Monday, May 18, 2009

Lost & Heroes

Now that Lost and Heroes have wrapped up their 2009 seasons, how did they do?

Heroes divided the year into two "books". The first one "Book 3 - Heroes and Villains" shown during the Fall of 2008 was a mess. The concept was to offer complex questions about what makes someone a hero or a villain and shake up our concepts. It sounded good but it got tiresome fast. Worse, the writer threw in a number of elements from the first season in an effort to recapture its feel. This didn't work at all. The visions of the future and quests to prevent a coming Apocalypse have been done too often.

NBC agreed and brought in a new writing staff. The result was a fresh approach with no time travel or visions. Book 4's best moments were the first few episodes with groups of agents taking down the heroes and taking them away to some sort of holding facility. It bogged down a bit at the end as Sylar changed sides a couple of times and went through an identity crisis. His argument with his "mother" was a classic bit that made Norman Bates seem normal. The conclusion set up for the next book and Sylar's eventual return.


Lost recovered from its slump a couple of years ago and had a season that seemed far too short. Where Heroes dropped time travel, it was the major point of Lost with half of the cast stuck in the 1970s.

Structurally, Lost's season was divided into two parts. The first part was the return to the Island for the ones on the mainland. Meanwhile, the ones who were left behind went through a number of time shifts and cast reductions. By the end of this arc, the survivors of the original crash were down to the core cast (plus Rose and Bernard who retired).

Once the time jumps stopped then we were back to something like the original format with an over-all plot plus flashbacks for a specific character showing how he came to the island.

Several questions were resolved or at least explored in more detail. We now know what the huge statue looked like. We saw the plane crash and got a glimpse of Daniel's group before she shot them. We also got to know the Dharma Initiative. We found out why the original hatch was built. Most important, we found out that the mysterious Jacob is a real person and has been near when ever important events happened to the core cast.

The last two season have been dominated by the fight between Ben and Widmore. The last few minutes of the season finale set up for a larger conflict between Jacob and his unnamed rival.


A couple of other shows are worth mentioning. In its first season, Chuck was fun but seemed like it could have been better. In its second season it was better, finally living up to its promise. After keeping fans in suspense for weeks, NBC renewed Chuck, at least for 13 episodes.

Dollhouse has an interesting premise. The star is a different person every episode. The first season was interesting but it will be difficult to keep it up. The first season featured two plot arcs. The first was a detective searching for the Dollhouse. This was wrapped up by the season finale. The second arc concerned "Alpha", one of the dolls who went crazy after being given multiple personalities simultaneously. Alpha escaped se we probably will see him again. Dollhouse was renewed but with a reduced budget.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Star Trek's view of the future

If you didn't live in the 1960s then it is hard to imagine the impact of the space race. When Star Trek premiered in 1966, we had gone from sub-orbital space flights to reaching for the moon in five years. It seemed obvious that this rush to space would continue. Star Trek offered an optimistic view of the future. Just as technology had progressed over the last couple of centuries, it would continue to progress. The world of star Trek was the world of the 1960s advanced into the future.

First, there was Star Fleet. Like the modern (in 1966) Navy, some of the most important ships were years or decades old. The name the Enterprise was a nod at the nuclear aircraft carrier, one of the most advanced and powerful ships ever built.

In 1966, the United Nations was a lot newer and there was a lot more optimism about it. It seemed like an obvious progression - individual states to United States to United Nations to a Federation of Planets. Star Fleet and the Federation of Planets seemed like the United States and/or the UN writ on an interplanetary scale. Unfortunately the Cold War still existed too with the Klingons and Romulans standing in for the USSR and China.

In 1966 we had American exceptionalism. In Star Trek we had Human exceptionalism. Every few months some ancient, wise alien would tell us that we were better than other species, especially Klingons.

