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Misfits

Remember when Heroes first came on the air, and everyone was abuzz with the show's realistic take on superpowers?  Before the writers had a collective aneurysm and everything went to hell?

Misfits is the show Heroes hadn't the balls to be.

The British show revolves around a group of young people serving out community service for various antisocial behaviors.  A freak storm gives them-- along with various other people in town-- strange powers, and the show revolves around their attempts to deal with the consequences.  What's great about it is that none of these people are saints.  There is no Peter Petrelli, Claire Bennett, Matt Parkman, or Hiro Nakamura.  There's no global conspiracy.  No "save the cheerleader, save the world."  The show isn't concerned about the societal ramifications of superpowers entering the world.  It's squarely focused on these five characters, every one of whom is flawed.  Some deeply so. 

Alisha is a fabulously attractive girl who knows she's hot and derives much of her sense of self-worth from the resulting sense of superiority-- until the storm distorts that attraction by making any man who touches her instantly devolve into a sex-crazed wannabe rapist hungering for her flesh while reviling her verbally.  Simon is withdrawn and repressed, avoiding eye contact and uncomfortable with all social interaction, but with an intensity burning beneath the surface that seems barely contained-- the kind of fellow you expect to have a psychotic break at any moment.

The standout character, however, is Nathan-- a selfish, outspoken, foul-mouthed smart aleck with no shame or sense of propriety.  He feels completely new and unique on television, a modern anti-hero you find yourself rooting for and against at the same time.  He's the kind of guy about whom you'd say, "He's a dick, but he's our dick."  Robert Sheehan is clearly the breakout star of the show.  He gets all the best lines and steals every scene he's in.

The first series of the show was solid, establishing the characters, their powers, and the rules of the road.  The second series, however, was simply fantastic-- terrific stories, great writing, and fabulous performances as the cast really found the nuance in their characters.  The development in Iwon Rheon's Simon was particularly great to watch, as the biggest misfit of them all found a place to grow.

I understand Nathan's gone for series 3, as in fact all the original cast is by the end of that season, so I'm a little nervous about continuing past this point.  The first two series have been deeply satisfying, with the kind of rough edges and non-mainstream point of view usually sanded away by Hollywood (yay, Britain!).  I'm hoping the wheels don't fly off the cart in season 3.

If you haven't discovered Misfits yet, however, you've got some great stuff ahead of you.
Comments (108) | last by link indexer, Feb 11, 6:28 AM

Get Ready to Jaunt!

Be still my adolescent heart-- the CW is remaking The Tomorrow People.

I adored this show as a child, when this British cult series was broadcast stateside via Nickelodeon.  It was a somewhat less angsty take on the X-Men, with the next step in human evolution beginning to emerge with teenagers manifesting mental powers-- notably telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation ("jaunting").  Somehow-- I don't think it was ever explained-- they were in contact with a Galactic Federation and acted as ambassadors of Earth (because more "evolved" teenagers are clearly better suited to the job than adult diplomats).  Oh, and something about their evolved nature rendered them incapable of violence.  The effects were horrible, even by 70's Doctor Who standards.  Some of the actors were very difficult to understand.  Characters were dropped between seasons with nary a goodbye.  But I couldn't get enough of it.

It was remade in the 90's with the original creator's involvement, but I've never seen those shows.  Since this will be on the CW, we can assume it will be filled with beautiful young people and bear virtually no resemblance to the essence of the original.  But Smallville had redeeming qualities, Arrow isn't completely horrible, and Supernatural has been mostly terrific.  So who knows, maybe they'll get it right...
Comments (73) | last by video projector, Feb 7, 7:53 PM

Tribal Madness

Last night's Survivor was amazing.  I've been rooting for Jonathan Penner from the start.  I just like the guy.  He's smart, and unlike so many people who get on the show, he's not playing for his ego-- he's playing to win.  He's there to take home the prize, not to make friends or get befuddled by new relationships.  I would love to see a season filled with nothing but people like him.  No models.  No ingenues.  Just strategic, calculating players.

Jonathan's back was up against the wall last night.  He needed a miracle to keep from going home, and he knew it.  The immunity challenge was a nail-biter from start to finish.  Only three people would qualify to move on from the initial stage, and Jeff and Pete made it in handily.  Jonathan got off to a mediocre start and always seemed to be lagging behind, but somehow he got his last bag free and literally dove over the line just ahead of Mike in a very dramatic finish.  In the final stage he once again had a poor start, looking completely lost amidst a sea of puzzle pieces while Pete and Jeff kept putting blocks into place.  It was thrilling to see Jonathan come from behind and nab his first individual immunity in three outings at the game, when he needed it most.

