Category: TV


Year's En

Merry Christmas!

It’s the end of December and another year is winding down.  Everywhere you turn someone is talking about the Best of 2012, so here we offer our take, resulting from absorbing more content this year than ever before, from books to movies to TV to comics, we reviewed and previewed entertainment from most of the big comic book publishers, and received screeners of shows and books from different publishing houses.  And we watched a lot of TV and went to a number of movies.  So what was the best of the best this year?  No one will ever have the same list but here’s where we ended up:

Best Genre Movie:  The Hobbit.  We had to wait all year for the release but once we saw it–it was well worth the wait and we want to go back and see it again and again.  How could you possibly follow one of the only fantasy films ever to win a Best Picture Academy Award and expect to come close in quality and entertainment?  Peter Jackson figured it out.  Not even The Avengers came close to touching this epic film with giant sets, special effects, elaborate costumes, a perfect story adaptation, and the best CGI creature to date: a Gollum even better than in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Best Dramatic Film: Argo It was an international event more recent in the public psyche than even Watergate, yet it had never been addressed on the silver screen before–the kidnapping of American nationals in Iran.  Ben Affleck served as both director and star of the film and performed both roles brilliantly.  Both exciting and funny–with the incredibly bizarre hook of using Hollywood to create a sci-fi B movie as CIA cover to sneak in to Iran and remove a small group of hostages–it was a story worthy of adapting to screen.  Brilliant!

Best Animated Movie: Brave Kelly McDonald’s wonderful Scottish voice, an all-star Brit voice cast including Emma Thompson, Bill Connolly, Julie Walters and Robbie Coltrane, coupled with Brenda Chapman’s story and the best of Walt Disney and Pixar’s animation so far, make Brave the slam dunk animated film winner of 2012.   A gorgeous film about a tough and feisty red-headed girl skilled with a bow and arrow who wants to make her own destiny provided a great story for young and old alike.

Best Animated TV Series: Tron: Uprising Disney Television Animation finally figured out a way to bring its Tron franchise forward with Tron: Legacy, and this prequel series gives us what the movie lacked–more Bruce Boxleitner as Tron.  We hardly noticed this wasn’t a live action series, and with voice actors like Frodo’s Elijah Wood, Alien’s Lance Henriksen, Paul Reubens and Tricia Helfer, you could hardly go wrong.  The brilliant choice of lighting, futuristic yet retro light cycles and funky soundtrack made this one worth coming back for each week.

Grimm-Silas-Weir-Mitchell-Bree-Turner

Best Actor: Silas Weir Mitchell, Grimm With the updates for the second season of Grimm, Mitchell’s reformed Blutbad Monroe was hard to beat as the sometimes hilarious sometimes dramatic glue that held the series together, setting up new conflicts, like the strange discovery of Renard and Juliette’s relationship, sure to drive the story next year.

Ksenia Solo as Kenzi in Lost Girl

Best Actress: Ksenia Solo, Lost Girl.  As succubus and series star Bo’s tagalong human friend and roommate Kenzi, Solo held half of the dramatic workload for the Canadian series first released to U.S. audiences this year on the Syfy Channel.  The Latvian born actress plays it funny and smart–she makes for the ideal kickass girl from the best genre fiction stories.

Cobie Smulders in The Avengers

Best Breakout Role–Female:  Cobie Smulders as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill in The Avengers.  We knew her already from How I Met Your Mother, but Smulders took what could have been a throwaway background role in the biggest movie of the year and instead put her character’s footing almost on par with the Avengers themselves, heading up an early chase scene and appearing with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury throughout the film.  Now she’s set to come back for the next Avengers films, she’s a character that we never knew about but are glad she’s on the team going forward.

Max Greenfield in New Girl

Best Breakout Role–Male: Max Greenfield as Schmidt in New Girl.  Greenfield is one among a handful of great young actors in New Girl, now in its second season, but this season his character Schmidt stepped out to create the craziest, most hysterical moment of nearly every episode.  Whether he is ranting that there is no black Santa Claus, or trying to show a stripper how to lap dance the right way, whether he is wearing his high-cut male kimono, ranting about germs, or his stupid actions result in him putting the most money in the coffee table jar, Greenfield took a funny part and stretched it to insanely funny.  This from the same guy who performed dramatic roles in Veronica Mars, Life and Castle?  Awesome.

Best Guest Appearance:  Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s appearance in Action Comics. It was a bit of a marketing gimmick, but what could tie the education of real science, a popular TV non-fiction series host and comic book readers together better?  The real star-vested Tyson found a possible location for Superman’s home planet of Krypton, revealing it to the Man of Steel in the pages of the ongoing series.

Best TV series: Arrow, CW Network.  We got our first look at the pilot for this series at Comic-Con this year and loved it, but wasn’t sure how it would appeal to a mass audience.  Pretty much everyone we know watches this series, including those who would never otherwise think to look at a series about a masked superhero.  We have a critical eye out for all things Green Arrow, but Arrow, led by a well-cast Stephen Amell, surpassed our expectations.

Best Comedy Series: New Girl, Fox Network.  New Girl wins this category from one simple thing: This series made this writer laugh so hard his gut hurt and corresponding tears shot out of his eyes from the quick humor in so many scenes this year he lost count.  And when the series dipped into dramatic elements it never veered far from the core of what makes the show work–it’s a comedy first.  Tuesday night this year was New Girl night.  Jess, Nick, Schmidt, Winston and Cece could be the next Friends (but funnier) if the series can get a wider audience.

Sherlock Belgravia episode

Best Single TV Episode: Sherlock, “A Scandal in Belgravia,” BBC America.  You just have to watch this episode of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s brilliant series over and over.  The entry of the beautiful and unpredictable Irene Adler, played by Lara Pulver, was perfection, and Cumberbatch and Martin’s scene with Sherlock’s brother Mycroft in Buckingham Palace can’t be beat.  Sure to be a classic episode for years to come.

Best Cliffhanger: Shawn’s dad gets shot, Psych, USA Network.  It seems like it has been forever since Shawn’s dad Henry, played by Corbin Bernsen was shot at the end of this season’s last episode of the hit USA Network comedy/drama series.  At its core, Psych is a light-hearted pleasure, so they just CAN’T kill off Henry.  We’re really looking forward to finding out.

Best Series Ender: In Plain Sight, USA Network.*  In a year where several mega-hits wrapped for good, including House, M.D., The Closer, Awake, and Chuck, one series finale tied up all the necessary loose ends the best, and that was the aptly titled “All’s Well that Ends” from In Plain Sight, which ended after five solid seasons.  The writers skipped the gimmicks, with no gut wrenching death scenes for major cast players, but instead honored the characters as they’d been for the entire series, rewarding viewers with an end where everyone wins.  *Update:  Leverage‘s surprise December 25, 2012 series finale came in with a powerhouse finale, slightly trumping In Plain Sight at the last minute after we posted this piece.  See our review here.

Jason Isaacs in Awake

Best Series that Cancelled Too Early: Awake, NBC Network We only got to see 12 episodes of Awake, but in those episodes we saw a great paranormal drama develop.  Jason Isaacs, like Paul Blackthorne, is one of those actors you want to helm a series every week.  His dual role of father who lost his kid and husband that lost his wife, both in the same auto accident, showed this actor could do anything with a role.  Although they were able to nicely wrap-up Awake in its last episode, we’d prefer to have seen a lot more of it.

Best Surprise in Entertainment: Dallas, TNT Network.  How was this even possible?  Who would think to take THE 1980s primetime soap and bring it forward to 2012, AND think it could work?  TNT mixed a CW Network-inspired young cast with a plot continuing the struggles in the classic series and melded it into something for anyone willing to give it a try.  Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing never missed a beat as the ultimate TV villain, even in his 80s.  The writers took bits from the tangents of the original to concoct the main storyline of two young heirs fighting for family and social dominance.  The result was addictive TV.

The Major Crimes Gallery

Best Comeback:  The ensemble cast of Major Crimes The great thing about a great ensemble cast is that you like every player equally.  When this is successful, you can stand to lose a character or two and still keep going, or as was the case with the wind-up of The Closer, lose three main characters: Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson, Chief Pope, and Sgt. Gabriel.  Major Crimes added three new replacement characters and never missed a beat, pleasing fans who knew it was too soon for the stories from the L.A. Major Crimes unit to end.

Best Second Wind: Haven, Syfy Channel Some cable TV series limp along and just end after a year or two.  Haven’s single theme of solving the riddle of “the troubles” seemed a candidate for this, but something switched on with the 2012 season allowing the rich stories and great cast chemistry to give us the series’ best episodes in its three-year run so far.

Volkswagen cantina commercial

Best Genre-Related Advertisement:  Star Wars Super Bowl ad, Volkswagen The best Super Bowl ad last January with a dog, a James Brown tune, and a pristine recreation of the Mos Eisley Cantina from the original Star Wars was an instant classic that will be hard to beat in 2013.  Complete with its own recreated hive of scum and villainy, Tom Spina Designs’ creatures gave us something we want to see more of–maybe a new Disney-produced TV series based in Mos Eisley using all these obscure characters fanboys know by name?  Missed it?  See the full ad here.

Best Press Marketing: Coma mini-series press kit, A&E Network We at borg.com received tons of content this year, from books to comics to advance screeners, but one marketing gag was so awesome in its own right it surpassed what it was advertising.  The advance marketing for the Coma TV series marked a possible return by A&E to the classic TV shows we used to get in the days of shows like Price and Prejudice or Nero Wolfe.  Sporting an underground conspiracy plotline, print and online ads created a cool concept that the mini-series itself did not quite match.  When we received a human organ carrier in a “thawed” labeled box that we cautiously unzipped to find the screener, well that was just too awesome not to mention again.

Best Costumes: The Hobbit The Hobbit already made our Best Genre Movie of 2012, but it’s worth a second nod for having the most incredibly crafted costumes of possibly any film made so far in any year.  Building on the costumes of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the slow panning of the camera in The Hobbit allowed us to see every seam on Bilbo’s patch-work coat, and every new emblem on each dwarf’s tunic.  How can a production make so many unique costumes for one film?  The result sets the standard for all major films to come.

Doctor Who A Town Called Mercy

Best Borg Appearance: The Cyborg Gunslinger, Doctor Who episode, “A Town Called Mercy” Andrew Brooke’s gunslinger was a slick-looking borg addition, a throwback to Westworld that gave us equal parts of good sci-fi and classic Western movies.  Doctor Who has created the best costumes and make-up of any sci-fi franchise in the past few years and this guy just looked great.

Best Web Series: TableTop bi-weekly Internet series, Geek and Sundry.  Wil Wheaton, known for Star Trek: The Next Generation and more recently his appearances on Big Bang Theory and Leverage, as host of his own online series, brought us all back from the video game world to the boardgame format that allows friends to really interact and have fun for their own game nights.   He chatted over great games like Tsuro, Munchkin and Zombie Dice with friends and celebrities alike, and showed us what could easily translate to its own Game Show Network series.

Best Villain:  The Harp Seal, Battlepug, Mike Norton. Easy choice.  This year’s Eisner Award winner for best digital comic revealed this unexpected villain, a funny surprise for readers.  Imagine a world where the harp seal gets its due–a role reversal where warriors fear him over all other creatures.  A great idea.

Best Ongoing Comic Book Series (tie):  All-Star Western, DC ComicsArtist Moritat and writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti took a long-dead comic book title and bridged 1800s Gotham City and Jonah Hex to make a gritty and fun book that rose to the top of DC Comics’ New 52 titles first released in September 2011.  Who knew a Western comic could be this good?  Bionic Man, Dynamite Comics Phil Hester took a Kevin Smith script and expanded on it, taking the most nostalgic bits of the classic Six Million Dollar Man TV series and updating it for 2012.  The highlight of the fun was an appearance by the classic TV series guest star, Bigfoot.

Thor - God of Thunder 1

Best Single Comic Book Issue: Thor, God of Thunder #1, Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic.  How do you reintroduce a classic character like Thor in a new way?  Exactly like Aaron does in this first issue of his new series, breaking up his story into three time periods, and highlighting the changing face of Thor over time.  Ribic’s lush images of Thor and a certain strange new world escalated this book to the top of my year’s reads.

JK Woodward AssimilationSquared

Best Comic Book Art: JK Woodward, Star Trek The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation².  J.K. Woodward’s painted artwork throughout this limited series was stunning.  Probably the best depiction to-date of Star Trek characters in a comic book, Woodward took a fanboy’s dream job of merging two of the biggest sci-fi franchises together for the first story ever attempted and delivered a great looking story, now available in a trade edition.  We just want to see more.

Mystery in Space 1 by Ryan Sook

Best Comic Book Cover Art:  Mystery in Space, Ryan Sook, Vertigo Comics Ryan Sook had a big year, providing sensational covers for everything from The Shadow to the new Sword of Sorcery to one of our favorite titles, Justice League Dark.  But his cover for Vertigo Comics’ Mystery in Space #1 blended sci-fi and fantasy in the best way, with a steampunk angel painting the universe inside a spaceship with the help of flitting fairies, or is she creating our actual universe?  A great idea and perfect execution made this a standout on the store shelf this year.

Hawkeye cover by David Aja

Best Comic Book Cover Art Runner-up:  Hawkeye mini-series, David Aja Aja’s six unique Hawkeye series covers served not only to entice us to read this mini-series with great use of simple colors, but his own artwork between the covers made us feel like we were rewarded with what was advertised–a very cool and unusually stylish series.

Best Comics Collected Edition:  Flash Gordon, Volumes 1 and 2, Titan Books These were the best presented books we reviewed this year.  Reprinted Sunday comics from the 1930s and 1940s in a giant-sized edition that allowed readers to appreciate the story and art of creator Alex Raymond was a feast for the eyes.  The content allowed readers to see just how relevant and interesting the original mash-up of sci-fi and fantasy could be.

Best Retro Reviewed Book: Moonraker, Ian Fleming.  Casino Royale was a great read, Live and Let Die was a bit of a letdown, but Moonraker was as exciting as any book I’ve read in years.  Far different from the film of the same name, this thriller was packed with spy world intrigue.  Compared to all the other retro reviews this year, including Philip K. Dick classics, this one really stood out.

Best Reviewed Book: Dracula Cha Cha Cha, Kim Newman Although it was initially released in 1998, a new edition was re-released this year.  The best “post-modern steampunk” mash-up and incredibly detailed world building made this novel a great read, full of artful prose and creative crossovers.  Newman also added another level of storytelling, mixing the real world with the world of fiction, and the result is a densely packed, enjoyable volume.

Bond and Queen

Best Mash-Up of Fiction and Non-Fiction Worlds:  James Bond accompanies the Queen to the Olympics 2012 was the Year of Bond with his 50th year in film.  How better to highlight the best of Jolly Old England at this year’s Summer Olympics than to begin with a meeting of the current James Bond, Daniel Craig, and the actual Queen Elizabeth II in her 60th year in Buckingham Palace, followed by a faked aerial dive by the Queen over the stadium in London.  The Queen was a real sport, adding herself to the long list of Bond girls.  And don’t forget the real-world borg Oscar Pistorius’s impressive showings at the Olympics this year.

Comic-Con Firefly 10th Anniversary Panel

Best Genre Event: The Firefly 10th Anniversary Panel at Comic-Con.  More than 7,000 fans stood in line for only about 5,000 seats but the all-night wait was worth seeing most of the cast of Firefly reunite with creators Joss Whedon and Tom Minnear to talk about the short-lived series.  Firefly fans are a passionate bunch, and were able to get Whedon to make the big-budget movie Serenity a few years after cancellation.  But get most of the stars to come back ten years later?  Pretty cool feat.  With Whedon and series co-star Adam Baldwin (Jayne) dropping by to greet the people sleeping and standing in line overnight it was an event that attendees will never forget.

Best News Story: George Lucas sells Star Wars rights to Disney Some liked it and some hated it, but as months go by we’ll see what it all means.  As entertainment goes, this multi-billion dollar exchange was the talk everywhere this year.

Best Science Story: Curiosity lands on Mars.  NASA’s description of dropping a rover on the surface of the planet Mars sounded like threading a needle blind-folded wearing gloves.  Its early morning coverage of the successful landing was something like the moon landing, and made everyone want to see what more we can do in the space program now that the last Space Shuttle has been mothballed.  What will the future hold for NASA and humans in outer space?

Best Nationwide Genre Participation Event: The Avengers Marathon, AMC Theaters We only wished for something like this when we were kids–the ability to watch something like all the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies in one screening.  The lead-up to the midnight premiere of The Avengers allowed fans to watch all the lead-in Avengers films so far:  Iron Man I and II, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger.  A great idea that will hopefully continue with other franchise films.

Best Single Thing for Genre Works: The Avengers movie.  Genre, and specifically superhero, films needed a good kickstart.  The dark and dreary Dark Knight trilogy from Christopher Nolan was monopolizing superhero films, and we needed a giant, vibrant superhero film to usher in a new age of comic book films and Joss Whedon delivered the goods.  It’s not a perfect film (and what is?) but was completely fun and entertaining, delivering something every fan could enjoy.  Challenging the top two positions for all-time box office draw also showed everyone that fans want to see more of this kind of movie.

What were your favorites?  We hope a few of these are on your own list.  We at borg.com will be back with more coverage and reviews in 2013.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

This past July at San Diego Comic-Con the panel generating the most buzz before and after was the 10th Anniversary of the cult sci-fi TV series Firefly, featuring the first reunion of most of the main cast since they created the 2005 movie Serenity.  The panel opened to thousands of fans that camped out overnight (re-live all the fun we had there again here) and featured creator Joss Whedon, and writer/producers Tim Minnear and Jose Molina, and cast members Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, and Sean Maher.   The panel was hosted by the Science Channel, which was producing a one-hour TV special that aired Sunday night.  The TV special celebrating the anniversary of the series, titled Firefly: Browncoats Unite, was filmed right before the Comic-Con panel, and included excerpts of the panel, as well as scenes from the series and interviews with show stars who did not attend the panel: Gina Torres, Morena Baccarin, and Jewel Staite.

Science Channel’s one-hour production of Firefly: Browncoats Unite proved yet again the incredible popularity of the short-lived series, which continues to garner new fans each year in a sort of grassroots fan movement driven by the idea that maybe Joss Whedon can one day “put the gang back together again.”   Firefly: Browncoats Unite was watched by 1.2 million distinct viewers–the night was the single most watched Sunday ever for the Science Channel, and the second highest-rated telecast of the year among 25-54 year-olds.  Chatter about the series also tallied 25,000 tweets on Twitter, generating 26 million impressions.

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When she last left us at the end of last season’s finale of the USA Network TV series Fairly Legal, Sarah Shahi’s character Kate Reed shouted defiantly “I’ll be back!” challenging the network to not renew for another season.  Luckily for all of us, she was right, as the series continues Friday, March 16.

Fairly Legal was a great series all season long last year, and here are 5 reasons why you should catch up on episodes online or on demand and get ready for the season two premiere:

(1) Sarah Shahi.  So many actors and actresses get boring over the course of a weekly TV series.  Likely the brutal production schedules wear people down, especially for leading roles such as the one Shahi plays as lawyer Kate Reed where Shahi is in pretty much every minute of production.  This often makes it to the screen.  Not so for Sarah Shahi.  She is like a bottle of pure energy.  She has an infectious smile and sells the role as a put-upon, modern lawyer trying to juggle professional duties and private life in the modern world.  If you want to see Shahi in another great series, check out the two seasons of Life, co-starring the brilliant Homeland star Damian Lewis.

(2) Gerald McRaney.  Not since he starred in Simon & Simon has McRaney played such a likeable character as his decidedly unlikeable Judge David Nicastro. McRaney drove Kate relentlessly through the first season not for the sake of keeping Kate in line, but to bring out her best.  McRaney’s Judge is very real–practical in his needs and not the textbook black and white executioner type that appears in so many legal dramas.

(3) Good writing.  Kate Reed is probably the most realistic depiction of a working lawyer that has ever appeared on a TV legal drama.  Unlike district attorneys Jack McCoy and Ben Stone from the original Law and Order, who, to be sure, were characters that all lawyers aspire to, Kate doesn’t deliver perfect advice her first time out.  She does not come off as polished.  She deals with hostile conditions.  She has to be both juggler, policeman, and fire fighter.  And that means prioritizing, and like most lawyers she over-commits her time, resulting in the need to make quick decisions.  Kate illustrates that the number one of job of any lawyer is problem solving, and like most real lawyers, she doesn’t spend the day arguing in court, but instead trying to settle disputes, attempting always to reach the coveted “win-win.”

(4) San Francisco.  Let’s face it, San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities to film a TV series.  Over the years countless stories have been filmed there, including Bullitt, Streets of San Francisco, Dirty Harry, Monk, Sneakers, Star Trek IV, Vertigo, and So I Married an Axe Murderer, and the bustling but sunny and vibrant downtown with iconic filming locations make San Francisco come off as not a big city full of dangers, but a place you can see Kate making her mark.

(5) Supporting cast.  If you are a fan of the reboot Battlestar Galactica, you will remember actor Michael Trucco, who plays Kate’s on again-off again husband on Fairly Legal.  He plays the typical lawyer you’d see in any other legal drama, which, in contrast to Kate, allows us to see how exceptional her skills really are.  Baron Vaughn’s character Leonardo Prince is Kate’s also-put-upon assistant.  He is hilarious as a legal assistant who behind the scenes is a big pop culture junkie, and over the course of the first season showed that Kate, even as chaotic as she seems, may very well be a good mentor.

So what’s the series all about?  Kate Reed’s father died, living his law firm to Kate and his second wife, Lauren, played icily by Virginia Williams.  Kate decided not to be a traditional lawyer, but instead be a mediator–here a lawyer hired by two parties to a dispute to resolve their differences, much like a dual agent.  Kate and Lauren barely tolerate each other, and Lauren actually fires Kate from the firm at the end of season one.  Once Kate takes a case she is fiercely passionate and is willing to tear up her own personal life to get to a happy result for her disputing clients.  In one superbly crafted scene last season, Kate encounters a bicyclist and a taxi driver in an altercation.  Although she is a mere bystander, she bends the world to fit her logic, practically strong-arming both of them to resolve their differences and move along.  And she lives on a boat.

Fairly Legal airs this spring along with the equally brilliant In Plain Sight Friday nights on USA Network.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

To get to borg.com’s first anniversary it actually took us 366 days because of the leap year.  And what a year it has been!

So what do we have to show for 366 daily posts–our attempt to keep you up to date on what is going on in science fiction, fantasy, and entertainment news?

Jason McClain and Elizabeth C. Bunce

We interviewed some great people, like DC Comics artists Freddie Williams and Mikel Janin, writers Sharon Shinn and Jai Nitz, and Star Trek insider Penny Juday.  In our “Sneak preview” series we reviewed the pilots for new TV series ABC’s New Girl and NBC’s Awake before they were broadcast on TV.  We gave you our take on several opening weekend screenings of a big year in movies from Cowboys & Aliens to Green Lantern, from the last Harry Potter film to Daniel Radcliffe’s first big adult role in The Woman in Black,  to the day of Marvel Comics movies that led up to the U.S. premiere of The Avengers We shared the first images released of The Hobbit and Total Recall We reviewed new books and classic sci-fi books in our “Retro reviews,” from Philip K. Dick, Ian Fleming, Michael Crichton, Rex Stout, Ernest Cline, and Richard Stark, and several non-fiction books about the “behind the scenes” of movies.  We covered Comic-Con International, Wondercon, Planet Comicon, Free Comic Book Day and the early release party for Avengers vs. X-Men We reviewed dozens of new comic book series, from Morning Glories to Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising and a whole slew of DC’s New 52 reboot, as well as Marvel Comics’ limited series events.  Along with that we’ve kept tabs on our (and hopefully your) favorite things like Doctor Who, Star Trek, Walking Dead, Peter Jackson, baseball, Community, Benedict Cumberbatch, the Syfy Channel, USA Network, James Bond, Batman and Green Arrow.  We’ve posted lots of original comic art to get an eye on the creative process of the artist, and we loved discussing genre costumes, including the latest news about incredible screen-used prop and costume auctions.  We’ve also taken a closer look at science fiction movies with our “Anatomy of science fiction” series, featuring iconic images, and the evolution of space suits in film.  And to give you ideas for movie watching from the archives, we provided our “favorites” and “best of” series, revealing our recommendations for overlooked TV series, Halloween flicks, favorite fantasy films, best adaptations, favorite characters, and best art of Alex Ross and Frank Cho.  We’ve profiled favorite genre stars like David Warner, John Carpenter and Mark Sheppard.  We’ve reviewed new compact discs from some of our favorite celebrities, Hugh Laurie and Zoey Deschanel, as well as new fantasy video games.  And finally, we’ve talked about borgs from every sci-fi franchise out there, and even how borg technology as cutting edge science affects humans in real life.

Art Schmidt and CJ Bunce

We think we like what you’d like, so we’ve tried to help you get the most out of entertainment by recommending to you the best sci-fi, fantasy and entertainment out there.

A personal thanks to professional writers Elizabeth C. Bunce (fantasy author, intrepid TV reviewer and fangirl), Jason McClain (Hollywood columnist and master of myriad musings) and Art Schmidt (diehard genre fan and fantasy realm connoisseur) for their great contributions and getting us more than 250,000 site visits and hundreds of positive feedback comments in only our first year.

Thanks for reading!  Year 2 begins tomorrow…

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

After months of vigorous publicity, USA Network’s latest buddy cop dramedy Common Law debuted Friday night, with mixed results.  USA has long been teasing viewers with hints at the show’s premise: two quibbling homicide detectives attend couple’s counseling to work out their differences.  Starring Michael Ealy (Barbershop, Underworld: Awakening) and Warren Cole (24) and featuring veteran character actor Jack McGee as their lieutenant and Sonya Walger (Lost, The Sarah Connor Chronicles) as the therapist, Common Law is an uneven mix of action, comedy, and police drama.  With the USA pedigree behind it, it has a long way to go to catch up to network winners like White Collar and Burn Notice.

Let’s start with the premise.  It’s good!  It’s funny, it’s got a great hook, and the framework of the rocky relationship is something that can easily span multiple seasons of a series (unlike, say, Prison Break).  We first meet our heroes in the middle of their first group therapy session, filling out personality questionnaires to prove how well the “partners” know each other.  The jokes initially hinge on the double entendres, but do manage to rise above the obvious, delivering a few funny moments and revealing some depth to both leads.  Therapist Walger is competent, although the pilot didn’t give her much opportunity to shine in the role; we’ll be watching to see if she becomes a memorable character in her own right like the late Stanley Kamel of Monk.

As a cop drama, the pilot was lackluster.  Again, remember twenty years of Law & Order, seven seasons of The Closer, and the short but brilliant Life.  This is a genre with savvy viewers who expect standout scripts and performances.  The murder was forgettable (literally; it’s been less than twenty-four hours, and I’m having trouble remembering it), the writing just average, and the guest performances all lacked spark.  They’ll need to raise the mystery and casting to the level of the premise for the show to keep my interest.

Strong performances by leads Travis (Ealy) and Wes (Kole) helped the pilot rise above its draggy plot and uninspired dialogue.  Both were nicely developed, with complex backstories.  Travis was raised in foster care, and Wes is a disillusioned former lawyer (although I would have liked to see those somewhat stereotypical histories reversed).  Travis is a freewheeling ladies’ man, Wes an uptight perfectionist, and the two have landed themselves in hot water when Wes drew his gun on Travis over an argument.  Enter Captain Sutton (McGee), who believes the same couple’s therapy that saved his marriage will do wonders for his best detectives.  Ealy and Kole have great chemistry (or, at the moment, an entertaining lack thereof) and set the tone for the show.  But McGee somehow feels out of step with the rest, adding an element of farce to an otherwise fairly dark humor.  There was something off there that didn’t quite work for me.

However, some standout moments give this viewer hope for the series.  A couple of really great action sequences featured clever twists on familiar police drama scenes (a convenience store holdup, the foot pursuit of a suspect).  The foot pursuit, in particular, combined great filming/editing and some truly awe-inspiring synchronized stunt work by Wes and Travis.  If Common Law features more of that in coming episodes, I will have a good reason to keep tuning in.

They are three very different series, one an 11 season megahit, one a five season struggling hit, and the other a one-season series that missed its audience and hardly had a chance at all.  Fox’s House, M.D. finished its eleventh season Monday with a Hugh Laurie retrospective (where actors Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard end by trashing the production set) and a textbook finale episode.  USA Network’s In Plain Sight pulled itself together in the final two seasons and ended with a satisfying conclusion earlier this month–the best finale of the three series reviewed here.  NBC’s one season series Awake, a series inexplicably cut short when NBC continues other much weaker, tired programming, provided a rare opportunity to wrap a cancelled series, bookending a stunningly well written series with a clean finish in Thursday night’s finale.

If you haven’t seen these finales you’d do yourself a favor to stop, watch them online or elsewhere, and come back, as there be spoilers ahead here.

House, M.D. had some powerhouse seasons and a superb cast that was ever-changing.  That change took the series to a new level.  With Doctors Chase (Jesse Spencer), Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), and Foreman (Omar Epps) one-upping each other over the first seasons, and an ongoing “will they or won’t they” storyline between Hugh Laurie’s Dr. Greg House and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), it took the break-up of the team and a room full of candidates for House’s team to really show the series’ potential.  Enter Doctors Taub (Peter Jacobson), Kutner (Kal Penn), and the Doctors we knew as Cutthroat Bitch (Anne Dudek) and Thirteen (Olivia Wilde) in competition for House’s praise and a place on staff.  Only when the writers finally gave in and put House and Cuddy together did the show fall apart, but then a minor character named Martha Masters played by Amber Tamblyn turned the show around and it sailed in for a strong finish this season as we got to see House with his ideal wife, Dominika, played by Karolina Wydra.

But the writers always returned to what really gave the series heart–House’s friend Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard)–and creator David Shore all but admitted the inspiration for House in the finale’s retrospective.  As we’d always expected the House/Holmes (pronounce it “Homes” if you need to) and Wilson/Watson was intentional, including the House/Holmes brilliant analytical mind and antisocial nature, and to highlight it further the season finale mirrored the famous Sherlock Holmes case, “The Reichenbach Fall.”   Ultimately House, M.D. was a weekly buddy series, and the creators gave us the last scene we all needed.  A big plus for the finale was the return of past cast members, except the glaringly missing Cuddy, with even Kal Penn’s Kutner returning from the dead for an appearance.  And we knew that Doctor Chase would ultimately come out on top in the battle to replace House.  Taking the chair of House’s desk leaves us with the thought that the “show will go on” if not on TV then, by analogy, in real life.

In Plain Sight started almost unsure of what it wanted to be with star Mary McCormack playing an ever-irritable witness relocation program U.S. Marshal who was the bad end of a relationship with cool and (almost) decent boyfriend Raph (Cristian de la Fuente).  Then we began to understand her more as we met her disaster of a family, mom Jinx (Leslie Ann Warren) and sister Brandi (Nichole Hiltz).  Jinx and Brandi got so bad at points you felt bad for the actresses having to play these roles.  But Mary had the best support team you could wish on a person: partner Marshal Marshall Mann (played by Frederick Weller) (a strange character name that worked anyway) who was smart and full of brainy curiosities, and boss Stan McQueen (Paul Ben-Victor), a gruff but perfect-for-Mary leader of the Albuquerque federal office.  Creative differences almost lost the audience at the end of season two, but a re-focus on Mary prompted the series to pick itself up in time for actress Mary McCormack’s real-life pregnancy that the producers smartly just adapted for her character in season four, one of the best seasons of writing an acting for any actress on any television series.

As for the finale, the “will they or won’t they” angst we saw botched by allowing House and Cuddy get together, kept us guessing until almost the last scene for Mary Shannon and Marshall Mann.  When Marshall finally professes his love for Mary in the finale you could hear a collective sigh of relief across the viewing audience.  But it wasn’t what the passing viewer might think–it was true to both characters and simply a perfect climax to the relationship between these two partners, resulting in Marshall taking over the Albuquerque office where he could finally take care of Mary and still marry his fiancée Detective Chaffee (Rachel Boston), while Mary ends up with a new beau and boss Stan gets promoted to the Washington, DC office with new girlfriend Lia (Tia Carrere in the final season’s most refreshing new role).   As satisfying endings go, In Plain Sight simply was a winner.

As standalone episodes, the Awake finale packed a rollercoaster of action, twists, and emotion, with all the important plot threads nicely tied up.  The only problem with Awake likely was that it aired in a primetime slot on a major network.  On any other network–Fox, CW, USA, AMC–Awake would have found its audience and been a smash hit.  But NBC’s typical viewer does not like the clever supernatural drama as NBC has proven with prior cancellations year after year.  Awake was exciting, and included a cast of brilliant actors headlined by British actor Jason Isaacs, who, like fellow Brit Hugh Laurie, offered up a pitch perfect American accent.  Preparing for the worst, the creators readied a season finale that could stand strong as a series finale should the show get cancelled, and low viewership resulted in just that end.  Isaacs’ character Detective Britten never got any rest in season one–every time he awakened he was in a different reality–and it seemed as if Isaacs himself had a heavy burden playing this challenging character in an Emmy-worthy performance.  In fact, if Emmys nominees were being considered right now, you could bet Laurie, McCormack, and Isaacs would be strong contenders.

Awake’s finale allowed the supporting cast to shine–Detective Freeman (Steve Harris), Detective Vega (Wilmer Valderrama), and Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones) and Dr. Lee (BD Wong) only scratched the surface of what future seasons could have revealed.  Missed opportunities, such as what was to happen between Detective Britten and Tara (Michaela McManus), will never be known. Although we will never learn the “why” of the series, the unravelling of the car crash that got Britten into the entire mess gave viewers what we wanted in the end–a way for Britten to undo the past, or at least move forward as if the crash never ruined his life.

Sadly, we likely will never see the one-season Awake characters again other than on DVD, but House, M.D. and In Plain Sight will likely visit us again and again forever in syndication.  The good news is that these great actors are now freed up to give us something else.  What will Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard, Mary McCormack, Peter Jacobson, Jesse Spencer and Jason Isaacs do next?

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

USA Network’s hour-long comedy about a fake psychic detective solving real crimes began its fifth season this week, with the first notable guest spots the network promises to be a key feature of this season.  As “Sean Rescues Darth Vader” opens, hyper-observant Sean Spencer (James Roday) is shown “James Bonding it up in here” at the mansion of the British ambassador (Malcolm McDowell, Heroes, Time After Time, Star Trek Generations), where a party is underway for an exchange student newly acquitted of the murder of his girlfriend.  True to series tradition, Sean’s presence at the mansion has nothing at all to do with any of that–the Psych team has been hired by a kid to recover the vintage Darth Vader action figure the ambassador’s son stole from him.

And, of course, in true Psych tradition, things only get wilder and more ridiculous from there, when Sean stumbles over a murder victim and nearly gets caught by security guards as he flees the mansion.  The episode is a classic Psych premiere–slightly more over-the-top than usual, featuring big-name guest stars (McDowell is joined by veteran British actress Polly Walker (Enchanted April, Patriot Games)); a semi-irrelevant plot; silly banter and jackassery by Sean (here his obsession with achieving diplomatic immunity); and verbal sparring between Sean and frenemy Detective Lassiter (Timothy Omundson, Judging Amy, Starship Troopers, Xena: Warrior Princess, Star Wars video games).

Although every cast regular got decent screentime, Omundson probably had the standout role in this episode.  Driven by his anger over discovering Juliet’s relationship with Sean in last season’s finale (“Yang 3 in 2D”), Lassiter dials up his determination to discredit Sean, and we see some great funny moments as he administers polygraph tests to Juliet and Sean.  In a notable departure from series tradition, the flashback to Sean’s childhood that is typically the opening of each episode was moved to the end, where we saw Henry Spencer training his son to beat a lie detector.  I’m not sure such a move was necessary, because the audience already knows Sean is lying, but it did create a moment of outraged suspense, as fans all over were likely exclaiming over the missing flashback sequence.  I guess I can’t complain.

According to USA Network, we’ll see lots more guest stars this season: William Shatner, Danny Glover, Jason Priestley, Wayne Brady, Molly Ringwald, and Madchen Amick, among others.  We’ll also see the first episode written and directed by James Roday, in which Detective Lassiter finds love.  And I’m sure we’re all looking forward to seeing how that plays out.

What makes a great character?  The USA Network has used “character” as its marketing focus for the past few years, even using it to make advertising dollars by making their character of the week the Priceline Negotiator when William Shatner was guest starring as the father of Maggie Lawson’s character Juliet O’Hara on the TV series Psych.  In genre fiction, especially in popular sci-fi vs serious science fiction, whether it is in TV or film or books, sometimes character gets swallowed up by setting.   More than anywhere else, in science fiction or fantasy or mysteries you need a good balance between character and place, but if you don’t have characters that grow and change you probably have a weak story altogether.

So what makes a great character a favorite?  Is it their job?  Their passion?  Something they did?  Their reaction to their environment?  Beyond what makes him or her, or it, great, what makes a character something you form a personal attachment to?   How do you determine who your favorite characters are?

Maybe you’re drawn to favorite archetypes.  A lot of what I watch on TV and in movies are detectives to some extent or another.  Is there a more long-lived and admired character than Sherlock Holmes, for example?  My favorite incarnation of all the film versions is the current Sherlock series on BBC starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  This is followed second closely by Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law’s Sherlock Holmes movie series.  But Holmes has been injected in other incarnations, too.  Batman is Holmes in a cape with crime-fighting gadgets.  Hugh Laurie’s Dr. Gregory House on House M.D. is Holmes as a modern genius of medicine.  Psych‘s Shaun Spencer is Holmes as master sleuth posing as a psychic.

We like Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, and Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman.  Why?  Are they really just modern versions of Frankenstein’s monster?  Same for Robocop?  These characters challenge what it is to be human.  More than any other character in sci-fi, Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation sought out his humanity, but even he was a modern version of Pinocchio, a puppet trying to be a real boy, and Mr. Spock, who was part Vulcan, part human, had the same struggle discovering who he was.  Maybe we just like them because, like the Fonz, they are just plain cool to us?

Characters all fall into the classic struggles, of one or more conflicts, of a struggle between man and himself, between man and other men, or between man and society.  Is it that struggle that grabs our attention?

Popular characters get made into books, TV shows, movies, franchises.  Like Batman, Superman, James Bond, Doctor Who, Jack Ryan, John McClane, Buffy Summers, Indiana Jones, Alice in Resident Evil, Lara Croft, Harry Potter, Hobbits.  Other characters you might just get a glimpse of, but then you’re hooked and they become your favorites for life.  Like Boba Fett, Tron, Yoda, Gimli, Johnny Fever, Chewbacca, Theoden King.  And your favorite characters may not be humans or even human-like.  Maybe they are animals, like Benji or Lassie.  Or something not exactly human or animal, like Grover from Sesame Street, or Cookie Monster, Eeyore the long-eared donkey from Winnie the Pooh, Calvin (or Hobbes!) from Calvin and Hobbes, Ferdinand the Bull, E.T., Snoopy from Peanuts, Yukon Cornelius from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Foghorn Leghorn, Scooby Doo.  Some characters have the classic hero role, like Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Dorothy Gale, Captain James T. Kirk, Scarlett O’Hara, Hiro Nakamura, Captain Kathryn Janeway, Ivanhoe, Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, Snow White, Eowyn, Mace Windu.  Some favorite characters serve as villains, often villains we love to hate, like Darth Vader, Maleficent, Sark, the Wicked Witch of the West, Colonel Nathan Jessup, Sauron, Commander Kruge, Willie Stark, the Joker, Lex Luthor, Khan, the Terminator, The Borg.  Maybe they are hard to fit into any category, like Billy Pilgrim or John Casey.

What makes a character your favorite?  As opposed to the question “Who is the greatest character in any genre work?” what is your “favorite” is purely subjective.  Maybe there is little great to be said about your personal favorite.  Maybe your favorite is a well-meaning screw-up like Al Bundy or Homer Simpson.  Maybe it’s someone clueless, like Cher, Alicia Silverstone’s character in the movie Clueless.  Maybe it’s someone who can’t get a break, like George Bailey or Joan Wilder or  Clear in Final Destination 1 and 2.  Maybe it’s someone as innocent as can be, like Buddy the Elf in the movie Elf, or purely good, like Santa Claus, or Fred Gailey, the lawyer who represented Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street.   Or maybe it’s people like Fred who protect and defend others, like Ben Stone or Archie Goodwin or Inigo Montoya or Jack McCoy or Thomas Magnum or Frozone or Robin Hood or Atticus Finch.

Who are our favorites?  Starting tomorrow and for the next four days we’ll ask the borg.com writers to reveal their top five favorites from genre fiction, from any media, books, film, TV, or anything else with characters they can come up with.

Check out the Editor’s picks here.

Check out Art Schmidt’s picks here.

Check out Jason McClain’s picks here.

Check out Elizabeth C. Bunce’s picks here.

White Collar wrapped its best run yet last night with a exciting cat and mouse story guest starring Beau Bridges as Agent Peter Burke’s mentor from the DC FBI office, in town to help Burke prove a missing treasure of lost art and artifacts was stolen by his friend and confidential informant, Neil Caffrey.  The treasure served as the back story for each of the episodes in this summer run, the first part of the third season of this USA network series.  But it is the relationship between the characters, and more than that the clear chemistry between Tim Dekay (Peter) and Matt Bomer (Neil Caffrey), DeKay and Tiffani Thiessen (Neil’s wife Ellie), Thiessen and Willie Garson (Mozzie), Bomer and Hilarie Burton (Caffrey’s girlfriend Sara), and Thiessen, Garson, Bomer and Dekay together that made a good first two seasons finally catapult this year into a sharp, witty, and intriguing spy and cop show.  For finally hitting its stride and achieving the potential we knew this show had in it, White Collar has become the best TV series this year.

Highlights of the season include the episode “Dentist of Detroit,” where a feared crime boss from Mozzie’s Detroit past is rumored to have surfaced in Manhattan, and we learn the details of Mozzie’s secret past.  What kind of name is Dentist of Detroit for a mob boss?  What’s scarier than a dentist?  Mozzie’s past is traced from his youth to today, and we get to see how this strange, little paranoid fellow became the savvy thief and con man we know and love.

In the penultimate episode of the season, “On the Fence,” Matt Bomer paired up with his former co-star of Tru Calling, Eliza Dushku, in her first solidly mature, adult television role, where she proved to stand on equal ground with every other actor on the show.  She played a stylish and “spicy” Egyptologist, who may or may not be a part of a shady underworld of trade in illegal artifacts.  A stolen amulet, the possible end to Neil’s best relationship to date, Neil wrestling with holding back from Mozzie the fact he has a copy of the manifest, the return of Peter’s kidnapper (Keller) from earlier in the series, and Mozzie’s steely tough decision to put a $6 million bounty on Keller’s head to protect Caffrey, all adds up to great TV watching.

In the second episode of the season, “Where There’s a Will,” Peter and Neil followed a treasure map to uncover the kidnapper of a little girl.  The team sleuths out a dead man who forged signatures on his own wills, Mozzie introduces the idea to sell the Degas out of the warehouse treasure, Mozzie brings in Peter’s dog Satchmo to an art gallery to create a diversion, the show introduces Anna Chlumsky as an art crimes expert coming to look at the partial treasure manifest who succombs to Caffrey’s charms, and clue after clue to determine who the kidnapper is makes this a standout episode for the series.

But the most enjoyable episode so far goes to the seventh episode of the season, “Taking Account,” where a computer hacker empties the entirety of a bank’s customer accounts, causing Caffrey and Sara to track down the hacker and steal the money back.  Sara and Neil then go on a crazy extravagant spending spree, and we get to go along for the ride.  Sara and Neil get to live it up, albeit briefly, as they predictably get found out by Peter.  A rousing and funny episode with all the characters and actors in top form.  The relationship between Neil and Sara seems to have definitively replaced the less interesting relationship between Neil and Kate, and hopefully we will see Neil and Sara rekindle their partnership in future episodes.

While its first two seasons were fresh and new, more episodes than not were just not memorable and the characters and story were struggling to find their footings.  But this year the producers, writers and cast finally amped up their game.  With any luck White Collar will hopefully continue its newly found momentum when it continues the 2011 season this winter.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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