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Jonah from Tonga (2014)
Chris Lilley's humor doesn't always translate to American audiences
Chris Lilley's new show - "Jonah From Tonga" - is another in his series about fictitious Australian high school students. This limited-run 6-episode show on HBO looks like it was produced solely for Australian audiences, then picked up by HBO for zero production costs.
It's not like I am watching HBO 24/7 but I didn't see any ads for this new series. I stumbled upon it in the listings and recognized Lilley's name from a previous effort ("Ja'mie: Private School Girl", on HBO in 2013).
Lilley's brand of humor is not for everyone and often comes off as either creepy or racist. In "Ja'mie", Lilley - a 38 year-old man - played a high-school girl which came off as very creepy, even off-putting. For me, there weren't enough funny moments to offset the awkward factor. In this new series, a now-39-year-old Lilley plays a young Tongan teenage boy. Sure, Lilley has a slight build that allows him to play young (think John Leguizamo), but my impression is that Lilley is not nearly as talented as Leguizamo. Just dropping F-bombs and displaying generally contemptible behavior is not enough to make this character watchable.
Lilley is building a stable of disenfranchised characters from presumably fictitious Summer Heights High School. So it wouldn't be surprising to see a movie in the works that incorporates all of the characters, including his signature teens Ja'mie and Jonah.
There are some fans of Lilley's here and that's fine. However, I found his humor to be wanting at best. There may be some cultural things that we Americans don't get, or maybe Lilley's humor is intentionally uncomfortable and awkward - not unlike Andy Kaufman (but again, not as talented as Kaufman). I was able to get through 3 of the "Ja'mie" shows before deciding it just wasn't worth it. After watching the first "Jonah", I won't waste my time on the remaining 5 shows in this limited-run series.
I give Chris Lilley credit for coming up with something original. But, like HBO's "Girls", the show is polarizing, off-putting, and quickly becomes derivative of itself. If you like Lilley's previous shows, then you shouldn't be disappointed by this new one. But if you weren't a fan of "Ja'mie", you might not want to put this one in your DVR lineup. Watch at your own discretion.
Awful PowerPoints and cubicle farms are fair game in Drones
***Some spoiler alerts***
Think that guy next to your desk might be an alien? Think the girl in the copy room talking to the Xerox machine might be from another planet? You might be right!
DRONES has the vibe of OFFICE SPACE (1999), combined with a little Twilight Zone thrown in for good measure. The birthday cake scene in both DRONES and OFFICE SPACE is painful to watch, for those of you who have experienced that. For good measure, DRONES throws in a company-composed birthday song. Yikes!
There is also a parallel running joke - OFFICE SPACE had its TPS reports, while DRONES has the company database that is being changed from chronological to alphabetical. (Minor point: when you search a network server or database, you can sort it anyway you like, so this issue was really pointless.)
Actors/directors Benson and Busch have put together a nice little indie comedy, but they could use a bit more seasoning and experience. At 98 minutes, DRONES feels long. It might have worked better as a 60-minute TV piece.
All of the scenes takes place in the same drab, all-too-familiar office. There is NO visual variation - this might have been a creative choice, but it could also be done as a simple stage play, requiring very little in set design.
The cast is populated mostly by unknowns, with a few recognizable character actors (Samm Levine, Angela Bettis, and James Urbaniak). Jonathon Woodward brings a sort of Nathan Fillion-vibe to the Brian character, and Angela Bettis as Amy is believable as not being from this planet. The lack of "celebrities" works in this film's favor.
Some technical issues may have been a result of the directors' relative inexperience, or perhaps they were creative choices. Some scenes linger a little too long in the shot, creating awkward moments. Sometimes characters are not in-frame, but the camera eventually pans/tilts to capture the actors. If these were creative choices, they came off more as annoyances.
If you are expecting sci-fi CGI from the aliens, you will be sorely disappointed. Except for a very brief special effects scene (only a few seconds of green light FX), there are no CGI scenes. The aliens are completely human-looking, and you will see no spaceships, explosions, tech gear, or ray guns.
That is likely a budget decision, but it also hearkens back to such TV fare as MY FAVORITE MARTIAN to MORE & MINDY to THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN, and others. Effects were few and far between, aside from a few unusual costumes or a crudely built "spaceship".
DRONES is worth a viewing, but lacks long-lasting memorable scenes that made OFFICE SPACE a "classic" (the latter wasn't particularly big at the box-office either, but it did find an audience in numerous cable viewings). Perhaps DRONES will have an second life on cable as well.
A Lost Opportunity
Caprica was an ambitious series that got bogged down early and never recovered. The fact that there was an exceedingly long hiatus between seasons did not help matters. The series' cancellation was ultimately not a surprise. What is unfortunate is that the completed episodes will not air until maybe 2011. It's not like SyFy has a lot of back-logged content ready to go in place of Caprica. In fact, it looks like they may just be showing re-runs of Star Trek: TNG. Quite frankly, we can see those on numerous other channels (Spike, WGN, etc.).
I watched Caprica from the beginning - its writing was uneven and its pacing was deadly. The plot was interesting, if perhaps overly ambitious. Ronald Moore was trying to create twelve new cultures (one for each colony), although many of these had already been introduced on BSG. He concentrated primarily on Capricans and Taurons, but muddied the waters by adding the virtual world/video game of New Cap City.
I found that the show became more interesting when they introduced elements of BSG, such as the phrase "so say we all" - which we thought of as a military response, but on Caprica it was used more like "amen" by the STO. In the final aired episode, the Cylon that shoots up the Tauron gang says "by your command". It was these elements, though slight, that tied together both generations of BSG - "classic" (if that term is not too dramatic) and re-imagined. If more elements like these were included in Caprica, the show may have attracted more viewers.
I may be alone on this, but I feel that Caprica made a big mistake by not showing any battlestars (they could have been all CGI'ed). Maybe a twist - although perhaps a bit predictable - could have been that Greystone Industries was also involved in military contracting and was building the then-new Battlestar Galactica (on BSG, the Galactica was a beat-up old warship that was about to be decommissioned).
There were also some seeming inconsistencies. On BSG, Lee Adama (Apollo) talks about his grandfather Joseph as if he were the equivalent of a Supreme Court Justice. Supposedly, Joseph Adama was a ground-breaking attorney - and this influences Lee to leave the military and become an attorney. But on Caprica, Joseph Adama was more of a "leg-breaking" attorney. And as far as I can recall, BSG never mentioned that the Adamas were Tauron (if it was, it was just in passing). And what was up with the tattoos? No explanation that I can remember was given for that. It might have been more interesting to have made the colonies more like Earth cultures (Native American, Asian, etc.), since the very last episode of BSG revealed that we are all the descendants of the remaining colonists that eventually settled on Earth.
For a science fiction series, many of us were waiting for the Cylons to be a bigger part of Caprica. It would have been compelling to see how they evolved and why they rebelled. I was really hoping that Moore didn't just turn the Cylons into robots with software that had "daddy issues" - although that was the direction Caprica seemed to be headed in.
On BSG, Moore had the luxury of several years to introduce viewers to the various colonial cultures. Not so on Caprica. The story-telling was too slow and the show lost viewers each week as a result.
Maybe in the hands of another show-runner, Caprica could have succeeded. But we'll just never know.
Knight Rider (2008)
Not as bad as some think, but not that great either
As a viewer of the original series, I was initially glad when NBC announced that Knight Rider was coming back to the small screen. But the 2-hour pilot movie was poorly paced - like a stretched-out 1-hour episode. It tried to connect with the original series by including David Hasselhoff in a very brief cameo at the very end. (SPOILER - Mike Traceur/Knight is the son of the original Michael Knight.) The new series tried to reinvent the original series while making references to the original. But in trying to please everyone, they pleased very few.
Many fans wanted another Trans-Am KITT, but since that model has been out-of-production for years, that just was not possible. I suppose using the new Chevy Camaro would have been one possibility, but since that model was heavily linked to the Transformers movie, it would have been a poor choice as well. I didn't mind using a Mustang as the new KITT and have grown to accept it. In retrospect, maybe using the Chevy Volt concept car as the new KITT could have been a possibility.
Since the producers have a deal with Ford, the new KITT now morphs into various other Ford vehicles, transformer-style. Not only is this distracting, it is such an obvious product placement as to make the show less entertaining. Some fans like this, but many have voiced their dislike of this new feature for KITT.
Acting and special effects in the first half of the season were simply awful. Student films exhibited more skill. Both acting and effects have improved somewhat but there is still room for improvement. The show's executive producer is more versed in car action movies (see "The Fast & the Furious") than he is in one-hour scripted drama.
The new show expanded the original concept into a covert government agency. Many viewers objected to this, so that storyline was changed and 3 principal cast members were written out (including, arguably, the best and most experienced actor on the show). But the show still failed to bridge the connection with the old series. There were numerous references to KARR, but when the big showdown came, it was over in 1 to 2 minutes. The "mysterious past" of the new Michael Knight - which could have been an interesting subplot - was referenced numerous times early on, then quickly explained away with little resolution.
There are fans of the new show, but far too few to justify the expense of this one-hour show's continued production. NBC ranks fourth overall of the Big 4 broadcast networks. Times are so tough for NBC Universal that they announced a $750 million budget cut in December 2008, laid off nearly 1,000 people, and have since announced a reduction in primetime scripted dramas by 5 hours each week (to be replaced with a new Jay Leno talk show at 10 PM Eastern).
In the end, the success or failure of the new Knight Rider must be based on its own merits and shortcomings, not in comparison to the original series. The new Knight Rider appeals to some, but seems to be a poorly conceived action/drama that fails to create characters we can care about. (Make no mistake, the original series was pretty cheesy, but somehow we accepted it and the characters.)
Hopefully, another more skilled production team will take Knight Rider and give it the care and attention it deserves. Maybe this would fare better on a cable channel such as SciFi (also owned by NBC Universal) if the appropriate budget and care could be devoted to it.
Knight Rider: Knight Rider (2008)
Was this a product of the writer's strike?
I wanted to like this more than I did. Unfortunately, after viewing this "re-boot", it looked more like a 1-hour movie that was really, really stretched to fill a 2-hour slot. It really seemed like this was produced, then shelved until NBC started to run out of content. Was the now-settled writer's strike the only reason this got on the air?? Re-boots of old series have mixed results, but there have been some encouraging examples on both TV (the new Battlestar Galactica) and film (the new Bond). Story lines are more complex and characters are more developed. The new attempt at Knight Rider did not achieve this status.
One thing that I found distracting and maybe it's just me was that with one exception, all the vehicles in the show were from the Ford family. This included Mustang, Focus, Edge, Taurus, even Volvo. I find that not only distracting (no road is full of one corporation's products), but also a not-so-thinly veiled attempt at a 2-hour Ford commercial. Only in the final chase sequence did the bad guys switch to a GM-type SUV (with the front grill badge removed).
The "supercar" technology just didn't translate to 2008. And with all the advances, it still had the "cylon" front end with the sequential lights. I had hoped the writers would have taken the 1983 ideas and evolved them further than they did. In many ways, the new car was simply a supercomputer on a very fast platform.
As far as the "bad guys" were concerned, their motivation just never seemed to be plausible. The "Blackriver" tie-in to Blackwater may have been an unnecessary jab by some Hollywood politico, but even if it was unintentional it detracted from the story. A good story line should not be topical, but deal with more timeless conflicts. The bad guys in this movie just didn't display the necessary motivation.
On the positive side, the choice of outfit for Mike Traceur was a subtle nod to the old Michael Knight ensemble. Instead of the red shirt and a black leather jacket, it was a very dark red t-shirt with a dark jacket (maybe leather). Close, but not obvious.
It was also nice to see David Hasselhoff, if only at the end. What spoiled it for me was the fact that he had a starring credit in the beginning of the program. That removed any sense of surprise. In fact, I watched the show waiting to see in what role he would show up in.
The Hoff shows up as, of course, Michael Knight, father of Mike Traceur. Possibly the least emotional meeting in history, at least in the way it was depicted. If the producers are determined to make this a series, it would make internal sense for the Hoff to have a recurring role, but now serving in the same function as the previous Devon Miles character. Heck, he might even see some action again.
All in all, the new Knight Rider was like a visit from an old college friend. Nice to catch up again, but not something you want to make a regular part of your life. Unfortunately, this re-boot needs a re-boot.