Category Archives: TV

Agents of SHIELD Part 2

CLARK GREGGThis is the second in my two part review of the first season so far of Marvel’s Agent’s of SHIELD television show. If you just watched Captain America: Winter Soldier and want to get caught up, this is the place. Tonight on ABC they’re airing episode 17 again along with 18. So don’t read 17 if you’re going to watch it. Needless to say, spoilers ahead.

S01E11 “The Magical Place”

Since the beginning of the series when someone asks where Coulson went when he died, the word was he went to Tahiti. And whenever he hears that word, he says, “It’s a magical place.” The audience and Coulson’s captors want to know the truth behind that statement. Edison Po tortures Coulson to get it but when he fails to get any information, the Clairvoyant kills him remotely leaving Raina in charge. Raina convinces Coulson to use a device to retrieve his memories because he’s just as interested in finding out what happened as they are. He sees flashes of Dr. Streiten using robots to work on Coulson’s brain while Coulson begs to die. Meanwhile, Victoria Hand and SHIELD work to rescue Coulson. After his rescue, Coulson confronts Dr. Streiten who admits Coulson was dead for days and that he’d lost his will to live until they manipulated his brain with false memories. It’s also revealed that Michael Peterson is alive and implanted with an eye device though he’s lost his leg and sustained other injuries.

This was a great follow up to The Bridge and finally partially answered the big question of the series. How did Coulson who died in The Avengers come back to life? We also learn that apparently the Clairvoyant doesn’t know everything because they know nothing when it comes to Coulson’s resurrection.

 

S01E12 “Seeds”

With the team back together, they go to a SHIELD training facility where a machine is being used to freeze people. Fitz befriends a cadet there named Donnie who reminds him of himself. After helping Donnie out, Fitz finds that Donnie and his friend Seth are creating a giant version of the ice machine in an effort to get the attention of Ian Quinn. Meanwhile, Coulson and May follow a lead on Skye’s origin finding out that 24 years earlier, a SHIELD agent died protecting Skye who was considered an Object of Unknown Origin. Back at the Academy, Donnie and Seth turn on the machine causing all sorts of havoc. A lightning bolt hits the machine and the SHIELD team is able to shut it down, but Seth is killed. Donnie is taken to the holding facility called the Sandbox and secretly now has ice powers. Later Coulson makes a call threatening Quinn. Quinn responds by mentioning that the Clairvoyant says ‘Hello’.

This episode was a combination of ‘anomaly of the week’ and continuing the ongoing plots and it works well. We get the return of Quinn and the revelation that he’s working for the Clairvoyant. We also get another piece of the puzzle when it comes to Skye. And we get yet another villain who gains superpowers and may become a problem later.

 

S01E13 “T.R.A.C.K.S.”

Hot on the trail of Quinn and the Clairvoyant, the SHIELD team infiltrate a train carrying something Quinn wants but are instantly found out thanks to a double cross from their contact named Russo. May kills Russo and the team ends up at one of Quinn’s mansions. In the basement Skye finds Michael Peterson alive in a stasis chamber. Peterson is outfitted with an artificial leg. The leg says ‘Deathlok’ on it. Quinn asks Peterson to prove his loyalty by killing Skye but he refuses. Quinn shoots Skye twice and leaves. The team save Skye by putting her in the stasis chamber to keep her alive. Peterson manages to escape, but Quinn is captured.

This was a major episode for a number of reasons, but one of the big ones is the word ‘Deathlok’. Deathlok is a well known Marvel cyborg. Agents of SHIELD finally has its first Marvel hero. It’s also another episode where a team member is in peril and stays that way through the end of the episode.

 

S01E14 “T.A.H.I.T.I.”

The team arrives at a SHIELD medical facility but they’re only able to stabilize Skye. They realize that the only thing that will save Skye is whatever saved Coulson. They find that Coulson was taken to a place called the ‘Guest House’. Agent John Garrett and Antoine Triplet arrive to take custody of Quinn, but Coulson won’t let him go until Skye is safe. Garret and Triplet join the team as they infiltrate the Guest House facility. They find the drug Skye needs. Fitz brings it back while Coulson further investigates the facility and finds that the drug is derived from a dead blue alien corpse. Unfortunately the place is rigged to implode and Coulson doesn’t get any more time. He races back to stop them from injecting Skye but he’s too late. They’ve injected her and it works. In the final scene of the episode we see someone called Lorelei take mental control of a newlywed man and drive off with him.

The arrival of Bill Paxton as Agent Garrett is a welcome addition to the show. He’s got a genial world-weariness that we expect of a veteran field agent and really seems more like how I thought much of Coulson’s team should have been when the show began. The revelation of the blue-skinned alien source for the miracle drug is a complete surprise though the immediate destruction of all evidence was a little to X-Files-like for my tastes. Still, this episode effectively uses what has come before and moves the plot forward in a big way.

