Monday, May 28, 2007

On the Lot

I'm sitting here sort of half-watching the latest episode of Fox's On the Lot, Mark Burnett's reality show for aspiring directors, and I'm not quite sure how I feel about it yet. Part of that reason is that it seems like it's been a different show each time it's aired. Tonight it's basically American Idol - the directors each made a one-minute comedy short, which then gets shown and critiqued by the panel of judges (Garry Marshall, D.J. Caruso, Carrie Fisher - two hack directors and a has-been actress), and the audience then votes for their favorites. This is entirely different from the first two episodes, in which contestants were given challenges (make a pitch based on a log line, make a short in 24 hours in a team with two other directors, shoot a one-page scene in an hour) and then critiqued and eliminated by the judges. Those episodes were more like traditional reality shows, with cameras following the contestants as they performed their tasks and fought with each other. I haven't really been following any reality shows for a while, so it was sort of fun watching the standard annoying assholes treat each other poorly - yelling at the TV does have its appeal.

But now that all appears to have been thrown out. In fact, for some reason the challenge that had just started at the end of the last episode (shooting a one-page scene in an hour) was completely glossed over, the six people eliminated in that round essentially getting ignored completely. Now we've got an incredibly irritating, perky host (replacing, for some reason, Chelsea Handler from the earlier episodes) and no behind-the-scenes footage at all. Although it's interesting to watch short films by emerging filmmakers (that's what I've done at plenty of festivals, and I think the short is an underappreciated form), honestly most of these are pretty dismal, and the ones getting the most praise from the judges are basically flash over substance (and come off more like commercials than movies). I suppose that makes sense in a contest to crown a new Hollywood filmmaker, but the best popular filmmakers still have good storytelling and character-building skills, which seem lacking from most of these films. I wouldn't expect a challenging, independent voice to come out of this show, but if it could find the filmmaking equivalent of Kelly Clarkson (a talented, driven popular artist), that would be satisfying enough. If not that, at least some entertaining douchebags to yell at.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Movies opening this week

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, dir. Gore Verbinski)
I wonder if even the die-hard fans are starting to see the cracks in this franchise: I wasn't able to make it to the last-minute press screening, so I saw this movie last night at one of the first showings, along with a regular paying audience. Everyone got there really early and buzzed with anticipation; there was even a handful of people dressed up. People laughed uproariously at the trailer for Disney's cartoon-princess-in-the-real-world movie Enchanted, and when Pirates finally started and the title appeared on the screen, the whole audience cheered. But there weren't any more cheers throughout the rest of the film, except for isolated whoops from one or two audience members, and no laughs nearly as hearty as those for the rather lame trailer. Maybe people were satisfied when they came out, but they were surprisingly unenthusiastic during the film.

Obviously I can't blame them - I didn't think this was any better than the second installment, only longer, with the same problems multiplied. The plot is convoluted and practically incomprehensible, but that doesn't stop the characters from spending far too much time standing around trying to explain it to each other, which only leads to more confusion. I don't know why the filmmakers felt the need to make things so complex, when the appeal of the franchise is its simple sense of fun and adventure. This movie is not fun, and there's so much exposition that it takes forever to get to any action sequences. The climactic battle is exciting, if too drawn out, but not particularly dazzling. And Depp is occasionally funny, but his schtick really has run out of steam, which makes it all the more disturbing that he keeps expressing his desire to continue playing the character. This here is a textbook example of how to take all the fun out of a blockbuster franchise, and in an already weak summer popcorn season, it stands as the worst example so far. Wide release

Waitress (Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Jeremy Sisto, dir. Adrienne Shelly)
Now this is an entertaining movie. It's simple, straightforward and relatively predictable, but so well-acted, genuine and funny that all of that works to its advantage. I've been a Keri Russell fan since her days on Felicity, and she turns in a wonderful performance here, completely winning and sympathetic as a pregnant waitress with an asshole husband, who has an affair with her OB/GYN. The characters here feel lived-in while being slightly stylized, and even Sisto's cartoonish abusive husband gets a few shades of gray. This is an indie film that will completely win over mainstream audiences, a perfect date movie that's not too ickily romantic, and definitely one of my favorite movies of the year. Forget the pirates and the ogre and the spider-guy; see this instead. Opened limited May 2; in Las Vegas this week

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Cillian Murphy, Padraic Delaney, Orla Fitzgerald, dir. Ken Loach)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Loach is often referred to as a filmmaker easier to admire than to like, and this film definitely falls into that category. It captures a historical period and a political attitude with grittiness and a reasonable amount of ambiguity, but it's more an edifying experience than an entertaining one. Worth catching if you're in the right sort of mood, but definitely not for everyone. Opened limited Mar. 16; in Las Vegas this week

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

So long, Veronica

I already detailed my thoughts about Veronica Mars a few weeks ago, professing to be not all that upset with the likely prospect of the show's cancellation. And when it wasn't on the CW's announced fall schedule, it didn't much surprise or bother me. But I admit that I felt a little sad sitting down to watch last night's two-part finale and realizing that those two episodes were the last new Veronica Mars installments that I'd ever see. It helped, too, that the show went out very strongly: The mysteries of Weevil's framing for making fake IDs and the distribution of the Veronica/Piz sex video were interesting and clever, and, most importantly, they felt like they mattered to the main characters, which was something missing from the earlier stand-alone episodes.

The final episode was particularly good: It may not have been intended as a series finale, but it had satisfying callbacks to earlier continuity, and it was nice to get references (at least visually) back to Duncan and Lilly Kane. What was saddest was watching the set-up for the next season that will never be, with Keith under investigation and likely to lose the election, back on the outs with the Neptune community; Veronica and Piz trying a long-distance relationship even as she clearly still has some feelings for Logan; even Dick starting to show some depth and actual human feeling. As Veronica walked away from the camera and the screen faded to black, it did sort of set in that that was it. Even after all the ups and downs of the past two seasons, this was still a unique and wonderful show, and I really will miss it. I'm happy to read that creator Rob Thomas is already working on new projects, and I look forward to whatever he's got coming up next.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Network upfronts

The annual announcement of the fall schedules for the major broadcast networks is generally a time for complaints from critics and TV obsessives, of the "I can't believe they cancelled this awesome but low-rated show" and "All these new shows are going to suck" varieties. And I have those complaints, too, but I think there's actually quite a lot of positive stuff to focus on. Yes, it's sad that Veronica Mars has been cancelled, but after she gave it three seasons' worth of time to find an audience, it's hard to blame the CW's Dawn Ostroff for pulling the plug. And, yes, there are some atrocious-sounding new sitcoms (including the notorious one based on the Geico cavemen), Sex and the City rip-offs about high-powered women in miniskirts (Lipstick Jungle, Cashmere Mafia, both for midseason) and horrifying reality shows (the Lord of the Flies-esque Kid Nation). But there are at least as many new shows that sound promising at the moment (based of course only on plot descriptions, creative teams and brief clips), and at least two great shows with low ratings (30 Rock, Friday Night Lights) that are getting second chances to find the audiences they deserve.

What am I most looking forward to in the fall? There are quite a few high-concept fantasy/sci-fi shows, which is a little surprising given how poorly most of the serialized dramas from this past season fared. To somewhat arbitrarily pick one as most promising, I'll go with ABC's Pushing Daisies (left), from Dead Like Me creator and Heroes producer Bryan Fuller, with a pilot directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. It looks quirky and darkly humorous, with a sort of tragic center (the main character can't touch the love of his life or she'll die), along with a procedural crime-solving element. It's exactly the kind of thing I'd expect from Sonnenfeld, rather than the bland pilot for Notes From the Underbelly (inexplicably getting a second season) that he directed last year.

Also on the sci-fi/fantasy tip, NBC's Bionic Woman remake (right), from Battlestar Galactica's David Eick, looks pretty damn cool. Eick has already proved his ability to update a cheesy old show for the present day, and that preview clip is badass. It's probably less cerebral than Galactica, but an exciting, fast-paced action show with some good characters will be more than welcome. I'm also optimistic about two new shows from The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz: Sort of similar to Bionic Woman (and reminding me a lot of UPN's short-lived Jake 2.0) is Chuck, on NBC, about a computer nerd who accidentally gets exposed to top-secret government technology and becomes a secret agent. So, it's exactly like Jake 2.0, except it looks a lot goofier, which is probably best, given that Schwartz doesn't strike me as much of an action guy. Much more in his wheelhouse is the CW teen drama Gossip Girl, although it looks like it doesn't quite have the O.C. humor going for it. Still, as I've said many times, I love teen dramas, and I have a feeling Hidden Palms isn't going to make it past the summer.

