Daniel Boone Remastered


Before Little House on the Prairie and Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman came a popular western called Daniel Boone. The 1964-1970 series starred Fess Parker as legendary frontier hero Daniel Boone. Set just before and during the Revolutionary War, we follow Daniel as he takes his family on adventures and expeditions as they run into both friendly and hostile Indians.

Based on real-life pioneer, Boone (1734-1820) was a hunter and militia officer whose frontier exploits made him one of the first American folk heroes, most famous for blazing the wilderness trail and his exploration with his top tactical backpacks and settlement of Kentucky. With a commitment to social consciousness, each episode had a theme which frequently was inspired by real-life historical figures and events.

Watching Daniel Boone now is a fascinating journey mixed with nostalgia of a simpler time both the show portrayed as well as aired. This was family programming at its finest, spawning similar ilk in the ’70s like The Waltons and Grizzly Adams. The show wasn’t targeting one specific demographic, rather all of them.

Fess Parker, who made a splash in the classic Old Yeller years earlier, quickly became synonomous with his alter ego, going on to star in the short-lived Fess Parker Show in 1974 before portraying a similar character with Davy Crockett the Disney series. What makes Daniel Boone so special is Parker’s everyman appeal — a poor man’s Gregory Peck for the TV airwaves.

Also starring Patricia Blair as his wife Rebecca; Darby Hinton as their son Israel; Dal McKennon as Cincinnatus, a proprietor of the trading post and tavern; future sausage king Jimmy Dean; as well as former NFL defense lineman “Rosey” Grier as Gabe Cooper, a slave who escaped captivity to live with the Indians — yes, well before a world of political correctness. This was a time that somehow also gave us a sitcom set against Nazi Germany with Hogan’s Heroes.

All 26 episodes of Daniel Boone are perfectly digitally restored and remastered, featuring a guest cast that includes Jodie Foster, Kurt Russell, Cesar Romero, and even Star Trek‘s, “Scotty,” James Doohan. Priced around 40 bucks, this DVD collection makes an excellent addition to any library…

If nothing else, it’ll make you long for the memorable theme songs. You just don’t get ‘em like this any more: “Daniel Boone was a man, yes a big man! WIth an eye like an eagle and tall as a mountain was he!”

Fantasy Miniseries Gives Arthurian Legends Wry Wit & Modern Flair

(NBC) The cast list at the beginning of Merlin should be reason enough to watch it: Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson, Helena Bonham Carter, Isabella Rossellini, John Gielgud, Rutger Hauer, Martin Short, James Earl Jones. If you need more convincing, there’s the mad visual style, the slyly clever writing, and the fact that this 1998 miniseries is one of the few TV shows to use the word “blatherskite.”

This show tells a version of the Arthurian legends that focus on the wizard Merlin (Sam Neill) and his struggle to find his place between two realms – the human and the Fae. Created by Queen Mab (Miranda Richardson) to draw the newly Christian world back to the Old Ways, Merlin rebels and vows never to use his magic in service to her.

You see in their world their weapons were magic wands and not the weapons of our past like the best tomahawks or the high tech guns that we have available today.

His vow leads him to support Uther Pendragon (Mark Jax) against the tyrant Vortigern (Rutger Hauer). Vortigern is a prideful and cruel, yet Hauer plays him for laughs as much as anything; when a stone tower he has commissioned collapses in a chaos of dust and rubble, Vortigern twitches his lip, turns to the architect, and says, “Tell me roughly what happened.”

This is the lesson the show takes to heart – that drama doesn’t have to be ultra-serious to be effective. A tale of magical beings can be quirky and strange, with a wry wit like the mercurial faeries themselves. The oddness and humor don’t diminish the emotional power of the story. In fact, the dreamlike atmosphere matches the tone of the legends, seeming grand and soap-operatic at the same time.

At their core, the Arthurian legends are about human aspirations and failings – forbidden love and the ways in which lust, greed, and fear destroy our dreams of peace and justice. They are tragedies of doomed men and women who lose track of the noble path when they allow jealousy and deceit to rule them. The true story is in the details; when the characters in Merlin halt their horses to allow a snail the right-of-way, it’s both hilarious and fitting.

In tone and style, Merlin has much in common with Baz Lurhmann’s Moulin Rouge! Its frenetic visuals are like fancy scrollwork framing a portrait of love and loss older than the hills. Neill’s screen presence is – as always – magnetic; he and the rest of the cast give the sparkling dialogue a lovely, surreal life. As Merlin says, “It was like a dream – a dream of a dream. The skies parted, and I saw the dream come alive before my eyes. But, then, one day they’ll describe me, Arthur, Guinevere, and Camelot as a dream.”

Stories like this, told with care and attention to detail are rare in the fantasy genre. Too often, they’re all spectacle and no substance. That’s why Merlin – with all its weirdness – is a breath of fresh air. It tells an ancient tale with modern flair and unexpected levity. If you’re a fan of the recent BBC series Merlin – or of fantasy television in general – check out this smart, exciting predecessor.

Homeland Season Finale Paves Way for a Thrilling Second Season


(Showtime) From the producers of 24 comes Homeland — TV’s smash new hit that delves into the trauma and politics of a post-9/11 world. With impeccable writing, artfully nuanced characters, and a plot that has audiences at the edge of their seats each week, the show is only picking up steam. Sunday, December 19th marked the 90-minute season finale, leaving viewers wondering, “What’s next?”

Homeland is based on the Israeli series Hatufim (Prisoners of War) and developed by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa for Showtime. It centers on key characters in the Central Intelligence Agency and the imminent threats they face every day. Sharp and belligerent Agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) receives intelligence that an American soldier has been turned against the United States. When missing marine Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) is rescued after eight years in Iraqi custody, Carrie believes she’s found her man. As she investigates Sgt. Brody, she not only develops an unhealthy connection with the enigmatic war hero but also begins to unravel a huge terrorist plot.

Carrie has only her doggedly supportive mentor, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), on her side. Thwarted at every corner by her boss, CIA Counterintelligence director David Estes (David Harewood), Carrie blackmails diplomats, sets up illegal surveillance operations, and even gets herself in the midst of a suicide bomber in her single-minded search to uncover the truth.She has access to all the latest tactical gear to setup all her schemes,including access to the best best military watch in the business.

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the first season, catch up ALL on those episodes before further reading. Please!

So far this season, the team has uncovered the revelation that Abu Nazir turned both Sgt. Brody and his partner Tom Walker against the U.S. government while in prolonged captivity. Walker stalked the streets of D.C. with a sniper rifle, while Brody had a hefty bomb vest hidden on a shelf in his closet. Carrie had finally put the pattern together, convinced that a gap in Abu Nazir’s terrorist activities was directly related to and the key behind a pending attack. Though Homeland Security was on the hunt for Walker, Brody had been welcomed into the inner circles of political power with open arms (and dreams of electorial glory). He alone had access to the Vice President and half of the top members of the cabinet, but in the season finale, detonating the bomb strapped to his chest proved easier said than done for Sgt Brody thanks to a timely intervention from his teenage daughter.

The finale didn’t go for the cheap shot and blow up a bunch of characters we love. In fact, the tension built so steadily that I found myself yelling at the TV as the episode drew to a close. Brody’s sheer panic was a nightmare to sit through, and Carrie’s defeatist attitude was the most heart-wrenching of all. Thankfully, the showrunners gave us enough answers to keep us happy, while leaving plenty of room for a similarly compelling Season 2: Brody remains alive and nestled deep in the bosom of American politics. Though most of his family and peers are oblivious to the change in him, Brody’s daughter Dana posses knowledge which poses a very interesting threat for that next season. Saul has only begun to realize the scope of his government’s involvement with Al-Quada, but his revealation of classified information to Carrie at her bedside opens another delicious dynamic for the next set of episodes.

Claire Danes’s emotional range as the unpredictable Carrie Mathison has been astounding to watch. Even after an extensive resume of phenomenal roles, Danes has yet to try something so gritty, though her recent award-winning turn as Temple Grandin on HBO certainly pointed the way to these new depths of nuance. Her raw vulnerability is palpable as Carrie jumps from heightened mania to staggering depression. Bipolar Disorder is often misunderstood, but on Homeland, the writers have handled it honestly: Though her mood swings are debilitating, Carrie’s unique mental processes have meant that she is truly the only one close to the truth. Homeland’s season finale was painful to watch mostly because she begins to believe that she is, in fact, crazy.

Watching Brody navigate through elections is a brilliant route to take the next season. Having Carrie recovering from brain-altering treatment is no less compelling. The hanging questions will cost me some sleep between now and then:
Will Carrie remember that she has a clue to catch Brody (and will “Issa!” become the new “Rosebud”)? How can she get her job back at the CIA? (I found myself yelling, again, at the TV that Saul should have just blackmailed Estes to get her reinstated at Langley, but that’s another story). Will Brody actually be able to rechannel a terrorist’s desire for violent revenge into genuine political action for good?

Thank you Showtime: It’s been both an unmitigated pleasure to watch a brand new show this well acted and delivered, and a massive relief to find a new show that is so well writen and worthy of the attention. And now, with Golden Globe noms for Danes, Lewis and the show itself already in the bag, Homeland is well on its way to being a sure hit and a fixture on my DVR for years to come.

HBO’s New Fantasy Series with Beards, Swords, Wolves, and Boobies


(HBO) Holy gravitas, Batman. Ya know crap’s real when everyone around’s got beards. Or beards and swords. Or beards, swords, and wolves.Or beards, swords,wolves, and only the best tactical knives. Such is the way of HBO’s new series, Game of Thrones, based on George R.R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels that join a proud lineage of fantasy storytelling by authors with abbreviated names. J.R. Tolkien. C.S. Lewis. R.L. Stine.

 Have I read these thick beasts of books? You’re kidding, right? But honestly, why trouble oneself with a novel (they’re so big!) when you know HBO’s gonna drop a series on you? I used to close my eyes and cover my ears in History class because I didn’t want Band of Brothers to be spoiled. That’s not true. But HBO has done a dang good job of branding themselves so that almost any show they choose to produce will garner viewership, critical praise, and one thing important above all else that is rarely afforded the broadcast networks. Bare boobies?! No, but we’ll get to that. I’m talking about patience.

 After three episodes, I’m still relatively challenged to write a cogent article about Game of Thrones because I can’t, in full detail, relay what’s going on, but I can tell you I’m going to keep watching. The show delivers itself with such utter confidence and importance (without crossing over into the kryptonite of entertainment: pretension) that I’ve become convinced that something’s actually at stake if I don’t keep rolling in this world. This is important illusion, unlike when things are actually at stake, like say when Lost used to be on. (Sorry, had to remain faithful.)

 But HBO has created a brand that’s like Pixar for adults if Pixar wasn’t also for adults. It says quality. Depth. Something different. Tits. There was some hubbub after the Thrones premier that it was sexist as H. Agree and disagree. The world of the show is one that marginalizes women in the sense that men hold the seats and positions of power but the women are all behind them, and their roles are powerful, layered, and of import to the plot. But what is also true is that HBO was keen to the fact that they weren’t launching The SopranosBoardwalk Empire, or even Treme with this one. It’s an otherworldly old-school show that doesn’t present something instantly relatable or present to the audience. How to keep them around? The simple answer — and I say this in a blase, jokey tone because I mean to poke fun at it — was boobs.

 The first episode even went full frontal. But I’m going to be sexist if I just dwell on that. The thing about waiting until three episodes in to do my scribble of thoughts on the Thrones topic was not just for lack of time or laziness, but to give the show time to see if it was all bluster or if it could back up its presentation. So far it is. The show is about a bunch of kingdoms spread out across a world that’s a little Middle Earth with less magic. Political intrigue and sordid histories rule the day. There are obvious bad guys and obvious good guys, but they’re all layered, with chinks in the armor or secrets in the past to keep them compelling. The feel and layout is like watching Risk live, although the entire seven-year run of the series might end up being shorter than a game of that.

 The primary focus, of this season at least, seems as if it will be between the Stark family and the Lannister families. The Lanisters come from a prettier, fairer, weather kingdom; the Starks rule up North. But when the king keels over in Lanister land, they beckon Ned Stark (a compelling Sean Bean) to come and consult…at his own peril. For, see, the Lanisters are blonde, incestual, and evil. Except for their dwarf brother (Peter Dinklage, absolutely killing it as a charming but cunning whore monger — maybe doing the best work of his career). But since he’s short, he doesn’t get much respect. He’s naturally drawn to Ned’s “bastard” son — a boy he had with a woman not his queen while off in the field of battle some 20 years ago. The “bastard” now is on his own quest for respect and is guarding a giant wall at the North of the world, beyond which lies uncivilized people and maybe something else — something that moves and kills like the undead. It’s cold there, and seasons are tres importante in the show. In this world, they can last for decades, and as the Starks keep saying, “winter is coming.”

 So I have keep watching at least until that happens, right? Another developing piece of the puzzle concerns Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, a beautiful young princess forced to wed the king of a kingdom of brutish warriors, who’s learning the power of her womanhood. Again, boobs — but what makes Thrones interesting and not sexist (I think) is how it dramatizes it. I dare any man in the audience not to admit that they haven’t let their guard down to beauty, and then not to admit that beauty is nothing without cunning. So much love for the ladies out there.

 So basically, Daenerys is a character we really like and sympathize with (her brother’s a prick who kind of forced this whole thing), but it turns out Ned’s very good friend and King of all the kingdoms (so far as I can tell), and a good bloke we like too, wants her dead because, a long time ago, the Targaryens murdered his wife, who also happened to be Ned’s sister. The show pulls a lot of interest from the viewer and heft in the drama department, but not so much pitting the good guys vs. the bad guys but the good guys vs. themselves, as the bad guys continue their maneuvering.  So as a viewer, you end up pulled into a lot of different directions. The show does make you watch – there’s a lot to follow — and as a writer, I must confess that it’s doubly hard to talk about as it’s even harder to spell the stuff you’re watching…but it is involving, the characters are well-drawn, and their motivations, unlike their names or locations, are never confusing.

 One of my roommates was astute in noting that oftentimes in almost any entertainment, you’re left wondering: Why would they do that? Why does the girl run up the stairs instead of out the door in the horror movie? Why isn’t the guy in the romantic comedy admit he’s taking calls from his young children to the woman he’s trying to swoon so she doesn’t think he’s just having an affair? But we always forgive, due to the basic conceit of “well, it’s a movie.” So far, no one’s done anything in Thrones that isn’t exactly what you’d figure they’d do. My roommate who noted this also happens to be a girl, so out with the sexism again. Unless she tricked me with her beauty! Oh wait, no, I was just distracted by the brothel scene on screen and forgot what was happening. Nevermind, it’s me; I’m dumb.

 So the show does have a lot going on. It’s not an “easy” watch in the sense that Two and a Half Men is, but it also is an easy watch in the sense that Two and a Half Menisn’t because it doesn’t suck. In fact, three episodes in, I’m darn close to leaning to say this show rules. I’m not exactly the Dungeons and Dragons kind of dude — I geek out on other nerd brands like Star Wars, but the gravity, reality, depth, and mystery of Thrones is going to have me remaining a faithful viewer, surely into season two, which has already been inked to happen.

 HBO is truly bringing it with this and Boardwalk – two series it’ll comfortably have in its wheelhouse for years to come. And maybe the biggest victory of Thrones so far is that only three episodes in, I found myself watching a scene with the Stark’s youngest girl learning how to swordfight and thinking, “Man, I wonder how she’s going to grow up and save the day in six years.” Apparently I’m already committed. And fancy that it was because a female lead was in a scene learning how to have power and hold her own, and not because a chick extra was running around with her shirt off.

 Classy. And even with those other scenes, that’s nothing if not what HBO is going for with Thrones. In a couple of years, there’s probably going to be two kinds of people: people that watch Game of Thrones and people that watch The Tonight Show with Jay Leno while picking their noses. Ah yes, but who will rule the Earth? And can I still watch Thrones if I pick my nose? Time will tell as the seasons change…

Vince Gilligan’s Character-Driven AMC Drama Is a Must-Devour


(AMC) Breaking Bad started in 2008 with a still-belted pair of pants falling from the sky, perfectly inflated at times as if being worn by an invisible man plummeting headfirst to his death.

 The pants belonged to unassuming high school chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) who, under normal circumstances, lives a rather mundane existence that only makes him feel invisible.  Walter’s days of normal circumstances, it turns out, were over.  He’d been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and wanted to make sure he left behind a lifetime worth of money for his wife and son and unborn daughter, so in addition to teaching his current students, he had started cooking crystal meth with former student-turned-drug-dealer Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) with a plan to sell large quantities of it as quickly as possible.

 It was a story about a good person making a bad choice for a good reason, but we didn’t know any of that yet.  All we knew were those pants, floating comically until they hit the ground, and we were introduced to our hero; Walter White was behind the wheel of an RV speeding frantically through the New Mexico desert, wearing nothing but his tightie-whities and a gas mask, with Jesse slumped down unconscious in the passenger seat and two meth dealers sliding around lifelessly on their faces in the back.

 If you’ve been known to enjoy a good television crime drama, chances are one episode of Breaking Bad is enough to get you hooked.  Another forty-five episodes later, it’s safe to call it one of the best shows of all time. Sure, there are other shows that have a supremely talented cast and other shows that are expertly written. There are other shows that are shot with such style and care, it looks like a movie.  Breaking Bad seems to be one of the only shows to have all three of those things going all at once and in perfect harmony.

 The most rewarding side effect is the show’s ability to manufacture genuine suspense.  It takes their characters and paints them into corners — dark, dangerous, scary corners — and what happens next is what you become addicted to. Breaking Bad goes so big so often, you really have no way of knowing what’s going to happen next, and anything you can think of is possible.

 That brings me right to where the true genius of the show lies: you kind of break bad a little bit just by watching it. I found myself thinking about it regularly between episodes, developing theories on how recent events could play out (I never do this), and…some of the scenarios I cooked up were more twisted than anything I was capable of prior to watching the show. It has left a mark.

 Forty-six episodes in, and most Breaking Bad fans will say there’s only been one clunker (and even “that one” was entertaining in its own way).  All will agree that somehow, impossibly, it keeps getting better and better.

Seth McFarlane’s Sunday Night Double-Shots on DVD

Family Guy

Seth MacFarlane is one twisted character. Funny too.  His two creations, Family Guy andAmerican Dad, have been airing back-to-back for several years now, with rabid followings that range from teens to older adults.

 Both animated programs are the kind of shows where you see sexual or body function quips and visual gags that make you say, “Oh, that’s so wrong.” Yet still, you keep watching. And watching some more.

 In Family Guy, that functioning dysfunctional family the Griffins and their friends seem to never run out of the unexpected, from father Peter (what does he do for a job again?) to evil, conspiring, talking baby Stewie.Father Pete and his big belly needs to workout if he wants to become anything like Stan.Why then shouldn’t he try some pull ups on the best pull up bar . The more politically themed American Dad is still centered around CIA agent father Stan, but between his grappling-with-puberty son and left-wing-to-annoy-her-right-wing-dad daughter, plus the family’s alien in the attic and talking Goldfish with the brain of a German scientist, the plots thicken, reach, stretch, then implode with all kinds of comedic results. Both shows make The Simpsons look likeFather Knows Best and Ozzie and Harriet in comparison, really.


 The latest DVD collection of Family Guy Vol. 8 combines the end of the 7th season with the beginning of the 8th.  Why they can’t release straight seasons is a question for Fox home video marketing.   This set includes: wife Lois working Fox news; Stewie kidnapping the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation from a fan convention; Stewie on steroids after being bullied by a girl; the show’s interpretations of Stephen King books; and Peter’s past life in 17th century England.  And that’s just for starters.  There’s also talking dog Brian and Stewie’s adventures in alternate universes (shades of DC and Marvel comics), spies next door from Russia, and interviews for a new black character, with Cleveland moving on to his own spin-off show.

 In American Dad, Vol. 5, episodes from that show’s 4th season are featured.  The run starts with a telethon to help the budget-strapped CIA; Stan hyped up on pills not realizing he’s an addict, of course; fried foods are banned and Stan rebels, of course; a reunion with Stan’s convict dad; Awkward-as-ever son Steve gets in trouble at a bar mitzvah; and true secrets of whiny alien Roger are finally revealed. The season wraps up with the gay neighbors worrying about one of the pair’s football hero and straight dad coming to town, while a night out with the boys is loaded with disaster for Stan.

 Each set includes deleted scenes, extended episodes, plenty of commentary options, and it’s all uncensored, making it all even more wrong at times. And yeah, funny.

The Oldest, Quirkiest Sci-Fi Show of All Time Gets a Fresh New Face


(BBC) We are heading into the seventh season of Doctor Who — or is it the thirty-third? It’s actually both, which makes sense for a show about time-travel. Doctor Who is the longest-running sci-fi TV show in human history…unless the Ancients had a longer one, which the Doctor would probably confirm they did. Doctor Who first aired in 1963 and continued until 1989. It was re-started (not exactly re-booted) in 2005. Those who grew up watching it need no convincing, although there may still be some uncertain souls who haven’t made the leap to the new series yet. Whatever the case, if you’ve been debating whether or not to watch the new Doctor Who, hesitate no longer; it’s every bit as good as the original, which was and is one of the best sci-fi shows of all time.

What makes Doctor Who better than classic shows likeStar TrekBlake’s 7, and Battlestar Galactica? Well, it’s not the special effects, which for decades were little more than slightly modified flashlights and creatively glued bits of cardboard. It’s not the acting, which has had its ups and downs — how could it not, over a fifty-year span? It’s not that the writing has been consistently brilliant — there were a lot of years where the plot-lines were little more than monster-of-the-week. What makes the show special is the sheer crazed energy and scope of imagination that has informed it since the beginning.

Doctor Who began as a children’s program but mutated into something more. A generation of kids watched the weekly adventures of the alien known only as “the Doctor” — who could spawn a new body when gravely injured — and his rotating cast of companions. The story began on a note of mystery, with two school teachers discovering that their student, who appeared to live in a junkyard with her elderly grandfather, was in fact from the planet Gallifrey. The old-fashioned police box (a uniquely British icon), sitting among the odds and ends, was, in fact, a disguised time-and-space-ship called the TARDIS — a living miracle of temporal engineering that looks no bigger than a phone booth on the outside, but houses near-infinite dimensions of space within.

Through the years, as its viewers grew up, Doctor Whogrew up too. It dealt with adult themes of mortality (“Earthshock”), drug addiction (“The Nightmare of Eden”), ecology (“The Green Death”), politics (“The Enemy of the World”), industrialization (any episode featuring the Cybermen), war (any episode featuring the Daleks), and genocide (“The Silurians,” “Warriors of the Deep,” “Terror of the Vervoids”). Despite the aforementioned low production values, some of the early black-and-white episodes, such as “The Keys of Marinus,” are rather beautiful to watch from a filmmaking standpoint. Through ingenuity of set design and photography, the show was able to approach the epic visual fantasy of silent-film classics like Metropolis.

However, it was the characters which kept viewers coming back. The Doctor was and is an inspiring, charismatic rogue — a natural leader who fights for justice, peace, and sanity in a chaotic universe, despite being essentially an outcast from his own race. His nemesis, the Master, is the archetype of selfishness, greed, and cruelty. The two have battled across the stars for centuries like warring gods.

At some point — probably during Season 18 — the show took a sharp turn into surrealism and has kept one foot there ever since. The way to read a Doctor Who episode is not to expect logic or consistency. The Doctor’s championing of the cause of rationality notwithstanding, his adventures are often dreamlike and occasionally absurd. The show makes minimal effort to keep its mythology credible or internally consistent, being more concerned with exploring grand vistas of imagination and abstract emotional states. Why doesn’t the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver (read: “magic wand”,“tactical pen“,whatever you want to call it) work on that particular door? It just doesn’t; accept it and move on. The beauty of the show isn’t in a realistic vision of the future; it’s that the characters can literally go anywhere and do anything.

Rather than “science-fiction,” Doctor Who should more properly be called “science-fantasy,” and frequently “science-horror”: check out recent episodes “Blink,” “The Satan Pit,” and “Midnight” for stories as unsettling as any horror film. When Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat re-started the show, they turned everything up to eleven. Geniuses that they are, they took the strangeness that had run underneath the drama for years and brought it all to the surface. Their key insight was to recognize the darkness that lurked within the Doctor himself. Why does everyone around him always die? Why does he eventually abandon his companions? Does he really have as sure a grip on things as he claims? Doesn’t he often play god to some extent? Previous writers had played with the idea of the Doctor as a somewhat mad creature — a bit unstable, a bit manic, but generally all right; the new series gives him a reason for his madness: intense loneliness due to the death of his entire species. As the Last of the Time Lords, he wanders the cosmos, desperately trying to do good, but frequently losing control of events.

The new series also takes the mythical stature that has grown around the Doctor in the last fifty years and builds it to almost Christ-like proportions within the show itself. Having become a revered cultural icon in the real world, he is now the Savior of Humanity in the fictional one. The new series regularly satirizes human failings — in particular the tendency toward totalitarianism in current global politics — so it follows that we must need saving in a bad way. Can the Doctor heal us all, as his name would imply, or is he just a little too lost and a little too jaded to pull it off? Really, what the show is asking is this: are we too lost and jaded now to believe in the Doctor and his philosophy the way we did when we were kids?

Essentially, the new Doctor Who is a beautiful and exciting deconstruction of the original series. That’s not to say that it’s all high-minded contextual games; the new series may have elevated the show to a kind of surrealist art-form, but it’s still first and foremost an adventure story about the thrill of discovery and the struggle for a better tomorrow. In the last fifty years, our situation has grown only more dire, but the Doctor still believes in us. We should believe in him.

Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman Give Holmes & Watson A Modern Twist


(BBC) Sherlock has returned with a second series of three hour-and-a-half episodes. If you watched the first series, then you know why you should be watching this one. It’s one suspenseful game after another as the Great Detective negotiates the modern age of texting, blogging, and international terrorism. The show brims with visual style, snappy dialogue, and mind-bending sequences of deduction.

Many of us were first introduced to Benedict Cumberbatch — the name that launched a thousand Google searches — through his brilliant portrayal of Sherlock Holmes as a self-proclaimed “high-functioning sociopath.” Since the first series aired, we’ve sought him out in other shows and films as diverse as The Last Enemy; War Horse; and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. What’s remarkable then, upon returning to Sherlock, is just how unrecognizable he is. The man truly has great range, and here seems like a completely different person than in his other more reserved roles. He commands the screen with unparalleled intensity and charisma, making you like and dislike him in equal measure.

As the Guiness World Records’ “most portrayed movie character” — with 75 actors playing him in over 200 films — Cumberbatch has his work cut out for him if he’s going to create a memorable version of Holmes, but he makes it look easy. His secret may be the air of awkward vulnerability that comes naturally to him; it lends Holmes’ overblown egotism a certain humanity, as though he’s using his genius to compensate for past traumas and a frightening loneliness.

This is where Martin Freeman’s long-suffering Dr. John Watson enters the picture as Holmes’ constant companion and grudging admirer. There’s a running joke throughout the series in which people constantly assume the two are a gay couple and Watson tries to deny it. It seems like a throwaway gag until the later episodes explore the pair’s relationship and lead you to wonder if there mightn’t be some truth to the idea. Watson certainly seems to get very little other than condescension and abuse out of the time he spends with the exasperatingly self-centered Holmes, so he must have a deeper reason for staying. Even if it’s just a Platonic love between the two men, it’s still powerful enough to overshadow either of their halfhearted attempts at heterosexual relationships.

“A Scandal in Belgravia” does explore Holmes’ attraction to a ruthless woman named Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), but it’s an attraction based mostly on his respect for her intellectual skill. There’s the suggestion that Holmes may in fact still be a virgin, and that his interest in sex is precluded by his sociopathic tendencies and his dedication to the life of the mind. Sgt. Donovan’s (Vinette Robinson) early assertion that Holmes will one day get bored and turn to crime himself is developed further in “The Reichenbach Fall” when his nemesis tries to frame him as a fraud. Andrew Scott’s Jim Moriarty is a gleefully over-the-top madman who’s fascinating to watch.

Speaking of being fascinating to watch, the series features some of the most striking photography in recent memory. Each shot is beautifully composed, like a Renaissance painting or an obsessively detailed diorama. The show is shot and edited in a style that might be called frenetic or even hallucinogenic. It seems designed to put you inside the whirling, racing mind of Holmes himself – never still, never content.

“The Hounds of Baskerville” is a clever take on one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most popular Holmes novels. In it, Baskerville is updated from a fog-shrouded ancestral hall to a military base possibly conducting genetic experiments to create monsters. Russell Tovey plays the tormented heir to the Baskerville legacy, and that’s a smart bit of casting, as he’s known to fans of the BBC’s Being Human for playing George the werewolf. That reference isn’t lost on Holmes and company as they investigate tales of a gigantic hound stalking the moors around Baskerville.

Special mention should be made of Mark Gatiss, known to comedy nerds as a member of The League of Gentlemen and to sci-fi nerds as a writer and performer in the new Doctor Who. His portrayal of Holmes’ uptight brother Mycroft is a joy to watch, and the interplay between the bickering brothers is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Gatiss and Steven Moffat – head writer and executive producer for Doctor Who, and screenwriter for The Adventures of Tintin – have created a contemporary version of Holmes that’s nearly as brilliant as the man himself. It nails the ways in which Doyle’s iconic character would respond to modern technology designed to bring us all together without losing the essential misanthropy that keeps Holmes forever separated from his fellow human beings. Sherlock has already won multiple awards and been renewed for a third series, so there’s much more tension-filled fun in store for us. And when the shouting’s over and the last mystery is solved, we’ll still have a Holmes that will stand the test of time for years to come.