Supernatural and victim POV

I’ve never watched Supernatural. By pure coincidence, I chose today to start watching it. I only found out afterward that today is the anniversary of the day the story begins, November 2, 1983. [Cue spooky music.]

sam-dean-supernatural

Here is the sum of everything I knew about the show. Two dreamy brothers, one of whom was played with an actor who left Gilmore Girls for the role, chase down supernatural beings. And that the driver picks the music and shotgun shuts his cake hole. That’s it. Continue reading

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Saving Hope

As Saving Hope heads toward the light, not a lot of people will mourn its passing, according to the ratings. It did so poorly this summer that NBC isn’t airing the final two episodes of the lone season. Viewers have had to watch online to find out if Charlie, a charismatic surgeon, wakes up from his coma. The finale goes online Sunday.

Saving Hope is a kind of Dead Like Me meets Grey’s Anatomy — and those two show probably don’t have a ton of audience overlap. Continue reading

Bewitched

The creator of Bewitched, Sol Saks, who passed away last week, wrote only the pilot before moving on to other things. The show would go on to run eight seasons and then live on in syndication, later spawning a best-forgotten movie in 2005. Shows from Charmed to Mad Men can be said to have roots in Bewitched. So old Sol did pretty well for himself with this one script.

Bewitched is the story of married life between a witch and her mortal husband, with ongoing meddling by her mother. The pilot falls back on the crutch of having a disembodied voice narrate the back story, rather than having it unfold naturally. In this case, the latter choice might have worked better, because it almost feels as if these two characters just woke up married. We first get to know the beautiful blond Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) and her nerdily handsome ad exec husband Darrin (Dick York) on their wedding night. Somehow, they’ve made it this far without him discovering that she is a witch, or apparently, meeting each other’s families or friends.

It’s not a particularly original premise. Saks admitted to taking inspiration from the play/movie “Bell Book and Candle.” Supernatural families were familiar small screen territory, with The Munsters and The Addams Family premiering the same year.

As Samantha primps in the bedroom of the honeymoon suite, we first see her use her powers to levitate a hair brush. It’s not a bad special effect for 1964. Samantha’s mother appears out of thin air to reprimand her for getting married and attempt to take her away. The mother, Endora (Agnes Morehead), establishes herself as a strong female character, but what else would you expect from a witch? The stereotype of the ugly old hag in a pointy black hat is acknowledged and tossed out with humor. Samantha demostrates equal strength by standing up to Endora, insisting on staying with her new hubby. These are real witches, the show seems to say. (But no recitation of the Wiccan rede.)

Any flicker of feminism is soon extinguished, however. Once Darrin adjusts–with the help of no more than a couple of drinks and the dismissal of his skeptical friends–to Samantha’s witchhood, he basically tells her it’s all good, so long as she learns to cook and keep house. Toward the end, Samantha hints that she will not be without the aid of magic in completing her domestic chores, so there’s the hook to keep the audience coming back. She apparently plans to keep her magic use under her non-pointy hat while her husband remains oblivious. Nice, healthy marriage. We know to expect lots of intereference from Endora, too.

The rest of the pilot plot revolves around a jealous bitch of an ex-girlfriend who invites the newlyweds over for dinner. Man, she’s a bitch. The irony of the non-witch being the evil one here isn’t subtle. Samantha takes her revenge, however, to Darrin’s disapproval. We can see Darrin isn’t going to approve of much. That’s okay, he’ll eventually be recast in one of TV history’s most well-known shark jumps.

Here are ten fun facts about Bewitched.

One Step Beyond

Shows like One Step Beyond and the better-remembered Twilight Zone are, in many ways, the entertainment ancestors of The X-Files, Fringe, and numerous other science fiction series featuring a mystery-of-the-week. So it’s informative to explore where sci-fi (or SyFy) television came from. Although the show doesn’t appear to be widely known, it had a reboot (The Next Step Beyond) in the 70s has been available on DVD since 2009.

One Step Beyond hit the airwaves in January 1959. In the episodic dramas of today we generally follow along with investigators as they try to solve the mystery at hand. Back then, we just had things laid out before us by a narrator. John Newland, who was a well-known actor and director at the time, claims that these stories are true. Whether we’re really meant to believe that is unclear. Newland introduces and concludes each one with measured gravitas. He’s not given to flashlight-under-the-chin mellowdrama. Each half-hour episode tells a single, stand-alone story, with different characters every time. It doesn’t matter much which order they are viewed in.

