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I Giggle When I Type 'Mail Bag'

By David Michael Wharton     October 17, 2005


Eddie Cibrian on INVASION.
© ABC
Happy Monday, one and all. Hope your weekend was bountiful and prosperous, but now it's back to the grind. And first on the docket is sifting through the reader mail that's been backing up for the past few weeks. If these letters make anything clear, it's that what I've been saying is correct: while nearly every new genre show this season has found its champions, nary a one has instilled the passion and devotion of a LOST, VERONICA MARS, or BSG. For some, the small successes have been enough to merit survival (SUPERNATURAL's full-season pick-up, for example, means TV Wasteland fave Richard "MIRACLES" Hatem gets to keep cashing paychecks). But how long before one of the shows still lacking renewal falls beneath the thresher's blade?

And our first letter kicks off with a show that I've been enjoying, but which merited a bit of heckling in the comments after last week's Josh Pate interview, SURFACE.

Jim Martin writes: "Amusing eating disorder story: I once ate a solid pound of butter. But for charity, so I guess that doesn't really count.

In other news, great interview. I have to agree with you about SURFACE. Good show. Actual character development, and the entire mystery isn't given away in the title of the show. It and SUPERNATURAL are fast ranking in my favourites for the year.

THRESHOLD…it had potential. Pilot & first couple episodes were interesting, but it's become too procedural, 'Big Horn Signal Chase Of The Week' in nature.

I HATE Invasion. EVERYTHING is given away IN THE *NAME* OF THE SHOW!

'Oh my! What's going on here?'
Alien Invasion.
'What were the lights in the hurricane?'
Aliens. Invading. It's all in the title.
'But what attacked the diver and the guy's brother?'
Aliens. They're invading.
'Why does the Mom smell different?'
She's a doppelganger.
'What's up with the little kid?'
She's psychic.
'What's up with the sheriff?'
Alien.
'But why the quarantine?'

Ok, THIS part makes NO sense WHATSOEVER! There's a natural disaster, so they QUARANTINE the area??? Are they serious? We're supposed to buy this? No aid workers, no food, no water, no supplies in or out? Refugees must stay in their homes? NO MEDIA COVERAGE? It just doesn't make sense! Especially after seeing THIS VERY ISSUE played out on CNN night after night! Hell, I'd even bet that the current administration might see such an irrational quarantine as an attempt at succession! They'd FLOOD the area with military! I mean, come on! I know this is an Alien show, but a little plausibility would be welcome!

Ahem. It's a plot device to isolate the town to use as a base of operations for a LARGER Invasion.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to find a Canadian store which is actually
selling VERONICA MARS…"


I will confess a chuckle upon reading the line "Aliens. They're invading."

INVASION is a show that had the deck stacked against it from the get-go thanks to a colossal case of bad timing, what with not one, but two major hurricanes slamming into the Gulf Coast right smack when this show was due to premiere. Whether the fact put a stink on the fiction, we may never know, but INVASION certainly hasn't become the LOST 2.0 ABC surely hoped it would. Jim makes a good point: would the show have attracted and held a larger audience if the SF elements had been played a little closer to the vest? With LOST, we've had and continue to have more questions than answers (whether the writers have any more of a clue than us as to what's going on remains to be seen). With SURFACE and THRESHOLD, the focus is as much on dealing with the reality of these strange creatures and/or alien invaders as it is on solving the mystery of their appearances. But INVASION, aside from playing up the metaphor of the divided family, leans heavily on the mystery of What's Going On. And we already know what's going on, as it's heralded on the title screen. To be sure, storytelling is as much about the journey as the destination, but INVASION might well have benefited from the aura of mystery its title denies it.

Or at least a different premiere date.

bloodsong writes: "Cheers! BATTLESTAR GALACTICA definitely has taken the crown in my book. I harbored serious doubts about the show but it has done nothing but prove me wrong. RECUE ME started off a bit slow this season but in the end it all came together perfectly… I almost believe that the writing team did this on purpose. THE DEAD ZONE also picked up from last season and continually comes up with creative ways to bring John Smith into the mix of things. ROME has been very impressive so far and with the early renewal of the show for a second season I am gladly going to follow the story of Caesar to its conclusion…most likely season 2 will be the end of it and will go the way of CARNIVALE in the "costs too much so lets drop it" zone of HBO. OVER THERE has been an entertaining watch but is likely a huge sore spot for TV viewers due to it being placed in the current war in Iraq."

