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When the special first came out, I was disappointed. I thought it was
dull and unfunny, as if the guys were so intent on proving themselves
or making a point that they forgot the essence of The Monkees
(essentially my reaction to Justus). But when I watch it now (it hasn't
been released legally, but you can find it easily enough), I am very
thankful that they made it. I'm thankful because it gave us one last
glimpse of the four of them together, but I'm even more thankful for
You see, the premise of the special is that the old TV show never ceased production -- it just went off the air. Episodes continued being made, but no one ever got a chance to see them. This is episode 781, and it just happened to be picked up for broadcast. According to this special, that's the case for MANY shows. And that, in terms of pure nostalgic fantasy, is awesome! Think about it: all your favorite TV shows -- The Monkees, Green Acres, Rocky and Bullwinkle, The A-Team, what have you -- they still exist! Your favorite characters are still together in some alternate universe, still experiencing new adventures. If you care enough to watch a reunion movie, how can you not love that?
The special itself has a few funny moments (particularly the references to KISS), but it isn't a laugh riot. The guys are much older now and can't bounce around like crazy. There are no romps. I still understand why I didn't like it 20 years ago, but I also understand why I didn't appreciate it. In the 1990s, the Monkees still had a future. They had reunited twice and produced 2 (and a half) new albums. There was certainly more to come. Now, Davy is gone and Mike is retired, and Micky and Peter are unlikely to do much more together. This special, the alternate universe it created, is the part that lives on. It's what we fans still have to dream about, to look forward to. 20 years ago, the guys gave us The Monkees of today and tomorrow. And for that, I am very truly thankful.
Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a new episode of The Monkees this week.
This show wants to be a lot of things (behind-the-scenes drama, white- collar romance, mystery, legal procedural), and it might succeed at some of those if it weren't so dedicated to being a laughable soap -- and a girlie one at that. What do I mean by "girlie"? I mean that every woman on this show is self-empowered, while every guy on this show is either a wimp, a schemer, a liar, and/or is trying to figure out how to get the women to give him something. It's a feminist's dream, at the expense of any believability whatsoever. The only even remotely redeeming factor is that the mystery is actually pretty good. Unfortunately you have to wade through a lot of raw sewage to watch it. Not worth it for me.
Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to a planet to warn its inhabitants of
an impending disaster, only to find themselves trapped in the planet's
"All Our Yesterdays" has echoes of "City on the Edge of Forever" but takes the concept in a completely different direction. Instead of traveling into the past and trying to figure out how not to alter it and never mind how they get back, here they have to figure out how to get back and never mind how much they alter it. The point is, it's a twist on one of the most popular episodes of the series, so the elements are there for a great episode.
Unfortunately, those elements never really come together. Kirk finds himself imprisoned in a Renaissance period and must find a way to escape; Spock and McCoy are trapped in an arctic wilderness and must find shelter. Neither story is particularly compelling, barely filling its time on screen. We also have a frame story set in a "library" where the time travel is managed. That part never feels like anything more than filler. It doesn't help that there's such a short time frame in which the story plays out. This is something that would have worked better over days, not hours.
The best part of the episode is Spock's narrative, as he finds himself losing control of his emotions and falling in love with a woman trapped in the past with him. But that part of the episode doesn't quite make sense. We're told that the effects of time travel will be deadly, but Spock is the only one who shows any adverse effects at all -- and McCoy's explanation of the effects he suffers are nothing like what are described by others. (Speaking of McCoy, his accusations against Zarabeth seem unfounded, as far as anyone actually knows.) And the crew has traveled into the past before; why is it so deadly this time? And why doesn't Spock's phaser work?
Ultimately what we are left with is a feeling of incompleteness. The away team members travel into the past, spend some time in an enclosed area talking to the locals, then return to their own time...and some scenes in a "library" fill out the time. For all that's at stake, nothing seems very urgent or grand. "All Our Yesterdays" is probably one of the better third-season episodes, but overall it's middle-of- the-road at best.
It's the gang's second Christmas special, and everyone is in a rhythm
this time around. The animation is much more polished, the direction is
fluid, and the jokes come quickly and with such regularity it's
surprising this wasn't sponsored by an oat bran product. Yes, this
special is much more in line with the Saturday morning cartoons of the
day than with the story-oriented specials of years past. And because of
that, it's perfectly suited for a fun family holiday special.
But for all this outing does right, it has no soul -- none at all. In the original, Charlie Brown lamented the commercialization of Christmas; in this one he embraces it. In the original, the jokes flowed from the characters (e.g., Snoopy mimicking Lucy); in this one it's all interchangeable punchlines (Sally sounds remarkably like Lucy in this outing).
What it really boils down to is depth. There is none in this second outing. It's just jokes, just vignettes, just a contractual obligation to churn out another special. The original dared to explore what it would take to get a perpetual optimist to give up on Christmas; this one is about buying gifts and memorizing lines for a Christmas play. Again, it's Saturday morning cartoon fodder.