His win turned the game upside down.  With the convenient sacrificial lamb no longer on the table, everyone scrambled.  We had absolutely no idea who anyone was voting for going into tribal council.  And then things got crazier.  I'm loving Lisa Welchel in this game.  Everyone likes her, everyone views her as the innocent church lady.  But she's working it.  And she's doing it differently than I've ever seen it done before.  When she comes to tribal council, she lays everything on the table.  She spells out her entire strategy and line of thinking in front of everyone, just as sweetly as can be.  I think the only reason it hasn't backfired on her yet is because she's so weak at physical challenges, but I think after this tribal council nobody's thinking of her as naive anymore.

I understand why Malcolm revealed his idol.  The rumor mill was swirling, and he didn't know that he'd convinced Pete he didn't have it.  He felt that coming clean about it would save him for tonight, and maybe he could leverage the idol more effectively by revealing that he had it.  But there was no reason at all for Abby to show her idol.  As far as we know, nobody suspected she had it (other than her ally Pete).  Revealing it only put a target on her back.

I liked Jeff, but he only has himself to blame for going home.  He was fixated on getting the returning players out before him.  It was a completely irrational obsession.  He was Ahab to their Moby Dick.  Had he stayed with his original alliance he'd have been one of the top dogs, and he could have gotten rid of the competition later.  Other people wanted the returning players out-- they were meat shields for Jeff.  Instead he threw everything away to become the low man on the other totem pole, and they turned on him.  His last words only made me happy to see him go.

The aftermath from this tribal council should be fascinating to watch next week!
Comments (3) | last by Peter, Nov 9, 6:01 PM

Gun Control

Here's my problem with J.J. Abrams' new series, Revolution.  The U.S. government can't round up all the illegal firearms in the country today, with all the resources at their disposal.  But 15 years after all the power dies, not only has the militia seemingly managed to eliminate all guns they don't control, but apparently a rifle is the strongest firepower they can muster.  Everyone's swinging swords, a few people have hand guns, and nobody's walking around with an arsenal of semiautomatic weapons.

If you want to do a western set in a more modern milieu, I'm down with that.  Bring back Firefly.  
...you're deal with the devil may have expired.

Just caught up on the first episode of Survivor's new season, which turned out to be three fascinating case studies of how returning players handle their reintroduction to the game.

Michael Skupin presents as the least threatening of the three, and not surprisingly he fared most successfully with his tribe.  His enthusiastic work ethic came off as charming, and his propensity for accidents (seriously dude, slow down and take care of yourself out there!) made him seem even less threatening.  His approach of "go with the game" instead of having a preconceived plan of how to act seems very smart, and got him into a dominant alliance where he'll be safe until the first merge (I'm expecting the 3 tribes to reshuffle into two tribes in about 4 weeks),

I'm also rooting for Lisa Welchel.  The deck is so stacked against her (famous, older woman, not part of the dominant alliance) that she's got to be the biggest underdog of the season.  Michael wants to work with her, but doesn't appear willing to risk his standing to do it.  Previews for tonight's episode make it look like she's on the rocks, but I'm hoping she lasts long enough to get a real chance.  For someone who's seen every episode of the show, though, it doesn't look like she got there with any real game plan.  As an older person, my strategy would be to forge an alliance on day one with anyone who will have me.  I wouldn't care who they were, I'd just want to get numbers on my side.  We don't know what got edited out, but we didn't see Lisa doing anything like that.

Jonathan Penner has the shadiest reputation among the three returnees.  He's shrewd, savvy, and experienced-- that makes him a threat.  Instead of rallying his tribe around him and building bridges, he's playing a more independent game that looks like it's going to get him into trouble.  His tribe already doesn't trust him and wants him out.  He needs to change that, fast.  

Russell Swan was a disaster from jump.  In his head, he knows exactly what he needs to do-- hang back, be supportive but not aggressive, don't take the lead.  Above all, don't make waves.  But it's like he's George Costanza, and all he can do is the exact opposite of what he should be doing.  He immediately began alienating his tribemates by ordering them around and taking charge.  Watching this episode was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

And then... Zane.  We haven't seen someone this cocky since Russell Hantz, and we've never seen anyone overplay his hand so completely.  Making alliances with everyone is one thing-- it's bold, because if anyone talks it can blow up in your face so early.  But telling people about it is something else.  No good could possibly come of approaching 2 people for an alliance, and telling them that you already have alliances with everyone else and can get them to do what you want.  Immediately your credibility is out the window.

