Not In Kansas Anymore

Not content with moving Battlestar Galactica to Sunday Nights, SciFi has decided that what the world needs now is a reimagined Wizard of Oz:

The miniseries is a sometimes psychedelic, often twisted and always bizarre take on The Wizard of Oz. It centers on DG, a young woman plucked from her humdrum life and thrust into The Outer Zone (the O.Z.), a fantastical realm filled with wonder, but oppressed by dark magic. DG discovers her true identity, battles evil winged monkey-bats and attempts to fulfill her destiny. Her perilous journey begins on the fabled Old Road that leads to a wizard known as the Mystic Man. Along the way, she is joined by “Glitch,” an odd man missing half his brain; “Raw,” a quietly powerful wolverine-like creature longing for inner courage; and “Cain,” a heroic former policeman (known in the O.Z. as a “Tin Man”), who is seeking vengeance for his scarred heart. Ultimately, DG’s destiny leads her to a showdown with the wicked sorceress Azkadellia, whose ties to DG are closer than anyone could have imagined.

The first rule of reimagining a story is that the orignal needs to fall short of its potential. This can sometime be a hard thing to judge (I’m all in favor of a reimigined Star Trek, though I’m probably the only one) but messing with the Wizard of Oz is just asking for trouble. George Lucus re-imagining his own Star Wars movies type of trouble.

The Oz movie is a classic. It also happens to be one of the most tightly structured scripts around. The color transition, the pacing, the stylized acting all play into the fantasy of the concept. Plus and this is a biggie, the musical numbers help tell the story and move the plot forward in an economical way. Imagine each character having to monologue their missing-organ back stories. That would be the definition of tedious.

The new BSG works because the original series was, frankly, shallow and cliched. It has it’s diehard fans who don’t like the new show for going all dark and current and philosophical and real. Some people are happy with worn out cardboard and Star Wars rip offs. But the show simply didn’t live up to it’s potential. But That’s not the case here. If you have your doubts, rent Return to Oz sometime.

Not Until Season Ten

Adam Sternbergh has reached the same conclusion I did about shows like Lost:

Change the format, or at least reimagine it. When it so-called arc shows, we need something between a mini-series and an open-ended run. We need the TV equivalent of a novella: the limited-run show. Series driven by a central mystery (Twin Peaks, The X-Files) peter out precisely because they have indefinite life spans. The writers are forced to serve up red herrings until the shows choke on their own plot twists.

[…] Now let’s imagine an alternate reality in which, say, Lost was designed to run for only two seasons. Rather than getting an increasingly tedious shaggy-dog story, we’d get 48 episodes of tightly plotted, expertly interwoven suspense. Viewers would be both more willing to sign on at the beginning (knowing their investment will pay off) and more inclined to buy DVDs later (either as catch-up for newbies or as a satisfying boxed set). Sure, the show won’t syndicate well, but shows like Lost don’t syndicate well anyway. And the series finale would be huge—the kind of event TV network executives drool over.

Shows like Lost or The X-Files or Battlestar Galactica work because they are complex, challenging and, at their heart, have a mystery that can be solved. But it’s the refusal to solve anything that ultimately kills them. The X-Files should have ended in Season 5. They had a second chance in Season 7. When did it end? 3 years later with season 10, after replacing the main characters because the initial characters (and actors) that made the premise work were tired of never finding an answer. But the Executives and producers didn’t care. they just saw an opportunity to squeeze a few more bucks at the expense of the audience’s credulity. A mystery cannot go on forever. Stories need to end and in a timely manner.

Imagine if movies did the same thing. Indie never finds the Ark of the Covenant, just an endless parade of tombs and Nazis with increasingly ludicrous cliff hangers. The fellowship keeps walking up Mount Doom, but never gets to the top. There were people who complained that after the nine hours of the three movies, they just didn’t care anymore who won the blessed war or what happened to that damn hobbit and his ring. Now imagine that it kept going on for five more movies with no resolution.

This is what happened to the X-files and what is happening to Lost. They had a good idea but have let it flounder for too long. It no longer matters why the polar bear, or what the numbers mean. Two seasons equals roughly 20 hours (minus commercial breaks) of feignts, dodges and cliffhangers. That’s the equivalent of 10 movies. Imagine watching a 10 movie series and still having no idea what these people are doing or why any of this is happening. You wouldn’t because no studio in their right mind would green light a 10 picture series that never had even a momentary resolution.*

I’d really love to see the American networks switch to the BBC style of drama series. One season of 13 episodes to tell your story. if it’s popular, they’ll do another season, but each season has a story arc. Something is achieved in 13 episodes and it’s over, with a possibility of a continuation. Even the idea floated above, of a limit of two seasons, forces the writers to weed out the ideas that kinda work (but not really) and get to the stuff that shines. There’d be no silly one off episodes where everyone breaks into song. Just tight plotting and storytelling honed down to a razor’s edge.

For all the griping about Firefly being cancelled too soon, at least it didn’t peter out like Buffy did, turning to cheep gimmicks in season 7 to stay interesting. And my fondest hope is that Ronald Moore and the gang at Battlestar Galactica have an end planned for the rag tag fleet, and soon. I’d love it if they find Earth at the end of season 3, fight over it with the Cylons in season 4 and then call it the end. Because they have a wonderful, compelling drama with interesting characters, but if left to wander around the universe in their current state for five or six more seasons, the show will just become monotonous and uninteresting. And no one wants to see that.

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* I’m curious to see how many Spider Man films Sony will let Sam Raimi make. My guess is one more, but only if Spider Man 3 does really well.

Bender In ’08

Futurama will return to TV. Comedy Central has picked up the rights to air all the old episodes, plus new episodes to be created.

The second dumbest thing Fox ever did was cancel Futurama.* What did they think, that the Simpsons would last forever? It’s already lingered well past its sell-by date and should have gone into syndication immortality years ago. Perhaps once the Simpsons Movie comes along, they’ll le the show go off the air and save those of us who grew up with it the horror of watching it turn into a mediocre parody of itself. Futurama was going to be the inheritor of the Simpson’s genius. But Fox, never imaginative enough to look too hard into the future, couldn’t see that. luckily, the folks at Comedy Central can.

Will You Take Tom With You?

Isaac Hayes Quits South Park:

Isaac Hayes has quit “South Park,” where he voices Chef, saying he can no longer stomach its take on religion.

“There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins,” the 63-year-old soul singer and outspoken Scientologist said.

“Religious beliefs are sacred to people, and at all times should be respected and honored,” he continued. “As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices.”

“South Park” co-creator Matt Stone responded sharply in an interview with The Associated Press Monday, saying, “This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology… He has no problem � and he’s cashed plenty of checks � with our show making fun of Christians.”

It’s hard to figure out if this is just Hayes being a cranky old man or just an old crank. I’m going with old krank, since Scientology trumps all reasonable expectations of typical behavior (See: Tom Cruise’s crazy ass).

That quote from Matt Stone really nails it though: Mr. Hayes is just fine pissing all over other religions but oh no, we can’t besmirch the name of L. Ron Hubbard and his holy Pyramid scam. Oh well. Guess it’s back to obscurity for Isaac, where he can practice his kooky alien religion without having to be offended by the booming sound of the world snickering behind his back.