Saturday, September 30, 2006

Law & Order

NBC/Universal broadcasts the popular and educational Law & Order series, which has run since 1990.

The series has always done well. Although some of the episodes are graphic, many of them raise issues that should be aired in high school civics classes. An underlying concept is that freedom as we know it is not possible without a grounding in the law that can be applied in a predictable fashion.

In 1999, a subseries called "Special Victims Units" (SVU) started, and in 2001, another subseries called "Criminal Intent."

The show has a huge number of episodes, and some of the recent episodes have been exploring some of the ambiguities of law and technology. A May 2006 epsiode dealt with the webcam and chatroom issues, similar to those that have created a sensation in the media (the Justin Berry case). In September 2006, a girl writes a journal on a social networking site that would appear to incite a crime, and someone she knows actually commmits the crime. She is convicted of second degree murder. But the episode raises serious legal questions about whether amateurs' writings on weblogs and social networking profiles will be viewed the same way that books, magazine articles and movies from established companies are viewed, when these "legitimate" sources present similar materials. Writings by an "amateur" or more likely to imitate real life and incite or entice others to act, or at least appear to do so. This raises what seems to be still unexplored legal questions. COPA (Child Online Protection Act) would appear to deal with online content at face value only.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Runaway

Title: Runaway
Network: CW (formerly TheWB)
Started: 9/25/2006

The setup of this series will remind the viewer of the 1993 Warner Brothers film, "The Fugitive." This time Paul Rader (Donnie Wahlberg) was been framed for murder and jumped bail. The takes his family (wife Lily -- Leslie Hope; kids: Henry (Dustin Milligan, originally born in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories), Hannah (Sarah Ramos) and a grade school boy Tommy (Nathan Gamble) on the lam, the Iowa. The police (it looks like the omnipresent Judith Scott, a staple of thrillers and police dramas, is in charge) are hunting them, and they have to make up stories the way you would play a Schubert impromptu. When stopped for a traffic violation and without a DL, Lily makes up the story that they are "refugees" from Hurricane Katrina.

Henry creates a family crisis, as his own life is compromised by having to hide who he is, even as a teenager. (Forget about myspace, he can't even be anything in the bricks and mortar world.) The whole question of family solidarity, and its moral foundation, comes into question. "I have no friends," Henry says. "You have your family," Paul says. Why should Henry sacrfice for his Dad's mistakes? Henry is not sure that his dad is innocent and starts to run away.

A cat has apparently witnesses the original crime, which is covered up with a bit of computer hacking. If only felines could talk, there would be no problems.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Heroes


Series: Heroes
Network: NBC Universal
Creator: Tim Kring
Premiere: Monday Sept 25, 2006

We've seen the hero idea repeatedly with Smallville, Jake 2.0, Kyle XY, and most of all, The 4400. This time there seems to be some kind of global plot or mechanism to introduce "special" people with genetic mutations able to give future humans extraordinary abilities. We have the male nurse (Milo Ventimiglia) who dreams that man can fly, and maybe he can; the drug-addicted artist (Santiago Cabrera) who paints "evil" images of future catastrophes that always happen. A genetics professor from India Mohinder Seresh (Sendil Maramurthy) starts to investigate and even he could be extraordinary. But it seems that the government has plans for these people, just as in The 4400.

As the series moves into 2007, there is plenty of future manipulation and time reversal, and "man can fly" stuff that emulates the "Fantastic Four" more than Superman. There is also the idea of a vaccine to dull the abilities so that the "hero" cannot harm others (as if he could be possessed with some kind of psychopathic compulsion). That reminds me of "promycin" (the green liquid that looks like green krrptonite) on USA-Paramount's "The 4400" and sounds like a takeoff on the idea that the government sometimes is suspicious of gifted people or different people and wants to neutralize them. That was my experience at NIH back in 1962.

The series also plays on the theme of predicting and preventing (by rewriting the future) a viral pandemic.