I agree, bloodsong, BSG has maintained the excellence of its first season, continuing to rival any other drama on television. Which just makes that unholy groin-kick of a cliffhanger all the more painful as we wile away the months till January. RESCUE ME and OVER THERE have both furthered the argument that FX is the new HBO, although sadly the latter's ratings haven't been great. Whether that's due to the current state of the world, who knows, but I unfortunately wouldn't expect it to pull a M*A*S*H and outlast the war it chronicles.

"Jeers! STARGATE ATLANTIS. That show started so well last year and now it has become not worth even recording on my tivo. Bad plots and a seeming lack of cohesive story made ATLANTIS the first show of the summer season for me to give up on. STARGATE SGI is not far behind but did manage to remain entertaining enough to at least finish the summer season and it actually ended on a much higher note than it began with. I will have to wait and see if it continues on its upward trend or falls along the wayside like ATLANTIS.

Much hullabaloo has been made around here about my sampling of this season's SG-1, after having seen only sporadic episodes before this year. And while I enjoyed the early eps and was thrilled to see Ben Browder and Claudia Black getting work, the sad truth I'm now faced with is that I have almost no memory of what was going on before the hiatus. Not that I didn't understand it, just that a few weeks after vanishing, it's already been swept off the factory floor of my memory, probably replaced by Tom Cruise gossip or one of those terrifying Burger King commercials where no one ever reacts like a sensible human being when faced with that lifeless, plastic, monarchic face (namely, either fight or flight). It's certainly not a bad show. SG-1 kept me entertained while I watched, if not wowed, but it obviously hasn't made enough of an impression on me to make me a fan. I'll keep tuning in for the back half of the season in hopes it will yet woo me. Unless I see another of those Burger King commercials, in which case I can't make any promises.

"The "new season". ALIAS. I have little to no hope that ALIAS will remain worth continuing. They took out the things that I loved the most last season (seeing her in different aliases) and now that she is with child I am thinking we will see little of the other thing that I liked watching (her kicking ass). The story failed in the last season to generate much enthusiasm, So unless they are gonna pull something out of their hats that we as viewers would not expect, the Sydney baby birthing soap opera that the show is going to become will be the first of the new season to generate a "delete season pass". The premier of INVASION was well done but did not seem to bring anything new to the table. I am gonna give it a few episodes but my hopes are on the slim side. SURFACE had far more developmental points and creativity though the overall theme is tired and done, but at least it made me want to come back unlike INVASION."

This has been a curious season of ALIAS so far. Aside from Michael Vaughn's Sonny Corleone impersonation and Syd's swelling midsection, last week's introduction of Rachel tossed a bizarre sort of Syd 2.0 into the mix. Last year J.J. Abrams claimed to be trying to recapture the show's early magic by "reuniting the team," even at the expense of continuity and logic. Now, Rachel is brought on, sporting an origin deliberately designed to echo Sydney's origins, as a protégé for the very preggers female super-spy. She isn't a total doppelganger, since she's got a more technical background than Syd, but given Rachel's, er, "qualifications," we can be sure the writers will be finding ways to squeeze her into both field missions and French maid costumes PDQ. I'm not quite sure how these changes and new characters will affect the show in the long run, but right now at least it's change, and given the creative morass of the last two years, any change must be a good thing.

David James writes: "I've managed to catch most of the new scifi shows this season, and the best one so far has been the one I thought would be the WORST, THRESHOLD. Sure it's a little cheesy, but it's got the one thing the other shows don't have, which is fun, dynamic characters that don't feel like retreads from STARGATE or ANDROMEDA. The show feels fresh, and I love that for once the good guys are behind the big conspiracy."

THRESHOLD has hands down got the most interesting characters and cast of any of the new genre shows. Unfortunately, those characters are so much more interesting than the rest of the show that I can't help but find myself wishing they were all suddenly transported to a different show. Maybe a sitcom with Peter Dinklage and Brent Spiner running a coffee house while Carla Gugino makes recurring appearances as a GILMORE-clever folk singer. I do grant, however, that is interesting to see THE X-FILES from the POV of the Cigarette-Smoking Man. I just wish that the show would evolve beyond its current, tedious "alien signal outbreak of the week" format.

And isn't retreading characters from ANDROMEDA a bit like forming a Milli Vanilli cover band?

