Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring is for Nerds (Except the Allergy Part)

Hey there again, internet world.

Where was I this past week, you ask?

Focused on other things, of course, so I kinda took an impromptu week's vacation from updating here. (I've also been a bit under the weather since Saturday, so I haven't been feeling too motivated in regards to blogging.) I got started on part 3 of "Sane Gaming" and plan to have that up later this week, no worries. (For the few of you keeping up with that.) Part 4 will be up perhaps sometime this weekend, I'm hoping, in time to conclude the series late next week in early April. (Much to the relief of those of you ready to get back to two entries a week that aren't gaming-related.)

This past week, I kept myself pretty distracted with - aside from the ongoing novel revision process - an addiction to the Nintendo DS interactive detective novel Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and the Battlestar Galactica series finale this past Friday. (I also finally picked up a copy of NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams on the Wii, the long-awaited sequel to the classic Sega Saturn game, NiGHTS Into Dreams. The game had a mixed and frankly often undeservingly brutal reception from a fairly unpleasable fanbase (Basically, they could've kept the game effectively the same as the original and they would've been shredded for not doing anything new, and so they did some new things with the series and got criticized for that.), but for what it is and the 20 bucks it goes for now, it's a really fun game and quality Sega title in general. It's pretty short - I already finished a first run with one of the two main characters - but well worth what it goes for these days.) Good time to be a Wii gamer in general, now that Rune Factory Frontier and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time are out as of the past couple of weeks. And just earlier in the past 24 hours, Nintendo released the long-awaited storage solution firmware update following their press conference at the Game Developer's Conference, so with that update, you can now buy up to 30+ gigabyte SD cards to vastly expand the amount of internal space you can work with on the Wii for downloaded games, channels, save files for games, and so forth.

In general, this Spring's been a good time to be a science fiction nerd as well, so I thought I'd spend this week's first entry discussing that.

Battlestar Galactica: A Powerful Conclusion

Ganked from Battlestarwiki
As I mentioned before, the Battlestar Galactica series finale aired nearly a week ago now. I first got into the series back over summer 2006 when I was home on break before my final year of college. I caught up on the first two seasons of the show on DVD then before catching season 3 onward as the episodes broadcast. (Including the Razor TV movie back in November 2007.) It's made for thoroughly enjoyable viewing over the end of college and into these first couple of years since I moved home. (It's hard to believe it's almost been two years already. Yikes. I feel like I haven't accomplished nearly enough in that time.) Definitely a show I'd recommend, even if you're not as big on science fiction TV, given its focus on people in difficult situations over following the more explicitly geeky tradition of space opera writing. Easily the best series in the genre to date.

The ending was actually a lot lighter than I expected, though fairly bittersweet, as the reimagining's creators - Ronald D. Moore and David Eick - took the Galactica and much of the remaining main cast through a seemingly suicidal mission to confront the last faction of Cylons, who'd abducted a crucial Human-Cylon hybrid child from the fleet in episodes prior. With the twists and turns the show had taken in regards to the ship's durability, I expected things to go far worse than they did, with the Galactica itself exploding and breaking apart at some point, but the old ship managed to avoid that much. (Though its durability issues still played a key role in the final events.) Some characters died, some characters lived, and they really kept you on the edge of your seat. They did a good job integrating the series' usual elements of spirituality into the conclusion, to in many ways that aspect of the writing served to leave us with a lot of questions in the end, with less than entirely satisfactory answers otherwise. But on the whole, it was an incredible two-hour event, well worth the wait and all the build-up.

Now all that remains of the series is The Plan, the second TV movie, which broadcasts this fall. The film's going to retell the story of the miniseries at the beginning of the show, but from the Cylon perspective, as we only saw the Cylon genocide of the thirteen colonies from the human perspective in the original miniseries. It wasn't until season 3 that Moore and Eick began to give us a look into Cylon society and baseships directly.

Next month, the pilot of Moore and Eick's prequel series - Caprica - will hit DVD and online digital download. Set 50 years prior to the genocide and events that led up to the remaining human fleet's search for Earth in Battlestar Galactica, Caprica's going to tell the story of two important families on the planet and an artificial intelligence breakthrough they make with the changes that brings to their world. (The AI advances naturally precipitating the creation of the Cylons.) The main TV series itself will begin either later this year or something in 2010 - I'm not entirely certain - but considering the high quality of Battlestar Galactica, it should be something to anticipate.

Reaper Returns

After nearly a year's wait since the first season of Reaper concluded on CW last spring, the show returned at the beginning of the month to begin its thirteen-episode second season. The show continues the first season's weekly antics centered around a group of geeky slackers acting as bounty hunters for the Devil, returning escaped souls from hell. Since the series' Kevin Smith-directed premiere back in September 2007, it's managed to maintain its Ghostbusters/Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque humor and appeal.

With a bit of an awkward start, the trio of lead characters returned from an unannounced road trip they'd abruptly taken following the events that concluded season one - with the protagonist, Sam Oliver (Bret Harrison), discovering that he was the son of the Devil. Following an especially challenging first assigned reap - which seemed to be the Devil attempting to kill Sam as punishment for skipping town - Sam learned from another soul that there was a way to recover one's soul from the Devil's possession, but that particular escaped soul wasn't cooperative and disappeared before Sam could get any answers. Resolving the ongoing conflict of whether or not to tell Sam's romantic interest (And eventually girlfriend) Andi (Missy Peregrym) about their work for the Devil in season one, Andi's fully accepted what it is Sam and his friends do, though she hasn't gotten too involved so far herself. (And in the third season, she ended up taking over as the manager of The Work Bench - the Home Depot style home improvement store where the main characters work - after their previous boss, Ted (Donavon Stinson), was fired for hitting on a secret shopper from corporate.)

Several new characters have joined the regular cast in season 2 as well. Sam's friend Ben (Rick Gonzalez) is dating a demon named Nina (Jenny Wade) who usually takes on a very attractive human form. Considering the ongoing storyline of the demon rebellion against the Devil (Ray Wise) and their efforts to assassinate Sam as well, I'm expecting they'll be doing some interesting things with her character as the season progresses. The conflict between her demon nature and efforts to seem human has made for an amusing character to watch so far. After being evicted from their apartment, Sam, Ben, and Bert "Sock" Wysocki (Tyler Labine) moved into Sock's mother's house while she was off on her honeymoon with her new husband. (She'd gotten remarried as a subplot late in the first season.) Living there, they've had Sock deal with his attraction to his new step-sister, Kristen (Eriko Tamura), while she sees him as nothing more than the brother she'd always wanted. And most recently in this week's episode, Sam had to start training Morgan (Armie Hammer), the Devil's other - and favorite - son, who lives a charismatically selfish life without a hint of conscience, seeming an ideal right-hand man for the Devil if not for his self-absorbed ineptitude.

Sam's father who'd raised him (Andrew Airlie) and had been involved in the original selling of Sam's soul that prompted the beginning of his bounty hunting work in the first season made his first appearance of the season this week as well. By now, he was looking more grayed and decayed after having been buried alive in a cage intended to trap the Devil in the season 1 finale, making it clear that neither of Sam's fathers is exactly human. There was some definite concern early on in the season about what they were going to do with the plot threads involving Sam's parents and the demon rebellion following the climactic events in the season 1 finale, as they took a good several episodes to really start getting back to those parts of the story. It's a relief to see them not dropping anything so critical to the ongoing narrative, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the show goes next with its remaining nine episodes of the season. Here's hoping the show maintains this level of quality and CW renews it for a third season - it'd be a shame to see the entire network sink down into programming for teenage girls.

Dollhouse Confounds

Nearly seven years after Firefly's brilliant debut and swift cancellation on Fox, Joss Whedon's back with a new TV series in Dollhouse, which premiered back in mid-February. One would initially question the wisdom of returning to Fox after their incredibly poor treatment of Firefly, but more so than Whedon's series, it's Eliza Dushku's, whose contract with Fox led to the show's inception. She's not the most stellar actress in the world by a long shot, but thanks to her past with Whedon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she's one of the many geek icons Whedon's helped create, and she's certainly enthusiastic about the show, as she showed in her appearance on one of the last Late Night with Conan O'Brien shows. Surprisingly, Fox actually seems to be fully and properly advertising and backing the series - unlike Firefly - so it may have at least some shot at getting a second season. (Which would be ideal, given that there's only 7 episodes left of this season, and the first 6 basically serve as a slow-developing prologue.)

The show's centered around the Los Angeles Dollhouse - an organization attractive young men and women "volunteer" for and have their identities wiped to become like living programmable action figures. Eliza Dushku stars as one of these dolls - or "actives," as they're referred to in Adelle DeWitt's (Olivia Williams) organization - Echo. The supporting cast includes Harry Lennix as Boyd Langdon, Echo's handler; Fran Kranz as Topher Brink; the awkward genius behind the doll memory and personality imprinting and programming; Tahmoh Penikett (Best known as Helo of Battlestar Galactica) as Paul Ballard, an FBI agent searching for the Dollhouse; Enver Gjokaj as Victor, another active; Dichen Lachman as Sierra, yet another active; Amy Acker as Dr. Claire Saunders, the Dollhouse's doctor; and Miracle Laurie as Mellie, Ballard's neighbor, recently outed as a fourth active. It's been leaked online recently that Alan Tudyk (Who played Wash on Firefly) will be joining the cast later in the season as Alpha, an escaped rogue active who'd massacred the Dollhouse in the past and chosen to spare Echo.

Amongst Whedon's fans, the show's been controversial and seen no shortage of negativity as of far. With the actives essentially becoming blank-minded children when they're wiped and effectively prostituted in episode after episode to various ends for the Dollhouse's clients, the show's extremely dark, morally speaking. There's been a lot of focus on sex appeal with these perfect doll characters being prostituted by a largely unsympathetic Dollhouse organization - though some of its members seem to have some carefully guarded misgivings about the nature of what they do - and this has turned off and angered a large part of Whedon's fanbase. It's not light and fun in the same way as his previous shows - no clearer-cut lines of good and evil like with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, or clear sympathies with the browncoats as in Firefly. Episode after episode, we watch these mind-wiped young people get reprogrammed, prostituted, and completely exploited in general. But as sickening as this is in the early episodes, with each episode, we watch as the actives gradually become more self-aware of one another, their connections, and who they are - retaining bits of their programmed memories - and start to grow up, in a manner of speaking. It's once the actives become fully aware of how they're being used and work against the Dollhouse - as they seem to be setting up - that the show's really going to take off in full force. It's kind of sad seeing how fickle so many Whedon fans have been over the dark prologue to the series, though, considering how important it is to be outraged at what the actives are being put through in experiencing the story to its fullest. As the show's progressed, we've only seen Whedon gain more control of the series from Fox too, bringing in more and more of his famous "Whedonisms" in the form of his style of quirky, witty dialogue known for driving his previous works.

Unlike with Firefly, Fox has actually been making an effort to promote Dollhouse, despite its suicidal time slot of 9 PM on Fridays. But by including it in a block with The Sarah Connor Chronicles Terminator spin-off series (Which stars Summer Glau, who was fantastic on Firefly), the show may have a shot. But like the show itself, its advertising has also drawn criticism from Whedon's fans. The advertising largely drips with sexual appeal - which Eliza Dushku's certainly not lacking in - and that comes off as contradictory (Like the human trafficking and prostitution themes of the series itself) to Whedon's known feminism. He's always been about empowering the women in his series - something admirable and refreshing, considering how much misogyny is present in most shows. Fox produced the ads themselves, wanting very much to use sex to sell Dollhouse - which definitely seems tasteless considering the subject matter of the show itself - but Whedon himself has approved of the approach, largely in that he's exploring something different and much darker than the fans like with the show. He's talked about being interested in looking at how people use each other, making one another into objects. Understanding Dollhouse from this perspective seems to be important in fully enjoying the show, as there's a great deal worth saying that Whedon's trying to explore with the show.

