Saturday, March 19, 2011

Is Detroit 1-8-7 a Tamer Version of NYPD Blue?

Sunday night, ABC will air the season finale of Detroit 1-8-7, and since there is no word yet about whether or not it will return next season, this might be your last chance to see a new episode.  I have always enjoyed gritty police dramas, and this show is a fine example of the genre, well worth watching.  Hopefully it will survive the cancellation ax and live to return again. 

In many ways it is similar to one of my favorite TV series of all time, NYPD Blue.  Its on-location realism and shaky-camera-movement style add a sense of rawness and believability to the scenes, just as in the Steven Bochco classic, but with less of the risque "blue" factor (profanity, nudity, etc.) that made the Dennis Franz cop show so infamous (and a ratings winner).  It is definitely an example of tamer episodic television, but since its stories deal with murder in the Motor City, there are still some gruesome elements and some shocking plot twists.

But while NYPD Blue was completely faithful to its Big Apple roots, from the accents to the iconic "only in New York" details that drove its storylines, Detroit 1-8-7 sometimes seems like its setting was selected randomly. I have never been to Detroit, so if I get that impression, then I'm pretty sure natives probably feel it too.  Its title alone provides evidence that it was written by outsiders.  The number "1-8-7" is the penal code for homicide -- in Los Angeles.  (In Detroit it's 750, in New York it's 150, etc.)  There was also a big furor when one of the characters made a reference to "soda" -- in Detroit, the preferred word for carbonated beverages is "pop."  That all sounds trivial, but it all adds up to the believability of the premise, especially for a drama striving for realism.

All of that aside, the pluses outweigh the negatives.  In a TV landscape dominated by procedurals that focus on forensic investigations, it is refreshing to see a show that depicts detectives hunting down murderers without having to rely on high-tech gadgets to do so. 

The cast is outstanding -- Michael Imperioli (from The Sopranos) as Louis Fitch, a moody detective from New York (of course); Jon Michael Hill (from the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago) as his rookie partner Damon Washington; and Aisha Hinds (who has appeared in The Shield, Invasion, Dollhouse, True Blood, Hawthorne, and Weeds) as the tough-as-nails Lt. Maureen Mason. The best parts of the show are the storylines centering on the sexual dynamics between Detectives Ariana Sanchez and John Stone (played nicely by Natalie Martinez and D.J. Cotrona, respectively) and the dramedy scenes with Detective Vikram Mahajan (played by Shaun Majumder) and Sergeant Jesse Longford (played by NYPD Blue's James McDaniel).

Don't let this show die.  It has grown progressively better throughout its season, and it deserves to come back again.  Tune in to the finale and judge for yourself.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Guilty Confession: I Like Ke$ha

Why do so many people seem to hate Ke$ha?  Her songs are catchy, her lyrics stick in your head.  Yes, her personality is brash and at times vulgar, and she tries too hard to be outrageous, as if she were trying to be a second-rate (or maybe a fifth-rate) Lady Gaga.  But is she really as bad as her critics say?  There are far worse recording stars to mock. 

I confess, I like her songs.  "Tik Tok," "Your Love Is My Drug," "We R Who We R," "Take It Off," and "Blow" are all fun to listen to when in the mood for a tune that's energetic, brash, and playful.  She doesn't seem to take herself too seriously, so why do her detractors?  Despite her on-camera persona, she seems rather smart, contributing to the writing of a lot of her discography and actually planning to study psychology at Columbia University before her singing career took off. 

How can you not like such profound lyrics as "Wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy" or "And now my heart is broken like the bottles on the floor."

So maybe she deserves a second listen.  It's silly, escapist pop music.  Come on, show Ke$ha some love.  :)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stand By Me 25 Years Later

Where does the time go?  Has it really been twenty-five years since the movie Stand By Me was released?  Based on the novella, The Body, by Stephen King, it proved to the world that King could tell some wonderful nostalgic tales and not just supernatural horror stories.  Stand By Me did have some horror in it, but of the realistic variety. 

Now, a quarter century after it debuted, the surviving big names in the cast and crew reunited to celebrate the audience favorite film (and to announce the release of the 25th anniversary Blu-Ray).  River Phoenix, who played Chris Chambers, sadly passed away in 1993 (far too young), but his fellow actors were there -- Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, Richard Dreyfuss (the movie's narrator), and director Rob Reiner (I will have to write a retrospective on his movies soon, he really is an excellent filmmaker).  It would have been nice if Kiefer Sutherland, who played Ace Merrill, was also there, but, alas, we can't have everything. 

Stephen King managed to tell a classic coming-of-age story about a group of boys searching for the body of a missing kid.  Reiner perfectly captured the look and feel of the "summer of 1959," blending humor with adventure.  There's plenty of drama as the boys are threatened by a teenage gang, and loads of nostalgia for any age, really, conveying universal truths about growing up. 