Throwing yourself under the bus after a challenge loss, however, was pure insanity.  Zane's tribe wanted to vote out Russell.  It was a foregone conclusion.  Then Zane, not content to merely have alliances with everyone, felt the need to demonstrate an ability to manipulate everyone.  It wasn't important to his game. It was important to his ego.  He talked himself right off the island.  The crazy thing is that his tribemates seemed to genuinely like him.  He was in a great position!  But when someone says, "This is harder than I thought, I don't think I have what this game takes," people listen.  After another few days, his relationships might have been strong enough to be able to pull that stunt successfully.  On day 3, he became an easy vote.  Keep the strong guy who annoys us but performs better in challenges, get rid of the funny guy who seems weaker and ready to quit.

Even as the votes were being read, I thought Russell was going home.  I literally squealed in delight as the Zane landslide thundered out of the voting box.  The guy was too cocky too soon, and I wallowed in the schadenfreude.  I wonder if Mark Burnett shed a tear, because Zane was going to be fantastic television.  As a character, he died far, far too soon.  As a player he died at just the right time.

The Russell Effect

Big Brother spoilers follow.  You have been warned.

I'll start off by saying that I think Ian is a perfectly fine winner.  A few weeks ago, I told Wife that I was rooting for Frank, Ian, or Dan to win.  So this definitely isn't a season where someone who didn't deserve it got the nod.  Ian played a smart game, made some good moves, and won competitions when he needed to win.  However, it bears pointing out that he also got insanely lucky.  Had Dan not beguiled Danielle into using the veto on Dan, resulting in Shane getting evicted, Ian would have been on the jury.  Ian owes his money far more to Dan's gameplay than his own.

Which brings us to Dan.  No matter how you look at it, the his survival to the final two was nothing short of miraculous.  Actually, that's unfair to Dan.  It wasn't divine intervention that got him there, it was a lot of hard, meticulous work.  The man tapdanced, frog-stepped, backflipped and pirouetted to the finals.  His adeptness at keeping himself alive and getting others to do his bidding was a thing of beauty to behold.  Janelle was right when she said that Dan not winning was a travesty.

Except that it wasn't.  Dan fell victim to the Russell Effect.  He was so focused on reaching the finals that he lost sight of what it was costing him to get there.  I actually think he was fine right up until he pulled the Shane switcheroo.  Had Ian gone home that week and Dan made it to the finals, I think he would have beaten Shane or Danielle.  Then again, without that switcheroo he might not have made it that far.  Shane would have taken Danielle, and after the gymnastics date they went on together, Danielle might well have taken Shane.  Dan would have had to win the final HoH competition to secure his position in the finals, and with only 2 correct answers it's unlikely he would have done so.  I got the sense that the jury didn't object to the betrayals themselves, but rather the levels of the promises he broke: swearing on the bible, his wife's name, his grandfather's cross (was it really his grandfather's cross?  How brilliant would it be if Dan had lied to Ian about that to make his promise seem more ironclad, but in fact it was just a dime store piece of jewelry?).  By raising the stakes with those oaths and then going back on them, Dan invited the jury to question his character.  Where a juror might judge themselves a hypocrite for knocking Dan for doing the same sort of lying they did but getting further in the game with it, they could feel morally superior to Dan because they hadn't broken oaths.  Just about everyone lies at some point during Big Brother, if for no other reason than to lay low and keep the heat off themselves.  Swearing on a loved one, however, crosses a line for most people, and Dan failed to factor that into his calculations.

Dan does deserve special mention for getting not one, but both of his opponents to throw the first stage of the final HoH competition.  Insanity!  Ironically, Dan probably had a better chance of success in round 2 than Danielle had.

This was the best season of Big Brother in recent memory.  On to Survivor!

Dan, Dan, Dan

It's amazing to me to see how the Big Brother audience has turned on Dan.  In his first season, Dan was America's Player, performing tasks voted on by the viewing audience.  Other than whatever shenanigans America asked him to perform, he played a very clean, honest game.  This time out he felt-- and rightly so-- that he had to switch things up.  Having won the game once, playing with the same strategy wasn't likely to work for him a second time.  He's been pulling off astounding feats of player manipulation, including a Svengali-like control over Danielle.  There was no reason at all for her to use the veto on Dan this week.  She trusted Shane, and Shane's vote was the only one that mattered.  Shane would have voted Ian out, leaving Dan safe.  But Dan wanted Shane gone, and the only way to make that happen was to get him onto the block in his place.  To do that, he had to lie to Danielle, who's been nothing but completely loyal and devoted to Dan all game long.

