Archive for the TV Shows Category


Posted in 2013, Johnny Depp Movies, Quick Cuts, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , on July 26, 2013 by knifefighter

Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Kelly Laymon, Paul McMahon, and Colleen Wanglund.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome everyone to the latest edition of QUICK CUTS.

We just suffered through—er, watched—THE LONE RANGER, which featured Johnny Depp as Tonto; this following upon the heels of his playing Barnabas Collins.  So, here’s this week’s QUICK CUTS question:  Who’s the next TV or movie icon that Depp will play? 

KELLY LAYMON:  The only answer is, “The character who wears the craziest costume!” 

ARRUDA:  Liberace?

L.L.SOARES:  How about Lady Gaga?

LAYMON:  I smell a remake of THE ADDAMS FAMILY with Depp as Gomez.  And, as with every other Johnny Depp film for the last decade, I’ll skip it. 

Will Johnny play Gomez Addams??

Will Johnny play Gomez Addams??

ARRUDA:  You and a lot of other people.

LAYMON:  But he could do a remake of HAVE GUN – WILL TRAVEL or THE BRADY BUNCH and I wouldn’t blink an eye as I buy a ticket to the latest “Vince Vaughn Is A Cool Boozy Guy, Man” flick.

ARRUDA:  I pegged him in a BRADY BUNCH remake.

Yep, THE BRADY BUNCH is coming to the big screen, starring Jim Carrey as Mike Brady, Cameran Diaz as Carol Brady, Ellen DeGeneres as Alice, and Johnny Depp will play Alice’s boyfriend Sam. 

With Depp playing Sam, the story of the Brady household will now be told through his perspective.

“With their parents working all the time, it was almost as if Alice and I were second parents to those kids—.” 


SOARES: Wouldn’t it be more of a challenge for Depp to play Alice, the true heroine of the series? Alice is the glue that keeps the family together, and it’s exactly the kind of odd character role that Depp would jump at. But he would demand that Alice be the main character and the Brady family be supporting characters.

ARRUDA: Depp would make a great Alice.

Who would Johnny Depp play in a new BRADY BUNCH reboot? Alice? Sam the Butcher? Or Cindy?

Who would Johnny Depp play in a new BRADY BUNCH reboot? Alice? Sam the Butcher? Or Cindy?

PAUL MCMAHON:  Let’s jump ahead a couple of years.  Johnny Depp and Tim Burton are about to announce plans to make a feature film reboot of the 70’s TV show WELCOME BACK, KOTTER.

SOARES:  Ugh! I hate the Sweathogs!

MCMAHON:  As an added thrill for fans, he and director Tim Burton are planning to use only two actors to complete the picture. Depp will be using CGI and makeup effects to play the Sweathogs: Vinnie Barbarino, Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington, Juan Epstein, and Arnold Horshack. He will also be portraying the loveable Mr. Gabe Kotter.

Would Johnny Depp play Mr. Cotter, just to teach us a lesson?

Would Johnny Depp play Mr. Kotter, just to teach us a lesson?

The pair is trying to interest Helena Bonham Carter to take on the roles of Mrs. Julie Kotter, Rosalie “Hotsie” Totsie, a feminized version of Cavelli, the Sweathogs nemesis, and Mr. Michael Woodman, Vice Principal.

SOARES: Martin Landau would make a great Mr. Woodman.

ARRUDA:  Why involve Carter?  Depp could play all the roles!

SOARES: Why not a movie where Johnny Depp and Eddie Murphy compete to see who can play more wacky characters?

MCMAHON:  It is noted that theaters are already experiencing a massive rush of patrons who are NOT buying tickets for this feature

L.L. SOARES:  Well, I think this one’s a no-brainer. Johnny Depp could play Yoda in the upcoming reboot of STAR WARS. They could use CGI to shrink him and give him little stumpy arms and legs, and he would relish the chance to deliver his lines in Yoda-speak. I can’t think of a better role for him to make his own!

"Play me, Johnny Depp might!"

“Play me, Johnny Depp might!”

COLLEEN WANGLUND:  Rumor has it that Johnny Depp will be playing Dr. Phibes in Tim Burton’s remake of the 1971 classic starring Vincent Price.  All I have to say is WHY?!

ARRUDA:  I hope that’s not true.  On the other hand, since Dr. Phibes was high camp to begin with, it might be a good fit for Depp.

MCMAHON:  Tell me you’re not serious.

ARRUDA:  I actually like Johnny Depp.  I just haven’t liked his recent roles.

SOARES: Same here.

ARRUDA: Okay, to finish things off, I have a couple more.

In the new film version of THE MUNSTERS, Johnny Depp has signed on to play Grandpa, with Helena Bonham Carter as Lily, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Herman.

Johnny Depp play Granpa Munster? You must be batty! Then again, he did already ruin Barnabas Collins!

Johnny Depp play Granpa Munster? You must be batty! Then again, he did already ruin Barnabas Collins!

And last but not least, in the latest re-imagining of TV’s LOST IN SPACE, Johnny Depp has signed on to play the Robinson Robot using CGI technology to morph his entire body into the shape of the Robot.

SOARES: With Lady Gaga as Judy!

ARRUDA: That  I’d pay to see!

That’s it for now. Thanks for joining us everybody, and let’s hope that none of our re-imaginings tonight come true!


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Kelly Laymon, Paul McMahon and Colleen Wanglund



Posted in 2013, Aliens, Based on Classic Films, Clones!, Dystopian Futures, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Psycho killer, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , on July 25, 2013 by knifefighter

By Mark Onspaugh

RemoteOutpostHello from the Outpost, located on a small planetoid that is actually a dead generation starship which is hurtling out toward the edge of the galaxy… And we’re all out of Poptarts™ and peanut butter!

(Note: Some of you may have noticed—and been relieved—that the Remote Outpost went “dark” for a while… We have a lot of sophisticated equipment and prototype AI stuff here to make sure we cover all the best in genre TV.  Sometimes, the equipment achieves sentience and decides we “meat puppets” have to go… It was a long and bloody campaign, but good old Terran humanity triumphed again. Hopefully it will be a long time before something goes worng again.)


These series have now gone into hiatus, which means you’ll have time to catch up on their first seasons before the second one debuts.  Don’t be like me… (I had to binge-watch three seasons of LOST before getting on that bandwagon!)



A great writer, a great screenwriter, a great director, a great actor—Robert Bloch, Joseph Stefano (THE OUTER LIMITS, 1963-64), Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Perkins—all worked together to create one of the most memorable and nuanced psychotic murderers of all time, Norman Bates in the classic film PSYCHO (1960). Now this new series seeks to show us what made Norman “go a little mad, sometimes.”  Creator Anthony Cipriano has reverse-engineered Norman, showing us his high school days, and the series is just terrific.

First up is the cast, with Freddie Highmore as the boy who loves his mother.  Highmore has been with us since he was seven, appearing in films like FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005) and AUGUST RUSH (2007).  In BATES he channels Anthony Perkins just enough so that we see the man the boy will become… But this Norman hasn’t killed and mummified his mother, yet.  (Norman’s first foray into taxidermy is both poignant and creepy.) And we’re not sure just how crazy Norman is.  True, he does have fugues, but some of his more outlandish experiences (finding a captive Asian girl in a neighbor’s basement) turn out to be true.  You wonder just how much is Norman, how much is his crazy mother, and how much she (or someone else) may be gaslighting him.


