Release Date: 2001 (fall) – through 2005 (spring), 4 Seasons; Season 5 Starts in 2005 fall
Nationality and Language: USA/Canada, English
Running time: 60 min, 22 episodes per year
MPAA Rating: Corresponds to OG-13
Distributor and Production Company: Tollin-Robbins, created by Afred Gough and Miles Milar, based on Marvel comics (“Superman”)
Director; Writer: Various (Mike Marshall)
Cast: Tom Welling. Michael Rosenbaum, Kristin Kreuk, Allison Mack, John Schneider, Annette O’Toole
Technical: Broadcast in HD
Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:
As long as we are taking about “movies for kids” we could note well the Warner Brothers cable series from Tollins / Robbins, “Smallville,” with Tom Welling playing “Superman” teenager Clark Kent. I guess the sci-fi thesis is: baby lands on earth from another planet, baby adopts human DNA (well 99.9% human) and grows up to be Superman. As a 17-year-old he is much more mature and purposeful than Harry Potter (so far) and he is indeed the “perfect son” for his adoptive parents. I presume that Smallville is really like Lawrence, Kansas and that Metropolis is really Kansas City. Anyway, he is a pretty good “role model.” Well, they never show him working on his high school studies. Instead, he’s everywhere (like chickenman) protecting others from supernatural dangers. He goes out on “non dates” because, well, if he courted and married some day he couldn’t father kids because of the DNA problem. His father constantly warns him not to be too open about his gifts or about who he is, or he will get in trouble as an extraterrestrial (not human). Of course, superman would be the perfect candidate for any of our military service academies (the Air Force Academy approaches him at a science fair)—and that brings up the question of “don’t ask don’t tell” not just in reference to gays in the military, but now to extraterrestrials in the military. So, don’t tell. Lie but don’t hide. In another episode in Season I, Clark must decline to give blood, without explantion (sounds familiar). And in a change-reality thought experiment in Season V, when Clark "tells" Lana she dies, so he must go back and lie, give up on her as his love to save her, and "sacrifice" his own father instead.
Why is Clark so generous and protective and almost Christ-like in character (at least until he meets red kryptonite)? People are like countries. If you are strong enough to kill anybody with your bare hands, you have nothing to be defensive about, and it is in your self-interest to become generous to others. You become the superpower. However, you can turn all of this around as a kind of reverse “Parable of the Talents.” The Smallville series has taken Clark out of the Marvel comic book “superman” concept (the way Christopher Reeve played him in the original Superman movies) and posed the question: what does it mean to be human? (If Clark “told”—what would his legal rights be?) Of course, when Clark discovers a new power (most of them seem to come at puberty) it can be harrowing, as when his eyes “vomit” after the disturbance of a solar flare.
In July 2002, Warner Brothers offered a video and DVD of two Smallville episodes: the first one, plus another early one. This is not as satisfying as a feature theater film would be. Imagine, say, a film where Clark is shown after he returns on the spaceship to his home planet for “the summer.” Or maybe when he comes back other humans can be allowed to have some powers. (Well, in one episode he loses his powers temporarily to another in a lightning strike and soon learns it is better to be “different” and have his powers back.) The opening sequence, in which Smallville is attacked by a meteor shower, invokes 9-11 and this may explain the delay in releasing the video. There is one scene early on that is very touching. “Son, it’s time for the truth,” his adoptive father says, showing him a metallic Roswell-like artifact with hieroglyphics. “Your real parents aren’t from around here.” “You’re saying that I’m from another planet, and the spaceship is in the attic.” “Well, actually it’s in the cellar.” Later, “Dad, you should have told me,” whereupon Clark discovers his “speed” and dematerializes.
In January 2003, Warner Brothers presented a digital Wide Screen version of a new 2-hour movie composed of the last episode from the 2001-2002 season and the first episode of this season. That is, the “tornado” episode when Clark first discovers that he can fly. This would make a good theater presentation say for special benefits. In one scene Clark seems to develop an edge to his personality when he challenges Lex Luthor for hesitating. The reporter trying to capture Clark claims “this being belongs to the World,” where as “small man hick farmer Jonathan” defends the idea that Clark would not have learned human values without growing up in a real family that loves him.
Conservatives (the Ed Bennett kind) love his program for its virtue and family values, as it makes up a role model young man, and then shows that no one is exempt from problems in “growing up.” Okay, it is make believe. But it is easier if you know you really have the power to do what you want with your life (except serve in the military, aka Joe Steffan). Not many people do.
The closing credits music for the video is majestic and familiar (by Mark Snow) but it sounds like a mixture of William Walton and Aaron Copland.
I wonder if anybody has sung “Somebody Save Me” in karaoke. (I did at Baltimore gay pride in 2004.)
It’s unusual for me that fantasy material can have as much emotional effect as the two items in this review.
In the 2002-2003 (Season II) season there were two episodes in which Clark does a “Dr. Jekel Mr. Hyde” when wearing red kryptonite. Up to a point he extreme self-confidence is exciting (“do you know who I really am?”), but then, at least in “Red” he goes over the edge onto the Dark Side and does some bad things, although he puts away another gangster. In another episode he stays within ethical bounds. The effect seems a bit like cocaine. Warner Brothers pegged the second episode as “Bad Clark is Back.” Does someone become somebody else under the influence of a substance? Doesn’t he remain responsible for what he did and the continuity of his memory? At one point in “Red” Clark and Lex Luthor whimsically discuss becoming a “couple.”
In February 2003 Warner Brothers presented the pivotal episode of the 2002-2003 season, “Rosetta.” Clark Kent gets his brain downloaded with the hieroglyphic language of Krypton after flying around in the Smallville caves (a scientist hired by Lex Luthor also gets it, but goes catatonic). Soon his X-ray eyes burn a “Sign” in his dad’s barn, and that attracts an email from Dr. Swann in New York. Christopher Reeve plays Dr. Swann, imparting the message from Krypton, that Clark is the only survivor of the planet’s destruction. (For a moment Clark almost walks out on him with “Why are you doing this to me?” and insists that he is Clark Kent and not Kal-El) Back on the farm, Clark confides to his father his fear that he was “sent here to conquer,” and then asks “what kind of planet am I from. Is this who I am?” Of course, Jonathan reassures Clark that Clark can choose to be what he wants to be (that is, Clark Kent), and that he will be a force for good, because Jonathan raised him, and because that is the only way that his abilities would mean anything. Tom Welling plays the role with a kind of understated charisma (Clark tends to talk in simple but important statements) that gives the final scene lasting emotional impact.
Some of the episodes involving “Bad Clark” and red kryptonite (the extraterrestrial equivalent of crack cocaine) are disturbing to the idea of Clark as a role model, but raise the question of whether someone can “be” what he wants to be.
There is the curious but temporary defacement of Clark's chest with the scartissue making the "S" by Jor-El, who burns it on; it will go away, and you wonder if the inspiration for this could have come from Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter where a similar thing happens to the pastor.
The Scarecrow scenes of the first 2001 episode (Smallville Beginnings) have been mentioned as possibly inspired by the Matthew Shepard tragedy in Wyoming in 1998. What is interesting is that a high school freshman or sophomore who does not play football gets picked for the hazing ceremony (which is a departure from fraternity or military hazing) as administered by football players homecoming weekend. In other words, a teenage boy who does not conform by competing in a manner expected by the more aggressive boys who play team sports, can be hazed because by being different he threatens to “emasculate” them just by expressing his value system. Was this the point of the 1961 “tribunals” at William in Mary (see my DADT Chapter 1)? (That’s one reason that this scene has a particular hold on me.) I guess Jor-El et al have massacred Clark’s baby smooth chest enough (with Chrichton-Andromeda photoflashes, burning birthmarks and Morgan Edge’s stolen green kryptonite) that he won’t be allowed to have any hair there when he is old enough.
The 2003/2004 Season III opens with Clark, having run away from home for the pre-senior summer under misplaced guilt for causing his mother’s miscarriage when he blew up his spaceship, doing bad things while under the effect of a red kryptonite ring. You don’t want to see a role model breaking into bank ATM’s without consequences. We are left to contemplate the narrow range of emotion that forces character over to the “dark side,” into self-servitude and what we call “evil.” The simple moral is, this is what crack cocaine does. Screenwriting license (and temporary powers to his father) get him back home for Season 3. The possibilities with the idea of keeping a “difference” secret are endless. How about having a gay high school classmate in season 3? How about having Lana “find out” and dealing with it? (Lex, when he finds out “officially”, it is a different matter.) For that matter, the Kent household should have some pets: maybe a Labrador retriever dog, and a sentient cat (maybe a stray bobcat) exposed to the meteor rocks and who obviously knows who Clark is.
In the second episode of Season III, Clark tells Lana that this alter “Bad Clark” personality that comes out when he wears “The Ring” (“Precious”!) is really a side of “Who I am.” There is something about the way we perceive someone, that he or she is more than just actions and accomplishes—there is underlying motive, what makes someone tick, what makes others like or dislike someone, something intangible, a final potentiality that we see as good or evil. Lennie Dawson had “the good” in Titanic. Season 3’s episode “Memoria” has a scene which is a homoerotic as allowed on primetime television with a PG-13 context: the evil doctor/mad scientist at the Institute is about to lower a green-kryptonite-disabled Clark into a dissolving bath of green kryptonite water, when he orders his assistant to “Strip Him!” whereupon they cut open his t-shirt with scissors go for the belt. Next scene, after Lex rescues him, he has miraculously recovered. “I will survive.”
Despite the obvious parallel between Clark’s situation and “don’t ask don’t tell” there is only one episode, near the end of Season 3, where gay issues are mentioned explicitly, when one football player at Smallville High, under the influence of moon rocks, confesses his love for the team captain. Clark calmly tells every one to ignore the comment and blow it off. See http://www.doaskdotell.com/smallville.htm and http://www.doaskdotell.com/controv/diversity.htm
On April 13, 2006, Tom Welling (who still looks rather nineteenish just before reaching his 29th birthday) made his own personal debut as a director with the episode "Fragile", described at http://thewb.warnerbros.com/web/show_episode.jsp?id=SM518 The now widowed state senator Martha, Clark's adoptive mother, takes in a foster adolescent girl Maddie (Emily Herst)temporarily, and she demonstrates some moonrock powers, to break glass. Clark plays a little bit of the role of pseudo-parent, or perhaps big brother, himself for the first time. They get into the idea that powers make you perceived as "different" because you can become a potential threat. Clark also talks about the difference between being a "father" and a "dad". Tom Welling directs himself and the other actors in the scenes in somewhat subdued fashion, in a manner that reminds one of Christopher Reeves's films. In the last scene there is a diversion where Lana, after Clark has told her "I don't love you," diverts to the Dark Side and kisses Lex Luthor.
In an early Season 5 episode, after Clark befriends the "aqua man" Clark takes on a job as a research assistant for professor Fine, who is writing a kind of "do ask do tell" book -- about Lex and Lionel Luthor and Luthorcorp. (Please use my black-and-white cover, to honor black and white kryptonite!) Fine says, "history is context, and is about who is telling the story." Indeed, the ground forward observer can tell a good story. "Truth is my life's work," Fine says, as if he belonged to Faustus's (or Da Vinci's) eternal feminine.
On April 20, 2006 an episode "Mercy" seemed to borrow from "Saw" with the masked figure who resembles Jigler and makes Lionel do a firewalk to "play a game."
