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Tag Archive: Life on Mars


Intruders

BBC America has been advertising the new series Intruders for months now but this extended trailer should be all you need to know this is a series pilot not to be missed.  So stick around after Doctor Who’s big premiere episode with the 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi Saturday night.  It looks like Kate Hudson’s Skeleton Key and Daniel Radcliffe’s The Woman in Black meets Marchlands and Lightfields.

As thrillers go they got this preview right, with pretty heavy doses of creepy–just right for a late night show with the lights off.  How can they go wrong, with stars like John Simm–star of Life on Mars, one of the five best television series of all time–and Mira Sorvino, Oscar winner and versatile actress most recently dazzling us as a cop on Psych?  Add in James Frain and Robert Forster–Frain a more recent character actor showing up everywhere, and Forster a genre TV staple–and this show just begs to be seen.

Check out this extended preview for Intruders:

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Simm in intruders

Put together Academy Award winning actress Mira Sorvino and star of the British mega-hit Life on Mars John Simm, add in Blair Witch Project’s Eduardo Sanchez and The X-Files executive producer Glen Morgan, and what do you get?  It’s the new BBC America series Intruders.  Based on the novel The Intruders by Michael Marshall Smith, Intruders has the dark and creepy vibe of The X-Files and the supernatural horror of Skeleton Key.

The sci-fi/paranormal thriller is set in the Pacific Northwest and follows Simm as Jack Whelan, a former LAPD cop with a troubled past whose quiet life is shaken when his wife (Sorvino) Amy vanishes.  Whelan is consumed by the investigation into his wife’s disappearance as an underworld society is enmeshed with the pursuit of an assassin and another case involving a missing girl.

Why will Intruders be worth checking out?  If you watched Life on Mars–the British original, not the U.S. remake–you’ll know how brilliant John Simm can be as the lead in a mystery tale.  You may also have seen him in State of Play (the original British series, not the American movie remake) or as The Master in Doctor Who.  Mira Sorvino will also be a welcome addition to television.  In the TV realm we’ve only seen her recently at the tail end of the Psych series (in a great, quirky role) and before that in a guest spot on House, M.D.

Sorvino in Intruders

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Sherlock scenery A

Review by C.J. Bunce

There’s got to be a reason that the third season premiere of BBC’s Sherlock was the most downloaded episode ever at Youku.com, a major source of streaming TV content in China.  Whether it’s the writing, the stunning movie-worthy cinematography, or the stellar cast you return for, Sherlock’s new season began with a gripping, emotional, and downright compelling opener.  Of course, like seasons one and two (the Brits call them series one and two), we only get three episodes this season.  Which begs the question:  What the heck is wrong with the Brits???  (Ahem, we mean that in the nicest way possible).

But seriously.  Probably the best TV series of all time, the original Life on Mars, lasted only three seasons.  Why???  The Hour got cancelled after two seasons.  Why???  And instead of series in the U.S. that may have 13 or more episodes a season, Sherlock has only three episodes.  Why???  Does the BBC not realize what a goldmine it has?  If the theory is that the three annual episodes are so brilliant because the BBC takes its time and can focus on only three episodes to make them so dazzling… well that’s just not good enough.  Let’s devote more resources to Sherlock and other superb British series.  Just look at Mr. Selfridge– it has ten episodes in the queue this season.  That’s more like it!

Holmes and Watson

OK enough ranting.  Steven Moffat has said “We think of them as films because they are ninety minutes long and once we knew we weren’t doing hour long episodes they needed to be on that sort of scale. They have to have the size and weight of a movie.”  Since it’s the great Mr. Moffat we’ll just let him have the last word.  Sherlock is must-watch television, period, so let’s move along.

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Almost Human partners

This year’s TV series Almost Human had the potential to be a big hit, with movie star Karl Urban as one of the two lead actors, and a classic sci-fi plot that looked like it would mix RoboCop, Alien Nation, Blade Runner, and Total Recall.  After a fun but uncertain pilot episode, it has managed to deliver each week the kind of science fiction stories that are stuff of classic TV.  Almost Human isn’t just sci-fi, it’s a full-blown police procedural drama, and a good old-fashioned buddy cop show to boot.

The series centers on megastar-film actor Karl Urban’s future cop, Detective John Kennex.  Kennex is a grumpy guy with baggage, a past encounter gone bad resulted in the death of his partner and the need for a cybernetic leg.  Early detractors of the series likened his Kennex too much to his similarly gruff Doctor McCoy from the new Star Trek movies.  It’s a fair comparison.  But we don’t care.  They are both great characterizations and the miserable, tough guy routine is separable and fun to watch, especially Kennex’s banter with co-star Michael Ealy as almost human robot cop Dorian, an android of a decommissioned type who has become Kennex’s partner.  In fact, the buddy cop routine will make you think of your favorite buddy cop shows, in the league of Alien Nation, Adam-12, Life on Mars, Hot Fuzz, Dragnet, Life, White Collar, and Starsky and Hutch.

Almost Human buddy cops

This week’s episode was emblematic of why the series is destined to continue as long as the network will let it.  The writers basically took the plot from a classic episode of Law and Order about pacemakers being refurbished and placed in new people.  Here, that concept is blended with a current political item: what happens if there is no Affordable Care Act in the future, and a current element of technology some people use every day: the prepaid cell phone.  So how did the writers put it all together?

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Broadchurch Tennant and Whittaker

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

Two episodes down and we at borg seem to be the only viewers utterly underwhelmed by BBC America’s hotly-anticipated new import, Broadchurch.  Lured in by trailers featuring some of our genre favorites, including Jodie Whittaker (Attack the Block), David Tennant, and Arthur Darvill (both, Doctor Who), we eagerly cleared our schedule and tuned in, expecting the sort of dazzling drama that series like The Hour and Life on Mars have led us to expect from BBC.  We won’t tell you what happened next (it makes borg.com reviewer Elizabeth C. Bunce seem soulless), and we won’t waste the bandwidth trying to shout over the accolades.  Instead we’re putting our energy into giving other disappointed viewers what they really wanted from the eight-part series.  Unfortunately for many American viewers, several of these shows have not yet made it to Region 1 (U.S.) DVD, but they are well worth tracking down.

If you tuned in to see…

Whittaker in Marchlands

Jodie Whittaker as a grieving mum, try Marchlands (reviewed earlier this year here at borg.com)

The luminous Jodie Whittaker gives a haunting, nuanced performance as a young mother trying to come to terms with the disappearance of her daughter, while stifled by life at her in-laws’ home and the judgement of local villagers.  Also starring Denis Lawson (Bleak House, Star Wars) and Doctor Who’s own River Song, Alex Kingston (Arrow), Marchlands is a complex look at the lingering resonance of one family’s tragedy.  Plus there are ghosts, which in borg.com’s opinion is always a bonus.  (And if you love Marchlands then you’ll want to see the follow-on series Lightfields we also reviewed here).

Morrissey and Tennant in Viva Blackpool

David Tennant investigating a murder in an idyllic seaside village, check out Viva Blackpool (just Blackpool in the UK)

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Marchlands cast - can you find Alice

With a television series featuring Doctor Who and Arrow’s Alex Kingston, Life on Mars’s Dean Andrews, Luke Skywalker’s pal Wedge Antilles, and the lead actress from Attack the Block, you just can’t go wrong.  And it’s really hard to beat an old British cottage near the woods as the setting when you’re creating a ghost story.  Add to it one of borg.com’s most discussed subjects: a movie about a creepy little girl, and you’re in for a good show.  That could not be more true than with the UK mini-series Marchlands.  UK production company ITV and 20th Century Fox created an expertly constructed five-part, supernatural drama mini-series that traverses three families living in different eras in the same British house.

Marchlands title card

Marchlands first aired in the UK in 2010, but it hasn’t been released in the States yet. In fact the only way to view it is to buy it from a British online retailer along with a DVD player that will play DVDs from Europe.   Along with watching all the other series from the UK long before they cross the lake to America, going the extra mile to get access to these series is well worth the effort.

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Dr Who Xmas Special poster

Premiering tomorrow night on BBC America is the annual Christmas Special and this year’s show is also the first episode of the new season of Doctor Who with new Jenna-Louise Coleman playing Clara Oswin, the new companion to Matt Smith’s eleventh Doctor.  (Actress Jenna-Louise Coleman played the character earlier this year in the episode “Asylum of the Daleks,” but was not yet his companion).  As has been a tradition in Britain for years, BBC America is presenting the Doctor Who Christmas Special to U.S. fans again this year, airing Tuesday at 8 p.m. Central/9 p.m. Eastern, subtitled “The Snowmen.”

Dr Who special 1

BBC America released two previews for the Special, the first a longer preview “prequel/minisode” introduced by Smith and Coleman, and a second more standard teaser revealing guest star Richard E. Grant (The Scarlet Pimpernel, Bob Cratchitt in Patrick Stewart’s A Christmas Carol, and voiced the Doctor in Scream of the Shalka), and the familiar voice of The Hobbit’s Gandalf and X-Men’s Professor X, Ian McKellen.  Liz White, who played Annie in one of our all-time favorite series, Life on Mars, will also be in this year’s Christmas Special.

Here is the longer prequel you won’t see with the episode on BBC America:

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By C.J. Bunce

Yesterday we started in on what makes a great character, and who and how we determine our favorites, mentioning dozens of  favorites from different genres and different media.  The challenge?  Come up with your top 5 favorite fictional characters from anything.  When I was finished selecting them, I was surprised what they all have in common: a desire to protect others and defend the good against the bad.  I went through a ton of characters to whittle it down to five.  Most of my favorites I see as having some trait I want for myself, or guys I want to be like.  Along the way I carved away Boba Fett, the obscure but coolest of the “men with no name” anti-hero Western archetypes, and opted instead for another Star Wars character.  I lost Steve McQueen’s too cool cop Lieutenant Frank Bullitt for another cop that made the list and had to cut the other coolest guy (other than The Fonz), the no-named drifter from They Live.  I lost Thomas Magnum, the TV show private investigator, that, along with Batman, is up there at the top of my Sherlock Holmes influenced characters.  I cut big life-long heroes like the Six Million Dollar Man, Luke Skywalker, Tron, and even the awesome A.A. Milne creation Eeyore.  No room for Will Riker and Captain Dathon from Star Trek.  I love Dana Andrews’ noir detective Mark McPherson in Otto Preminger’s Laura.  Fred Gailey, who defended Santa Claus (successfully!) in court in Miracle on 34th Street, hung to the list almost to the end.  A top 10 list would have been far easier!

After a lot of soul searching–and this is not an easy exercise (try it for yourself!)–here is where I finally ended up.

When we first meet Uncle Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi, played by Sir Alec Guinness in the original Star Wars, he was an old man.  A miser living out beyond the Dune Sea.  Luke thought he was long dead.  Then he comes out of nowhere in the desert at just the right time to barely save our story’s hero.  Ben doesn’t remember the droids he supposedly owned a few decades ago.  Is he a bit absent minded?  Has the desert gotten to him?   Without Uncle Ben, Luke Skywalker would be dead, and he saves Luke’s life six times: first, from the Tusken Raiders in the desert, second, from an alien in the cantina’s hive of scum and villainy, third, from the Empire by getting Luke out of Mos Eisley, fourth, by releasing the Millenium Falcon in the Death Star, fifth, by guiding Luke from afar to destroy the Death Star in his X-Wing Fighter, and sixth, by keeping him alive after he is mugged by a snow beast on the frozen planet of Hoth.  Kenobi was part samurai warrior, part medieval wizard, part mystic, a monk, a veteran of the last battle of the Jedi.  And later we’d learn he was the reason Luke and his sister survived at all: he’d saved Luke as an infant by bringing him to the remote planet with twin suns.  He doesn’t have much time to mentor Luke, but what he does counts for a lot.  Kenobi proves nothing is more powerful than wisdom and experience.  Ultimately he sacrifices everything to save the galaxy by using his knowledge of the force to convert into a spirit, the only time this ever happens in the original Star Wars trilogy, so he can assist Luke along the rest of his journey.  Later on Ewan McGregor put a very nice spin on the character for the prequels, but the original played by Guinness can never be beaten and Guinness received the only acting nod from the Academy for all the great actors of the series.

DCI Gene Hunt was a cop, a cop played by actor Philip Glenister.  A good cop that blurred some of the rules of British law enforcement, but who was a product of his times, which was 1973 in the BBC TV series Life on Mars, and 1982 in the series Ashes to Ashes.  He is brash, rude, and mouthy.  He is kind.  He is crude and speaks in local colloquialisms that make non-natives have to rewind and view the closed captioning to understand what the heck he just said, and sometimes you still can’t tell.  He protects his team.  More than anything, this guy has angst.  Yet he wants to help others.  He wants to do the right thing.  He believes in justice.  He believes that sometimes a cop has to break the rules to get to the right result.  To find the criminal.  To protect the innocent.  He’s willing to stop and help a woman having an emergency birth.  He falls for a co-worker who herself is a mess and desperately lost.  He tolerates his bizarre group of subordinates, as he prefers them to everyone else, and he’ll join them for a drink at any time of day.  And he always drives a cool car.  He’s like a British version of Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, but with more layers and a lot more problems.  He becomes so involved in everyone else’s affairs that he ultimately forgets who he is.  I have seen Philip Glenister in little else, and wonder whether I like Gene, or I like Gene because Glenister played him.  Either way, nothing is as it seems in Manchester and Salford police departments.  And that leaves Gene to rise above it all and become the best cop in the best cop series ever made.

In the western movie Silverado, at the beginning of the film, Paden is dead.  At least he is left for dead, like real-life Beck Weathers in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.  Paden is played by Kevin Kline.  You can’t start much worse off than Paden, prior to being rescued by Scott Glenn’s character, Emmett.  All Paden has to his name is his 1800s long underwear.  He was trusting, befriended some cowboys who turned on him, stole his horse, his saddle, his hat, his ivory-handled Colt.  The whole rig.  But he really missed the bay horse the most.  They were laughing when they left him.  Thought it was real funny.  He walked for a little while but there was no use, so he gave it up.  Figured it was just bad luck.  He lies down to die.  And he gets a second chance.  But he’s not so much about revenge as looking out for the little dog one of his fellow riders mistreats.  He’s trying to find his place in the world, which just so happens to be managing the affairs of a saloon.  And you never know what Paden will care about.  Even if that means he must stop looking the other way.  He is a hero so he must act.  If that means risking his footing in a new town to defend a man against a racist saloon operator, so be it.  And if that means killing the men who run Silverado and the sheriff himself, his old friend, well then so be it.  Kline plays Paden as funny, serious, smart.  Sometimes warm, as when he is taking care of new friends, sometimes cold, as when he has to shoot a man.  Sometimes puzzling, like when he flirts with a woman the night her husband is shot dead.  Sheriff Cobb is using Stella to get to Paden.  “I don’t want you to get hurt,” Paden says.  Stella responds: “He can’t hurt me… if he’s dead.”  Paden is a complex guy who changes his luck in a time when getting by was good enough.

I’ve read everything I could get my hands on related to Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow, as re-developed in DC Comics’ silver age, from 1971 forward.  Queen was a billionaire who lost it all.  He became “everyman.”  He ended up fighting crime as a vigilante and donned the outfit of Errol Flynn’s Adventures of Robin Hood and took his bow and arrow as well to fight crime.  He’s a bit like Batman, a sleuth in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes.  He became a force for social change and fell in love with a beautiful woman, Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary, and they ended up together in Seattle running a floral shop.  They were members of the Justice League and rubbed elbows with the best superheroes around.  Oliver always was outspoken, sometimes offending everyone around him, yet everyone around him always respected what he had to say and they often took his lead.  He always fought for the underdog.  My favorite incarnation is my first revisit to comic books, Green Arrow written and drawn by Mike Grell, but O’Neil and Adams’ version is a close second.  In his first scene of the modern era, he must convince Green Lantern that he needs to stop protecting a slumlord and instead protect the tenants.  With his on-again/off-again, fiery relationship with Dinah, he became part of the only crime-fighting superhero couple, together ridding the streets of every kind of baddie.

The only one of the five of my favorite characters listed here that never veered from my #1 spot is Captain Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce.  As the leading character in the TV series M*A*S*H over the course of eleven seasons, Alan Alda became the best actor on any TV series, and soldier/doctor Pierce became my favorite character.  He is defined by triage.  Triage in his job as he must discriminate between who has a chance to live and who won’t live.  Triage is his circumstance as he must decide to make the best or worst of being stuck in a place no one, even the local Korean refugees, wants to be.  His tools consist of scalpels, forceps, alcohol, and humor.  He takes the most depressing of dramatic situations and makes everyone laugh, and when the brilliant writing team gives us a serious story, he leaves us silent.  He gives us gut-wrenching performances, via a simple salute to Radar O’Reilly as he leaves for home to take care of the farm, to his reaction to the death of Colonel Henry Blake, to his interview responses for Movietone news.  He makes us laugh at his unending supply of practical jokes, against Hot Lips, Frank, Winchester, or B.J.  He is a hero, he’ll save the life of a North Korean soldier without flinching, and at his worst he freaks-out, asking those questions everyone wants to ask in the middle of a war, but doesn’t.  Why can’t we all just get along, as bunkmates, as co-workers, as Americans, as humans?  And he is calm when he needs to be.  Even when he is being bombed while trying to save lives after hours without rest.   With more than a dose of inspiration from Groucho Marx, Alan Alda conducted a one-man band of chaos in the middle of a stellar cast of characters.  It’s hard to believe M*A*S*H was a 30-minute show.  Never before or since has anyone come close to packing so much emotion, drama, comedy, and energy in such a small period of time, for so many years.  Although the writing of his character bottomed out in the last episode, what came before is what matters, and it explains why the series finale was the most-watched show ever.

Editor’s note: Tomorrow… we will take a day away from our favorite characters and Jason McClain will run down his recommendations to the Academy for the Ten Best Picture nominees, who will be announced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Tuesday, January 24.  Come on back Tuesday bright and early for Jason McClain’s top five favorite characters, followed by Art Schmidt on Wednesday and Elizabeth C. Bunce on Thursday.