Episode 2 actually seems like it might have made a better pilot than Episode 1. (It’s possible it was the episode that sold the series.) Episode 2 is about the sinking of The Titanic, and various premonitions people–real or fictitious–had about it. With such a well-known and captivating event at its center, one would think this episode would have been idea for capturing an audience. That being said, I’m here to look at Episode 1, “The Bride Posessed.” The title itself is a bit of a spoiler, but it’s a fairly original tale.

We open with a rather cheap wedding reception in a tavern. The boisterous guests all seem to be friends of the groom, Matt (Skip Homeier), and we learn that the bride, Sally (Virginia Leith) is newly transplanted to California from Louisiana. There’s a bit of suspense about whether a certain wedding guest might get surly, but nothing comes of it. Perhaps this is an attempt to set the audience on edge for what’s coming.

As the couple drives away from their reception, Sally is asleep. When she wakes up, she begins directing Matt where to drive, giving explicit detail, even though she has supposedly never been here before. She becomes increasingly frantic to get to a particular location, eventually taking the car and leaving him stranded. Matt enlists the help of a policeman, who accompanies him to find Sally in an abandoned house. The officer explains that the previous resident recently committed suicide by jumping off of a nearby cliff, the name of which we heard Sally mention in the car. As things unfold, it becomes clear that the dead woman, Karen, has posessed Sally in order to report that she was, in fact, murdered.

We’ve seen stories of people who returned from the dead to solve their own murders, and stories of people posessed by demons, but this is a little different from either. Sally’s head doesn’t spin around; there is no blood or gore whatsoever. We never even meet the accused murderer. The story is primarily told from the point of view of the groom, watching his new wife thrash and scream with frustration when no one will listen to her. One exception is when we see though Sally’s eyes; in perhaps the most spine-tingling moment of the episode, she looks into a mirror and the reflection is that of Karen.

Resolution comes when the dead woman, through Sally, leads them to the murder weapon used to bash her head in. Sally falls asleep again and wakes up as herself. (One wonders what kind of anxiety this man is going to experience everytime his wife dozes off.)

Though it may not be suspensful or action-packed by today’s standards, “The Bride Posessed” hooks the viewer by asking them to wonder “what if?” That is really why we watch science fiction, is it not?

Ghost Whisperer

I’ve watched various episodes of Ghost Whisperer over time, in no particular order. I’m always slightly confused because there are different characters on it every time I happen to catch it. Sometimes Camryn Manheim is on it, sometimes Jamie Kennedy, sometimes Jay Mohr and, in the episode I caught today, Aisha Tyler. So I had to get to the bottom of this and see the original cast in action. A lot of shows switch actors and characters over time, in response to ratings or whatever, but we must assume that the pilot is the closest thing to the creator’s real vision.

To introduce Melinda (Jennifer Love Hewitt) the writers present her to us as a little girl. At a funeral for an old man, she has a predictable interaction with the deceased’s ghost, sharing a secret message with his widow. If you came into this viewing with no idea what the show is about, that takes care of it quickly and cleanly.

We then find the adult Melinda at her wedding reception, perhaps suggesting some parallel between this day and the one at the long ago funeral. She has a heart-to-heart with her new brother-in-law that reveals a few details about her husband Jim (David Conrad). He is a paramedic who recently lost a patient.

The newlyweds move into a new house, the house becoming the source of things creepy that will form the plot of the episode. Melinda immediately starts seeing weird stuff, but since that ghost in the cold open was such a sweetie it’s not quite clear why these new ones are scary.

The show’s “rules” are spelled out through a coffee house conversation Melinda has with her best friend Andrea (Aisha Tyler).  She utters an adage that seems to carry great weight: “Places aren’t haunted. People are haunted.”  Yet, the new house certainly seems haunted, and Melinda claims that ghosts don’t usually make house calls.

The pilot plot revolves around the ghost of an M.I.A. Vietnam soldier (Jensen Ackles) who is looking for his wife. He—or someone—yells at her in a dream, something that apparently happens to her regularly. She tracks down the soldier’s son (Balthazar Getty). Although Melinda has been assisting sprits for most of her life, she’s really awkward and embarrassed when it comes time to talk to the living relatives.