It's just a shame that so many of Joss Whedon's fans are so resistant to the moral exploration being conducted with the show, since it doesn't present you with clearly drawn lines of good and evil from the get-go and pat you on the back with constant jokes. Granted, I've missed the witty dialogue myself, but I've got nothing but good feelings about where the series is going, having watched all the episodes so far. Despite the dark nature of the show, the humor elements and witty dialogue have been stepped up each successive week, and it's clear the story's going some very interesting places. When we finally meet Alpha and see Echo, Sierra, and any of the others escape from the Dollhouse and start to work against it - as well as some more development and humanizing of the people working for the Dollhouse - the show may very well transform itself into something fans of Whedon's former works could love. It's just sad that so many were willing to give up on and write the show off after its first couple of weeks despite the seeds for far more interesting future plot development that Joss and the other writers were sowing throughout those episodes.

Let's hope Fox doesn't rush to kill this one off.

Important Things, Flaming Swords, Local Government

In addition to these midseason programming additions to the airwaves, there's some others worth noting and coming up. Back in February, Comedy Central premiered Important Things with Demetri Martin, a very quirky, geeky sort of observational humor variety stand-up/sketch-mix comedy show not conceptually unlike the brilliant Chappelle's Show (And Carlos Mencia's vastly worse Mind of Mencia, as well as David Alan Grier's Chocolate News, which I never watched beyond the first episode so I can't really comment on its quality.). That's been airing on Wednesday nights at 10:30 Eastern on Comedy Central - just before the Daily Show - and I personally recommend it. Coming in early April, Comedy Central's going to be premiering Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire (Which is also coming to BBC2), a comedy series parodying fantasy epics. I'm not sure how that'll turn out yet - from the trailer, it could go either way, especially given Comedy Central's hit-and-miss track record with shows (And often canceling their best, like Upright Citizens Brigade, Dog Bites Man, Stella, and Halfway Home. Even Drawn Togethr was funnier than South Park has been in about a decade. They don't even air reruns of Kids in the Hall anymore, sadly.) - but it looks potentially entertaining, so I'm definitely tuning in to the premiere next month. Earlier the same night (April 9th), NBC's premiering Parks and Recreation, a new mockumentary style sitcom from people behind the American version of The Office, imbued with a similar style of uncomfortable dry humor. It stars Amy Poehler (Who I'm glad to see left SNL, she was completely wasted on there after how funny she was on UCB) and Rashida Jones (Who was a regular on The Office season 3, and has a great comedy track record in general.), amongst others. Focusing on small local government for its comedy, Parks and Recreation looks like a nice break from The Office, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how it turns out. (They basically delayed the mysterious and still rather detail-less "The Office Spin-Off" they've been talking about for a couple of years now for this. The spin-off itself is still said to be on the way in 2010 or so, I believe. It'll be interesting when they finally give us some more information about that.)

At any rate, if you're a geeky individual with an interest in sci-fi TV, I definitely recommend checking all three of these shows out. (In BSG's and Reaper's case, the DVDs being well worth a purchase or rent - another of those situations where things like Netflix and the iTunes store are your friend.) They're all pretty different, but plenty of fun to watch. And undoubtedly better written than Heroes (Which I can definitely say speaking firsthand, as hammy and goofy as Heroes can be) and Lost (Which I haven't watched, but from what I've heard, much of the suspense and hype comes from incredibly messy writing as a result of the writers basically making everything up as they go along instead of really planning things out.).

Spring may be upon us with all the pollen, allergies, and sharp increases in temperature (At least here in the south - another reason I'm hoping to get out of here one of these years), but it's certainly a good time to be a nerd.


ReaperDMV said...

