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.

Desperate Attraction: ABC Studio Day Set Visits: Castle & Private Practice – TCA Summer 2009 Press Tour – Feature

As the center of TCA approaches the essential question is the aspect of longevity of shows. The key is creating a progression that people can gestate into. With ABC’s portion of set visits, they highlighted both the newly christened with possibility and the proven formula which continues its dominance but with a balance of what made it great while branching out.

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Castle  This series starring  came out of nowhere but has a levity and structure of chemistry that grows on you. Shot at Raleigh Studios In Hollywood though set in NY, the narrative follows a successful novelist shadowing a female detective as a subject for his new thriller. As a concept it is a pretty simple but it works because the dialogue is sharp and the actors especially the two leads,Nathan Fillion (as Castle) and Stana Katic (as Beckett) are so likable.

Entering the soundstage which less than two years ago housed the LA set for “Ugly Betty” is like deja vu since the initially staging area is for a fashion show stage which will be part of the current episode for the fall that they are shooting on this day (Episode 2). After sneaking a quick look at the precinct set in the back of the stage, Seamus Dever, who plays Det. Kevin Ryan, lead us back up to the main stage as we discuss the finer points of smoking on-camera. He quit a while back but he still has to smoke the herbals once in a while for their show.

In the white expanse of the fashion set, Nathan Fillion in true form as his Whedon protege element does his catwalk move in full ham mode out into view. The shenanigans of course must continue off screen, Andrew Marlowe, the creator of the show, comes out and talks about the new season which starts airing in late September. They got an order for 13 for Season 2 with the possibly for the back nine.

At the end of last season, Fillion’s Nick Castle was on the outs with Stana Katic’s Kate Beckett. Their chemistry is great but needs to definitely be upped but the balance as I later discussed with Katic is one of those very specific things, She has the hardest job which she understands but first, the coolness of the peanut gallery.

Walking into the back of Castle’s loft which is filled to the brim with books and macho slick, we sit down at the bar near the dining area. Seamus and John Huertas (who plays Det. Javier Esposito) are a bunch of cracks-up who know what makes the series work but also what they need to do. The only thing lacking in the back as we chilled out was mojitos. The great balancer on the show they agreed was comedy. Their little in-jokes with Castle at the expense of Beckett is what gives the levity to a lot of the precinct scenes which could get bogged down in analytics (but don’t).You can tell they throw off Katic the best they can since she has to maintain that steely exterior. It just seems a fun time for them.

Heading over to the cusp of the fashion set, Katic sits utterly comfortable, out of her detective’s uniform. Without her glasses, she is quite beautiful with a touch of Sarah Palin which simply comes from that paradox of her deliberateness. Her awkwardness at times is what creates those grand moments, sort of like Maggie on “Northern Exposure”. You get that same kind of feeling. When I ask her about a moment when she (Stana) peeks through Beckett for a moment, she has to think about it. I speak about the comedy and she smiles a couple minutes later as she cuts in. That “moment” is when her ex-beau Sorenson comes back and they are standing at the car. He seems to leave and at that moment, you can see her there looking back. Even though we dont see it alot, Katic has a genuine and beautiful smile that radiates when it comes onscreen which is why they use it sparingly. She has to play the straight man and she knows it. She is a little goofy she says.

She relates about how during hiatus she had gone to Europe to see family and promote the show and then she went to Bora Bora with friends. She especially liked talking about Italy and just the aspect of characters and family in the old world, especially with the men and women. Interestingly enough these concepts of family are both in the minds of Katic and, by interesting extension, Fillion as talked to a couple minutes later but from a separate pereception.

Point taken though is the great radiant smile of Katic which is totally here which hopefully will get its shine again this season. There is a couple bits in the first season in Episode 8 where she gets to be very feminine which she really liked. She seems like the sweats kind of girl and  loves to go hiking here in LA. Her, Seamus and one of the other cast members are currently training for a local triathalon so physicality is always something on their minds.

Heading into the study, the man and the myth of Castle stands behind his desk. The pun by extension is that on the desk there is a big bowl of heavy balls, which has its intended connotation. Fillion is dressed in a maroon shirt and is every way into this guy. You really see him living in the skin. He knows that he is the more immature one. You can also see that he has a really cool relationship with his onscreen daughter Molly Quinn as Alexis. She keeps him in line.

Nathan speaks about his ex-wife on the series Martha played by Susan Sullivan. When asked if the different masks have to permeate through him (like if he acts different around different people in terms of the character), Fillion says that he tries to keep him honest across the board as to who he is. He might be working the situation as Castle but the character never denies who he is.

He  says that he bases certain elements of the character’s structure around his mother and father’s relationship. In his mind, parents drive you nuts but you love them nonetheless. He sees that as the attraction in the series with the ex-wife Martha.

Making the point that this might be what drives the chemistry between Castle and Beckett, Nathan denies that in time. But actually on a subconcious point, that might be the case. He says that his mother was a worrier, maternal and tries to be protective which is very similar to how (when Castle isn’t looking), Beckett reacts.

The great thing about the series (which maybe as a performer he is withdrawn from) is that in the cut away scenes of Katic, you see those moments which we as the audience may only be privy to (which is a great tell). There is a great layering here that seems to be happening organically which is simply spurred on by the uniqueness specifically of these actors in this situation. It can only get better. “Castle” has legs.

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Private Practice  Across the parking lot and past the satellite dishes, the set for the “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff is ready to go. Having never gotten into either “Grey”, or by extension, “Practice”, the connection for me was perhaps undirected. However, entering in, the perception became aware simply by the layout. The doctors who can do their own thing collide by sheer chance and will.

Shonda Rhimes, the force behind both “Grey” and “Private”, still goes through every script. Sitting at the conference table surrounded by her producing team, she admits to last season ending a little dark but that they are looking to bringing a lighter element. She speaks of next season in the movement of Dr. Addison played by Kate Walsh and the essence of Violet (played by Amy Brennaman).

Shonda doesn’t watch other medical shows so their influence is negated although she loves “Project Runway”, She says a lot of medicine in the show is just in the everyday lives of the people. This is none more connected in this way than Taye Diggs at the current moment. The most life changing element that has affected him and, in turn, informs his character has been his real life marriage and specifically the wedding to his wife. Presently she is pregnant and is expecting. Diggs knows that this will completely change his life and is affecting how he looks at work. People keep telling him having a child will change everything. He is excited but you can tell that he is both elated and scared by what to expect. This kind of human possibility seems to infuse the show.

Talking to Kate Walsh in a plush hangback chair in the practice’s waiting room, she seems chill in her countenance of what will motivate her character as well as within her character’s family, which is a continuing but powerful motif, The question is the angle at which you hit it.

Shonda, in point, gives an apt and visionary conclusion which seems to be indicated and vindicated in many ways sheerly by the structure of the set. Shonda says that she can be claustrophic as a person and relationships here speak to that. It is all about forced proximity and desperate separation. This is a good formula for exacting and reactive dram

With both “Castle” and “Private Practice”, the angle seems to the thought process of the characters, their reactions and attractions and their eventual weaknesses which propel the series. In seeing the lives within the sets, the progression of these lives becomes ever more clear.

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]