Archive for Remote Outpost

REMOTE OUTPOST looks at 3 NEW SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

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

REMOTE OUTPOST
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.)

3 SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

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!)

BATES MOTEL (A&E)

bates-motel-poster

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.

bates_motel

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 (SyFy)

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 (BBC America)

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.

OUTPOST… out.

© Copyright 2013 by Mark Onspaugh

Advertisements

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
THIS WEEK: FOUR SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

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.      

Cordially,

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-promo-poster

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

THE REMOTE OUTPOST LOOKS FORWARD, THEN BACK AT 2012

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

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_promotional_poster

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-Season-1-Poster-600x780

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-season-1-2013-Syfy-poster

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

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-TV-Series-Poster

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).

the-big-bang-theory-2

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-12

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)…

fringe-091

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.

650px-Season_5_banner

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:

1314893220703_BWE_1024x768_590_295

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
THE FALL 2012 TV SEASON
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.

WHAT’S NEW IN GENRE TV, ANYWAY?

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.

OUTPOST… out.

© 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: THE SCIENCE FICTION TV SHOWS OF IRWIN ALLEN! – PART 2

Posted in 2012, 60s Television, Aliens, GIANTS!, Irwin Allen, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost, Time Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2012 by knifefighter

Remote Outpost by Mark Onspaugh
This week: A VOYAGE OF THE LOST IN THE TIME OF GIANTS
PART 2 OF 2

Hello 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……And now back to the science fiction shows of Irwin Allen!

Our third entry from Irwin Allen was my favorite show of his, THE TIME TUNNEL. Ironically, it is also his least successful, lasting only one season from September 9, 1966 to April 7, 1967. The Time Tunnel is a secret government installation under the Arizona desert, code named Project Tic-Toc. The only way inside was via a large secret panel in the desert floor; when it opened, a car could descend into the complex. The Tic-Toc base was a futuristic series of complexes 800 floors deep and employing over 36,000 people (“12 thousand people in each of those complexes”). Its design was inspired by the complex of the Krell in FORBIDDEN PLANET.

In the pilot, a senator tours the facility and concludes it is a waste of money—he is going to shut it down. To prevent this, headstrong young physicist Anthony “Tony” Newman, dressed in slacks and a swingin’ green turtleneck, powers up the giant device all alone and plunges in—and lands on the deck of the Titanic. (Ironic horn sound effect here). Tony tries to convince the Captain that the ship is doomed, and is thrown in the brig.  Dr. Doug Philips is outfitted with a suit from the period and sent after Tony. He is successfully placed on the Titanic, armed with a newspaper that shows the Titanic sank (Remember, the DVD with Leo and Kate hadn’t been invented, yet). The Captain (Michael Rennie of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL 1951) throws the newspaper away, and throws Doug in the brig as well.

Tony and Doug do manage to escape and help evacuate the sinking ship—just when it seems like our heroes will perish, the crack team of scientists at the Time Tunnel pluck them from the icy waters and send them tumbling through psychedelic corridors of time, to land in the next historically-vital time and place. They never land somewhere insignificant or devoid of people; they never run into anyone that doesn’t speak English; and their clothes were always clean and fresh (Doug’s even update to a more modern look). And, since Irwin Allen was at the helm, they run into their share of aliens. Allen  seemed especially fond of spray painting people silver and putting them in a spacesuit or metallic garb – voila, alien!

THE TIME TUNNEL starred James Darren as Tony and Robert Colbert as Doug.  James Darren was a handsome fellow who was in a lot of GIDGET movies before becoming lost in time… He later found himself working as a cop on a series called T.J. HOOKER (1982-1986), opposite some unknown named William Shatner.  Robert Colbert (no relation to Stephen) was a workman-like actor who appeared in films like MACABRE (1958) and guest-starred on about a zillion series.

Back at the lab, always reliable Whit Bissell was Lt. General Heywood Kirk, John Zaremba was Dr. Raymond Swain and the lovely Lee Merriwether was Dr. Ann MacGregor. Whit Bissell is best remembered for turning Michael Landon into a Lettermen-jacketed lycanthrope in I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957), but he was also Dr. Frankenstein in the same year’s I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN —clearly, a bad influence on teens. Whit also appeared in THE TIME MACHINE (1960) and SOYLENT GREEN (1973).  John Zaremba appeared in EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) and 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957).  Lee Merriwether was Catwoman in the BATMAN movie of 1966 (she was neither as sexy as Julie Newmar or Eartha Kitt on the subsequent TV series). She, like the others, did a ton of TV, but I seemed to confuse her with Mariette Hartley, who seduced Mr. Spock in “All Our Yesterdays”.  Sorry, Lee.

Dr. Ann was in love with Doug, but tried to hide her feelings—though very skilled at her job, various men usually pushed her out of the way with impatience to “get the job done.” THE TIME TUNNEL relied on the notion that “the past is immutable and cannot be altered,” a notion that most of us geeks deny. Every week, Dick Tufeld (who voiced the Robot in LOST IN SPACE) would intone: “Two American scientists are lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments of America’s greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time.” Not so infinite, THE TIME TUNNEL only lasted thirty episodes, and the finale put Doug and Tony back on the Titanic… How’s that for a nice one finger salute to the loyal audience?

****

Irwin Allen’s final excursion into 60s sci-fi was LAND OF THE GIANTS, a series that ran two seasons from September 22, 1968 to March 22, 1970. LAND OF THE GIANTS takes place in the “futuristic” year 1983. Passengers are flying from L.A. to London on the sub-orbital vehicle The Spindrift. The Spindrift passes through a strange cloud and the group crashes on what is either a parallel Earth or an unknown planet in our own solar system (this is never definitively stated and the science is even sloppier than other Allen productions). Anyway, everything on this unknown planet is twelve times larger than our heroes are used to. (If this were a roast on Comedy Central, now would be the time you’d send your kids out of the room.)  Apparently, other Earth ships have crashed here before, and the Giants (as our heroes call them) are on the lookout for “little people.” It seems our technology is ahead of theirs, yet the Giants seemed to have mastered cloning and teleportation… Huh?

Our heroes consisted of Captain Steve Burton, Co-Pilot Dan Erickson, Stewardess Heather Young, surly engineer Mark Wilson, pretty Valerie Ames Scott, young boy Barry Lockridge (and his dog Chipper) and the somewhat mysterious and villainous Commander Fitzhugh (a bank robber on the lam). Allen really tried to appeal to all markets with this one—all the men except Fitzhugh were handsome, Valerie wore low-cut tops and mini-skirts (a bit impractical for jungle life and adventurin’) and the relationship between young Barry and Fitzhugh was pretty much identical to Will and Dr. Smith on LOST IN SPACE.

Gary Conway was Captain Steve, and he was the pimply monster in I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, mentioned above.  He also appeared in HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER (1958).  Co-Pilot Dan was played by Don Marshall, who was Boma in “The Galileo Seven” on STAR TREK TOS (the officer who mouths off constantly to stoic Mr. Spock) and was a doctor in THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972), where the head of rich bigot Ray Milland is sewn onto the already-headed body of death row inmate Rosie Grier – why this never became a sitcom, I don’t know. The rest of the cast had many series credits, as actors in Irwin Allen series tend to do, but I would be remiss to all my knife-fightin’ pals if I did not give you a most amazing credit for actress Deanna Lund, who played pretty Valerie Ames Scott.  In 1989 Lund would have a role in the movie ELVES, which has this synopsis on IMDB:

“A young woman discovers that she is the focus of an evil Nazi experiment involving selective breeding and summoned elves, an attempt to create a race of supermen. She and two of her friends are trapped in a department store with an elf, and only Dan Haggerty, as the renegade loose-cannon Santa Claus, can save them.”  Wow.  And again, wow.

(NOTE: By the way, they apparently took a lot of “cheesecake” photos of Deanna Lund with a model of the ship, but nothing of the men—sorry, girls! As far as I can tell—ah, the pains of research—they didn’t do this for any of Irwin Allen’s other shows…)

Beyond the premise that the planet was filled with super-sized people, pets, appliances and breakfast foods, the writers didn’t delve very deeply in the culture, history or politics of the place. The society of the Giants was totalitarian but not very oppressive or militaristic, and most episodes concerned the castaways trying to get home, someone getting caught that had to be rescued, or the Captain preventing them all getting home because the method in question would also allow the Giants access to our world.

The budget per episode was $250,000, which was a record at the time. John “Johnny” Williams wrote the score, which I think may be his worst work—it’s not at all memorable (I could recall the other themes without playing them). The show was cancelled after 51 episodes, and ended without a cliffhanger or the castaways returning home. Despite the presence of Deanna Lund, I grew bored with the series and after just two or three episodes I looked for better fare… I’m sure you did, too. (Looking at the schedule for Sunday nights in 1968, I probably just waited for The FBI, followed by The Smothers Brothers…)

Outpost… out.

****

(Static… garbled swearing… feedback) Just a second! Before we lose contact again, I wanted to comment on a modern-day series, AWAKE, the Jason Isaacs series that was cancelled after one season.

(SPOILER ALERT) As you know, the series concerned a police detective who survived a terrible car accident and lives two realities—in one, his wife survived and his son died. In the other, his wife is gone and his son lived.  He goes to sleep in one reality and wakes up in the other. He has a different partner in each, and a different therapist, each trying to tell him the other world is but a dream.  Often, insights gained in one help him with a different case in the other.  I loved this show—it was creative, well-written and had some wonderful actors.  My wife (the lovely Tobey Crockett) had the theory that Detective Michael Britten was in a coma—I loved that—and someday he would wake to find both his wife and son alive… Perhaps the conspiracy behind the accident (involving heroin and other cops, including his Captain) would be real, and he would have solved the whole thing while unconscious… beautiful.

So what was the conclusion? IT WAS ALL A DREAM!… Both realities were dreams within a dream that he had in one night – he woke to find his wife and son alive, no accident, and presumably no conspiracy.  Show creator Kyle Killen said he always considered one of the realities a dream, but hadn’t decided which one when the cancel order came on down.  Now, I am a forgiving, easygoing feller – I liked the conclusion of LOST while others wanted to hunt down everyone from the creators to the caterers… But this… A dream, really?  Ack—at least give us a dream while the guy is on a ship to Mars, ala the American version of LIFE ON MARS (2006-2007).  I expected more from you, Kyle, who gave us LONE STAR (2010) and who is supposed to reboot Daredevil… A dream—SHEESH!

Outpost… out. (This time for real)

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh

Remote Outpost: THE SCIENCE FICTION TV SHOWS OF IRWIN ALLEN! – PART 1

Posted in 2012, 60s Television, Aliens, Classic TV Shows, Irwin Allen, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost with tags , , , , , , , on June 5, 2012 by knifefighter

Remote Outpost by Mark Onspaugh
This week: A VOYAGE OF THE LOST IN THE TIME OF GIANTS
PART 1 of 2

Hello 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……

Today I wanted to talk about the science fiction of Irwin Allen.  Allen never created a franchise to rival STAR TREK or STAR WARS, but his own name became a recognizable brand in the 60s and 70s. He is responsible for two of the most iconic disaster movies in the history of cinema, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974)—both loaded with stars and special effects.  But before turning his attention to upside-down ocean liners and mega-skyscrapers aflame, Irwin Allen was ruling the small screen with family-oriented sci-fi adventures that were filled with great props, good actors, silly concepts, riotous color and little or no concern for the laws of physics, chemistry, biology—hell, any of the sciences that makes up science fiction.

The first and most successful of these shows was VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. It ran from September 14, 1964 to March 31, 1968. At 110 episodes, it was the decade’s longest running science fiction program with continuing characters.

The series was about a futuristic atomic submarine, the SSRN SEAVIEW, which was based at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research (NIMR) in Santa Barbara, California.  When not patrolling the world’s oceans, the sub was moored some 500 feet below NIMR in a secret submarine base carved out of solid rock. The Seaview was officially designed for undersea marine research, but its secret mission was to defend the Earth from all terrestrial (mad scientists, dictators, Amway salesmen) and extraterrestrial threats in the then-future of the 1980s.

VOYAGE starred Richard Basehart as Admiral Nelson (designer of the SSRN Seaview) and David Hedison as Captain Crane. Basehart and Hedison did an amazing amount of television, and there never seemed to be a period where they were not working.  Basehart was Ishmael in John Huston’s MOBY DICK (1956, script by Ray Bradbury) and was the Narrator on KNIGHT RIDER (1982-1986). Hedison, of course, was the eponymous character in THE FLY (1958) and also played Felix Leiter in LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) and LICENCE TO KILL (1989).

Based on his movie of the same name (released in 1961 with Walter Pigeon, he of FORBIDDEN PLANET, 1956), Irwin Allen recycled sets, props and models, something he was famous for. Later, when he had more than one series running, alien costumes from one show would show up a week later on another series with just a minor paint job.

Allen also was famous for the “Irwin Allen rock-and-roll,” —the camera was rocked as the on-screen cast rushed from side to side on the set, simulating the ship being tossed around. This would later be seen a lot on our next entry, as well. With an iconic theme (by Paul Sawtell), cool props like the flying sub, monsters and sea creatures, kids like me tuned in faithfully every week—how about you?

****

Irwin Allen’s second foray into 60s science fiction television was LOST IN SPACE. Based on the Swiss Family Robinson story (but not related to an earlier Gold Key Comic of the same name), this program ran on CBS for three seasons, with 83 episodes airing between September 15, 1965, and March 6, 1968. LOST IN SPACE was filmed in black & white the first season and then in riotous color thereafter. Its well known theme was by a composer named John Williams (billed as “Johnny Williams”)—I wondered what happened to that guy?

The pilot was much advertised and I watched it eagerly. It was far more serious than the series ended up: The year is 1997 and the Earth is overpopulated. The brave Robinsons are space-faring colonists headed for a planet revolving around Alpha Centauri.  Since the journey will take some time, they’ll remain in suspended animation.  Villainous Dr. Smith is an enemy agent who sabotages the ship so that the Robinsons will die and their mission will be a failure. When his people fail to extract him from the doomed ship, Smith has no choice but to wake the Robinsons to save his own skin. Had the tone and writing of the series continued in this vein, it might have rivaled the original STAR TREK (1966-1969) in popularity. But, no.

LOST IN SPACE didn’t really look much at the foibles of mankind or the consequences of bigotry, racism, war and greed like TREK. Its stories seemed more inspired by taking notions popular with kids and sticking the word “space” in as a qualifier: thus, Space Pirates! Space Cowboys! Space Orphans! Space Delinquents! Space Circus! Space Gangsters! Throw in occasional episodes about murderous, humanoid vegetables and you’ve got a series.

LOST IN SPACE starred many familiar faces and a robot second only to Robbie (FORBIDDEN PLANET) in look and personality. (Coincidence? Perhaps not, as both Robbie and the LIS Robot were designed by Bob Stewart.) Guy Williams (Doctor John Robinson) was TV’s Zorro on both the series ZORRO (1957-1961) and on WALT DISNEY’S WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLOR (1957-1962), and Sinbad in CAPTAIN SINBAD (1963).  June Lockhart, (Doctor Maureen Robinson), was an iconic TV mom in LASSIE (1958-1964) and would leave outer space for PETTICOAT JUNCTION (1968-1970). Billy Mumy (Will Robinson) may be best known as creepy but powerful Anthony on the TWILIGHT ZONE (1961-1963) episode “It’s a Good Life” and the kid taking calls on a toy telephone from his dead gramma (eek) in the episode “Long Distance Call.”  Mumy would return to space in BABYLON 5 (1994-1998).  Angela Cartwright (Penny Robinson) was the epitome of a TV daughter on THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW (1957-1964).  Rounding out the cast were Mark Goddard as handsome pilot Major Don West, Marta Kristen as blonde beauty Judy Robinson, Dick Tufeld as the voice of the Robot, and Jonathan Harris as Dr. Smith.

As with other TV series (such as HAPPY DAYS’ Fonzie), villainous Dr. Smith was intended to be a limited or peripheral character, but took over the show. Jonathan Harris, a stage and screen actor, turned Smith from a cold and calculating villain to a whiny, lazy, selfish, greedy hypochondriac who was by turns sarcastic or petulant. Children adored him, especially when he was dressing down the Robot, referring to him as a “bumbling booby” or a “cumbersome clod,” among many, many other insults. Smith became pivotal to most episodes, which more and more focused on young Will, the Robot and Dr. Smith’s ill-conceived plots or alliances with treacherous aliens.

This focus (and ever-growing campiness) proved unpopular with adults and teens, leaving children the main audience, and children do not buy advertisers’ products. Its skyrocketing budget was cut—Paramount had lost a lot of money with CLEOPATRA (1963) and was trimming everywhere—and this caused Irwin Allen to storm out of negotiations for a fourth season, hastening its cancellation. Had it survived, it is doubtful stars June Lockhart or Guy Williams would have returned, as both were unhappy with the direction of the show and their diminishing roles in it. Oh, the pain, the pain!

(FINAL NOTE: It seems to me a strange notion to start a colony with one family plus one male – pilot Don West – but this was a family show and the writers obviously knew what the characters didn’t, that the mission was doomed and the idea of a colony would be abandoned in the search for home—back to good old overcrowded, polluted and doomed Earth.)

(TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK….SAME BAT TIME….SAME BAT CHANNEL)

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh