Terrifying Television: This Year’s Halloween Episodes

October 26, 2009

buffy hallAs I mentioned in a previous entry on my favourite Thanksgiving episodes, I like to celebrate the holidays in true TV enthusiast style… by watching a marathon of themed episodes. Predictably my marathon includes episodes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dead Like Me, but each fall, new Halloween episodes air, some of which will become instant classics and be added to my annual marathon in years to come. This year, with supernaturally-themed new shows like The Vampire Diaries and Eastwick, the amount of Halloween content seems to have increased. Here’s a look at the Halloween-themed episodes airing this week.

Monday

Teen hit Gossip Girl has Lily and Rufus celebrating Halloween in “How to Succeed in Bassness” tonight on The CW, while ABC drama Castle has a nice surprise for any Browncoats out there in the new episode “Vampire Weekend”. The episode features Castle and Beckett investigating the murder of a vampire fetishist, whose body is found with fake fangs and a stake through his heart.

Wednesday

With a show about witches and the devil, it would have been crazy not to have a Halloween episode of Eastwick. In “Bonfire and Betrayal”, Roxie envisions an ill fate for her loved-ones and tries to prevent it from happening. Meanwhile Kat attempts to reunite Will and Joanna, who continues to encounter misfortunes after having trouble with her career and love life. The ABC drama hasn’t received a full season pick-up and it’s ratings have not been promising, but maybe a little Halloween magic can turn that around.

Thursday

NBC has a full night of Halloween comedy lined up beginning with a Day of the Dead party on Community, a Halloween party on Parks and Recreation, and finally a themed episode of The Office, in which the office plans a haunted house for kids in the community. Meanwhile, the pairing of the CW’s best performing show The Vampire Diaries and genre hit Supernatural is a no-brainer for Halloween. Although the later doesn’t specifically have a Halloween episode this season, it’s demon-fighting theme and tendency to tackle urban legends make most episodes holiday appropriate. Lead-in The Vampire Diaries will air the new episode “Haunted”, which includes a visit to a haunted house. Freshman drama FlashForward is also getting into the spirit with an episode titled “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps”, and CBS has a new episode of The Mentalist titled “Red Scare”. On The Mentalist, witnesses claim that a wealthy man was killed by a ghost haunting his mansion.

Friday

With CBS’ double feature of Ghost Whisperer and Medium, Friday is already a night for the supernatural, so it’s fitting that both shows will air Halloween episodes this year. Melinda encounters the headless horseman in a themed Ghost Whisperer episode called “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, and Alison dreams she has been cast in the zombie film Night of the Living Dead in a Medium episode titled “Bite Me”. The night wraps upon Numb3ers, where the body of a dead woman  turns up at a decommissioned air base where paranormal activity has been happening.

There’s plenty of spooky new television to be had, but if you’re ready for more Halloween content there’s always the numerous specials and horror movies airing all this week. A more complete list can be found here.

Advertisements

Is too much Glee a bad thing?

September 9, 2009

GleeI’m a huge fan of musical theatre, so when I first heard about Glee I thought ‘sounds wonderful but it probably won’t last long’.  Imagine my surprise when Fox, the network behind the notoriously poor treatment and subsequent cancellation of such shows as Dark Angel, Wonderfalls, Keen Eddie, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and of course Firefly, actually started to promote Glee!  Likely hoping to cash in on the success of High School Musical, Fox has promoted the Hell out of this show, premiering the pilot during May sweeps after American Idol (where it was watched by an audience of almost ten million), and re-airing the pilot last Friday while its stars tweeted commentary.

Picked by critics as one of the top new shows to watch, Glee focuses on a high school Glee club in Ohio run by Will (Matthew Morrison), a Spanish teacher hoping to recapture his glory days.  The Glee club members include Diva Mercedes, wheelchair-bound Artie, Goth girl Tina, gay teen Kurt, and Rachel Barry, a Tracy Flick character played by Spring Awakening star Lea Michele, as the lead dreaming of stardom.  In the pilot Will blackmailed star football player Finn (played by Canadian Cory Monteith) into joining the Glee kids, and faced rivalry from Jane Lynch’s scene-stealing Coach Sylvester, who is not about to let the Glee club steal the spotlight from her cheerleaders.

Don’t let the high school setting, popular vs. unpopular theme, and the likely blossoming attraction between Finn and Rachel fool you though, this is not High School Musical.  For one thing the stars can actually sing, and Morrison and Michele are former Broadway stars.  The musical numbers range from standard musical theatre songs, like Barry’s audition piece “On My Own” from Les Miserables, to classic songs, such as the Glee club’s first group performance to Journey’s “Don’t stop believin’”, and Top 40 Hits.  “Rehab” and “Don’t Stop Believin’”, both performed in the pilot episode, were released on itunes and placed on the iTunes Top Songs chart.  A soundtrack will be available November third and the track listing has already been released, revealing other songs to be performed this season on the show.  These include Kanye West hit “Gold Digger”, “Sweet Caroline”, Rihanna track “Take a Bow”, and show stopper “Defying Gravity” from Wicked.

Glee has lined up the guest stars, including Tony award winner Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies), Josh Groban, and Broadway alum Victor Garber (Eli Stone), as Will’s dad, but most importantly, the show is funny.  I admit that I’ve never seen anything of creator Ryan Murphy’s, so I can’t compare the humour in Glee to say Popular, but it has been described by critics as “cynical”, “biting”, and “snarky”, all good signs in my book.

glee2Understandably, for a show about underdogs, Glee also has a lot of heart.  The Glee club remain, at their core, a group of outsiders who want to be a part of something fun and the performance of “Don’t Stop Believin’”, where Will sees what his club can do and everything comes together is a great television moment, but is too much Glee a bad thing?

Although the hype surrounding the show is a great sign, and hopefully it will keep audiences interested and attract more than the niche audience I expected to tune in, is it possible that too much buzz is a bad thing?  Buzz doesn’t always translate into viewers and, blame my inner pessimist for this comment, sometimes high expectations are a bad thing.

After the unjust cancellation of Dead Like Me I was thrilled when I heard that Bryan Fuller was working on something new featuring a man who could bring people back to life with a touch of his finger.  This was, of course, Pushing Daisies. As a huge fan of anything A) quirky and B) done by Bryan Fuller I expected by have borderline obsessive love for Pushing Daisies.  Oddly enough I didn’t, and some of that was due to the huge hype surrounding it.  Yes the show was different from anything currently airing and its stars were great, but while I enjoyed Daisies it was never must see TV for me and given the ability to renew one show, I would have picked Kings over Pushing Daisies in a heartbeat.

Or how about Dollhouse?  I don’t mean the pilot, which tended to be reviewed by critics as ‘meh but with potential’, but the sixth episode we kept hearing about.  “Man on the Street” was supposed to be a huge game changer, the episode where the show turned around and we saw Joss in all his glory… except that we didn’t.  “Man on the Street” marked an improvement in the show yes, but after all that discussion and disappointed fans waiting for the magical number six, it just didn’t live up to expectations, much like Dollhouse itself.

Another example from the world of cable is Mad Men.  I’ve never watched Mad Men but the sheer volume of critical hype, including its nomination for four of the five writing in a drama category Emmys, has actually resulted in this TV enthusiast never wanting to hear another word about the show, rather than an intense desire to tune in.

Sometimes hype is a great thing that can boost a show from something you don’t have any interest in to something you’ll consider watching, and that’s fantastic, but when it reaches fever pitch, sometimes it creates unrealistic expectations or, worse, becomes an item of pop culture you never want to hear about again.  I enjoyed the pilot of Glee immensely, I’m thrilled that Fox is promoting it at all, and I’m certainly hoping that Glee will succeed.  I just hope that too much Glee isn’t a turn-off.

glee3

Glee airs tonight at 9:00 EST on Fox.