We watch this one every year, and the kids enjoy it well enough. But it doesn't have the underlying appeal that I look for these days. And now that I'm older, I long for stories rather than just jokes. So yes, we watch this one every year, but to me there is only one Peanuts Christmas "special".
There's a scene in "Unfaithful" in which the heroine, Connie Sumner,
drives recklessly through the city streets, a bag of oranges spilling
in the back seat of her vehicle. At first I thought one of the oranges
would roll under her brake pedal and cause a wreck. When that didn't
happen, I thought there might be some symbolism to the shot, as if we
were meant to realize that Connie's life was running out of control
like so much fresh produce rolling on the floorboard of an SUV. Maybe,
or maybe it was pointless, like everything else in the film.
"Unfaithful" is the latest Adrian Lyne flick to hit the big screen (and now DVD), and it isn't any better than or even as good as any of his previous efforts. Unlike "Indecent Proposal", which explored basic consequences of an unusual situation, or "Fatal Attraction", which explored unusual consequences of a basic situation, "Unfaithful" is basic all the way around: woman has affair, husband begins to suspect. There's nothing here that hasn't been done a hundred times before and a hundred times better.
Part of the problem is that we never really have a reason to make an emotional investment in the characters. Connie loves her family, true, but we don't really get to know her, and as a result, we never understand why she would fall for the suave Frenchman she literally bumps into on the street. Nor do we see enough of her husband to really empathize with him. We pity him, but that's a much less interesting emotion. Once the affair begins, Connie's days are filled with sex and her nights are filled with the occasional fear that she will be discovered and the nagging sense that what she's doing is wrong. Again, though, we don't understand why she began the affair or why she keeps it going. The whole thing seems to be based on sex, hardly making her a sympathetic character.
Another problem is the direction. Adrian Lyne seems desperate to infuse the film with meaning, but he never succeeds. More than half the scenes feel completely pointless. The son, for example, has no significant role in the film whatsoever, yet his screen time rivals that of the lover. It may be important for us to see the innocent victims here, but in an art form in which every frame of film has to justify its existence, Lyne bogs the proceedings down with entire scenes that do nothing to expand the plot or the characters. Some may defend it by pointing to the realism of the scenes, but as Tom Clancy once said, real life is boring. If realism is indeed what Lyne was striving to achieve, I guess he succeeded.
What Lyne does well is sex, and this film is full of it. I didn't realize I was going to be seeing a porno movie when I sat down to watch this, but with the basic plot and extremely explicit sexuality, I would have to say "Unfaithful" qualifies as one. Various positions, various locations, it's all here, and it's surprisingly graphic for a major motion picture, so be warned if you find such things offensive.
The movie isn't all bad, though. Diane Lane's performance is excellent, especially in the train scene following her first illicit encounter. It's also nice to see Richard Gere playing a more insecure character than his gigolo persona. There's chemistry in all the scenes, and every relationship seems believable (even if we never fully understand the affair). Really, the only things that are truly awful about the film are the script and the direction, but those deficiencies are far too big for the cast to overcome. What we are left with is a well-acted movie that pushes the limits of what is permissible in an "R"-rated film but fails to expand any horizons.
Coming off the disappointing resolution of Clues, TNG bounces back with
another mystery that has a much more satisfying conclusion. But I'll
get to that (no spoilers in this review).
It starts off with the Enterprise arriving on the scene of a derelict ship: the Brattain. The Brattain's engines have no power, and all its crew are dead (save one, who only has a single vital purpose for the plot) -- it turns out they killed each other. The Brattain's logs indicate an increase in paranoia and erratic behavior in the weeks leading up to everyone's demise. What happened?
The lack of power to the engines is also a mystery. Geordi says everything should work, but nothing does. They decide to put the Brattain in tow, but then the Enterprise starts experiencing engine problems, as well.
The crew also starts to have issues with aggressive behavior, hallucinations, memory loss, and the like. Even when Crusher discovers the cause, there isn't anything they can do about it. Meanwhile, Troi is having nightmares about floating through space and hearing voices. And as Picard realizes that he, too, is not immune, he confides in Data that he may be the one crew member that can keep them from ending up like the Brattain.
All this sets up for a nice, tight resolution to the mystery, but there are also some neat little touches along the way. For example, as the days progress, Troi's hair looks more disheveled. Picard looks visibly older. Crusher fumbles in search of her communicator pin. They sell it. And we buy it.
This is an all-around enjoyable episode. It's everything that's good about Star Trek, rolled up into a suspenseful hour-long episode. Easily one of the best of the season, if not the series.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Who doesn't love a mystery? Picard loves them so much that he creates
them in his spare time in the form of Dixon Hill stories on the
holodeck. This time his recreation is cut short with a deep space
mystery -- a class M planet where none should be. When the Enterprise
investigates, a wormhole knocks everyone unconscious...all except Data,
who tells the captain they were out for 30 seconds.
Strangely, though, circumstances start popping up that point to a much longer period of unaccounted activity -- a full day to be exact. Crusher's seed experiment shows unexplained growth. Troi is going insane. Worf is whining about his broken wrist (when did that happen?). The ship's chronometer has been reset. And so on. Data sends out a probe to prove that there is nothing amiss, but his tale is unraveling quickly.
As it becomes clear that Data is lying, Picard decides that he would rather risk the crew's safety than to let Data face a court martial. (Sure, it's the writers' fault, but it's decisions like this that make me realize I would much rather serve under Kirk than Picard, but I digress...) It's all a very fascinating mystery with higher stakes than one might have expected at the beginning. Then, like those lettered candies that are so colorful to look at, it completely dissolves when you actually try to savor it.
The Enterprise crew returns to the site of the wormhole and we discover that logic has departed this outing completely. You see, this all came about because there were energy aliens who live on or near that class M planet. And they like their privacy, so when their attempt to knock everyone unconscious failed, they decided to kill everyone on board the Enterprise. For some reason they possessed Troi to explain all this to Picard. And just to prove they are superior, they demonstrated that Troi's body is much stronger when possessed. But Picard talked them out of the "kill everybody" plan, and instead the crew agreed to get their memories erased, and then they hatched a plan to fool themselves into believing none of it ever happened. But Data remembered, so he had to promise to keep it all a secret.
Oh, but it gets better! Of course, it didn't work, so now the aliens again want to kill them. No, wait! Picard convinces (???) the aliens that they'll get it right this time. He promises. The first time was a rehearsal. The mistake the crew made was leaving clues behind. This time, they won't question a missing 2+ days' time (apparently wormholes just do that kind of thing). This time Troi won't go crazy (even though she just got possessed for a second time). This time they'll replant Crusher's seeds and somehow won't notice any are missing. I suppose they'll restock the probe, too. But it doesn't really matter because if they get it wrong Picard will just talk his way out of it again.
Don't get me wrong: I absolutely LOVED this episode -- until the end. The end was a cop-out. It was obvious the writers had put themselves in a position they couldn't get out of. I think they must have realized it, too, because they gloss over everything that's wrong at that point. Most telling is that Guinan, after appearing at the beginning, is not even mentioned in the main part of the episode, which is especially interesting since we know (from "Yesterday's Enterprise") that she can sense time disturbances that humans can't.
Oh well, it's only a problem if you want your puzzles to have a logical solution. If you can live with a fun mystery that only fails to add up in the end, you can have a pretty good time with this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The idea of Troi losing her empathic abilities seems at first thought
like a good plot device. After all, that's her defining characteristic.
It's what makes her an "amazing" ship's counselor. To lose that is to
lose everything, right?
And so when she loses it, she totally loses it. I mean, she turns into a complete whiny b-word. But we're to believe this is all understandable. She can't do her job, everyone around her seems suddenly different -- it must be incredibly scary!
But that's where we start to discover the inherent flaws in the concept. Troi describes herself as handicapped, and to drive the point home, she compares it to being blind. But how accurate is that statement? The reason most people don't want to go blind is that it would put them at a severe disadvantage. Living with blindness is inherently difficult. It is impossible for us to empathize with Troi's dilemma because we don't have her ability. Therefore we do not see her as living with a disadvantage; we see her as losing her advantage, as Riker points out. Now she's one of us, just like everyone else. So get over it!
Still, that would be scary, so it's understandable that she would have emotional difficulty. Unfortunately, the entire manifestation of this fear is that she will no longer be able to do her job. Most people who go blind, their first, second or even fiftieth thought is not that they won't be able to do their job. It would have been much more interesting if Troi had tried to reassess her identity as a person. But it's all about her work.
Which raises another issue: How "amazing" of a counselor can Troi be if she needs to be able to cheat to help people? We've seen her use basic cognitive therapy techniques before, so the idea of needing telepathy to do her job is a stretch to begin with. It seems like the worst that would happen is that she would no longer be on the bridge crew to tell Picard that she senses deception from the alien that just told an obvious lie. That might sting, losing such a prestigious position, but it certainly would not justify her actions in this episode.
And if she is so bad at her job that she needs to cheat to be effective at it, how are we supposed to empathize with that? It's like Lance Armstrong complaining that he can't race effectively now that he can't use drugs. Again, just like everyone else.
Even the reason for her "loss" is suspect. We aren't really given specifics, but apparently Troi's empathic receptors get overloaded when the Enterprise get's caught in a swarm of two-dimensional dot creatures. All those thoughts and emotions. Except the whole point of the solution to that dilemma is that the creatures are not intelligent and act purely on instinct. Isn't this about the same as landing on a planet full of vegetation and microbial life forms? Yet Troi has no problem with that.
Okay, I admit it -- that's a lot of thought put into this episode. Not everything has to stand up to scrutiny after the fact. If the episode works while you're watching it, then everything else is second. But this episode doesn't work, because Troi is so awful to everyone...and because we never really share Troi's feelings of loss. We never really see Troi deal with all this, either. Just when it seems like she's about to get a handle on it, she gets her abilities back. Essentially, the show ends at the moment it starts getting interesting!
As for the story about the dots, it's actually a nice sci-fi concept, dragged down only by the utter predictability of it all.
All in all, a very weak and barely watchable episode.
I always enjoy a good mind-screw, so I absolutely loved the premise of
Awake. Michael, a police detective, wakes up after a car crash to find
that his wife, Hannah, perished in the wreck. The next time he wakes
up, it is his son, Rex, who died. And so his realities alternate, and
he is unable (or perhaps unwilling) to determine which life is real.
The premise seems full of potential, but it was also full of pitfalls. The dual realities had different characters, but there were also the same characters in different roles. For example, he was seeing a psychologist in each reality, but they were two different characters. His partner in one reality was merely an officer in another. The criminal in one reality may be an informant in another. That's all well an good -- if we saw these characters together or they talked about which reality they were in. But as the episodes went on, it could get very confusing. Which partner goes with which shrink goes with which survivor goes with which crime? Which reality are we in now? Some might say that we're supposed to feel confused because Michael is confused. But after the first couple of trips through the Twilight Zone, he seems to know what's going on pretty well. And regardless, I don't want to have to keep notes when watching a show.
Another problem lies with the concept of empathy. For example, Hannah is understandably distraught over the loss of her son in that reality. But to us the son isn't dead, so she comes across as more annoying than anything else. Some viewers may disagree with that, but here's the thing: Michael feels the same way. He has a very difficult time relating to his wife because to him Rex isn't dead. So he comes across as cold and callous. Maybe his reaction is understandable, but are we really expected to empathize with him in such an outrageous predicament?
And then there was the conspiracy theory in the show, which seemed more tacked on than essential. It smacked of the post-LOST era, whereas fifteen years ago the producers of such a show would have been happy to save such a thing for the final episode.
Awake had tremendous production values, solid writing and great acting. In fact, in almost every way it was one of the best new shows of 2012. But it was overburdened by the weight of its premise. It was a conceit that could possibly work as a novel, where the omniscient narrator could soften actions by showing the thoughts behind them, and could constantly but subtly remind readers of which reality they were witnessing at the moment. On television, that's much more difficult to do. Even the attempt at color-coding each reality wasn't enough.
So Awake is gone, disappointingly but unsurprisingly. But it's always refreshing to see an ambitious and daringly different new show, so I'm glad they made the attempt.
There's a lot to like about Date Night. I have enjoyed Steve Carrell
since I first saw him as Produce Pete on The Daily Show. And Tina Fey
plays self-deprecation better than anyone. So what could possibly go
wrong by putting them together?
To answer that, first let's look at Get Smart. I really enjoyed that film because not only did it retain the spirit of the original show, but Steve Carrell made a perfect imperfect hero. He isn't suave or cool or tough, but the villains aren't either, so the plot doesn't really call for that. As a result, the movie works.
Now let's look at The Hangover. It's a very different type of comedy -- much more akin to Beverly Hills Cop than anything else. I felt the action took over the plot a little too much at the expense of the comedy, but it mostly worked because both the comedy and the action had a serious, adult attitude to them.
That's where Date Night never really comes together. The comedy is funny enough and very family friendly. It's light, it's enjoyable. And the characters are normal people who just want to have some semblance of the lives they used to enjoy before everything started seeming a bit flat. But the action is more hard-edged than that. The criminals don't seem like the lovable oafs of Get Smart who would patiently wait around while Maxwell rattled off a "Would you believe..." set. No, these criminals seem like the kind that would leave bodies behind. And our heroes seem like the kind who would end up the featured victims on America's Most Wanted. Yet they succeed in bringing these guys down where trained field agents have failed? It's an uncomfortable mixture that never reaches the realm of believability.
Still, perhaps all those things could be forgiven if they were at least consistent in their inconsistency. But the finale takes the action story into ludicrous sitcom territory. The plot resolution would have been a stretch in the 1980s -- I was astounded that this kind of ending could possibly wind up in a modern-day movie. But there it is.
So I must reluctantly give Date Night a thumbs-down. As I said, there's a lot to like here, but the stars don't really play off each other as they might have, and they are completely overshadowed by the action plot. Ultimately, there's no reason to watch this film instead of, say, a marathon of The Office and 30 Rock.
And that's a shame.
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