Friday, May 23, 2008

FRINGE AND PURGE - PART II

A TV Pilot Double Feature Recap + Commentary

Last night Robert and I screened 2 pilots for upcoming shows, Fringe and True Blood. There was some smoking out, a six pack of Mike's Hard Lemonade (it was a weeknight, gimme a break), and a Digiorno Garlic Bread Pepperoni Pizza. Here's what we got out of the evening.




Up front I have to admit - I don't much care for Anna Paquin. Aside from looking like a goblin, her acting skills seemed to have shut down after she won her Academy Award. When she was like, 2 years old or something. And then she was hideously mis-cast as Rogue in the X-Men films. This is where she earned most of my disrespect. That ACCENT! Seriously, I could do a better southern accent, and I'm a yankee who grew up in the Northeast. So when Robert told me she had a new series that was going to be on HBO, there was a lot of hesitation on my part. Then he told me it was about vampires. As a die-hard Buffy fan, I'm very critical about series that deal in any way, shape or form with vampires (Angel notwithstanding). But again, I heard how good it was. That, and I was just fucked up enough to watch at this point, after Fringe.

CAUTION! SPOILERS AHEAD!

The plot is pretty easy to understand from the get-go. We're in the sweaty, drawling, backwoods country of Louisiana. 2 years prior to what we're watching, vampires have "come out of the coffin" as a race of beings that just want to be accepted in the world. As a white pantsuited blonde vamp lady discusses on a bar television set, they "just want equal rights". Oh, and she berates the human race for exploitation of...honestly, I'm not sure what. The Japanese (who else?) have created synthetic blood that is sold in beer-like bottles. Guess what it's called? I'll give you a hint - it's the name of the series.

The fake beginning starts with a twenty-something guy and gal driving down the road. The girl decides that driving down a darkened unpaved road in the South is too easy, so she decides to up the ante a bit by giving the guy a handjob. One assumes it's her boyfriend, but it's HBO so it could basically be ANYONE as long as it shocks at least one viewer in the Midwest somewhere. They see a sign for True Blood at a convenience store, and decide to pull over. The guy, having not gotten enough satisfaction, wants to get some "V-Juice" which he heard makes you feel "really good". They enter the store. It's like this: the guy you think is the vamp actually isn't, and the one you wouldn't expect threatens to eat the impostor after he scares the meddling kids away. Riveting.

So our real tale begins at Merlotte's Bar & Grill, a down home watering hole seemingly in the middle of the woods. And here comes Anna Paquin, bleach-blonde ponytail, short shorts and a tray in her hand. Before we even have a moment to catch our breath from that travesty onscreen, we learn that Anna - err, "Sookie Stackhouse" - can hear people's thoughts. As she's meandering around the bar we hear all the nasty things that the patrons are saying about her. Most of them think she's half-retarded, which gave me more of a laugh than I think it should have.

All of your favorite television characters are here and ready to work. Sam the bar owner is a "nice guy" who's clearly in love with Sookie. Faggy black cook Lafayette just LOVES to shock those skinny white girls he works with! Sassy black best friend Tara shows up to the bar shortly after being fired from her Wal-Mart-esque job for bitching out a customer (she's TROUBLE!). Then there's wise old grandma, with whom Sookie lives, along with her ne'er-do-well brother Jason. Wait, how did we meet Jason?

Oh, right - we first see Jason completely ass-naked (don't get excited, there's no sausage) with his face buried in some tramp's lady business. While he's going down on her, he notices that she has two tiny bite marks on her inner thigh. He asks what they're from, and she admits that she's such an enormous whore that she let some vamp pay to fuck and bite her. This is practically a postcard - visit Louisiana!

Back at the bar, Sookie is overcome with joy and excitement - Anna read a book on how to display those emotions on her face - because Merlotte's first vampire just sat down! Apparently it's her real-life boyfriend, and they met while filming. He kinda looks like a weird version of Stephen Dorff, which is certainly no compliment. Although I think the Dorff once played a vampire too, so maybe it's what they were going for. Sookie strikes up a conversation with the vampire named Bill, where he flat out asks her, "What are you?" Oh, Bill. You and so many casting directors would love to know the answer to that mystery.

After work she can't wait to run home and tell Grandma, who is just tickled pink and would love to interview him at the library in front of an audience. The next morning Grandma gets a phone call to inform her that Mawdette (sp?) was strangled the night before. Is there like a Local Death Phone Tree? Mawdette is of course the tramp that Naked Jason was pounding when last we saw him. Turns out that she liked the rough sex from the vamp, so Naked Jason decides that he's just as good as any member of the Undead and gives it to her good. And by "good" I mean that he choked a bitch. How could you, Naked Jason? The blonde guys are never the villains. Jason makes a hasty exit from Grandma's so he can go perform completely unexplained community service, when the cops come and take him in. Just don't tell Sookie!

That night Bill the vampire comes back in the bar, but it seems that a redneck couple have taken an unusual liking to him. Before long the 3 of them disappear outside. When Sookie goes to investigate (a blonde girl leaving a bar to find a vampire...this seems familiar somehow), she finds Mr. and Mrs. Redneck draining all of the blood from Bill the vampire, who is restrained by a silver jewelry chain sizzling on his chest and arms. It turns out that vampire blood is the aforementioned "V-Juice", and it apparently fetches a pretty penny on the secondary market. Sookie fights them off with a giant chain, naturally. She flirts with Bill the vampire more, and he responds by once again asking, "What ARE you?"

Back inside, it's just what you'd expect. Sam the bar owner is pissed that she would put herself in a dangerous situation. You know, because he's in love with her. Tara is sassy and an over-acting nightmare...who's also in love with Naked Jason. Speaking of, the truth finally comes out that the entire fucking state knew about Naked Jason being arrested for murder, but no one told Sookie. They figured she just "already knew". And now for the Emmy-winning line from Anna Paquin - "I'm not psychic!" Keep in mind that this is SCREAMED at the top of her lungs with the worst Southern accent imaginable.

There were some scenes missing from this screener, but they mostly involved Sookie in bed, so I don't really feel that I missed much.

The screener basically ends on what I can imagine is the following night after the bar closes. Sookie asked Bill to meet her so they could hang out and compare fangs. But who's there instead? It's Mr. and Mrs. Redneck! What follows is one of the most realistic beatings of a female actress I have seen in quite some time. Quentin Tarantino: take notes. At one point I actually felt that she would no longer be able to have children, they were kicking her so hard.

Fade to black.

Yup, that's the end. The pilot finishes up with Anna Paquin getting the shit beat out of her. But HBO scores some points here, because if the next episode picks up where this one left off, I'll be sure to tune in. I've heard that the next couple episodes are 100 times better than this, and I certainly hope it's true. Sadly, this was one messy pilot. Does it have eye candy? Sure. But it also has some of the hardest working actors from regional theater around the country, and a monster for its star. And no, I'm not talking about Bill the vampire.

FRINGE AND PURGE - PART I

A TV Pilot Double Feature Recap + Commentary

Last night Robert and I screened 2 pilots for upcoming shows, Fringe and True Blood. There was some smoking out, a six pack of Mike's Hard Lemonade (it was a weeknight, gimme a break), and a Digiorno Garlic Bread Pepperoni Pizza. Here's what we got out of the evening.




Okay, so I've been excited about this show for a while, since Robert read the script and told me how cool it could potentially be. I mean, it's JJ Abrams. I'm a total Johnny-come-lately fan of his work, I'll admit it. I've yet to get into Lost, but James and I watched the entire series of Alias in under a month, I'd say. Then came Cloverfield. I don't care what people say, I really liked it. Add to that JJ's upcoming Star Trek reboot, and I'm a bonafide follower. So here's Fringe. It's The X-Files for the iPod generation, and surprisingly I mean that as a compliment.

CAUTION! SPOILERS AHEAD!

So the ep starts on a plane flying from Germany to Boston. They're in an electrical storm. There's turbulence. Does JJ hate flying? I'm starting to think so. One squirrely-looking passenger dripping with sweat pulls out his briefcase and injects himself with a syringe. Sadly whatever he shot himself with doesn't seem to be helping too much. He jumps out of his seat, freaks out, mass panic on board. But wait...he's starting to look all gross. HE JUST RALPHED IN THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT'S FACE! Nasty. But let's cut to the chase: whatever's wrong with this guy is now airborne, and everyone is screaming and gooey and disgusting. The pilot puts that shit on auto-pilot and turns to see the co-pilot's face melting and his jaw literally falling off. I was surprised that FOX would show this much gore, but I applaud them for it nonetheless. Opening credits. They're alright. I hope they get improved.

Now we're in a motel room. A seedy one at that. A guy and a gal are panting, post bang-bang. The guy's laying there with his arms above his head (
Robert: "He is way too comfortable with his body. Who told him that was okay?"). The gal's cell rings, and she gets called away to her important Homeland Security-ish duties. It's clear from this one scene alone that she is going to be a star. Certainly not because she's a good actress. Absolutely not because she's super pretty. But because she's the female lead in a JJ Abrams show. I envisioned the phone call this actress must have received (Me: "Hey, Suzie Blank-face - wanna be a JJ girl?"). So she bolts, but not before they make with the plot exposition and reveal that this is an office romance. Because those always end so well. She rushes to Logan Airport in Boston/Canada, where the Death Plane has landed itself, thanks to some incredibly handy uber-auto-pilot software. The windows are all bloody, and some unseen investigator puked after looking into the cockpit window. So Agent Blank-face (Olivia Dunham in actuality...I think) suits up in her biohazard suit and boards the Death Plane. Everyone has basically been reduced to skeletons. Some dude she's with asks her "What kind of terrorism is this?" to which she whisper-replies, "What makes you think this is terrorism?" I don't think we can skip directly to the paranormal, sweetheart. But way to get that option out of the way.



Back at her office, she has a run in with her new project manager. His name is Broyles (
Me: "That sounds like a disease.") and he's a tall black guy with an odd, alien-shaped head. There's clearly some tension between them, and it's not sexual or racial. Turns out she narc'd on some of his army buddies back in the day and had them discharged. Broyles holds a grudge. In their honor, I guess. He sends her and her hubby to check out a storage space that may have to do with something or another. They find an entire lab hidden inside an ENORMOUS storage space, with screeching monkeys in cages. It's the real deal. Then - OMG - it's the squirrely guy from the plane! He runs, obviously. Blank-face and Johnny give chase, but then he blows the place up. Blank-face gets thrown against a dumpster and Johnny got the brunt of the chemical explosion.

Uh oh! Johnny's got a less-intense version of the Death Plane syndrome. He's in a drug-induced coma so they can try to figure out what's wrong with him. Blank-face is on her computer, on what I first thought was Google, searching for articles pertaining to Johnny's condition (
Me: "She types in 'tissue damage' and the first result is 'disintegration'?). Then Robert pointed out that it was actually a government agency search engine and I felt better. So it's like this: there's a scientist named Walter Bishop who did experiments with this kinda thing, and then he got arrested after an accident in his lab, and was committed...where he's been for the past 17 years. Broyles ain't tryin' to hear all that, but Blank-face yells at him. All good, except the doctor's visitation is limited to immediate family. Let's go get Joshua Jackson.



He's in Iraq, trying to secure some job for contruction? Development? A lounge act? I don't know, and don't care. Blank-face goes on and on about how they need him so they can see his father, Walter Bishop. Joshua also ain't tryin' to hear all that - until Blank-face waves an imaginary "file" on him over his head. Time to head back to Boston/Canada.



So Bishop's a crazy fuck, but they get him out eventually to examine Johnny. On the car ride over he pisses himself. I'm not joking. Bishop takes a gross skin sample from Johnny, while new character Farnsworth, a speak-when-spoken-to black girl with a stereotypical afro looks on and runs errands for them. Bishop says he needs to get this sample back to his lab to analyze. Except, wait....his lab at Harvard was shut down 17 years ago. Apparently Blank-face can take care of that, which she does, and we keep the plot moving. So now we're at Harvard/Canada, and it turns out that one of the most crowded cities in the U.S. has managed to keep an entire basement level laboratory at Harvard University vacant with all its old equipment intact...but under sheets! Oh no! Thankfully there was no cleaning montage, but they get the place up to snuff long enough to get Blank-face to strip down to her bra and panties. Why? Because it's the
pilot, duh. But also because in order to get the cure for Johnny, Bishop needs to get some of each of the chemicals that Squirrely Guy had in his storage space. But Blank-face didn't see his face, only Johnny did. So Bishop has to put Blank-face under (and mostly naked) in a enclosed tank of water with wires attached to the back of her neck. Then they'll connect her to Johnny in a weird dream state where Blank-face can find the memory Johnny has of Squirrely Guy.

Got all that?

Obviously she does it. Cross-referencing with Farnsworth, we find out that Squirrely Guy from the plane was actually Squirrely Guy from the storage space's twin brother. And the last place he worked was this mega-conglomerate corporation known as Massive Dynamics. JJ hates the man, too. So off goes Agent Blank-face to interrogate the head of Massive Dynamics. She gets a lackey, who's this scary bitch with red-orange hair. She's gives her the information she's looking for, as well as some attitude about how obviously the Death Plane is connected to "the pattern". Blank-face blank faces, and Ms. Flame Head laughs at how clearly she's not cleared to know any more. Oh, and she has a robotic arm. And the offices of Massive Dynamics (
Me: "Maximum Capacity? What's it called?") look like a cross between the Guggenheim and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. And the architect was on psychotropic drugs. I can't wait to keep coming back here.



So Johnny gets the antidote and starts to get better. Aww. Broyles breaks it down to Blank-face, saying that she needs to join his team that investigates these "Fringe Sciences". He knows about the pattern and shares a bit with her. Bottom line - there's fucked up things happening all over the world, the government probably knows about it, and once again the public are just lemmings who are oblivious to all this crazy shit (Me: "The writers of Transformers give us the line 'terrifying terror'"). Massive Dynamics has higher security clearances than the Homeland Security peeps. Is anyone else uncomfortable with this? Well clearly Broyles is, but Blank-face whines that she just wants her old job back. Nice try, but you're already down the rabbit hole. As a quick aside, she looks like shit. All the time. There are some points where she just looks downright UGLY (
Robert: "Hello, Agent SlugWalrus"). Her hair is flat on top (Robert: She needs some volumizer in a big way") she sometimes has freckles, and pretty much always looks like she's exhausted. And don't tell me it's because she's been running all around the world for the past 50 minutes, because she always seems to find a way to display her "hotness". Examining a decomposing body? She doesn't need a mask! Working with the SWAT team to apprehend Squirrely Guy from the storage space? She doesn't need a helmet like everyone else!

Blank-face goes to see Squirrely Guy from the storage space, and he tells her that he can prove that the government was paying him to do his research. Oh, and he killed his twin on purpose, BTW. Blank-face digs up the recording that proves his "innocence" and it turns out he was answering to none other than our favorite Death Plane syndrome survivor (what ribbon color would that be?), Johnny! But wait...Johnny's feeling a lot better now. So much better in fact that he suffocates Squirrely Guy in his hospital bed. Oh well.


So now the hunt is on for Johnny. There's a big exciting chase scene, and finally he gets it. Boo hoo, Blank-face is tortured and upset that he's dead. But it turns out that because of all this mayhem, she'll be sticking around to work with alien-head Broyles, and Bishop and Joshua Jackson will hang out too. I guess Bishop can be of some assistance, and Joshua Jackson has to stick it James Van Der Beek somehow. The Scooby Gang has been assembled!

Back at a morgue, possibly - Ms. Flame Head shows up to see the corpse of dear departed Johnny. She asks the coroner how long he's been dead. He replies, "5 hours."

"Question him."

BOOM! This is where the end credits would have rolled if this weren't a screener. Hot damn, I love it. This has so much potential to be awesome I can't even wrap my brain around it. I like the new Mulder and Scully, but I do need Joshua Jackson's character to stop being such a dick all the time. Farnsworth is shaping up to be my favorite underdog character. She's just so wonderfully marginal. Did I mention that there's a cow named Jean in the lab, too? Farnsworth and Jean are going to go head to head soon to win my affections. I can already tell.

Part II will be coming soon...it's a not-as-glowing review of the upcoming HBO vampire drama called
True Blood. Shocking as it may be with those teeth, star Anna Paquin is NOT a vampire. But more on that soon.