This week, a more in depth look at the new and truly EPIC premiere of Boardwalk Empire, followed by a brief recap/review of the weeks Ghost Hunters, Scream Queens, Star Was: The Clone Wars, and Warehouse 13.
BOARDWALK EMPIRE – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again; it seems like there are better stories on television nowadays than in the movies. Perhaps it’s the seductive nature of creating long-form character pieces that has been attracting such a talented crop of writers and directors to the medium. Just when you think the quality of shows may have reached its crest, Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese bring us the greatest pilot I have ever seen. Bold statement I know, but so very true. Boardwalk Empire is a master class in writing, directing, editing, acting, and tone. HBO has always been on the forefront of great TV, and their commitment to the Scorsese directed pilot at a cost of 18 million dollars (pilot alone) proves their dedication to this uniquely rich series. Throughout this hour and ten-minute pilot, I never once felt like I was watching TV. Here was a show that stands out among Scorsese’s catalog of work, as one of his best.
Where Terence Winter’s Sopranos peered into the ramshackle remains of a modern mob family, Boardwalk Empire transports us to a time where the mob was anything but debilitated. Here we don’t have the burly antihero that was Tony Soprano, we have the scrappy, smart, and mysteriously compassionate Enoch “Nucky” Thompson played pitch perfect by Steve Buscemi. The episode begins with a close shot on a stopwatch, the time reading 9:24. Perhaps this is a foreshadowing reference to Corinthians 9:24 which says “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” After all, the show is about Nucky’s reign as lead rumrunner during Prohibition. Perhaps I’m looking too deep. The scene cuts to a group of small boats penetrating a thick fog to load up on an illegal bounty of Canadian Club whiskey. The haze of a new decade, 1920, and a new law, Prohibition, and the men willing to break through the haze to earn big profits. This fades to the Atlantic City boardwalk, the bright lights like a lighthouse beacon in this new and foggy territory. The show seamlessly recreates the Boardwalk with a careful sense of 1920’s authenticity.
It’s not too early to tell that Nucky is a complex character. His opening scene involves him addressing a woman’s league, celebrating Prohibition in response to their concerns. Obviously he’s great at political bullshitting. Women can’t legally vote at this time, but we can tell right off the bat that Nucky foresees them as a force he must align himself with to keep up with his political prospects. Nucky is Atlantic City treasurer, and as we later see, runs the town with the mayor, and his police chief brother in his deep pockets. The other lead character, Jimmy Darmody played by Michael Pitt, is an ambitious young war veteran with grand ideas of following in Nucky’s footsteps. These characters are sure to conflict over and over as the series plays out. These are strong characters, with incredibly difficult struggles around them, set in a time of sexist, racist sentiments. The pilot basically lays out the carpet of prohibition, allowing us a walking tour through the law, the criminal opportunities which result, and the federal governments steps to handle these criminal enterprises. I could write page after page on this pilot alone, but I’ll end here, and encourage any and everyone to check it out.
Recaps on Ghost Hunters, Scream Queens, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Warehouse 13 after the break!
GHOST HUNTERS – I’ve seen Beetlejuice. I love that movie and hold it as a great work of fiction. It’s that statement that sums up my reasoning for usually avoiding Syfy’s Ghost Hunters. I generally equate paranormal sightings with people hungry for attention, and don’t give them much merit outside of the world of fiction. The thing I always did appreciate about Ghost Hunters was the investigators diligence in trying to debunk each encounter with a logical reason for the event. I decided to check out this week’s episode when I saw that they were investigating the Colonial Inn in Concord Mass. I’ve worked at a small hundred year old Inn in Connecticut now for 7 years, and over the years have been subjected to ghost story after ridiculous ghost story from guests and workers alike. Quite frankly, it’s annoying, and although there’s an odd history of deaths surrounding the place, I have a hard time giving merit to some of the ridiculous stories. Apparently the workers at the Colonial Inn don’t feel like I do, and are more than happy to invite the T.A.P.S. team in to validate their haunting, and subsequently profit from the growing market of haunted tourism. The usual stories of floating apparitions, ghosts sitting around in full Colonial garb, and objects flying off of shelves are recollected from the staff. The Inn was either near, or part of the first war hospital in the U.S Its not entirely clear, but makes for a good ghost story I guess. T.A.P.S. founders (and fellow Rhode Islander’s) Jason and Grant lead their team, including the sexy/nerdy (fanboys like that) Kris Williams to record sound, video, EMF and light readings around the Inn for a night. If I can digress for a moment; was it just me or did investigator Grant look a little hung over and unshaven? Perhaps the ghost of Sam Adams haunted him the night before. Anyways, the team hears multiple strange noises throughout the night, encountering a door mysteriously opening, and a flashlight that turns on when they ask for a sign. At the end of the show, they analyze their findings, all of which lack any sign of the realistic conclusions I once applauded the show for. Instead of entertaining the possibility of creaks and moans as an effect of the three hundred year old building settling, they have no explanation except you may be haunted. I guess somebody better call those parapsychology guys in grey from that other fictional ghost movie I love so much.
SCREAM QUEENS – It can be expected that the modern day Scream Queen needs to possess a strong imagination. The green screen and CGI monster are slowly taking over the practical effects market, and quite frankly, it saddens me. Gone are the days of latex realism and Henson creatures. This weeks Scream Queens flirts with this very idea. In the opening challenge the five remaining girls are tested with a performance that relies simply on them, a green screen, and a strong visual awareness. Host Jaime King has worked on both Sin City and The Spirit, films each shot entirely on a green screen soundstage. You’d think she’d have some sound advice to offer the girls, but all she sees fit to do throughout the challenge is silently watch one sub-par performance after another. Gabby wins the challenge, although I thought Jessica’s subtle approach was far more effective. Jaime King was no help, but the John Homa acting class portion of the show pitted the girls against each other in another unique exercise in creativity. Using real and foam rubber objects, he tasked the girls to get a feel for the weight difference. They attack each other with the foam pipe, and hammer, focusing what they learned about the weight of the actual pipe or hammer to make the object seem real. I really dug this challenge, and thought most of the girls did considerably well. The director’s challenge had the girls contorting their bodies as if they were being attacked by an unseen force ala Paranormal Activity. Again, I thought Jessica did the best, and she went on to win leading lady for the episode. The worst performances of the episode came from the extreme overacting of Tai, who later instigated a heated argument with Gabby about acting quality. I hate contrived reality show drama! In the end, Tai and Sierra were on the chopping block, but Sierra was axed. The shows producers probably saved Tai for some more of that rich, strangely popular drama that viewers seem to crave.
STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS – If Star Trek fans are called Trekkies, what does one call a diehard Star Wars fan like me? I’m going to go with Star Whores because some of you fanboys out there would sell yourselves for a piece of the Star Wars Universe. Now that that’s out of the way, Star Whores Rejoice! Season 3 of Clone Wars premiered this week! The premiere included not one, but two new half-hour episodes. The first episode was a prequel of sorts following the progression of the Domino Squad of Clone Troopers through their military training on the cloning planet Kamino. Domino Squad are brothers in arms FOR REAL. They’re clones. In fact, all of the Republic Troopers are clones of the same man, Boba’s father Jango Fett. The tall Kaminoan aliens who run the cloning facility explain that Jango’s DNA has been stretched thin, resulting in the occasionally defective batch of clones. One such batch, the 99’s are an old hunchbacked group stuck doing maintenance for the facility. The bounty hunters Bric and El-Les who were hired to train the troopers, fear that the under-performing Domino squad may be defective as well. They’re not of course, and they end up becoming one of the more fearless squads in the army. The second episode picks up on Kamino during the present time of the series. The Separatists plan to attack the planet under the direction of General Grievous and Sith assassin Asajj Ventress. An epic Star Wars style battle ensues, with Anakin and Obi Wan leading the now seasoned Domino squad to victory. Even the hunchbacked 99 gets his moment of glory. Star Whores get what they want from this premiere, a ton of space battles, interesting characters, and even a couple of lightsaber duels. It’s an animated show popular with kids, so it’s not deep, and always ends with some cheesy moral lesson. What I really do like about this show is that the infinite details of the Star Wars universe can be explored to great depths. In the end, it’s just an enjoyable half hour of mindless Sci-Fi fun that I can recommend to any fan of the genre.
WAREHOUSE 13 – There’s a fine line between referential humor or homage and straight up rip-off. If you’ve read some of my past TVEye’s you know that its Warehouse-13’s referencing of movies and comics that I most admire about the show. This week however, they crossed that line and wandered around for an hour in rip-off-ville. I don’t know what happened here, but the writers must have had a lapse in creativity. Pete, Myka, and HG Wells are sent to find the long lost warehouse #2, an ancient version of the Warehouse that they’ve discovered hidden beneath the sands of Egypt. What a fantastic setup! There’s so much they can do with a second, ancient warehouse. A wealth of material could funnel out of this storyline, from artifacts of ancient gods, to artifacts of life’s very origin. Imagine! Or not! Instead we are given a blatant Raiders of the Lost Ark, Tomb Raider hybrid laced with corny scenarios and the WORST special effects of the season. HG wears the exact outfit Lara Croft wears in Tomb Raider, which would have been funny if they were subtle about it. HG, Pete, and Myka are pitted against a series of obstacles set to prevent them from entering the tomb-like lost warehouse. Obstacle one: A collapsing ceiling that can only be stopped by rearranging ancient pillars. Obstacle two; a hallway of spinning blades and flaming pits they must cross. I swear, this was an exact level in Tomb Raider 2 and even the CGI in this scene wreaked of late 90’s video game quality. Obstacle 3: A medusa like mind control artifact tries to hypnotize them while the floor crumbles away below their feet. We’ve seen all of this a thousand times before, and there’s barely a hint of the writers attempt to make this tired material they’re own. It’s a perfect example of High Concept meets Low Standards. In the end, they find the warehouse, a cross between the Library of Alexandria and the Great Pyramid of Giza. HG turns on Pete and Myka, shooting them both with her Tesla gun. We are left to wonder if next weeks finale will utilize the possibilities of the new warehouse or the season will end with more missed-opportunity.
Next week, new seasons of Fringe and Dexter, and the premiere of The Event.