Thoughts on Epitaph One

September 25, 2009

dollhouseWith Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse returning to television tonight, it seems like an appropriate time to discuss the unaired thirteenth episode “Epitaph One”. Staring Eliza Dushku (Tru Calling), Dollhouse is about a secret company that possesses the technology to temporarily imprint human “volunteers” with new skills, memories, and personalities. These imprinted humans, known as “actives” or “dolls”, are hired by the rich for engagements ranging from hostage negotiator to dominatrix. After each engagement the actives are wiped of all memories and remain in a state of innocence until their next assignment. Dushku plays Echo, a doll who begins to become self-aware, while Tahmoh Penikett (Battlestar Galactica) plays Paul Ballard, a former federal agent who becomes obsessed with finding the company’s base of operations, known as the “dollhouse”, and Echo.

For those who don’t know the story behind “Epitaph One”, Whedon wrote a pilot episode titled “Echo” for the new series but pushed it back to become the second episode due to “a few clarity issues for some viewers” and “also some slight issues with tone”.  Although it is included as a special feature on the DVD set, it never aired and was “cannibalized for parts”.  Whedon used “Ghost”, the second episode written and shot, as the series premiere instead.

Fox television’s original deal had been for thirteen episodes of the show, but they included the unaired pilot while production company 20th Century Fox needed a thirteenth episode for international DVD releases.  The result was “Epitaph One”, a low budget standalone episode set ten years in the future starring entirely new characters.  Although the episode never aired on North American television, it premiered at San Diego Comic-Con, has been released on the first season DVD set of Dollhouse, and can be purchased individually on itunes.  The episode, nicknamed the “lost episode” of Dollhouse has received a great deal of press and is credited with being part of the reason behind the second-season pick up because it demonstrated what Whedon could do with a reduced budget.

I was not impressed enough by Dollhouse to buy the first season on DVD, but I did download the episode to my iPod last month as entertainment for a nine hour car ride. When Dollhouse was mentioned on vacation my mom said, referring to both Whedon and the show, “I know you love the man but it was bad”. I am a huge fan of Joss Whedon’s projects and when the news first broke that Whedon was developing another television series I was all ready to shower it with praise, but when Dollhouse premiered I found it to be completely mediocre. In all honesty, if the show had been helmed by any other man I probably wouldn’t have watched the entire season.

However, I disagree with my mom.  I don’t think the show was bad; I enjoyed Alan Tudyk as Alpha in the season finale, and was shocked, but not displeased, when Dollhouse was picked up for a second season. Yet I feel no great urge to re-watch episodes, like I do most of Whedon’s works, and it was more than a month after its release before I finally sat down and watched “Epitaph One”

The fact that I watched the episode more than once during my vacation, and enjoyed it, says a great deal. It’s easily the best episode of the show and there are a lot of great elements to it.  Despite positive critical reviews of the second season premiere “Vows”, which airs tonight at 9:00 PM EST, I’m not so sure that the series will continue at this level.  Personally, I believe that there is one glaring problem at the core of the show that can’t be resolved, but “Epitaph One” is a large step in the right direction and here’s why.  Huge spoilers for the episode are below so stop reading now if you plan on watching “Epitaph One” in the future.

The Plot

whiskey“Epitaph One” opens in 2019  where the technology behind imprinting actives has gone wireless and, in the words of one character, “punk-kicked the ass of mankind”.  Body stealing is rampant and the technology has resulted in the destruction of civilization.  In the midst of the chaos a small band of survivors that have not been imprinted, calling themselves “actuals”, stumble across the abandoned Los Angeles dollhouse.  Glimpses of the events that occurred to shape this future are revealed through flashbacks.

Ethics in the Dollhouse

Despite the occasionally more noble motives for hiring an active, the dollhouse has very often been used as a way for millionaires to play out their romantic or sexual fantasies.  Yet throughout the first season, those running the dollhouse continue to insist that their work helps people, and that they are giving clients what they need.  The actives volunteered for this after all, or so we’re told, and at the end of their five-year contracts their original personalities will be restored.  There are only two characters who are uncomfortable with the idea of imprinting people, Agent Paul Ballard of the F.B.I., whose search for the Dollhouse, and for Echo’s original personality Caroline, becomes an obsession, and Echo’s handler Boyd Langton.

The immorality of using technology to wipe human personalities, and the use of imprinted bodies for sexual encounters, has always been present in the background of Dollhouse, and has certainly been visible to the viewer, but in “Epitaph One” it is in the foreground.

Pitching the dollhouse to a potential client, Adelle DeWitt says, “You are a man who can have everything he wants.  This isn’t just about what you want, this is about what you need.  An active doesn’t judge, doesn’t pretend.  This will be the purest, most genuine human encounter of your life, and hers.”  She is comfortable with renting out actives, but draws a line when Mr. Ambrose announces that the dollhouse will begin offering “anatomy upgrades”, effectively selling the bodies of its actives for a large sum.  At this point it is no longer an experience that is being sold but a person, and even DeWitt, who had defended what the dollhouse had to offer, says “This is wrong.  You can’t do that.” Her decision to disobey indicates for the first time that the dollhouse staff  have a moral line that they will not cross.  Similarly Topher, whose genius made wireless wiping possible, realizes what he has done and suffers a mental breakdown.  In other flashbacks it is revealed that he no longer goes into the imprinting room. For the first time Topher, who previously called the actives “a little bit bison” and shrugs off responsibility by justifying that they volunteered for this, sees them as people.

The sexual use of actives is also mentioned, with Zone, one of the actuals in 2019, unable to believe that the technology which destroyed civilization was “designed to create more believable hookers”.  For much of the first season the ethics of the dollhouse were like the elephant in the room.  Everyone is aware of and uncomfortable with the idea of wiping people’s personalities and renting them out for sex, but it hadn’t been discussed and brought to the forefront yet.  “Epitaph One” has this discussion, and Caroline sums it up best when, at the end of the episode, she tells the surviving actuals that the creators of the dollhouse were “playing with matches and they burned the house down.”

Making Mankind Better

The actives strive to be their best, sometimes asking their handler “Was I my best?”  Whedon plays with the theme of using technology or other means to alter mankind.  Although those in charge may have good intentions, this does not mean that the technology will be used as intended.  Topher’s improvements to the imprinting process were not meant to result in body stealing but his technology creates a war with two sides.

Topher: It was just one phone call, one robo call to a city, that’s all it takes.  An entire army in a single instant, in the hands of any government.  And boom. We went boom.  Millions programmed to kill anyone who’s not programmed to kill anyone.  And then the war has two sides.  Those who answered the phone, and those who didn’t.

Topher and Echo in Dollhouse.

Topher and Echo in Dollhouse.

It’s a theme Whedon has used before.  In Serenity it’s revealed that the reason cannibalistic Reavers exist is due to the Alliance administering a chemical substance designed to suppress aggression and create a planet without violence.  This attempt to make mankind better instead results in a populace who stop eating, working, and caring about anything until they waste away, while the remaining ten percent of the population have the opposite reaction to the drug and become extremely aggressive.

The theme of making mankind better is often used in science-fiction, whether it is through technology or genetics, and the increasing speed of technological innovation makes the fears played upon in genre films and shows very real. “Epitaph One” makes the viewer think about the issues technology raises. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should.

In “Epitaph One” we see the result of attempts to better mankind.  Mr. Ambrose sees “anatomy upgrades” as a way to live on and create an impact on history, saying, “Imagine what one man can achieve if he has no fear, and will live forever.”  Indicating the difference between intent and reality, Adelle tells him “This is not what we set out to do,” but the damage is done.

Raising the Stakes

One of the problems with Dollhouse is that there were no stakes involved, and I don’t mean the sharp and pointy kind. It too often fell into the “case of the week” format where Echo would receive an engagement and Paul Ballard would continue searching for the dollhouse. It’s an easy trap to fall into and many dramas have begun following this format and then successfully branched out to incorporate a larger mythology. “Epitaph One” has given Dollhouse meaning, showing that all that occurs in the present has far-reaching consequences. Now the viewer is aware not only of what the imprinting technology will do, but also of Echo’s importance. Her ability to retain memories after being wiped is critical to the survival of civilization, and that purpose makes her worth watching.

Creating Sympathy

Another early problem with Dollhouse was a lack of empathy.  The actives are all blank slates, and therefore the audience can’t really connect with them on an emotional level.  In the first few episodes the closest I got to sympathising with a character was reluctant handler Boyd Langton.  Topher, who refers to the actives as “a little bit bison” and is the man behind the technology is not immediately likable, nor is Dollhouse defender Adelle DeWitt.  As the show continued the viewers had moments where they sympathised with characters, seeing the real personalities of Sierra, November, Echo, and Victor shine through for an episode, and watching the lonely Topher imprint Sierra as a friend for his birthday.  Still these characters were not thieves with hearts of gold like Mal, or even affably evil like Spike in the early seasons of Buffy.

Felicia Day in "Epitaph One".

Felicia Day in "Epitaph One".

“Epitaph One” remedies some of this, particularly in the 2019 parts of the episode where the audience is clearly supposed to identify with Felicia Day’s Mag.  Mag keeps the rougher Zone in line, feels the loss of a friend when a member of her party is printed, and even cries.  Yet “Epitaph One” takes steps towards making us feel more for the other characters as well.  As Adelle takes a stand against selling the bodies of her actives she demonstrates her humanity.  Similarly, Topher has a mental breakdown, likely when he realises what his technological innovations have done, which makes him a sympathetic character.  Dr. Claire Saunders, who was revealed to be aware of her status as the active “Whiskey” in the previous episode, is also a sympathic character.  As Dr. Saunders she bids Boyd a teary goodbye; As Whiskey she mutters in reply to Mag’s statement that there is no Safe Haven, “Not for everyone”.

With Echo beginning to remember who she is after being wiped, and the promise that Felicia Day’s character will appear again, hopefully the show is on track to having characters the viewer can identify and empathise with.

Emphasis on the Whole Cast

One of the best things about “Epitaph One” is that it not only brings in a new set of characters but also manages to fit in nearly every recurring character from the series.  The surviving band in 2019 include Lynn, Griff, Mag, Zone, and Iris, but flashbacks make use of the whole cast including Mr. Dominic, Victor, Sierra, Paul, Caroline/Echo, and Dr. Saunders/Whiskey.  Mellie/November and Alpha are mentioned but not seen.

Although the connection between Paul and Caroline is to be expected, and Victor and Sierra have been paired before, the episode also very quickly made us feel for the new romantic pairing of Boyd and Dr. Saunders, who I hope we see more of despite Amy Acker being limited to three episodes this season. If the show focuses more on the cast as a whole and less on Echo and Ballard I believe it will be more effective.

The Eliza Problem

elizaI enjoyed “Epitaph One” but one of the reasons I did so was because of the lack of Eliza Dushku.  I watched and enjoyed Tru Calling, and I love the Faith episodes of Buffy, but she doesn’t have a different level.  Although it could be argued that her inability to change characters when she is given different imprints is Caroline coming through, I can’t help but see Faith.

This is not just a matter of reusing actors. I completely believe Amy Acker as Whiskey/Claire, and I loved watching Alan Tudyk as Stephen Kepler/Alpha. In my opinion Eliza just doesn’t have the necessary acting chops to pull off this role and it brings down the show.  This is emphasized by the remainder of the cast, who are all excellent.  Adelle (Olivia Wilde) can be a cold-hearted bitch, but she can also be affectionate and even funny, and watching Topher (Fran Kranz) in “Epitaph One” is heartbreaking.  The true standouts for me are fellow actives Victor (Enver Gjokaj) and Sierra (Dichen Lachman).  Enver and Dichen have the range to play a variety of roles, from fangirl to bounty hunter, and from mobster informant to horse breeder.

Eliza’s Caroline isn’t my only problem with Dollhouse though.  To be honest, I find Paul Ballard dull at best.  As a possible couple they fall into Lost territory where, like Jack and Kate, the romantic leads are the two least interesting characters on the show.  I would much rather see more of Victor and Sierra, or for that matter Boyd and Claire, than Paul and Echo.

Season Two

Jamie Bamber and Eliza Dushku in "Vows".

Jamie Bamber and Eliza Dushku in "Vows".

Despite all the elements I loved about “Epitaph One”, I’m just not convinced that season two will continue in this vein. I’m certainly hoping Dollhouse will prove me wrong though. Tonight’s premiere, titled “Vows” guest stars Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica) and sees Amy Acker’s Dr. Saunders struggling with being an Active.

Dollhouse airs tonight at 9:00 PM EST on Fox.


The Heavy Hitters Return, FlashForward premieres

September 24, 2009
Joseph Fiennes in FlashForward.

Joseph Fiennes in FlashForward.

Monday may be my personal night of television, but Thursday is the night when the most competitive shows go head to head in a battle for ratings. Hoping to reel viewers in before the juggernauts of television return, new Thursday addition Fringe premiered last week, while CW shows The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural began two weeks ago. The Thursday night ratings thus far have generally been good. Although The Vampire Diaries slipped in its second week, the numbers are still encouraging and the CW has ordered an additional nine scripts for the series, “which is the closest step executives can take without committing to a full pickup.”  With both CBS procedural CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and ABC medical drama Grey’s Anatomy returning tonight at nine though, the question is how much will these popular shows cut into the ratings of the other Thursday night competitors?

Eight o’clock is a slightly less competitive, but still significant, timeslot with the aforementioned Vampire Diaries up against Fox’s popular procedural Bones, Survivor: Samoa, NBC sitcoms SNL Weekend Update and Amy Poehler’s Parks and Rec, and the series premiere of FlashForward.

Easily the most talked about new drama, Flashforward has been compared to Lost, and with the sci-fi drama entering its final season in January, FlashForward might be just the replacement ABC is looking for. ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson said, ”The intention was not to imitate Lost, but we’ve certainly been looking for that next hit, and I don’t think we’ve had as special an idea as this since then.” It doesn’t hurt that the cast even includes a couple of Lost alums in the form of Dominic Monaghan, who played fan favourite Charlie Pace, and Sonya Walger, who had a recurring role as Desmond’s love interest Penny. Monaghan’s character Simon will not appear until episode 5 or 6, but in an interview with SFX magazine, he said, “There’s certainly a [Lost] influence on FlashForward in terms of the model of the show, in the same way that Lost has a large international cast”.  The large cast of FlashForward includes a number of familiar faces, such as Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love), John Cho (the Star Trek reboot), and Jack Davenport (Norrington in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy).

Based on a science fiction novel by Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer, FlashForward focuses on the aftermath of a mysterious global event in which everyone on the planet loses consciousness for two minutes, seventeen seconds. During that time, everyone in the world experiences their life six months into the future. FBI agent Mark Benford (Fiennes) creates a database of people’s flash forwards from around the world called the Mosaic Collective in order to determine what exactly happened and why. Naturally, there is already a tie-in website that features accounts of people’s flash forwards which you can find here. Perhaps the best news for potential viewers is that although based on a science-fiction novel, those involved are shying away from the label, with executive producer David S. Goyer promising that ”the only leap you have to make is the existence of the flash-forward”. Additionally, story arcs have already been worked out for five full seasons, which shows an awareness of the difficulties shows with intricate mythologies often face (including Heroes and Lost). This TV enthusiast will certainly be tuning in.

The real competition begins at nine though, with the tenth season of CSI and the two-hour premiere of Grey’s Anatomy. Both shows are extremely popular but have something to prove this year. The departure of William Petersen’s Gil Grissom impacted the procedural’s ratings and although I enjoyed Laurence Fishburne’s replacement, Dr. Raymond Langston, in the few episodes I caught, Grissom is a hard man to replace. CSI cast members and producers admitted that the show stumbled during its ninth season but that this year the show has ‘found its rhythm’ again. Tonight’s premiere, titled “Family Affair”  begins with the team investigating the death of an actress killed in a suspicious car accident and features the return of Jorja Fox’s Sara Sidle.

izzieSimilarly, Grey’s Anatomy had a rough year with the universally despised “ghost sex” plotline that dragged on for far too long and actually managed to make me wish the amicable Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who played Denny on the series) would just go away already. The “cliffhanger” last season left the lives of George (T.R. Knight) and Izzie (Katherine Heigl) hanging in the balance, but even non-spoiler addicts know who survives, so tonight’s episodes are not likely to have anyone on the edge of their seat. The two-hour premiere sees the staff of Sacred Heart dealing with George’s death and Cristina and Owen finding it difficult to abstain from sex, as instructed by Dr. Wyatt.

New to Thursdays is Fox’s supernatural drama Fringe, starring John Noble and Joshua Jackson. The show was heavily promoted by Fox during its first season and was picked up for a second year, but moving the show to the most competitive slot in primetime is a risky move.  After a game changing season finale, in which viewers learned that Peter (Jackson) was from a parallel universe, Fringe premiered last week to almost 8 million viewers and a 2.9 in the 18-49 demographic. The numbers were only a slight drop from its season finale, but there’s no indication of how Fringe will do against Grey’s and CSI. Even the most fanatic of TV enthusiasts only have so much room on our DVRs.  Creator J.J. Abrams is not pleased with the move either saying,“There are many places I’d rather be than there, but I’d rather be picked up for a second season than not.” Tonight’s episode sees Walter trying to recreate travel between realities using frogs while the Fringe division investigates the disappearance of a  highway construction worker in Pennsylvania.

The cast of Community.

The cast of Community.

Also in competition are NBC comedies The Office and Community. Last week The Office had its lowest rated premiere in four years, yet was also the highest-rated show of the night, while the series premiere of Community held onto most of its lead-in for impressive numbers. Community, about a group of misfits who attend Greendale Community College, was well reviewed by critics.

Finally there’s a new episode of Supernatural on the CW (or Sun TV in Canada) titled “Free to be You and Me”. After the Winchester brothers parted ways at the end of last week’s episode, Dean teams up with Castiel to find the Archangel Raphael, who may know where God is, and decides to make Castiel’s last night on Earth memorable. Meanwhile, Sam tries to give up hunting but receives an unexpected visit from an old flame.

Once again being Canadian means more choices in your television schedule. CTV is showing The Vampire Diaries at 7:00PM in order to accommodate both CSI and the 2-hour premiere of Grey’s Anatomy so you don’t have to choose between the procedural and the medical drama.

Happy television watching!

The Monday Night Dilemma

September 21, 2009

houseEach new TV season there is one of those nights; A night where the three hours that make up Primetime manage to include the vast majority of your favourite shows. The actual night in question is subjective, and depends on the TV enthusiast’s personal tastes, but Monday and Thursday are popular choices. These are the nights when the TV enthusiast may call to their spouse or parent “I’m not home!” if the phone dares to interrupt one hour of this sacred night, and when they refuse to leave the house because there is more to watch than their DVR is able to record. For this TV enthusiast that night is Monday, particularly this Monday when a pair of dramas return with competing two-hour premieres.

