Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2010 Summer Press Tour Wrap-Up: From the Big Bang to the Jersey Shore

He’s back.

That’s right, the summer 2010 press tour of the Television Critics Association – that’s TCA to you, see? – has come and gone, leaving in its wake a piece that I love to compile but hate to finish. It’s just that kind of experience: there’s always something else to write about.

I know I say this every time, so you’d think my mindset on the tour would’ve changed by now, but I still continue to get excited when I fly to California and spend the better part of two weeks ensconced in a hotel, watching and listening as closely as possible (which, admittedly, isn’t often as closely as I’d like) to various stars, directors, producers, and writers as they do a dog and pony show to promote their program. I know they get sick of it sometimes, but for my part, I still haven’t. I spend the better part of 48 weeks of the year in Chesapeake, VA, a place where I do not regularly cross paths with the people that you see on your TV screen. As such, I remain excited about the opportunity to participate in these ridiculously cool opportunities, and I still feel like I have to share the experience with you, the reader, lest they begin to seem normal to me.

It’s not normal.

It’s the TCA press tour.

And trust me, unless you’re actually in show business, life doesn’t get much less normal than this.

Most entertaining panel by a broadcast network: “Circus,” PBS. Given the subject matter of the series – yes, it really is about the circus, specifically what it’s like to be part of a traveling circus in 2010 – it wasn’t entirely surprising that the panel kicked off with acrobat Christian Stoinev demonstrating some of his gymnastic abilities, but that didn’t make his performance any less impressive.

Plus, he earned bonus points for incorporating a cute little dog named Scooby into the act, who jumped onto Stoinev’s butt, strolled down his back, sat on his feet, and looked as calm as possible as Stoinev balanced semi-precariously on his parallel bars.

Most entertaining panel by a cable network: “Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town,” IFC. When I walked into the ballroom and found that we’d all received autographed DVDs of the Kids’ latest endeavor, I thought, “Can it get any better than this?” (I’m a sucker for anything autographed.) Indeed, it could, as the Kids – minus Mark McKinney, who’d been called back to Canada because of a family emergency – held court and kept us in stitches.

Some of my favorite moments:

QUESTION: How long had it been since you had cross-dressed professionally before (“Death Comes to Town”), and was that sort of a difficult readjustment for any of you?
SCOTT THOMPSON: Define “professionally.”
QUESTION: With a large crew.
SCOTT THOMPSON: Oh.
DAVE FOLEY: Not just any exchange of money.
BRUCE McCULLOCH: So if you shoot porn with a small crew, that wouldn’t count…?
KEVIN McDONALD: That’s not cross-dressing professionally.
DAVE FOLEY: Yeah. If you put on a nice shirt and give a handjob at the bus station, that still is professional.
SCOTT THOMPSON: Yes, it is.
BRUCE McCULLOCH: And by “handjob,” we mean “Bible reading,” as we like The Bible.

* Dave Foley on the audience response to Scott Thompson’s cancer being in remission: “I’m getting a sense that a lot of these people are on the cancer side. Well, I hope you are proud of yourselves. ‘Oh, dammit, not another one beating cancer. Poor cancer. When will people learn to love cancer?'”

* Scott Thompson: “I had a much easier time making (‘Death Comes to Town’), even though I was fighting cancer, than I did with ‘Brain Candy,’ honestly. It was tougher to fight Paramount. Because, at least with cancer, you can win.”

QUESTION: Do you find that people, when they see you, wanted to just squash your head? Because, like, I’m sitting here, like, resisting.
DAVE FOLEY: Yeah, a lot of time it has no reference to that gesture. It’s people actually want to crush our heads.
KEVIN McDONALD: The first apartment I ever moved to in Los Angeles, 1996, I was in bed the first night, and a couple were having a fight in the floor above me. And he was crying, “I’m going to crush your head,” and I thought they were fans, but it turned out they weren’t.
DAVE FOLEY: Yeah, it was a bloody homicide.
KEVIN McDONALD: It was a bloody homicide, yes.
DAVE FOLEY: But still, you felt flattered.
KEVIN McDONALD: But still, I felt flattered.

* When asked about their current relationship with Lorne Michaels, who introduced them to the U.S., McCulloch said, “I watch him get a haircut once a year when I go to ‘Saturday Night Live,'” while Foley claimed, “I chill his Amstel Light.” (“And drink it,” added McDonald.)

* Kevin McDonald made the bold choice of using the word “guff” at one point, receiving no end of ridicule from his fellow Kids. “It’s a tough word,” said McCulloch,”I know it’s tough to hear.” Thompson gasped and shrieked, “You said ‘guff‘!” Foley, however, offered a practical solution to the assembled journalists. “You can put asterisks in that. Just G-asterisk-asterisk-asterisk for your print,” he said, adding, “Of course, you online media people can just change it to ‘fuck.’”

* “Death Comes to Town” was filmed in North Bay, ON, but Foley said that it was a rarity for locals to come up and acknowledge their recognition of the Kids. “Canadians don’t do that,” explained Thompson. “Yeah,” agreed Foley. “They’d just come up and start talking to you like they knew you. You know, you would be in the grocery store, and somebody would just come up behind you and say, ‘Special K is marked down today. I’m getting the Special K as well. What are you doing later, Dave?’ And that was how you knew they recognized you.”

* The miniseries features Foley playing “the kindly old town abortionist,” which made it a bit difficult to scout for locations. Foley said that they had to keep making up stuff to tell the people of North Bay, saying things like, “Yeah, this scene, it’s a gynecologist’s office,” or “Oh, it’s an obstetrician’s office.” Or, as Scott Thompson claimed, “It’s a very bad day care.” At this, the crowd of critics erupted with a mixture of boos and laughs. “That was good,” Thompson assured us. “That was bad,” Foley assured him. At this, Thompson nodded, grinned, and admitted, “Very bad.”

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Why did “FlashForward” fail?

The world blacks out and sees a glimpse of its near future. It was a good premise, yet here we are a few months later and “FlashForward” has been canceled. What happened?

Ratings were strong in the beginning and kept falling throughout the series run. ABC shelved the show for a while during the Olympics, but ratings continued to plummet when it returned.

Generally, I enjoyed the show, but grew a bit weary at times, largely because I really didn’t feel that there were any characters worth rooting for. Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes) was supposed to be the hero, but he was always so angry and serious all the time that it was hard to like the guy. Everyone was so weighted down by the emotions surrounding their flashforwards that no one was happy. Moreover, no one was funny.

“FlashForward” made me realize just how important it is for any show, even a drama, to have a good sense of humor. Think about the last few great dramas — “Lost,” “The Shield,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “The Sopranos,” hell, even “The Wire” — they all had moments of hilarity. Can we say the same about “FlashForward”? I can list several funny moments for each of those aforementioned shows, but I can’t think of a single funny moment in “FlashForward.”

That said, I gave up on “V” but stood by “FlashForward,” yet the former has been renewed while the latter has been canceled. I thought the storytelling in “FlashForward” was far superior to “V,” but that’s not saying a whole lot. “V” doesn’t have a sense of humor, either, which is why I deleted my season pass.

With the departure of “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica” and the failure of “FlashForward,” sci-fi television is struggling.

  

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The Escapist

There have been a wealth of jailbreak films throughout the course of history, but only a few can be considered true classics. Rupert Wyatt’s directorial debut, “The Escapist,” doesn’t quite make the cut, but it’s definitely one of the better entries in the genre. The always reliable Brian Cox stars as Frank Perry, a prison convict serving a life sentence who devises a plan to break out when he discovers that his daughter is dying. In order to do so, however, he’ll have to convince the right players (including Joseph Fiennes, Liam Cunningham and Seu Jorge) to join his crew and outwit the cell block’s brutal kingpin (Damian Lewis). There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, but the cast does well enough to keep things interesting – especially Cox, who delivers yet another fine performance in an otherwise underrated career. Though “The Escapist” begins to drag towards the end, the film’s killer twist ending makes it more than worth sticking around for. It might not have gotten the U.S. release that it deserved, but this old-school jailbreak film is a smarter, better acted, and much more realistic version of FOX’s hit drama, “Prison Break.”

Click to buy “The Escapist”

  

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ABC: What’s New for Fall 2009

V (Tues., Nov. 3 @ 8:00 PM, ABC)

The competition: “NCIS” (CBS) “The Biggest Loser” (NBC), “Hell’s Kitchen” (Fox), “90210” (The CW)

Starring: Elizabeth Mitchell, Morris Chestnut, Joel Gretsch, Lourdes Benedicto, Logan Huffman, Laura Vandervoort, Morena Baccarin, Scott Wolf
Producers: Scott Peters (“The 4400,” “The Outer Limits”), Jeffrey Bell (“Day Break,” “Alias”), Steve Pearlman (“Reunion,” “Related”), and Jace Hall (“The Jace Hall Show”)
Network’s Description: A re-imagining of the 1980’s miniseries about the world’s first encounter with an alien race. Simultaneously appearing over every major city in the world, the Visitors (or V’s) promote a message of peace. Through their generous offer to share advanced technology, the V’s build a following that may actually hide a more malevolent agenda, one that twists a very deep component of human nature: devotion. While the world quickly becomes fascinated with the V’s and their link to wonders just beyond the reach of human understanding, FBI Counter Terrorist Agent Erica Evans discovers a secret hidden beneath the skin of every V – a secret that may threaten the lives of everyone close to her. Yet for her teenage son, Tyler, the V’s are his ticket to something big and hopeful — a new chance for mankind to unite in common goals. To Chad Decker, a career-hungry news anchor, his exclusive interview with Anna, the leader of the V’s, is crucial to his dominating the airwaves. Also unsure about the Visitors is Father Jack, a priest questioning his faith in the wake of the Visitors’ arrival. Seeking answers outside the church, Father Jack discovers there are other dissidents who believe the Visitors are not who they say they are, including Ryan Nichols, who is faced with his own life-altering decision when the V’s show up. Never has there been more at stake — it truly is the dawning of a new day.
The Buzz: Like “Eastwick,” there’s a certain instinct to ask, “Why do we need to revisit a 20-year-old property?” In the case of “V,” though, most of those who remember the show fondly will probably nod their heads and consider that, yes, special effects technology has evolved to a point where a concept like this one deserves to reap the benefits. And although the purists will no doubt grimace and claim that it won’t be the same without original creator Kenneth Johnson working behind the scenes, they need look no farther than “Battlestar Galactica” to have a good reason to consider the possibilities for a new “V.”
Pilot Highlight: Personally, I dug the showdown between Anna and Chad when he refuses to offer an interview consisting solely of softball questions and she informs him that either it’ll be all queries that paint the Visitors in a positive light or the interview will be canceled, but the episode’s tie-ins to terrorism were damned intriguing.
Bottom Line: There’ll clearly be a “we’ve seen this” reaction from the generation who grew up with “Independence Day,” but it’s already clear that this is not your parents’ “V.” It may not prove to have any more legs than ABC’s last stab at alien infiltration (“Invasion”), but it’s going to come down to whether or not the viewers who come in for the curiosity factor, thinking, “Hey, I liked the old show, I wonder how the new one will be,” are going to given enough to sell them right off the bat.

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