You find yourself on a barren and desolate world, light years from anything or anyone you know… Without much food or water, your oxygen running low, you strike out for the distant hills… After days of torturous climbing, you see an oasis below. An installation of quonset huts bedecked with hundreds of television antennae. Congratulations, Traveler, you’ve reached… THE REMOTE OUTPOST.
THE REMOTE OUTPOST LOOKS FORWARD, THEN BACK
By Mark Onspaugh
Well, the holidays have come to an end at the old Remote Outpost. The freeze-dried Christmas tree has been vacu-packed, the electronic menorah has been powered down and reintegrated into the antenna array, and the powdered eggnog and dehydrated turkey are on order for next year.
Now that the snart herds have moved to the Seventh Crater and the triffids are dormant, it’s time to reflect on that most marvelous technological advancement, television. We’ll try to adopt a more positive air going into 2013, at least on this rainy afternoon. (Besides, a “Worst Of” list would take many times the word count I am allowed.)
5 SHOWS THAT MAKE ME DROOL WITH ANTICIPATION
New shows are on the horizon, and some of them sound just peachy. Here are the ones I am most excited about:
BANSHEE (Premieres January 11, Cinemax). Alan Ball has become one of those names you look for. He wrote the screenplay for the movie AMERICAN BEAUTY back in 1999, and has since been the creative force behind the television series SIX FEET UNDER (2001-2005) and TRUE BLOOD (2008 – Present). I am a big fan of TRUE BLOOD and recently came under the spell of SIX FEET UNDER (see below). So when I heard Ball was executive producing a new series, I got downright twitterpated. BANSHEE concerns an ex (or escaped) con who poses as the (murdered) sheriff in the Amish community of Banshee. As with other projects with Ball at the helm, the secrets our protagonist keeps are just the tip of the iceberg in Banshee. One of the characters is named Mr. Rabbit, who will be played by Ben Cross. Mr. Cross portrayed Sarek, Spock’s father, in the STAR TREK reboot of 2009. He also stars in the upcoming JACK THE GIANT KILLER (2013), which is NOT to be confused with JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (also 2013)—that stars Ewan McGregor. It looks like it’ll be Brits vs Scots in the land of the giants.
BATES MOTEL (Premieres March 18, A&E). A psychological thriller that will give background on Robert Bloch’s beloved psycho. Hitchcock’s 1960 film is the initial inspiration, but beyond that, the producers will not be a slave to it or its sequels. The show is not, as one critic suggested, “How I Stuffed My Mother.” Besides Norman’s mother and her lover, the townspeople will also play a role in Norman’s descent into madness, and producers promise it won’t all be black and white, connect the dots. Norman Bates will be played by Freddie Highmore, the young actor so wonderful in FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005) and AUGUST RUSH (2007). Freddie has grown up, and actually looks like a young Tony Perkins. Norman’s mother will be portrayed by Vera Farmiga, who promises mother Norma Bates will be both sympathetic and layered. We all know Vera from such films as THE DEPARTED (2006), JOSHUA (2007), SOURCE CODE (2011) and the upcoming THE CONJURING (2013). BATES MOTEL is produced by Carlton Cuse of LOST (2004-2010) and Kerry Ehrin of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2006-2011).
DEFIANCE (Premieres April 15, Syfy). A lush science fiction drama where Earth has been remade into an almost alien world by extraterrestrial visitors who were denied permission to settle. After a long and costly war with humanity, the two species now live in an uneasy peace and try to make the Earth habitable for both. Defiance is the name of the town in the ruins of St. Louis, and where our protagonist, Jeb Nolan becomes head sheriff. There he must contend with humans, aliens, military types and various dangerous characters. From the trailers I’ve seen, this will be no cheap-looking, terrible CGI suck-fest. It is tied in with a game, but what show isn’t multi-platforming these days? Hopefully the writing will give us another BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-2009) or SGU STARGATE UNIVERSE (2009-2011).
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: BLOOD AND CHROME (Premieres February 10, Syfy). I was around when Glen A. Larson first introduced us to Cylons and humans whose names were the same as some of our more ancient gods and goddesses. I didn’t much care for the show, but watched it because I was starved for SF on TV. When the (then Sci-Fi Channel’s) remake was announced for 2004, I just shook my head and chuckled. I ignored it, until a friend hit me over the head with the DVD’s. I quickly became an ardent fan, and was sad when the (regrettable) ending aired. Now we have a chance to visit that universe again, as we see young “Husker” Adama and his friends in the first war with the Cylons, before the skin jobs made the scene. Like the many incarnations of STAR TREK, I anxiously wait for the chance to geek out in a world that is interesting and well-formed. Here’s hoping it’s as good as its predecessor.
VIKINGS (Premieres March 3 on History). Cable has often found fertile ground in examining (often in lurid detail) historical events, places or infamous families. DEADWOOD (2004-2006), THE TUDORS (2007-2010) and THE BORGIAS (2011 – Present) gave us all the scandal, gore and sex we were never taught in history class but always suspected (or hoped) was there. While perhaps not wholly accurate, all these shows had/have sumptuous production values, good writing and acting. Now comes the saga of Ragnar Lothbrok, who, legend has it, was descended from Odin himself. VIKINGS will be produced for the History Channel, who brought us that bang-up version of the feud of the HATFIELDS AND McCOYS (2012). VIKINGS was created by Michael Hirst, who created the aforementioned TUDORS, and one of its stars will be Gabriel Byrne, who has been in such movies as STIGMATA (1998), END OF DAYS (1999) SPIDER (2002) and GHOST SHIP (2002). By Odin’s eye I will be there!
WELCOME TO THE PARTY, PAL!
