Pilot

Season 1, Episode 1
Director: Robert Mandel
Writer: Chris Carter

When I woke this morning, I had no idea that, by the end of the day, I would be embarking on a geek quest with The X-Files‘ “Pilot.” One of those quests you read about in blogs or humor pieces elsewhere. The kind where people sit in front of a television for 36-hours straight eating only what’s in their immediate grasp and peeing into a (hopefully) empty bottle of Mountain Dew. Like that Simpsons marathon people tried on last summer. It’s funny when someone else does it. Funny in a kind of lunatic way that would never be me. Certainly not me. And definitely not over The X-Files.

Today, FOX announced a massive publicity campaign for its January 2016 revival of The X-Files, appropriately titled “201 Days of The X-Files.” Later, I was chatting with a friend about the event, one of us (I’ll say it was me. Could have been him, but that’s irrelevant. Focus.) commented that it would actually be quite fantastic to relive the series from beginning to end and on to a new beginning. He, you see, had already seen them all. I, on the other hand, have only seen one episode – 1996’s gruesome fourth-season entry “Home.” It’s not the only gaping hole in my 90s-era television viewing habits. I’d only recently watched any episode of Twin Peaks, and there are series, famous series, of which I’d only seen a handful of episodes. I grew up worshiping at the altar of cinema. Television was for philistines. Unless it was 80s soaps. That was my weird pre-teen jam (see “Moldavian Massacre” from Dynasty).

So, this is all a very long-winded way of telling you why I’m embarking on this quest to accept the challenge that FOX did not specifically lay at my feet. I am responding to their marketing as only a bingeing geek like me can. I’m going to watch every episode of The X-Files one a day until the series returns on January 24, 2016. I’ll be posting my reviews and thoughts here about each episode. I have no idea if I even have the stamina to maintain this for 201 days. I have no idea what I’ll have to say about each and every episode of the series. Surely, some will bear more fruit than others. I’m a bit of a (SQUIRREL!) bright shiny object guy. Also, I am mostly ignorant of the overall mythology, but I do know a few things here and there. Be kind as you read this. We all know it’s tough losing  your virginity (that dalliance with “Home” didn’t really count).

Pilot

The X-Files starts with a (humorous?) tag line basically claiming the episode was “based on actual events” after which a young woman is seen running through the forest, fleeing something behind her. A light shines just over a ridge as the wind begins to howl. A mysterious figure appears within the light as she tumbles to the ground, helpless at its feet. A flash of light, and the scene continues the next day – the girl is dead – and we learn… this has happened before.

Cut to the introduction of FBI Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who has been assigned to partner Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) in his various investigations and obsession with the “X-Files,” a collection of unexplained and mysterious events logged by the FBI. Right off the bat, we have the scientific versus belief. Hard data versus blind faith. While Scully’s belief system is described by two lines of dialogue (“The answers are there. You just have to know where to look.”), Mulder’s basement office has a now iconic poster hanging on the wall of a UFO with the tag line “I want to believe” written under it. Subtle character development. Still, what I find very interesting from the early moments of their interactions is that Scully is a “show me” type of woman. She finds solace in evidence and details. She’s a skeptic, yet (in one scene) she wears a tiny gold cross around her neck. Mulder, on the other hand, clearly has no issues in accepting things blindly and in hiding his raw passion for believing in the existence of something out there. No mention is made of his religious beliefs in the pilot episode.

The pilot is a very accomplished episode on its own, even judging by today’s standards. It’s filmed in that matter-of-fact, no-nonsense style Johnathan Demme applied to the Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs. It’s also no coincidence that Dana Scully is styled to resemble Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling. She’s only missing that West Virginian accent that brands her “not more than one generation from poor white trash.” The focus of the pilot is on a series of murders in the same Oregon town where the opening scene takes place. A series of young adults are dying one by one, all with the same mole-like markings on their lower back. Chances are you’ve already seen the episode, so it’s not really a spoiler to reveal that, yes indeed, these kids were kidnapped by aliens, and the government moves to conceal the evidence. It’s interesting to see that the series right away confronts Scully with the much-discussed alien mythology. The show revels in the Mulder viewpoint, leaving no subtlety as to whether or not “we are not alone,” as Scully says later in the episode when describing Mulder’s beliefs.

The Anderson and Duchovny performances aren’t quiet fully formed yet, but they do a fine job of keeping us engaged in the material. Even from the first episode, Anderson clearly has the chops to take the character much further despite seeming ill-at-ease with Scully in the early moments of the episode. By the end, she has already started to inhabit Scully and externalize the blossoming internal conflict between science and faith (in aliens). Duchovny, in the opening moments, seems to have taken his acting queues from Harold Ramis’s Dr. Egon Spengler character in Ghostbusters. Over time, he too grows into the character, softening the harder edges of his delivery.

For now, I’m hooked on the show, and I can already see the seeds of the overall mythology take hold. Speaking of which, the two big mythology moments I picked up on where the introduction of The Smoking Man (apparently also known as The Cigarette Smoking Man) and Mulder’s back story about the potential abduction of his sister by aliens, something that clearly spawned his career obsession. I’m also curious as to whether or not the “missing nine minutes” Mulder claims to have experienced will be referenced again in the upcoming episodes. I’ll guess I’ll wait to see this and more play out over the next 200 days.

So, am I crazy? Wait, don’t answer that. Instead, join me on this quest. Share my joy and pain.

The Truth is out there, but am I just too lazy to find it?

It is roughly 201 days until the premiere of the X-Files revival on Sunday, January 24, and FOX is celebrating by kicking off a 201 day-long viewing party. Buried at the end of their event teaser are the first, very brief scenes of the revival.

The Truth is definitely still out there.

There are some shows that somehow sneak under the radar for a few weeks before the skill and quality of the series force it to bubble up to the pop culture surface. Before you know it, everyone is talking about the show in every outlet possible. Amazon Prime’s Catastrophe is one of those shows.

Originally airing in the UK earlier this year, Catastrophe stars Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan (both of whom co-wrote the series) as, effectively enough, Rob and Sharon, a couple who ended up pregnant after an extended one-night stand. Rather than give up the child or go their separate ways, Rob and Sharon decide to act like adults and work through their situation. Along the way, they fall in love and, for various reasons not the first of which is love, decide to get married.

This is a standard romantic comedy setup, and it in some ways resembles the Judd Apatow film Knocked Up. But the resemblances are only surface deep. Catastrophe excels because it’s a romantic comedy for people who don’t really like romantic comedies. It follows all the patterns: wacky hook ups and crazy sidekicks overlayed with his/her perspectives on romance. Hell, it even has Carrie Fisher (When Harry Met Sally) as Rob’s mother.

But what sets this apart is the realistic and frank dialogue created by Delaney and Horgan who, no doubt, drilled into their personal experiences for this sense of reality. The show is at once incredibly sweet and completely filthy – much to its credit. Case in point, Rob eventually buys a ring and attempts to propose to Sharon only to have her knock the ring out of his hand into the urine stream of a nearby woman. They carry forward with the proposal, and she puts on the ring (“It’s just a little bit of piss.”). Coupled with the experiences is the remarkable chemistry between the two leads. Their free and easy style go a long way to making us believe they would embark on this journey together without knowing a great deal about each other.

The supporting cast is excellent with Mark Bonnar standing out as the eccentric and unique Chris, husband of Sharon’s frienenemy Fran. He’s an odd and sometimes off-putting comic presence who is also blessed with the fantastic line, “You see a little troll come tobogganing out of your wife’s snatch on a wave of turds and part of you will hold her responsible.”

It doesn’t get any better than that, and romantic comedies don’t get much better than Catastrophe.

Catastrophe is available streaming on Amazon Prime. Season Two will debut in the UK on Channel 4 later in the year. 

True evil is, above all things, seductive. When the devil knocks at your door, he doesn’t have cloven hooves. He is beautiful…” The Creature (Rory Kinnear) in Penny Dreadful

Showtime’s Penny Dreadful finishes its second season by vastly improving upon the faults of its ambitious, yet meandering, freshman season. Namely, the creative team wisely chose to focus on a single villain with a human face – Helen McCrory’s  (Harry Potter) – over the vampire master of Season One. As such, it gave the new season a darker, more fulfilling sense of dread.