In the great finale of Season 5, Lana is on the wrong side of the rivalry between Clark and Lex when black kryptonite being Fine (as we know now) has given Lex powers (as "The Vessel"). (Had Clark and Lex instead become gay lovers instead of friends/enemies, with no woman in the way, the rivalry might not happen and the whole world could be spared.) Lex releases the ultimate Internet worm that McCafee and Norton and Cert cannot stop, as it "scales firewalls" and rather behaves like one huge e-bomb, plunging the whole technology dependent civilized world (that which enables personal autonomy) into the middle ages a la Alexander Glazounov. New York, LA, and Metropolis (that is, KCMO) turn into replications of the scenes from ABC's "Bird Flu in America." Clark gets abduceted again, and we have to wait till next fall, when Clark should be a sophomore in college.
The 2006 Season 6 (Clark is supposed to be "19") starts in the Phantom Zone, which reminds one of the mood of "Pitch Black." The Fortress of Solitude is destroyed. Lex has caused a super 9/11 day for Metropolis when he is Zod. In the episode "Wither" Lex throws a costume ball for the victims, and it is pretty much a drag show for the Gay 90s. But another female character uses males as "potting soil" or wombs for the parthogenesis of plants. Male pregnancy (if you call it that) certainly ups Nielsen ratings (even if sea horses don't). But the oddest development of all is the appearance of Justin Hartley, as Foxworthy (Crane??) from NBC's soap Passions (before he was replaced), now as the Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow (in comic book vernacular), a good guy and not a phamtom. Despite leaving the lathery show, Hartley apparently did not escape the clutches of witch Tabitha Lenox (she ought to just appear on Smallville anyway, complete with Andorra) and the emasculating mermaid, as his formerly manly chest and arms are shaved and he looks like a plucked chicken, until he puts on a medieval garb for Lex's monster's ball. (Even more so in a later episode when Lois Lane undresses him; maybe Lois inherited some powers from Tabitha. Remember, though, all of this fits within the movie's equivalent of PG-13.) Are these shows really starting to experiment with crossover plots? The episode also has Chloe open up and apply a defibrillator to Eric Summers (Shawn Ashmore from X-men), and when he comes to he asks, "have I been paddled?" Lex is getting to be prey for Lana, too, until he goes bad enough again. (Note: Justin Hartley played Aquaman in a pilot for the planned spinoff from Smallville, but it has never been aired on C. ) Visit the Aquaman site at http://www.aquamantv.com/ Apparently the Pilot can be downloaded, purchased and viewed legally from iTunes very inexpensively. (I will try to do so soon; apparently this might have been a promising series.)
By November 2006 Lex Luthor has proposed marriage to Lana. Yes, real heterosexual marriage, enough to satisfy Maggie Gallagher. I wonder if there would really be babies.
On December 7, 2006 Clark finds an "illegal alien" (or immigrant) on the farm, and Clark protects him from the law, because Clark himself is an "illegal alien" (perhaps an "angel"). Martha, now a state senator, finally agrees she can work through the system to get the boy a legal green card. The episode demonstrates how some ranchers will try to exploit their illegality to get them to work in slavery. The episode may have some relevance to the 2007 immigration reform debate.
On January 11, 2007, an episode depicts a Metropolis free rag newspaper as "The Daily Dish". Is this a takeoff on Andrew Sullivan's famous blog? (I don't believe Laura really wanting to marry Lex; that arrangement sounds like the kind of procreative fabrication of "Days of our Lives", a long way from gay marriage, that could eventually become a clever theme even on this show.) That episode is directed by Tom Welling himself. By January 18, we have Clark and His Friends including Bart and the Green Arrow, the depilated Justin Hartley.
For the January 25, 2007 episode where Clark becomes a mental patient in a virtual world, I have a blogspot entry.
On Feb. 1, 2007 Clark gets re-exposed to red kryptonie on Lois's lipstick, and some of his human inhibitions go away, though not with as much disaster. There is a great scene of a Lex wedding party with Lana and an Emily Post table setting, which Clark destroys.
On Feb. 15, 2007 Clark does an "X-ray" on Chloe and then radiation treatment (heat vision) to remove a GPS implant, all with his abilities. All as PG-13.
On The Ides of March, Lana marries Lex under threat of "dad" (Lionel) who threatens to kill Clark with green kryptonite. Clark finally "tells." And indeed a marriage between Clark and Lana would be the ultimate of heterosexuality; not only opposite genders, but opposite planets.
On the first Thursday in Aries and the Rosicrucian Feast, Clark battles a leaking Titan (pun on the moon of Saturn) from the Phantom Zone, after finding him in a fight club set up to be broadcast on the Internet -- an idea that has attracted controversy as kids have gotten in trouble for posting real-life fights on Myspace or YouTube. (The Fight Club offers female bodybuilders [at one time there was a site called valkyries that offered this; TLC recently had a documentary on this, too].) Clark is getting just a little meaner. It's interesting that a show about kids on the Internet was broadcast the same day that COPA was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in Philadelphia.
Another interesting episode in Season 6 recreates boy Lex at prep school, when he and some other boys (including the young Green Arrow) bully a geeky kid, beat him up, and the kid is killed (maybe) when he falls in front of a truck. (Maybe Lionel can save him.) It's really a good moral lesson about bullying in the schools, an issue today. In that episode, Clark says, "sometimes you have to keep a secret to protect the people you love." But I can't keep one like that. The world of "don't ask don't tell."
Season 7 started on Sept 27, 2007. Clark has to fight off a clone double. At the end, he says (to a Kryptonian) he will not apologize for who he is, a human who cares about other people. He also says that evil is simpler.
Another fall 2007 episode ("Action" -- link) deals with the making of a fictitious movie based on a fictitious comic book "Warrior Angel" and explores the idea that art can create reality (even relative to the "Superman" universe itself). It would be interesting for CW to make such a film and display it.
The episode "Cure" in with Chloe is supposed to be cured of her "powers," presents a conversation between a Kyrptonian and Clark with which the Kyrpto says "this is don't ask don't tell."
An episode on Feb. 14 set up a bizarre "rendition" by a telepathic device where Clark is wired to a comatose Lex.
On March 6, 2008 a "Kryptonian" said that she gave up her "powers" in order to be saved by "Grace." An interesting notion!
May 1, ("Apocalypse") Clark enters a parallel world and sees what life would have been like if he had not been sent to Earth. Lex is president and is ready for nuclear war. He makes an emergency hyperspace time-travel to Krypton and rescues his own self as a baby. (I wonder if that was Tom Welling's own son in real life: Welling directed the episode.)
On May 8 ("Quest"), both Clark and Lex sacrifice the chests to a carving ritual, with Clark's quite graphic, on a rendering table surrounded by liquid green kryptonite. For Clark, the disfigurement will be temporary (as in season 2), but Lex is ruined. (He already was. He is the villain of the story.)
In Season 8, Clark starts working as a reporter (even though he didn't go to college). In episode 3, "Toxic" the Green Arrow (Passions's Justin Harley, chest already preshaved, after his soap opera days when he looked more manly) gets leaches put on him (in a dream) in a scene that seems inspired by Carter Smith's gay horror film "Bugcrush".
On Oct. 30, the episode is called "Identity" and sees Clark maneuvering to fool Jimmy when Jimmy gets a picture of him with his "speed". Everyone who knows Clark's secret becomes a target. This seems to be a ploy on "don't ask don't tell" again.
One Tree Hill (2003-2005), created by Mike Schwahn, is the other big show from Tollin/Robbins, about two half-brothers (Nathan, played by James Lafferty, and Lucas, played by Chad Michael Murray), whose relationship is strained because Lucas is illegitimate. They both have a passion for basketball, which is compromised by a genetic tendency toward cardiomyopathy that runs on the father’s side. Barry Corbin is the basketball coach. Paul Johansson is the father, and he is, quite frankly, an asshole. The second season contained one rather sympathetic lesbian episode, in which a high school student is suspended for earing a "Dyke" t-shirt.
The second episode of season I has a locker room shot of Lucas that is quite “interesting.” But very much in PG-13 territory.
In the third season, there was a riveting episode about a disturbed student to takes others hostage and threatens a Columbine-style event. The last episode in the third season had a bridge car crash and drowning scene and attempted rescue by Nathan oddly reminiscent of the Pilot scene in Smallville where Clark rescues Lex from a similar bridge and drowing wreck, an incident that sets up much of the story line later.
On Nov 29 2006 the program aired an episode that, after a thrilling redemptive win in a basketball game by Tree Hill, has an apparent vehicular assault on Haley, then has Nathan beat the perpetrator to death at the accident scene, has Lucas collapse with a cardiac arrest from his genetic heart defect (arrhythmia), with stop-motion music playing. They should have used "Alleluia." Leave it to Tollin-Robins. On Dec 5, 2006 the show follows up with a near-death experience for Lucas. Nathan's father takes the blame for beating a hit-and-run perpetrator to death when Nathan did it -- but the guy would have died anyway -- or were the cops paid off?
"I don't wanna be anything other than what I've been trying to be lately." That is how I feel. Go here to here if free, and legally, at amazon.com. Looks like the Tallahachee Bridge from "Ode to Billy Joe."
On January 24, 2007, Rachel cheats on a calculus test by stealing it; but more important, we finally see the virgin, vulnerable, modest and geeky Marvin "Mouth" McFadden -- Lee Norris -- shirtless alongside James Lafferty in a strip show. In Feb. Marvin loses his virginity and innocence, with some spectacle, while Rachel gets caught with a fallout. The episode reflected the curriculum in real school -- mention of The Great Gatsby (with Nick as the only honest man) and even calling the library the "Media Center."
The show is in its fourth season. Don't these kids ever graduate from high school?
Well, on Feb. 7 there was a bit of an answer. They are seniors, and a social studies teacher makes each kid draw a classmate's name with a hat, and get to know that classmate in order to take the yearbook picture and make the writeup. That is how they will be remembered. (I remember what students wrote in my senior yearbook at W-L: most of the comments were great, but one girl thought I had cheated on a government test when I hadn't, because I had predicted that the teacher would ask us to define "institutionalism" -- which he did -- but I hadn't seen the test.) James Lafferty gets photo-ed shirtless, and McFadden draws closer to one of the "Clean Teens."
Folks, this is the film world of coastal North Carolina. Wilmington, after all, is a big indie film center.
Season 5 started on Jan. 8, 2007. Four years have elapsed. Lucas has written a novel ("The Unkindness of Ravens" sounding like a Stephen King title) rather autobiographical with recognizable characters, especially female. Nathan is recovering from a bar fight that ended his basketball career, and Nathan's wife is learning to handle discipline problems in high school. The 2-hour series premier resonated with my own life well.
In a retrospect, Lucas finds out that his novel is being published with a cell phone call while in a ticket line at the airport. He is also coaching basketball at his Tree Hill high school (presumably at age 19, without college).
In an episode ("Crying won't Help You Now") May 4, the "fiction" in Lucas's manuscript is challenged as to whether it is real (as to romance), while Marvin gets a top slot on a sports broadcast, but still reads a prompt. Both Lucas and Nate reject their father, now in need of a heart transplant.
On May 11, ("Hate is Safer than Love") Marvin faces a crisis in journalistic ethics when Lucas loses it in a basketball game that he coaches, and then Lucas, supposedly asleep, renders a shocking rebuff of Peyton.
On Nov. 3, an independent filmmaker wants to make Lucas's novel into a movie (for "Sundance"), and invites Lucase to write a script. Lucas has trouble writing the shooting scene because it is too close to "fact." Maybe we will really see a movie like this!
The Days (2004, summer), created by John Scott Shepherd, was a 6-episode series by Tollin /Robbins on ABC. The drama concerns a family, the Days, with a fifteen year old boy (Cooper, played by Evan Peters) who keeps a diary that is quite a literary achievement. Zachary Day is the gifted grade school kid who seems to almost have Asperger’s; the father Jack (David Newsom) quits his job as a lawyer and then has to fight. Margariet MacIntyre is his wife. This series could have gone somewhere.