This looks like a good year for nighttime soaps, too, with Gossip Girl plus ABC's Dirty Sexy Money (left), which looks like it has the sort of gleefully trashy tone that's been missing from these sorts of shows for a while (not counting Desperate Housewives, which tries way too hard). There's also CBS's Cane, a family saga starring Jimmy Smits that looks like the darker (that is, in tone, not skin color) version of Brothers and Sisters. It could be a little cheesy, but the sleaze factor looks high in the preview.

Because I am a sucker for vampires, immortals and the devil, I will give a chance to CBS's Moonlight, Fox's New Amsterdam and the CW's Reaper, even though they all look sort of lame. And then there's Viva Laughlin (right), the CBS drama/musical hybrid that's set in a casino in the glamorous town of Laughlin, Nevada (which those of us who live in Vegas know is a joke in itself). It could very well be the next Cop Rock, but it's clearly the most original thing on the schedule (even if it's a remake of a British show), and audacious failures can sometimes be as fun to watch as brilliant successes, at least until they're cancelled after four episodes.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Welcome, haters

Anyone who listens to my weekly radio appearances on Area 108 (affectionately dubbed "Josh Bell Hates Everything") may be checking this blog out for the first time, since it's now available through Assuming my plan for world domination has worked, there should be at least a few new readers today, so welcome to my small little corner of the web, and I hope you stick around. Every week you can read my thoughts on new movies opening, and there's two and a half years' worth of archives to the right with posts on movies, TV and comic books of all sorts. Thanks for stopping by.

Movies opening this week

Away From Her (Gordon Pinsent, Julie Christie, Olympia Dukakis, Michael Murphy, dir. Sarah Polley)
Polley's clearly learned a lot from Atom Egoyan, who directed her in the makes-you-want-to-slit-your-wrists classic The Sweet Hereafter and is an executive producer of this film. Like Egoyan's work, it's a little precious and overly composed at times, but quite emotionally affecting at others. Pinsent and Christie are both excellent as a believable older couple who are still in love (and still make love), and that makes their separation all the more heartbreaking. Playing an Alzheimer's patient has got to be one of the top licenses for overacting (along with playing mentally ill or alcoholic), but Christie keeps it restrained and real. As with her acting career, sometimes it seems like Polley ought to learn to crack a smile, but when she does somber this well, it's hard to complain. Opened limited May 4; in Las Vegas this week

Shrek the Third (Voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Justin Timberlake, dir. Chris Miller)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
That list of voices doesn't even represent half of the characters cluttering up this movie, which exists solely for marketing purposes and could not be more painfully obvious about it. The filmmakers clearly have no idea what to do with the characters, and the plot is confused and only vaguely related to what the original movie was about in the first place. Not that it was some bastion of originality and integrity or something, but at least it was funny. Wide release

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Movies opening this week

28 Weeks Later (Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Imogen Poots, Mackintosh Muggleton, dir. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo)
Although I liked 28 Days Later, I wasn't as crazy about it as some people were, and honestly I have only fuzzy memories of it at this point (I haven't seen it since it was first released). But all the ads for this one looked really exciting, and although I would have loved to see Danny Boyle directing, I was actually really happy with the choice of Fresnadillo, who made a cool supernatural thriller called Intacto in 2001, which is well worth checking out. I went in with fairly high expectations, then, probably higher than for any other sequel coming out this summer, and they were definitely met. This is a very good movie, I'd say at least as good as the first one. It's obviously got a bigger budget and encompasses a larger scale in terms of story, but they certainly don't go overboard and make into some Hollywood spectacle. There are some extremely creepy scenes, and a nice slow build of the zombie threat that allows for interesting character development. The subtext is there, as an allegory for the American occupation of Iraq, or even for the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina, but it's understated and never takes precedence over cool zombie attacks. Fresnadillo has some great visuals, and this could really be the movie to take him to the next level as a filmmaker. I definitely think he deserves it. Wide release

Georgia Rule (Lindsay Lohan, Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman, dir. Garry Marshall)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
The very existence of this movie baffles me. It's also got to be the most misleadingly marketed movie in quite some time. Even people who actually want to see a predictable fish-out-of-water comedy starring Lindsay Lohan are going to be disappointed and confused, since this is so much darker (and yet incongruously full of dumb humor) than it's been advertised. I predict a quick box-office death, fueled by Spider-Man and bad word of mouth. Wide release

