’s for geeks. They really, really want you to know it. I can just hear the pitch meeting: “It’s a show about smart geeks who work together to foil security systems and have a crazy boss. It’s like Chuck, meets Archer, meets The Office! With a dash of The Big Bang Theory!”

I won’t rehash the entire plot since there are any number of reviews out there. Basically, a smart but understated guy named Cameron (Brett Harrison of Reaper and The Loop) is not so much recruited by as coerced into working for a security company. The gang at the company, led by Christian Slater as Oz, pull off creative and highly challenging heists for a living.

Star Wars references seem to pop up in everything these days. How I Met Your Mother and Bones incorporate them really well, making you believe the characters think of Star Wars as part of their lives. (Marshall will cut a Thanksgiving turkey with a light saber one day.) In Breaking In, the character Cash (Alphonso McAuley) is introduced wearing a Han Solo costume. His first joke wraps up a nerd joke with a race joke–about how black guys don’t always have to play Lando. It would have been funnier if he just went around dressed as Han Solo with no explanation, leaving it for the audience to notice. (Does it matter what race he is? Meg played a freaking worm in Family Guy’s Star Wars universe.)

That bit is quickly followed by one in which Cash references Avatar then asserts that he speaks Klingon. We get it-you’re a geek!

As the New York Times points out, Christian Slater’s leering coercion of Bret Harrison looks an awful lot like the goings-on on Harrison’s previous geek-friendly show Reaper. Another more subtle geek reference, and one of the episode’s bright spots, was the appearance of the nearly-unrecognizable Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville’s Lex Luthor) as Dutch. He is hilariously doofy in his trailer trash-duds and monster-sized truck. When this show crashes and burns, he could have a future on Raising Hope.

It’s not that this pilot wasn’t entertaining or have it’s funny moments. It just seems like it’s trying way too hard to tell us what it is and what it is not, without allowing us to figure it out over a few episodes. It wants geeks to know they’re the intended audience, but it doesn’t know how to talk to them.

I feel pandered to. Raise your hand if you feel pandered to.

The Clone Wars

In discussing the animated series The Clone Wars, I’ve chosen to treat the movie as the pilot. It functions as one, more or less, but then this series doesn’t need a pilot in the traditional sense anyway. Anyone who hasn’t been living in a Dagobah swamp for the last 35 years has at least a passing familiarity with the Star Wars universe. There are only two signficiant new characters we need to meet here. (For purposes of this analysis I’m ignoring the 2003 TV series, Clone Wars.)

To talk about a Star Wars movie experience you have to start even before the characters appear on screen. At the opening we get the thrill of the “A long time ago…” caption followed by the triumphant appearance of the yellow title logo we know and love (modified with the new title, obviously.) We’re pumped. But instead of a crawl, we get a voiceover reminiscent of a 1940s newsreel. It’s just as boring.

As in the other films, this one doesn’t weigh us down for too long with talk of trade blockades and treaties, although it does start off that way. We jump into the action of battle as Obi-Wan (James Arnold Taylor) and Anakin (Matt Lanter) lead a corps of Clone Troopers against some spindly-legged robots (which look a lot like the robot from The Incredibles).

Once our Jedi heroes dispatch with the enemies they discuss the impending arrival of Obi-Wan’s new padawan. Right on cue, the new character Ahsoka (Ashley Eckstein) shows up–only Yoda has assigned her to train with Anakin, not Obi-Wan, much to Anakin’s chagrin. Thus we get our Reluctant Partnership, staple of cop shows and romcoms.

(I’d like something clarified. Exactly what is the age requirement to train as a Jedi? Mixed messages on this abound throughout the films.)

The first thing we notice about Ahsoka, besides that she looks like the victim of  spray tanning accident, is that she’s really freaking annoying. Sure, she’s supposed to annoy Anankin, but why us? Just thank the Force they don’t mention her midichlorian count.

The other character to be introduced is from a separtist Sinead O’Connor-looking creature called Ventress. There is not much to say about her at this stage except she’s bad.

After Act I we move on to a plotline where the Jedi have to rescue Jabba the Hutt’s infant son. (Which begs the question, how do Hutts reproduce?) It turns out the rescue mission is a frameup by Count Dooku to make it look like the Jedi are trying to kill the mini-Jabba. Padme Amidala comes along to assist. She looks and sounds pretty cool, probably the least cartoony, if that makes sense, of all the characters. There is just the briefest reminder that Padme and Anakin’s relationship is a secret, which sets up lots of possibility down the road for series plotlines. It is when her character is introduced that we get some variety to the action, cutting between her scenes and Anakin’s. You can’t even call it a subplot – the story is pretty much one thread.

So what works and what doesn’t about this pilot? The good: Obi-Wan, a consistently interesting character from all six previous films is back. Yoda looks fantasic animated. And Anthony Daniels as C3PO. The bad: Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu. Doesn’t he have other stuff to work on? Can’t he go away and let us forget that “This party’s over” ever happened?

Possibly the biggest problem with this is that it can’t seem to decide whether it is for kids or adults. It’s like what happened to Return of the Jedi with all the Muppets, and to Phantom Menace with all the Gungin nonsense. The best thing, though is this: After years of hearing about the Clone Wars, we actually get to see the Clone Wars! The show has certainly found success, with season 3 set to begin in fall 2010, and enough merchandise to choke a Hutt.