It also helps that McCrory is a very strong actress and, like star Eva Green, is perfectly suited to spouting the sometimes nonsensical dialogue. Both actresses, in fact, seem to have attended the same School for Satanic Chanting in Elaborate Period Garb, and they were clearly top of their class. Green is as good in Season Two as she was last year, and this year’s character arc allows her to explore the character in fascinating ways, particularly in the exploration of her faith and in the internal struggle between Good and Evil.

McCrory, however, has adopted Green’s previous sexual frankness with her character of Evelyn Poole. Poole’s main purpose is to serve her Master (Lucifer, natch) with her coven of daughters/witches. She uses all means of witchcraft, influence, and, yes, her sexual prowess to achieve her goals. My one complaint with the character is that the writers have given us yet another age-obsessed woman who longs for eternal youth and beauty. Poole serves Lucifer because he keeps her young, thus pitting her against other women on the show in an age-old completion for supreme beauty. In a show that consistently finds creative ways of exploring both the beautiful and the grotesque, it’s a little redundant and disappointing to have Poole serve the story in this manner.

Aside from the main plot line, we have Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) finally becoming the werewolf we always suspected he was, and the Creature finding a home in a wax museum. The problem with both stories is the sluggishness with which the stories unravelled, revealing themselves in the pilot but not fully realized until the conclusion of the season. It’s a minor pick, but I will admit to growing impatient with the direction.

The biggest surprise of Season Two was Billie Piper’s transition from dying prostitute Broma Croft into resurrected Lily Frankenstein. It was an unexpected turn of events to have the character shift from doe-eyed newborn to a full-fleshed villain by season’s end. My joy in this was matched by the show FINALLY finding a creative way to explore the Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) character. At season’s end, he becomes entranced by Lily Frankenstein and ascends into the role of, presumably, the Season Theee villain. Let’s just forget his tryst with the French transgender woman. I’m still processing that one.

Finally, the star of the series remains the elaborate and often gorgeous set design. Highlights include (as always) Gray’s elaborate portrait gallery and the actual blood rain that happens midway the season. Also, the Creature’s wax works home proved a fascinating diversion, one that I would have liked to see more of in fact. And the heart-pounding dive into Poole’s castle at the end of the season was a masterwork of direction and orchestral accompaniment. Not to mention the skull-covered Poole alter or her circle of Satanic ventriloquist dolls.

The set design continues to surprise and amaze, and, as long as that remains true, Penny Dreadful will always remain at the top of my list.

Because who doesn’t love a circle of Satanic ventriloquist dolls?

 

Rush Hour. Uncle Buck. It seems like each day brings new reports of a movie being turned into a TV show with most upcoming projects like Fatal Attraction appearing unfit for TV (given that, well, we all know how THAT story ends—hide your bunnies!). Also, you can have your Scream TV series – it bears next-to-no resemblance to the films we love.

But what movies would make good TV shows? Here are ten that might be able to successfully make the leap from big screen to small screen.

