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October 4, 2007

Back To The Cave

Oh. Oh, oh, oh my. This is not good.
Cavemen, which, oddly, was not sponsored by GEICO, premiered Tuesday. I really, really, wish I’d had a chance to write it. The writers did what I was terrified they’d do: they started with the gag—Cavemen in modern America—and wrote from the gag, making the show all about the gag.

The thing that made The Flintstones funny was that it had almost nothing to do with the fact Fred and Barney were cavemen. It was The Honeymooners, blatantly ripped off. It was a domestic sitcom about a loudmouthed know-it-all under-achiever doing his best for his family while always dreaming of more. Having set up that substantial framework, the producers dressed it with, “Oh, yeah, and they’re cavemen.”

Here, it’s all in-your-face cavemen. And, worse, it’s not funny. What made the initial GEICO commercials (and the better latter-day ones) funny was the subtlety. The commercials weren’t *about* these guys being cavemen, it was about these guys being a discriminated underclass. The cavemen were more or less effete tight-asses a la Frazier and Niles, intellectual high-brow (if not big-brow) snobs who were simply better than us and knew more than we did.

The whole point of the gag, to me, was the restaurant commercial where one caveman expertly orders a high-end dish while the other tells the waiter he’s lost his appetite. I wish the writers of the series had bothered to watch it.

The show completely misses the point of what made these guys popular, and squanders the wealth of that potential. Unless they figure it out quick, I’m reasonably sure Cavemen will be among the first shows to go—which was probably the idea all along. It doesn’t seem like anybody put much energy into this show; like they knew it was a toss-off for GEICO, intended to be thrown out there and quickly cancelled.

Which is a shame: the cave-actors are quite good, as they were in the commercials. But the writing simply isn’t there. The terrible, annoying, relentless and stupid music doesn’t help, either.

Caveman Producers: in case you’re reading this: The Flintstones was The Honeymooners. Cavemen should be Frazier. You really missed the whole point of this.

Man, this is depressing. I *so* looked forward to this.


October 8, 2007


I can’t even begin to imagine what these people were thinking. I’d guess millions of dollars went into developing Caine, the mega-hyped CBS TV series starring Jimmy Smits. Other than being a lukewarm Sopranos and poor man’s Godfather, the show seems reasonable enough, if not groundbreaking. The casting is a bit unfortunate in that Smits, I suppose, wanted to employ all of his Latino friends, so the faces are a tad familiar. The plots are a tad clichéd and the acting is, well, it’s okay, but I won’t be following the series. Smits with the goatee doesn’t help, either.

The ads for the show are the likely cause of death. CBS’s ad guys are just monkeys, and they seemed clearly afraid of this show—afraid to offend Latinos. All of the publicity clips had Smits seemingly struggling with the English language, which is absurd considering Smits doesn’t speak Spanish very well. He’s obviously taken some lessons as here he emits occasional flourishes in Spanish. All the dancing girls and gangsta Latino music are intended, I suppose, to evoke CSI: Miami, a really great show that jumped the shark a couple seasons back, a screed on that soon to follow.

Caine, however, probably won’t last. The kiss of death here is the family name, which the show now owns to the point of non-recovery if they tried to fix it. I can’t begin to imagine what the devil these people were thinking when they named the big, scary, main family Douque, which is unfortunately pronounced “Dookay.” I’m not sure whether or not I need to explain “Dooky” is an urban colloquialism for excrement. Since CBS spent x-millions on Dooky, I’ll assume, yes, I do.

I can’t take the Dooky family seriously. I just break out into a snicker every time I hear the name, and I can’t begin to fathom how that could have possibly made it all the way thru development without somebody—anybody—raising their hand and saying, “Y’know—the name is stupid.”