 

S01E15 “Yes Men”

It turns out Lorelei is from Asgard and has the power to sway men just by talking to them. Lorelei soon hooks up with a biker gang and puts them all under her sway. Meanwhile the SHIELD team investigates energy fluctuations consistent with the arrival of an Asgardian. They quickly run into Lady Sif last seen in Thor The Dark World. She is in pursuit of the escaped Lorelei and joins up with Coulson and the others. They catch up to Lorelei at the biker bar but she enchants Ward who leaves with her to Las Vegas where they hook up. The team follows them to Vegas but when they raid Lorelei’s hotel room they discover that with Ward’s help, she’s taken over the Bus. After a brief battle including May and Ward fighting, the team retakes the Bus and Sif returns to Asgard with Lorelei. Later, Coulson tells the freshly healed Skye about the origins of the drug in her system. May gets on a direct line phone and tells someone “Coulson knows.”

This was another episode that brought things in the right direction. Having a secondary character from a recent movie helps increase the interconnectedness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and adding the intrigue of May secretly reporting to someone else keeps us guessing as to what’s really going on.

 

S01E16 “The End of the Beginning”

After briefly being attacked by Deathlok, Triplet and Garrett arrive with Agent Hand, Agent Blake, and Agent Sitwell on the Bus. Coulson explains that they are going to split into two-person teams and pursue various leads on the Clairvoyant. Coulson grants Skye official SHIELD agent status and has her split the teams. Sitwell is sent away to a tanker in the Indian Ocean at the last minute. Triplet and Simmons stay at the Hub where Simmons is hoping to use their equipment to secretly analyze Skye’s blood. Following their lead, May and Blake are attacked by Deathlok. Blake is seriously injured, but plants a tracker on Deathlok. After the attack, the team decide that Thomas Nash, the supposedly catatonic man May and Blake were coming to see must be the Clairvoyant. They use the tracker and go to an abandoned horse track where Deathlok escapes but they find Nash in a hospital bed speaking to them through computer screens in the room. When he threatens to kill Skye, Ward shoots and kills him. Later Coulson realizes that maybe Nash was not the Clairvoyant. He confronts Ward who denies everything. Meanwhile when Fitz tries to create a secret line to Simmons, he happens upon May’s secret line. Skye tells Coulson about this just as May confronts and tries to shoot Fitz. Before she can do anything more Coulson pulls a gun on her. Then the Bus suddenly changes course and we find that Agent Hand back at the Hub is ordering that everyone on board be killed except for Coulson.

This was arguably the best episode of the series so far, incorporating nearly every character introduced so far in a plot that moves the Clairvoyant story ahead in a big way. There’s also the small nod to Captain America: Winter Soldier when Sitwell is sent to the ship where we find him in the opening minutes of the movie. The Clairvoyant’s identity is still up in the air and Agent May’s loyalty is entirely uncertain. At this point, a show that’s been doing done-in-one, mostly predictable episodes for most of the season is suddenly firing on all cylinders.

 

S01E17 “Turn, Turn, Turn”

In an episode that aired only four days after Captain America: Winter Soldier premiered, everything changes. Garrett joins up with the team on the hijacked Bus after being attacked by drones. Skye discovers a code and deciphers hit learning of the Hydra infiltration of SHIELD. The Bus lands but the team escapes into The Hub before Hand’s people can take them. At this point, Coulson is convinced that Hand is the Clairvoyant. Meanwhile Hand confronts Simmons and Triplet and orders them to swear allegiance to Hydra. When they refuse, she reveals that she believes Coulson is Hydra. Garrett insists to Coulson that they must kill Hand. Coulson notices a slip up on Garrett’s part and realizes that Garrett was the Clairvoyant all along. After a brief battle Garrett is captured. They learn that elsewhere, Nick Fury is believed to be dead and Captain America stopped a Hydra plot. Ward offers to join Hand in taking Garrett to their holding facility the Fridge. On the way there, Ward kills the guards and Hand as it turns out he was working for Garrett all along.

As far as I know, no television show has ever so directly tied into a movie that just came out in theaters. This episode was so much a part of what happened in Winter Soldier that it wouldn’t be out of place on the Winter Soldier DVD. It’s also an episode with a bunch of huge shockers including the identity of the Clairvoyant, the death of Agent Hand and a seeming betrayal by a founding member of the team. Personally, I’m hoping the betrayal is real and not a double-agent sort of thing. This is also the first episode that mentions SHIELD’s classic enemy, Hydra. It must have been frustrating as hell to be handed this show and been told they couldn’t mention Hydra for the first sixteen episodes.

Summary
As the show winds up its first season, there are all sorts of unknowns, not the least of which is whether or not it will be picked up for a second season. After what was admittedly a slow start, Agents of SHIELD seems to have found its footing and isn’t content to just sit there. Here’s hoping the remaining episodes continue the uptick in quality.

–       Jack Cameron

Agents of SHIELD Part 1

ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." - Season OneIn just a few short years, Marvel has done the unthinkable and created an entire ‘universe’ of characters that spans multiple movie franchises and televisions shows. Marvel’s first attempt at a television show is Agents of SHIELD. What I’m going to do in this article is basically bring everyone up to speed on what’s happened on the show, where we are now, and why I believe it’s one of the most underrated shows on television. In other words, if you watched Captain America 2 and now want to get into a show that heading into the home stretch of its first season, this will catch you up.

Before I get into the individual episodes, I’m going to talk about what the creators of this show had to deal with from the outset:

The Good:
They had the advantage of being a spin off from one of the most successful movies of all time. The Avengers was seen by pretty much everyone. It made over a billion dollars and cost hundreds of millions to make using some of the top talent and special effects in the business. They also had hundreds of thousands of comic book fans.

The Bad:
Television works on much smaller scales and much smaller budgets. Even if they wanted to, they didn’t have the kind of money necessary to have super-powered craziness with huge explosions every week. While they might have a built in audience thanks to the Marvel movies, much of that audience has an unrealistic expectation of the level of special effects that are possible in a television show. Similarly, there are a ton of comic book fans who want to see comic book characters every week and quite a few of them are tied up in licensing or being used in other upcoming movies.

Don’t get me wrong. Agents of SHIELD had its problems starting out that could have been avoided, but the creators also assumed that their viewers would stick around for the whole season to see how things played out. Those of us who have are glad we did.

The Episodes:

S01E01 “Pilot”

In the opening episode we get Agent Coulson who was last seen dead in the Avengers back among the living and running a team that consists of tech geniuses, Leo Fitz and Gemma Simmons (aka FitzSimmons), field agent, Grant Ward, and pilot and secret badass Melinda May. Their first assignment together is going after a hacker group called Rising Tide and investigating a guy named Mike Peterson using some cobbled together technology that gives him superpowers. This was done to him by a group called Project Centipede. Mike is warned by a hacker named Skye that SHIELD is coming for them. Skye is part of Rising Tide. Skye is detained by SHIELD and becomes a reluctant recruit after they save Peterson’s life.

As pilot episodes go, they effectively created some mysteries. (How is Coulson back from the dead? Who and what is Centipede?) And they managed to mention the Extremis technology used in the recently released Iron Man 3. But the introduction of the team members was a bit bland and none of the characters besides Coulson seemed very interesting. Also, the super-powered guy just seemed to be some guy and not a known comic book character.

 

S01E02 “0-8-4”

In the second episode, the team flies to Peru where they meet up with another team led by an old ally of Coulson’s. They track down an “084” or Object of Unknown Origin. In this case it ends up being an old Hydra weapon. Coulson’s ally betrays them and the team use their various talents to outsmart or otherwise beat the other team and gain possession of the object. Later, Skye reports to a member of Rising Tide that she’s infiltrated the SHIELD team. Samuel L. Jackson makes a quick cameo as SHIELD director Nick Fury and warns Coulson about Skye and complains about damage to the plane.

The second episode basically established what an average episode of Agents of SHIELD would be. SHIELD team goes somewhere to investigate something remotely related to something in a previous Marvel Movie, hijinks ensue, SHIELD teams wins. It’s also the first episode where we get a good look at their flying base. Unfortunately, the ‘bus’ as they call it has all the intrigue and style of an actual city bus. This is not the Millennium Falcon.

 

S01E03 “The Asset”

The third episode starts out with some fun as a Dr. Franklin Hall is kidnapped by his former business partner Ian Quinn by using technology that defies gravity. Vehicles go flying and it’s the most interesting special effect so far. The team ends up using Skye to infiltrate a shady party being thrown by Quinn. When they finally get to Hall, they find out he allowed himself to be kidnapped so he could destroy the device Quinn is creating. When Coulson tries to stop him because of the danger, Hall falls into the device. SHIELD puts the device into secure storage without knowing that Hall is still trapped within it.

For comic book fans this was a somewhat interesting episode as Franklin Hall is better known as the super-villain Graviton. And things are certainly set up here for Hall to return as Graviton at another time, but again, it’s not as if Graviton is an A-List villain and technically he didn’t even really appear in this episode.

 

S01E04 “Eye Spy”

This episode had a woman known as Akela who was perpetrating seemingly impossible heists. The team catches up with her and find that she has an eye implant that is giving her orders and has a bomb that will go off if she disobeys. FitzSimmons put together some tech to mimic it and send Ward out to do the job while they work on removing Akela’s bomb. Meanwhile Coulson tries to catch up to the guy behind the orders. Unfortunately, it turns out his lead has an eye bomb of his own and dies before anything can be revealed. They successfully save Akela but remain in the dark on who was behind the plot.

This episode introduces the threat of a new Big Bad. It helps that seemingly anyone might end up with the eye implant but again, long-time comic book fans who have been waiting for a Marvel comic television show were likely annoyed by a plot that seemingly has nothing to do with comic book stuff.

 

S01E05 “Girl In The Flower Dress”

In Hong Kong, a guy with flame powers shows them to a girl in flower dress named Raina. Raina kidnaps him. SHIELD investigates and soon discovers that Raina’s people learned about this guy through Rising Tide. They pick up an old flame of Skye’s named Miles who happens to be another member of Rising Tide. Not trusting either of them, they are both brought to the bus in handcuffs. They raid the Centipede complex where flame guy (now calling himself Scorch) is located. Raina escapes. As soon as Scorch is freed, he attacks the SHIELD agents and they’re forced to kill him. Later, Skye tells Coulson that the whole reason she joined Rising Tide was to find more information on SHIELD so she could find what happened to her missing parents. Meanwhile Raina visits a man named Edison Po in prison and asks him to contact ‘the Clairvoyant’.

While the villain in this was a bit dull, this episode was the first to mention the Big Bad of the series, a mysterious individual known as ‘the Clairvoyant’. It also gave us a central mystery of Skye’s character and her desire to find her parents. So much of these early episodes involved planting seeds. The thing with planting seeds is that it’s not as interesting as what happens afterward. Many of the criticisms of this show have to do with lacking the patience to wait for the long-form storytelling to reveal itself. These aren’t done-in-one episodes. They’re building something.

 

S01E06 “F.Z.Z.T.”

The team investigates a series of strange deaths that turn out to be caused by an alien virus from one of the Chitauri helmets from the Battle of New York. Simmons gets infected with the virus. Coulson disobeys a direct order in order to save here and though a cure works, she almost jumps from the Bus to save the rest of the team not knowing the cure worked. Later Coulson talks with Agent May about his recent physical which showed nothing wrong. He insists he feels different. She tells him that’s only natural given his seeming death.

While putting one of the team members in legitimate danger is a plus, the fact that the team member was out of legitimate danger by the end of the episode lessens the impact. And at this point, the thin reference to the Avengers movie is just that. While it’s nice that they included Agent Blake who was last seen in the “Item 47” Marvel One Shot on the Avengers DVD, it’s not a very good tie in to the rest of the Marvel Universe. The only thing of importance that happens in this episode is that Coulson disobeys a direct order. This is a first and a possible indication of the differences between who he is and who he was before his death.

 

S01E07 “The Hub”

The team arrives at a base called The Hub. We meet Victoria Hand, the director of the Hub. She sends Fitz & Ward on a mission to stop something called the Overkill device. Skye and Simmons try to find out more about the mission and Skye ends up knocking out Agent Sitwell when he catches her hacking into the system. They soon discover there is no extraction plan for Fitz & Ward. They tell Coulson and after a brief confrontation with Hand, they go and rescue Fitz & Ward who successfully stop the Overkill device. Meanwhile Coulson manages to get some information about Skye. She was apparently brought to an orphanage by a young SHIELD agent. He asks May to look further into it. Coulson tries to find out more about his own recovery but finds his access is denied.

This is the first appearance of Agent Hand and the first appearance in the series of Agent Sitwell who was also in Avengers. The episode also helps reestablish the fact that while the team is often on their own, they belong to a much larger organization that they answer to. However, it also reminds us that SHIELD isn’t always the most noble of organizations. While it’s nice to have some progress on the Skye’s parents thing, it’s also not that strong of a plotline. And then there’s the big question of how Coulson came back from the dead. This is basically the biggest mystery of the series and seven episodes in we feel about as frustrated as Coulson himself on the lack of progress on this storyline.

 

S01E08 “The Well”

In a direct tie-in to the recent movie, Thor: The Dark World the team deal with the aftermath of those events in London and go after a hate group that has come into possession of something called an Asgardian Berserker Staff. Whoever wields it becomes consumed with rage. The team gets help from an expert named Dr. Randolf who turns out to be an Asgardian himself. When Ward touches the staff he finds himself consumed with rage and memories of his abusive brother. The team manages to recover the staff and after everything, Ward and May hook up.

They heavily advertised this as a tie-in to the Thor sequel but as tie-ins go, it was a fairly weak one. Not one character from Thor showed up and really this was just mopping up the fallout from the action packed movie. When one of the big hooks of the show is how it’s connected to this larger universe, it was a bit of a letdown. The sudden relationship between May & Ward seems kind of extraneous and there perhaps simply because there was no sex in the show.

 

S01E09 “Repairs”

The team investigate a woman named Hannah who they believe has telekinesis. They soon discover that it’s actually the work of a guy named Tobias who is stuck between Earth and another realm. He’s trying to protect Hannah but the results seem to consistently be violent. Tobias defeats Agent Ward but is talked down by Agent May causing him to disappear into the unknown realm and leave Hannah alone.

There isn’t much to say about this episode. If someone were to point to one episode that justifies some of the disdain some people have for the show, it’d be this one. For the most part, it’s an entirely forgettable episode with nothing of any real interest happening.

 

S01E10 “The Bridge”

Coulson recruits Mike Peterson onto the team, giving the team their first super-powered member after Edison Po is broken out of prison by enhanced Centipede soldiers. The team walks into an ambush and soon find that the Centipede soldiers also have the eye implants they encountered earlier. Raina and others become interested in Peterson because it seems his enhancements have stabilized. They kidnap his son and offer to exchange him for Peterson. The exchange happens on a bridge where it’s revealed that they actually want Coulson. Peterson tries to stop it but it’s too late. The resulting explosion seemingly kills him and Raina gets away with Coulson. Raina tells Coulson they simply want to know how he came back to life.

This was the last episode before winter break and the first cliffhanger episode of the series. It was also a marked improvement from previous episodes. The abduction of agent Coulson makes for powerful drama as he was most of the force behind his team. This was the episode where strings from previous episodes start to matter.

Next Up: In Tuesday’s post I’ll talk about the remaining episodes up to last week’s tie-in with Captain America 2.

Best Buy’s Worst Commercial?

Christmas is retail’s last chance to increase their profits for the year. So they tend to pull out all the stops. This is the season when you’ll get the craziest commercials advertising the ‘best bargains’. From a marketing perspective, it’s the time to bring your ‘A’ game. The only other time retailers are trying this hard, they have a Super Bowl spot.

The goal of a good Christmas commercial is to show that your company  has great gifts for good prices and encourage a behavior of giving. You want the customer to feel good about what their purchasing.

This is a current Best Buy commercial:

It succeeds in advertising gift ideas for good prices. But then instead of encouraging a behavior of giving or making people feel good about themselves, it appeals the competitive nature of people. Worse, it appeals to competing against someone who is basically universally liked. It’s like having an arm wrestling competition against a baby. We don’t really want to be the customer in the commercial. And if we don’t want to be the customer, then why would we buy the product?

A better way to use this same concept in a commercial is to take the focus off of Santa. We like Santa. We don’t want to beat him. We want to help him. So instead of ‘Game On, Santa.’, why not focus on Santa’s helpers? I mean if you’re hellbent on appealing to humanity’s competitive nature for a Christmas ad (which I don’t think is a very good idea), the way to do it is to show Santa asking his elves what they’ve made for gifts for a family. They show little wooden toys they’ve cobbled together. Then have Mom there with the Kindle Fire and various other gadgets from Best Buy. Now Mom has helped Santa by shopping at Best Buy.

Marketing is fairly simple. Too often marketers try to get too clever with it and fail. Answer these questions in as quick and entertaining a manner as you can:

Why does the customer need the product?

Where can the customer get the product?

Why is yours the better product?

Necessity, availability, quality and value. That’s what it comes down to. These Best Buy commercials fail right out of the gate by not giving you that necessity. You don’t need to beat Santa. You need to BE Santa.

– Jack Cameron

My thoughts on the whole Netflix/Qwikster thing

I went to Safeway the other day and was shocked by a new business that had opened up next door. It was a video store. With the exception of Red Box or the DVD section in the local grocery store, video stores are practically extinct. This is due in large part to the prevalence of Netflix. Netflix has changed the way we watch movies. And they are about to do it again.

Recently Netflix announced that they were going to effectively split the company in two. Their DVD by mail service that was the nail in the coffin to your local Blockbuster is now going to be called Qwikster. Meanwhile, their streaming service which you can use on most gaming consoles and Blu Ray players, will continue to expand under the Netflix banner.

Qwikster will continue to have the wide variety of movies and TV shows you’ve come to expect from Netflix. In addition to that they’re adding a video games section for an additional charge, much like they do with Blu Ray DVDs now. That’s the good news. There’s more than a little bad news. The most noticeable change is that the two sites are not going to have any interactivity. So the movie in your DVD queue and your streaming queue will no longer be able to interact with each other like they do now.

There are many who see this move as stupid. It’s hard not to see how this makes getting DVDs by mail a bit more of a pain. In this age where everything is connected, Netflix is separating things. Netflix has become the preferred way of watching movies by being ahead of the curve at every step. So why would they make a mistake now?

It’s simple really. One of the reasons Amazon.com has successfully killed many brick and mortar book stores is that Internet technology only gets cheaper and real estate only gets more expensive. When it comes to cost, technology beats traditional every time. The bottom line is not only is streaming movies less expensive, it’s getting cheaper all the time. Whereas the Unites States Postal Service has threatened to shut down entirely if they can’t increase revenues. For Netflix, a perfect world would be one where they don’t have to mail their customers anything at all.

So what’s the solution? If they simply got rid of their DVD by mail service, we would all simply go to Blockbuster or Red Box for our DVD needs. You can’t just cut people off. They’ll find another outlet. What you do instead is slowly introduce the concept of streaming. Make it available using a computer. Then make it available for people with X-Box 360, then PlayStation 3, then Wii, finally make it available on Blu Ray players. And make it part of the DVD by mail service. Eventually, even the people who don’t usually use streaming will try it out.  They’ll watch a TV show on their computer at work during lunch or something.

Once you’ve got a good audience through a slow ramp up, you can start charging for the streaming and the DVD by mail separately. The result will be the some people will choose the streaming and some will choose the DVD by mail. And some will actually pay more for the same service you were providing. Now that you’ve established your audiences, you can further separate them by making them into two separate entities. This will make even more people choose between one or the other. Since it’s more cost effective to stream movies, keep the Netflix brand and name connected to the streaming service. Give the other company a name that sounds like other failed Internet companies like Friendster and Napster. Call it Qwikster.

Now you’ve got two separate companies with two separate destinies. The Netflix streaming service continues to increase its library. Qwikster will eventually raise their prices due to the cost of postage or whatever other excuse they can come up with. And more people will leave Qwikster. Maybe they’ll have new releases only available on Netflix. Eventually, Qwikster will die. And when it does, Netflix will still be going strong with their streaming service. They’ll have cut their costs, increased their profit and retained the majority of their subscribers. It’s actually a very good marketing strategy.

While I’m sure that Netflix’s streaming service will increase (assuming the studios let them),  they won’t include all of titles that are currently available on DVD. Unfortunately, this means that soon there will be thousands of titles that aren’t available unless you want to buy them. It means hundreds of thousands of hours of television and movies that new generations will never see. As a guy who likes old movies, I think this sucks. Worse, I’m not sure that there is any way around it.

I don’t like this latest move by Netflix, but it isn’t stupid. What bugs me is that I’ll still be a Qwikster subscriber until its last day because it’s still the best game in town.

– Jack Cameron

Fall TV Preview 2011 – Part 2

Person of Interest Looks Like Fun

Okay, here’s part 2 of my Fall TV preview. I’ve listed all of the shows premiering between Sept. 18 and Sept 24. and what I think of them. There’s a lot of good shows  coming up. There are also shows that should have been cancelled years ago.

Feel free to post your own thoughts in the comments.

Sept. 19

Dancing With The Stars (ABC):  So the big controversy is apparently that Chaz Bono is on it. Apparently there are ultra-conservatives who think having a transgender person on a reality show is bad or something. I think a much bigger controversy should be why there are so many dancing shows.

How I Met Your Mother (CBS):  Consistently the funniest show on any of the big three networks. Neil Patrick Harris just kills it on this show and the writers are some of the smartest, wittiest writers on television. 

The Sing Off (NBC): Sixteen a cappella groups compete against each other. I like a cappella from time to time, but definitely not every week.

Two And A Half Men (CBS): Ashton Kutcher is not Charlie Sheen. Charlie Sheen is funnier and I didn’t watch the show when Charlie was on it.

2 Broke Girls (CBS): Sarcastic Brooklyn waitress meets uptight socialite who suddenly has no money. You’ve seen this show a hundred times and so have I. I’m betting this show won’t be around by Christmas.

Castle (ABC): I’m a huge fan of Nathan Fillion. I even watched the six episodes of Drive a few years ago. I honestly didn’t like the premise of Castle and thought it wouldn’t last. It has and the few episodes I watched were actually good. I’ll be watching this regularly this year.

Hawaii Five-O (CBS):  Flashy cop show that has nothing original going on.  I watched a few episodes last year, but it’s just not my thing.

The Playboy Club (ABC): First off, having a show called The Playboy Club and not having it on HBO or Showtime is just a little bit silly. Secondly, you’re not going to capture that Mad Men audience by making shows that take place in the mid-60s. You’ll get them by having fantastically well written and well acted shows. Whether this is one of them remains to be seen. Personally I doubt it.

Sept. 20

Glee (Fox): I’ve watched a few episodes. I’ve never been one for musicals (with the obvious exception of Dr. Horrible and the like)

NCIS (CBS): My biggest problem with this show is that Mark Harmon will ALWAYS be Mr. Shoop from Summer School. I simply cannot see him as anything else no matter how much of a hard ass he tries to be, but my mother-in-law loves this show so I’m glad it’s back.

The Biggest Loser (NBC): Watching fat people try to lose weight isn’t my idea of entertainment. It just isn’t.

NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS): I watched the first few episodes of this show and somehow they’ve all merged into one episode. I think because to me they all seemed the same thus I stopped watching.

New Girl (Fox): Zoey Deschanel stars as a recently dumped girl named Jess who moves in with three guys and starts singing. Despite my dislike for musicals, I may watch this simply because Zoey Deschanel is endlessly watchable.

Raising Hope (Fox): I’ve never seen an episode and I’m genuinely surprised it’s back this year.

Body of Proof (ABC): A neurosurgeon gets in a car accident and is unable to operate, she then becomes a medical examiner. I’ve never been a fan of M.E. shows. And really, it seems to me if you want a show on ABC, make it a medical show and you’re in.

Unforgettable (CBS): A woman who remembers every moment solves crimes. I wouldn’t be interested but one of the creators is John Bellucci who was the voice of Derek Wildstar on Star Blazers back in the day. No, this is no guarantee he can write a show, but I’m willing to give it an episode or two.

Sept. 21

The Middle (ABC): Described as a ‘slapstick sitcom’ about a wacky family and how they get along, I’m willing to say that five years from now, not even the people who created this show will remember it.

The X-Factor (Fox): Simon Cowell’s latest talent show. I’ve never watched a full episode of American Idol. I intend to continue this tradition of not watching Simon Cowell’s shows. Sadly, everyone else in America will watch because….well I have no idea why.

Modern Family (ABC): If I were to watch a ‘slapstick sitcome’ about a wacky family and how they get along, this is the one I’d watch. But I’m probably not going to. I like Ed O’Neil a lot, but I like him in his dramatic roles more than his comedic ones.

Criminal Minds (CBS): I’ve talked about this show before. I used to be a big fan but it’s become a weekly event of ‘What horrible thing can we do to how many beautiful women this week?’ (As a side note the CBS show Unforgettable claims only six people in the country have eidetic memories. Since one character on Criminal Minds also has a eidetic memory, that means a third of these people have TV shows.)

Harry’s Law (NBC): David E. Kelley’s latest law show is like all of his other shows. It’s quirky and topical and occasionally funny, but it’s nothing challenging or more than expected. Still, it’s better than most shows out there. I’ll likely be watching this at least in the beginning.

Revenge (ABC): A woman enters a community for the explicit purpose of exacting revenge. It could be fun and at least one episode is directed by the awesome Philip Noyce. I’ll try it out, but with a plot like this, the show needs a specific end point otherwise it’ll start treading water.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS): Sometimes you want to die where everybody knows your name. Okay, that was my way of welcoming Ted Dansen to the cast of CSI. This show should have been cancelled years ago. I still hold out the hope that the final episode will reveal that the mob pays for all of the incredibly expensive forensic equipment they use in exchange for the Las Vegas police looking the other way.

Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit: Wow. I thought this show got cancelled. I’m glad it’s not. Not because I’m watching it, but because that means Richard Belzer can keep playing Det. John Munch, a character he’s been playing since 1993 when he was on Homicide: Life on the Street.

Sept. 22

Charlie’s Angels (ABC): Look, I know for a fact that there are talented, creative writers out there who have original ideas. Can we please stop trying to recreate old shows from the 60s and 70s? Thanks to DVD if we want to watch those old shows, we can.

The Big Bang Theory (CBS):  A stupid show about smart people. And yet, it’s still funny. It could be better if it assumed a certain intelligence in the audience and didn’t have a laugh track that a monkey could follow along to. I’ll be watching because the actors are actually good at turning okay material into genuinely funny stuff.

Community (NBC): Another show I should watch that I don’t. Probably because I’m watching Big Bang Theory. Maybe I’ll try this out this year.

Parks & Recreation (NBC): I’ve heard absolutely nothing about this show and I’ve never watched it. Is it any good?

Grey’s Anatomy (ABC): I must confess I’ve seen every episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Since its second season, this show has had a slow decline in quality punctuated by occasionally really well done episodes. I still contend that every single character on the show is a selfish punk who deserves every bad thing that happens to them.

Person of Interest (CBS): A weird show from the guy who gave you Lost and the guy who gave you Inception. Really, do you need any more than that? Okay, the star of the show is that creepy guy from Lost? Not enough? Fine. The other star is JESUS CHRIST. Oh wait, I mean James Caveizel. Sorry for the confusion. Seriously, this show had better kick my ass. I’m really looking forward to it.

The Office (NBC): Loved the British version of the show and just couldn’t get into the American version. I know he’s no longer on it, but I think I might be the only person in America who doesn’t think Steve Carrell is funny.

Whitney (NBC): A show starring Whitney Cummings who I’ve never heard of and am not interested in.

The Mentalist (CBS): For a show called The Mentalist, this show should be a hell of a lot more clever than it is. Instead it’s House meets Criminal Minds. Yawn.

Prime Suspect (NBC): Somehow there is not already a show called Prime Suspect. This is a cop show starring Maria Bello. This means I’m watching it. She’s a good actress and she’s nice to look at. I still have little hope of the show being good, but I’ll try it out.

Sept. 23

A Gifted Man (CBS): A doctor starts seeing his dead wife. With Medium and Ghost Whisperer gone, I suppose CBS needed a new supernatural show. The only thing this show has going for it is the first episode is directed by Jonathan Demme. I may watch just for that.

Nikita (CW): Apparently this is the second season of this show I’ve never heard of. It’s apparently based on La Femme Nikita. This show will likely continue to fly below my radar.

Kitchen Nightmares (Fox): Chef Gordon Ramsey has become more famous than yelling than he is for cooking. If a British guy yelling at morons at restaurants that are barely getting by in a struggling economy throughout the country sounds like fun to you, you and I probably have very little in common.

CSI: NY (CBS): Still waiting for Gary Senise to show that he’s really a traitor like he is in almost everything he’s ever been in.

Supernatural (CW): Isn’t this like the third last season of this show? Seriously, I swear I read that this show ended three or four years ago.

Fringe (Fox): A smart show with good special effects, good acting, and fantastic writing? With the exception of Person of Interest, this is the show I’m most looking forward to this Fall.

Blue Bloods (CBS): I started watching this show when it premiered last year, but I just couldn’t get into it. This is almost entirely the fault of The Wire. Thanks to The Wire I have absurdly high standards when it comes to a good police drama.

Sept. 24

Rules of Engagement (CBS):   And I thought Friday night was the death slot. Does anyone watch TV on Saturday nights? Why not just cancel the show?

Fall TV Preview 2011 Part 1

Parenthood Premieres September 15th

I tend to watch a lot of television. And even the shows I don’t watch, I tend to be at least aware of. I’ve been told I know more about the TV and movie industry than anyone should who isn’t in the TV and movie industry. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not.

So here are the shows premiering this week and next week and what I think of them.

Sept. 6

The Rachel Zoe Project (Bravo):  I’m not entirely sure I would know this show from any of the other big-ego-no-talent-hey-look-at-me-and-how-I-spend-my-time/money reality shows on Bravo. Needless to say, I won’t be watching.

Sons of Anarchy (FX): Strangely, I have never seen an episode of this show. Bikers never interested me, but I’ve heard good things and will likely check it out on DVD sometime. As such I won’t be watching it this Fall. I’m too much of a completionist to start in the middle.

Sept. 13

90210 (CW): I didn’t watch the original. I won’t be watching this one. ‘Nuff said.

Ringer (CW): It’s Sarah Michelle Gellar playing a dark and damaged girl pretending to be her twin sister. Written by one of the writers of Supernatural. This will likely be very average. So I’ll probably watch something else.

