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November 2010 Archives

November 19, 2010

TiVo Triage Time

For someone who watches way too much television, a full week of having a vague semblance of a life results in using a lazy Friday night in for a major TV catchup day/weekend. And I might as well blog the binge watching.

How major is this undertaking? Pretty much the only show I've kept up on is The Daily Show and Colbert Report. A quick look through what's sitting unwatched on my TiVo:

30 Rock
30 for 30 (x3)
Boardwalk Empire (x7)
Bored to Death
Burn Notice (x2)
How I Met Your Mother (x2)
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Modern Family
Sherlock (x3)
Rubicon (x9)
Sons of Anarchy (x23 yes, 23: some of those aren't on the TiVo itself, but I just finished season 1 and started season 2 on Blu-Ray and recorded so far all of this season)
South Park (x3)
Terriers (x2)
The Amazing Race
The Office (x3)
The Walking Dead (x3)

Community - "Conspiracy Theories and Soft Defenses"
Community continues its run as one of the strongest comedies of the year. And while not quite as epic as Epidemiology 206 or Modern Warfare, it was as effective of a parody of the conspiracy thriller genre while also managing to focus on the characters and be hilariously funny. By making some things small scale, such as with the miniature car bomb, setting the big chase scene in a blanket fortress, and making the conspiracy about a single credit, Community manages to poke fun at the tropes of the conspiracy genre without losing focus on the characters and, in this episode, the relationship between Jeff and Annie and how they relate to rules. In the absence of Parks and Recreation, Community has effectively become the overall best comedy on television right now.

30 Rock - "College"
In part, having the hilarious Community as a lead-in really does help putting 30 Rock in a more positive light, just like a stand-up comic is always funnier after a great warm-up act. But this season has been a return to form. This season has focused more on Liz and Jack and used Jenna and Kenneth sparingly.

Terriers - "Asunder"
Wow, this show is simply great. Hank and Britt are two very human characters, well acted by Donal Logue and Michael Raymond James. Theirs is the epic bromance of this TV season. But the show is also wonderfully Lebowski-esque, with Hank and Britt out of their depth in noir-ish plots. But what makes the show effective is that Hank is not The Dude. He's actually competent at being a detective. He wants to be a better person, despite realize the shortcomings that led him to where he is. Having Britt and Katie's most important conversation happen off camera was an especially effective way to making the moment more powerful than even the best dialogue and acting could have been. This is not only the best new show of the season, but may be the top show of the season to date.

Bored to Death - "Super Ray is Mortal"
Does enjoyment of Bored to Death decrease the further you are from Grand Army Plaza? There's no show that's more Brooklyn than Bored to Death. The trio of Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson and Zach Galifinakis are perfect as the leads and John Hodgman is always enjoyable as Jonathan's nemesis. It's a shame that the season is so short.

Modern Family - "Manny Get Your Gun"
This is the first Modern Family episode of the season that really clicked for me, probably because it centered around Manny acting like a ten year old going into a midlife crisis.

South Park - "Creme Fraiche"
South Park taking on America's obsession with food television and the shake weight may not have been their most effective episode ever, but it was decently funny.

How I Met Your Mother - "Natural History"
Bob Odenkirk is always enjoyable whenever he shows up on TV. And while Marshall's boss at GNB isn't quite as complete of a character as Breaking Bad's Saul Goodman, his HIMYM character is fine in small doses. More effective was the Barney story and revelation. It nicely subverted the expectation that the whale story was something that Barney simply made up and paid the guard to find in the files, but completely subverted the levity of that storyline. While the show is obviously best when it is succeeds at being funny, like The Office, I'm fine with an episode of HIMYM that advances the story and connects emotionally with the characters without being all that funny.

And that's it for the night. Wow, was that a big concentrated dose of television, without even delving too deeply into the heavier material in Boardwalk Empire or Sons of Anarchy. Or even accounting for the second half of Justified's first season that's been sitting around for months. To be continued....

November 22, 2010

Top Gear USA: Lost in Translation?

Britain and the US are often called two nations divided by a common language. British culture, particularly television doesn't always click with American audiences and adaptations of British series for US television often lose much of the charm of the original in attempting to broaden appeal for us Yanks. (The Office is one of the rare exceptions where the adaptation is worth watching.)

Top Gear has a huge following worldwide because it completely reinvented the way of making a show about cars. Instead of simply reviewing cars, like PBS's Motorweek, the BBC's Top Gear aims to make an entertaining show that involves cars and occasionally actually reviews cars.

The strong personality of lead presenter Jeremy Clarkson dominates Top Gear. He's big, loud, brash and has his own iconoclastic point of view. Any adapatation of Top Gear is going to come up short in finding a host as fitting for the role as Clarkson and also in replicating the chemistry between Clarkson and his co-presenters. The curmudgeonly and vaguely artsy James May represents the opposite brained approach to Clarkson's while Richard Hammond is the affable everyman, usually standing in as the voice of reason.

Because Top Gear is on public broadcaster, it is not beholden to advertisers and the show isn't afraid to review cars poorly. In fact, the show relishes in trashing cars (both critically and literally.) Top Gear is so far off-brand (and expensive) for American PBS, it might have to be watered down for broadcast or basic cable to appease advertisers.

But as great and as British Top Gear is, an American Top Gear could be even better. Clarkson, Hammond, May and The Stig revel in speed, power and destruction -- all things that we do better in America. America has a rich car culture to draw on. While Britain's nanny state mentality towards auto regulation and congestion pricing provide targets for Clarkson to demonize and rail against, there's enough of that in America to use as a scapegoat, but there's also a freer spirit of American motoring.

From the sizzle reel showed at the top of the show, it looks like the History Channel's Top Gear is going to be borrowing liberally from the BBC's archive of challenges. The big film of the first episode pitted a Dodge Viper against a Cobra attack helicopter, in a film inspired by Clarkson's review of the Lotus Exige pitted against a Apache helicopter gunship. Top Gear USA will subject some of Detroit's finest creations to the British Leyland water challenge. And that could be a good thing, because the American iteration of the challenges may well be bigger than the British originals. But although this one was nicely filmed, it didn't really bring anything new to the table. And while the British version highlighted how nimble the Exige is, the US take showed that the Dodge Viper is powerful and clumsy. It might be that the US version may be trying to force square pegs into round holes in order to fit into the Top Gear template rather than create films and challenges that are truly American.

But that's the nature of the adaptation process. The pilot episode of the US Office was a near line for line rehash of the UK Office's pilot. And the reason that the US version is a success is because of how quickly it stepped away from that. Steve Carrell plays with Michael Scott a naivete that runs counter to David Brent's malicious streak. Top Gear US will have to find its own identity. It will retain the lavish cinematography that makes it identifiably Top Gear, but hopefully find a viewpoint that reflects its place in American car culture.

A big part of that is developing the hosts' on-screen personas. It took some time for Top Gear to develop the chemistry between its three presenters; James May didn't even come in to the show until the second season. Fortunately, the US hosts aren't simply aping the personalities of the British hosts. In fact, they're going for a completely different paradigm, which gives me hope that Top Gear USA can find its way.

But what does Top Gear have to do with history? Given that one of the other History Channel shows advertised during Top Gear was Ice Road Truckers, does the History Channel show any programming that's related to history in any way whatsoever? If Top Gear is a breakout success, how long will it be before the History Channel goes through some kind of SyFy-like rebranding?

To adapt a beloved, original show is always a challenge between maintaining the elements that work and not simply copying for the sake of copying. There has to be a reason for making the adaptation. The US version can in fact have a reason for existing and after the first episode is not a complete embarassment. Which is probably a passing grade.

Tim Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter, Top Gear -- TV Review "The two most important things to know about History Channel's American import of the British sensation 'Top Gear': First, no, it's not as good as the original. Second, the new version does not -- in the parlance of those worried souls who keep asking -- suck."

Jalopnik, First Drive: Top Gear USA "It's stretching the capabilities of understatement to say that the domestic edition of Top Gear has a great deal of work cut out for it. The original BBC production is a bona-fide sensation, a hit with people who don't even like cars. At its best, it's pitch-perfect, with the casual banter between the hosts, the high production values, and the obvious love of everything automotive combining into something really magic. It's lightning in a bottle, and there's really nothing else like it. Except now, of course, the History Channel is trying to make something just like it. And judging from the three episodes we saw, they certainly have their work cut out for them."

About November 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Buzz Rant & Rave in November 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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