The dramas in question are Fox’s medical mystery House m.d. and NBC’s ailing Heroes. The former is entering its sixth season after a season finale that polarized fans. To recap, Dr. Gregory House, played by the four times a nominee never an Emmy winner Hugh Laurie, believed that he had detoxed from Vicodin and slept with his boss Dr. Lisa Cuddy, only to realize that he had hallucinated the whole experience and needed help. As Wilson took House to a mental hospital, ducklings Cameron and Chase finally got a storyline tied the knot in an outdoor ceremony. Although some criticized the reveal that the “Huddy”, as the fans have dubbed the relationship between House and Cuddy, sex never actually occurred, I thought it was fantastic. The quick detox and the relationship developed too quickly to have been real and I thought the episode was extremely clever. Tonight’s two-hour premiere, titled “Broken”, opens with House in the asylum making friends with his roommate Alvie (Lin Manuel-Miranda), after he is blackmailed into staying at the institution longer than he had originally planned. House m.d. airs 8:00-10:00 PM EST on Fox.

I’m less optimistic about the fourth season premiere of Heroes. In the confusing season finale the heroes saved the President, but were unable to save Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) from Sylar (Zachary Quinto).  Angela (Cristine Rose), Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg), and Bennet (Jack Coleman), used Parkman’s power on the unconscious body of Sylar, mentally altering the killer’s mind and physically changing his appearance to look like and believe that he is Nathan. It’s one way to kill off a character without eliminating an actor, something the Heroes writers don’t seem to be capable of doing. Tonight’s episodes are titled “Orientation” and ” Jump, Push, Fall” and see Claire (Hayden Panettiere) adjusting to college life while Angela fears that Sylar will discover his true identity. Heroes airs 8:00-10:00 PM EST on NBC.

Barney and Robin on How I Met Your Mother.

Barney and Robin on How I Met Your Mother.

But dramas aren’t the only option tonight. CBS is calling its new line-up, which features three returning comedies and a new one, “Monday to the Max”. It all starts at 8:00 with How I Met Your Mother. In the season finale Ted (Josh Radnor) accepted a teaching job at a University and viewers were one step closer to finding out who the mother is as Saget!Ted revealed that the mother was in the classroom, and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders) confessed to having feelings for one another. Tonight’s episode “Definitions”  features Robin and Barney avoiding “the talk” about their relationship while Ted begins his new job and releases his “inner douche”.

Accidentally on Purpose, starring Jenna Elfman as Billie, premieres at 8:30. The premise revolves around a film critic who sleeps with a young slacker named Zack and ends up pregnant. She begins living platonically with Zack but must also deal with her boss, who she recently broke up with. At 9:00 it’s the return of the popular Charlie Sheen vehicle Two and  Half Men then at 9:30 the night ends with the premiere of The Big Bang Theory, titled The Electric Can Opener Fluctuation“, in which our four favourite geeks return from the North Pole and Sheldon (Jim Parsons)  flies back to Texas, threatening Leonard’s (Johnny Galecki) hopes for a romantic encounter with Penny (Kaley Cuoco).

For the reality inclined there’s the beginning of an advertised “three night premiere” of ABC’s Dancing With The Stars, featuring an all new group of sixteen celebrities including Donny Osmond, Mya, Kelly Osbourne, and Macy Gray, at 8:00 PM. While the CW has the newest episodes of dramas One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl at 8:00 and 9:00 PM, respectively.

The charming Nathan Fillion stars in Castle.

The charming Nathan Fillion stars in Castle.

The 10:00 PM slot is less competitive. You have the choice of a charming, good looking, author who has witty banter with his daughter, mother, and police detective partner, or a detective I’ve dubbed “creepy” who seems to be very attached to his sunglasses. Personally I’m choosing Nathan Fillion in ABC drama Castle, the first season of which arrives on DVD tomorrow. In tonight’s season premiere “Deep in Death”, Castle attempts to fix his relationship with Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) after he looked into her mother’s death against her wishes in the season finale. If you’re really into CSI or sunglasses though, the Miami spin-off premieres tonight on CBS with an episode that reveals how the team was put together and, yes, how David Caruso’s Horatio got one of the most iconic pair of shades on television.

I’m obviously putting in a vote for Castle, but what will I be watching in the packed 8:00-10:00 PM hours? Well there are many wonderful reasons to be Canadian, among them universal healthcare and our reputation as peacekeepers, but a more shallow reason is Canadian broadcasting channels. With Canadian channels picking up nearly every American series, including those that compete against one another in the U.S., and also broadcasting Canadian content, not everything can be simulcast. As a result Global, which owns both Heroes and House, will be airing House from 8:00-10:00 PM and Heroes from 10:00-12:00 PM, leaving my DVR free for How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory. Whichever solution you choose to the Monday Night Dilemma, I wish you an interruption free night of great television.

Thoughts on the 2009 Emmys

September 21, 2009
Tina Fey and Jon Hamm of 30 Rock and Mad Men

Tina Fey and Jon Hamm of 30 Rock and Mad Men

Although Neil Patrick Harris, in his dual role as host and producer, tried valiantly to make the Emmys legendary, in the end they were only “Legen”, let down by the utterly predictable winners.  Hoping to bounce back from last year’s lowest rated Emmy telecast ever, the Academy seemed to be ready for change. New faces like Simon Baker (The Mentalist) and Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) were nominated, the nomination categories were expanded to allow the inclusion of shows with popular appeal, like Family Guy and How I Met Your Mother, and a new addition asked viewers to vote online for their breakthrough moment.  With the selections being from Gossip Girl, American Idol, and True Blood, it’s very clear exactly which demographic the producers hoped to capture, but under the shiny new coat of paint were the same old flawed Emmys.

The show got off to a great start, with an opening number from Harris written by the men behind the new Broadway-bound adaptation of Catch Me If You Can, and delivered one great surprise in the form of a win for Kristin Chenoweth. With the much loved Pushing Daisies in the ground, she wasn’t the expected choice for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy but she was certainly a deserving one. The win caused Chenoweth to, in this wonderful word choice from the Emmy Awards live blog by The Live Feed, lose “it in adorable squeaky tears”.

Unfortunately, at least as far as the winners went, the awards promptly spiraled downhill from here. With 4 of the 5 nominations for Best Writing in a Comedy taken by 30 Rock, there really wasn’t another way the category would go. In perhaps the only other surprise of the night Toni Colette took home the trophy for Best Actress in a Comedy for United States of Tara and Jon Cryer(?!) won for Best Supporting Actor. I’m just waiting for the Kanye macros on this one, as is The TV Addict who tweeted “Jon Cryer… where’s Kanye when you need him?”

“Jon Cryer I’m real happy for you and imma let you finish but  Neil Patrick Harris had one of the best Supporting Actor in a Comedy performances of all time!”

Two-time Emmy Winner Jeff Probst.

Two-time Emmy Winner Jeff Probst.

I’ve never been a Survivor fan and couldn’t care any less about Jeff Probst and his dimples taking home the Best Reality Host award for the second year in a row, but he does have my respect for commending Neil Patrick Harris with “This is how you host the Emmys!”, referring to the dismal performance last year of the five nominees in his category. The Amazing Race took home the award for Best Reality Show once again. Backstage Probst suggested that Race should pull an Oprah and withdraw themselves from the category in order to make room for other nominees. Race producers replied that this was unlikely.

Tabitha and Napoleon’s hip hop number was well done but short. Still, I enjoyed the glimpse of quirky Mark Kanemura.

I don’t know anyone who has actually watched the nominees for Best miniseries and TV movie each year. The only one of the lot I had seen was 24: Redemption, but on a purely shallow level I did enjoy hearing Irish actor Brendan Gleeson’s acceptance speech.

As most have pointed out, the majority of the Emmys audience probably didn’t get the Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog segment at all, but this TV enthusiast adored it. As we’ve come to expect from the Whedon brothers, with the exception of some of Dollhouse, the writing was smart, and Neil (as the titular villain) and Nathan Fillion (as his nemesis Captain Hammer) nailed (yup, pun intended and I make no apologies) the segment, joking about the decreased screen size of the Internet and the buffering message familiar to us all, and even sneaking in a Tonys reference. I’d also hazard a guess that fans of Whedon will be using the phrase “sofa monkeys” in the future.

The other high point of the show, as usual, was Ricky Gervais. The British actor got in the following jabs about theEmmy broadcast quality and its ratings, “Better than last year, isn’t’? Though that was always in the cards wasn’t it?” and “That joke just for the 5,000 people in this room, not for the 5,000 people watching at home.” The Daily Show took home an award for Outstanding Comedy/Variety show and the team behind Hugh Jackman’s Oscar opening number deservedly won for Best Original Song/Lyrics.

Michael Emerson’s second win for his supporting role in Lost was deserved but expected, while Cherry Jones took home an award for her role as the President of the United States on 24.

Bill and Sookie's first meeting was voted "breakthrough performance".

Bill and Sookie's first meeting was voted "breakthrough performance".

Throughout the show, viewers were reminded that they could vote online for Best Breakthrough Performance, choosing between three nominees. Although the segments, hosted by So You Think You Can Dance‘s Cat Deeley, were meant to appeal to a younger female demographic, they only served to draw attention to the fact that one of the classiest hosts on television was one again snubbed. There’s always next year Cat. The performances themselves, taken from American Idol, Gossip Girl, and True Blood, were, much like the Emmys themselves, uninspiring. Predictably, the much loved HBO drama won the popular vote.

Like in the comedy category, the award for Best Writing in a Drama was dominated by one show and if you can’t guess this one then you’re not much of a TV enthusiast are you? Yup, it’s Mad Men. The night wrapped up with a series of wins, each more predictable than the last, as Glenn Close took Best Actress for Damages, last year’s winner Bryan Cranston took home a second trophy for Breaking Bad, and yes 30 Rock and Mad Men were named Best Comedy and Best Drama, respectively.

The general verdict is that Harris did the very best he could, changing up the order of awards, keeping the show moving, and presenting a look at what goes on behind the scenes of the Emmys. Maybe if he had also singlehandedly chosen the winners the show would truly have been legendary.

A complete list of the 2009 Emmy Award Winners can be found here.

5 Reasons Why The Emmys Will Be Legendary

September 20, 2009

neilWhile life may be like a box of chocolates, the Emmys Awards, unfortunately, are not.  Too often we know exactly what we’re going to get with the TV awards show.  The same shows and actors are nominated, the same shows and actors are snubbed, and the same few take home the prizes. The problem is not only the predictability of the awards but also the nominated shows. The Emmys are now dominated by Cable shows viewed by a minority of the general public, such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad, while science-fiction or supernaturally themed shows have often been excluded from the ceremony, regardless of critical reception and popular demand.  The result has been a ratings slide, with last year’s broadcast of the Awards being named the “Least-watched Emmy telecast ever”, garnering only 12.2 million viewers.

Any TV enthusiast who watched last year’s Emmy telecast knows that things couldn’t possibly get any worse.  The show was hosted by the five nominees in a new category, Best Reality/Reality Competition Host, and by the end of the evening all five had proved themselves undeserving of any such award. This year they hope to change all that with a popular and proven host, the elimination of some smaller categories from the broadcast, and some popular first-time nominees.  Here’s 5 reasons why this year’s Emmy Awards just might be legendary:

Neil Patrick Harris

He’s the Host with the Most, an affable comedian who has already hosted numerous awards shows including the TV Land Awards and The Antoinette Perry “Tony” Awards.  Harris is multi-talented, able to sing and dance as well as act, and he comes complete with a fan-base from his roles in the popular CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother and the Internet sensation Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Additionally, he’s not just the host, but also the co-producer of the show!

He told Popwatch, “I feel like it’s my job to honor the show, so I don’t feel like it’s a big showcase for me. In fact, I feel like if I showcase myself too much, it’s a detriment to me. Because it’s the Emmys that you’re watching. You’re not watching Neil Patrick Harris at the Emmys.”  It’s a nice sentiment but I disagree.  This TV enthusiast, at least, will be watching Neil Patrick Harris at the Emmys and enjoying every moment of it.

Tabitha and Napoleon

Fans of So You Think You Can Dance are familiar with lyrical hip hop choreographers Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo, affectionately known as ‘Nappytabs’. The duo, nominated for an Outstanding Choreography Emmy this year for their memorable piece “Bleeding Love”, lost to joint winners Rob Ashford and fellow Dance choreographer Tyce Diorio at the Creative Arts Emmys. However, Nappytabs have choreographed a segment honouring dance in reality television for tonight’s show.  Who will be dancing in this segment?  Well one of my favourite Dance competitors Mark Kanemura for one, as well as fellow Dance contestants Joshua Allen and Katee Shean.  They will be joined by Dancing With The Stars‘ Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chermkovskiy.

PC Announces

You’d have to have been living under a rock not to have seen the popular “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” commercials.  “Mac” is played by actor Justin Long  (“I’m Just Not That Into You”), while “PC” is John Hodgman, who has a recurring role on The Daily Show as the “Resident Expert”.  Well Hodgman is taking on the role of announcer at tonight’s awards and in EW columnist Ausiello’s words he’ll be, “The guy that says, ‘This is Tony Shalhoub’s 74th nomination and 64th win.’” The plan is “to to have him not be entirely credible facts-wise — a la Hodgman’s Daily Show ‘expert.'”

Doctor Horrible at the Emmys

After Joss Whedon’s Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was nominated for an Emmy award in a new category, each fan hoped that with star Neil Patrick Harris hosting there would be a performance or reference of some kind. Yesterday Ausiello broke the news that Harris would headline a “Dr. Horrible-themed production number about midway through Sunday’s ceremony.”  Writer Zack Whedon posted the following on Whedonesque:

I’m not saying I know anything about this or was a part of writing it or that my name is Zack Whedon or anything but if I had to guess I’d say it was NOT going to be a production number but rather that The Bad Doctor was going to intercept the CBS feed to speak his mind. Just a guess though.

And @drhorrible recent tweets have talked about taking down the corporate propaganda machine, culminating in this tweet yesterday: “I’ve got it! I’ll use my interceptorizor to highjack the Emmy broadcast! Now if only I can find out when it is… February, right?”

I don’t need a Ph.D in Horribleness to say that this is great news!

Jeremy Piven isn’t Nominated

I haven’t actually watched Entourage, but even fans of the show have said that it has declined in quality over the past few seasons and Piven’s win for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy at last year’s awards was declared “Most Undeserved Emmy Awarded in 2008” by TWoP readers in this year’s Tubeys.  When Neil Patrick Harris won the A-List Actor Award at Bravo’s A-List Awards he even thanked Jeremy Piven for not being nominated! With Piven absent from the nominations at this year’s Emmys, this TV enthusiast hopes that the door is open for Harris to win his first Emmy for playing Barney Stinson.

The 61st Annual Emmy Awards air tonight at 8:00 PM EST on CBS.

Follow Friday: TV and Twitter

September 18, 2009

twitterI admit it, I tweet. For the uninitiated, “tweet” is the term for the 140 character updates Twitter allows you to post, broadcasting your interests, boredom, or messages to fellow members. Although it has been compared to another social networking site, Facebook, that uses status updates in much the same way, the thing about Twitter is that it isn’t quite so personal. I have a Facebook page and use the site regularly, but I do so to keep in contact with friends and close associates.  I use Twitter to “follow”, the term used for receiving another user’s tweets, television stars, entertainment news blogs, and writers who I am not personally acquainted with.

Television and Twitter

There are a number of people involved in the television industry on Twitter now, and people have begun to take notice of Twitter as a marketing tool and a way to gauge popularity.  The social networking site uses trending topics, meaning that the more a topic is mentioned in an individual’s tweets, the higher profile it receives.  The most used subjects are pushed into the top ten trending topics.  Often this includes recent news items, such as Kanye West’s outburst at the MTV Video Music awards, or the death of a celebrity, but during Primetime hours the Trending Topics often include television shows.

When Fox aired the premiere for its new comedy Glee in May, after the ratings juggernaut American Idol, executives were less concerned with its ratings and more interested in regarding the sneek peek as a marketing initiative. Although they certainly took note of the fact that the pilot was watched by 9.6 million viewers, staffers also monitored iTunes, blogs, and Twitter in order to measure reactions to the show.  The debut was largely a success, and one Fox e-mail read “It was the No.1 topic all night on Twitter”.  Since then the show has continued to be among the top ten topics on Twitter each Wednesday night it airs.

Television fans have discovered the importance of Twitter as well, with some organizing awareness campaigns using the popular site.  Although NBC’s Chuck was picked up for a third season, it was a close call for Chuck fans, who decided to use the hiatus to generate publicity for the show.  The ‘Chuck Me Mondays’ campaign aimed to draw new viewers to the show by re-watching episodes of Chuck on Monday, its regular night.  Additionally they used twitter, tweeting #chuckmemondays in an attempt to make the trending topics list and generate interest in the show.  With the third season of the show not airing until early 2010, the fans are continuing their campaign, watching the second season from the beginning.  This week they tweeted We Heart Chuck in order to honour the campaign of the same name to raise funds for the American Heart Association, which has currently raised close to $20,000.

This TV enthusiast recalls being spoiled for Torchwood: Children of Earth when ‘Ianto’ appeared as a trending topic on the same night that “Day Four” was scheduled to air in the UK. Surely the trending of a character’s name couldn’t be good news.  There’s an argument to be made that I shouldn’t have clicked on the topic, but I was more of less sure that Ianto was dead as soon as I saw his name, the click only confirmed it.

Collins on Supernatural.

Collins on Supernatural.

Perhaps the most interesting occurrence of television on Twitter happened more than a week ago when fans of the CW drama Supernatural garnered attention by banding together to push the hashtags #Supernatural and #luciferiscoming into Twitter’s trending topics. In the season finale, brothers and demon hunters Sam and Dean Winchester began the apocalypse by inadvertently releasing Lucifer from Hell, so for Supernatural fans #Luciferiscoming referred to the fifth season, premiering that night, in which Lucifer was a character. Unfortunately the message was misinterpreted by some, including P. Diddy, who tweeted the following:

I’m calling GODS ARMY TO ATTENTION!! #GODISHERE #GODISHERE #GODISHERE let the devil know the fight he’s in for! Retweet all day! Make GOD #1

Soon there was a battle for the top spot, with Supernatural fans continuing to tweet #luciferiscoming while Diddy’s followers re-tweeted #godishere, even though Diddy had been informed by many that the hashtag referred to the fictional show and not to Devil worshippers.  The Twitter war caused confusion among the uninformed, “leading many users to question whether today held some religious significance or if the tags were in response to the anniversary of the 09/11 attacks upon the Twin Towers in New York back in 2001 – one user mused that perhaps the two trends were the result of sick, twisted humour in that regard.”  Twitter took action, removing both hashtags from the trending topics entirely, but Supernatural fans continued to Tweet, encouraged by actor Misha Collins, who plays the angel Castiel on the series.  However, new rallying cries, the more innocent #pdiddyisscaredofhistv and #twitterisafraidofmishasminions have also been blocked by Twitter, causing some to wonder about censorship.

Follow Friday

Twitter has its own set of popular hashtags for days of the week, including “Music Mondays” and “Follow Fridays”.  It would be impossible to rhyme off all users of Twitter who are involved with television, but for Follow Friday here are some of those worth following for fellow TV enthusiasts.

Nathan Fillion in Castle

Nathan Fillion in Castle

It’s no secret that I am a fan of Joss Whedon and his works.  Although the man himself is not on Twitter, many “Whedonverse” talents are, including Castle star Nathan Fillion, his Doctor Horrible co-star Felicia Day, who also stars in her own popular web series The Guild, and writer Maurissa Tancharoen.  Dollhouse stars Eliza Dushku (Echo), Dichen Lachman (Sierra), and Miracle Laurie (November) are also on Twitter.  Canadian Jewel Staite, who played Kaylee in Firefly, has an account, as do Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast members Anthony Stewart Head (Giles), Amber Benson (Tara), Tom Lenk (Andrew), and Alyson Hannigan (Willow).  To keep up to date on all Whedon related news, follow Whedonesque.

A number of other Television actors and actresses tweet.  Among them is the aforementioned Misha Collins, who has gained a lengion of “minions” with his humourous tweets.  Julie Benz (Dexter) has an account, as does Pushing Daisies star Kristin Chenoweth, and Burn Notice‘s Jeffrey Donovan.  It’s only fair that Aldis Hodge, who plays a hacker on TNT’s Leverage with the motto “Age of the Geek” has an account, but so do his co-stars Tim Hutton (Nate), Beth Riesgraf (Parker), and Angel alum Christian Kane (Eliot).

Jeremy Piven, voted “least deserving of their 2009 Emmy” by TWoP readers, is on Twitter, along with Corbin Bleu of the new show The Beautiful Life, which premiered with a dismal 1.5 million viewers.  If you’re missing Dirty Sexy Money you can follow two of its stars, Lucy Liu and Blair Underwood through the Social Networking site, or for someone completely different there’s John Lithgow, who plays the Trinity Killer in the fourth season of Dexter. Christopher Gorham, of the summer show Harper’s Island, has an account and for some Canadian content there’s Degrassi actors Adamo Ruggiero and Lauren Collins.  Fans of CW drama Gossip Girl are no doubt already following stars Leighton Meester and Blake Lively.  While for any Trekkies out there, Brent Spiner and Levar Burton are worth following.

Unless you have an iPhone you probably won’t find Heroes star Greg Grunberg all that interesting.  He tweets mainly to promote his money saving application Yowza!, but co-stars Zachary Quinto (Sylar), James Kyson Lee (Ando) and former Heroes actresses Kristin Bell (Elle), and Brea Grant (Daphne) might be more interesting.

Actors aren’t the only ones using Twitter.  Just as interesting are some of the writers and other individuals who work behind the scenes in television, including James Clark, the On Set Prop Master for Heroes, and Doris Egan, a writer and co-executive producer on House m.d. Former Buffy and Battlestar Galactica scribe Jane Espenson, who is currently working on Caprica, has an account as well.  Also on Twitter are Whedon brother Zack Whedon, who worked on the Emmy winning Doctor Horrible’s Sing-along Blog and Hart Hanson, the creator of Bones.  For the TV enthusiast who isn’t spoiler shy, following writers, and actors, on Twitter can mean getting tidbits about upcoming episodes.

Cory Monteith of Glee

Cory Monteith of Glee

With the network’s use of Twitter both to promote Glee and to air reruns with commentary that comes from Twitter comments made live by its cast, it comes as no surprise that most of the young cast have their own accounts, such as Lea Michele (Rachel Berry)  Cory Monteith, who plays Finn, even uses the nickname given to his character in the last episode, “Frankenteen”, as his account name.  The rest of the Glee cast is comprised of Chris Colfer (Kurt), Diana Agron (Quinn), Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina), Kevin McHale (Artie), Mark Salling (Puck), and Amber Riley (Mercedes).

Another show with a strong presence on Twitter is So You Think You Can Dance.  It’s always interesting to read what the choreographers thought of the performances and the judges are quite good at interacting their their followers.  Nigel Lythgoe, Tabitha and Napoleon, and Lil C all actively tweet.  Less active are Mia Michaels and Tyce Diorio.  For fans of the Canadian version of the show there’s judge Blake McGrath, and back on the original series sometimes judge Debbie Allen. Of course no list would be complete without the new third judge on the show, Adam Shankman!  Former contestants on Twitter include Travis Wall, whose amazing piece of choreography should be nominated for an Emmy next year, contemporary dancer Courtney Galiano and, one of my favourite contestants, Mark Kanemura.

Naturally there are also too many American Idol contestants to name, including Adam Lambert, winner Kris Allen, and David Cook.  Other Idol personalities with accounts are Randy Jackson, new judge Ellen DeGeneres, and Ryan Seacrest.

Just as interesting to me as the television stars and writers are updates from entertainment blogs and journalists.  An article takes time to write up while Twitter is an instant way to communicate any breaking news to interested parties.  What better way to stay up to date with your favourite TV shows than to follow one or more TV journalists?  Personally, I’m fond of The Nick C Blog, James Hibberd of The Live Feed, and Hercules the Strong of Ain’t It Cool News, but other choices include Robert Seidman and, for spoilers more than anything else, Michael Ausiello.

spongeFinally there’s Happy Squared, a Twitter account that provides “Daily affirmations from everyone’s favourite sea sponge” with tweets like “When spying on a neighbor late at night, be careful not to be lulled to sleep by the soothing sounds of his clarinet.” and “If you’re going to skip town and live under a new name, try to come up with something that’ll really fool ’em: like “BobPants SpongeSquare.”

Clearly in the Twitter Universe, there is something, or somesponge, for everyone.

TV on DVD (September 15th)

September 16, 2009

big bang theoryWith the vast majority of returning shows airing their season premieres next week, yesterday’s new TV on DVD releases offer a last chance to catch up on your favourite television shows.  My pick of the week is a comedy, but other offerings include a recently remade 80’s favourite, some gossiping surgeons, supernatural creatures, and even everyone’s favourite Canadian mutant, Wolverine.  Here’s a look at what’s out on DVD this week.

My Pick: The Big Bang Theory Season Two

The original premise of The Big Bang Theory, a brainy meets blonde odd couple scenario, didn’t sound all that thrilling and, for this TV enthusiast, the fact that it was created by Chuck Lorre, the man behind Two and a Half Men, did not bode well.  So when I caught an episode of the show during its second season, mostly because it aired directly after How I Met Your Mother, I wasn’t expecting much.  Imagine my surprise when the show turned out to be not just humourous but often laugh out loud funny!

The Big Bang Theory is certainly one of, if not the, funniest shows on television.  Although it was shut out of a Best Comedy Series Emmy nomination in a newly expanded category containing seven nominees, Jim Parsons has been nominated as Lead Actor in a Comedy at the awards, which air this Sunday.  The sitcom revolves around four brilliant but geeky scientists and their relationship with waitress/aspiring actress Penny, who lives across the hall.  While it is undoubtedly funnier if, like this TV enthusiast, you enjoy the “geeky” things in life and are able to pick up on the many references to Star Trek, comic books, and video games, even the scientific elements, which are unfamiliar to an English and History major like me, are humourous.  Each episode is titled in the form of a scientific theory, such as “The Fuzzy Boots Corollary” or “The Bath Gift Item Hypothesis”.

The second season builds on the relationships and sense of humour established during its writers’ strike shortened first season, and the show really hits its stride.  Jim Parsons plays the socially inept Dr. Sheldon Cooper, whose obsessive neatness, need for routine, and inability to get sarcasm and irony impair his interactions with his friends, while Johnny Galecki plays his roommate Leonard, the straight man role.  Kaley Cuoco (Penny), Simon Helberg (Howard), and Kunal Nayyar (Raj) also star.

So many brilliant shows are cancelled before they have the chance to fulfill their potential.  Luckily The Big Bang Theory isn’t one of them.  It has built an audience and the decision to try out the show in the 9:30 PM timeslot, after ratings hit Two and a Half Men, proved so much of a success that it will now regularly air at that time.  Last Spring CBS showed their faith in the show by giving it a surprise two season pick up, much to this TV enthusiast’s delight, so you can watch without fear of cancellation.

The third season premieres this Monday, September 21st.

Also on DVD This Week:

Kevin McKidd and Sandra Oh in Grey's Anatomy.

Kevin McKidd and Sandra Oh in Grey's Anatomy.

If you’re in the mood for something more dramatic, pick up the fifth season of Grey’s Anatomy on DVD.  Grey’s has never been must see TV for me, and this year the show had its issues.  New Lesbian character Brooke Hahn was abruptly written out of the show, and Sadie (Melissa George), Meredith’s college friend, was poorly received and departed Seattle Grace.  However, more successful changes included the addition of the brilliant Kevin McKidd (Owen Hunt), as an army doctor and love interest for Sandra Oh’s Cristina, and pediatric surgeon Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw), who will be a regular this season on the show.  Less successful was the plotline involving Izzy (Katherine Heigl) who has “ghost sex” with Denny (guest star Jeffrey Dean Morgan) before the long overdue revelation that he is a hallucination and a symptom of something larger.  The fifth season also includes the all important 100th episode of the show, which featured a wedding.

Grey’s Anatomy spin-off Private Practice, following Addison’s move to the Oceanside Wellness clinic in Los Angeles,  releases its second season on DVD today as well.

With a new movie remake due to hit theatres this Friday, what better time to release the first and second seasons of 80’s television show Fame on DVD?  The show followed the lives of the students and faculty at the New York High School for the Performing Arts and it was nominated for, and won, a number of Emmy Awards.

sunnyI don’t think I’ll ever understand people who watch and take CSI: Miami seriously, the first five minutes of David Caruso removing and putting back on his sunglasses is all I can watch without laughing, but for those who do enjoy the series, its seventh season arrives on DVD this week.  More traditionally comedic is the fourth season of It’s always sunny in Philadelphia.The show revolves around four self-centered friends who own an Irish bar and episodes deal with controversial subject matter, including racism and abortions. FX has ordered 39 additional episodes of the series, carrying it through a seventh season.  Less fortunate was NBC comedy My Name Is Earl, which was cancelled last May.  The sitcom starred Jason Lee as Earl Hickey, a petty crook who comes to believe in the concept of karma after he wins the lottery and is promptly hit by a car, losing his ticket.  He proceeds to create a list of the bad things he has done and to do a corresponding good deed for each item.  The fourth and final season of the show is out on DVD this week.

The second season of Canadian comedy Little Mosque on the Prairie is also out on DVD this week.  The Saskatchewan-set series begins its fourth season September 28th, with the third arriving on DVD in January 2010.  Although the series isn’t Canadian, its protagonist certainly is – Wolverine is one of the best loved Marvel characters and he arrives on DVD this week in the first season of animated show Wolverine and the X-men. This isn’t the only animated show to feature Marvel characters; In the early 90’s Fox aired X-men, which received critical and audience praise.  More recently X-men: Evolution, featuring largely teenaged versions of the characters, aired on WB kids for four seasons.   Wolverine and the X-men hopes to achieve similar success.

Amanda Tapping in Sanctuary.

Amanda Tapping in Sanctuary.

There are two science-fiction offering this week.  One is the first season Canadian series Sanctuary, a Syfy original series starring Amanda Tapping (Stargate SG-1) as Dr. Helen Magnus, a 157-year-old English scientist who seeks out non-human intelligent creatures (known as abnormals) and provides safe haven for them.  The series was well received, with its premiere drawing in 3 million viewers to become the highest rated original series premiere since Eureka in 2006, and will air a second season beginning in October.

Finally, the 2008 Doctor Who Christmas special “The Next Doctor” makes its North American DVD debut this week.  David Tennant makes one of his last appearances as the Tenth Doctor, while Dervla Kirwin plays the villainous Miss Hartigan, and David Morrissey appears as a strange man with a TARDIS and a companion named Rosita. Could he be the next doctor?