I suppose this is what happens when you let actors produce. More on CSI: Miami later…


Miami Lice

I remember hearing about David Caruso’s tirades on NYPD: Blue and the legends of how difficult he is to work with. By this point, I am assuming Caruso wields a fair amount of control over CSI: Miami, and I am willing to bet the amount of Caruso’s control is directly proportionate to how utterly ridiculous the show has become. If we are now seeing Caruso Unchained, then no wonder David Milch resisted Caruso’s efforts to drive Blue.

Miami started out, in Season One, as an amped-up version of the infinitely more watchable CSI. But, I liked Caruso (and Kim Delaney, who was apparently fired after ten episodes), so I got involved with this. The photography is gorgeous and I liked the music and MTV-editing style. Some of the InstaForensics were a little over the top, but, I realized, yes, this was television and things needed to move along.

If you’re thinking of getting the box sets, seasons one and two more or less tell the story of Caruso’s unconsummated love affair with his dead brother’s widow, which ends in a kind of fairy tale before the major cast turn toward the camera and start walking together as the wind blows their hair and Caruso slips on his sunglasses.

Just, please, in the name of all that’s holy, stop there. Season three starts with silliness (a Latino gang member hiding inside a coffin at a gang member’s mother’s funeral. I could spend the rest of this rant telling you how utterly impossible that would actually be, not the least of which being the guys who move coffins routinely lock them—from the outside—when they are to be moved. And soon as that heavy lid started to go up, I guarantee you gang members among the mourners would draw down and light ol’ boy up. t was insanely stupid).

CSI:Miami is a fairly terrific show in seasons one and for most of season two. It starts going off the rails in season three, adding some awkward inter-personal nonsense between Horatio Kane (Caruso’s character) and an Internal Affairs cop Cane apparently leapfrogged at the academy or something. In Season Four, the show jumps the shark with this new, gorgeous Star Trek set that could never, and I mean not ever, actually get built by a metropolitan police department. It looks great, thanks mainly to cleverly-placed gels over big giant lamps and mini-blinds placed behind slanted glass walls—I’m sure the set didn’t cost a million bucks but it sure looks like it did. The problem is, no municipality would ever approve an expenditure like that. That money might go toward equipment and manpower, but the over-the top exquisite architecture and designer furniture?

The minute I saw the new set, I realized the show had jumped the shark. It had become, in its fourth season, a parody of itself. Kane’s bizarre and unbelievable “romance” with his subordinate’s sister was an utter waste. The actors had absolutely o chemistry, the jowly Caruso appearing to be at least old enough to be her father. Caruso’s warmth and wit, brimming in his Blue days when his Detective John Kelly balanced two convincing love affairs at the same time, was nowhere to be seen. The two characters had little of anything to say to one another throughout their courting, engagement and brief marriage, and their scenes together were simply excruciating. Worse, the gal, Marisol, seemed utterly helpless, incapable of clipping her nails without it somehow becoming a crisis. Her main purpose seemed to be to show up at CSI HQ and whine, in a voice eerily reminiscent of LaToya Jackson. She was absolutely excruciating to watch, and seemed to exist only to set up the lame season finale.

Perhaps unsatisfied with Miami being a cerebral process show, Caruso seemed apparently bent on making it an action-shoot-‘em-up show, brimming with endless violence, boat chases and SWAT team raids—things crime scene investigators absolutely do not get involved with. The show frankly makes me work way too hard at suspending my disbelief of this silliness. I *do* enjoy Caruso's hammy one-liners at the front—manly because I believe Caruso isn’t vain enough to take that seriously. He’s letting us in on the joke, he’s got to know he’s being silly and he seems to enjoy it.

The rest is a short cab ride from Adam West’s Batman TV show. Scariest about all that, is, I suspect as the seasons progress, Caruso’s control increases. We may actually be seeing what Caruso considers a good TV show. I doubt anybody on the sow tells him what to do anymore, so this is Caruso Unplugged. Raw Caruso.

It’s mildly interesting how he connected Horatio Kane to John Kelly—laying in this seemingly unnecessary back-story about Kane having once been an NYPD homicide detective. I’d be interested to see a flashback ep where Caruso puts on Kelly again, and morphs from the sensitive, exuberant Kelly to the cartoonish Batman figure Horatio Kane appears to be trying to be.. And, is it my imagination or he speaking quieter and quieter with each passing season?