Stand By Me is a heroic journey, a cinematic gem that touches the heart, inspires the mind, and thrills the gut.  In the two and a half decades since the movie has been released, if you have never seen it, now is the perfect time.  Check it out, and be entertained.  As the tagline says, "For some, it's the last real taste of innocence, and the first real taste of life. But for everyone, it's the time that memories are made of."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bringing Neil Gaiman Stories to Life

One of the greatest living writers today is Neil Gaiman, so I was excited to learn last year that his classic comic book series, The Sandman, might be adapted for television.  Then, it seemed like the idea of bringing the award-winning series to life might be dead, but hope is still alive and we might see the adventures of the Lord of Dreams on our TV screens.  

Some of Gaiman's other works have been adapted already: the urban fantasy Neverwhere, which was made into a BBC television show; the movie Stardust, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Claire Danes; and the stop-motion animated motion picture, Coraline.  (Gaiman has also proven his writing chops on other film and TV projects, such as Babylon 5, Beowulf, Doctor Who, MirrorMask, and Princess Mononoke.)

I hope his masterpiece, The Sandman, makes it to the screen and turns into a hit.  In the meantime, here are some other Gaiman stories that I would love to see adapted:

American Gods and Anansi Boys -- I really enjoyed these two novels.  The first focused on mythological deities usurped by new modern gods of technology, drugs, media, celebrity, consumerism, etc. The sequel book centered on the feuding sons of Mr. Nancy, the spider-like being of West African and Caribbean folklore seen in the previous novel.  I'm sure many actors will beg to be cast as Shadow, Fat Charlie, or any of the other dynamic characters in this terrific fantasy tales.

Good Omens -- This is one of my favorites, co-written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, a comedic look at the battle between good and evil during the End Times.  The book is hilarious and a live action version would be just as funny.  Unless they stray from the source material, there's no way they could screw this up (but then again, we're talking about Hollywood here.)

Odd and the Frost Giants -- If the superhero flickThor makes Norse mythology trendy again with mainstream audiences, then why not adapt this fine little tale about banished gods trying to reclaim Asgard?

Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things -- These collections of short stories are loaded with golden nuggets that would make great episodes of a Twilight Zone type series or as stand-alone movies or shows: "Troll Bridge," "Vampire Sestina," "Snow, Glass, Apples," "Harlequin Valentine," "Goliath," "How to Talk to Girls at Parties," just to name a few.

Interworld -- A blend of fantasy and science fiction, this novel about parallel universes, written by Gaiman and Michael Reeves, is another great story that would make a good adaptation.

If you've never read anything by Gaiman before, hunt down some of his stories and you won't be disappointed.  Otherwise, check out some of the films and shows inspired by his ideas.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Milestones in Self-Publishing

On top of everything else I'm doing, I'm seriously considering writing a couple of books, and I'm leaning toward self-publishing.  A lot of my friends and family are encouraging me, so we'll see how it goes.  It started me thinking about success stories in self-publishing history, those brave writers who struck gold without a traditional publisher.  I did a quick search on self-published bestsellers, and here is what I discovered (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Self-published works that find large audiences are extremely rare, and are usually the result of self-promotion. However, many works now considered classic were originally self-published, including the original writings of William Blake, Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman, William Morris, and James Joyce.

Spartacus by Howard Fast
(during the McCarthy era when he was rejected by previous large scale publishers)

Elfquest by Wendy and Richard Pini

The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

A Choice, Not An Echo by Phyllis Schlafly

The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer

What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles

Poems in Prose by Oscar Wilde

In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters

Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen

The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans

Invisible Life by E. Lynn Harris

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte

Contest by Matthew Reilly

Eragon by Christopher Paolini
(The book was later published by Knopf)

Shadowmancer by G. P. Taylor
(The book was later published by Faber & Faber)

Other well-known self-publishers include: Stephen Crane, E. E. Cummings, Deepak Chopra, Benjamin Franklin, Zane Grey, Rudyard Kipling, D. H. Lawrence, Thomas Paine, Edgar Allan Poe, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, George Bernard Shaw, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, Henry David Thoreau, and Mark Twain.

All those names are motivation to keep writing and worry about publishing once the manuscripts are complete.  Wish me luck.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Replacing Actors

Now that Charlie Sheen has been fired from Two and a Half Men, speculation is rampant about which actor might replace him in the role of Charlie Harper. The Daily Beast has a great article about possible thespians who might fill those "winning" shoes, from the interesting (Emilio Estevez) to the farfetched (Michael J. Fox) to the downright silly (David Hasselhoff). John Stamos still seems to be the rumored frontrunner after denials that Rob Lowe was being considered.  It made me contemplate other actors who have taken over roles established by others. 