Everwood: (2002-2005, 3 seasons so far). Then, of course, there is Ephram Brown (Gregory Smith) on the Everwood WB series (created by Greg Berlanti). Besides playing the Beethoven Appassionata (and later, The Tempest – that bell-like 3/8 Allegretto), he keeps his wayward dad in line and doesn’t let anyone treat him like a baby. Gregory Smith might just be the next Ed Norton. Read the essay “Ephram’s Fatal Flaw” at http://www.thewb.com/Shows/WithFormat/0,7930,132740,00.html. (This seems to be obsolete; I would like to see TheWB restore the essay somewhere; it is a great example for English classes. Maybe it will wind up in a high school anthology text some day as contemporary literature.) During the three years of Everwood, Ephram obviously matures physiologically as well, a point built into the direction of his intimate scene with Amy in season 3. But Ephram has a skeleton in his closet: his first “experience” (which he smirks about in a school hallway after failing the first time with premature ejaculation) is with a twenty-year-old college student Madison (Sarah Lancaster)—and it will result in a hidden pregnancy, kept from him by a well-meaning father, Dr. Andy Brown, played by Treat Williams (who moved his family to Colorado to honor the wishes of his wife when she dies in a tragic auto accident in New York). This plot device is known from George Elliot (Mary Ann Evans) as in the novel Adam Bede. Ephram will resent his dad’s manipulations so much that he skips his hard-won Julliard audition and evaporates at the end of Season III and runs off to Europe. There is also an episode where Dr. Brown has to let a teenage patient Colin (Mike Erwin) die after a tragic auto accident in which Bright (Chris Pratt) son of competing Dr. Harry Abbott (Tom Amendes, who often directs with Kathy Bates) has driven recklessly but never been held fully accountable..
Bright is always manipulating others, and tries to give the sharp-tongued but sensitive Ephram pointers on how to “score.” There is a scene at the beginning the next episode after Ephram has “scored” with Madison where he walks through the high school hallways with a smile on his face because he is now “a man” (finally! At 16). (Bright: "The boy becomes a man." and "Feel" becomes "Feel up".) In the final season he will build his relationship with Amy Abbott (Emily Van Camp), who has recovered miraculously from a junior year filled with drugs. This leads to a very sensitively filmed intimacy in a cabin where Amy finally decides that Ephram is really “grown up.” But then, of course, comes the catastrophe as Ephram blows his chance for a career at Julliard. (Had I written the final episode, I would have had him play the audition first – the violent Chopin G-minor ballade, as in The Pianist, and then let Madison tell him.)
The whole Ephram piano career thing reminds me of my own abandonment of piano as a possible career at the end of high school. The reasons are different (the Cold War and sputnik are part of it) but the complexity is about the same. Ephram gets into the Madison thing because he wants to prove himself a "man" -- but also because he doesn't want to wind up alone like his dad. In a way, his situation is a mirror image of what mine was.
One other thing—Andy Brown does not charge for his services. This raises interesting problems – “the Andy Brown problem” of lowballing the competition!
An important point in all of the Ephram-Madison episode is also that sometimes teenage boys want to prove themselves with older women; this reinforces their self-concept. This kind of situation has led to prosecutions of the older partner in some cases, and it is dangerous.
Another good character is Dr. Jake Hartman (Scott Wolf), who has a great pediatric way with kids in some episodes despite never having married or parented.
The interplay between Eprham and Madison in Season 2 introduces another cute idea when Madison (well before their laison) calls Ephram an "old soul." Teenagers often feel that their world encompasses everything and has gone on since the beginning of time.
Season 2 also has a female doctor, very much into natural remedies, who dates Andy and works in Dr. Harold Abbott's office. She had become accidentally infected by HIV in Africa by contact with an open wound. Her gay husband divorces her, and tries to get custody of the child, and there is a court case that brings up both HIV and homosexuality, in different people, in raising children. Then, when she tells Delia verbally (when Delia sees her medications), his patients find out and threaten to sue "for emotional distress" as well as endangerment. (What if people had found out from a personal blog?) Abbott has to deal with the issue of being "right" and protecting his family from town prejudices. The malpractice insurance company suspends Harold's policy for failure to non-disclose, even though the lawsuit is dropped (again, corporate prejudice -- a real problem in the liability business, and property business too, given the use of CLUE reports). Ephram is upset with his father for sleeping with the doctor (even with condoms) because Ephram and Delia would be left with no one if something happened to Andy.
In a subsequent episode, there occurs the line, "What, they have gay men in Everwood? Here, in macho outdoorsieland?"
In Season 3 Ephram gives piano lessons, and one of his students is another teenager, Kyle (Steven R. McQueen, grandson of the famous actor of the 1950s). Kyle is very independent and determined to make up his own mind about things, even trying to go to Julliard. In a spring episode "An Ounce of Prevention" Kyle resists Ephram's efforts to make Kyle more comfortable in dating situations, and Ephram begins to "suspect" that Kyle is gay. There is a confrontation scene where Kyle says literally that he doesn't want to identify himself as anything, and Ephram has to reassure him, that Kyle should not deny himself the "life you deserve," a great line.
Two weeks later there is a tremendous episode "The Land of Confusion." Ephram's piano teaching has grown into a class, and he stages an event for his students. At the same time, Andy arranges for Ephram to meet a concert pianist who could give him another shot at an audition. The pianist tells him that being at the top has caused him to neglect his family. Ephram decides to become a public school music teacher so that, among other things, he can have a real family life (with Amy, maybe). In the meantime, Ephram has helped Kyle get an audition, and apparently Kyle wins a scholarship.
This is all pretty uncanny for me. The family neglect thing rings true, as work v. family became a very serious issue even for a single person. But the idea of 18-year-old Ephram having a whole class blows me away. When I took piano lessons, the first music teacher (who would die suddenly of cancer in 1957 when I was in ninth grade; I would have a second teacher in north Arlington with a much more laid back style, and she would wind up losing her hearing) had Wednesday afternoon classes, in which we sometimes played for each other, but the main focus was teaching music literature. She would play records and taught us the rudiments of record care and high fidelity, 1950s style. Some of her records were large old 78s. Somehow the Thais Meditation by Jules Massenet, the brittle old 78, still plays in my mind. Later, I would take organ lessons from a Peabody (Baltimore, MD) student who was 18 (Ephram's age) at the time.
In substitute teaching I had some music assignments. A few times I encountered students (particularly vocal) capable of performing professionally, as good and mature as "the kids" in various films and series (TheWB and otherwise) today. One regular class had a tenth grader who actually wanted to start piano. But in middle school, discipline problems in a couple classes proved fatal. Being a music teacher in public school would be an enormous challenge; the teacher will have his or her performing choruses, madrigals, bands or orchestra (even jazz and guitar), and will encounter students with professional potential, but will also have classes with students with many learning problems. Teaching people to play or sing together in lower grades is a tremendous challenge and a pedagogical issue in itself. Future seasons of Everwood or a movie could do a lot with this situation.
I've wondered about the origin of the sweet slow movement style piano and orchestra music during the credits. The theme resembles one that occurs in an obscure classical work, the first piano concerto by German/Italian composer Eugen d'Albert in b minor, a huge postromantic work composed at the age of 20, ending in an enormous fugue based on a similar theme, a work otherwise reminiscent in style of the Liszt b minor Sonata. Are Ephram and Kyle reincarnations of late nineteenth century composers, what they would have been like as teenagers or young adults? An interesting thought,
I recommend (especially for film and acting students) listening to the commentaries on both the Smallville and Everwood DVD’s.
Latest news is that Everwood will continue on ABC Family in the fall of 2006, starting Oct. 2, as a rerun from the top. One pointer about the music. I'm not sure where the piano concerto slow movement music of the credits comes from, but one work in particular that fits this show well is an obscure piano concerto, #1 in b minor by Eugen d'Albert (mixed English, German, Italian, and French composer like Busoni)-- finished in 1884 when the composer was 20, coming out of his teenage years like Ephram and Kyle. The concerto, in sections like a Liszt conerto, has all the romantic storms of youth (particularly like those on this show), with a slow theme somewhat resembling Everwoods, whipped up into a sensational fugue on the solo piano before a triumphant conclusion. Maybe in the new Everwood, Kyle will do the Julliard audition. This would be a great piece to use on the show.
This show really does present social and ethical issues in a natural fashion, in layers of increasing complexity.
Seventh Heaven: There is a somewhat Clark-like character Martin Brewer in Brenda Hampton’s Seventh Heaven (aka. 7th Heaven (1996 - 2005)) (on TheWB), played by real-life teen baseball player Tyler Hoechlin (only 17 as of 2004). Having “raised himself” he takes what seems like a stilted righteous and monumental teen character and livens it up with quick retorts to people, especially Rev. Camden (“I know where babies come from.”) In one episode he gets de-pants-ed by immature Ruthie (Mackenzie Rosman). (That’s all right; Clark gets “stripped”—homoerotically-- for a green kryptonite Rorschach bath.) The center of gravity, though, is usually 18-year-old Simon (David Gallagher), recovering from his grief over striking a drugged-out bicyclist when driving—all of which later leads him to self-destructive (heterosexual) sex-before-marriage sins once he reaches college. There is a funny episode called “Simon’s Home Video.” But in the 2004 fall season, it has gotten interesting, when Lucy Kinkirk (Beverly Mitchell) gives a sermon on abstinence and supports it philosophically by saying you should be your own person before you attempt a relationship. Or when she interviews perspective adoptive parents and rejects one for wanting to find a “perfect baby” (no unconditional love, have you) and another for not being willing to risk biological pregnancy while both marital partners work to the end (what if there was mandatory bed rest?)
“Seventh Heaven” has delved into other aesthetic realism problems associated with an “Ozzie and Harriet” view of family values. In one 2004 episode, Mrs. Annie Camden (Catherine Hicks) laments the fact that so many of her seven children cannot come to the family Thanksgiving day dinner—most of all, the oldest son Matt (Barry Watson), the medical student who sill save lives by working as an intern at the hospital Thanksgiving day. In the modern world, often “family” does not come first, and that is a big issue. (Never mind that Matt is saving lives by working on a holiday.) The story makes a big deal of Lucy’s marital pregnancy and medically necessary bed rest, and the demands that this causes for policeman husband Kevin (a most hairy-chested George Stults), who quickly learns the pointed psychological dedication that marriage can require, even before the first baby comes.
In the 2005 season, Martin Brewer (Tyler Hoechlin) has broken his own moral code and gotten a college girl pregnant, much as with Ephram in "Everwood". And Martin suddenly disappoints us as he does not want to take responsibility.
Apparently the 2005-2006 season is the last ever. (I say, "apparently". Time will really tell.) I have not seen all of the seasons, but it seems to me that the show could have been stronger if had opened up and unsheltered the Camdens from the real world. What would they have been done if one of the kids were gay? Rather than take things of the table to make viewers (and, I'm afraid, certain sponsors) comfortable by "protecting them", let's see what happens if the privileged lives of the Camdens are really challenged and "unprotected" or "unsheltered". There was a tendency for a lot of the dialogue in the family cell phone tag to get stereotyped, mechanical, and silly, and over-stylized, even more so with the guitar musical accompaniment.
No, CW continued it into the Fall of 2006. Lucy gives a sermon with "all that personal stuff" where she blames herself for an unfortunate second pregnancy, instead of "blaming God." Martin is really looking like a grown man, who can tell rivals to "take a hint."
Later, the Camdens sent Ruthie, at 16, to Scotland, and then Rev. Camden is diagnosed with life-threatening heart disease. Rev. Camden goes to Scotland to tell Ruthie that he has decided that she must come home, and she has to think about other people, her family ("where she came from", in Lucy's words), and right now Rev. Camden is in need. What does this say about the libertarian paradigm? Of course, Ruthie is still a minor. She doesn't have the right to make all of her own decisions. But I've had a situation like this myself when I was in my late 50s.
Jack & Bobby: (2004) Berlanti has introduced a similarly spirited show, Jack & Bobby (aka “Jack and Bobby”) about two brothers, one of whom (Bobby McCallister, played by Logan Lerman, now 13) will become president. Bobby is more sensitive than his older brother track-jock Jack (Matt Long) and is confronted with a number of moral challenges that are reflected prospectively in FlashForwards (rather than FlashBacks) of his presidency in the 2040s. That presidency will include a nuclear weapon from a lone terrorist. In one episode Bobby becomes suspicious when his college history professor mother Grace (Christine Lahti) is attracting the romantic attention of one of her graduate students and teaching assistants at an astronomy camp-out. “You think that I am just a kid and that I don’t see things,” Bobby says, with a slow drawl. “Well I do.” This show resurrects the charismatic Colin (that is, outgoing Mike Erwin) from Everwood as Nate as a kind of tangential character.
“The O.C.” (2003, created by Josh Schwartz, on Fox), with its “California here I come” (the show name means Orange County) presents some talented rich kids, most of all the mouthy (like Ephram, above) and geeky Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) who has created a comic book (“Atomic County”) while in high school, but helped straighten out an adopted “brother” Ryan (Ben McKenzie) who moves from the wrong side of the tracks to advance placement classes. There is a meeting between Seth and George Lucas with memories of being a teenager and going to proms.
In the 2005-2006 season "the kids" get their college applications back, and Seth gets rejected by Brown (it seems for no good reason other than "affirmative action"), whereas his girlfriend gets in. Seth is too ashamed to admit that the was "rejected" so he does a Clark-Lana thing from Smallville and says "I don't love you" (two weeks later! -- do the writers visit the same disco dance floors in LA?) after she tricks him into getting detention at school. (By the way, that should have been a calculus class, not an algebra class discussing polynomials--I know, I've been a math teacher before.) Then Seth threatens to hack into Brown to get in. No! He's too good a character for that! No red kryptonite here please!
It's pretty easy for me to imagine Adam Brody as a host for a third series of "The Beauty and the Geek". Or, perhaps, even on Saturday Night Live! Geeks rule!
Maybe his "Atomic County" comic book (not to be confused with the 80s film "Atomic Cafe") will get him into Brown after all. We'll see. Seth has been going toward the edge, smoking pot secretly, and accidentally torches an office with an unquenched joint. Sandy apparently gets him off. You don't like to think of a kid like Seth in a police car.
In the 2006 finale, Ryan and his girl friend are car-crashed (like the first movie by that name) when an enemy outlaw boyfriend (who had stolen a car, "maybe" with Ryan) runs them off the road. Just before, there is a bizarre conversation in a swimming pool, where "the kids" celebrate their high school graduations, and Seth characterizes the outlaw as the boyfriend who "shaves his chest."
The fall 2006 season started on Nov 2 with Seth's rescuing Ryan from his "Fight Club" environment with a special "Atomic County" comic (with images that look like they came from "Scanner Darkly") where their "dad" is the Litigator who overlooks his family, including Ryan.
Chris Pratt (Everwood) as Che appears, a bit grizzled now, as a friend of the Earth, with posters of "An Inconvenient Truth" (and "The Devil Wears Prada") in the background.
On Jan. 18, 2007 Che takes Seth on a "nighthike" (a concept that I use in my screenplay "69 Minutes to Titan" and in another covert screenplay "Titanium") where, even if they are not physically transformed, they at least have an joined epiphany: Seth, with a dream about an otter, and Che, dreaming about a frog (yes, an amphibian).
On Feb. 15, they experience The Big One -- earthquake. Seth and Ryan, both O-, become blood brothers when Ryan is seriously injured and needs a blood donation.
In the OC series finale, Feb 22, 2007, the Cohens, finding that their house will be totaled, decide to move to Berkeley, where they look at their old haunt, now belonging to a gay male couple (it's obvious), one a doctor who can deliver a baby, and a couple that can bring together seven brides and seven brothers--but they can't have their own wedding. Is that the final political statement?
Adam Brody will carry on Seth-like "In the Land of Women" (2007).
Great quote: "I don't think you can be with someone until you can be with yourself." Ryan's girlfriend pretends at one point that Ryan is writing a book.
The 4400: (Universal/USA/Paramount/Viacom/Zoetrope, dir/wr. Scott Peters, Rene Echeverria, 2003-2006) Another variation of the Smallville paradigm appears with the new USA series The 4400, which premiered with a feature film on 7/11/2004 (Universal/USA Films/Renegade, dir. Yves Simoneau, with Jack Gretsch (Homeland Security agent Tom Baldwin), Chad Faust, Michael Moriarity). In the opening, there is a sensational national security event as a comet aka UFO lands as a ball of light (covered by all the media, after nuclear detonations did nothing), and returns exactly 4400 people who had been abducted over the past 60 years. None have aged a second or remember a thing, but all seem to have “powers” somewhat like Clark’s or Jake’s. I wonder if there is any connection to the number 144000 (“returnees”) in Revelations 14. No kidding, I wonder if such people really do exist. The ending of the last episode is interesting, as one of the characters who was supposed to be abducted had escaped the time-warp game. They were abducted by “the future” to save the future. Patrick Flueger plays Shawn Farrell (from Red Wing, MN), who abducted at 17 comes back as a charismatic and articulate teen with healing powers (the powers can also hurt or kill, but Shawn controls this very quickly, showing his basic goodness). At the age of a college freshman, he will later be put in charge of the center for The 4400 (by entrepreneur founder Jordan Collier, who will get assasinated), so he plays the superman role. Shawn always displays a certain childlike innocence, referring often to his "Uncle Tommy." Chad Faust plays Kyle, a lanky, likeable college student who gets blackouts (his memories are of someone else, like exchanging identities) now and who may have committed the assassination during one of the blackouts, and he may have been programmed to do so. Kyle and Shawn (cousins) were together on the lake beach when abducted, and it seems from the story that Kyle may have been intended as the abductee (Shawn "shielded" him and was zapped and abducted instead); he is in a coma for the three years while Shawn is gone, and Shawn heals him as one of his first apostolic acts.
The first season raises troubling political and social issues. The 4400 are feared, as older government bureaucrat Dennis Ryland (Peter Coyote) plans to revive his staggering career by clamping down on them. Nevertheless, Dennis collars a rogue reporter who is stirring up public sentiment against the 4400, claiming that what she broadcasts "is not journalism but is shouting fire in a crowded theater." In the meantime some of them are targets of crime, which causes schools and apartments, perhaps, to shun the other 4400 out of security concerns. (This raises a disturbing possibility in real life.) Not all of the 4400 are "good," and some may die (as Morrissey, who tries to clean up crime in a park), but they lead to "ripple effects" that are supposed to be good for society.
Richard Tyler (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) recalls the time in the 1940s when he was a "negro" in the Army (there is a newspaper clip that uses that word), before Truman integrated the military in 1948. He would be exonerated of an incident and go to flight school before his abduction.
The denouement of season 2 gives all of this a lot of substance. A government (Homeland Security??) official gets wind of this "promycin" that seems to give the 4400 their emerging abilities, and secretly has them injected with a drug to inhibit this pseudo-antibiotic. (It sounds like the name of a chemotherapy drug to me, and some very strong antibiotics are actually used for cancer chemotherapy. Promycin looks like liquid green kryptonite, as if mass-manufactured by Lex Luthor or a similar character and as if this show were getting ready for a cross with Smallville. ) An infant, brought back after years, however, misses the injection, and when the good guys figure it out, they use her serum to first save Shawn Farrell, who then saves Kyle with an embrace, and all the others. Then we find out a good time warp plot trick, with some efficient visual filmmaking. Jordan Collier is running the 4400 Center and is assassinated, perhaps by Kyle in a blackout (but that is up in the air). Jordan had invited Shawn to stay at the Center, and at biological age 19, Shawn, a "boy" (still with chest hair in numerous scenes) takes over the center. He is put in the same situation as Clark in Smallville; will he use his talents and responsibility for good? There is some hint toward the end of the series that the "usually" gentle (despite a couple of sudden high school outbursts) and soft-spoken but charismatic Shawn Farrell is capable of being gay, and that somehow his affections tie into supernatural gifts. There is also the interesting idea that the all of 4400 are a collection of 4400 potential "Clark Kent's", who could do great good or evil depending on their characters. There is a fear that the beings in the future want to limit humanity to only a gifted super-race, so there is a lot of moral ideology to think about. father
Season 3 kicks off on June 11, 2006 on USA. NBC had a preview party on June 3. The opening "TV movie" has The 4400 as "Them," the alien enemy with super strength or special powers ready to trample normal people -- so the government speaks. A key official is almost assassinated in a Senate hearing. The 4400 threaten to make October 19 the next September 11, except that they turn it into a gift -- Nubia turns green. Shawn has to battle a couple of moral dilemmas of his own -- do you support bad things out of tribal loyalty? He gets into a heterosexual mixed-race relationship with precocious Isabelle (he already has a high school girl friend, with whom he is passionate by the lake, and at the Center sometimes acts open to men), who went from infancy to young adulthood instantly (I'm not sure what that would mean legally) and seduces him, literally undressing him on camera on one scene.
One wonders what happens next. Since Shawn was never supposed to be taken, is he on the firing line? What happens if he gives Isabelle a child? Isabelle tries to force Shawn to marry him (after a scene in which Patrick Flueger appears in a curious beefcake manner, shirtless and in his skivvies briefly) and Shawn will try to "kill" her with his healing hands, and act that sounds totally out of his normal character. This is soap opera land here (especially "Days of our Lives").
It seems (July 9, 2006) that Shawn can get paranoid schizophrenia (like Clark did when cut with silver kryptonite) under Isabelle's influence, and then we find out that Isabelle may be playing double agent, with the idea of wiping out The 4400. (Like you could wipe out The 144000 in Revelations.) Shawn gets over it, as he must, to follow in Clark's footsteps. Carter Jenkins (from Surface) appears as a kid with dangerous telekinetic gifts.
Shawn shoes some character (maybe it would rub off on a famous character by the same first name in "Days of our Lives") when he saves a rock star -- twice -- but declines a world tour as the pop star's personal safety net (which the star needs for his alcohol and drug habit). Meanwhile, another crystal-meth addict look-a-like and 4400-wanna-be conspires to have Isabelle's body generate unlimited quantities of the promycin.
The Aug 6, 2006 episode is suppose to explain why The 4400 came back specifically to Seattle and in 2004. Apparently a Seattle hospital had a faulty Xray machine in 1969, leading to some patients getting an innocuous mutation, but descendants with the mutation, when they have children with the 4400, produce offspring with 4400 powers. An Army ranger bred by a secret project goes around trying to kill the owners of the mutation, but oddly the first victim in a gay male hustler who presumably would not have children. A strange hidden message? In the mean time Shawn gets a cigar with a drug that makes him have dreams about alternate futures. He will have to use his powers to kill the enemy, but it not clear who the enemies will be yet. And Shawn does not want to kill at all. His personality becomes gentler as he grows into adulthood and prunes off adolescent aggression.
Then Jordan Collier (Billy Campbell) returns, looking like a homeless man, but gets Kyle freed, as Chad Faust returns to the show. Jordan warns about the future, of a walled city 1000 miles across (rather like the First Dominion in Clive Barker's Imajica), outside of which there is a wastleand (or an "erasure"). Jordan asks Isabelle to just go away--she is evil, and has very little humanity. Hopefully, then, the wedding with metrosexual Shawn (which Jordan broke up by showing up) is off, although Isabelle could be carrying his child.