"INVASION was the biggest disappointment. I'm not sure what the critics saw, but it looked to me like the same tired INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS storyline we've seen a thousand times before, with people acting mysterious and turning slowly to look at someone while the creepy music plays. Gee, never seen THAT before.

I really want to like SUPERNATURAL, because it IS well made and has some good scares, but the brothers seriously get on my nerves. They're the same smug, cocky types we've seen in a thousand other WB shows. There are so many other, more interesting directions they could have gone in, but they went with a couple of dull, generic hunks."


Yeah, SUPERNATURAL definitely flies its WB flag high, don't it? Still, I think the recent episodes have slowly begun to flesh out the Winchester brothers, even if Jensen Ackles is still managing somehow to find a way to be more annoying on a weekly basis than he was even on SMALLVILLE. But I'm digging the way the show seems to be following a path more rooted in folklore and urban legends (i.e. Bloody Mary) than some of its genre antecedents, and it's still managing to creep me out on a semi-regular basis, so good on it. Plus, it's employing Richard Hatem, who, if there's any justice, will find some sneaky way to resurrect the MIRACLES "God is now here/nowhere" plot line by having the Winchesters run into Skeet Ulrich in an upcoming episode.

Rolando writes: "I agree with your comments about the NIGHT STALKER series. When I heard that it was going to be remade I hoped that they would chose an actor that had intelligence, charisma and a great sense of humor. I always thought that Ed O'Neill would have been a great Kolchak! Instead we get Stuart Townshend who I don't dislike as an actor but he is definitely not Carl Kolchak by any means."

Glad to hear you think I'm on the mark with my comments, Rolando. It soothes the deep wound carved by the commenter who called me an assclown on one of the NIGHT STALKER comments pages. (I still cry myself to sleep at night.)

The peculiar thing is, NIGHT STALKER has actually gotten incrementally better with each new episode, but only story-wise. The pilot was a dog (so to speak), the second episode felt like a mediocre stand-alone X-File without the attraction of a Mulder or a Scully, and last week's third episode was a fairly entertaining twist on an old conceit of supernatural revenge. But the characters themselves should be driving the action, and right now not a one of the show's leads is compelling or interesting. Clever little 45-minute horror short stories are well and good, this ain't THE TWILIGHT ZONE: for the show to work, they're going to have to get me (and audiences) invested in the Man Lacking a Rumpled Blue Suit.

That's all for this week. Thanks to everyone who wrote in to share your thoughts. This week's a full one, with a new Sci-Fi Channel take on the character that made Kevin Sorbo's career, a mess of great flicks popping up on TCM, and of course the usual barrage of all your old favorites. Better fire up them Tivos…

Send all questions, comments, and accusations of assclownishness to tvwasteland@cinescape.com. Keep your head and hands inside the television, folks…

* * * * *


MONDAY, OCTOBER 17


HERCULES (6 PM CST, Sci-Fi) Charles Edward Pogue (DRAGONHEART) scripted this new spin on the mythical strongman. Actors you may actually have heard of include Sean Astin and Leelee Sobieski. Part two follows tonight at 8 PM CST.

SURFACE (7 PM CST, NBC) One of the creatures surfaces (ahem) in a California waterway, startling the locals and prompting the hasty construction of no fewer than two-dozen tourist traps.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (7:30 PM CST, CBS) "Okay Awesome." Ted and Barney hit an exclusive club, while Marshall and Lily get their grown-up on and host a wine tasting. Have you met Ted?

MEDIUM (9 PM CST, NBC) "Sweet Dreams." Are made of this. Who am I to disagree?


TUESDAY, OCTOBER 18


GILMORE GIRLS (7 PM CST, WB) "Welcome to the Dollhouse." Star's Hollow opts to roll back its street names to their 18th-century designations, resulting in a less-than-flattering title for the street the Dragonfly Inn is located upon. Ods bodkins!

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (7 PM CST, TCM) When people ask me why I'm not a fan of cats, I point to this movie as the thesis for my viewpoint.

MY NAME IS EARL (8 PM CST, NBC) "Teacher Earl." Earl teaches English as a Second Language. How the hell did that get on his list? He lobotomize the part of somebody's brain that processed English?

SUPERNATURAL (8 PM CST, WB) "Skin." Points detracted for so blatantly ripping off the RING chick's look and movements for Bloody Mary, but at least the resolution was fairly clever. Tonight, the brothers hunt a shapeshifter.

THE OFFICE (8:30 PM CST, NBC) "Halloween." Michael fails to get into the proper All Hallow's spirit thanks to an edict that he must fire someone by the day's end.

BOSTON LEGAL (9 PM CST, ABC) "A Whiff and a Prayer." Shore defends Catherine during her murder trial. And high marks for last week's "Did you say Klingons?" bit.

NIP/TUCK (9 PM CST, FX) "Granville Trapp." As we saw last week, the Carver is back up to his old shenanigans, so place your bets as to who might play the Thanksgiving turkey over the coming weeks.


WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 19


CAT PEOPLE (7 PM CST, TCM) You should see the size of their litter box.

LOST (8 PM CST, ABC) "…and Found." Michael goes hunting for Walt, while Sawyer and Jin are asked by the tail-section survivors to show them to the main camp. Also, Michelle Rodriguez acts gruff, punches somebody, and pees while standing up.

VERONICA MARS (8 PM CST, UPN) "Green-Eyed Monster." Veronica agrees to investigate an heiress' fiancé. Plus, the TV Guide description includes the phrase "tarting herself up," so you can be sure I'll be watching.

GHOST HUNTERS (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) "Ghostly Soldier/Medium House." I predict TAPS will tonight investigate a ghostly soldier of some sort. Possibly also a medium house.

INVASION (9 PM CST, ABC) "Unnatural Selection." Larkin reunites with an old Air Force flame, but he may be involved in a cover-up.

OVER THERE (9 PM CST, FX) "Weapons of Mass Destruction." The team is joined by a group of Iraqi soldiers during their search of a village, but the new arrivals aren't exactly well trained. But I bet their armor is better than our guys are getting.


THURSDAY, OCTOBER 20


ALIAS (7 PM CST, ABC) "Mockingbird." Dean learns Rachel is still alive, and Sloane faces sentencing. And now with the French maid costumes, please.

SMALLVILLE (7 PM CST, WB) "Aqua." Aquaman visits Smallville, presumably via one of the many oceans that are adjacent to Kansas.

EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS (7 PM CST, UPN) "Everybody Hates Fat Mike." Chris loans his new bike to a neighborhood kid, only to have his kindness rewarded with Grand Theft Bicycle.

NIGHT STALKER (8 PM CST, ABC) "Burning Man." A string of spontaneous human combustions may have ties to a terrorist.

MAKING OF 'JARHEAD' (8:45 PM CST, HBO) Welcome to the making of the Suck.


FRIDAY, OCTOBER 21


GHOST WHISPERER (7 PM CST, CBS) "Lost Boys." Melinda assists the ghost of Corey Haim's career.

DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID (7 PM CST, TCM) Steve Martin spoofs the private-eye genre.

MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE (7:30 PM CST, Fox) "Reese vs. Stevie." The two titular characters have a spat. Meanwhile, Dewey gets hooked on cigarettes.

THRESHOLD (8 PM CST, CBS) "The Order." A newspaper article may have outed Project Threshold, and the attention brings an inquisitive senator nosing around.

NUMBERS (9 PM CST, CBS) "Assassin." Don and Charlie try to foil an assassination plot. Using, naturally, math.


SATURDAY, OCTOBER 22


BATMAN VS. DRACULA (6 PM CST, Cartoon Network) The young Dark Knight squares off against a much older bat.

VERONICA MARS (7 PM CST, UPN) " Same episode as Wednesday, but now you have no excuse not to watch.

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (7 PM CST, TCM) Frank Capra's tale of malevolent but charming old ladies.

GINGER SNAPS (7 PM CST, IFC) Lycanthropy as puberty metaphor.

THE COURT JESTER (9:15 PM CST, TCM) The comedy classic that first taught us that the pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon, but the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.


SUNDAY, OCTOBER 23


CHARMED (7 PM CST, WB) "Rewitched." Demons, imps, witches, yadda yadda yadda.

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (7 PM CST, TCM) But how would they know?

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (8 PM CST, ABC) "They Asked Me Why I Believe in You." Adrian Pasdar's guest stint as Gaby's lawyer makes me all the more happy that PROFIT is now out on DVD.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE CASE OF THE SILK STOCKING (8 PM CST, PBS) Rupert Everett stars as the intrepid sleuth on the trail of a killer of aristocratic young women.

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (8:30 PM CST, TCM) And, one presumes, his monster as well.

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY (10 PM CST, TCM) The mummy? Why not a mummy? Who decided this particular bandage case got exclusive franchise rights?


This concludes our broadcast.

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