If I’m wrong, I am usually man enough to admit it. Two shows I came late to the party for are THE BIG BANG THEORY and SIX FEET UNDER (2001-2005).
BIG BANG is shown initially on CBS (on Thursdays at 8pm EST), and then rerun about a billion times a day on TBS and Fox. Even though I love science fiction, pop culture and DC comics (all of which BB has in buckets and bales), I thought the character of Sheldon Cooper (portrayed by Jim Parsons) was just too two-dimensional. A friend of mine is very devoted to the show, and kept tempting me with anecdotes about appearances by Wil Wheaton as an evil version of himself (Wil was the much-loved or despised character of Wesley Crusher on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, 1987-1994), and a Spock action figure voiced by Leonard Nimoy himself. I finally watched the show for more than one episode, and found that Parsons is quite brilliant. It’s not easy to portray such an unlikeable character and make him endearing. I have to admit, when he approached Penny (about her intending to break up with his roommate) and said, “Please don’t hurt my friend,” I actually teared up. The entire ensemble is terrific, and there are lots of references to physics, DC superheroes, Star Trek, Star Wars and sex —and who doesn’t love one or all of those things?
SIX FEET UNDER is no longer with us, but lives on in DVD form. Created by Alan Ball, it revolves around the Fishers, a family who owns a small but honest funeral home in L.A. Patriarch Nathaniel Fisher is killed in a bus crash while driving one of the family hearses. Though dead, Nathaniel often appears to council or annoy one of his family, and is played by the amazing Richard Jenkins (THE VISITOR 2001, CABIN IN THE WOODS 2011, JACK REACHER 2012). His family includes son Nate (Peter Krause of THE LOST ROOM, 2006 and currently on the NBC drama PARENTHOOD), son David (Michael C. Hall, now the star of DEXTER), daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose of the recent remake of COMA 2012) and wife Ruth (Frances Conroy of AMERICAN HORROR STORY). Each episode begins with a death (not always the one you expect) and that corpse’s impact on one or more of the family and/or staff. At times, the deceased will interact with a character. In addition, a huge funeral home conglomerate is trying to put the Fishers out of business, and each member of the family has secrets that are coming to light.
IT’S SO HARD TO SAY GOODBYE, FAREWELL, AUF WIEDERSEHEN, GOOD NIGHT
Two of my favorite shows are saying “adieu” this year (inarticulate sobbing here)…
One is FRINGE (Fox, Fridays 9pm EST), which began in 2008 as a sort of new take on THE X-FILES (1993-2002) but evolved more into a love story and a search for redemption. Though complex, I never felt lost in the mythology as I came to be with THE X-FILES. The central core of characters Agent Olivia Dunham, Peter Bishop, Walter Bishop and Astrid Farnsworth are all wonderfully played by Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble and Jasika Nicole, and ably supported by Blair Brown as Nina Sharp, Lance Reddick as Philip Broyles and Leonard Nimoy as Dr. William Bell. Noble as Walter is one of the great characters of recent SF TV, a genius and mad scientist who had parts of his brain cut out so he would not become evil and callous, unlike his counterpart on a parallel Earth. The elective surgery has left a man with a taste for sweets, inappropriate sexual banter and a craving for LSD and music of the 60s and 70s. If you never gave this series a try, do so. I, for one, will sorely miss it.
BREAKING BAD took one episode to hook all of us here at the Outpost. It concerns a high school chemistry teacher who discovers he has cancer. Looking to make money to pay for his treatment (and to take care of his family once he is gone), Walter White (the just awesome Bryan Cranston, once the father on MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE 2000-2006) turns to making meth with a former student, Jesse Pinkman, portrayed by Aaron Paul. And he’s real good at it. His product is so good it’s soon drawing the attention of tweakers, dealers, cartel members and DEA agents. Complicating matters is the fact that his brother-in-law works for the DEA, and is not the lunkhead he seems to be. What is fascinating is how Cranston essays a good man who gets into a dirty business, and transforms over time from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde… This is not only someone who becomes evil, he enjoys it. BREAKING BAD airs on AMC (the last episodes of the final season will be airing soon), but you’ll want to watch it from the beginning.
I’ll close out this year-end wrap-up with a list of shows I think are well worth your time:
BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO) —A bloody and dark series about Atlantic City in the 20s and the rise of organized crime, with Steve Buscemi at the center of it all.
GAME OF THRONES (HBO) —Warring kingdoms, sex, gore, dire wolves, dragons and things undead. What’s not to love?
THE WALKING DEAD (AMC) —A wonderful series where the living are just as important as the living dead, with brilliant makeup, effects and many WTF! moments.
JUSTIFIED (FX) —A Federal Marshall returns to rural Kentucky in this bitchin’ series from the mind of Elmore Leonard. Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins are lawman and outlaw who were boyhood pals. Brilliant.
SONS OF ANARCHY (FX) —Hamlet on Harleys. Also brilliant.
ARROW (CW) —Green Arrow without the Smallville soapiness.
THE NEIGHBORS (ABC) —A very human family moves to a cul-de-sac filled with aliens. The seemingly one-joke premise continues to be inventive, delightful and hilarious.
BOB’S BURGERS (FOX) —My favorite animated show. Unattractive characters (literally) and hilarious send-ups of family sitcom sweetness.
SHAMELESS (SHO) — The saga of the Gallaghers, who are grifters living by their wits in Chicago. Many of their efforts are often derailed by the worst of the lot, their patriarch, played by William H. Macy. A U.S. version of a Brit show, and hilarious.
LUTHER (BBC America) —Idris Elba is amazing as a British detective in this dark and inventive series.
FACE-OFF (Syfy) —The only reality show I watch—sure, some of the drama is manufactured through writing and editing, but the contestants come up with amazing effects makeup—without CGI!
© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh