Category: Television


When we last left the Eureka cast, it was a on a high note turned sour.  The Astreaus mission to Titan is ready finalizing for its exploratory mission, goodbyes are being said, but overall, a definite sense of accomplishment and anticipation.  Of course, this means something goes wrong- after all the crew is aboard in their protective chambers, the ship launches uncontrollably with Allison Blake (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) unintentionally aboard.  And that’s where we left off…

Here there be spoilers…

 

Episode 1, Lost- We start off with the Astreaus, and find out what happened.  In fact, it is a solid, surprisingly action-packed beginning to the final season- definitely a welcome surprise- since we left of a cliffhanger and aren’t normally treated to strong action sequences. The crew crash lands- wait a minute, on Earth?- and almost four years have passed.  This comes as quite a shock to the crew, but we see it most clearly with Allison and Zane (Niall Matter), who find out their significant others, Sheriff Jack Carter, (Colin Ferguson) and Deputy Lupo (Erica Cerra), have moved on and gotten together with each other.  Further complicating matters, there has been a change in how things are run in Eureka- it’s very Stepford Wives, except instead of robot replacements, Android Deputy Andy (Kavan Smith) and his A.I. brethren control the people of Eureka using a device from the show’s history.

Aside from the changes in the town, a few things seem wrong.  One of the most prominent elements is how tightly “happy thoughts” are enforced in the town.  When Zane and Lupo have an argument outside of Café Diem, one of the Martha flying drones incapacitates Zane.  In fact, this incident leads to Carter, Allison and everyone deciding it times to take the town back.  After noting the change of Dr. Parrish’s (Wil Wheaton) personality, they know which invention needs to be used.  The ensemble cast gets a good chance to showcase individual members, without it feeling “by the numbers”. Once the Andy problem is resolved, the crew of the Astreaus begin to integrate into the freed town once more.

 

Episode 2, The Real Thing- This episode begins with the return of Beverly Barlowe (Debrah Farentino) in a lab, surrounded by the Astreaus crew.  Each crew member is hooked up, and we learn they are not four years in the future, but tied into a virtual reality simulator.  This is what was teased at when Zane was unconscious, (if you paid close attention and remembered it for a week), but does come out of left field.  We learn that all 21 members of the crew survived and are being used to develop new technologies for the Consortium.  And, we learn that the time skip inside the VR lets helps to form new memories in the crew, as well as explain any anomalies in the program.  Honestly, this reviewer found the lack of transition from Futurama Eureka to in a VR simulation a bit jarring.  A few seconds from the POV of an unconscious character in one episode, to full reveal in the intro of the next? Aside from this point, the surprises play out quite well.

Which brings us back to Eureka.  In the month that the crew and the Astreaus has been missing, Jack, Kevin (Trevor Jackson) and Henry (Joe Morton) have been working furiously trying to find the ship.  Of course, they have been looking to the stars- the mission was to Titan, after all.  Once Senator Wen (Ming-Na) officially calls off the search, Kevin resorts to his old tricks of borrowing from Eureka’s scientists to assist his search.  In fact, Henry confirms that he has designed a device that can track the Astreaus- so Jack and Carter send out a call for the parts they need.  The residents of the town respond with everything they can, just short one crucial piece.  With Andy and the returned Lupo’s help, they are able to secure it from a nearby military outpost.

In V-Eureka, the stress on the system causes an iguana experiment from the mission to become a dragon.  Fargo and Holly disagree on if it can be real, because dragons are mythical.  In fact, no one really can believe it, even after a few minor injuries and capturing said dragon.   Holly’s scratches, however, prove to be the solution to a problem with the VR matrix.

Back in the real world, the tracking device is activated.  Eureka’s best rolls out to rescue the crew, but they only find the ship and the room with the unimportant equipment from the simulation.  This gives Jack a hunch, and which he uses to find out that Eureka had a mole- one who tipped off the kidnappers.  The back and forth between Virtual Eureka and Real Eureka worked well in this episode, and served to play off each environment.  That said, the death of the character feels like it was more for shock value- one might say Whedon-esque- especially given the resources available and the benefits of keeping him/her alive.

The first season of “Falling Skies” introduced us to the world six months after an alien invasion.  Skitters roam the land with Mech (robots) and Beamers (airships), slaughtering adults while capturing and harnessing children.  90% of humanity has been wiped out, with all major governments and cities devastated or destroyed.  Surviving Americans had organized into groups of fighters and civilians based on their location- the focus of “Falling Skies” is the 2d Massachusetts Regiment.  (You can read more about the <a href=>first season here</a>.)  The finale had the second in command, Tom Mason, played by Noah Wyle (“ER”, “Pirates of Silicon Valley”), walking onto an alien ship with a Slender, the alien overseers, after a successful attack on the Boston mothership.

Season two begins three months later, with the 2d Mass leading a Skitter and Mech unit into an ambush.  During the skirmish, Tom reappears only to be accidentally shot by Ben, (Connor Jessup (“The Saddle Club”, “King”)), his formerly harnessed son.  The first episode, “Worlds Apart”, is divided between Tom’s flashbacks in surgery and the group preparing to leave their temporary shelter which is in danger of being overrun.  The second premiere episode, “Shall We Gather at the River”, has a wounded and possibly compromised Tom coming to grips with the changes in the survivors, especially his three sons, as the 2d Mass tries to escape across the last bridge across the Housatonic River.  We conclude with a successful retreat as Red-Eye, a Skitter who has been prominent in both episodes, observing them move out.

The first season felt leaden, with interpersonal morass and without any of the action one would expect of a science fiction military drama.  Season two changes this with a heavy dose of action, more natural dialogue and an enhancement of the special effects.  The invaders feel like a threat, both individually and as a whole.  The 2d Mass looks more ragged and on edge, having lost their home base and taken has been casualties.  We see new members of the group and hear about the Battle of Fitchburg, which was a pyrrhic victory at best.  The group has also been much more aggressive, attacking and setting frequent ambushes- despite having lost their Applied Phlebotinum.  All of this leads to a much crisper drama with characters you vest in and a show you want to watch.

A significant slice of the show’s improvement can be attributed to the new blood, much of it having a Battlestar Galactica pedigree.  Remi Aubuchon, (“Caprica”, “24”) took over as showrunner for the season.  The writing duo of Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, (“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”, “Battlestar Galactica”), also joined the show, penning the second episode.  A great example of their snappier writing in the movement across the bridge long shot, which introduced Crazy Lee, played by Luciana Carro (“The L Word”, “Battlestar Galactica”).  The first season veterans stepped up as well- David Weddle stated, “You can thank (Steven) Spielberg (“Saving Private Ryan”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) for the special effects.  He said, ‘I want them better- especially the aliens.’”  The thanks would be well deserved as the Skitters look more realistic, the Mech more formidable, the Slenders much more menacing, and the series overall feels significantly grittier- all of which are welcome changes.

If the first two episodes are representative of what is in store with season two, “Falling Skies” will be a great addition to the science fiction canon.  Both episodes grew the characters while delivering impressive action- a delightful blend I am looking forward to seeing more of.

 

TL;DR?

The Season two opener of Falling Skies has a much stronger punch than season one combined…

Jeremy Irons, (“Reversal of Fortune”, “The Lion King”), stars as Rodrigo Borgia Pope Alexander Sextus in Showtime’s medieval drama, “The Borgias”.  The second season was concluded with the most recent episode, “The Confession.”  The season has covered several events of the historical Borgia account, from the invasion of King Charles VIII of France, played by Michel Muller, (“Hénaut Président”, “The High Life”), to the heresy of Girolamao Savanarola, performed by Steven Berkoff (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, “Forest of the Gods”).  Even with the multiple storylines weaving forward, the season was able to focus strongly on the Borgia family and secondary characters, bringing them fully to life.

The finale was started in the last episode’s final moment- as Cesare, portrayed by François Arnaud (“Yamaska”, “I Killed My Mother”), ended his fraternal rivalry permanently.  This carried into the main story- what happened to Alexander’s favorite son, Juan Borgia, played by David Oakes (“Pillars of the Earth”, “Trinity”), and who did it to him.  Seeing Iron’s breaking from the loss to realizing who had done it was exceptionally moving.  It was felt strongly in his counter-confession, explaining that favors he bestowed on Juan came so easily because Cesare was so like him.  Then, to follow it with the laying to rest of his son; the scene- the music, the appearance, the contrast to the simultaneous events- is enough to move most anyone to tears.

The Borgias S02E09While “The Borgias” is a historical drama, it takes great liberties with the histories.  The basis of the story, the mafia-esque nature of Pope Alexander Sextus, is taken from the viewpoints of his political rivals.  While the rampant nepotism was the norm of the time, charges such as simony are largely undocumented.   In contrast, Popes Urban VIII and Sixtux V declared him an outstanding pope.  Truthfully, we can see reflections of this exultation or demonization of individuals in modern politics.  Further, the creative liberties extend beyond the papal portrayal- time and events are modified.  The Savonarola reformation and Roman response took place years after Juan’s death, meaning it could not be a factor in Cesare’s actions or forgiveness.  Accuracies notwithstanding, “The Borgias”’s take on the Vatican’s drama of the late 15th century is masterfully done and wonderfully entertaining.