  1. Chinatown. Bear with us. Imagine HBO doing their own take on this classic, a look at the seedy underbelly of LA through the eyes of a private investigator. Think True Detective only with a film noir quality. Could Jon Hamm fill Nicholson’s shoes?
  2. Groundhog Day. It already has a comforting, sitcom-like premise (each episode will bring the same routine the same way Kramer enters Jerry’s apartment without knocking), but imagine getting to learn more about the characters within the quirky town of Punxsutawney (especially since Bill Murray was trapped in the town for 34 years). Of course you’ll need a replacement for Phil Connors. Our suggestions: Hugh Laurie or John Cho.
  3. To Wong Fu, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. A group of drag queens accidentally ends up in a small Midwestern town and change the lives of the residents for the better (does this already just scream Logo?). Now, who to cast? Hugh Dancy is pretty enough to be a woman—plus, Hannibal was canceled, so he’s looking for work. Also, Michael Pena could attempt the fill the heels of John Leguizamo.
  4. Pleasantville. Two teens end up sucked into their favorite ‘50s TV show. This concept is ripe for episodes and character arcs. Jennette McCurdy could play the Reese Witherspoon role, Michael Cera the Tobey Maguire, and other townspeople could include Anna Friel (who rocked vintage garb on Pushing Daisies) and Octavia Spencer, who could be a character that starts a Civil Rights movement inspired by these transients from the future.
  5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In the movie, we only got 2.5 hours’ worth of grandpa-to-baby, but what about all of the stuff in between? Who doesn’t want to see an 80-year-old in kindergarten? The plot has so many possibilities when it comes to episodes. Cast Rob Lowe in this role, since he’s already like a reallife Benjamin.
  6. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Twenty-five years ago, ABC tried to do the The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, starring Sean Patrick Flanery, but what about doing a show about adult Indiana Jones and the adventures he goes on? Shut everyone up and cast Chris Pratt and put it on AMC.
  7. Peter Pan. Networks like Fox and CW are doing origin stories for characters like Batman and the Flash, but what about another beloved character who flies? And it wouldn’t even have to be an origin story. It could just be a look at the boy who never grows old and the adventures he finds himself in without Wendy.
  8. Basic Instinct. There are many male anti-heroes on TV, but not enough female ones. This show would fix that, following Catherine Tramell and her series of misdeeds. Think Dexteress. Starring Eva Longoria in Sharon Stone’s role.
  9. August Osage County. The days of The Cosby Show are gone. Dysfunctional families are hot right now (think: The Americans, Shameless), and there’s nothing more dysfunctional than this play-turned-movie. This family could get into A LOT of trouble, and while you won’t get Meryl to reprise her role, you could get Margo Martindale (The Millers was canceled) and maybe some new blood in the form of Hope Davis, Courteney Cox, Steve Buscemi, Anna Gunn, and Jessica Lange in the Meryl role.
  10. The Player. Hollywood loves movies about itself, so why wouldn’t it like a TV series about the inner workings of the business? Robert Altman’s 1992 film was about an executive receiving death threats from a screenwriter, but this is probably just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what people will do to make it in Hollywood. Let’s hear more. Timothy Olyphant could play the Tim Robbins role.

 

What movie do you think would make a good TV show? Sound off in the comments.

The Water Cooler podcast team – Joey, Megan, and Clarence – put on their television studio mogul hats and dive into the business of translating films into successful television series. Before we jump into identifying a few properties we’d like to see as TV series, we take a step back and explore the mechanics behind what makes a successful film-to-TV-series jump. After the successes of Bates MotelHannibal, and Fargo, what lies within a film’s DNA that helps it make the shift to television? Is there a science to it?

Once you’re done listening to the podcast, we hope you’ll comment with your personal picks of films you’d like to see as TV series. We would love to hear what you think.

2:10 – Film to TV Series Translations

Happy 4th of July to all of you from all of us at Awards Daily TV. Hope you have a safe and happy holiday weekend!

On Monday’s Awards Daily TV Water Cooler podcast, we tackle the trend of translating films into television series. Some are smash audience and critical hits (Fargo, Hannibal). Some are total duds (MTVs Scream, in our humble opinion). Joey, Megan, and I discuss what makes a good film-to-TV translation. What qualities exist in a film’s DNA that spawn successful television?

Then, we each wear our studio exec hats and greenlight TV series of our own. Some of our choices dazzle. Some… Well… Some we just politely nod and move on. Join in the discussion by posting your own personal favorite films that you think would make great TV series. We’d love to hear what you think.

In a little bit of casting news today, two high profile projects announced the additions of Oscar-winning actresses to their cast roster. In HBO’s adaption of the Tony award-winning play All the Way, Melissa Leo (The FighterWayward Pines) will join Emmy and Tony winner Bryan Cranston’s LBJ as Lady Bird Johnson. On a purely physical basis, this is note-perfect casting, and no doubt Leo is well up to the challenge of meeting the sure-to-be-Emmy-nominated work from Cranston.

FOX’s Empire will add Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) in a recurring role for Season Two. Her character will be Mimi Whiteman (oh-so-subtle, Empire), a venture capitalist entangled with the Lyon family. She is described by Deadline as “a lover of hip hop music, social trends, high-end fashion and beautiful women.” I’m on board with everything but the name. That has to be a joke, right?

All the Way doesn’t have a specific air date but will likely air in Spring 2016. Empire Season Two kicks off September 23, three days after the 2015 Emmy Awards.

Netflix has released the first full trailer for their upcoming Wet Hot American Summer series based on the cult-classic film. 

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