Monday, June 28, 2010


Two things I have a total weakness for are teen dramas and movies or TV shows that take seriously certain activities or cultures that are typically derided or dismissed. So the new ABC Family drama Huge, about teens at a summer fat camp, is right up my alley, and I wish I liked it just a little more than I do. It's not bad, and by the third episode (the first and third episodes were the ones available for review), it settles into a calmer groove than is indicated by the pilot. But it's still a little too hung up on being all "inspirational" and "fat people are people too" to be a truly effective drama and not a spread in an upbeat women's magazine.

Still, I'd trust My So-Called Life creator Winnie Holzman (she co-created the show with her daughter, Savannah Dooley, based loosely on a novel by Sasha Paley) to know her teen angst, so I may stick around for a little while longer. And it's refreshing to see such a range of body types on one show; most teen dramas feature only one type of skinny, but Huge embraces many different types of overweight, from the barely-at-all (the camp hottie, played by Hayley "Daughter of David" Hasselhoff) to the fat-and-proud (surly main character Will, played by Hairspray's Nikki Blonsky). It walks a fine line between being sympathetic and supportive and being careful not to endorse what's perceived as unhealthy, and as such it can be a little clumsy.

The pilot in particular has an annoyingly heavy-handed plot about Will dramatically running away from camp and then returning because, somewhere inside, she knows this is the best place for her. And her character in general is a little disingenuous, rebelling against the "body fascism" that drives people to places like this, but also in the end having to learn the lesson that she probably belongs there. I don't think this is a show that's going to end up being embraced by the fat acceptance movement, but it's also pretty carefully trying not to put those people off, either. Past the storylines that deal overtly with weight, though, there is plenty of your typical teen-drama stuff (cliques, crushes, battles with authority) going on here, and most of it is handled pretty well. I would have preferred to see a show with overweight characters that didn't feel the need to be completely about their being overweight, but at least Huge is a start.

Premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on ABC Family.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rookie Blue

ABC already tried and failed to put together a Grey's Anatomy-type lawyer show with The Deep End, and now they're doing the same sort of thing with cops in Rookie Blue. It's about as successful as you'd expect, with the sexy young cops doing slightly less bed-hopping (at least in the pilot) than those sexy young doctors and lawyers, but making up for it by enacting about half the world's cop-show cliches over the course of the first episode. If you can't predict pretty much every plot "twist," then you've probably never watched a cop drama (and apparently these newbie police officers never have either, because they're about 10 steps behind the audience at all times).

Missy Peregrym does a decent enough job in the Meredith Grey role, but otherwise the cast is unremarkable. And the creators go out of their way not to reveal that we're in Canada (the show is a Canadian co-production), although the speed-limit signs in kilometers per hour kind of give it away. That off-brand feel permeates Rookie Blue, which isn't sex-soaked enough to be a fun soap, but certainly isn't exciting enough to be anything close to a good cop drama. Instead it's just another ABC summer time-waster.

Premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on ABC.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Last weekend, AMC aired the pilot for its new drama Rubicon, which premieres on August 1. It was sort of sneaked onto the schedule tacked on to the end of the Breaking Bad finale, and I managed to record seemingly the only repeat airing, the next morning (you can watch the whole thing on the AMC site, however). I understand the motivation to build word-of-mouth for the new show, and AMC's other dramas (Breaking Bad and Mad Men) have certainly benefited from stellar reviews and dedicated cult followings.

Unlike those other two shows, though, Rubicon doesn't tell a full story or give a complete sense of itself in the pilot. Most people were either hooked or not by Mad Men and Breaking Bad from the start (I love Mad Men but never got into Breaking Bad, which I found rather off-putting and gave up on after three episodes), but you'd be hard-pressed to form a definitive judgment of Rubicon based on this first episode. It's definitely the first act of a longer story, pretty much all set-up and no pay-off, and it ends just when things seem like they might be getting going. A lot of shows feature conspiracies simmering in the background that are closing in on the main characters as they do something else, but Rubicon is nothing but conspiracy. That's the whole concept of the show: A big-ass conspiracy is controlling everything.

The main character, played by James Badge Dale, is a low-level functionary in the conspiracy machine who's about to find out the true extent of the organization he works for. Or at least that's about as much as I could get from the pilot, which is deliberately inscrutable and full of oblique references that are left unexplained. It's the kind of thing that's hard to judge on its own, which is why it's strange that it's airing by itself so far in advance of the show's premiere. But the shooting style, emulating '70s thrillers like Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View, is stylish enough, and the ominous score keeps you on edge. The whole show coasts on atmosphere, but it's the right kind of atmosphere that makes me at least want to see where it will end up.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

White Elephant Blogathon: Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts

For the White Elephant Blogathon, in which participants submit movie suggestions into a pool and agree to write about a randomly chosen selection from another person, I was hoping to get something entertainingly bad or mind-bogglingly weird (selections are usually obscure and/or awful), but instead I ended up with the thoroughly innocuous Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts, the fifth (!!) entry in the person-talks-to-animals series, and the third to go straight to DVD. Eddie Murphy, who played the titular doctor in 1998's Dr. Dolittle and 2001's Dr. Dolittle 2, is nowhere to be found, and instead the star of this film (from 2009) and the two before it is Kyla Pratt, who plays teenage Maya Dolittle and is the only actor to have appeared in all five movies.

Maya's dad appears to be conveniently out of town in these movies (this time he's "helping the pandas in China for a month"), and her younger sister has possibly been written out. Her entire family is represented by her mom, not played by the same actress as in the first two movies (although the original actress did soldier through one Murphy-less installment before giving up). Maya, like her dad, talks to animals, although not nearly as many of them as in the big-screen entries in the series. In this film, Maya gets caught up in the Hollywood machine when she helps a Paris Hilton-like heiress with her handbag dog and somehow ends up with her own TV show. Cue important lessons about hard work, not forgetting where you come from, not getting caught up in the celebrity machine, etc. It's all completely harmless and executed with the bare minimum of competence to qualify for rentals by desperate parents and periodic airings on ABC Family (director Alex Zamm was previously responsible for such masterpieces as Inspector Gadget 2, starring French Stewart, and the legendary Carrot Top vehicle Chairman of the Board).

The one element holding my interest is the somewhat baffling presence of Norm MacDonald, who's voiced Maya's trusty dog sidekick Lucky in all of the Dolittle movies, although for some reason he's been uncredited since the first one. Lucky is easily the second most important character in the movie, and as such MacDonald has plenty of lines, which he delivers in his trademark deadpan so that every single utterance from Lucky's clumsily computer-animated mouth sounds like it's dripping with contempt. MacDonald doesn't say anything that's actually funny, but the way he delivers certain lines, like he's amazed at how stupid they are, makes them funnier than they have any right to be. It's sort of like the anti-comedy of his infamous Bob Saget roast appearance.

Of course, 99 percent of the audience for this movie won't get that, and it's certainly not enough to recommend seeing it. But since I had to sit there anyway, it at least gave me something to focus on. I had hoped for a fascinatingly weird movie; I at least got one with a fascinatingly weird performance.

My submission to the Blogathon was the camp classic Gymkata, enthusiastically covered here by Steve Carlson. I wrote about it as part of my Reader-Submitted Film Festival for Las Vegas Weekly.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Triskaidekaphilia: 13 Going on 30

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

I really didn't expect much out of this lightweight 2004 romantic comedy, although a few people I know had recommended it as being worth a look, and it got better reviews than most of its kind. So I was pleasantly surprised to find an entertaining, well-acted piece of fluff, with (of course) a predictable plot and some strained comic moments but far more genuine emotion and character development than I ever would have imagined. Director Gary Winick has gone on to make movies ranging from unspeakable (Bride Wars) to forgettable (Letters to Juliet), but here he strikes an effective balance between the cliches of the genre and telling an actual heartfelt story.

It helps that 13 Going on 30 doesn't follow the typical rom-com formula, since it's more indebted to the classic body-swap genre that flourished in the '80s with movies like Vice Versa, Like Father Like Son and especially Big, to which this movie owes everything. As in Big, here a teenager (13-year-old Jenna) wishes to escape her problems by becoming a grown-up, and gets her wish. Instead of just becoming an adult, Jenna fast-forwards 17 years in her life to when she's 30 and, naturally, she has to learn to appreciate all the things she wanted to throw away as a teen (including her best friend, who's grown up to be Mark Ruffalo).

Sure, you can guess everything that happens in this movie from the moment it starts, and the plot is full of lame contrivances. But Jennifer Garner is really charming as Jenna, and does a great job of coming off like a 13-year-old in a 30-year-old's body while also gradually becoming more comfortable over the course of the film. The '80s kitsch (Jenna jumps from 1987 to 2004) is rarely overplayed, and the always welcome Judy Greer has the right amount of bitchiness and humor as Jenna's frenemy. Even the rom-com elements are executed fairly well, with the unsuitable secondary partners never getting vilified or trashed. This is a movie that climaxes with a main character rushing to stop a wedding, so it's never going to be subtle or daring. But for what it sets out to do, it does it remarkably well.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Neighbors From Hell

Here we have TBS trying to be Comedy Central, with mild success. That is, Neighbors From Hell succeeds in being like a Comedy Central series in that it's slapped together from a strained high concept, some vulgar jokes and a bunch of dated pop-culture references. I was hoping for a little more from creator Pam Brady, a longtime South Park writer/producer, but the first episode is thoroughly forgettable, although at least not as unpleasant as something like Drawn Together.

The idea is that a family of demons from hell has come to live on Earth and must blend in with humans while trying to stop a huge corporation from constructing a drill that could inadvertently invade hell itself. The family patriarch has learned all he knows about humans from watching sitcoms, hence the lame pop-culture gags. Other jokes include satires on suburbia and the small-mindedness of middle America. Super creative.

Neighbors is likable enough in that you could flip it on for a minute or two and be mildly amused, but it's not especially clever or funny or insightful. It'll probably fit well enough with TBS's Family Guy reruns, but anyone not already watching those certainly has no reason to give this a shot.

Premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on TBS.