The Finale occurs on Aug 27, 2006. Jordan Collier wants to give the promycin to the masses as an egalitarian concept, and Shawn is loyal. Shawn is unable to heal a promycin victim, and is arrested and "interrogated" by Isabelle, who tries to kill him. Isabelle admits that she was "sent" and "created" to destroy The 4400. At the end, Shawn is coming out of it and will probably be OK.
The show has a great theme song, "A Time to Call Our Own." I hope that it is available for legal download. The knockout two-hour pilot for Season 1 also had the captivating, rollicking song "Bye, Bye Baby, don't cry now!"
Season 3 started in Aug. 2007. Isabelle has the ability to regress to infancy; Jordan Collier talks about a society without fiat money where the currency is "miracles" and this stiffarms everyone to accepting his left-wing agenda. Shawn, becoming the virtuous Nick Carraway kind of character, resists.
The season ended Sept. 16 with Seattle falling into chaos, a "promycin" epidemic (in the general population) and Jordan's "Promise City" in the offing (as if from the imagination of Clive Barker).
ABC "Primetime Live" presented (on July 13, 2006) a real-life Shawn Farrell named Adam, in Vancouver, BC, who has a book and DVD "Path of a Dream Healer." Adam, 19 in 2006, conducts healing seminars in hotels. The real-life results presented by the show were mixed. The personal history recounted telekinetic abilities and an encounter with a wild blackbird on an island at 16 (when the wild animal somehow imprinted him, something that does happen sometimes), stuff that might make him seem like one of The 4400. Come on, Adam (and Universal Pictures), get yourself into an episode.
As Season 4 begins, the show becomes a class struggle between "the haves" and "have nots" -- the "special" people (with Promycin abilities) and "ordinary people." Jordan Collier makes a 16 year old boy become "ordinary" again.
Then we learn "The Truth." There was some book written in the 1920s (not "do ask do tell") that laid out a blueprint for the haves and have nots -- with promycin making the new super-race. Shawn still thinks he can do good as a healer but agrees to go into politics and run for City Council at 23. Kyle shows up, this time with smooth chest. Okay, something was done to him. Their dad is hooked on Promycin, rather like baseball sluggers on anabolic steroids (or is he).
Season 4 progresses, and we find out that Jordan Collier intends a world where everyone who survives is innoculated with promicin, and where the currency is "miracles". Promicin kills those with inadequate brains, so the "have nots" are eliminated. It sounds like eugenics and a kind of new "reich". Yet, the show is so cunning that it seems to work.
"Greek" (2007, ABC Family, dir. Patrick Sean Smith) premiered July 9, 2007. A dworky college freshman Rusty Cartwright (Jacob Zachar) rushes a few college fraternities, stumbles into a love triangle, fights to keep his blood loyalty to protect his sister, gets into a bar brawl, and gets a lesson in relative morality. The other young star who impresses is Scott Foster.
In episode 3, the sorority girls throw a "don't ask don't tell" party with guests pretending to be in uniform -- and the secret is virginity. Rusty decides to keep his.
In episode 4 (July 30) Rusty is drafted to play on the house's hockey intramural team and has to get past his awkwardness. He shoots a winning goal but his pants come down. At the same time there is a subplot with an African American frat brother who joined the frat because of pressure from his father. The script plays games with the fact that he is "different" and then in a private conversation with the father they refer to the boy's homosexuality. Frat membership won't help him with marriage. At the end, the boy outs himself to Rusty, and then, with some clumsiness, Rusty outs himself too, or he pretends to. But he is still a virgin. If we can have gays in a fraternity, we should have gays in ROTC and gays in the military, right? Write the next such series at a service academy.
In subsequent episodes, Rusty is hetero enough, though, "using" a girl who writes a national story about the Greek system at the school without mentioning names -- but everybody knows. It turns into a kind of "Beauty and the Geek".
Queer As Folk: It may seem odd to place an honorable mention of the TV Showtime franchise Queer as Folk (2001-2005, based on a similar UK franchise, and supposedly located in Pittsburgh) on the same page as Harry Potter and even Blue’s Clues. Certainly the series has run through all of the typical gay issues (especially domestic partnerships and parenting) in politically correct fashion. One character, Justin Taylor, played by Randy Harrison, stands out, as the hero of the series: an artist and yet a dominating personality is always fighting for what he believes in and prevailing, more or less the way Clark does in Smallville—he is sort of the same character in a different universe with different but corresponding rules, except that Justin is totally “out of the closet” and does not have to compete from inside a closet (or a storm cellar with a secret spaceship). (In a previous season he had told his father that he was exactly the man he was meant to be,) Could Harrison play Clark in some future movie? Maybe. The final 2005 season started on May 22 with a 105 minute “TV movie” that explores the problem of whether the storyboard artist (Justin) can maintain his integrity when working for the evil enemy (Hollywood) when “God is in, gay is out.” That is, can movies get any better when the popular culture and bean counters at public traded companies have to watch the bottom line every opening weekend? I will write more about this soon. I met Hal Sparks and Scott Lowell on January 7, 2002 (right after my layoff) at an event at the Mall of America. The 2005 episode 1 features some bar, dirty dancing, back room and bedroom scenes (a hard “R”) and right at the get-go mentions the “shaved chests” of circuit parties.
Other episodes of note have Justin, when asked why he became an artist, answering, “so I don’t become a mass murderer.” Tongue-in-cheek to be sure (Dahmer would have no place in a show like this). There is a scene where two men explore each other on the first date and one is disappointed that the partner is not circumcised. “I wanted a Jewish husband.” Rejection is defined as not “making the cut” – not being selected. Frank stuff.
Here is a place to comment on the Showtime sitcom Queer as Folk, which now has both British and American series. (It’s a lot more ambitious than was Ellen.) I enjoyed the recent show the little kid with his pacifier having two mommies and two daddies—the characters are very appealing for the most part, even if the comedy/drama is episodic. There are plenty of family values in these shows/videos. There is the young man’s father, dying of lung cancer, trying to deny his son’s “difference.” There was an S&M scene, not quite as weird as the Minneapolis Ground Zero, with at least some bondage and spanking, nothing irreversible. Although this sounds like a folksy, small-scale concept, the show depicts the enormous range of modern civilized life from a gay perspective, from tender scenes of family life to the raunchiness of some of the bar scene. Could I have settled down into this kind of family life when I was a young man if I had been permitted to?
Will & Grace (1998-2006, Lions Gate) has been a famous comedy series on NBC and TheWB, characters by David Kohan and Mitch Mutchnick. Will Truman (Eric McCormack) is a gay lawyer, and Grace Adler (Debra Messing), a straight interior designer, live together in an old brick NYC highrise, the kind of water tower building you see in the Village. Their friends are Jack MacFarland, "the little boy friend" (Sean Hayes) and Karen Walker (Megan Mullahay). There is lots of situation comedy, sitcom with audience laughter 50s style, and physical comedy. The series ended in 2006 with an hour about the show, and even a demonstration of a typical table reading. There were numerous episodes parodying other famous people and putting them into gay situations, such as singing in a gay men's chorus.
Metrosexuality (1999, TLA (2001), dir. Reake Beadle Blair, 139 min as film, sug NC-17) started out as a UK television series, episodic and improvised encounters among bisexual characters in Notting Hall with a lot of body art. There are diversions into important topics. Like at one point they ask "why would queers want to join the Army" (Britain has lifted the military ban, finally) and the answer is that the Army is a place for homosexuals, seen as Samaurai warriors, not "queers." They talk about feline leukemia (caused by a retrovirus somewhat similar to HIV as well as HTLV-I), and they have an explicit conservsation (and sequence) about lesbians and dental dams. The relative infrequency of STD's among lesbians is mentioned. The lead characters are Max, played by the writer (his name is used as a pun in homosexual philosophy) and Kwame (Noel Clarke). About a gay son: "You're losing a teenager, you're gaining a hairdresser." Gay marriage would be a "publicity boost for the archaic institution of marriage." But (compared to "Queer as Folk") you don't get much chance to bond with the characters.
A website with metrosexual values for men today is http://www.bebetterguys.com , advertised on NBC4 on June 28, 2007. One link claims that chest hair should never show at the "office or club"; the rest is a matter of taste. (On NBC4, one guest admitted to trimming chest hair, and said that he was no threat to David Hasselhof.) In the Army, in the summer we wore khakis, and having a high-necked undershirt (for obvious reasons) was thought to be unmilitary. Draw your own conclusions.
Jake 2.0 (2003) There are some other teen or young male role models. Besides Tobey Maguire as Spider Man, we have Chris Gorham on UPN as Jake 2.0 (Jake Foley), an ectomorphic but strong, gregarious geek/nerd with Clark-like powers given by an accident in a CIA lab and absolutely no bad personality traits at all. Actually, he seems a bit silly until his accident, but quickly grows his sense of responsibility and never allows his powers to be used for personal advantage. In one scene, he delivers a lecture on the moral use of power. He can hack into computers of the bad guys with pure telepathy – as if a system in production could suddenly have a logic bomb just from someone’s telepathy. Gradually, the “geek” excels in his people skills in all of his situations when he becomes an agent (even when he infiltrates a military special ops unit—he somehow bonds with the men despite acting “different”), and with his comical, hesitating style of speech somehow manipulates others without seeming to manipulate them (like a salesman would). Jake, however, is vulnerable to computer viruses and worms (just as Clark is vulnerable to green kryptonite). In Christmas week, during the Code Orange, UPN rebroadcast an episode about the e-bomb. There is one episode where Jake rescues his recalcitrant younger brother in an episode that tests his “loyalty to blood.” There are serious questions about UPN’s plans for this program, which is directed by David Greenwalt. See http://doaskdotell.com/jake.htm Christopher Gorham got another chance with an NBC series "Medical Investigation" See http://www.doaskdotell.com/jake.htm (Since UPN merged with TheWB in 2006, could it come back?)
Chuck (2007). A retail store (Buy More) kiosk geek (the "Nerd Herd") Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi Pugh) gets "infected" with all of the government's security knowledge with an email. In "comic book" comedy style. Chuck looks a little heftier, hairier, and more like a younger Ben Stiller than does the lanky Jake. Blogger discussion. Second discussion of 3D show 2009.
Surface, on NBC (2005-2006), has a premise (a new undersea animal with fantastic abilities and possibly alien) that we saw in James Cameron’s The Abyss. But what is interesting is how the unveiling of a government coverup involves the characters, with two appealing young teens Miles and Phil (Carter Jenkins and Edie Hassell) who hatch one of the eggs and raise one of the creatures ("Nim") in secret, bonding with the creature, potentially an important plot point. The creature saves Miles after an accident, and the kid starts taking on some of the creatures "powers", using them once to get out of a fight. Again, the kids turn out to be the most important characters. Toward the end of the series, we learn that the species was created by cloning and it seems to have the ability to cause earthquakes, tsunamis and cataclysm.
Supernatural on TheWB (2005-2006) has two likeable law-school-age Winchester brothers played by Jensen Ackles (from Smallville, now an undercover cop) (as "Dean") and Jared Padalecki (as "Sam") traversing the country solving a supernatural family mystery and tracking down an AWOL father. Think of Dean and Sam as "The Brothers Grimm." Padalecki’s wholesome character as a recent Stanford graduate looking for his bearings is effective, as he bears some comparison to Clark (above), doing things like reading an exorcism on a plane. Padalecki plays his part with great gusto, in one episode making us believe that a “kid” really can perform an exorcism on an airplane reading a ritual book out loud cold. But it seems a bit artificial and compromising to set them up as "brothers." (OK, you could write a series where they are "lovers" but the blood family themes would fall apart.) In March 2006 the show played the "myspace problem" card (without mentioning it) when Sam and Dean ask two paranormal gumshoes to shut down their website because it (apparently through Google) attracts so much attention (and viral "thoughtforms" or golems) and so many visitors to this haunted house where this ghost can stay alive and commit crimes. (I wonder if the writers were motivated by the sudden media attention this winter to this issue.) Jared Padalecki finally does a gratuitous shirtless shot in that episode.
In deference to the Smallville Pilot, one of the episodes of Supernatural is called "Scarecrow."
One episode ("Faith") develops the theme of being "slain in the spirit" at an Assembly of God -type revival, in an outdoor tent. Dean has been electrocuted by the Grim Reaper and had his heart destroyed (with cardiomyopathy), and will die unless healed. The preacher picks him out, but soon Sam finds out that someone else has been "schedule record" -ed to die in his place. Sam also finds a woman (played by the actress who plays the Sheriff in Smallville) out to slay the wicked. Newspaper searches (why not Google?) show that a gay teacher was somehow involve in the past, with some kind of connection to the pathetic preacher. I have some similar concepts in my online screenplays. In one of them, "69 Minutes to Titan," a teenager is healed by another man who discovers his own angelic powers, but then the teen goes to his father's revival and goes through the "slain in the spirit" exercise, while another character who will turn out bad is also slain. There is a rough comparison. In another script of mine, "The Sub," a gay teacher is done in by the father of a student in a religious plot that is supposed to be a bit like Patricia Highsmith. So there is some commonality in all these ideas.
A late episode ("Salvation") indicates that the "enemy" is an unbeknownst demon going after families with young kids, going after Sam in the 1980s when he would have been six months old. Mother was a victim. So Sam says, "It's not my fault, but it's my problem." Dean says, "It's our problem." A synoptic view of family solidarity as generating everything else.
The season ends with a catastrophic car crash, and we don't know if the brothers are OK or not.
In 2006, there is an episode where some wood spirits get "infected" with a "28 Days Later" virus, and a woman opens Sam (Jared) up and spills blood on his chest, but it turns out that the Wincester boys have natural immunity to evil like this. But Dean is challenged to show absolute "loyalty to blood" in his refusal to shoot Sam when he honestly believes Sam to be fatally "infected."
On Feb. 1, 2007 there is an interesting episode ("Houses of the Holy") where "angels" are supposedly compelling some killings. A priest says that men cannot become angels. I'm not personally so sure of that. Sam seems strong enough to resist them. You could think of Clark (in Smallville) as an angel. Maybe Sam will turn out to be one, too.
This series has apparently done well in ratings. Sam is sort of a Clark-like character, after four years of college (ready for law school). Could Jared Padalecki play Superman? I think he could.
However, that all said, on Feb. 8 Sam (aka Jared Tristan Padalecki) allows himself to be "possessed." With Dean's loyalty, he survives. But he really should be beyond possession. Well, in the Bible, NO ONE is beyond temptation. Not even Jesus.
On Feb. 15, the brothers encountered an abductee, taken up in a beam of light (sort of like on The 4400), who would describe being undressed, given medical examinations and "made into a bitch" -- after which he would do dirty dancing with the alien (a Gray), as shown in a fantasy flashback.
On March 22, Sam and Dean track down a female werewolf. Sam is initiated by her (out of virginity) in a provocative scene where she strips him -- he is "thmooth" -- and then he must kill her with a silver bullet, just like in 50s horror movies. (Apparently, Jared didn't make it out of the "House of Wax" unscathed. Does that mean that Sammy, of all people, may before a werewolf himself? Remember the defunct soap "Port Charles"?) The idea makes as much sense as Nick Fallon (Blake Berris) sleeping with Chelsea's mom (Billie) on "Days of our Lives" in order to lose his virginity. Never thought this show would become a soap opera.
In the fall of 2007, there is a demon who challenges Sam for being the "boy wonder" and "prodigy" (privileged to go to Stanford) as if his being so came at the expense of others who were sacrificed.
The Christmas party episode on Dec 13, 2007 is particularly ghoulish, with a scene where Sam and Dean and treated a little torture porn, like pulling fingernails (shades of "Marathon Man").
An episode Feb. 14 2008 has the device of a muscular Sam repeatedly waking up on Tuesday and reliving the day until he can "get it right" and get Dean through the day without getting killed, according to this season's curse. It seems like repeated shots of the same scene (as if a record of the actual shooting of the episode). Dean says "Rise and shine!" the radio plays a tune E--D-EDC. Perhaps an exercise that anticipates the storytelling style of the film "Vantage Point."
The 2008 spring season was extended with Ghostfacers (dir. McG, WB) where Sam and Dean encounter filmmakers making a horror flick about the happenings in a haunted house on Leap Year Day. The "Pilot" shows an embedded short that seems like a mix of "Blair Witch Project" with "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and a recreation of the dinner table setup. Dustin Milligan plays Corbett, who dies in the effort, or may still "live" and seeks redemption of a gay love affair with one of the producers. There's an account "Supernatural goes gay with tonight's reality TV parody "Ghostfacers", by Lyle Masaki, writeup here. In any case, Corbett is really cute, beyond all fantasy. The CW site for "the Pilot" advertisers a movie "Hell Hazers II: The Reckoning" which may or may not be a real film.
The Bedford Diaries on TheWB (start March 2006) seems to aim to become the de facto leader in miniseries that deal with sexuality "frankly" in college age people. But the setup is pretty generic. A sociology professor David Macklin (Matthew Moldine) assigns each student in his human sexuality seminar the task of making a camcorder video diary of his own pan-sexual adventures, more symbolic than literal. This seems like an open-ended and rather tame plot device (however reminiscent of "Sex, Lies and Videotape") that seems too generic and "functionable" to say much. (My own ideas for a series like this are based on an ambulance chasing law clerk.) Penn Badgley as Owen Gregory is the lead in the opening episode, and Milo Ventimiglia is the student editor who flunked English 101 but who has a scoop on an affair of his professor. One of the female students has survived a suicide jump. A series like this, however frank, needs real issues and real charismatic characters to work. We will see. TheWB has a webcast version that includes some deleted shots (coerced out of the broadcast version by FCC broadcast rules; TheWB is a broadcast network, not a cable channel). In another episode, the editor defends his right to publish personal material "leaked" to him, even though the school's Trustee's withdraw funding for the paper. He stands up for journalistic integrity and objectivity.
A subsequent episode "Love and the Tenth Planet" (Sedna??) has amateur astronomer Owen (a now precocious looking Badgley) having his "epiphany" and videotaping a soliloquy that "it" (the closeness and intimacy, even with "S.I.B.M.") is nothing like anything he had ever imagined.
The final episode, dealing with abstinence (and plagiarism and compulsive gambling), has some fun with Donald Trump's lines about hiring and firing.
Just Legal on TheWB (fall 2005) ran just three episodes on Monday night before if fell victim to ratings "rank and yank." Well, it was aired against Monday Night Football. It seems to have given Jerry Brucheimer a black eye. We don't know why TheWB wouldn't move it to a more appropriate time slot (it was replaced by repeats of "Related"). Canadian actor Jay Baruchel plays 19-year-old lawyer Skip Ross, a prodigy who goes to work for a down-and-out warehouse district lawyer Grant (Don Johnson) who seems pulled out of "Body Heat." But he is quite dazzling in the courtroom, even if collecting on a moral debt from a former law student. It's rather unusual to see prodigies in law. You see them in math and science, but in the language arts, prodigies like him usually become actors -- like Everwood's Gregory Smith -- could you imagine that "kid in America" as a trial lawyer? Maybe that is the problem with the concept. Actually, maybe I could imagine Ephram making closing arguments in a courtroom--try that in a future Everwood incarnation. Although, college kids who didn't quite break in to showbiz often go to law school and try to get into the field through entertainment law. That's pretty common.
An episode on Aug 20 has Ross trying to rent an apartment in Venice, CA and being shown the door if he "admitted" that he was a lawyer. Is this for real? Do landlords do this? (Are they afraid of litigation? Are they afraid he could become a "Salman Rushdie"?) He tried telling them he was self-employed, but they "asked." Finally, he got an apartment by saying that he was an insurance salesman -- life only. (That means, an agent?) On that episode, Grant promises a client a trial victory, and Ross immediately pours cold water and says that if they lose they can get disbarred. They can!
Note: "Just Legal" will resume on Aug. 6, 2006. IMDB notes that the average age of viewers when the show was aired (in the Nielsen Ratings) was over 50, but what's wrong with that? (I worked for NBC as a programmer analyst in New York in the mid 1970s, and a coworker maintained NBC's feed to the Nielsen system, so I heard a lot about ratings even then.)
Canterbury's Law (2008, Fox, dir. Dave Erickson) has Julianna Margulies as a tough lawyer who will do anything to get her disadvantaged clients off. In the pilot, Charlie Humphrey plays suspected pedophile Ethan Foster, who got framed before, and this time is suspected of murdering a gifted 11 year old boy. A police detective is questioned about his pot belly, as to whether he could see the evidence on the ground through it (without a machete). That's her style of cross. A science fair project having to do with security systems provides the clue that nails a surprising culprit, who hits Elizabeth from the witness stand. Not as engaging as "Just Legal."
Eli Stone (2008, ABC, dir. Greg Berlanti and others) has a trial lawyer Eli Stone (Jonny Lee Miller) having "visions" because of a small brain aneurysm, and he takes on cases to "do good." The "case of the gay chimps" on April 10 raises courtroom "drama" to a new level. Blogger.
Kyle XY (2006, ABC/Touchstone) is a series where mystery savant teen Kyle (Matt Dallas) is taken in by therapists Stephen and Nicole Trager (Bruce Thomas and Marguerite MacIntyre), who are raising two well-adjusted teens themselves, Lori (April Matson) and Justin (Jean-Luc Bilodeau).
Kyle has "awakened" in the woods outside Seattle, near a stump that looks like a miniature Devil's Tower from Close Encounters. He is a tabula rusa, a blank slate. He has the animal instincts of a carnivore -- perhaps a bear or cat, as he scares off a snake. He winds up in a juvenile facility, and has to learn the most basic functions quickly, like continence, which feels "wonderful."
Kyle narrates his story with all kinds of paradoxes, even as he learns English -- very quickly -- and body language in his "adoptive" family. He has to learn the context of words. When he is thirsty he says "I need juiced." Interesting, because closely related languages often use almost the same word in different contexts. Language itself is all about idiom and context. Kyle quickly becomes somewhat sociable. He uses his wits and his strength to get out of trouble, as like one occasion when the police catch him with other teens in underage drinking. (In one distaste scene he is vomiting on camera; but soon he outflanks the policeman with animal strength and fury.)
He learns aesthetics from instantiating his own soul. He calls music (when his foster sister plays the Pachelbel Canon from "Ordinary People" on the piano -- I think that a CD of the Wagnerian slow movement from Bruckner's Third Symphony would have worked here) a combination of "mathematics" and "euphoria." As such, music becomes his constructor, his transition to humanity.
The Treger family wonders how he can go for days without sleeping, until they discover he likes to sleep in a bathtub ( = womb?) He is taught to swim, and an accidental encounter leads to his learning "where babies come from." The situations are delicate but handled with considerable taste. (The mood in the family is almost like that of Seventh Heaven). Justin starts to wonder if Kyle (who has no navel) is an alien, like Clark. It's interesting to put chromosome markers in a character's name.
Kyle narrates his experiences, like his first day of school, with a certain sensitivity. He can solve Fourier series math problems (probably he knows how to define trig and hyperbolic functions as series, and how to do integration by partial fractions), and he can absorb The World Book Encyclopedia in a school day. When targeted in a hallway fight, he suddenly has physical powers, too. He even refers to the high school library (bibliotheque) as the "Fortress of Solitude".
The early episodes to bring up the subject of special education, which is a politically hot topic in connection with NCLB ("no child left behind"). The dedication of the couple and family is rewarded by a boy with unusual abilities. He actually learns very quickly. In some situations, a child may have unusual gifts that can be mined by this kind of attention. A lot of the time, in practice, however, students will have difficulty with academics and with the idea that it is required of them as a ticket into life. Ironically, in the show, brother Josh is just coming out of the "slow learner" category as he enters high school. But he is simply a kid who did not apply himself.
At one point, Kyle takes an algebra test for Josh, and has
to learn the context of right and wrong. Can you tell a lie by remaining
silent? Isn't it good to help people? Not when the "system"
requires that people perform certain tests on their own as a qualification to
enter life. Heavy stuff. Kyle has to figure out the social context of right
and wrong in our culture, which is certainly tough for many kids.
(7/24/2006) Who is Kyle? Is he an alien like Clark Kent? Is he an angel like Aaron (Fallen)? Does he have a home within our solar system (Mars, Europa, Titan), or perhaps in another dimension, or another Dominion (like in Clive Barker's Imajica)? Could he come from another time? (Is he one of The 4400?) He is as nice a person as Clark, Sam, or Shawn. Whatever, this show does illustrate "kids in America."
On 7/31/2006 Kyle, Justin and other kids did a Ouija Board session, where Kyle asked his birth-date and the Board "method" returned 78-12-27, which would make Kyle 27 years old! Maybe he was on a spaceship experiencing relativistic time dilation. (He'd have to go a lot farther than Titan, to another solar system.) Or maybe it has a connection to the disappeared professor.
On 8/7/2006, Kyle is on the basketball team because he is can shoot perfectly, and Justin bookmakes on him. But when a teammate is injured, Kyle shows perfect solidarity, causing the entire team to forfeit ranger than given in to a coach who makes players play hurt. His narration continues in a kind of Aspergers style, but with a certain touch of moral perfection. How about a hoops match between Kyle and Clark, both with powers?
On 8/14/2006 Kyle goes on a field trip and sees a picture of himself (maybe) taken in 1985 when he was a grad student. He investigates paper files and finds a rea; name. He's not in his forties. Biologically, he is about 16. So is he one of The 4400? Right now it seems like it. He goes to an exact earth point blocked from satellite web sites and finds a fenced off government installation. A good old fashioned right wing plot, so it looks.
On 8/21/2006, he gets on a carousel (reminding one of a famous scene from Strangers on a Train) and overhears (with his Clark Kent-like hearing) secret agents threatening to eliminate him. He goes into an epileptic fit, but quickly recovers. But is he some sort of manufactured being who went into hibernation in seclusion for 20 years? Is he a corporate trade secret? (Or is his existence classified?) I like the idea of a gifted teen better.
On 8/28/2006. Who is Kyle XY? Is he Adam Behlen abducted and returned as one of The 4400 after twenty-some years? Is he Noah Peterson, who was kidnapped without a ransom note at the age of 12 five years ago in Connecticut? Kyle becomes assertive and "asks" and his captor "tells." Remember how social conservative George Gilder wrote in the 80s (Men and Marriage) about the destruction of the heterosexual family, about the end of the sexual constitution of our society, about Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" where we can create perfect people (and then measure these people) in a qualitative analysis Chemistry 201 lab test tube? Would corporate America really do that? Would the government do that? Not given Bush's attitude towards stem-cell research. But there will be a season 2 of Kyle XY.
On 6/11/2007 Season 2 of Kyle XY started. Kyle's "creator" admits that Kyle had been incubated in an artificial womb until he was a teen, so his brain would develop superpowers. Kyle then discovers that a female XX mate is just "hatching."
By the third episode, Kyle, like Clark Kent, has outgrown his need to be just "normal" and realizes that his destiny is to be extraordinary. But that's pretty hard if you were cloned and born as an adult, with no infancy or childhood, no mother. Is this "ABC Family values?"
On 7/23 Kyle learns to dance (from Justin) and goes to a school "prom." The school creates an angry debate by forbidding same-sex couples at the dance. Kyle does not understand why same-sex unions have been socially forbidden, and Justin has to come around to his own stand on it. In a couple scenes, Justin and Kyle dance together (without touching) as if in a disco. No dirty dancing yet. But Matt Dallas is becoming a real hunk. Kyle is becoming a more convincing "role model" than Clark Kent.
Then Kyle's adoptive father gets invited to join the company that cloned Kyle.
And Kyle learns to read a CD with his eyes to read the future.
Anybody notice how much "Kyle" sounds like "Kal-El"?
At the end of the first portion of Season 2, Kyle and his "mate" practice some telepathy: is that the format for the next "Internet" if we all develop our brains more? Then there really will be no personal information any more.
As Season 2 resumes in January 2008, Kyle uses telepathy to hack into girl friend Amanda 's cell phone or computer and communicate with her over the wishes of her mother, who wants her (a female "Ephram") to return to conservatory in New York ("Julliard"?) Then why did she sell Amanda's piano. Kyle and Josh get grounded for this. Kyle can hack around being grounded.
On 3/3/2008 Kyle and Justin are accused of cheating on a test because previously mediocre students suddenly get good grades. It turns out that Jessie (Kyle's artificial "sister") had hacked into the school district's mainframe and created a website with the questions. But she took no moral responsibility for how users behaved when "enticed." Kyle came up with a bizarre "vantage point" argument to get out of the situation. The show misses the point that, at the very least, Jessie's actions represented legal copyright infringement. The law does not address hacking by "telepathy" however. Kyle plays gumshoe and tracks down (from server logs, like those that feed Urchin reports) the IP addresses of everyone who had accessed the test (90% of the kids) but then there was no way to know who had actually read the questions.
Sleeper Cell, on Showtime (2005), will trace a hidden sleeper cell in LA as it comes together to plot horrific attacks. The characters, some of them actually pretty likeable, come from various backgrounds within (even without) Islam, and have been offended for various reasons (a character’s relative had been inspected and killed because of circumcision). I’ve seen a similar concept (with the same working title) developed most convincingly in a screenplay workshop (in Minnesota). In time, however, it gets hard to stay sympathetic with the characters. The first episode ends with a stoning of a character buried almost to his head.
There is something to be said, though, with a series like this, about trying to show what makes the mind of someone in one of these cells tick. The screenwriter or storyteller makes the world of a character like this real from a psychological perspective, even if on another level we have no tolerance for what some of these characters do. The screenwriting workshop example did this with more depth than do the episodes of this show. There is value in understanding the sense of shame and violation that some of these young men feel (that is most obvious with Palestinians who have seen their land and lives expropriated, but some Muslims in other countries feel the same way), and what is hard to see how this feeling creeps up even to men with good educations. There is also a point to understanding the incredible religious fervor. There comes a point in one's life, perhaps, where giving in at all on an ideological or religious belief is just unacceptable. One clings to belief like a liferaft, and "principles" seem to be more important than people.
Numb3rs, on CBS (2005), has the FBI employing two brothers played by Robert Morrow and David Krumholtz, the latter being a brilliant young mathematician and one of the most likeable young adult characters in modern television series. Charlie Epps (Krumholtz’s handsome characters) solves all kinds of crimes with mathematical theories. One of the most intriguing involved card counting in casinos. Charlie is one of the most likeable young male characters in contemporary television.
Another episode involved Chinese prostitutes possibly infected with bird flu.
In 2006, there was a takeoff on "To Catch a Predator" where a group called "Parents Stop Predators" (obviously based on Perverted Justice "Peej" in Portland, OR) happens to house a killer determined to meet the internet predator at a home and execute him. Charly described a method of hiding email authorship called "onion routing" which could be used as a spoofing technique by spammers. Zac Efron makes a brief appearance in this episode as a victim.
Some of the episodes present sensitive concepts. In Season 1, and episode called "Sniper Zero" suggested that sniping could lead to copycat and epidemic "viral behavior" that could become widespread in a city, even to the point of forcing school closings. The idea is that media attention, now so widespread, inevitably provokes unstable people. Another episode called "Sacrifice" examines the murder of a computer scientist mining baseball statistics, as a cover for econometric researching of "meritocracy," predicting how well people will do in life based on demographics, especially zipcodes, information that can obviously be misused politically.
In Season 3, there was an episode that presented a serial killer luring Internet sexual predators (in a parody of NBC's "To Catch a Predator") to houses in "Jessica zones" and killing them. The killer turns out to be a woman.
Eureka (2006, Sci-Fi, dir. Michael Lange and Jefery Levy, first episode 105 min) may be the name of a town on the northern California Coast, and this film (the first in a planned miniseries) may really be shot near Vancouver by the good old DGC. It's witty as a US Marshall arrives (transporting a girl under protective custody) in the town and finds it inhabited by all kinds of mentally gifted folk, until he his let in on a government secret under threat of treason. It seems like there is a tachyon accelerator that looks like the gyroscope in the 1997 film Contact, and the same kinds of things happen when you run it. The series needs more attention to the characters, as it seems to ramble from one to the next without a lot of tension or plot structure. But these kinds of series do that.
Do not confuse with the documentary short by the same name from Shell Oil.
24 on Fox (2001 and on, 20th Century Fox Television) has the interesting idea of recreating terrorist plots one hour at a time per episode as they unfold in "real time." The first season dealt with a presidential assassination plot. But later seasons dealt with bigtime bio threats. Kiefer Sutherland is Agent Jack Bauer. In 2003 this series had heavy advertising in theaters.
The season finale in 2006 supposes that Chechnyan (?) rebels have captured a ship, killed the crew with nerve gas, and threaten to launch twelve nuclear warheads in the United States. The president does lose his life trying to intervene on the ship. The show seems a bit hokey in its real time "metronome" style.
The 2006-2007 season develops the WMD nuclear threat, with a "small" suitcase nuclear explosion in Los Angeles (with the mushroom cloud) at the end of the January 21, 2007 episode. One can watch the explosion from the episode at this link. Remember that the president had justified removing Saddam Hussein in 2003 by mentioning the "mushroom cloud" in a speech. In the plot of the (fictitious) show, there are supposedly four more such weapons that can be detonated, blackmailing the United States in giving in to demands of radical Islam (Al Qaeda) terrorists. (So far, this is fictitious!)
In the succeeding episode, the expected conflicts occur. Martial law is declared, the constitution is suspended with scriptural regret, an agent with Middle Eastern descent is profiled, and it comes out that the incident is partially an "inside leak." Perhaps the Tooele Army Depot in Utah will eventually turn out to be involved. Then the African-American president Palmer becomes determined to protect civil liberties after all. There is a fictitious public website with steganographic clues and apparent instructions; it had been taken down because of "terrorist links" but caches were still available. The show certainly dramatizes many of the issues.
On Feb. 12, the two-hour episode shows the deactivation of a suitcase nuke.
In March, there is an attempted coup as the president is shot and wounded, and the Russians are involved, pretty much as in real life, it seems now. Maybe the Cold War isn't over after all.
On March 19 (ironically, the 4-year anniversary of Bush's war in Iraq), in fact, Iran (not named) is brought into the fray. When a drone carrying another suitcase nuke is diverted by Homeland Security hackers from crossing into San Francisco (where a GPS trigger will detonate the bomb) and crash landed, radiation leaks, resulting in a "dirty bomb" incident. The acting president decides to do a warning nuclear strike on a remote area of Iran, near the Russian border.
On April 2, arms roll (at least Gredenko 's, when "infected" with a radioactive capsule).
"24" has created controversy with many torture scenes, such as one in which a "suspect's" shirt is torn open and his chest is prodded, mid-sternum, with an electric wand. (That scene was reproduced in the recent documentary "Taxi to the Dark Side".) The US Military has complained that this creates tensions overseas, story by Andrew Buncombe, "U.S. Military Tells Jack Bauer, Cut out the torture scenes... or else" here.
"24," being heavily serialized, stopped production at the 2007 WGA strike and may not resume in fall 2007. Update: Season 7 resumed in Jan. 2009. Blogger.
Jericho (2006-?, CBS / Paramount / Sci-Fi) Fifteen minutes into the first episode, the TV in a bar in a western Kansas town goes blank, and pretty soon the residents notice that all the electronics are out. In the country, a few residents have noticed a mushroom cloud in the west toward Denver. The information of multiple attacks around the country leaks back (some TV service comes back) and local residents learn interdependence in a new way. Whether the country can ever function as it did becomes questionable. Resuming in 2007. Skeet Ulrich is Jake Green. Pilot was directed by John Turteltab. The interesting premise recalls the 1982 TV movie "The Day After."
The Pilot raises some other issues. Jake is supposed to get an inheritance from his grandfather, but his father administers it and there are "dead hand" terms. Later, when the townspeople organize volunteer posses to look for victims, the men with families are encouraged not to join, because of possible fallout. Single people are more expendable in a situation like this, it seems.
The Unit (CBS, 2006) portrays a super top-secret quasi military unit to stop terrorist attacks. A typical episode occurred 1/30/2007. At a school, a man (from the unit) poses as a teacher and asks a girl questions about her father who is in the unit. It will turn out to be a test of the unit. The unit discovers a plot to blow up a train carrying nuclear materials to powder the southwest with radioactive waste. The implication is that railroad underpasses are dangerous. The right-wing plotter curiously has to bypass his own racism to attempt the plot. Not as intense as "24" and a little bit corny. At the end, the little girl is told how to lie (when her parents have tried to teach her honesty) to protect her dad's job.
The Gilmore Girls (CWTV (TheWB) 2000-), the cheerio Tuesday night staple for some years, starts each show with that wonderful lilting tune and autumnal pictures of a college town. Mothers are best friends of their daughters, and the scoop (as noted in the book by conservative writer Kay Hymowitz) is that the daughters are much more in tune with the importance of long term marriage than are the moms. Lauren Graham plays Lorelai Gilmore, and Jared Padalecki and Chad Michael Murray got going on this show. On January 1, 2002 (right after my layoff) I was mad because theWB had two episodes of this show and none of my favorite Smallville.
Gossip Girl (CWTV, Warner Bros., 2007-, book by Cecily von Ziegesar ) seems to take off on the controversy over "reputation defense" and social networking sites. An unknown (that is, anonymous) blogger spreads rumors about upper East Side preppies (when a particular character Serena returns to New York), and pretty soon secrets start coming out in the bricks and mortar world (like at an Ivy League reception) but even these may turn out to be just rumors. Dartmouth (site of the latest Democrat debate) figures into the story; I know a psychology professor there. Blake Lively, Leighton Meesler, Baltimore native Penn Badgley.
The blog seems to be here.
Some episodes make more of the "reputation defense" issue than others. In one episode, one of the kids catches another buying a pregnancy test kit (like in "Juno") and sends text messages and photos that wind up on the blog. It seems that the blogger has "reporters" and this is a kind of prep school "networked journalism." The blogs seem to be the usual rumors on who cheats on who, and the like.
The episode "Victor, Victrola" on Nov. 7 has the "you're the kid" Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford) confronting his father about finding drugs and then turning him in when the cops arrive ("search his pockets"). But much of the show centers on Dan Humprhey (Penn Badgley), who gets undone by his girl friend Serena (Blake Lively), and the nosey camera reveals (in comparison to imdb) that Penn's chest seems to have been shaved before he even turned 21. (Perhaps a female Sweeney Todd or a "Valkyrie" had paid him a visit. In the Dec 19 Christmas episode, Penn's body swings both ways in the same episode, making one wonder which girl friend shaved him in pre-production; since the WGA is on strike, only the rogue blogger can tell us for sure; the March 2008 issue of Out has a picture of Penn with the hair restored; Ed Westwick and Chace Crawford also appear.) What's worse, "Dan" has what seems to be a wet dream about Nate and Jenny, and he seems focused on Dan's getting undone. Now all of this sounds like its plenty of cannon fodder for imaginary and real bloggers (like Serena). Note that bad boy Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick) falls under the "dead hand" of a will; when he is caught with two nymphs in the boardroom, he already looks 21.
On Jan. 2, 2007, there is an episode ("The Thin Line Between Chuck and Nate") where one of the kids gets into a pool area and starts a party with underage drinking (the worst stuff of the "Reputation Defender" world that Gossip Girl engages). The Headmistress threatens to expel all of them unless one comes forward. Nate is expelled for a "false confession" (a la John Mark Karr) to protect a girl friend, who herself didn't do it. The Headmistress wouldn't be above looking at the blogs to solve it.
This seems to be a show that you write (the spec script) as a blog rather than as a conventional script. It also plays on the issue that young women, in particularly, have wanted to seek fame on the Internet, a phenomenon we haven't seen before, as documented on the Today Show Nov 9, 2007.
Later in the season, there is a lot of mobile blogging ("All About My Brother") to sunder "reputation defense" and a couple of guys get outed as gay.
On Nov. 3, Nate (Chace Crawford), having dealt with the blows of his father's arrest, gets in trouble for making out with a 15 year old girl (Dan's sister) at a party, and Dan throws him out of the house where he is staying.
From Gossip Girl's blog 1/5/2009:
"The higher up you are, the farther you have to fall."
"The past is always with us. You never know when it will come back and mess up the present."
90210: The Next Generation (2008) follows on the older series "Beverly Hills: 90210". A principal and his wife move to California, take a high school job and care for an alcoholic actress mother. Blogger.
Lipstick Jungle (2008, NBC). Three powerful women fight it out in New York publishing. Some of the episodes refer to recent issues (like the British princes). A Fen. 14 2008 episode refers to the legal issues of fiction (a novel sent to an agent to be published in a conventional way) that resembles real life in a libel or invasion of privacy context (the "Touching" case). Blogger review here.
Quarterlife (2008, NBC, dir. Marshall Hershkovitz) has a magazine editor making a video blog of her friends, and effectively running their lives; a kind of "Gossip Girl 2" although here the the blogger isn't anonymous. Blogger discussion here.
The Secret Life of the American Teenager (2008, ABC Family, exec producer Brenda Hampton) blogger.
Knight Rider (2008, Universal / NBC, dir. Steve Shill) has attractive Justin Bruening (who rather resembles Tom Welling) as an ex-soldier driving a "smart car" trying to find the daughter of its creator.
'Til Death (2006, Fox / Sony TV, created by Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa is a situation comedy, with audience, about newlyweds who move in next to an "old married couple." That's not too significant, but some episodes are. Jeff (Eddie Kaye Thomas) gets to be an assistant principal, and roots around for a substitute teacher. There is a joke that a teacher should have passed puberty and passed evolution. There is reference to a "sub license" when in fact in many states subs don't have to have licenses. They usually follow rigid lesson plans. But here The Sub gets to inspire his charges with his stories of political activism, and he reaches back for a moral lesson on the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Curious indeed for comedy.
Angels in America (2003, Picturehouse / HBO, dir. Mike Nichols, play by Tony Kushner, almost 300 min; now marketed on DVD as two 3-hour "independent" films I and II) is a six-part cable TV series based on the famous play, itself in episodes. Part I is called "The Millennium Approaches" and is in three parts: Bad News, In Vitrio, and The Messenger. HBO pulled out all the stops, with an A-list cast (now rather common with indie films on major social issues), to produce an intimate play tracing the lives of a number of people affected by the growing AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, and it has much more dramatic cohesion than does "And the Band Played On." Al Pacino is riveting as Roy Cohn, and one of the most telling scenes occurs in the middle where he talks to his physician (James Cromwell) who explains to him that he has AIDS, and he goes into semantic denial that he is a homosexual. Cohn also rants on how the most important thing in his life is to be somebody with power, somebody that people jump when he calls or barks at them. The same thing happens in a bathroom encounter between Cohn's assistant Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson) and gay man Louis (Ben Shenkman), where they banter about identities as "Republicans" and homosexuals (Log Cabin is almost on their lips, as is Perry Young's 1986 book "God's Bullies"). The stories unfold as in a Robert Altman film: Joe has to come to terms with his denial of his homosexuality, given his Mormon background, as his wife challenges him about his lack of passion. Louis's lover Prior Walter (Justin Kirk) develops Kaposi's Sarcoma (the film makes a lot of the big blue lesion on his smooth chest) and then pneumocystis pneumonia, and Louis leaves him, to encounter Patrick. Characters are approached by angels at various points in the story. The script mentions "bird TB" (avian mycobacterium intercellular tuberculosis, one of the AIDS opportunistic infections), a chilling analogy to today's concern with bird flu (just beginning to surface as an issue when the film was made). The same actors play several characters (most of all Meryl Streep, who plays a male rabbi, an angel, and a Mormon mom, and she is certainly one of the most dominating female actors (in terms of dominating the scenes she is in and intimidating other characters) around.
The second film is called "Perestroika" and the three episodes are called "Stop Moving!" "Beyond Nelly" and "Heaven, I'm in Heaven." Roy Cohn descends quickly, and there is a harrowing scene where he bleeds all over Joe Pitt when he tries to yank out an iv. Joe and Louis have been developing a relationship (it starts tenderly with a take-home at the beginning of part II, with the studious unlocking of a bolted apartment). The discussions get interesting, as on the beach Joe talks about shedding his Mormon "second skin." The Louis gumshoes on him and looks up the opinions he had ghostwritten for the Reagan Supreme Court, including one which denied the use of the argument of gays as a suspect class in a pre-"don't ask don't tell" that had started when the Army tried to give a dishonorable discharge to a man whom it had allowed to enlist knowing he was gay; the opinion was changed to one about estoppels, and that enraged Louis to the point of starting a big fight.
The Decalogue ("Dekalog", 1989, Facet / (Telewizja Polska (TVP)), dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski and co-written with Krzysztof Piesiewicz), comprises 10 one hour dramas, each based on one of the Ten Commandments, set in and around a Communist era Warsaw apartment. Blogger discussion. See also Kieslowski short films.
Southland (2009) a new NBC series about a rookie cop played by Ben McKenzie. Blogger.
Blue’s Clues: A related item is the Paramount (and Nickelodeon) educational television series and one-hour video Blue’s Clues. The video (60 min) is Blue’s Clues: It’s Joe Time. Joe is played by a gangly and gentle Donovan Patton, accompanied in the first episode (“Steve Goes to College”) by Steven Burns (who also produces the shows). The series is known for teaching basic life concepts to toddlers, with varying degrees of intellectual detail. I had seen the physics lesson once, with all of the inclined planes and simple machines. Here, the video introduces the idea of separation of older siblings, and offers “Blue’s Clues” as to what Steven should take so that younger friends can stay in touch with him. (This might not work if Steven were joining the Army.) In the second episode, “The Big Book About Us,” Joe dances, thumbs-up and Clark-Kent-zooms around the animated world (looking like a cross of Sesame and Southpark) teaching canine Blue what you need to make a scrap book (or website) about yourself. (For one thing, a mirror.) The video does indeed teach the concept of self-expression and individual self-awareness, even in the context of diversity; yet there will be some moralists who see such a lesson as inherently narcissistic.
Patton (playing Joe, “the wiggle master”) plays the part like he was indeed an imagined Clark Kent’s younger brother, as if he could be written for such a part in Smallville. He is not comical and not (like Clark) mysterious or reticent, rather instead joyous without being too silly. “I’ve got a letter, wonder where it’s from.”
Defying Gravity (2009, ABC) is an enterprising series about some astronaut touring the entire solar system. Blogger. (It’s also the name of a song in the show “Wicked”.)
FlashForward (2009, ABC) has the whole world stop for 137 seconds of a view of the future, with both prescience and carnage. Blogger.
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