Becker s01e02 – Take These Pills and Shove ‘Em

So if “Becker” is going to get on more solid ground, post-pilot, it sure isn’t happening with this second episode. It exacerbates the problems from the previous episode, without offering much in the way of improvements. Sure, Terry Farrell is a little better, but Ted Danson doesn’t get a good doctor arc. After however many years of being an asshole to his patients, he finally runs into two patients who react poorly to him being an asshole. The episode is him obsessing over one of the patients—an untreated diabetic—while dealing with a hypochondriac (a muted and strong Lin Share). Subplots have blind Black guy Alex Desert going to a sculpture class to meet women and office assistant Shawnee Smith being too honest with patients about the scare factor of their tests.

The Alex Desert stuff gives him a chance to act, even if it’s all incredibly problematic—he’s a smooth, soulful Black guy in his seductions—but he’s still just a plot prop. Differently utilized, but still a prop.

Smith’s thing is a decent showcase—much better than anything Hattie Winston gets this episode, unfortunately—and it’s definitely better than Danson’s A plot, but it’s still not particularly good. There are a handful laugh out loud moments, but mostly sporadic. They just haven’t figured out how mean to make Danson and have it work. The pilot humanized him while this episode is more than comfortable having him be a caricature. There is a funny running joke with an airhorn though.

Danson’s opening rant is fine, but far from memorable this time, especially since it segues into him making fun of Desert’s blindness.

Oh, the nineties.

The show being on shaky ground two episodes in isn’t concerning—I distinctly remember it getting much better—but it’s weird to have such a lackluster second episode. Or maybe it’s not. I can’t remember… were nineties second episodes better than pilots or worse than pilots.

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Becker s01e01 – Pilot

I have a history with “Becker.” When it first came on, I was aware of it because it was the new Ted Danson show post-“Cheers,” Terry Farrell had jumped ship from “DS9,” and Alex Desert from “The Flash” was on it.

I watched a lot of TV in the 1990s.

But I didn’t watch “Becker.” In the mid-aughts, after Ken Levine started blogging and talking about “Becker” being this under discovered gem—something I would listen to Ken Levine on, because we’d been marathoning “Frasier” DVDs (I also watched a lot of TV in the 2000s)—I decided I’d try to give it a shot. And I didn’t make it through the pilot.

I don’t think I made it through the first scene. Now it’s funny because now I love the first half of the first scene. A few years after that first fail, I was still reading Ken Levine and he was still talking about “Becker” so I gave it another shot and made it through the rough stuff into the good stuff.

The show started in 1998 and the pilot has a very late nineties, we’ve figured out how to make sitcoms feel. It’s assured. The show knows you can make Ted Danson’s Becker only so much of a dick. He can’t be racist but xenophobic is okay. He has to respect strong women in his life to make generalized gender cracks. And the funny thing, going back to “Becker” a second time now, is how it’s Ted Danson. Old Man Ted Danson doesn’t incorporate any of the Sam Malone, but he does use some Becker. Just with a lot of pot.

The pilot introduces Danson as the loud-mouthed meanie doctor with a heart of gold. Spoiler: he uses his personal savings to get a young Black patient into an HIV treatment program because it’s 1998 and it was on CBS and old people have always watched CBS so there’s something false saccharine about it but Danson and the other actors are still able to get some material from it. And “Becker” is an actors’ show, at least once you get out of the diner and away from Terry Farrell—who’s really not funny and really trying—and Alex Desert—who gets to be the butt of Becker’s mean jokes because you know, gosh darn it, Black, blind guy Desert is actually Danson’s best friend. “Becker” isn’t aging particularly well. It’s not aging poorly, but it’s got some major strikes from the era.

Like the transphobic joke. It wasn’t funny then. Danson’s got a number of rants in the first half of the episode before it gets serious and he starts showing vulnerability; the joke about talk shows seems like it’s going to be good, ends up crap. Most of the other rants in the first half are gold. Laugh out loud gold.

Back to the actors’ show thing. Hattie Winston and Shawnee Smith as Danson’s assistants are great. Even if they’re both problematic character types. Winston is the sassy Black woman who runs the successful White man’s life, Smith’s the ditzy grunge girl. But they all have great timing. The rhythm of their back and forth. It’s fantastic. And the time they both get to just act. Desert and Farrell just get reaction shots—until the end of the episode when Farrell gets the close and still can’t deliver the line with any humor but it’s a pilot so hopefully it’ll get better. Smith and Winston get some time. And they maximize it.