Year of the Dog (Molly Shannon, Peter Sarsgaard, John C. Reilly, dir. Mike White)
I said on the radio this morning that this movie does a better job of combining comedy and drama than Georgia Rule does, but that's not really much of a compliment. There's always a hint of disingenuousness and condescension to White's work, and I think it's amplified here now that he's the director as well as the writer. Shannon redeems a lot of her character's more unfortunate traits, but Laura Dern and Thomas McCarthy as her sister-in-law and brother aren't able to take things beyond the cartoonish. There's some funny stuff here and a few touching and insightful moments, but I couldn't get past the idea that White was studying these people like a scientist looking at cultures under a microscope. Opened limited Apr. 13; in Las Vegas this week

Thursday, May 10, 2007

TV premiering tonight: Traveler

ABC is taking an odd approach to scheduling this new serialized drama, airing the pilot episode tonight and then not showing any more episodes until May 30, when the pilot will repeat, followed weekly by the short, 8-episode season (assuming it doesn't get cancelled before then). This seems to me like a poor strategy, especially with a show like this, which is built on intricate ongoing plotlines. By the time the next episode airs, momentum will be lost for a lot of people (and the premiere will probably draw decent numbers because it’s airing after a new Grey’s Anatomy). And I’m not sure they’ll want to tune in to watch the same episode they just watched three weeks earlier.

But maybe there’s a plan here that I’m missing. Either way, I don’t see this show lasting much longer than Drive, the last serialized drama to get heavy promotion and a confusing premiere schedule. Although the initial hook is kind of cool (two friends are apparently set up as suspects in a museum bombing by their third buddy, who then vanishes), the execution reminded me much too heavily of the failed conspiracy-theory suspense shows from earlier this season, like Kidnapped and Vanished and Runaway. The set-up is a little different, but the structure is very similar, with veiled hints about a vast government conspiracy closing in on the main characters, references to secrets from the past, and lots of shady people having cryptic conversations. On top of that, the two lead actors are rather bland, although there are some welcome familiar faces in the supporting cast (including Aaron Stanford as the possibly sinister third friend, who hopefully will have more screen time in future episodes).

I’ll give it a shot, since there are only (at most) eight episodes, and it’ll be on during the summer lull. But it already feels like a relic of an earlier time, when an intricate web of lies, betrayal and intrigue (with the occasional shoot-out and/or explosion) was all that the networks were looking for in their dramas. ABC, 10 p.m.; Wednesdays at 10 p.m. starting May 30

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


I suppose I should take it as some sort of sign that I have finally arrived that I have been quoted in an egregiously misleading manner in promotional materials for a movie that I reviewed negatively, but I was still surprised to see the quote "A stunning achievement in local filmmaking" attributed to me on the website for My 9/11, a locally produced documentary by filmmaker Marko Sakren (who was also his own subject). What the site doesn't have is a link to the review (second item) I wrote back in February, in which I pretty much trashed the film. The quote, as you can sort of see from the confusing way the Weekly website reproduces the print layout, was actually the review's headline, a sarcastic sentiment written not by me, but by the editor.

So I am quoted saying something I didn't actually say, taken horribly out of context. What surprises me is less that this has finally happened to me, and more that it happened with this particular film, whose director wrote me what I thought was a very gracious email after I rather tore his movie apart. He thanked me for the coverage, said he was sorry I was disappointed, and mentioned the next movie he was working on, hoping I might find it more to my liking. After being told by a well-heeled local producer to go fuck myself, I always sort of brace myself for a backlash when I write negatively about local film (which, sadly, is almost every time I cover it), so this was a pleasant surprise. And Sakren, whatever his filmmaking deficiencies, came across as such a compassionate guy in his movie that I find it hard to believe he would do something deceitful like this.

But I suppose any chance to create a positive impression is worthwhile, and promoting the movie is more important than respecting some critic he's never met who said his movie sucked. Personally, I prefer the ironic honesty approach, taken by another group of local filmmakers. I wrote that watching PCP Films' One Step Behind was "100 of the most painful minutes of my life" (which was only a slight exaggeration). They've still got that quote up on their MySpace page.

Free Comic Book Day

As always, I picked up a bunch of stuff this past Saturday for Free Comic Book Day, of which the store I frequent (Dreamwell Comics in Vegas) is an enthusiastic supporter. I don't really have an opinion on the politics of Free Comic Book Day, or whether it's effective, but anecdotal evidence from the guys who run Dreamwell suggests that people really do come into the store and pick up comics when they otherwise would not have. Do they become habitual readers after that? Well, that's hard to say, but probably at least a few of them do. As for me, I usually save the most innocuous free comics that I get and give them out to neighborhood kids along with candy on Halloween. This is about as much proselytizing for comics (or interacting with children, for that matter) as I am interested in doing.

It's always interesting to see what each company chooses to give away as their free comic of choice; I try to pick up only what I might actually read, so I didn't get everything the store had (nor did they have everything that was offered, I don't think), but I did get a decent variety of stuff. I tend to prefer the comics that are actual full stories, rather than samplers, as a bunch of three-page snippets don't really engage me enough to seek out more. Thus, Virgin's sampler got a brief skim that confirmed my lack of interest in most of what they publish, and the very ill-advised Nexus sampler, with seemingly random pages from various issues of the book's past 98-issue run, was completely incomprehensible (although the Steve Rude art was beautiful) and made certain I won't pick up the title's grand return after a decade on hiatus.

But I liked the sampler-y book from Dark Horse, which had a complete lead story featuring oddball superhero team the Umbrella Academy (created by My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way, which meant all the emo teens showed up to grab this one). That was a little too self-consciously weird, although amusing, but the smaller tastes of Ron Marz's sci-fi mystery Pantheon City and Arvid Nelson's thriller Zerokiller (both with excellent art) piqued my interest enough that I'll check out debut issues of both when they're released. The teases were short, but still felt substantial, unlike what was in the Virgin book.

The all-ages offerings at FCBD are often the best, and the first issue of DC's Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century (based on the Cartoon Network series) was clever and fun, although Marvel's split Iron Man/Hulk Adventures book was just sort of dull. I've heard oddly positive buzz about the new Gumby comic, which features the unexpected talents of people like Too Much Coffee Man creator Shannon Wheeler and Flaming Carrot creator Bob Burden - their FCBD offering was nothing to radically revise my opinion of Gumby, but it did have a lot of references to famous bits of fine art, which I suppose counts for something.

Finally, two big debuts: Robert Kirkman's The Astounding Wolf-Man, his new ongoing werewolf book for Image, struck me like pretty much all of Kirkman's work: A little stilted, a little cheesy, not enough of a reinvention of whatever stock concept he's working with to justify the excitement around it. After having read a decent cross-section of this guy's stuff, I feel like I can officially say he's overrated. I just don't get the appeal. I wasn't too crazy about Marvel's Dan Slott/Phil Jimenez Spider-Man book, either, which was also quite hokey and pretty boring. It's an okay intro to Spidey for kids, I guess, but it didn't make me want to start picking up his monthly adventures.

Which is what these books should do, ideally, but other than those two Dark Horse series, I don't think I'm going to seek out anything teased in these FCBD books (although I did also like the Lone Ranger story in the Dynamite flip-book). The neighborhood kids will have some fun stuff to read come Halloween, though.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Movies opening this week

Black Book (Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, dir. Paul Verhoeven)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I think I was kind of hoping for this movie to be a little more nuts, after all I read about it. Don't get me wrong - it's very Verhoeven, and quite entertaining (if a little long). But the pube-dyeing scene was almost restrained, and the bucket of shit getting dumped on the heroine was somewhat anticlimactic (although that might have been the effect of hearing about it so many times). Overall, though, worth checking out even if you are bored to tears by WWII/Holocaust movies (as I am). Opened limited Apr. 4; in Las Vegas this week

Spider-Man 3 (Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, dir. Sam Raimi)
The dedicated fans will see this no matter what anyone says (and reviews overall have been rather lukewarm), and the really dedicated fans have probably seen it two or three times by now (several theaters in Vegas are showing the movie around the clock starting Thursday at midnight). And, furthermore, I'm not here to tell anyone not to see this movie - I think Spider-Man fans will find plenty to enjoy, and casual fans will probably have fun as well. But after the stellar quality of the first two movies (especially the second one), this is a serious disappointment. Although it seems likely now that there will be more Spider-Man movies, this installment plays like Raimi and his team threw everything they ever wanted to do with Spider-Man into this one movie because they were worried they wouldn't get to make another one. The frustrating thing is that most of the plot elements are interesting on their own - Franco gets a lot to do as Peter's friend Harry, and his transformation into a revenge-driven villain has been developed well over the course of the three movies. But he's only one part of the overstuffed narrative, which also compresses years of comic-book storytelling to use the black costume/Venom story, throws in the Sandman, a new love interest, the ill-advised retcon of who killed Uncle Ben, etc. It's just too much.

Even the action sequences, as well-crafted as they are, are less inspired than in the past. The early sequence with the runaway crane is exciting, but the rest feel like they have little at stake. For all the plot contortions that Raimi goes through in the movie, he has to leave Spider-Man essentially as he found him, and that makes the scattershot plot even more frustrating. The first two movies each felt like they had thematic and narrative unity, one central idea and goal, but this one doesn't have that. It's nominally about exploring Peter's dark side, but at least half the movie has nothing to do with that. And the villains have fairly ill-defined goals. I still enjoyed large parts of the film, because everyone involved clearly has their craft nearly perfected, and I think other people will as well. But it's a pretty big letdown considering what's come before. Wide release

Unconscious (Leonor Watling, Luis Tosar, Nuria Prims, dir. Joaquin Oristrell)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Foreign films are released in the U.S. (and especially in Vegas) on such a haphazard basis that generally only the biggest acting names from other countries become familiar to American audiences (and even then mainly if they act in English-language films as well). Even as a critic and a fan of foreign film, I am relatively unfamiliar with most actors in most foreign films I see. But I've now seen Leonor Watling in three movies wholly by chance (and four if you count her tiny part in The Secret Life of Words), and she's been wonderful in all of them. I don't think she's a superstar in her native Spain (although she's been in a few Almodovar films), so it's nice to see a talented, versatile character actress finding lots of work, and plenty of that work making its way to this country. Opened limited Feb. 9; in Las Vegas this week

The Veronica Mars dilemma

After a long hiatus, Veronica Mars returned this week to play out the remaining five episodes of its third season, coming back to both low ratings and dimmed fan enthusiasm (a number of rabid online fans declared this week's installment the worst episode ever). The show is in a curious position now for a number of reasons, and it seems like whatever happens from here is going to be frustrating in one way or another. From the start, VM was a show with a rabid cult following, critical acclaim and low ratings. As I said in a recent article about shows worth saving, it's one thing for a network to express confidence in an underperforming show and give it a chance to grow after one season; after three seasons of dismal ratings, there isn't much chance of somehow attracting a wider audience. This is the lesson that Arrested Development fans learned.

Yet there is some hope for VM, or at least there is still effort being put into broadening its viewership. After two years of season-long mysteries, this year featured two shorter mystery arcs, and these final five episodes are all stand-alone stories. Obviously the show's serialized nature is a big barrier to entry for anyone who hasn't been watching since the beginning, as it is even for successful shows like Lost, Heroes and 24. But loyal VM fans have been conditioned from the start to be constantly on the lookout for clues to each season's (or arc's) big mystery, and to expect an exciting climax in the finale. It seems to me that stand-alone episodes would have worked better as a bridge between the two longer mysteries, but since the season wasn't planned that way to start (initially there were to be three mystery arcs, before the CW cut the episode order from 22 to 20), that wasn't possible. And I really doubt that new fans are tuning in at this point to discover what Veronica has to offer.

Which means that the new format isn't really serving anyone, and of course creater Rob Thomas and company can't just put the brakes on ongoing storylines that are not about solving mysteries; it seems that in the absence of a crime to solve, this last "arc" is going to be about resolving Veronica's love life. Which is something with a lot of meaning for longtime viewers, but very little for newcomers. I have a hard time believing that done-in-one mysteries are viable as a long-term future for the show, although I think that the dialogue and characters are rich enough that such a format would still be rewarding. Really, Thomas has been faced with this problem ever since the end of the first season, which gave us a satisfying end to the Lily Kane murder investigation and left the show with the insurmountable task of finding a new crime for Veronica to investigate with as much resonance for both the characters and the viewers. It's useful to remember that Thomas originally conceived of VM as a novel, with a clear beginning, middle and end, and the show's second and third seasons have largely been efforts to come up with worthy sequels to that self-contained story.

So what's next? If you believe various online rumors, the show has no chance of coming back in its current state, and the only possibility is a completely revamped concept that jumps ahead several years in time, with Veronica as a junior FBI agent. Although I am skeptical of this potential revamp's ability to attract new viewers, I'm optimistic about its possibilites as a creative direction for the show. Since each new season has been a reinvention of sorts anyway, a more radical departure might be just what's needed to give the show back a strong identity and an exciting hook. But even with the announcements that both 7th Heaven and Gilmore Girls will be ending, and the CW's likely interest in keeping a show that appeals to the teen-girl demographic, I think ultimately they'll decline to take a gamble on a risky new direction for a show that is already barely hanging on. And sad as I will be to see VM go, it's practically a miracle that it's lasted this long, and I'll be happy to see the many talented people involved move on to new projects that can showcase their skills to a larger potential audience.