By this point, I’m wondering why the writers bothered with the cold open of Melinda as a child. If they were telling us that the talking to ghosts thing is old hat for her, then why does it seems so fresh and scary in her adulthood? Why did they choose her wedding day as the point of attack for this story?

The other unexplained circumstance is that Melinda has recently promised her husband she’ll cut back on the ghost counseling business. Yet her husband seems okay with her vocation, at least until he has his own crisis of faith about being a paramedic. Finally, a Shamylan-style twist keeps this pilot from completely dying on the vine.

Eventully, of course, she reunities father and son through a tearful exchange one-sided exchange. She paraphrases what the ghost says—something I’ve noticed she does in other episodes as well—going to far as to correct his grammar. But I guess you’d be smug, too, if you had supernatural powers.

When all is done and the dead have gone into the light, this pilot doesn’t leave me feeling that I’ve gotten to know these characters. It has been more about how life, death, and afterlife work, and we’ve had that spelled out at least a thousand times since Carol Anne got sucked into the TV. The next episode could just as well be about a different ghost whisperer, solving another ghost’s quest for closure. So, as a pilot I wouldn’t say this episode carries its weight. And with all the subsequent changes one feels like there must have been a lot of “this show would be pretty good if only…” Although it ran for 5 seasons, the network finally threw in the towel last year. (A rumor that ABC is going to pick it up was apparently unfounded.) Jennifer Love Hewitt says an emotional good-bye here.

Angel

Spin-off pilots are their own breed. In some ways they have it easier than regular pilots, already having a waiting audience. For Joss Whedon creations, this effect is even greater. In other ways, they have it harder, since fans can be demanding. The pilot for a spin-off has to balance enough familiar information to let existing fans feel like they’re in on something, but still lay out the exposition and character introductions needed to get the series started.

In Angel, we’re reintroduced to the title character (David Boreanaz), now living in Los Angeles. He brings us into the setting with a few words describing the City of Angels (pun not spelled out but certainly implied), while he sits somberly in a dive bar. We get that the city is going to be as a much a character as anyone. Angel is drunk off his ass, and we could open a whole discussion on the chemistry of vampire intoxication, but not here. He is slobbering to the unwitting barfly next to him about the girl who got away, without naming Buffy. (For some reason, there is a giant rainbow flag hanging in the bar, but there is no other indication that it’s a gay bar. Or why Angel would be in a gay bar.)

Within moments our hero is dispatching with some evil vampires about to feed on some nubile young clubbers. It’s a big, bad comic-book style brawl that leaves Angel jonesing for blood. He heads home, to his dark basement apartment, to find a half-human Irishman named Doyle (Gleen Quinn) waiting for him. Doyle fills us in on Angel’s origin story and the Buffy-Angel relationship. Doyle is some sort of psychic with migraines. He’s got an assignment for Angel, to go meet a woman at a coffee shop who is some kind of trouble.

The girl is being hunted by a wealthy investor who turns out to be a powerful vampire named Russell. Angel tries to protect her, but she gets herself killed, and Russell decides to lure Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), who is now an aspiring actress, into his lair. And some other stuff happens.

It’s best not to think too much about the plot. Everything happens a bit too easily: Doyle just pops in and Angel obeys without question, then Angel just happens to be at a party where Cordelia is, then the same vampire that kills the girl in the coffee shop just happens to have his sights set on Cordelia as his next victim. Angel, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer before it, succeeds more on its wit.

For all its action-packed mellowdrama, this pilot is full of laughs. Even Charisma Carpenter’s painful acting is saved by some great one-liners. My favorite is, when she calls Russell out as a vampire, she accuses: “I’m from Sunnydale. We had our own Hellmouth.”  Another one is, after Cordelia babbles on about her fabulous life and then walks away to talk to more important party-goers, Angel remarks, “It’s nice to see she’s grown as a person.” Other bits are more subtle and surprising. Angel jumps gallantly into his convertible to chase after bad guys only to realize it’s not his car.

David Boreanaz’s social awkwardness is just adorable. Lest we forget how beautiful he is, the writers remind us at least twice in this episode. As a character he is oblivious to his own hotness (vampires don’t have reflections, remember) which makes him that much more appealing. Darn it, he just wants to do the right thing.

So for Buffy fans or the uninitiated, this pilot is super entertaining. And it ends with a beginning, the launch of Angel Investigations, so it keeps the viewer coming back for more.