By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
THAT TELEVISION IS LARGELY STYROFOAM PEANUTS, old sweatsocks and banana peels is debated by no one; even friends of the medium, praising the best it has to offer, tend to point out how much better that best is than what surrounds it. It would be astonishing if it were otherwise. Not counting pay-per-view and the networks that strictly recycle theatrical features, there are something like 80 channels on my cable system; with every one of them running around the clock, that makes nearly 2,000 hours of TV real estate to fill every day -- enough time, in a single rotation of the Earth, to air in its entirety the combined directorial output of Wilder, Sturges (Preston and John), Hitchcock, Truffaut, Fellini, Godard, De Mille, Altman, Huston, Welles, Scorsese, Kubrick, Minnelli, Hawks, Cukor, Stevens, Capra, Renoir, Buñuel, John Ford and Woody Allen; or every single episode of I Love Lucy, The Phil Silvers Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I Spy, M*A*S*H, Cheers, The Rockford Files, Homicide: Life on the Street, Hill Street Blues, The Wonder Years, Roseanne, Seinfeld, Star Trekand Star Trek: The Next Generation, even counting commercials. Inside of a week or two, everything ever filmed worth watching might be broadcast. And then what? Given that there is insufficient talent, or executive will, or money, to fill even the prime time of the six broadcast networks with intelligent original programs, such a staggering temporal expanse will necessarily be occupied largely by the recycled and the less good.
The less good was, of course, a feature of the old studio systems, which divided its product in A-level and more quickly and cheaply made B-pictures (and grades sometimes lower than that) in order to supply the heavy, pre-TV demand for new product. Television from its beginning adopted the economies, schedules and genres of B-pics, and made at times a virtue of those limitations -- Perry Mason, NYPD(not to be confused with the current Blueedition), The Twilight Zonewere great shoestring dramas quite in the spirit of the B's; The X-Filesis a particularly splendid recent example of the B ethic of scaring you with cleverness rather than special effects.
In the modern televerse, the spirit of the B's shines most brightly on cable networks like USA (home of La Femme Nikita), Ted Turner's not-flagship TBS Superstation ("A 747 loaded with passengers./A bomb loaded with nerve gas./A pilot with . . . Nowhere To Land," runs a promo line for its latest original film) and especially in the realm of syndication. A show like this season's syndicated Relic Hunter, with Tia Carrere of Wayne's World fame as a chick Indiana Jones, traces its roots straight back to the same Saturday morning movie serials that inspired Raiders of the Lost Ark, but is of course much, much closer to the original in terms of budget and sophistication and the Buster Crabbe attitudes of its comely star.
As a sexy professor of ancient history who moonlights as a world-traveling seeker after lost amulets and icons (it does sound familiar, doesn't it?), Carrere -- an exotic of Hawaiian, Chinese, Spanish and Filipino ancestry -- is a perfectly constituted pulp heroine, good-looking, athletic and able to make a face that says "I'm worried" and "I'm tough" (and occasionally "I'm available") at the same time. Notwithstanding that this is nominally an "action" show, she doesn't really have to do much at all -- one has the feeling that at no point in the production of this pokey little series does anyone break a sweat -- but she does all she has to with evident zeal. Christien Anholt, an overqualified British stage actor, takes the Denholm Elliott role of bumbling, bookish sidekick, with the difference that, this being television, he's young and good-looking.
THE CURRENT KING OF THIS HILL IS SAM RAIMI, whose now-sometime respectable film career was launched by the indie shocker The Evil Deadand its two fabulously baroque sequels and who, in addition to his big-screen work (Spider-Manis on his plate currently), has positioned himself as the Roger Corman or Samuel Z. Arkoff or Pietro Francisci of syndicated television. It was Raimi who blew the dust off the Hercules franchise, unexploited since Steve Reeves hung up his toga, with Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. That begat Xena: Warrior Princessand a slew of action-adventure knockoffs featuring mythic heroes with 20th-century hair and attitudes and well-built heroines in skimpy outfits (or outfits that suggest skimpiness without actually being all that skimpy). Raimi created as well the less successful network shows Spy Gameand M.A.N.T.I.S., about a black superhero. He's a genre man, clean through.
Raimi's latest series, the sci-fi chopsocky Cleopatra 2525,cops the Terminator scenario of humanity driven underground by crafty machines -- here big flying bugs called "Baileys." Into this world she never made, to use a phrase popular in Marvel Comics, comes stripper Jennifer Sky (the titular Cleopatra), awakened after half a millennium from the customary cryogenic suspension -- she'd lapsed into a coma during otherwise successful breast-implant surgery -- by a couple of bodacious guerrilla-babes (Gina Torres and Victoria Pratt) trying to reclaim Earth's surface from robotkind. Together they form a futuristic Charlie's Angels, in which equation Cleo roughly equals Farrah Fawcett-Majors. (There are a Charlie and a Bosley, too, in the form of a disembodied voice -- called Voice -- and a not-evil robot factotum, called Mauser.) Sci-fi fans will find enough plot to get picky about, but practically speaking the narrative is only an excuse for things to go boom, jokes to be cracked, and the women to kick serious ass in the Xena/Buffy mode while, as traditional, not wearing many clothes. If you need to know more than that, this show is probably not for you.
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city