The second season of “The Borgias” comes to a close with a cliffhanger- the plot finally reaches fruition.  The fraternal rivalry has ended, though a paternal schism may have appeared.  Through it all, the majesty and dark recesses of medieval Rome come across vividly.  It is a Rome of depth that is rarely seen from a time that the Eternal City is rarely shown.  All in all, “The Borgias” is a beautifully done, both visually and audibly- which only serves to enhance the great storyline the fleshed out characters travel.  If you crave outstanding drama, you will not be disappointed.

Okay, if you’re reading this, you know who Joss Whedon is…  So, without further ado, his top ten tips for Hollywood writers (and, frankly, authors in general).

1. FINISH IT

Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.

2. STRUCTURE

Structure means knowing where you’re going ; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes ? The thrills ? The romance ? Who knows what, and when ? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around : the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.

3. HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY

This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys ?’

4. EVERYBODY HAS A REASON TO LIVE

Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue : you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny ; not everybody has to be cute ; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.

5. CUT WHAT YOU LOVE

Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.

6. LISTEN

When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.

7. TRACK THE AUDIENCE MOOD

You have one goal : to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theatre, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, ‘Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.

8. WRITE LIKE A MOVIE

Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly ; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie ; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet ?’

9. DON’T LISTEN

Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system ; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction ; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up : they’d started talking about a different show.

10. DON’T SELL OUT

The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie : if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are : that’s called whoring.”

The Borgias- Truth and Lies

Francois Arnaud as Cesare Borgia, Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia, and David Oakes as Juan Borgia in The Borgias

With the destruction of the Papal army in the Siege of Forli, two parties make their way back to Rome.  The first is Hernando de Caballos (Robert Cavanah) and Benito Sforza (Noah Silver), the Spanish general who served as the second in command for the siege, and his prisoner, the son of the Lady of Forli.  The other is Juan Borgia (David Oakes), the Pope’s son and head of the Papal armies, who deserted and fled the battle when the siege was attacked from the rear.  Back in Rome, in pain and in shame, Juan is even more demanding than usual while bragging of his false deeds before the Pope.  Oakes gives a weighty performance through much of the episode- that of a prideful man, broken and descending into madness by way of self-delusion and drug use.  One soft spot was the late night talk with his father, which seemed a bit off kilter- but that may have been intentional.  And, Juan’s pride and how he is handling it will likely be his downfall, an enviable task for Oakes to carry out.

One of the Borgias central themes has been the bitter rivalry between Juan and his brother, Cardinal Cesare (François Arnaud).  After Hernando informs him of his brother’s actions and telling him about Benito, Cesare conspires for the boy and his father to meet.  Pope Alexander VI, aka Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons), encounters the Benito alone in the damaged Basilica.  While Irons has shown the Pope’s ruthlessness to his enemies, real and imagined, he has portrayed a tenderness to children and the innocent.  The nuances in his performance throughout the series, especially when it comes to showing compassion to said children, continues to be remarkable. Despite the fact that his character sent the army to break or murder this boy’s mother, Iron’s shows us the faltering of the Pope’s will when confronted with the human face of an unintended victim.  Which sets up the return of the Benito Sforza while providing proof of Juan’s lies to the Pope.

Concurrent to the more masculine intrigues, we arrive at the mother and daughter of the Borgia, Vannozza dei Cattanei (Joanne Whalley) and Lucrezia Borgia (Holliday Grainger), respectively.  With another marriage alliance needed, the Pope pressured Grainger’s character to get married, though she has resolved to not be married off like cattle.  To solve the problem of Lucrezia’s wandering heart, Vannozza suggests a novel solution; marry the suitor and take his brother as a lover.  This will let the Pope gain the alliance he need, and let her cheat the system.  And while Grainger plays the part well, it is Whalley’s performance in handling the Pope and subtly coercing her daughter that shines most brightly.

Antonello (Jessie Bostick) is the young monk who will become the weapon of Giuliano Della Rovere (Colm Feore) against the Pope.  Bostick’s performance has been from somewhat innocent to outright creepy in this episode.  His emotions seem to have bled out of his portrayal as his character is prepared.  This is highlighted in his vacant description of eliminating an obstacle to the plan.  His representation is all the more chilling given where his character began.

This episode has set the major parts of the final two episodes of the season into play; now to see if they deliver the story as strong as the actors.

One of the things I am doing now is professionally reviewing various television shows/episodes and movies.  Currently, most of the reviews are hosted at PopDecay, “a leading online news, politics and entertainment information delivery service.”  The reviews that go up there are the Streamlined reviews, whereas the ones I post here will be the Robust reviews.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think- civilly, of course.

When we last left the Eureka cast, it was a on a high note turned sour.  The Astreaus mission to Titan is ready finalizing for its exploratory mission, goodbyes are being said, but overall, a definite sense of accomplishment and anticipation.  Of course, this means something goes wrong- after all the crew is aboard in their protective chambers, the ship launches uncontrollably with Allison Blake (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) unintentionally aboard.  And that’s where we left off…

Here there be spoilers…

Episode 1, Lost- We start off with the Astreaus, and find out what happened.  In fact, it is a solid, surprisingly action-packed beginning to the final season- definitely a welcome surprise- since we left of a cliffhanger and aren’t normally treated to strong action sequences. The crew crash lands- wait a minute, on Earth?- and almost four years have passed.  This comes as quite a shock to the crew, but we see it most clearly with Allison and Zane (Niall Matter), who find out their significant others, Sheriff Jack Carter, (Colin Ferguson) and Deputy Lupo (Erica Cerra), have moved on and gotten together with each other.  Further complicating matters, there has been a change in how things are run in Eureka- it’s very Stepford Wives, except instead of robot replacements, Android Deputy Andy (Kavan Smith) and his A.I. brethren control the people of Eureka using a device from the show’s history.

Aside from the changes in the town, a few things seem wrong.  One of the most prominent elements is how tightly “happy thoughts” are enforced in the town.  When Zane and Lupo have an argument outside of Café Diem, one of the Martha flying drones incapacitates Zane.  In fact, this incident leads to Carter, Allison and everyone deciding it times to take the town back.  After noting the change of Dr. Parrish’s (Wil Wheaton) personality, they know which invention needs to be used.  The ensemble cast gets a good chance to showcase individual members, without it feeling “by the numbers”. Once the Andy problem is resolved, the crew of the Astreaus begin to integrate into the freed town once more.

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Episode 2, The Real Thing- This episode begins with the return of Beverly Barlowe (Debrah Farentino) in a lab, surrounded by the Astreaus crew.  Each crew member is hooked up, and we learn they are not four years in the future, but tied into a virtual reality simulator.  This is what was teased at when Zane was unconscious, (if you paid close attention and remembered it for a week), but does come out of left field.  We learn that all 21 members of the crew survived and are being used to develop new technologies for the Consortium.  And, we learn that the time skip inside the VR lets helps to form new memories in the crew, as well as explain any anomalies in the program.  Honestly, this reviewer found the lack of transition from Futurama Eureka to in a VR simulation a bit jarring.  A few seconds from the POV of an unconscious character in one episode, to full reveal in the intro of the next? Aside from this point, the surprises play out quite well.

Which brings us back to Eureka.  In the month that the crew and the Astreaus has been missing, Jack, Kevin (Trevor Jackson) and Henry (Joe Morton) have been working furiously trying to find the ship.  Of course, they have been looking to the stars- the mission was to Titan, after all.  Once Senator Wen (Ming-Na) officially calls off the search, Kevin resorts to his old tricks of borrowing from Eureka’s scientists to assist his search.  In fact, Henry confirms that he has designed a device that can track the Astreaus- so Jack and Carter send out a call for the parts they need.  The residents of the town respond with everything they can, just short one crucial piece.  With Andy and the returned Lupo’s help, they are able to secure it from a nearby military outpost.

In V-Eureka, the stress on the system causes an iguana experiment from the mission to become a dragon.  Fargo and Holly disagree on if it can be real, because dragons are mythical.  In fact, no one really can believe it, even after a few minor injuries and capturing said dragon.   Holly’s scratches, however, prove to be the solution to a problem with the VR matrix.

Back in the real world, the tracking device is activated.  Eureka’s best rolls out to rescue the crew, but they only find the ship and the room with the unimportant equipment from the simulation.  This gives Jack a hunch, and which he uses to find out that Eureka had a mole- one who tipped off the kidnappers.  The back and forth between Virtual Eureka and Real Eureka worked well in this episode, and served to play off each environment.  That said, the death of the character feels like it was more for shock value- one might say Whedon-esque- especially given the resources available and the benefits of keeping him/her alive.