28 July 2012

Premature Burial, TV-Style

By this point, it should be no surprise that I watch television. Lots of television--in particular, lots of non-network shows. Aside from Castle, which I watch for Captain Tightpants--er, Nathan Fillion, the last time I hung around for a continuing series on on ABC, CBS or NBC was Chuck.   And face it, if I'm watching Castle for Captain--I mean, Mr. Fillion, it's really all about Firefly and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which brings me to the real subject of this blog: the Graveyard of Great Shows.

I realize TV shows have a natural lifespan.  I miss Buffy, for example, but by the time we said goodbye to Sunnydale and the Hellmouth, we'd explored just about every aspect of high school as horror movie Joss Whedon could imagine.  Star Trek's first run ended after three seasons, but with thirty years of movies, follow-up TV series and reboots, I think we've gotten our money's worth.  Eureka hasn't achieved that kind of second life, but we did get five years of science fiction lite, which is more than anyone can expect of the Syfy Channel unless you're talking Stargate.

But that's the point.  Syfy and other "off-brand" networks show a deplorable tendency to kill a show before it's time.  What's worse is not all of those wonderful, quirky and, sometimes, groundbreaking shows make it to DVD or Netflix.  With that in mind, I thought I'd torture myself--and you--with some of them.  Yes, I'm evil that way.

Adderly: Super spy V.H. Adderly (Winston Rekert) is sidelined by an irreparable injury to his left hand. He's reassigned to the Department of Miscellaneous Affairs in the basement of the blandest government building in existence. His boss, Melville Greenspan (Jonathan Welsh), is the ultimate in prissy, pusillanimous, pettifogging bureaucracy, but with the aid of romance- and adventure-loving secretary Mona Ellerby (Dixie Seatle), Adderly manages to get in trouble--er, save the day, regardless. The players and the set-up were a wonderful mix of humor and derring-do, but what really made the show for me was how they showed the mind-exploding absurdity of government work in all its glory. Nobody's ever done it better.

The Chronicle: This one's almost as old as Adderly, and is yet another case of the SciFi Channel (yes, that old) giveth and the SciFi Channel taketh away.  In the days when The Weekly World News ruled the supermarket check-out with stories about Bat Boy dining with President Clinton, The Chronicle let us in on the fact that all the monsters and aliens covered in the tabloids were real.  For me, the individual characters took a back seat to the concept and ensemble, but heck, shouldn't every newspaper receptionist have tentacles?

Deadwood: HBO's paean to the Wild West.  The plot was supposed to revolve around Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) attempting to tame the mining town of Deadwood, South Dakota, while conducting a complicated affair with heiress Alma Garrett (Molly Parker), against the background of George Hearst's exploitation of the Comstock Lode. But the real reason I watched was Ian McShane's amazing turn as the aptly named Al Swearengen, swearing and cussing and sexing and fighting the civilization of the frontier with tooth and claw.  Bad language never sounded so good.  I didn't even care he was a sixty-year-old playing a man in his thirties.  Well, not much. ;-)

Firefly: There were only fourteen episodes and one theatrical release in what Joss Whedon intended to be a long-running serial about renegades and refugees in the Final Frontier, but this is one of those cases where the myth keeps growing.  It doesn't hurt that it showcased Captain Tight--er, Mr. Fillion at his most buff as Mal Reynolds; Gina Torres as the spectacularly intelligent BKC Zoe Washburne (intelligent being something all too rare among BKCs); Chuck's Adam Baldwin as a boy named Jayne, Jayne Cobb; and Ron Glass as Derrial Book, who I first watched in the ancient sitcom Barney Miller and have enjoyed ever since.

Forever Knight: Vampires, doomed romance and police work--oh my!  IMHO, nobody ever did it better.  Geraint Wyn Davies may not have been as pretty as Rick Springfield as Nick Knight in the original TV movie (or the guy in Moonlight with the derivative character name) but dang, he had one of the all-time great TV vampire nemeses to play against: Nigel Bennett as late night vampire DJ Lucien LaCroix.  Supporting players John Kapelos as Detective Don Schanke, a pre-Andromeda Lisa Ryder as Detective Tracy Vetter and Ben Bass playing Alice Cooper look-a-like vampire Javier Vachon (who first appears combing the victims of an airplane crash looking for his burnt hand, which he promptly reattaches--Score!) amped the fun level even higher.  But I confess another reason for liking this series.  Several friends got book deals out of it, both directly as a result of the franchise and in collaboration with Mr. Bennett.  That's a win Win WIN from my point of view.  My only warning is don't watch the last three eps.  They brought the series to an absolute conclusion (oh yeah!), but so much more could've been done in that world if the budget and ratings had been there.

Highlander: Yeah, you know this one would show up.  Immortal guy Duncan McLeod (Adrian Paul) chops off Head-of-the-Week with his shining katana roaring the catch phrase that continues to resonate everywhere from The Colbert Report to Suits: "There can be only one!"  (So they said it in the movie, first.  The immies and kimmies of the series were a lot cuter.)  Personally, I think Duncan's story was so OVER! by the end of the series.  What gripes me that the producers never took up the promise of a spin-off featuring Methos (Peter Wingfield)--there can be only one, and it has to be Methos, because he has the best Kronos (Valentine Pelka) flashbacks--and instead turned bubbly thief and adventuress Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen) into a depressed Duncan clone.  :-P 

Human Target: Mark Valley played Christopher Chance, a former assassin who makes himself a human target to protect people.  The series struck a lovely balance between high stakes adventure and just plain fun.  And like everyone else, I adored Jackie Earle Haley as Guerrero, the ultimate assassin...with glasses.  (I don't make this stuff up!  Honest!)

Invisible Man: One more headstone in the ever-growing SciFi/Syfy cemetery.  Thief and three time loser Darien Fawkes (Vincent Ventresca) is given the chance to work for the government with an invisibility gland implanted in his brain.  Ably supported by the delightfully paranoid Robert Albert Hobbes (Paul Ben-Victor, who also starred in another wonderful bygone show, In Plain Sight), the two navigated super villians and life in the underpaid, under-appreciated federal bureaucracy.  (Yes, I did work for the government.  Why do you ask?)

Sanctuary: Think Warehouse 13, only with monsters instead of artifacts as the weekly MacGuffins.  Stargate stalwart Amanda Tapping played Dr. Helen Magnus, a sharp-dressing 157-year-old with a passion for high heels.  She also got to snog with Highlander favorite Peter Wingfield as James Watson and Christopher Heyerdahl as John Druitt (the second of two regular roles he played, though most people didn't recognize him under his "Bigfoot" make-up, including me).  There was a conclusion of sorts in the last episode before Syfy abruptly decided to pull the plug, but there was so much up in the air, I wish the producers would return to the show's webisode roots and give us a coda.  Pleeeeeeeeeeease!  Magnus had just kissed naughty vampire Nikolai Tesla (Jonathon Young), for crying out loud. 

The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne: SAJV was the first true Steampunk series sinc Wild Wild West and ranks as my ultimate, all-time heartbreaker.  The conceit is the young Jules Verne (Chris Demetral) actually lived the adventures he later wrote about in the company of Her Magesty's secret agents Phileas Fogg (Michael Praed in Victorian clothes) and his second cousin/secret crush Rebecca (Francesca Hunt as another wonderful portrayal of an intelligent BKC--always a favorite of mine) on the luxurious airship Aurora.  The first season had everything.  Time travel!  Cyborgs!  Dirigibles!  Leather corsets!  Dixie Seatle (remember her from Adderly?) as a Wild West madam with the proverbial heart of gold!  Bad CG in high def!  Screen-steaming sexual tension!  Michael Praed in Victorian clothes!  (Yes, I'm obsessing.  You got a problem with that? You should be glad I don't bring up the wet tights and tunic shot from Robin of Sherwood.)  And then...nothing.  The show vanished.  You can't even find it on DVD.  Seems there are legal issues that make the old Maverick woes look like child's play.  Sob.

Michael Praed in Victorian clothes, I tell you.  You should be crying, too.

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