Speaking of mom, that would be Vera Farmiga (JOSHUA, 2007, ORPHAN, 2009, UP IN THE AIR, 2009 and THE CONJURING, 2013).  She’s Norma Bates, and that first name is not one I am crazy about… a little too “on the nose” for my taste.  But she is wonderful—one minute shrewish and shrill, the next loving and nurturing, the next wheedling and cajoling.  This is a woman desperate to protect her favorite son, even though there are those in town who believe Norman is in serious need of counseling.

And yes, I said favorite son.  Norman has a half brother, Dylan, played by Max Thieriot (MY SOUL TO TAKE, 2010 and THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, 2012).  Dylan’s bad boy with a heart is a fine foil to Norman. At first, Dylan wants to little to do with Norman or their mother—then he wants to move Norman out of the house and away from their mother… But events conspire to draw the three of them even closer together.  (And that friendly little town has a lot of secrets—like the basis of its economy.)  The fact that Dylan is never mentioned in any of the PSYCHO films leads one to believe things will not end well for him.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

One of the things I love best about the show is the (PSYCHO) house and the eponymous motel.  Like Amityville, the Overlook and the House of Usher), both of these places seem cursed.  One new conceit is that the Bates move there after Norman’s father dies.  So the house is aged and creepy, and the motel is… waiting.  Much of the first season is concerned with getting the place ready for guests.  My guess is that things will get even weirder and darker once it starts booking lots of guests – giving an opportunity for an almost anthology style of storytelling.


defiance_posterNow that there are no (new) Star Trek series running, I am hungry for good SF on TV.  The last shows I truly loved were BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-2009), CAPRICA (2009-2010) and SGU STARGATE UNIVERSE (2009-2011).  While DEFIANCE is not as good as GALACTICA or SGU, it has the potential to become some really good SF TV.

The premise is ingenious—seven alien races collectively known as the Votan flee their system, where the sun is going nova.  They come to Earth in huge arks, somehow thinking our planet is uninhabited.  The citizens of Earth regard them with suspicion and hostility, but allow them to establish some modest colonies while most of the Votan remain in suspended animation aboard the arks.  All is proceeding well until the Votan ambassador is assassinated, and the Pale Wars break out.  Many lives are lost and the war goes on for years… until the ark fleet is blown up! Huge pieces of technology rain down on the Earth, and terraforming devices begin haphazardly remaking the planet and mutating the animals, as well as introducing alien flora and fauna (I hate it when that happens).  Humans and Votan realize they cannot survive this new world, which is now alien to both groups.  Because of debris sometimes falling as “razor rain,” long-range air travel is impossible, and going into orbit is too costly – so both groups are earthbound. An uneasy peace is declared.  The new Earth is deadly and pieces of space debris still fall, bringing death…  but also opportunity for scavengers.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

All of this is backstory and told wordlessly (and briefly) in the title sequence.  The series opens with Nolan, a former soldier turned scavenger who combs the frontier with his adopted daughter Irisa, an Irathient girl he rescued in the war.  The Irathient people are orange with white markings—whether these marks are pigmentation, paint or tattoos is not quite clear, but they seem permanent.  Nolan and Irisa are trying to get enough money to get to Anarctica, which is rumored to be an oasis on the hostile planet.  Their pursuit of an “arkfall” leads them to Defiance, a settlement of human and Votan built on the ruins of St. Louis (the arch, somewhat the worse for wear, still stands).  The town is a wild and wooly frontier town, a bit like Mos Eisley in STAR WARS (1977), but with only a handful of alien species.

Nolan is jacked (robbed) by some of Irisa’s people, and is forced to become the peacekeeper of Defiance.  Irisa becomes his deputy, along with Tommy, a human African-American who develops a sexy but tempestuous relation with Irisa.  Defiance is run by newly-elected mayor Amanda Rosewater, whose sister runs the local brothel/bar/gambling hall.  Two more races are most fully represented by power-hungry Datak Tarr and his wife Stahma, both Castithans. Castithans are albino, sophisticated, scheming, fierce and their families all bathe together—their dwellings are white on white, making them nearly the opposite of the Irathients, and these races despise one another—united only in their disdain for humans.  Stahma is a great character, sensuous but crafty, deadly while being vulnerable. The town doctor is an Indogene, a people with pale, reptilian skin and dark eyes and lips (very goth/Cenobite) —they are brilliant scientists and have done both brilliant and terrible things during the Pale Wars—this is true of Dr. Yewl, who follows in the tradition of other great TV sci-fi doctors as being brilliant, crusty and not afraid to speak her mind.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

The town and its people (human and Votan) are rife with secrets and intrigue.  Datak and Stahma’s son, Alak, is a DJ who plays alien covers of old Earth standards from the Arch.  He is in love with the daughter of the richest human in Defiance, Rafe MacCawley, who owns a huge mine that yields both precious minerals and alien tech.

The other races get somewhat short shrift (so far) – one looks vaguely birdlike (the Liberata), another quite apelike (the Sensoth).  There are also Biomen, huge blue warriors who are virtually unbeatable, and the Volge, a warlike race humans and Votans alike fear.  Who smuggled the Volge onto the arks is still a mystery.

Much SF TV is usually confined to a single ship or locale to utilize standing sets.  Green screen has freed up filmmakers to some degree, and Defiance doesn’t feel too claustrophobic.  The principals are all quite good.  Nolan is played by Grant Bowler, a Kiwi whose had roles in LOST (2004-2010) and TRUE BLOOD (2008 -). His daughter Irisa is played by Stephanie Leonidas, who played Mina in a TV version of DRACULA (2006).  Mayor Rosewater is genre fave Julie Benz (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1997-2003, ANGEL, 1999-2004, and she played Rita on DEXTER) and her sister Kenya is Mia Kirshner (THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on the CW, and was on the Showtime series THE L WORD).  Mine owner Rafe MacCawley is played by Graham Greene (DANCES WITH WOLVES, 1990, TWILIGHT: NEW MOON, 2009).  Datak Tarr is Tony Curran (THE 13TH WARRIOR, 1999, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, 2003, BEOWULF & GRENDEL, 2005, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, 2008) and his wife Stahma is played by Jaime Murray (HU$TLE, 2004-, WAREHOUSE 13, 2009). And crusty Doc Yewl is Trenna Keating, who doesn’t have a lot of credits, but is one of my favorite characters.

Meet Doc Yewl.

Meet Doc Yewl.

It’s a fairly complex mythology, which is why they are fleshing out the alien characters slowly—Star Trek had many years and several series to refine the Klingons, and I imagine this show could be just as rich, if it stays on the air.  As with many new ventures, this is a cross-platform show, so you can find out more about the characters and their races from the website, or from playing the MMORPG online.


orphan-black-featureI do love BBC America.  Once in a while you find a real gem there, like BEING HUMAN (2008-) a show with a mismatched trio of supernaturals (vampire, werewolf, ghost) trying to survive both the human race and their more hostile counterparts.  The original British version is far, far superior to the American one and I urge you to check it out.  Lest you think I am a snob for Brit-TV, I will confess I gave up on COPPER (2012-) during its first season… It was meh (despite my loyalty to my Irish kinsmen), and not half as good as RIPPER STREET (2012-) when it comes to period police procedurals.  Also, LUTHER (2010-) with Idris Elba is amazing.

Which brings us to ORPHAN BLACK—more grounded in everyday reality than BATES or DEFIANCE, it still has a cool, science fiction premise: a young woman unhappy with her life of violence and estrangement from her young daughter is terrified to witness a woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a subway train… a woman who is her exact double.

Sarah and Felix in ORPHAN BLACK.

Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) and Felix (Jordan Gavaris) in ORPHAN BLACK.

Our protagonist, Sarah, takes the place of the suicide victim, using the death of a double to fake her own and get out of an abusive relationship (with a drug dealer from whom she has stolen a lot of money).  Unfortunately, the woman she has chosen to impersonate is a homicide detective with secrets… lots of secrets.

And, it gets worse.  One double? How about several?  Turns out Sarah is just one of several clones.  We don’t know how many, nor who the original is.  But someone is eliminating them, and so Sarah is trying to maintain her false identity, evade the clone killer, win custody of and protect her daughter, and solve the mystery of her own existence.

ORPHAN BLACK works largely due to its star, Tatiana Maslany.  Tatiana was in such fare as DIARY OF THE DEAD, THE MESSENGERS and the TV movie STIR OF ECHOES 2: THE HOMECOMING – all from 2007. But whatever you thought of her in those roles, this is her breakout.  Whether neurotic housewife, crazed Russian, lesbian science geek, French goth or our hero Sarah, she inhabits each role effortlessly and really seems to become someone beyond just a different hairstyle or fashion sense.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Kudos also go to Jordan Gavaris, who plays Sarah’s foster brother Felix.  Gavaris manages to take the character of outlandish but sensible gay man and make it seem fresh and funny.  Felix goes beyond caricature and is a very real ally to Sarah and her daughter…

ORPHAN BLACK is a mystery and a science fiction thriller.  Like good science fiction, it makes us look at larger issues of identity, individuality, the rights of “manufactured” beings and what it means to be human.  It also has one of the coolest title sequences and theme music (by Two Fingers) of any show currently on.

FINAL NOTE:  While I love science fiction, I can’t stand it if it’s boring.  Those who have read this column before know I gave up on TERRA NOVA.  The same may soon be said of CONTINUUM, the SyFy series about a revolutionary group from the future transported to our time, and the cop who is accidentally sent back with them.  Engaging at first, the show is becoming the same song played over and over.  Unless it turns a corner soon, I will toss it into the metaphorical dust bin.


© Copyright 2013 by Mark Onspaugh

REMOTE OUTPOST: Four New Shows Worth Your Time

Posted in Crime, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost, Serial Killers, Spies, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2013 by knifefighter

remote outpostREMOTE OUTPOST
Written by Mark Onspaugh

Dear Remote Outpost,

I am a busy professional and single parent.  When I am not doing research on a lost civilization, I am worried about my daughter and dealing with an eccentric artificial intelligence.  Please tell me, what television programs are worth my time? Thank you – oops, gotta go – it seems I have visitors.      


Dr. Edward Morbius, Altair IV


Yes, there’s a lot on TV these days, and a lot of it is what Marshall McLuhan called “pooh.”   Luckily for you, reader, Remote Outpost sifts through all the “muck” to find you the gems.

the-following cast

THE FOLLOWING (Fox, Mondays at 9:00 PM, EST)

I will admit, I am largely tired of serial killer movies and dramas.  So many are by-the-numbers that I will only watch if I like the actor(s), director or the concept.  Kevin Bacon is an interesting actor, and one known for taking on interesting projects.  In the past, he and wife Kyra Sedgwick (THE CLOSER, 2005-2012) alternated projects, so both have been very discriminating.

The Premise: Joe Carroll was a brilliant and charismatic professor of literature who specialized in the works of Edgar Allan Poe.  Realizing he would never equal Poe as a writer, he instead paid homage to his hero by killing young woman in “artful” ways.  Carroll was captured by FBI agent Ryan Hardy, but not before seriously wounding him.  Present day, Hardy is retired with a pacemaker and a drinking problem.  Carroll engineers an escape from prison that is the first step of a diabolical and enormously complex conspiracy: a network of serial killers that are awaiting activation, willing to carry out his bidding.  Carroll is soon captured by Hardy, but his plan is already in motion.  A brilliant detective who knows Carroll’s mind, Hardy must overcome his many limitations to stop dozens, maybe hundreds of serial killers.

Hardy is played by Kevin Bacon (TREMORS, 1990, APOLLO 13,  1995, HOLLOW MAN, 2000, THE WOODSMAN, 2004—he was also one of the victims in the first FRIDAY THE 13TH movie in 1980), and he brings a wounded but youthful intensity and cockiness to the role.  His nemesis Carroll is played by James Purefoy, a Brit who played SOLOMON KANE in 2009 (and was also Mark Antony on the HBO series ROME from 2005 to 2007),  and brings just the right balance of smarminess, faux warmth and cold calculation to his role.  The series was created and written by Kevin Williamson, who wanted something to replace the series 24 (2001-2010) on Fox.  Williamson, who ushered in the teen angst dramas with DAWSON’S CREEK (1998-2003), reinvigorated horror movies with the SCREAM franchise (beginning in 1996) and mashed the two up in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES (2009 – Present) is adept at believable characters, humor and twists.  More than once on THE FOLLOWING, I have been fooled by who is involved in the conspiracy and who isn’t.

Bacon and Purefoy are worth FOLLOWING

Bacon and Purefoy are worth FOLLOWING

The show is intense, and plays with serial killer conventions, from a wannabe who lies to his girlfriend about killing someone (he never has) to seemingly innocent, weak people who are actually cold-blooded killers.  Like any show with a massive conspiracy, it sometimes seems ridiculous just how much planning has gone into this one, from creating a private computer server at a prison to placing people in key roles in certain areas.  But Williamson is an adept writer, and Kevin Bacon and all the regulars are top notch.  Part of the fun is trying to guess who may betray Bacon down the line, and hoping it’s not one of the characters you genuinely like.



RIPPER STREET (BBC America, Saturdays at 9:00 PM, EST)

The Premise: A police procedural set in London’s East Whitechapel in 1889.  It has been six months since the last murder of Jack the Ripper, and the pall of his murders hangs heavy over the district.  Overseeing Division H is Inspector Ethan Reid, a brilliant detective aided by brawler/war veteran Sergeant Bennett Drake, and an American—former Army surgeon and Pinkerton agent, Captain Homer Jackson.  Each episode deals with murder and other high crimes, some motivated by politics and greed, others the result of long-held secrets and betrayals.  The show plays with the events of the era and also the beginnings of modern forensics and pathology.

One of the most wonderful things about current film technology is the ability to convincingly portray a time and place long gone.  No more stagey sets with some (clean) costumed extras, we can now see the city from all sorts of angles, all its filthy warrens and grand homes displayed, making us feel that we truly have a view of London in the last days of the 19th Century.

Our three principals have secrets: Reid lost his daughter in some horrific accident, and his torso is covered with burn scars.  Tough and formidable Drake has done some horrible things in war and longs for love.  And Homer Jackson is fleeing his past in the States and finds himself working alongside the people who may ultimately bring him down.

Matthew Macfadyen in RIPPER STREET.

Matthew Macfadyen in RIPPER STREET.

Matthew Macfadyen is brilliant as Reid, passionate about justice and still stinging from never having caught the Ripper.  I was not familiar with his work, but he has been in everything from PRIDE & PREJUDICE (2005) as Mr. Darcy to the Sheriff of Nottingham in ROBIN HOOD (2010) to Athos in THE THREE MUSKETEERS (2010).  He was also “Hatchet Victim” in the “Don’t” trailer of GRINDHOUSE (2007).  Jerome Flynn is wonderful as Drake, and can also be seen in the current HBO series, GAME OF THRONES, as Bronn.  Adam Rothenberg brings an irreverence and lasciviousness to his role as Jackson, the sole American at Division H.  Each episode is inventive, deftly plotted and certainly well worth your time.


the-americans-posterTHE AMERICANS (FX, Wednesdays at 10:00 PM, EST)

I wasn’t sure about this one, but FX has presented some great dramas, including THE SHIELD (2002-2008) and SONS OF ANARCHY (2008 – Present).  My wife and I watched the pilot and were hooked.  The series takes place during the Reagan administration and deals with two deep-cover KGB agents living in suburbia and raising two kids (who have no idea that their parents are not travel agents).  Matters are further complicated when an FBI Counter-Intelligence Agent moves in with his own family across the street.

First off, it’s some great espionage stuff and actual events (Hinkley shooting Reagan, for example) are incorporated into the plotlines.  The series was created by Joe Weisberg, who was a CIA officer, so each episode has an air of authenticity.  Our three principles are all terrific.  Keri Russell (FELICITY, 1998-2002 and DARK SKIES, 2013) is Elizabeth Jennings, a woman who has trained to seem like any other American.  She is fully committed to Mother Russia and would die for her country.  She can be seductive one moment and coldly ruthless the next.  Her husband Phillip is played by Matthew Rhys.  Phillip is conflicted—not only has he fallen in love with his wife, he sees that America is not the evil entity it has been portrayed as being and he worries for his kids.  He is ruthless, but no more so than when going after someone who raped Elizabeth back in Russia or a creep who leers at his young daughter.  Now Phillip’s doubts have started to crack Elizabeth’s icy façade.  Noah Emmerich is FBI agent Stan Beeman, who has his questions about the Jennings, but is hampered by his own problems as home and his wife accusing him of seeing Russian spies everywhere.  Emmerich was also seen in the AMC series, THE WALKING DEAD, as Dr. Edwin Jenner.

Russians at home in the USA during the Cold War in THE AMERICANS.

Russians at home in the USA during the Cold War in THE AMERICANS.

The show does a nice job of balancing the missions of our protagonists against the moves and counter moves by the FBI.  The Jennings new contact is Claudia, played by Margo Martindale, recently so amazing in the FX series, JUSTIFIED, as Mags Bennett.  FBI agent Beeman reports to Agent Gaad, played by (of all people) Richard Thomas (John Boy on THE WALTONS, 1971-1978).  There is plenty of suspense on both sides, whether the FBI is recruiting an unwilling asset from the Russian embassy or the Jennings are getting an equally unwilling asset to plant a bug in the home office of Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. A recent episode covered the Reagan assassination attempt and the FBI trying to find out whether the Soviets were involved, while said Soviets were trying to determine if this was the first step to a military coup (aggravated by Secretary of State Al Haig saying he was in control).  The characters and the plotting are believable and compelling – well worth watching.


Banshee_promotional_posterBANSHEE (Cinemax, Fridays at 10:00 PM, EST)

I had been waiting on this one, because Alan Ball is involved, and it is my favorite of the four.  Ball is the screenwriter of AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999) and was/is the executive producer on two fine series on HBO, SIX FEET UNDER (2001-2005) and TRUE BLOOD (2008 – Present).

The Premise: An unnamed protagonist is released from prison.  He is a master thief and in love with Anastasia, the daughter of Ukrainian crime boss Mr. Rabbit, from whom the two stole a fortune in diamonds.  His accomplice is an Asian transvestite and brilliant hacker named Job.  Job reluctantly tells the thief that his lover (who has the diamonds) is living in Banshee, Pennsylvania, a tiny town in Amish country.  While visiting a bar on the fringes of Banshee, our protagonist comes to the aid of owner Sugar Bates, an African-American ex-boxer and ex-con. Sugar is being accosted by thugs.  The other patron of the bar is, unbeknownst to them, the new Sheriff of Banshee, Lucas Hood.  Hood is on his way to report in, but stopped off for drink. He has the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The thugs are killed, but so is Hood, who no one in Banshee has ever seen.  Sugar can’t afford an investigation, nor can our protagonist.  They bury the bodies in the woods and our thief makes the bold decision to present himself in town as Sheriff Hood.  His lover Anastasia now lives as Carrie Hopewell, a wife and mother to the town D.A. and has two children – one of whom is probably the thief’s daughter.

The cast of BANSHEE.

The cast of BANSHEE.

Things are complicated by local crime boss Kai Proctor – an Amish man who left his people to deal in drugs, extortion, racketeering, murder and anything else that will bring him money and power. Hood comes to be both respected and loathed by many (including some on the force) because his methods are (of course) unconventional, violent and often illegal.  Hood has the code of many anti-heroes, looking to realize his own agenda while often helping the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden.  Job reluctantly moves to town because Hood owes him a great deal of money, and together with Sugar they look for possible big scores from the local casino.  Of course, Hood’s lover Carrie knows who he is, but can’t expose him without exposing herself.  And oh, did I mention that Kai Proctor owns a slaughterhouse and is a butcher? Bet you can’t guess how he disposes of troublesome underlings. And he has a creepy, merciless lieutenant who wears nerd glasses and bow ties.

As with any show Ball is associated with, the characters are colorful and complex, and the sex, nudity and violence are plentiful and right to the edge of what cable will allow—this is not a show for the faint of heart.

The man soon to be Hood in BANSHEE.

The man soon to be Hood in BANSHEE.

Hood is played by Anthony Starr, a Kiwi who seems mostly to have been involved in series in New Zealand, or their evil twin, Australia.  Carrie is played by Ivana Milicevic, the villainous Valenka in  CASINO ROYALE (2006) and her father Mr. Rabbit is played by Ben Cross, lately seen as Spock’s father in the STAR TREK (2009) reboot.  Ulrich Thomsen (SEASON OF THE WITCH, 2011 and the new version of THE THING, 2011) plays Kai Proctor,  Hoon Lee (TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, 2012) is Job and Frankie Faison (MESSENGERS, 2004, CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT, 2009) plays Sugar.

This is a show filled with “Holy s**t!” and “WTF!” moments, and I often try to predict how a certain arc will play out, and am often delighted to find I am totally wrong.  This series is definitely worth your time.

As for upcoming shows I am still excited about, they include BATES MOTEL, THE VIKINGS and DEFIANCE. We’ll be looking at these in a future column.

Hope that answers your question, Dr. Morbius.  Good luck on that whole id thing.

Outpost… out.

© Copyright 2013 by Mark Onspaugh


Posted in 2012, 2013, Alien Worlds, Based on Classic Films, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Prequels, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, Television, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , , on January 16, 2013 by knifefighter

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 reachedTHE REMOTE OUTPOST.

remote outpost

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.)


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!


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.


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

Remote Outpost Looks at: THE FALL 2012 TV SEASON

Posted in 2012, Comedies, Horror, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, Superheroes, Television, TV Pilots, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2012 by knifefighter

REMOTE OUTPOST Takes a Look at
Written by Mark Onspaugh

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 reachedthe REMOTE OUTPOST.


OUTPOST UPDATE: By now you’ve probably seen the President’s address, the various news specials and viewed the onsite footage.  Since it’s been declassified, I can tell you the Outpost had been infested with Tofugitives.  As you know, this is a plague of giant, sentient slugs that target populations of carnivorous, T-bone eating humans; consuming them and producing soy-based replicants nearly indistinguishable from the original.  Since many on my crew are often in a somnolent state or snorting Snart, it was impossible to determine there had been an outbreak until the Outpost was overrun.  But everything’s… everything’s fine,  now… send your research ships…  and tourists… yes, lots of tourists… the more, the better. And some blocks of tofu would be… most appreciated, humans… er, friends.

And now, on to today’s exciting column.


Well, it was just like Christmas at the Space-Orphanage: a few gifts around the tree, some disappointing, a couple surprisingly wonderful, and the rest a pile of used astro-diapers, steeped in a puddle of tears and hair torn out in frustration.


REVOLUTION (NBC, Mondays at 10pm EST)

The network is touting this as a breakout hit, and probably think they’ve caught lightning in the LOST (2004-2010) bottle.  The show was created by Eric Kripke, who also created SUPERNATURAL.  The series concerns an inexplicable catastrophe that shuts down all electrical power.  Nothing works, and the pilot had planes falling from the skies as cities went dark.  We pick up some fifteen years later, when some have created small, rural communities and others are forming fascistic attempts at a new world order.  And, certain people have a strange medallion which sometimes lights up and powers any machinery or devices in the immediate area.  I have to admit I bailed on SUPERNATURAL in the first season, because I just never felt invested in the Brothers Winchester, much as I wanted to be.  I found the same problem with REVOLUTION. I love science fiction, and desperately hope for something as engaging as the best of the STAR TREK universe, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-2009) or STARGATE: UNIVERSE (2009-2011). I just found the villains on the show to be over-the-top mustache-twirlers, and the heroes tiresome and (frankly) boring.  But, I have been wrong before.  I gave up on STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE (2001-2005) early on because of the characters, then a good friend told me how terrific the story arcs were in later seasons.  And you know what? He was right.  If such a person tells me I missed the boat on REVOLUTION, I’ll rent the DVD’s.


AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM (FX Channel, Wednesdays at 10pm EST)

I loved the first season of AMERICAN HORROR STORY – it was fresh and inventive, had engaging characters and some genuinely scary and creepy moments.  I applauded the idea that each season would bring a different setting and story arc, though some of the actors would be the same.  ASYLUM bounces back and forth between a couple visiting an abandoned asylum and running afoul of a serial killer called “Bloody Face,” and the same asylum in its heyday in the 60’s.  Besides serial killers and a Nazi doctor a la Mengele (and H.G. Wells’s Moreau), the first two and a half episodes had an exorcism, alien abductions and a nun possessed by the devil.  The cast has some terrific actors, including Jessica Lange as Sister Jude, James Cromwell as Dr. Arden and Zachary Quinto as Dr. Thredson.  Maybe I am just tired of hospitals and asylums as a setting for horror stories… It could be the torture aspects, which I have never been crazy about (and were lacking in season one)… But… Watching the episodes I had TiVo’ed just felt like homework, which is a bad sign.  It may be that there are just too many elements – Nazis, aliens, demons and nuns?  I’d love to see creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk develop a series about alien abductions in the 60’s – that would probably be scary as hell… Or just nuns and demons… Or just Nazi experiments in creating animal-men…  Again, if I find later I have given up prematurely, I will re-check it out.


LAST RESORT (ABC, Thursdays at 8pm EST)

I had been looking forward to this series, because I am a big fan of Andre Braugher (HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET, 1993-1998, THIEF,2006 and MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE, 2009-2011) and the series was created by Shawn Ryan, the man behind the awesome series THE SHIELD (2002-2008).  If that ain’t enough cred, Robert Patrick is just terrific as Master Chief Prosser. Patrick was the living metal Terminator in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991) and Agent John Doggett on THE X-FILES (1993-2002).  LAST RESORT concerns the USS Colorado, a nuclear sub commanded by Captain Marcus Chaplain (Braugher).  The sub picks up a contingent of Navy Seals with a prisoner.  Soon after, they are commanded to nuke Pakistan.  Since the orders come from a secondary relay, Chaplain refuses.  Then the U.S. fires on the Colorado, trying to destroy it.  Chaplain commandeers a remote island and declares a 200 mile barrier around it until they can sort things out.  To prove his point, he fires a nuke at Washington, its actual course taking it out to sea so no one is killed.  The show is filled with conflict, both on the sub and the island and back home.  Has there been a coup? Who can be trusted?  Loyalties and alliances constantly shift and dangers come from within and from without (including the islanders themselves).  I don’t know where the show is going, but it’s very, very engaging, and that’s what I want more than ever.  Homework? Not this one.

Scott Speedman, Robert Patrick and Andre Braugher in LAST RESORT.


ARROW (The CW, Wednesdays at 8pm EST)

Another pleasant surprise, although the trailer had sold me.  Many think this is a SMALLVILLE (2001-2011) version of the Green Arrow, and it’s easy to understand why.  SMALLVILLE had its own version of the Green Arrow. He was also an incarnation of GA where Oliver Queen is shipwrecked and develops his archery skills to survive until he is rescued.  But that Oliver was embroiled in SMALLVILLE’s brand of soap opera teen angst, which often took precedence over the action.  This version of the Green Arrow is much grittier.  Here, Oliver is a shallow playboy who convinces his girlfriend’s sister to go with him on a pleasure cruise on his father’s yacht.  The yacht goes down, and only Oliver, his father and another man survive.  Knowing they only have limited rations and Oliver is no fighter, his father gives him a journal outlining the corruption in Starling City before killing the other man and taking his own life.  Oliver is helped on the island by a Chinese sort of Robinson Crusoe and undergoes a profound change.  Upon returning, he pretends to be the shallow billionaire playboy, but by night he dons the Lincoln green and goes after the people on the list… And this Green Arrow kills!  Finally, a superhero with lethal skills going the distance.  (I’m lookin’ at you, Wolverine!) Mind you, I wouldn’t want to see Superman or Batman killing people, but Queen as a murderous vigilante brings a whole new level to the story.  Stephen Amell is quite good as Oliver, and his girlfriend is an attorney named… Dinah Lance.  Black Canary, anyone?  Hmm, maybe – she already mentioned to Oliver that she regretted wearing fishnets to a Halloween party… Green Arrow and Black Canary? Yes, please!


BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (The CW, Thursdays at 9pm EST)

I  know as a galactic pilot and critic I should take one for the team (that being you Earthers), but I just couldn’t bring myself to watch this.  I could barely make it through the promos, and this did seem like a SMALLVILLE-ified version of the series made famous in 1987-1990 with Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.  I guess partially because the “beauty” in this case is Kristin Kreuk, who played Lana Lang in SMALLVILLE. If you love the show, let me know. Otherwise, let’s pretend it’s not even on and move on…


MOCKINGBIRD LANE (Aired on NBC on October 26, 2012 – Unsold Pilot)

Another show I looked forward to because I loved THE MUNSTERS (1964-1966) as a kid and this was Bryan Fuller’s take… Fuller created DEAD LIKE ME (2003-2004), which is still one of my all-time favorite series.  I knew this would be a grittier take on Herman and his family, because I had read that Eddie “wolfs out” and kills several members of his Scout troop. (Hmm, another show made attractive by murder… Paging Dr. Freud!) Anyway, I didn’t want to read anything else, and that was both a blessing and a curse.  This is actually a version of the Munsters where they have been liberally mixed with THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1964-1966) – these Munsters look perfectly human, but also know they are special.  There is a nice sight gag when we first meet Herman – standing in the shadows, a hanging lamp behind him alters his silhouette into the block-headed and bolted Monster we all know and love.  Herman is played by Jerry O’Connell, who was a lot of fun in SLIDERS (1995-2000) and seemed more famous in later years for marrying Rebecca Romijn (“Mystique” in X-MEN 2000), but he is quite good here.  His Herman only has one piece of “original” equipment, his heart, which is giving out.  He is afraid a new heart will change him.  Lily is played by the wonderful Portia de Rossi, so damn funny in BETTER OFF TED (2009-2010), and her first appearance is right out of Ray Bradbury, as spiders spin a gown on her shapely form.  Grandpa? Eddie Izzard.  Man, I’d tune in just to watch Izzard alone.  His grandpa looks like Eddie, but can morph into a bat-winged demon (part gargoyle, part Nosferatu) to feed.  The pilot was sly and well written, and underneath was the running thread of love and family unity… and people… people who feed on people, being the luckiest people in the world.  I was ready to make MOCKINGBIRD LANE part of my week, but sadly, this is an unsold pilot, aired to recoup some network bucks…  Sad, because the writing, acting and production values were all top-notch, including the cameo by Spot at the end, which was just killer.  Oh, well…


The short-lived series ANIMAL PRACTICE

ANIMAL PRACTICE (NBC, Wednesdays at 8pm EST – Canceled)

A word about this show, which has already been cancelled while dreck like the NBC sitcom WHITNEY survives like some malignant virus.  ANIMAL PRACTICE concerned a vet who didn’t like people and his best friend, Dr. Rizzo, a small capuchin monkey in her own lab coat.  Tyler Labine was also in the show (if you haven’t seen him and Alan Tudyk in TUCKER AND DALE vs EVIL, 2010, you’re missing a true gem), and it was pretty off-the-wall.  Not a show that would be deemed a classic (not yet), but damn, that monkey made me laugh – every… stinking… episode.  TV needs more monkeyshines, less Whitney.


Final Note: My favorite shows currently are THE WALKING DEAD (AMC, Sunday nights at 10pm EST), SONS OF ANARCHY (FX Channel, Tuesdays at 10pm EST) and BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO, Sundays at 9pm EST ).  All are just terrific, and each is well written, acted and produced – well worth your time. I also have high hopes for the SyFy series DEFIANCE, coming in the near future.


© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh

The Remote Outpost Looks At THE INVADERS (1967 – 1968)

Posted in 2012, 60s Television, Aliens, Classic TV Shows, Fugitives, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, TV Shows, UFOs with tags , , , , , , on August 15, 2012 by knifefighter

THE REMOTE OUTPOST…. Written by Mark Onspaugh
This week we look at: THE INVADERS, in color!  Tonight’s episode: Pinkies of Doom!

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 mountains… 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.


While we’re waiting for the next crop of science fiction and horror series to debut on network and cable, I thought we’d stroll through the musty and parasite-infested archives of the Outpost. N… O… P… Q. Hmm… Quark, Quasar, Quigley – ah, QM.

Back in the 60s and 70s, one of the more successful television producers was Quinn Martin (1922-1987). Martin was born in New York, but raised in Los Angeles. He attended Fairfax High and then UC Berkeley, but quit and got an editing job with MGM. (His father was also a film editor—always good to have connections!)

Martin rose up the production ladder and would eventually executive produce a number of television classics: THE UNTOUCHABLES (1959-1960), The Fugitive (1963-1967), Twelve O’Clock High (1964-1967), The F.B.I. (1965-1974), Cannon (1971-1976), The Streets of San Francisco (1972-1977) and Barnaby Jones (1973-1978). QM also produced the Burt Reynolds series DAN AUGUST (1970-1971) and the short-lived (8 episodes) TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED (1977). One of Martin’s few forays into cinema would be the memorable THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (1971), where Alan Alda (of all people) makes a deal with the Devil and lives to regret it. (Note to self: cancel deal meeting with Beezlebub.)

Quinn Martin Productions were known for having a lavish guest star budget and high production values. Another trademark was that each show would feature a title sequence, then a narrator would intone “With guest stars…” and “Tonight’s episode: ‘Pardon My Murder!'” (Actually, that’s a joke from MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 [1988-1999], but it certainly captures the flavor of QM titles.) Episodes were divided into acts and ended with an epilog. It all helped to establish the QM brand, and no other series looked or sounded like QM productions.

This whole period was a golden age for character actors, as there were many anthology series and dramas needing guest stars to round out the cast. Familiar faces like Ed Asner, Suzanne Pleshette, William Windom, Michael Rennie, Susan Oliver, Harold Gould and John Larch (among many, many others) would make the rounds, often appearing on two different QM shows simultaneously. A good character actor could often work nearly year-round in those days.

Quinn Martin produced one of my favorite science fiction shows, THE INVADERS which ran on ABC from January 10, 1967 to March 26, 1968. ABC was the last network to adopt color programming, so the network would run bumpers that would say, “Next, The Invaders… In color!”

A departure from QM’s police procedurals, many thought THE INVADERS was a riff on THE FUGITIVE. However, Larry Cohen, the series’ creator, drew his inspiration from the films INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), INVADERS FROM MARS (1953), and from the Alfred Hitchcock trope of “the wrong man.”  The hero of the series was David Vincent, an architect who becomes lost and stops to sleep on a deserted road. That night, he sees a UFO land. When he returns the next day with the sheriff, all traces of the UFO and its visitors are gone.

This would be a central thread in most episodes: David Vincent would try to warn people of an Invader scheme, but no one would believe him. The Invaders themselves were aided by the fact that they looked human (unless undergoing “regeneration”) and they vaporized when dying, leaving just a pile of ash. They also had little discs that, when placed on a human, would cause death by cerebral hemorrhage. The Invaders did not bleed, did not feel pain, rarely exhibited emotion and had a mutated little finger that could not bend. Often only David Vincent would notice such clues, and he was often considered dangerous and/or crazy.

David Vincent was played by Roy Thinnes, a handsome young actor who had done well in soaps and was part of QM’s rotating troupe of guest stars on previous series. As with David Janssen in THE FUGITIVE and Bill Bixby in THE INCREDIBLE HULK (1978-1982), he had sufficient charisma to carry the show. As I mentioned, Quinn Martin did not skimp on budgets for his productions, not on effects or guest stars, which may explain why his shows had a richer look than those of Irwin Allen or even the original STAR TREK. Quinn Martin also strove for realism, nothing too far out like Space Cowboys or a Nazi planet.

The iconic theme was by Dominic Frontiere, who did the amazing theme for THE OUTER LIMITS (1963-1965). THE INVADERS also had a dynamite voice-over lead-in, which is one of my most favorites, following THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-1964), THE OUTER LIMITS and STAR TREK (1966-1969):

First, you hear Hank Simms, who announced all of Quinn Martin’s series – series name, stars, guest stars and title:

“The Invaders – a Quinn Martin Production! Starring Roy Thinnes as architect David Vincent.”

Then, a gravelly bass voice takes over (my research shows this is supposed to be William Woodson who also did CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER FRIENDS in 1978, but it sure sounds to me like William Conrad, who starred in the QM series CANNON, but was also the voice of Marshall Matt Dillon on radio):

“The Invaders, alien beings from a dying planet. Their destination: the Earth. Their purpose: to make it their world. David Vincent has seen them. For him, it began one lost night on a lonely country road, looking for shortcut that he never found. It began with a closed, deserted diner, and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now, David Vincent knows that The Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow, he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun!”

(Check out THE INVADERS opening credits for yourself, here)

After that, Hank Simms would tell you who was guest starring and the name of the episode. THE INVADERS had great episode titles like “Beachhead,” “The Experiment,” “Doomsday Minus One” and “Quantity: Unknown.”

Wooo-eee! I’ll tell you, friends, if you were a kid who loved science fiction liked me, this show grabbed you from the get-go. Sure, the effects are primitive by today’s standards, but were top-notch for television of the day. And writerly contrivances like disappearing alien corpses and mutated pinkies just added to the nightmarish and surreal predicament in which David Vincent found himself. It made you wonder what you would do under similar circumstances, and made you regard some adults with suspicion… Just why does my British aunt keep her pinky up at tea time?

For his part, show runner Larry Cohen did much to infuse The Invaders with layers, making it a metaphor for the Red Scare and the dehumanizing influence of mindless conformity. He had similar thoughts for BRANDED (1965-1966), the Chuck Connors (western) series he had created as an allegory of Hollywood’s blacklist. An interesting note is that we never learned much about the aliens, only that they came from “a dying world.” We never learned what that world was called or what they called themselves, nothing about their culture or beliefs. There seem to be only two episodes where we got the briefest glimpse of their true shapes, amorphous blobs in solution (which makes our water-rich planet ideal).

Sadly, THE INVADERS only lasted two seasons, and I am not certain why it was canceled. However, the series did take a turn in the second season, where certain people (“The Believers”) begin to trust David Vincent and worked to help eradicate the aliens. For me, this was far less satisfying than a single man alone against terrible odds, and I began to lose interest. I imagine others did, too. It’s like a “will they or won’t they” couple in a sitcom… As long as Sam is pursuing Diane, or Jack and Sawyer are pursuing Kate, there is a natural tension, one that gives the series some weight. Once a couple marries or becomes exclusive, that tension is gone. Also, a lone wolf or fugitive in the series is like a secret friend—someone only we understand and appreciate… Once they become accepted, they are no longer alone (but we are). REMOTE OUTPOST—we don’t just analyze television!

Larry Cohen went on to do low-budget horror faves like IT’S ALIVE (1974) and Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982). An Invaders mini-series with Scott Bakula was attempted in 1995, with Roy Thinnes reprising his role as David Vincent, handing off the torch, as it were. It was not picked up for a series… I guess those alien bastards won this round…

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh


Remote Outpost: LOST AND FOUND

Posted in 2012, JJ Abrams, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Paranormal, Remote Outpost, Supernatural, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , on February 8, 2012 by knifefighter

Television Reviews by Mark Onspaugh

(NOTE: There are some SPOILERS ahead. It’s difficult to convey the mysteries and conundrums of these shows without giving away some of the material covered in the pilots—be properly warned, ye be.)

Ah, it’s like Christmas morning here at the Outpost… Two new genre shows debuted recently and we all got our chores done early – herded in the banths, milked the vermithrax and harvested venom from all thirteen gorgons. Then, we microwaved Orville Redenbacher (I don’t mean the popcorn, laddie) and brewed some Irish coffee and huddled around the ol’ viewscreen.

The shows in question are ALCATRAZ from J.J. Abrams and (his production company) Bad Robot, and LOST GIRL, from Showcase—now on the SyFy Channel (A note of warning – if you have friends that have been watching LOST GIRL online, they are into season 2 or 3, and they are FULL of spoilers!)

To be honest, I was very excited about ALCATRAZ and was going to leave LOST GIRL in the dust. However, the Council of Elders at Cinema Knife Fight sent two hulking bruisers to my home to convince me of the error of my ways. If you think it’s easy typing with two black eyes and one unbroken finger (left pinkie), you are mistaken. Pardon me, I have to lie down as another blackout descends…

# #

I’m back. Like I said, ALCATRAZ is from J.J. Abrams (ALIAS 2001-2006, LOST 2004-2010, FRINGE, which is still on the air, and the most recent STAR TREK movie (2009)), and Bryan Burk (ALIAS, LOST, FRINGE and STAR TREK). These are, by any yardstick, heavy-duty creds. I came into LOST late into the game (Season 3) and had to do a massive marathon viewing to get up to speed. I love FRINGE and I loved LOST—even the finale so many hated, which I felt took some chances and, while maybe not entirely successful, did explain some mysteries and give us closure. So Bad Robot and company have a lot of credit with me.

The pilot starts beautifully in 1963. Coming in over the water is a major cliché these days, but here the water looked eerie, threatening. A detail bringing over more prisoners for “The Rock” finds the entire facility deserted. Prisoners, guards, civilians and families (guards lived on the island with their families) are gone. The younger guard, we come to find, is Emerson Hauser, and will grow up to be Sam Neill. Now, Sam Neill has tons of genre cred – his eyes are a’twinkle with mischief and/or malevolence. He was Damian all growed up in OMEN III: THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981), Merlin in MERLIN’S APPRENTICE (2006), Dr. Alan Grant in the JURASSIC PARK franchise (1993, 2001) and Lovecraftian protagonist John Trent in John Carpenter’s eerie IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994).

Emerson is the brains behind the program to collect all the Alcatraz missing as they return. There’s lots he not telling his two cohorts, not the least of which is he has a giant, state-of-the-art prison hidden underground in the middle of the woods where he transfers captured escapees—living and dead. The doctors who attended staff and prisoners before the disappearance are either not aging or are time-traveling from 1963 to the present… And, as seen in the pilot, at least one inmate had money and fake ID’s waiting his return…

Joining Emerson is a plucky cop, Detective Rebecca Madsen, played by Sarah Jones. I thought Sarah looked familiar—she played the daughter of Adam Arkin’s American Nazi character on the FX series, SONS OF ANARCHY. Rebecca’s cases come into conflict with Emerson’s secret agenda. In fact, she had a grandfather who was a guard on Alcatraz… Rebecca soon learns that isn’t the truth, nor is the old man dead… Hell, he’s not even old. In addition, “Gramps” is often seen in the infirmary when other inmates visit, and seems to know a lot more than he should about a lot of things.

If Emerson is our brains, and Rebecca our courage, the last part of the OZ formula is supplied by Dr. Diego Soto, played by Jorge Garcia, who was so wonderful as Hurley on LOST. Dr. Soto is the world’s expert on Alcatraz, and he got his hands on lots of documents and personal effects no one else ever did. He’s also a comic book geek who owns his own store. He’s not very brave, yet is willing to risk life and limb for Rebecca or an innocent.

Sam Neill, Sarah Jones and Jorge Garcia are the stars of ALCATRAZ, the new show from JJ Abrams.

The trouble with ALCATRAZ is two-fold—its “hook” is to feature a different inmate’s return each week, and dribble in some more details on the mysteries it has laid out. While the mysteries are interesting, the criminals may not always be, and this formula may grow tired very quickly—I noticed that the second hour of the pilot seem to move much more slowly than the first. It’s early, but it hasn’t become a show I have to watch. Unlike LOST, it’s not one I feel compelled to discuss with friends. In addition, even if LOST didn’t always give us buckets of mystery every episode, the characters and their situation were compelling enough—Sawyer hogging supplies to barter with, Hurley trying to be the peace-maker, Locke and his “noble savage” abilities, etc. ALCATRAZ depends heavily on its three main characters, and so far they just haven’t been very interesting… However, I do have faith in J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot, and figure that things will heat up very quickly… My wife has given them 5 episodes… Sometimes I will stubbornly stick with a show I had faith in, wanting it to redeem itself or go down in flames (X-FILES [1993-2002] and SMALLVILLE [2001-2011] are two examples). Whether ALCATRAZ becomes “must viewing,” a guilty pleasure, or something I escape, we shall see.

# #

Apparently someone passed out a memo to television and movie execs a few months back and declared fairy tales the genre flavor of the moment. Why else have two Snow White movies, mash-ups of Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast and shows like GRIMM (which I like), ONCE UPON A TIME (which I gave up on), and now LOST GIRL?

SyFy apparently read enough talkbacks to see they were becoming synonymous with cheap, laughable movies about tornados that dump alligators on galas presided over by C-list actors and has-been pop stars from the 80’s. Taking their cue from HBO and Showtime, SyFy is going for more adult programming, meaning that after 10pm one may get more mature content in the form of language, nudity and gore.

LOST GIRL is, I believe, the vanguard of this new face on the “Y” channel (really, does anyone prefer “SyFy” to “SciFi” that capitalized on the fact that the latter contains “if”?). Our heroine is Bo, played by Anna Silk. Bo is a beautiful woman with a terrible secret – she is capable of seducing anyone with a mere touch and feeds off their life-force. She is, in fact, a succubus, one of the many species of Fae, or Faerie Folk. The Fae live in our world and may even hold jobs as cops or teachers or that peculiar goat-footed balloon salesman in the park. Somehow Bo has escaped the notice of the Fae until now. Her undoing is helping Kenzi, a pickpocket and thief played by Ksenia Solo. Bo sees Kenzi has been “rufied” and can’t help getting her out of a jam –plus the would-be rapist is a tasty snack. Enter two cops to the crime scene who are actually Fae: Dyson, a sort of werewolf or shape-shifter and Detective Hale, whose singing can make one forget or do his bidding. Dyson is played by Kris Holden-Reid (UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING, 2012) and Hale by K.C. Collins. Dyson has taken an interest in Bo, and seems impervious to her succubus energy-sucking, so romantic possibilities are in the offing…

The cast of the Syfy Channel series, LOST GIRL.

Rounding out the cast are Zoie Palmer (DEVIL, 2010) as Lauren, a human doctor who knows about the Fae and how to treat them (and who is noticeably attracted to Bo) and Richard Howland as Trick, a gnome or little Fae (leprechaun?) who runs the only Fae bar in town—a place that is neutral ground for Dark and Light. Trick is the character who seems most familiar with whatever prophecy involves Bo.

In the pilot, Bo was introduced to the Fae and found out they are divided into Dark and Light. She was set against two nasty creatures as a test, then, once she survived, told she must choose between Dark or Light. Bo chose neither, wanting instead to stay a part of humanity. This did not go over well with any of the Elder Fae, but also seems in keeping with a prophecy of a very powerful Fae either uniting or wiping out the whole Fae race.

Bo and her plucky human sidekick have taken up residence together, and have formed a sort of Fae X-FILES—they investigate strange and weird crimes with the intent of helping people, and Bo hopes to learn more about her Fae parents, who apparently abandoned her when she was a baby.

Anna Silk plays Bo in the new series, LOST GIRL.

LOST GIRL is a bit of a cross between BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1997-2003) and the aforementioned GRIMM, with plenty of wise-cracking and clever riffs on old tales and well-known characters from legend, folklore and fairy tales. It’s nice to have a female protagonist who is not only attractive but confident in her sexuality, and her flirting with Dyson is a nice spin on the old “beauty and the beast” trope. My wife loves this show, and several of our female friends love it, as well—both for the wisecracking Kenzi and the “dreamy” wolf Dyson. I’m more a fan of the Blut Bad (Big Bad Wolf) in GRIMM, but I was a big fan of BUFFY—it’s doubtful this will reach Joss Whedon inventiveness or greatness, but one can always hope…

# #

NEXT UP: Just started watching a terrific new miniseries from the BBC called THE FADES, and will be watching the premiere of THE RIVER, a new ABC series from Oren Peli (director of the 2007 hit movie, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and AREA 51, now in post-production) and exec produced by Zack Estrin, who co-exec produced PRISON BREAK (2005-2009), another show I stayed with until the very end, long after it had left the twin cities of Rhyme and Reason far behind… But oh, those characters!

Well, gotta go—we’ve got mutants in the sand pit again, and no amount of D-Con or poisoned crackers keeps them at bay. They are hell on the lawn and my guests, leaving little tell-tale antennae sticking out the back of folks’ necks, and making them all cranky and anti-social and cannibalistic in the bargain.

See you next time. Outpost… out.

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh