Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Star Trek, "The Menagerie": The television trap


In the beginning was “The Cage.” Long before Picard stood trial for humanity’s violence, there was Gene Roddenberry’s pilot about the virtues of that violence. God had more wrath in the old days. Jeffrey Hunter, Jesus himself, played Captain Pike. Answering a distress signal on Talos IV, he’s kidnapped by aliens who put him through simulations of real-life experiences in the hopes of mating him with their human female, Vina, all while Adam and Eve are locked up safe and tight in a zoo. Eventually Pike threatens to blow himself up, and the aliens decide humanity is too violent, dangerous, self-destructive, and unpredictable to bother with. NBC rejected the pilot, and it wasn’t seen in its original form for two decades.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gay Old Times 1: Pilot


January 16, 1995

Pilot

My recruitment into the vast homosexual conspiracy began at a penal colony—hold your jokes—in the premiere of Star Trek: Voyager. That’s where we meet Captain Janeway, Kate Mulgrew’s1 Picardian Renaissance woman. She’s recruiting an inmate, Tom Paris, to be her mission specialist because of Expositions 1 and 2, and she happens to have a personal connection with him via Exposition 3 (she worked for his father once upon a time). “You must be good,” he tells the audience, and here’s where we find out what Exposition 3 signifies: “My father only accepts the best and brightest.” They say great television shows show you how to watch them. So do mediocre ones. Free from the burden of actual storytelling, Star Trek: Voyager becomes a rich and rewarding code. In case it isn’t clear from the Native American with the literal forehead tattoo announcing his heritage, it’s all about what everything represents.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dead Wood: Classic TV westerns


As a celebrated #tastemaker with his finger on the pulse of American pop culture, I have a new piece at The A.V. Club on a subject all the kids are talking about: classic TV westerns. I wrote it like I’d never get to write about westerns again—and I might not, my upcoming Have Gun — Will Travel overview notwithstanding—but it’s really a guide to this relatively uncharted terrain. I start with five big names to introduce the genre to the unfamiliar. I’ve planted shimmering lures like John Ford and Howard Hawks and Budd Boetticher to get our cousin cinephiles prospecting. I devote extra time to the stars and skip over the plains, and I pay a lot of attention to visuals, from Ray Rennahan’s cinematography on Laramie to the saturated pop-art coloring of The High Chaparral. It’s a good guide. Bookmark it.

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Top 20 Movies I First Saw in 2013


Last year I said I hoped 2013 would be more about back alleys than Main Street, and somehow that's how it worked out. No canon completism this year. Instead I binged on Polish cinema, waded into the avant-garde, marathoned Rex Ingram, Jean Negulesco, and Hiroshi Teshigahara. Most notably I got my passport stamped at a number of new countries, including Cuba, Senegal, and Saudi Arabia. Most of my favorites came to me by way of TCM, and most of that was pegged to Mark Cousins' heaven-on-mute The Story Of Film. You want TV vs. film? Those four months of world cinema annotating a history doc comprise the television event of the year.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mad Men: Season six


Expounding on my Twittering about the Mad Men's increasing dishevelment. I hope season seven is just a bunch of Cousin Itts in beanbag chairs complaining about hippies.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

2013 Dream Emmys


Look over there! It’s The Good Wife cast looking positively adequate! Ooh, there’s the Modern Family bloc dressed as, and apparently reenacting, The Aristocrats, clearly inspiring some delicious jokes from Dame Diana Rigg. Whoa, they invited Dr. Steve Brule! And he’s chewing up the placeholders for The Big Bang Theory? Up ahead Ken Cosgrove and the bunheads are dancing a wistful tap to “Getaway,” and some Julie loon just got on the loudspeaker desperately looking for a guy named Blaze? I don’t know what’s going on, but the 2013 dream Emmys are off to a great start.

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