Further, it presents the idea of art predicting life, as Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera) predicts the future in his paintings, first noticed by hospice nurse Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimigilia). In the recent (Nov 2007) film "Southland Tales" and amateur screenplay predict life. Teenage character West (Nicholas D'Agosto) can fly in a manner similar to what Clark Kent eventually does as Superman.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Kidnapped - new NBC series


Title: Kidnapped



Network: NBC / Universal;  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Director: Michael Dinner
Writer: Jason Smilovic

This is another new series, supposedly in close to real time like Fox's "24". The program starts out with a broad daylight kidnapping of the 15 year old son Leopold Cain (Will Denton) of has business mogul Conrad (Timothy Hutton) who has made enemies with a hostile takeover. The supposition is frightening. The kidnapping starts in traffic as if it were a carjacking; the middle school brother takes the message back, not to call the cops. Private Eye Knapp (Jeremy Sisto) specializes in getting the tough cases back without involving the police. The family must play him off the FBI. At the same time, the kid seems clever enough to be about to escape. Still, the show maintains that the families of high profile people can be vulnerable, a frightening notion. Compare to the movie Ransom. In the famous 19th Century novel of this name by Robert Louis Stevenson, the kid David Balfour is kidnapped by his greedy uncle's plotting and has to live by hiw own wits and interpersonal skills. We shall see.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Take 3 from Colours The Multicutural Network


Take 3 is a proposed cable television series (following Take 1, Take 2) sponsored by Colours, The Multicultural Network, in connection with the International Diversity Film Market. An event that presented these films is discussed at this
link.

The "Take 3" showing presented four proposed programs, with directorial discussions and excerpts. Each excerpt provided a pretty goods idea of what the finished program would look like.

(1) P.N.O.K. Primary Next of Kin (2005), dir. Carolyn MacDonald, wr. Karyn L. Beach, is a docudrama where soldiers in Army dress greens go to the homes of "next of kin" of those who have died in Iraq (or Afghanistan or other scenarios). The incident as presented is quite emotional, challenging the compassion skills of the soliders.

(2) Eye of the Beholder is a short based on the idea of a haunted painting. The painting can change, with the viewers fantasies. This concept is known from Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray." No relation to the 1999 film om IMDB.

(3) Hope takes us on a journey with a man who, grieving over the loss of his wife, wants to kill himself on the highway.

(4) New Orleans: My Home, My Life, My Love contains many images of the city after Hurricane Katrina.

Update: Sept 12, 2007

I got a call from parties affiliated with the show, and there will be up-to-date information about this show available shortly. Take 3 has a press release PDF file here.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Survivor - Cook Islands

Network: CBS
Producer: Mike Burnett

The 2006 Survivor, filmed in the Polynesian Cook Islands (it's easy to find maps of them with search engines) has created controversy because the four teams are intentionally "segregated" by race. The four teams of five players each are Aitu (Hispanic), Puka (Asian), Hiki (African American) and Raro (Caucasian). The names of the tribes are four-letter sequences from the names of the individual islands on which they are assigned. Visually, the differences among the groups are not that striking, and that is probably intended.

Visually, the show has the look of a Robinson Crusoe movie, or perhaps even Zemecki's "Castaway". The teams are put into a relay race and puzzle type contest that resembles similar tasks on NBC's "Discovery Kids." The losing team has a tribal council and picks who is sent off the island, so we have the reality TV version of "rank and yank" discussed in David Callahan's book "The Cheating Culture." The losing team gets to pick one member from another team to go into exile for two days on a tiny exile island, with a clue to finding a valuable icon.

But what is most interesting is the emphasis in the contest on "tribal" values in a very physical world, a bit of a paradox for those of us used to living virtually in a cyber world. "Tribalism" places great emphasis on social hierarchy, leadership, and loyalty, which, however, must be fractured as eventually each tribe member must look out for #1. An interesting morality play, to be sure.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Kyle XY

Series ran 9 episodes in the summer of 2006 on ABC Family cable.

Who is Kyle XY? A teenage boy (played by Matt Dallas) wakes up nude (in his skivvies for TV) in a park in Seattle, with no memory of who he is. He scares away a snake. He winds up in a juvenile center where he quickly relearns basic bodily functions. He is taken in by a loving family (a therapist and her husband -- the Tragers, played by Bruce Thomas and Marguerite MacIntyre) as a "foster child." The family already has a 15 year old boy Josh (Jean-Luc Bilodeau) underachieving in school, and an older girl (April Matson. They name the boy Kyle, and he seems to be a bit of an idiot savant. But he learns very quickly, picking up conversational English in a couple of days. He seems tireless physically, unable to fall asleep until he sleeps in a bathtub. In school, he can already solve major differential equations, and can memorize all of history by going through an encyclopedia in one afternoon on his first day of high school. He is a good influence on Josh, who suddenly is doing well himself. (Although at one point Kyle takes a take-home algebra test for Josh, in an incident that explores right and wrong.)

