Friday, September 28, 2007

FanBoyWonder TV: Bionic Woman Needs More Tuning While Viewers Should Do Life

The Upshot from NBC: When a devastating car accident leaves Jaime Sommers (Michelle Ryan) at death's door, her only hope of survival is a cutting-edge, top-secret technology performed by her boyfriend, Dr. Will Anthros (Chris Bowers), and with her new bionics come a covert life that she is not sure she is ready to lead. Meanwhile, the first bionic woman Sarah Corvus (Katee Sackhoff), has her own agenda as she tracks Jaime and Will down - which leads to a showdown between the two bionic women. Also, Will's father, Dr. Anthony Anthros (Mark Sheppard) escapes from a maximum security prison.

After months of waiting and seeing bits and clips of the show here and there, it was nice to finally see the finished product. Yet we felt like we were watching those two-minute replays that NBC offers viewers who missed an episode rather than the full hour-long drama.

The Bionic Woman premiere should have been a two-part/two-hour episode as the storytellers were in such a hurry to establish the status quo of the show’s premise that they gave us only the most fleeting introduction to the characters.

British actress Michelle Ryan plays our All-American Girl Jaime Summers, which she pulls off with a flawless American accent. Not so flawless is the show’s attempt to fool viewers into thinking they’re in San Francisco instead of Vancouver—but we digress.

Ryan brings a girl next-door quality with an understated but real passive toughness to her character—yet given the choppiness of the episode the viewer sees her all over the emotional map during a very short hour episode.

Jaime’s surgeon/professor boyfriend Will (Chris Bowers), while pivotal to the plot, doesn’t impress us so much from what we’ve seen so far.

Since the car “accident” was a hit attempt on Will and Jaime was wrong place/wrong time, it’s nice that he used his position at the top secret technology lab to save her life and rebuild Jaime—otherwise there would be no show.

Yet it really bothered us when we realized that not only was Will a professor, he was Jaime’s professor.

This is the show’s idea of female empowerment in the new millennium—to have our heroine with implied father issues (and a bratty younger sister to care for) to hook up with a pupil pursuing perv??

Yeah, yeah consenting adults and all that but if Brianna The Girl Wonder gets to college and find herself the object of her educator’s affections—he’ll (or she’ll to be fair) will need some bionic replacements of their own.

Suffice to say, there’s some room for improvement with Dr. Will’s character, but not so much as with the aforementioned bratty kid sister Becca Sommers (Lucy Hale).
Now in what looks like a classic case of it wasn’t broke but some Hollywood suit had to “fix” it, the role of Becca had been recast over the summer from when we first saw the preview footage of Bionic Woman.

The “original” Becca, played by Mae Whitman, we admit seemed annoying but that’s what the part called for. Annoying but with serious dramatic friction. Originally Becca was deaf with a huge chip on her shoulder toward her older sister and surrogate mother Jaime.

Amazingly, Mae Whitman is NOT hearing-impaired but played such a character flawlessly from what we saw. But she wasn’t super-cute—especially with the nose ring and punker look.

So out with Mae and in with Lucy who’s Becca has full command of her hearing and is a convicted computer hacker. Lucy’s Becca annoys us on sight—so much so that we regret ever saying anything bad about Mae.

Given this recasting and a few other reported defections, departures and general reshuffles among the top ranks of the show, this is NOT a good sign.

Fortunately, for annoying characters such as Dr. Will and Becca the mood killer, Bionic Woman has Jonas Bledsoe (played by the always brilliant Miguel Ferrer). Jonas is no Oscar Goldman but as the head of the top-secret bionics program, he’s a heavy dude yet we sense more no-nonsense than malevolence.

Also, the antagonist of the show is Sarah Corvus “The first Bionic Woman” played by BSG’s Katee Sackhoff. This is a bad girl and a dangerous woman yet she somehow evokes pity as the viewer can see she’s not wrapped too tight yet at the same time fully in control.

Sackhoff is so good in what she brings to her character that she threatens to overshadow Ryan unless our “good” Bionic Woman elevates her performance and shows us more.

Since Bionic Woman executive producer David Eick made his bones as a pivotal part of the new Battlestar Galactica—a serious character driven drama—and thus justified this “re-imagining” of the 1970s show of the same name on the strength of his success in remaking BSG, it behooves the Bionic storytellers to drill deeper into the character development forthwith.

That said, there is plenty of promise with this show and we have high hopes (as well as high expectations) for Bionic Woman.

That’s Life

While we’re here—a quick word about Life, the cop-drama that follows Bionic Woman on Wednesday at 10 p.m.

Here’s the Upshot from NBC: Life is a new drama about a detective who is given a second chance. Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers) stars as complex, offbeat Detective Charlie Crews, who returns to the force after 12 years in prison, thanks to close friend and attorney Constance Griffiths (Brooke Langton), after serving time in prison for a crime he didn't commit. The cast also includes Sarah Shahi as Charlie's skeptical, demanding partner, Robin Weigart (HBO's Deadwood) as their hard-hitting lieutenant, and Adam Arkin (Chicago Hope) as former cellmate Ted Early.

While the pilot episode was not without its flaws, we liked it and it left us wanting more. We think this show has promise.

We did find the many quirks of Charlie Crews to be annoying –hopefully he’ll find the one or two that work best and stick with those. But it was during the couple moments that he let his mask slip—most notably confronting the guards during a return visit to prison while working a case—that we saw the makings of a great character.