Here’s the promo for the next episode “I Want My Baby Back”:

We could use some help trying to save Reaper, if you'd like to join. We've got an email campaign going on at our news blog and we really need help spreading the word. Thank you.

Benjamin Fennell said...

I saw that after the show last night. Looks like that'll be a funny one, too.

I'll check the campaign and blog out, at any rate, and continue to do what I can to support the show.

CrazyCris said...

Hi, random blogger dropping in from blogger's "Coffee Shop"!

As a big fan of both Dollhouse and BSG I want to say: Great post!

Personally I got a little Battlestar-obsessed last week, and the residuals of that intensity have me not quite realising the show's over. It will probably hit me this weekend when there's no new episode... I really enjoyed the finale, particularly the playing out of Kara's destiny, the touching moments with the characters, the frakkingly crazy plan to save Hera, the brilliant resolution of finding them a new home, and the use of the term "mitochondrial mother" (I'm a biologist) :p I was less excited about Adama isolating himself after Laura's death and Apollo's seemingly also being left on his own (no Dually, no Starbuck, not even Dad... bummer!). Also the culmination of the "Opera House" vision seemed a bit contrived, what the f were the Final Five doing just standing up there looking over the CIC??? I'm sure Tyrol and Tigh had better things to do!!! But still, a shiny (to use a whedonism) ending...

As for Dollhouse, well although I'll admit the first five episodes seemed to be leading pretty much nowhere, they were interesting stories in and of themselves, and were particularly useful to set up the sixth episode where it seems the series is being taken to another level! And if Whedon fans are "true" fans, then they'll have stuck around at least this far because both Joss and Eliza have asked people to do so, they kept repeating how important the 6th episode is, how it's when things start coming together, how after this point there's no more interference from the network etc. So I for one am really looking forward to the rest of it, and hope more viewers turn it to give us a second season!!! (and that goes for The Sarah Connor Chronicles as well!!!)

Benjamin Fennell said...

Hey Cris, I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

I know exactly what you mean. It's still hard to believe that after all these years, BSG's finally come to an end. Kara's final scene with Lee was definitely great, I definitely didn't see the twist there coming. Adama's final scenes with Roslin were really powerful, too. I'm still surprised the Galactica managed to get through that battle with the Cylon colony without breaking apart, too. And I had a feeling the whole "mitochondrial mother" bit on Hera at the end had roots in legitimate science - I'm sure I'd heard the term before somewhere. I enjoyed the transition to present day Earth at the end, even if a lot of people dismissed it as cheesy, bringing things full circle was pretty thematically crucial for the show. And indeed, definitely kind of a brutal ending for Apollo with no one left for him. And definitely agreed on the opera house - the whole image didn't quite work in the end, after using it for seasons. But I was glad when the negotiations with Cavill fell apart as chaotically as they did - it just wouldn't have been right if they'd actually reached an agreement there.

Indeed. I can definitely understand where the desolate feeling fans initially got came from, but there were enough breadcrumbs clearly leading up to something more that I just kept following those, looking forward to each new episode, and the sixth episode last week definitely did the wait justice. I'm really looking forward to see what else they accomplish by the end of the season.

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Benjamin Fennell said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. :)

I'm doing my best to try to keep a fairly consistent update schedule and find interesting things to blog about. I hope you continue to enjoy reading!

CrazyCris said...

Yeah, Lee talking to Kara and all of the sudden she's not there... *shivers* EXCELLENT!

I think I'll sign up to follow and see what else you post further down the line. Keep 'em interesting! ;o)

Benjamin Fennell said...

Indeed, the way they framed that exact moment with the camera was incredible. I can't help but wonder what kind of deleted scenes from the finale might turn up on the eventual DVD, too.

Ah, great! Welcome aboard the strange train- or something to that effect- then! I post a lot of geeky and pop cultural stuff here and there, but I try to blog about all sorts of topics of interest.

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Benjamin Fennell said...

Huh, the exact same comment from two different people - typo and all. Smells like spam.

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.