Parenthood (NBC): There are a dozen reasons why this show should suck, but it doesn’t. It’s actually fun to watch and I like the cast of characters they’ve put together. Granted, I’ve been watching anything with Peter Krause since Sports Night, but really, this is a well acted and well written show that doesn’t assume a certain stupidity on the viewers part. I’ve seen every episode and I’m looking forward to this season.

Sept. 14

H8R (CW): A show with text-speak for a title with a first episode that has Snooki on it. The fact that this was even given a green light is more proof that the CW really isn’t a very good network.

Survivor: South Pacific (CBS): If this show is going to continue being interesting, they need to do a ‘from the ground up’ rebuild of it. Since they’re not going to do that, I’m not going to watch, but here’s my suggestion. Have three tribes. Two do what they’ve always done and vote one at a time off. The third tribe is a group of 3-5 ‘pirates’ who try to make the other tribes so miserable that they quit by taking their supplies and wrecking their shelters and whatnot. If the third tribe can get all of the others to join them or quit, then the pirates share in the million dollar prize.

America’s Next Top Model (CW): This show seems to have so many seasons that apparently being ‘top model’ is something that lasts about four months. Like most reality shows, I won’t be watching this one either.

Up All Night (NBC):  A sitcom with Christina Applegate and Will Arnett about the ‘joys’ of being new parents. I’ve got news for you. Assuming new parents have been able to get the kid to sleep, the last thing they want to do is watch a show about trying to get the kid to sleep. Don’t expect a season two.

 Free Agents (NBC): With the massive success of adapting The Office from British television, I suppose it’s to be expected that they’d continue to try to adapt more shows. This one is an office comedy with Hank Azaria in it. I love Hank Azaria. So I might watch an episode or two.

Sept. 15

The Vampire Diaries (CW):  I could be wrong, but I think the vampire thing is over. I mean except for True Blood, I don’t know anyone fanatical about vampires anymore.

The Secret Circle (CW): I was just thinking how the CW doesn’t have enough supernatural teen angst shows….luckily this showed up. I’m clearly not their demographic and that’s fine. I’m sure there’s someone who might want to watch cheap cgi mixed with melodrama.

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FX): This is one of those shows I should watch but I don’t. It’s my kind of humor. It’s got a good cast. And I just never get around to watching it. Maybe I can fix that.

Archer (FX): Again, my fault. This is something I might like, but I’m simply not a fan of animation in general these days.

– Jack Cameron

Stories I Only Tell My Friends By Rob Lowe – A Review

It took me a long time to be a fan of Rob Lowe. I would see him from time to time in movies, but he was never the reason I was watching the movie. And even when he was playing charming fuck-ups like in St. Elmo’s Fire, I still didn’t like him because ultimately he looked like the guy who went out with your girlfriend after she dumped you. A bit too sharp. A bit too good looking. He rarely played the guy I wanted to be. Then I started watching West Wing. On West Wing, he played Sam Seaborn. He was a writer. He worked at the White House. And thanks to West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, he was very smart and said amazing things.

So I grew to appreciate Rob Lowe, but I didn’t know much about him. I knew somewhere in his past he had inadvertently pioneered the celebrity sex-tape scandal, but I didn’t know anything beyond that. My point here is that while I liked Rob Lowe well enough, I didn’t read his autobiography because I was a Rob Lowe super-fan. I read it because he titled it ‘Stories I Only Tell My Friends’ which I thought was a great name for an autobiography.

It turns out one of the many things Rob Lowe has in common with his West Wing character is that he too is a writer. This book sounds like him, which is really the best you can hope for in an autobiography. He writes with potential. There is something inspirational in his tone even when he’s talking about bad things. There are times it sounds like the writing of a politician, but I mean that in a good way.

If you take the time to read ‘Stories I Only Tell My Friends’, you’ll find two things:

1. That Rob Lowe has always wanted to be an actor and worked hard at it.

2. That Rob Lowe was phenomenally lucky.

He gives example after example of both of these things. He starts out as a kid in Dayton, Ohio doing children’s theater. He goes after every opportunity he can find to get on stage. Then after a fairly devastating divorce, his mother moves him out to California where he just happens to go the same Junior High School as Sean Penn and his brother Chris, and Charlie Sheen and his brother Emilio. This is what I’m talking about. He does work at it, but he gets these breaks that are one in a million. What makes it work is that he doesn’t seem to take any of them for granted.

Rob Lowe may have had some incredible luck, but he’s earned his place in Hollywood. Reading his autobiography, I was amazed by great people he’s had populate his life. And yes, the whole, work hard-get famous-go on a bender-go to rehab-come back better than ever thing can be seen on every single episode of VH1’s Behind The Music. But the reason that show works and the reason this book works is that each of those stories is personal. Lowe’s descent is entirely due to the unique circumstances he found himself in. What makes Lowe’s journey worth reading is that he’s a good storyteller and he never comes off as the pompous ass I originally thought he was. He’s not that guy. He’s one of us…or at least he tries to be.

One other note. It has occurred to me that every autobiography published in the next thirty years is going to have a chapter on 9/11. I think we should take all of these chapters and put them into one book.

–          Jack Cameron