We’ve been a fan of British actor Damian Lewis since his pivotal role as Major Richard Winters in HBO’s Band of Brothers in 2001. Lewis’ flawless portrayal of the noble, stoic yet enigmatic Winters carried the Emmy® winning mini-series.

We have always thought it was a shame that he did not receive wider recognition and a career bounce from what should have been his big break but we hope he, like his character, can get a second chance in Life.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Superman: Doomsday—A FanBoyWonder Review

The Upshot from Warner Home Video: When Lexcorp accidentally unearths the intergalactic serial killer Doomsday; Superman battles the creature head on in the fight of his life…literally. The world collectively mourns their fallen hero; humanity realizes it will never feel truly safe again. Superman’s enemies rejoice – all but Lex Luthor, who grieves the loss in his own demented manner, setting off a chilling chain of events that even he couldn’t have foreseen. Inspired by the bestselling graphic novel of all time, DC Comics' The Death of Superman, this feature-length animated movie boasts exciting action sequences that rivals anything you’ve ever seen starring the Man of Steel.

FanBoyWonder was visiting our best pal and all around Kemosabe when we both screened the film. By movie’s end, we were left in a word—disappointed.

It’s not that Superman: Doomsday was bad by any means. Yet it wasn’t nearly as good as we were led to expect given that this is the first of a series of Direct-to-DVD stand-alone movies designed to faithfully adapt classic DC Comics stories geared toward older kids and grown-ups.

The film’s adapted screenplay did its best to remain faithful to the comics but it simply proved too difficult to condense a year-long storyline which unfolded in the (then) four monthly Superman titles into a 70-minute movie. Even as the adapted story cut away a lot of the storytelling extraneous details, it also ends up excising a lot of heart in the process.

The scripting by Duane Capizzi (of the CW Network’s The Batman) was noticeably weak in several areas. As once and current newspapermen FanBoyWonder and Kemosabe expressed to each other just how little the Daily Planet resembles a real, actual newsgathering enterprise.

Superman: Doomsday earns its PG-13 rating—both in graphic (but mercifully not over the top) battle violence, as well as a scene featuring a post-coital (implied but unmistakable) Superman (Adam Baldwin) and Lois Lane (Anne Heche) during a weekend getaway at the Fortress of Solitude.

In this stand-alone movie continuity, Superman and Lois have been dating long enough to be making the beast with two backs, yet Kal-El is gun-shy about revealing his secret identity to Lois (not that she hasn’t already figured it out)—this is the proverbial key to the apartment relationship/commitment thing.

We know this is the new millennium and all but it just rubs us the wrong way that Supes has been making with the love with Lois yet he’s been lying to her as to who he is. Just old fashioned we guess.

Anyway, with Bruce Timm as producer, Superman: Doomsday maintains a consistent animated look to it reminiscent to his previous Justice League Unlimited and Batman The Animated Series before that. The film’s action sequences rival those of JLU but in no uncertain terms fails to surpass the Justice League television series.

The Superman/Doomsday battle is key to the plot in the first third of the movie and ample time is devoted to the fight and to the subsequent “deaths” of the combatants—but Kemosabe agreed with us that the fight, while well choreographed, left us strangely unsatisfied.

This was a film that was supposed to raise the bar yet we could recall off the top of our head two Superman battles in JLU that were at least equally compelling—Superman vs. Mongol in “For the Man Who Has Everything” and Superman vs. Darkseid in “Destroyer.”

Yet to the filmmakers’ credit, they came up with a much more clever way for Superman to take out Doomsday than the visually clumsy splash page double-punch drawn by artist Dan Jurgens in Superman #75 (the death issue).

Credit to Adam Baldwin as a more than credible Man of Steel. Ditto to Anne Heche as Lois Lane. Although at first we thought we preferred Dana Delaney from JLU and Superman The Animated Series, Heche’s performance of a feisty take charge Lois grew on us.

Case in point: “Oh for God sakes, don’t be such a girl.” Heche’s Lois berates Jimmy Olson (Adam Wylie) when he hesitates jumping into a commandeered jeep to drive to the battle.

Yet Lex Luthor voiced by James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) fell totally flat with us. Yes he got the coldness down but it was totally devoid of any passion or depth whatsoever. For our money, Clancy Brown has set the bar quite high in his portrayal of Luthor brimming with ruthless ambition.

Ray Wise is miscast as Perry White while Swoozie Kurtz was criminally under-used as Martha Kent. In one of the film’s few totally flawless scenes, Lois drives to the Kent farm to see Martha and they grieve together over the lover/son they have lost. It mimicked a similar scene in the comics during the Funeral For a Friend storyline.

Yet we also felt cheated that mother and son never shared a scene together. We felt we deserved to see the reunion between Clark and Martha when Superman returned from his “death”—okay we won’t spoil the plot but yes…it’s say to say that Superman does not stay dead in the movie.

While the movie was an amusing waste of time, it would be worth the video rental fee all by itself to watch the comprehensive documentary Requiem and Rebirth: Superman Lives—a behind the scenes documentary about how the Superman writing staff and other head-honchos at DC came up with the now classic storyline.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15-years but you’ll believe it when you see video from the writer’s room circa 1992. We found it interesting in the extreme to put faces and voices to the names we’ve read in the credit boxes for these many years—such as Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, Louise Simonson and many others.

The creators not only talked about how they came up with the “Death” storyline but it’s also a fascinating view of how it garnered national and even international media attention, prompted lines around the block at comic stores around the country on “Death” day in November 1992.

With Superman: Doomsday in the can, we hope that the creators learn as they go as we look forward to the upcoming Justice League: New Frontier in early 2008.
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