And this, I think, was Dan's fatal mistake.

Whatever else Dan did, he could point to being completely loyal to Danielle throughout the game.  Even though he pulled some fast ones on her along the way, he had a plausible story for all of those moves being in her best interest.  This time, though, it just doesn't fly.  If Dan makes it to the final two, I think it'll come back to haunt him with the jury.

What are the likely outcomes of each possible final HoH winner?

If Ian wins, he should get rid of Dan.  Ian should be able to beat Danielle handily, having played a much craftier game while still being well-liked.  But Ian appears to be loyal to Dan, and may believe that Dan has burned enough people that he's the safer choice to take to the end.  He might even be right, but I think Danielle is the safer choice.

If Danielle wins, I don't think she can beat Ian.  She has to take Dan with her to the end and rely on her sweetness and loyalty swaying the jury, because her game skills were nonexistant.  Had Ian been voted out instead of Shane, I'm not sure what she would have done.  And after Dan's deepest betrayal yet, it's hard to see her picking Dan strictly out of loyalty.

If Dan wins, he has to pick Danielle.  They've been inextricably intertwined for the entire season, and Dan's unquestionably made bigger moves than Danielle.  If the jury votes with their heads, he clearly "deserves it" more than she does on the basis of their gameplay.  If the jury votes with their hearts, however, Dan's in big trouble.  And no matter which way they vote, I don't think Dan can beat Ian.

This has been a terrific season of Big Brother, quite possibly the best one yet, and I'm really looking forward to the finale.

The Pyramid

As far as I'm concerned, Pyramid may well be the best game show format ever devised.  It's certainly in the top three.  When GSN announced they were reviving the show, fans got excited.  Tonight's premiere showed that the production team understands what makes the format work, but not quite what makes it sing.

The last time we saw Pyramid, it was hosted by Donny Osmond and was plagued by poor visual and structural design choices.  Each round was shortened from 30 to 20 seconds in an effort to squeeze in more commercial breaks.  Judging was inconsistent.  The set design was heavily influenced by the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? school of dark spaces and naked steel.  None of the changes were for the better, and the show was fairly universally reviled.

This time out they decided to keep it classic.  The set is directly descended from that of the original series.  Since this is the 21st century, the pyramid of mechanical trilons has been replaced with a same-size digital display that simulates mechanical card-flips and feels right at home.  Aside from a more yellow-leaning color scheme, the set feels like someone handed a design team a tape of Dick Clark's show and said, "make this."

The gameplay likewise echoes the Clark era with just a couple of minor alterations.  The "Lucky 7" and "7-11" bonus categories are gone, so there's nothing to hunt for on the board.  This is a mistake, as it removes a great little moment of drama as each category gets revealed, but that's relatively small potatoes.  Instead, any time a team gets all 7 items in 30 seconds, they get a $500 bonus and $5000 added to the jackpot if they make it to the Winner's Circle.  That's a nice change that makes each category count.  Tiebreakers use a "get as many as you can in 30 seconds" approach instead of the original "beat the first team's total or, if they got all 7, beat their time" system.  The new way is easier to explain and understand, and simpler is usually better, so I'll chalk that one up as a net positive.

So overall, the structure and gameplay are faithful to the original, which is great news for Pyramid fans.  But a few things don't work.

The Pyramid Winner's Circle is a brilliant piece of game design, but they've gotten a couple of things wrong here.  In the Winner's Circle, the audience is either completely silenced in the studio or muted after the fact, so that there is no applause or audience reaction of any kind during play.  I missed it.  The applause between categories gave the Winner's Circle some of its energy, and it feels oddly sterile without it.  They also have the rhythm a little off.  When the host announces "Here's the first subject... go!" the first subject should actually be revealed before "Go!".  Instead the clock starts and then the subject flips, burning off a couple of seconds from the clock and starting the round off with a lot less punch than it should.

The biggest problem with the show is the host, Mike Richards.  He's certainly serviceable, but he lacks warmth.  Watching Richards makes you appreciate how masterful Dick Clark was at his craft.  Clark was simultaneously perfectly relaxed and completely in control.  More importantly, he created a sense of intimacy.  There appeared to be a real rapport between Clark and his guests, and he talked to the players with a casual familiarity that gave the entire show a kind of mellow, easy-going vibe that made it a pleasure to watch.  Richards is coming from more of a Guy Smiley place-- though thankfully he lands far short of Todd Newton.  He's projecting his voice rather than talking conversationally.  He's announcing instead of guiding.  He's new at the gig, so I hope he'll warm into it, because everything else is there.  This is a very worthy successor to the original.