Oh, and Caruso *is* doing Batman. Not sure that he’s ever admitted it, but that’s clearly what’s going on, here.

As I write this, Monday night’s broadcast is on. Man, is this violent. And silly. When, the entire point of CSI was to be, well, better than this.

BTW: anybody watching this show? Can anybody tell me why Detective Frank Tripp is back in uniform?


October 9, 2007

Realistically Speaking

I think I broke something.

I’ve been working on this novel and I’m about 90% done and want to throw it all out. The characters are pretty much cardboard, but that’ll get fixed in re-write. Your first pass thru is a o tike watching a TV pilot: the actors haven’t quite got it, and the characters evolve over time. The bigger problem is I want to put more violence in it and I can’t figure out how. I mean, most violence is just stupid. You could go your entire life without being chased by a van full of heavily-armed gunmen. Most anything I think up reads totally contrived and, well, like B.S., so I just delete days of typing and bang my head against the fridge.

Is it just me or are most fight scenes just totally stupid? Even when I was writing comics, I always felt obligated to get some action in there, but that’s where the story usually started to feel like a comic book. In real life, violence breaks out rarely, sporadically, and usually quite quickly and it’s done. The French Connection car chase is the rarest of oddities, and the large assortment of disposable bad guys leaping out of windows just seems so *done.* Once upon a time, Frank Miller used to be fairly brilliant at this (and maybe he still is): at making violence poetic and believable (my favorite: a locked-jail cell scene with that newspaper reporter from Daredevil). Now, I’m sure he was borrowing heavily from Japanese comics and film, but nowadays, everything from Tom Cruise films to the Bourne films to Kill Bill seems over-the-top and contrived. I can write it, but I don’t believe it. The only fun you ever get from writing a novel (which pays pretty much nothing and takes forever) is you get to scrape along the cellar of your soul, writing something you actually believe in. Much as I want the bullets to fly, I don’t want to pollute the work with this phony crap, such that the reader gets to chapter eight and groans, “Now comes the phony crap.”

In Bourne, there’s these spy-types that are after Matt Damon, and they send one unbelievably super-deadly assassin after another. Of course, Damon has to beat them up, which puts the lie to how deadly they are. My lead character is fairly kick-ass herself (and, hopefully, convincingly so), but any bad guys I send after her have to get whuppped or (a) my gal’s not so tough and (b) it’s a very short story.

Also, you know, from page one, the bad guys are gonna lose. From page one of any story, you know that either the bad guy’s going to lose or the good guy is gonna get killed in the process of, you guessed it, making the bad guy lose. There is virtually no suspense anymore.

It’s possible I’m trying too hard. Every turn in the plot where some cliché I hate presents itself, I kick it over. Which gives the plot some fairly interesting twists, some the reader will see coming that, hopefully, will blow up in their face later on. Trying to outpace reader expectation is probably the worst part about writing, but you’re also trying to write a book you, yourself, would find interesting. Part of what makes reading comics so difficult for me is the action scenes, where the writers put on their “comic book hat” and start doing silly things like dressing terrorists in uniforms in NYC and having them ride on the outside of an elevated subway train. No offense to the writer, but I checked out of the story.

Denny O’Neil once told me that he’d more or less lost his ability to suspend his disbelief and write things that were just utter nonsense. People trying to shake Batman’s hand. In the real world, nobody wants to shake Batman’s hand. People *run* from Batman and Batman prefers to not stand around and have his hand shaken. Of curse, in the real world, there is no Batman. Or, if there were, there’d be dozens upon dozens of clowns who’d dress up like him and get shot in the face trying to *be* him just so they could get their picture in the paper or, perhaps, have adoring crowds shake their hands.

In the real world, Batman would get sued. A lot. And real cops would figure out who he was in about an hour or so.

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