Occasional cringes over dated material aside, “Becker” has a good pilot. Though some of being positive about it is knowing it does indeed improve. Even Farrell.

Not sure how it’d play from scratch.

The Boys S01E01-E02

“The Boys” is better than it ought to be. It’s so good you almost wonder if they’d done Watchmen as an HBO series ten years ago instead of the movie… (and without Snyder)… who knows. Maybe.

Anyway, “The Boys.” It’s been a long time since my readthrough, but it’s sticking pretty close. And it’s well-executed enough I’m almost wondering if “Preacher” might be worth a look. Or I’ve hit my head too many times recently.

I didn’t watch any of the trailers, I didn’t pay attention after the first promo picture (aping the first trade cover) appeared and it looks poorly Photoshopped. But then I got thinking maybe they’ll actually do some kind of commentary on the modern superhero movie, something Snyder swore Watchmen was going to do but he was lying like Paul W.S. Anderson lied about the far superior Alien vs. Predator extended version (I mean, AVP is fine, don’t @ me). The show’s not that modern commentary. It’s way too close to the original series. Lots of scenes straight from the source Ennis, lots of “panels” straight from the source Robertson. The show feels like an homage to the comic, which is something considering it’s 2019.

Good acting from Jack Quaid (who looks more like a young Michael Shannon clone than either of his parents), Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty, and Elisabeth Shue. Shue’s the Mrs. Big bad guy. I didn’t expect to be particularly impressed Moriarty as the good girl amateur superhero who grows up to discover actual superheroes are scum. Her training montage and the modified origin story raised flags—she’s got an overbearing stage mom (Ann Cusack), who I don’t remember from the original comic and she doesn’t have the Christian Teen Titans background. But she’s strong by the second episode.

So’s Starr. Quaid’s not very Wee Hughie in his performance, but he’s all right. Shue’s a good Mrs. Big.

Notice I didn’t include Karl Urban in my list of good performances because he’s not actually good. I like watching him do the part and he can handle the physicality and the performance is just starting to get interesting but his English accent is Australian.

Urban’s not even Australian; he’s a New Zealander. But his fake English accent isn’t.

His story really seems to be deviating from the source, which is expected. Be interesting to see where it goes.

Good production values, decent effects; the fake Panavision aspect ratio isn’t bad. It isn’t great. But it also isn’t bad.

So two in… on with “The Boys.”

Why I called it the stop button

I’ve had “Swamp Thing” on my to do list for four days. I keep having to bounce it because I haven’t had time to watch it. But today at lunch? Had just the right amount of time. And as I sat, watching the first episode, pausing to tweet about the location (why isn’t it Houma) or Crystal Reed’s lack of shock white hair even though the setup was there for it… I started to think I might not be giving the show the proper attention. Because I was sober. Certainly shows (like “Arrow”) are only tolerable even to peeve watch when inebriated. Is “Swamp Thing” one of those shows? Maybe. I won’t know until next year because I’m not drinking this year. The sugar.

But waiting seven months, I almost might know not to bother with “Swamp Thing.” It getting a shortened season order (for a streaming show!) isn’t a good sign and what I did see wasn’t particularly impressive. I mean, despite really weak dialogue, Reed seems like a decent lead. Henderson Wade seems awful, like he lacks the ability to show affect. I didn’t make it to Virginia Madsen or Will Patton. As far as Alec Hollands go, Andy Bean seems… on par with “uncredited Alec Holland sex scene double” from Return of Swamp Thing. He’s never going to touch Ray Wise’s Alec Holland, because the Hollands were awesome in Swamp Thing I.

Oh, and Leonardo Nam from “Westworld.” Glad he’s getting work, sorry it’s on this show.

Yes, I went into “Swamp Thing” hyper-critical but because it’s “Swamp Thing.” It’s based on the finest mainstream comic. Ever. You don’t get to fuck up “Swamp Thing.” Especially not so bad it makes the Man-Thing movie look legit.

And “The New Adventures of Swamp Thing” sure does seem like screws up.

Maybe I’ll go back and watch the season when it’s done (if it gets picked up for a season two or someone strongly recommends it). And I can drink. A lot.

Or if someone pays me. If anyone wants to pay me to watch “Swamp Thing” and write about the stupid thing, let me know.

But to watch it sober? Nah. And I’ve seen Man-Thing twice. Intentionally.

(This posted was written while listening to Harry Manfredini’s awesome score for Swamp Thing).

Swamp Thing needs heart. It’s always needed heart. No surprise Len Wiseman, who directs the pilot, botches it so badly. It’s Len Wiseman, after all. Botching franchises is his thing. And James Wan. Don’t even get me started on Aquaman overhype. (I think we talk about it on a podcast though).

Anyway:

“Swamp Thing.” Nope. Not sober.

Read the Book: The Hot Zone is Pretty Cold

I don’t get to make this statement very often anymore and even less about bestsellers and TV miniseries but I’ve read the book.

Robert Preston

The Hot Zone. I’ve read the book by Richard Preston (who is sadly not this guy, Robert Preston). Well, okay, I haven’t read the book. I listened to the book. It’s a good book. Highly recommended if you want to see how “popular non-fiction thrillers” can be done well. It’s so good at that format when I listened to Console Wars and got super-creeped out by the casual misogyny, sometimes downright silly bad writing, lionization of middling White capitalists, and odd “Japanese voice” thing, I kept going because it reminded me of Hot Zone.

I eventually gave up on Console Wars because there’s only so much time in the world and the book has actually got zero to say.

But I didn’t give up on “The Hot Zone,” the event miniseries (aired/run on National Geographic, but produced by Fox TV); even though the miniseries only reminded me of The Hot Zone the book, I finished watching it. Because why not. Even though it never gets to the best parts of said book, even though it’s a terribly plotted television show—Kelly Souders, Brian Peterson, and Jeff Vintar are questionable show runners. James V. Hart, who might have written a movie treatment back when Hot Zone was a best-seller and Outbreak hadn’t come out yet, writes a bunch of the episodes too. Or contributes. He gets the “created by” credit, even though he doesn’t write the first episode, which breaks with tradition. At least with tradition as I understand it from watching television too much for too long.

If you’ve read the book and you remember the cave, the cave isn’t in the movie. Instead you get created for the miniseries fictional White guys Liam Cunningham and James D’Arcy hunting the disease in Africa, taking stories away from, you know, Africans. Cunningham is a Scottish Indiana Jones type—the young-age makeup on him, which is mostly just foundation and hair dye, works; it’s a shame Cunningham has zero chemistry with “lead” Julianna Margulies in the present. The present being 1989, flashbacks being 1976. D’Arcy is the square who gets roped into Cunningham’s mad quest to find a lethal virus. The show wants to pretend he’s some kind of zealot but he’s not, neither in script or performance. Maybe it’s because the writers wouldn’t know how to give him that amount of character; the directors (Michael Uppendahl and Nick Murphy) wouldn’t know how to direct for it anyway. They’re really bad.

Canada also doesn’t stand in for Washington D.C. well. The show says it’s “inspired by true events” while the book was true events told in an inspired fashion. It’s a bummer because a good show runner could do wonders with the book. They even have some of the “do wonders” possibilities in the show and do jack shit with them.

The casting doesn’t help either. “Golden Globe-winning star of ‘The Good Wife’” Margulies plays the ostensible lead, who fights against sexism in the U.S. Army’s infectious diseases institutions and basically loses that fight. Margulies’s performance in “Hot Zone” is about the same as a lazy episode of “Good Wife.” She’s fine, never anything more, which is fine for “Hot Zone.” Good for “Hot Zone,” actually.

Topher Grace is bad as her de facto sidekick, the sexist civilian scientist who gets the most sympathetic arc when he thinks he’s got Ebola and has to go to get tested in an AIDS testing speakeasy. The show has this whole juxtaposing of AIDS and Ebola reactions, which I don’t remember in the book but if it was in the book, it wouldn’t have been as poorly handled as in the miniseries. It’s not a bad idea, it’s just the show doesn’t have the producers, writers, or directors to properly explore good ideas. It’s a bummer.

Cunningham and D’Arcy are caricatures, but who cares. They’re not as bad as Grace or as comically ineffectual as Noah Emmerich, who’s Margulies’s husband and the family’s Mr. Mom. One of the many lazy character “development” moments has Emmerich telling Margulies she’s more important to the family than him, even though he’s the only one who does anything with the kids except drive them to school. Once. She takes them once. But only because it can work in the “AIDS panic” sub-sub-subplot and Margulies changing from her Alicia Florick outfit to her Army camo in her car because she’s that kind of go getter.

The show also chokes on the Chuck Shamata as Margulies’s dying dad subplot, which has a lot of potential but not with these writers, not with this show.