Now I need to dig up the email address for contestant applications...
Even if you're not a fan of Big Brother, stay with me.

This week, a player pulled off the most amazing move in Big Brother history, if not all of competitive reality television.  Even if you don't watch the show, you have to respect brilliant gamesmanship.

Dan, a member of a 5-player alliance called the Quack Pack, was nominated by Head of Household Frank for eviction and was the clear target who would get voted out.  Each week, players compete for the power of veto, allowing them to save one of the 2 players nominated for eviction and force the Head of Household to replace them with someone else.  This was Dan's last chance to save himself, and he lost it to Jenn, an ally of Frank.  As you might expect, he was frustrated and angry, but thanks to a penalty incurred during the competition he went directly into 24 hours of solitary confinement.  He used that time to hatch a desperate Hail Mary plan to save himself.

Calling a house meeting for his own "funeral", he proceeded to issue fond, complimentary farewells to all the remaining players but one.  Danielle, the last player, was Dan's strongest ally in the house.  Dan had literally been her coach in the early part of the game.  And out of nowhere, Dan ripped into her and proclaimed her dead to him, sending her into tears.

Next he met privately with Frank and burned his remaining bridges, exposing the Quack Pack and another player's betrayal of Frank's trust.  Then, having publicly left himself out in the cold, Dan steered Frank into joining forces with him and getting Jenn to use the veto to save him.

Frank, who had been gunning for Dan for pretty much the entire game, had nominated him this week, and who had fully intended to get him evicted, instead saved him.

It was epic, ballsy, and brilliant.  Most people would have curled up and gone home, but Dan not only saw a possible way out, he had the will to go after it.    He knew that Frank was hungry for allies and would take him in, and use the opportunity to get rid of a different strong player.

This wasn't just a big move-- it was a player turning on a dime and devising a completely new gameplan, and going all in.  Mad props to Dan for pulling it off.  Now we see if it gets him to the end.
Comments (3) | last by Rich B, Sep 2, 4:17 PM

The Facts of Survivor

The cast of the upcoming 25th season of Survivor has been announced, and there are some interesting tidbits.  Of the 18 people playing the game, seven have some degree of celebrity.  Two are beauty pageant queens, because the casting directors like to stuff those bikinis full of eye candy.  Three are past players-- we'll get to them in a bit.  One is a former National League MVP, which for me is roughly equivalent to "former president of Slovenia" for recognition value.  But the last one-- now we're talking.  Lisa Welchel will be playing the game.

If you're under 35, you probably have no idea who Lisa Welchel is.  If you're closer to my age bracket you might recognize her name, but you'll almost certainly remember her big claim to fame: she played Blair on The Facts of Life.  Stuck up, silver spoon pretty princess Blair is getting down and dirty with the insects, hunger, and weather.  Apparently she's a longtime fan of the show, tweeted a video about how she'd love to be on it, and the producers gave her a call.  Can you blame them?  I'm certainly curious to see how she does.

Players will be split into three tribes this time, each led by a former player who was medically evacuated.  This is a great twist on the returning player craze-- medical evacuations are terribly unsatisfying, and it's great to see people who were eliminated without a vote get a second chance.  In fact, the only twist I'd like to see more than this is a show comprised entirely of people who were voted out in the first tribal council of their season.

Miraculously, we're being spared a second dose of last season's Colton, although I'm sure it's only a temporary reprieve-- he's too good a character for them to leave on the sidelines for long.  The first returning player is the one I suspect the most people have asked for over the past 12 years: Michael Skupin, the first player to be medically evacuated.  He was airlifted out of the game after he fell into his tribe's campfire in season 2's Australian Outback.  Now he's 50 and says he isn't looking for redemption, he just wants to play the game fresh from start to finish.  Returnee number two is Jonathan Penner who comes back for a third try.  He was taken out of the game in Fans vs. Favorites because of an infected knee, giving up what seemed like a very strong position at the time-- Parvati may owe him a huge thank you.  Jonathan has always been an entertaining player to watch, so I'm looking forward to seeing him again.  The final returnee is Russell Swan. Russell caused one of the biggest scares in the game when he collapsed from dehydration, eyes rolling back into his head.  He was strong, liked by his tribe, and appeared to be on a trajectory to make it to the finals-- a great choice for a second chance.

Survivor: Philippines premieres September 19.

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