Most people discovered the show after it was cancelled. It got poor ratings but it was popular in syndication. By the  early 1970s, it was the most-watched program in the country, possibly the world. One of its attractions was its 1960s optimism. In-between we had constant predictions of environmental meltdowns that make the global warming forecasts seem like happy talk. A future in which humanity not only survived but prospered had a lot of appeal.

Strangely, a lot of the sophisticated technology was done for budgetary reasons. It was cheaper to teleport people than to put them on a shuttle craft. Space suits were also expensive and hard to move in so only a couple of episodes required them. Warp drive was a necessity in order to drive the plot.

I've seen several rundowns of the show's technology and how modern technology has advanced to match it but there is one piece that no one even mentions - the doors. In 1966, the only automatic doors had pressure pads in the floor. The doors in Star Trek had stage hands opening them off-screen (the blooper reel shows them not opening). Doors that use sonic motion detectors are so common today that no one even thinks about them.

Monday, May 04, 2009


Back when Wolverine first appeared in the Incredible Hulk, I doubt that anyone would have predicted that he could headline his own movie. During the 1970s, someone at Marvel decided that there were too many heroes concentrated in the USA so they introduced some new national heroes.

The Hulk strayed north of his usual haunts in the American South-West and was fighting a rematch with the Wendigo. The Canadian authorities didn't care for this and sent in "Weapon X" to break up the fight. Weapon X turned out to be Wolverine.

As originally conceived, the character didn't resemble the current incarnation. He had strength and speed similar to Spider-Man and his costume included retractable claws.

The following year (1975) Marvel decided to resurrect the canceled X-Men as a new, multi-national team. The original team, with the exception of Cyclops, had disappeared on a mission so Cyclops and Professor X recruited a new team to save them. Wolverine was one of the recruits.

He didn't have much personality in the early X-Men. Usually he attacked using the "fastball special" - Colossus would hurl him, claws first (this made it into the 3rd X-Men movie). That was about it for characterization. In the second issue of the new X-Men, a character named Thunderbird was killed. It was felt that his powers were redundant. Co-writer, Len Wein could have as easily chosen Wolverine to die instead and no one would have noticed.

Things got a little more interesting when the X-Men were captured by Sentinels (big, anti-mutant robots) in issues 98-100. A scan said that he wasn't exactly a mutant. Shortly after that it was revealed that his claws were part of him, not part of his costume. Even his fellow team-mates didn't know that. After that the character got a lot more interesting.

We finally learned his name was Logan in an issue of Iron Fist. We also found out that he was stalking Jean Grey. While Chris Claremont had been writing the X-Men since the second issue. this was the first time that teamed up with John Byrne on the X-Men.

Not long after that Byrne became the X-Men artist. Like Wolverine, Byrne was Canadian so he decided to make Logan his own personal project. Wolverine's profile jumped as did his acceptance.

In the next year Wolverine's two big secrets were revealed. First a dinosaur bit his arm up to the elbow. You heard the "snict" of his claws popping out and the dinosaur fell. Wolverine's arm wasn't scratched. "I heal fast," he explained.

A few issues later a character who possessed bodies but had an aversion to metal attacked Wolverine and was repelled by his metal skeleton.

At that point it was understood that Wolverine's entire skeleton had been replaced with adamantium. In interviews, Byrne described the horrific process of replacing Wolverine's skeleton, one bone at a time. A couple of alternate timelines showed Wolverine's skeleton as man-made.

Later Claremont revised this, referring to his bones as "laced with adamantium" instead of being replaced.

Slowly it was revealed that Wolverine's healing ability also slowed his aging and that he was at least a generation older than he looked.

The Canadian government decided that they wanted Weapon X back. First they sent Weapon Alpha (later renamed Vindicator) to retrieve him. Later the X-Men fought a Canadian team of superheroes, Alpha Flight. Their goal was to retrieve Wolverine. Along the way we learned that Wolverine had anger issues.

In 1982, Frank Miller and Chris Claremont did a Wolverine mini-series that was the defining version of the character including the line, "I'm the best there is at what I do but what I do isn't very nice."