Birthdays in TV land

August 8, 2009

angel buffyMany TV enthusiasts have wanted, at one point in their lives or another, to escape to the fictional worlds inhabited by their favourite television characters.  Who wouldn’t want to share a booth at MacLaren’s with Barney Stinson, research the new “big bad” with the Scoobies, or travel through time and space with The Doctor?  Yet despite the promise of adventure that these fictional worlds offer, there is one occasion on which you are better off in the real world – your birthday.

In TV land, birthdays are the testing ground for Murphy’s Law, the adage which states “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”  At the best of times character birthdays pass unnoticed, or wacky but ultimately harmless hi-jinx ensue.  At the worst, the character is put through the wringer with lasting consequences.   One of these sub-sections of birthdays gone wrong even has its own TV trope , the “Ironic Birthday”.  This occurs when:

“A character has had to make a tough decision or has just lost something of extreme value to him, and upon walking into a room is greeted with a surprise birthday party.  This is not a celebration that makes everything all right; this is about the character having to pretend to enjoy what should be a happy time while secretly suffering.”

The example of this trope that sticks with me is Buffy’s seventeenth birthday, when she comes home to celebrate with her mother after her vampire boyfriend Angel loses his soul, taunts her mercilessly, and tries to burn the humanity out of the population of Sunnydale.  Instead of making a wish, a melancholy Buffy lets the candle on her cupcake burn.

Although other shows have featured the birthday where everything goes wrong, Buffy the Vampire Slayer takes the cake (excuse the pun).  After watching her boyfriend become a monster on her seventeenth birthday, Buffy begins a pattern of birthdays where everything that can go wrong does.  For her eighteenth, Buffy’s trusted watcher Giles drugs her in order to remove her slayer abilities, and an insane vampire kidnaps her mother.  The following year an old foe turns Giles into a demon and an unknowing Buffy almost kills him.  As the slayer enters her twenties, her sister Dawn discovers her origin as a ball of energy put into human form, and narrowly escapes the God searching for her, while season six sees Buffy and her party guests trapped in the Summers residence with a sword wielding demon, after Dawn wishes that people wouldn’t keep leaving her.  Her latest birthday disaster causes Spike to ask Buffy if she had ever thought about “Maybe, not celebrating your birthday? Just try it, I mean.”  Perhaps Buffy took his advice.  The final season of the show didn’t feature a birthday episode for Buffy.

Willow and Tara dance in "Family".

Willow and Tara dance in "Family".

It’s easy to forget that Buffy wasn’t the only character on the show to have a birthday where everything went wrong.  Tara’s birthday involved her family arriving in Sunnydale to convince her that she was a demon who had to leave behind her girlfriend, Willow, and her independence.  In order to prevent the group from seeing the demon she believes she is, Tara casts a spell that makes all demons invisible, which renders the slayer unable to see her opponents.  Fortunately, this birthday ends on a high note as Tara realizes who her real family are and is defended by Buffy and her friends.

Cult favourite Firefly, also created by Joss Whedon, features a TV land birthday as well.  The birthday celebrations for Dr. Simon Tam are cut short when the engine room is engulfed in flames and life support is disabled, leaving them stranded with only a few hours of remaining oxygen.

Similarly, Isabel Evans begins her birthday with a party at the Crashdown Cafe in Roswell, but must abandon her party when she receives visions of fellow alien Tess in danger.  Although Isabel rescues Tess from her kidnapper, she also finds out that in her past life on Antar she betrayed her family for love.

Sitcoms are not immune to the birthday curse.  On his 30th Birthday Ted, upon finding out that Barney and Robin slept together, tells Barney that he no longer wants to be friends with him on the CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother. The following year, Ted’s architecture contract is passed over for Swedish rival Sven, and he has an infamous encounter with Missy the goat.

tedYet it is Ted’s former flame Natalie who has a true TV land birthday when she is dumped by Ted through a message on her answering machine during a surprise birthday party.  Three years later, when he decides to re-date her, he breaks up with her on her birthday once more.

I wasn’t looking for adventure, but a year ago I experienced the perils of a birthday fit for TV land.  After an afternoon watching the excellent Queen musical “We Will Rock You”, my birthday quickly descended as our dinner waiter was stoned and we walked through the pouring rain to the movie theatre.  By the end of the walk we were soaked, and upon arriving at the theatre we discovered that the movie had begun ten minutes earlier.  Since there wasn’t another showing, I had to choose between my friends as some disbanded to a movie theatre closer to home while others, who I saw less regularly, had to remain in Toronto.  Although the company was excellent, the night did go as planned and we can still remember the misery of being caught in that downpour.

This year I spent a quiet, but enjoyable, night in with my family.  Sometimes not being a fictional character has its perks.


San Diego Comic-Con for the TV enthusiast (Sunday)

July 16, 2009

As I write the last of four articles on the panels related to television at this year’s Comic-Con, I can’t help but consider just how long it has taken me.  Scrolling through the list of Comic-Con programming nearly a week ago, I decided that, given the increased number of shows represented in San Diego this year, I would dedicate a few articles to summing up the events targeted to people more interested in television than comic books.  Yet summing up the event has resulted in three posts, this will be the fourth, all of which are over 1000 words.  This is a testament to the sheer size of San Diego Comic-Con 2009, and to the amount of television programming featured this year.

Writing these articles has certainly made me consider what I would like to see if I attended Comic-Con.  Even though I haven’t seen the third season yet (it will be released on DVD in mid-August) I would like to attend the Dexter panel.  Additionally, I wouldn’t want to miss the Big Bang Theory panel.  I’m hoping it will get some of the recognition it deserves during tomorrow’s Emmy nominations, although I wouldn’t put money on it.  I would even join the crowds to see TV Guide’s Sci-Fi Hot List and the Entertainment Weekly panel “Female Power Icons in Pop Culture”.  But the panel I would most like to see is Sunday’s panel on Doctor Who.

who

The big draw here is the combination of writer/executive producer Russell T. Davies and departing Doctor David Tennant.  Davies, the man behind such projects as Queer as Folk and The Second Coming, as well as new Who spin-offs The Sarah Jane Chronicles and Torchwood, has announced that he will be leaving when David Tennant regenerates, in the last of five specials set to air before season five.  Davies will be replaced by Steven Moffat, the writer responsible for some of the new series’ best episodes, which include Blink and The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances.

As for David Tennant, his boyhood fantasy fulfilling tenure as the Doctor will come to an end in 2010, when he will regenerate into his eleventh incarnation, played by relative newcomer Matt Smith.  Although Christopher Eccleston was the first Doctor for a new generation of fans, David Tennant has earned a place in the hearts of most as “their” doctor.  In 2006 Tennant even beat out favourite Tom Baker to be voted “Best Doctor” by readers of Doctor Who Magazine.

The Comic-Con panel, featuring Davies and Tennant, will also include director Euros Lyn and executive producer Julie Gardner.  BBC America reports that “David will travel to Comic-Con, fresh from the Doctor Who set, having shot his final scenes as the tenth Time Lord.  He and fellow panelists will discuss the latest incarnation of television’s longest running science fiction series and take questions from the floor.  There will also be exclusive sneak peeks from the upcoming specials”. (10:00-11:00, Ballroom 20).

If you’re not a big fan of Doctor Who, there are other panel choices, including a Q&A session on animated series The Spectacular Spider-Man. Fitting in nicely with the kid friendly theme to much of Sunday’s programming, the show follows Peter Parker as a 16-year-old struggling to conceal his secret identity and survive high school.  Cast and crew attending include supervising producers and character designers, as well as voice actors Josh Keaton, Kelly Hu, and Robert Englund (10:00-11:00, Room 6A).  Also kid friendly is the panel on Disney Channel’s #1 animated series Phineas & Ferb.  Creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff Marsh, plus Vincent Martella, who voices Phineas, will talk about what happens behind the scenes of the show (10:00-11:00, Room 6DE).

Although I used to watch Smallville, and I mean the first three or four seasons, I’ve abandoned it for better content.  It was a great concept, but the writers have long since broken their original “no flights, no tights” rule and even without watching the show I’m aware of how last season’s finale disappointed many a fan with the death of Jimmy Olsen, and subsequent reveal that he was not the Jimmy Olsen of Superman mythology, his younger brother was.   But with the show going into its ninth season, it’s clear it still has fans.  If you’re one of those still watching, this year’s panel includes cast members Alison Mack (Chloe), Erica Durance (Lois), Cassidy Freeman (Tess Mercer), Justin Hartley (Oliver Queen), and new series star Callum Blue (Zod), as well as the current showrunners.  The session will be moderated by Jeph Loeb, formerly of Heroes (10:30-11:30, Room 6BCF).

Back on the animated side of things are the panels Cartoon Voices II, featuring a gathering of the top cartoon voice actors (11:15-12:30, Room 6A), and “Nickelodeon Presents”, which will screen new episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants, Fairly OddParents, and The Penguins of Madagascar (11:15-12:15).  Additionally, American Dad showrunners Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman will join stars Seth MacFarlane, Wendy Schall, and Dee Bradley Baker for an inside look at how the show is made (11:15-12:15, Ballroom 20).  If you want to be one of those stars, be sure to attend the Business of Cartoon Voices panel, which gives you “a serious “how to” look at the business telling you what it takes to get in and how to avoid getting ripped-off.” (1:00-2:00, Room 2).

Ready for more science-fiction?  Start with the Supernatural panel featuring creator/executive producer Eric Kripke and stars Misha Collins and Jim Beaver.  With the show now entering its fifth, and possibly last, season, fans of the CW drama will be excited about the exclusive clips from upcoming episodes and the airing of special features that will appear on the soon to be released fourth season DVD set… even without the presence of Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki as the demon-hunting Winchester brothers (11:45-12:45, Room 6BCF).

Continue the supernatural theme by attending the Ghost Whisperer panel, where the cast and crew will present a first look at clips from the upcoming season.  Series stars Jennifer Love Hewitt and David Conrad will be present. (1:00-2:00, Room 6BCF).  Then attend BBC America’s back-to-back panels on Being Human and Torchwood. Being Human, about the lives of three twentysomethings, a werewolf, a vampire, and a ghost, will present a panel which features creator Toby Whithouse and stars Russell Tovey, Lenora Crichlow, and Aidan Turner.  The more interesting of the two, in my opinion, is the Torchwood panel though.  As I stated in my last article I may not have seen Torchwood: Children of Earth yet, but I have been spoiled enough to wonder how fans will react to the five episode series.  With the panel including the same people present at the morning’s Doctor Who gathering, but with the substitution of star John Barrowman for David Tennant, it’s certainly one to watch.  My only regret is that it doesn’t include more cast members.  Barrowman seems to enjoy innuendo more when it’s with his fellow actors.  Just check out the abundant Youtube footage of last year’s San Diego Comic-Con with Barrowman, Naoko Mori, and Gareth David-Lloyd (2:15-3:45, Ballroom 20).

If you’re a Whedon fan, spend the afternoon with some Browncoats, fans of Joss Whedon’s short-lived series Firefly who actively participate in the show’s fandom, for the Browncoats Fan Group Meeting.  According to Comic-Con, “Fans of Firefly and Serenity are welcome to join the California Browncoats. Get the scoop on upcoming ‘verse-related and ‘verse-friendly events and products that you’ll really love, learn about Waterkeeper Alliance, the charity the group is supporting this year. Drop by any time to join the fun and find out what the Browncoats are up to, but those arriving by 12:20 can enter to play Serenity Spin—put your ‘verse-related trivia to the test to win shiny (12:00-2:00, Room 24A).

Finally, finish Comic-Con with a screening of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode “Once More With Feeling”.  Fans are encouraged to participate by “singing and shouting and dancing in the aisles, with or without your dry cleaning!”  As a Buffy fan, I can’t imagine a better way to top off Comic-Con International.  I only wish I could be there to sing along (4:00-5:00, Ballroom 20).

Comic-Con International takes place at the San Diego Convention Center July 23rd-26th.

Full schedules of events and panel descriptions can be found here.