The plot thickens as Kyle looks for clues to his past and as the family seems to be stalked. The ending may remind one of Aldous Huxley and "Brave New World" or of a technological future where heterosexuality has lost all of its meaning (George Gilder's prophesy).

Kyle becomes a lovable character. He narrates his story in good, if a bit formal English, and he tends to speak formally when his skills are developed. He does have some of the super strength of a "Clark Kent" in a few scenes, as when he defends Josh in a confrontation at high school.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The 4400

The 4400, produced by Paramount/Viacom, appeared as a science fiction mini-series on the USA Network first in 2004, and it just finished its third season in 2006.

The premise is that 4400 people have been abducted at various times since about the Korean War and suddenly returned near a Cascade mountain lake near Seattle, after what looks like a comet approaches the earth. The 4400 are put into quarantine, and many are found to have special gifts and abilities. Gradually we learn that they were sent back to change the future and prevent the earth from destroying itself with greed.

Jordan Collier is the main guru, and he has a bit of left-wing activism, with a bit of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" thrown in. He sets up the 4400 Center, and the government gradually grows more suspicious of The 4400. Since they are "different" they are perceived as a threat to "normal people" and the show takes on political overtones. Members of the government start secret projects to destroy them (with promycin, a liquid that looks like green kryptonite) or create new super beings. One of Jordan's friends is college-age Shawn Farrell (Patrick Fleuger, another Minnesota actor!) who was taken mistakenly when his cousin Kyle (Chad Faust) was intended. A girl Isabel, daughter of a soldier who was taken in the 50s, grows up immediately and tries to seduce Shawn into a relationship and marriage. We will learn than she was sent to destroy The 4400.

The show says a lot about our morality when we are faced with the unknown. The political issues in the show parallel those of the Patriot Act and Gitmo. Shawn has the gift of healing people and most of the time is a particularly kind-hearted, appealing character, rather like Clark in Smallville.

The 4400 has a bit of a hook, a fancy website with blogs and one can even get text messages on cell phones from the 4400 characters, as if they were real. Maybe they are. It has a fancy theme song, "a place to call our own."

I've dreamed what it is like to be abducted a couple of times, but always returned unchanged, with no new gifts.

The DVD's for Seasons 1 and 2 are available for rental from Netflix.com. Season 1 has a 2-disc series, and Season 2 is 4 discs. I rewatched the first few episodes of season 1 recently, and I would have liked to see a director's commentary. I hope that Paramount will add commentaries for later DVDs.

This series does provide an interesting paradigm for considering the balance between civil liberties for the majority, and draconian measures putatively needed to counter an unpredictable assymetrical threat. In these cases, government often becomes corrupt (as does the character played by Peter Cayote). It also deals with whether people who are "different" and have unusual abilities are are threat to others. What kind of "responsibilities" do such people have? Shawn Farrell's character strikes a good balance. But this show illustrates why I write about television series and movies in relation to political and social issues. In the current political climate, consideration of The 4400 can teach us a lot.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Just Legal

It's good to see that TheWB (or CW) brought back the remaining episodes of Just Legal in August 2006, at least for the Sunday afternoon "easyview."

This series features an 18-year-old prodigy Skip Ross (Jay Baruchel) who goes to work for a down-and-out middle aged lawyer Grant (Don Johnson), who rather reminds one of the seedy Florida lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt) in "Body Heat" (1981). Here, the practice is in skateboard crazy Venuce, CA, and the cases are weird.

The series was canceled or stopped after only three episodes in the fall of 2005. It had been competing with Monday Night Football and had drawn a largely over 50 audience, to the disappointment of the "bean counters." Perhaps this was an embarassment to Jerry Brucheimer, albeit a minor one.

One episode has Skip having difficulty finding an apartment, because landlords don't like to rent to lawyers. Is this really true?