Light, Darkness & Stop Motion: Returning Fall 2009 Television Shows – Review

The aspect of mythology within some shows can often create a weight that they are unable to pull out from. While the ideas might be just, sometimes a simple idea combined with a cinematic superlative can be much more effective. The balance of this can be found in the latter two shows below on Cartoon Network which while not always on the mark are riveted by moments of brilliance. The key as always is balance.

Heroes The reflection of last year’s Jekyll & Hyde solution to the Sylar Problem created more plot holes than deemed inherently necessary. Despite this, the opening elements of Season 2 seemed to have a bit of epic in them before the progression reconstituted to a more “Carnivale” setting which was less than impressive. All the characters save really for Claire have undergone so many changes that their intentions and wants are quite unnecessary at this point. Sylar’s consciousness and mind grabbing in the life of the all powerful Matt is almost reduced to mere melodrama which doesn’t not intensify the viewer. The writing tends to be on the wall and the reality is that if one can see the lines then the possibilities of the show are in trouble. Despite its lore and the greatness of its first two seasons, unfortunately “Heroes” seems to have worn out its welcome because it didn’t make the stakes high enough. Disasters need to happen and villains (and heroes) must fall.

Dollhouse The conception of where the series leads depends on its ability to show a rebellion of sorts. The mythic conception of the show requires that there be inherent risks. This possibility begins but its outcome is unsure. The inception of this season begins to show the cracks in Echo (played by Eliza Dushku) as well as the false back perceptions of characters like Madeline and especially Sierra. The stakes start to be elevated in terms of having something to lose. The motivation of this series is that control will eventually be lost causing something undeniably bad to happen. However, the story progression still has not reached full stride despite the fact that its potential continues to grow. The problem becomes time because despite fan support, the maintaining of such a complex show is sometimes a quandry in itself.

Batman: The Brave & The Bold The continuation of this play against the norm works because it is a little out there. To initiate the season, a musical episode both made fun and embraced the zany element with Neil Patrick Harris guesting as “The Music Meister”. Actually the execution wasn’t too bad and offered an interesting dichotomy within the structure not unlike “Dr. Horrible” by extension with a bit of the old Warner cool look. The obvious parallel works in “The Phantom Of The Opera” while in the second episode the intent of a “Death Race” places villians and heroes in an all new structure. The genre game begins in earnest but unlike stayed and true formats, Batman overall has been done before. However, this new approach offers something quite niche but ultimately creatively inventive as the long as permission holds.

Robot Chicken The interim of this popular stop motion series depends greatly on being able to make fresh elements without retreading too much ground. This becomes more difficult over time as the creative team must bring into being new and decidely different comic approaches to material. Granted “The Dark Knight” is referenced more than a couple times in the first episodes and the Thor entry, only in play because of the impending movie, misfires. However a “Dark Crystal” rap parody despite being a bit outside the collective consciousness is surprising fresh. The banging robot and Stallone hitting the head with a girly magazine mumbling “Here we go!” still gets great response. The aspect becomes how far do you push? The Dr. Suess parody involving a blue elephant and crackhead kangaroo is gut busting but undeniably might run too far while Captain Kick Ass cleans up shop. The series is touch and go but still has a consistent funny.

Crypts, Chemistry & Dolls: Fox Studio Day Set Visits: Bones & Dollhouse – TCA Summer 2009 Press Tour – Feature

The next adventure unfolded in earnest as the bus curled away from Hollywood into the cusp of Century City making its way onto the Fox Lot for a diversive selection of moments that held both laughs and serious business.

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Bones Having not followed the series and knowing it only by its marketing, the one thing that could always be told (like Maggie and Joel from “Northern Exposure) is that Emily Deschanel who plays Brennan and David Boreanaz who plays Booth have chemistry. The series itself, of course, indicated by the title is about dead bodies. The impromptu gathering was held in the FBI Office set with the lighted mattes of the city outside lit in earnest. Trying to plug my computer into the outlet on set proves that the scene is real in every specific way but not in others. David had not been working that day but Emily had just come off shooting a scene where she is try to talk to her adopted daughter about sex.

The series itself got picked up for two additional seasons which, for co-creator Hart Hanson, allows them  the ability to mold stories into a timeline. The essence, according to the two stars, of last season is that it ended with them supposedly in bed together. However, it existed more apparently in their minds. Brennan was buried in a book and Boothe was in a coma. Some people apparently claim that the connection wasn’t real but it was real enough to them. Emily says that what she has heard from fans is that they half want them to get together; the other half doesn’t. That of course is the rub of all such romances. Best thing, of course, to do is to draw it out as long as possible. David thinks that he and Emily have great chemistry and it translates on screen but  it lies within the characters. Brennan for example, even admitted by Emily, is very naive. According to Emily, Brennan barely knows who Stewie is from “Family Guy”. Hanson makes the point that he is glad  they moved from Friday night to Thursday at 8pm. It is not the greatest move but it is better than where they were before.

Looking around the set, there is defintely a little bit of a modern “Catch Me If You Can” vibe with the deep oak shadows behind the actors while a glass wall sporting the FBI logo dully shines in its translucence. In the essence of Booth, Boreanaz says his character, who is still dealing with the effects of being in a coma, is learning to do things again. He has to learn how to plumb in the most recent scenes he shot. There are now all these new little nuances to discover. Emily and David are also producers now on the show. David explains how into detail with casting and photography he likes to get. Hanson says he’s happy because the actors now get to share the pains of production logistics with him. Emily says, for her, it is a natural extension of collaboration on the show. In terms of new additions next season, Brennan and Booth are still revolving through assistants. Hanson says that all  the guest runs are great but committing to a series regular hasn’t happened yet. Boreanaz teases that it might be interesting to bring in a purely FBI and CIA based guy to up the ante. That means more brain power to use.

[Bones returns Fall 09]

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Dollhouse Curling up past the Star Wars mural and slithering behind the new administration building, the new Fox soundstages I had not seen (as they were built after I worked on the lot in development) came into view, hidden away but obviously decently big in their breathe. Hugh Laurie nonchalantly rides past on his bike. As we turn up a little ramp and around a corner, the full reveal of the entire main “Dollhouse” set comes into play. The sleep sarcophoguses are in an adjoining room but the main foyer is a beautiful set, even more so when you are standing completely within it. Water is actually flowing beneath the floor. The doctor’s viewport is directly where it is supposed to be and the catwalks are laid out in real time.

Dichen Lachman, who plays the silky crisp and beautiful doll Sierra, told me later that she was able to throw a football across this wide expanse. This is when the Doc gave her the memories of his friend and they were chilling out. It was a nice release. “Dollhouse” sometimes works like that but the character work seemed to take a back seat in the general thought. Despite best intentions, an overwhelming weight  was placed on creator Joss Whedon’s creative wrangling (especially involving the series renewal) which seemed to overshadow the set visit. Whedon however took it in stride.

As this is being written, it is a Friday and they were finishing up Episode 1 (Eliza with Joss directing was shooting a scene in the adjoining set as I ran out to catch the shuttle back to the TCA HQ in Pasadena). They start Episode 2 two days from now on Monday. 

Whedon says that he has a much clearer view of where everything is going. “Epitath” which is considered the “lost pilot” using future footage has become almost the Trojan Horse, but despite anything to the contrary, Whedon tends to revel in it. He is the first to admit that he didn’t think he would be sitting here for this season. But he says that “Dollhouse” was merely an idea before. Now it is refined. The studio now gets it. But Whedon knows enough not to go too futuristic. He points to what happened to the other future show (“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”]. Of course, the question is how can you keep making a possibly 2-million-dollar-an-episode show and still bring in enough viewers?

“Dollhouse” is cult for sure but gets big numbers on DVR and on ITunes. It is a bonafide hit within that structure but how does the studio perceive that? And more important, what do the advertisers think? These are the questions being asked of Whedon in this forum. He knows expectation is high but he seems to brush it off in a healthy way, His most important question is how to build Echo. Locking eyes with both Eliza and Dichen while sitting in the front row, you get how game this cast is.

From what Dichen and Enver Gjokaj (who plays Victor) told me after the panel, they don’t get the script until two days before they shoot so it is more about sinking or swimming in the scenario. Enver says that, at times, it is absolute fear that drives him in terms of his characterization. My question, of course, is about the physical strain as well as emotional since it can be trying to be these different people at times. With Dichen, there is a coolness at times in the characters that her doll takes on but, in real life, Dichen is very still and almost shy with a wonderfully delicate nature about her. Talking to them both together on the cusp of the brook bubbling underneath the Dollhouse was almost surreal in its nature simply because the arena is the embodiment of a metaphor and specifically a construct of Whedon Mythology. 

Dichen admits she is scared sometimes when she does one of the dolls because she doesn’t know if she is hitting it right. The thing is that more often than not she hits the nail sometimes with more viciousness than Eliza. The reality is that Eliza gets to be more sexual in some of her doll experiences. Talking at the event, Eliza said she would rather take the risk and do it than not. She likes being girly. She says she was a tomboy growing up and the paradox of this show allow her to revel in her sexual side as some of her alluring and seductive scenes attest to. But she is always empowered and in control. We would want nothing less.

Jumping back to Whedon lore in terms of where “Dollhouse’ will go, it is now life after Alpha. Ballard, the detective, is also now within the Dollhouse. My question, of course, is about the primal nature and the power struggle of these people and how it will evolve but Whedon won’t reveal his plan. Even when Enver asks him what is going to happen, Whedon teases him and says “Wait and see what you will have to do in Episode 2!”

It seems that the actors gets to fly by the seat of their pants as well, especially in terms of the dolls. Dichen says she trained a little bit with kickboxing for this but that is all. Enver had been in “Taking Chance” with Kevin Bacon before this started but you have to keep on your game  physically since you don’t know what might be coming your way, 

In summation as the sun sets, Whedon says that the “Epitath” puzzle serves two masters. He promises that we will see the future shown in the lost episode by the end of the first episode. Whedon’s path is anyone’s guess but it always has possibility. As I bid Enver and Lichen farewell, the soothing calmness of the Dollhouse main set disappears down a corridor into the darkness of night.

[Dollhouse returns September 22nd]