TV postsFriday May 06, 2011
Which Star Trek Series Would You Like to Guest On?
In one of those increasingly popular polls on Facebook, my friend Tim, of StarshipTim, who was also Captain of the U.S.S. Brock during that big Romulan-Borg hullabaloo, answered the question “What [Star Trek] series would you like to guest on?” with “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” No surprise. He's been big on that series for a while.
I answered the original series, the one with Kirk, Spock and McCoy, TOS to fans, and relayed my reasoning to Tim in a series of posts:
- The miniskirts alone answer that question for me.
- Plus I want the pointy sideburns, the boots, and my shirt torn and the trickle of blood during a fight. Hopefully with Finnegan.
- Plus I want to ignore the Prime Directive at my discretion.
- But it's mostly the miniskirts.
I'm not saying it wouldn't be dangerous...
“Klingons? What? Attacking? Huh?”
“Make It Go”
The Pakleds, for the non-geeks in the audience, are a race of low-browed, backwards humanoids from a fourth season episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” entitled “Samaritan Snare,” who nevertheless manage to travel through space. They do this by kidnapping members of more advanced species--such as Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton) in this episode--and utilizing his advanced technology. They gather around him and say things like “We look for things” and “Make it go.” Eventually Geordi escapes, of course.
Here's the question of the day: Are the Pakleds an after-the-fact metaphor for all the non-techies in the world, such as myself, who gather around the techies of the world with our broken smartphones and TV remotes and laptops and say, “Make it go”? Or were they conceived as such by Robert L. McCullough, the writer of the episode?
I have no idea. I just know this: teeth are for chewing.
What's Good in "The Pacific"
I've been watching "The Pacific" without being a big fan of "The Pacific." We never know these guys well enough, and we get the feeling that they don't know each other well enough. In "Band of Brothers," to which "The Pacific" will forever be compared and forever found wanting, the characters felt like they'd already gotten past the get-to-know-you stage and thus engaged on a deeper level. Here, they're forever introducing themselves. Guys come, guys go. We watch guys cry for guys we don't know and don't know why. We're not always following the same group, either, the same platoon, so cohesion is an issue, but the filmmakers make it more of an issue. The stories are as spread out as the Pacific islands they're invading.
Worse, the series feels slightly off, slightly false. In the midst of unspeakable horrors—which the series handles well—we'll get a speech that feels like a speech; like it was drafted by Henry Luce. The series is trying too hard.
The one bright spot for me is a dark spot: Rami Malek as Merriell Shelton. When we first see him, part of the same platooon as Eugene "Sledgehammer" Sledge, our innocent Southern boy, he's an annoyance. He's got a faraway look and a sing-songy voice that implies the world isn't as neat as Eugene thinks it is. One gets the feeling the war didn't do this to him, either; he showed up this way. But the war ain't helping.
With every episode he's grown on me. He's the one guy who feels real. Last Sunday we watched him toss pebbles into the open skulls of half-decapitated Japanse soldiers. At one point our boys ran into a non-combat soldier who asked them, these exhausted Marines, if anyone had a souvenir, a Jap sword or flag, he could bring home with him, and while the others were silent or combative, Shelton was matter of fact. "Nobody's going home" he said almost joyfully.
I doubt it's a star-making turn but I hope it's a character-actor-making turn. "The Pacific" is slightly off, but Malik's Shelton is gloriously off.
Why We Watch "Mad Men"
Adam Cohen has a peculiarly limp piece on "Mad Men" in The New York Times today. Or yesterday. Who the hell knows anymore?
Cohen argues that the AMC show is popular in our troubled times because it offers a view of earlier troubled times—times we don't even think of as troubled. It's Sept. 1963 and things are bad all around: Don Drapper is getting pissier, Betty Draper is getting colder, Salvatore Romano has been fired because a client made a pass at him, and little girls are getting blown up in Birmingham churches. Cohen writes:
To a generation beaten down by skyrocketing unemployment, plunging retirement savings and mounting home foreclosures, “Mad Men” offers the schadenfreude-filled message that their predecessors were equally unhappy — and that the bleakness meter in American life has always been set on high.
First, I'm not sure which generation is receiving "Mad Men"'s message, since it's not a particularly watched program. Has any episode garnered a rating above 3 million? Does it do better than "Monk" or "Army Wives" or "The O'Reilly Factor"? Doesn't look like it.
Second, Cohen ignores the genius of "Mad Men." It markets itself as nostalgia—remember those finger-snappin', Kennedyesque times when drinks were drinks, dames were dames, and fun was fun?—but presents a reality that can horrify. The women are generally so mistreated, and in such an obtuse, smug way, you can't wait for the Betty Friedans and Gloria Steinems of the world to come along and right things.
Third, do we watch this thing from schadenfreude? To be honest, the show probably hooked me with good reviews, good looks, and the promise of easy sex, and now hooks me for the following reason: I know what's going to happen (in the world) and they don't. And I don't know what's going to happen (to them) and want to find out.
It's Sept. 1963. I know in two months John F. Kennedy will be assassinated. I know in five months the Beatles will arrive. I know the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will all pass, and I know "We Shall Overcome" will become "Hey ho, Whitey's gotta go!," and I know SNCC will give way to SDS which will gave way to the Weather Underground, and I know short hair will gave way to Beatles hair which will gave way to long hair, and I know pot will give way to LSD, and free love will gave way to assassination. I know we'll land on the moon in 1969.
The ad business is a young man's game and I know it will become a younger man's game, and eventually a younger person's game, and I wonder how Don Draper, so cool and comfortable in 1960, will handle that. How old will he be in 1970? What will he look like? Balding? With muttonchop sideburns and big flowery collars? Trying desperately to fit in? Say it ain't so!
He's already missing the boat. His daughter's teacher wants to hear a replay of MLK's "I have a dream" speech, which surprises him. The big moments are happening and he doesn't see them. Those pot-smoking kids who drugged him, beat him, and took his money are like a visit from later in the decade. The times they are a changin'.
Where will Salvatore be in 1969? How will Joan and her curves handle the Twiggy era? Will Peggy become Don's boss? How will he handle that? How will she?
That's the continued appeal of "Mad Men" to me, and I wouldn't exactly call it schadenfreude. We live in uncertain times (particularly economically) and I don't know what's coming. They're about to live through uncertain times (particularly socially) and I know what's coming. There's a sense of superiority in that knowledge but also a sense of solicitude. You want to warn them because you can't warn yourself.
This season, following the disaster of Medellin, in which, in fat suit and moustaches, Vinnie Chase played (or overplayed) Colombian druglord Pablo Escobar, our movie star's career is in free-fall. He's out of money. He can't get a lead. He's resorted to sweet 16s and modeling gigs to make ends meet. He considered, for a time, starring in a “Benji” movie, then had to fight his ass off to get a supporting role in Smoke Jumpers, a movie about firefighters, when everyone knows movies about firefighters never do well at the box office.
My quick-and-easy prediction? No matter how well Smoke Jumpers does at the box office, Vinnie is nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor — as creator/producer Mark Wahlberg was for The Departed. Then we get all that hoopla. That's my hope anyway. As soon as Walhberg was nom'ed, I hoped they would translate it into the “Entourage” world.
Question: Did Mark Wahlberg ever have a Medellin? Doesn't seem so. Some of his movies may have underperformed, and he's taken hits (OK, pings) from critics (myself included) who thought he didn't bring much to good-guy lead roles, but he's never had a gigantic bomb that prevented him from getting leads. Or so it seems from the outside.