Robert Wisdom is fine as Margulies and Emmerich’s commanding officer but it’s more of an extended “Oh, shit, it’s Bunny Colvin!” cameo.

Paul James isn’t good, isn’t bad as Grace’s flunky.

Robert Sean Leonard is similar. He’s there to make things feel less Canadian. Ditto racist Nick Searcy (not his character, just Nick Searcy; he’s not a nice man). Unfortunately, Searcy gives a fantastic performance. At least as far as the script takes him, which isn’t very far because the teleplays aren’t good. Even when they’re not bad.

Twenty-five years after The Hot Zone, given all the advances in scientific knowledge, television narrative, streaming narrative, CG, whatever, you’d think it’d be the perfect time to adapt the book. But “The Hot Zone” ain’t it. I’m not sure Outbreak is much better, minute-by-minute, but it’s a lot shorter and a lot less disappointing.

Read the book.

Flashy Legends (or: Legendary Flashes?)

Was the fifth season finale of “The Flash” a complete disaster? No. Have there been worse “Flash” finales? Probably? I feel like I block them from my mind because otherwise I wouldn’t watch the show. It wasn’t as bad as last season’s “Supergirl” finale and it wasn’t as good as this season’s “Legends” finale, which wasn’t very good, but it wasn’t a complete disaster. Yay, they sped up Crisis? Red skies at night, sailor’s delight. Red skies in morning, sailor take warning.

I’m really hoping “Black Lightning” at least gets some red skies, even if it doesn’t get in the crossover.

But “Flash.” The use of the word “legacy” in the finale was practically cringeworthy, as was the show leveraging so much on Jessica Parker Kennedy, who’s given one of the weaker season-long “guest star” performances. I mean, she wasn’t as bad as Chris Klein or Sarah Carter, but Klein was hilariously bad and Carter wasn’t much better. Not even Islie Hirvonen was any good. Remember when “Flash” started and what set it aside from “Arrow” was the good acting? Now “Flash” can’t get near “Legends.” I assume it’s still much better than “Arrow.” “Supergirl” we’ll see. I still need to finish that one. I have everything since the crossover so it’s going to take a while.

But, yeah… “Flash.” Season six. Am I looking forward to it? Not really. I forgot, until the last episode this season, both Candice Patton and Grant Gustin have had their better acting arcs on the show and this season did nothing for them. The whole “we’re late twenty-somethings ‘raising’ our future daughter” thing got lost somewhere as far as character development. It’s almost like it turned out to be negative character development. Or at least treading water character development.

And as a fellow “can’t build muscle” guy, I understand Gustin’s pain, but they need to get a better suit next season. I don’t get why they never fixed the suit. They could have fixed the suit. It’s not the hill.

Carlos Valdes also got way too needy this season. Though Danielle Nicolet and Jesse L. Martin should just do a CCPD spin-off. They’re so good.

As for “Legends?” Well, given it’s going to be off until 2020, they did a crap job setting up next season, they did a crap job with the resolve to the Hell stuff, they just did it with solid acting from their cast. Especially if next season is the last, they need to figure out something better as far as big bad. Though this season had some changes, which the writers talked about, just like last season’s “Supergirl” had some changes, which the writers never acknowledged. The difference is it didn’t hurt “Legends” too much while last year’s “Supergirl” was an unmitigated disaster.

The too reverential Ms. Marvel fan movie

I’m not sure I’m going to write about this Ms. Marvel fan movie. I have nice things to say but it’s not… I wouldn’t recommend it to a general audience. A Ms. Marvel fan? Yes.

The production values are good, the camera work is a little too shaky, but the acting is all pretty strong. Arshad Aslam’s really good at directing the cast. Though someone thought the scene with Bruno (Jonathan David) at the convenience store should have a Clerks feel and someone else didn’t. Like, either David did it or Aslam did it. It’s just for a second and doesn’t fit the rest of the scene. Or maybe there’s just something about scenes in convenience stores they have to go that Clerks-y way?

Sanchita Malik is an awesome lead. She makes the movie work. So the ending is really problematic. Aslam does a very literal adaptation of the source material, for better and worse (usually the worse involves the editing), so it’s “comics faithful,” it’s just a good way to do the movie. There’s such a thing as being too reverential of the source material.

Especially when it gets in the way of your movie, which has this great lead performance and the story ends up dissing her.

They’d never do it but Feige ought to at least screen-test Sanchita Malik for a legit production.