Here's my list of the most memorable. I only considered actors who replaced others in the same role, not those who stepped in as new characters when big names departed (such as when Kirstie Alley's Rebecca Howe joined the cast of Cheers after Shelley Long's Diane Chambers, or when Jimmy Smits as Bobby Simone stepped in when David Caruso's John Kelly left NYPD Blue).  I also didn't consider reboots, when stories were retold from a new perspective, like the countless people who played Dracula or Tarzan, for instance -- I only counted them if they were replacing another actor in an existing series (Batman is a good example of this, so see my listing below for more details).  Enough of that, on with the list...

Darrin from Bewitched - One of the earliest examples that come to mind is the replacement of Samantha's husband in the 1960s comedy about an average guy married to (and trying to domesticate) a hot witch. After 156 episodes, original "Darrin" Dick York was replaced by "Darrin" Dick Sargent who played the role for the remaining 84 episodes.  As a kid watching the repeats in syndication, I was thoroughly confused.

Ginger from Gilligan's Island - Tina Louise will always be the gorgeous movie star Ginger Grant, stranded with her fellow U.S.S. Minnow castaways after a three-hour tour gone awry.  I remember enjoying the new TV movies that followed, but being annoyed that other actresses were walking around in Ginger's dress and high heels -- Judith Baldwin in Rescue from Gilligan's Island and The Castaways on Gilligan's Island and Constance Forslund in The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island.  Jane Webb provided the voice of Ginger in the cartoon version The New Adventures of Gilligan, and (trivia alert!) original Mary Ann, Dawn Wells, also supplied the voice of Ginger for the animated Gilligan's Planet. In a bit of irony, Tina Louise actually replaced another actress, Kit Smythe, who originated the role in the pilot episode.

The girls from The Brady Bunch - After the original comedy went off the air in 1974, it returned in various incarnations over the years with a number of actresses playing musical chairs in the roles of the Brady sisters.  Little Cindy, originally played by Susan Olsen, was replaced by Jennifer Runyon in A Very Brady Christmas.  My favorite middle child, Jan, played by Eve Plumb, was replaced by Geri Reischl on The Brady Bunch Hour. Marcia Marcia Marcia, immortalized by Maureen McCormick, was replaced by Erika Scheimer for a few episodes of The Brady Kids and by Leah Ayres for the entire drama version of the series The Bradys.

The kids from the Vacation movies - One of the great mysteries of cinema is why the Griswold kids, Rusty and Audrey, kept changing while the rest of the cast remained the same.  The best, in my opinion, were the originals, Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron, in National Lampoon's Vacation. Jason Lively and Dana Hill took over in European Vacation, followed by Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis in Christmas Vacation.  Ethan Embry and Marisol Nichols wrapped things up in the roles in Vegas Vacation.

Various characters in various incarnations of Batman - Okay, let's go through this series by series.  In the 1960s TV show, starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the Dynamic Duo, two actors played the Riddler (Frank Gorshin and John Astin), three actresses played Catwoman (Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and Lee Meriwether in the movie version), and two actors played Mr. Freeze (Eli Wallach and George Sanders).  In the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher movies, which had the same actors playing Alfred and Commissioner Gordon (and Robin in the last two), the actor playing Batman changed three times -- Michael Keaton starred in the original and in Batman Returns, Val Kilmer played the Caped Crusader in Batman Forever, and George Clooney wore the cowl in Batman and Robin.  Billy Dee Williams played Harvey Dent in the first film and was replaced by Tommy Lee Jones.  In the Christopher Nolan reboot, Katie Holmes played Bruce Wayne's love interest Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins and was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight.

James Bond -- Technically, since the roles of Q and M were often played by the same actor/actress throughout long stretches of the mega movie series, I like to think that it's all one universe and maybe my theory that each actor who played the part is actually a new character in a continuing unified storyline who continues the mantle of using the codename 007.  Hey, it's no more farfetched than the rationale of regeneration that allows new actors to step into the role of Doctor Who.

I have only scratched the surface.  Of all the others I've failed to mention, which are your favorites?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Ugliest Olympics Logo Ever

Years after London officials announced their logo for the 2012 Olympic Games, people are still criticizing it.  I admit it is the ugliest logo I have ever seen and I have no idea how or why it was ever approved, but some of the reaction to it has been pretty extreme.

Iran's crazy leader has gone so far as to claim it spells out "Zion" (if you happen to unscramble and reposition its jigsaw puzzle design) and he has called for Arab nations to boycott the Olympics in response to the perceived "racism" and political message.  Others argue that the logo displays Nazi symbolism.  Still others noticed that it looks like an x-rated depiction of Bart and Lisa Simpson (I had to squint really hard to see that, but as Jezebel said, once you see it, it's impossible not to see it!)

I've seen some much better alternate designs.  Is it to late to just declare a do-over and have a new logo?