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I've watched more TV tonight than in the past month, I think.

The Inside - 'Pilot'
Story by Howard Gordon and Tim Minear; screenplay by Tim Minear; directed by Tim Minear


If you've not been paying attention, this is a show I've been looking forward to for a while. It's not just the fact that Tim Minear's name is in the Executive Producer slot, though that's a big part of it; it's the number of other Mutant Enemy alumni he's recalled to active duty that makes things interesting. Jane Espenson, Ben Edlund and David Fury writing; Rob Kral providing the music; Ross Berryman handling the cinematography. There's even a role for Adam Baldwin.

Watching it proved to be a slightly surreal experience.

But first things first: The Inside is a dark, psychological crime drama. It's set in LA, and revolves around an FBI unit charged with hunting down serial killers. Rebecca Locke (Rachel Nichols) is the unit's newest recruit, a two-years-out-of-Quantico rookie who applied repeatedly for behavioural profiling duties but was turned down every time until Virgil Webster (Peter Coyote) found space for her.

It becomes clear fairly quickly that he did not do this entirely out of the goodness of his heart. Webster's unit has an unusual degree of autonomy, and Webster is a pragmatist for whom solving the crime comes before most moral concerns. The reason he recruited Locke is the same reason everyone else turned her down: as a child she was abducted, and abused. Everyone else thinks it would be too risky, or simply too cruel, to have her working day-to-day on similar cases. Webster thinks it gives her a gift, and he might just be right. Or, as Minear puts it on the show's website: "This is a show about damaged people--the only interesting kind there is--and about how their damage sometimes makes them especially suited to the work they do."

It's not just Locke, mind; everyone in the Violent Crimes Unit seems to have been hand-picked by Webster for their particular damage, though we only get an insight into one or two of the team in this first episode. The result is that The Inside has its feet firmly planted in the greyest of grey areas from the start, with Webster coming off like he's got Holland Manners for a cousin and the Cigarette Smoking Man for a brother.

There are good and bad things about the episode. The plot does what it has to do, and avoids doing it in the most predictable way possible, but is nothing spectacular. The performances are solid, although the largest strike against the show is that too few of the characters, beyond Locke and Webster, have immediately memorable personalities. The subject matter is pretty meaty stuff, and exactly the sort of thing Minear is at home with. There is, in other words, potential.

But if you're particularly familiar with Angel, watching it is, as I said, slightly surreal, because it looks and sounds ... well, not the same, but strangely similar. 'Billy' is the episode that kept coming to mind. The colours are similar, the music is similar (although I think at some point Minear got Kral to listen to the Firefly soundtrack and told him 'I'd like some of that as well, please'), the camera angles are similar. The villain is played by a guest star familiar from other Minear episodes of Angel. There are the same flashy-flash-whizz-cuts between scenes. There's even a shot of the Sixth Street Bridge in the opening credits. It gets to the point where the nice Angel in-joke (although not as nice as the fact that in the original script, the abandoned hotel they visited was the Hyperion) seems almost redundant.

It's not Angel. It's very much not Angel: not in subject, not in format. And the style works for the show, it really does. But it didn't half give me a few moments of cognitive dissonance.




Global Frequency
based on the comic by Warren Ellis


The Inside has style, but Global Frequency has cool. Think of it as being a bit like 24, but on drugs.

Warren Ellis' comic dealt with a sort of 21st-century International Rescue: a thousand and one freaks, geeks and secret agents from around the world marshalled into the ultimate life-saving smart mob by Miranda Zero, her communications chief Aleph, and a lot of bandwidth. They handled plenty of your regular terrorists, but also more exciting things, like men with psychic bombs in their head and invasion by alien memes. As such things go, it was all very satisfying in a multiplex flash-bang way. The cast of each issue was a movable feast; the whole point of the Global Frequency being that it can call on a thousand and one operatives, picking whoever has the skills for the job at hand.

This is a concept made for TV, a genuine near-future sf thriller show, and when you watch the pilot--made for the WB, but never picked up--it's hard not to grin at the insane genius of it.

The episode is a relatively close adaptation of issue one of the comic, the ex-Soviet psychic bomb story. Sean Flynn (Josh Hopkins) is an ex-cop who stumbles across a corpse, picks up a funny-looking phone and finds that he's on the gobal frequency. Dr Katrina Finch (Jenni Baird) is the physics-and-everything-else expert pulled in by Miranda Zero (Michelle Forbes) and Aleph (Aimee Garcia) to help out. They have fifty-five minutes before their target detonates, and takes half of San Francisco with him. Only problem: they don't know who or where he is.

When I said 24 on drugs, I meant lots of drugs.

There are things that don't work. Some of the effects work is ropey, and I don't think it's just that it was unfinished. Flynn and Finch are caricatures more than characters. Some of the direction and exposition are a bit clunky; for the most part the show has a surprisingly down-to-earth feel, but every so often it loses that and becomes just ever so slightly silly. The soundtrack ain't the greatest.

But ... the casting of Forbes is spot-on (if perhaps looking a little too much like she's just walked out of the Matrix), as is that of Garcia. And the central conceit--this meta-intelligence agency, with access to everything and everyone--is still fantastically cool. And they kept the comic's ending, which emphasises a hard choice, and I always like those.

This should've been picked up. It could've been great fun.




House
'Pilot' written by David Shore; Directed by Bryan Singer


House is a show a few people have been talking about. It's a hospital drama; the lead character, Gregory House, is played by Hugh Laurie (putting on an American accent). And I find I have much less to say about it than either of the other two shows.

That's not to say it's bad; there just isn't much about it that excites me, and I'm not sure why. I should like it. House is cynical and misanthropic (given to saying things like 'treating illness is why we became doctors--treating patients is what makes most doctors miserable' and 'humanity is overrated'), but he's smart. There's something almost Holmesian about the relentlessly logical way he approaches his medicine. There's also an echo of The Inside in the way that he's handpicked his team of assistants, although here it's clearly pure pragmatism, with no sinister overtones.

Maybe that's why I'm not wowed by it. It's got some good lines, but it feels a bit too safe. The episode sets up a clear formula; if that's kept to in subsequent episodes, there's really no reason to tune in except to watch House do his schtick, and as good as Hugh Laurie is I'm not sure it's quite enough for me. If it goes the other way, it could be a really interesting show that actually examines how a sense of humanitarian compassion interacts with medical science. There are some interesting nods towards how dehumanising it can be to be a patient in this episode, and more of that would be better.

So I might try to watch a few more, but it hasn't grabbed me as much as the other two shows.




Also watched recently: the first episode of Veronica Mars. I'm not going to write anything about it just yet, but it's very, very good and if you get a chance you should try it out.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Regarding House: IMHO, they do stick to that basic formula in subsequent episodes. Person succumbs to unknown illness, gets admitted to House's hospital. Sometimes House takes a lot of convincing to take the case. First few diagnoses are wrong, then finally it all comes together, usually because an obscure factoid or symptom comes to light late in the game.

Hugh Laurie is very good, and I still like to watch the show, but it's not "must-see TV" in my book.
> Also watched recently: the first episode of Veronica Mars

I've seen the first 16 episodes. It /is/ rather good, and consistently gets better and better. Also, it's getting a 2nd season!

okay, i download the inside because of *you*
I thought my taste was suspect these days?
Of all the ones you mentioned, Veronica Mars is the only one I've seen.

Easily the best show to come out on US Free TV in ages.
Chris
(Deleted comment)
At the moment I'd just be interested to know if anyone had the same familiarity-issues with The Inside that I did; going in knowing all the production stuff may have biased me, after all.
(Deleted comment)
and been told I *must* watch it. I will do so at the weekend, knowing that it is probably the Next Big Thing...
Blah blah, not reading first twooooooo!

Try and catch the (I think) third episode of House.

I watched the penultimate VM episode yesterday and felt like I'd been punched in the gut.
Can you or any of my regular televisual crack dealers supply me with Veronica Mars? I think we've got House somewhere.
I agree that House seems a bit safe. I get the impression that the studio perhaps became frightened of the misanthropy of the lead character and so they gave the audience lots of get-out clauses, so they can persuade themselves that he has a heart of gold etc. etc. Oh, I shouldn't be such an old curmudgeon. I thought a lot of it was very good, and the writing fairly snappy.

Can't wait to see The Inside. mmmm Adam Baldwin.
It's a valid worry that American terrestrial television would be too nervous about having an abrasive lead character not to soften him. Usually, it's a worry that's borne out. And if you're looking for House to be a genuine monster, you're going to be disappointed. He is human, and they give us glimpses of that. However, they never turn him into a closet cuddly toy yearning to breathe free either. In fact, if anything, as he comes under increasing stress at the end of the first season, he gets more irritable, not less.
Do you know where I can find torrents for Veronica Mars episodes? :)
I'll tell you when you've posted to instant fanzine.
Hello! *waves*

I watched The Inside as well and noted the stylistic touches from Angel. It had blipverts! (The flash-flash-wiz-cut thingies) The same LA nightscapes! I got all nostalgic.

I liked it enough to give it a couple of more episodes, although some of the dialog was clunky as hell. The Rebecca Locke character, as someone else has said elsewhere, struck me as a bit of a Profiler-Sue, but Web was just my kind of manipulative bastard. "Damn. Did that backward," was a great line--albeit sounding like a Jossverse dialog.

Global Frequency sounds interesting. Has it aired anywhere? I've liked Michelle Forbes' work in the past, and the premise is intriguing.

Yay, Veronica Mars viewing!
I watched The Inside as well and noted the stylistic touches from Angel.

Phew. It's not just me! :)

The Rebecca Locke character, as someone else has said elsewhere, struck me as a bit of a Profiler-Sue

Yes and no, for me. I was worried before it aired that she would be, but in the event, not so much. She was more detached than I was expecting. Very clearly living in her own head a lot.

"Damn. Did that backward," was a great line--albeit sounding like a Jossverse dialog.

Not that that's a bad thing. In general I thought the dialogue could have done with a bit more zip. There's something else about it all that's ringing MEverse bells with me, but I can't put my finger on what. I think it's the sense that this is a team with its own separate existence that isn't actually going to interact with 'the real world'--much in the way AI inhabited their own narrative space.

Global Frequency sounds interesting. Has it aired anywhere? I've liked Michelle Forbes' work in the past, and the premise is intriguing.

Hasn't aired anywhere that I know of, sadly.

Yay, Veronica Mars viewing!

I have discovered summer_of_mars. I need to get caught up, clearly.
House

It does have the potential to be formulaic - but then again, so does CSI as a concept - and they manage to make at least passably entertaining television three-times a week.

I loved House as a character, he's a flawed antihero, the genius on the edge of reality, the classic Asperger's savant; and (surprisingly for American network television), he has few artificially applied "likeable traits".

Even if it does nothing more than to stick to the apparent formula - it looks as if it will be good (if not great) television.
House's asociability comes off as Asperger's-like at first, but as time goes on, one sees that he picks up on social cues quite handily -- better than most, in fact. He just chooses not to act on them most of the time. The fact that he can pick and choose the moments when he does act fairly normal would seem to exclude Asperger's and a whole host of personality disorders. If it's a matter of choice, then it's a matter for philosophy, not for medical or psychological pathology.
THE INSIDE
(U.S.: Fox, Wednesdays. U.K.: ?)

I was surprised by _The Inside_, specifically that anything that obvious and embarrassingly melodramatic would have Tim Minear's name attached to it so intimately. It's like he's trying waaaaay too hard to show off how "dark" he is, to the point of having the characters announce it. There were too many characters saying obvious things out loud that they didn't need to be saying for their own benefit. They were saying them to make certain that the audience didn't miss the author's point. If they had just cut out numerous problematic lines, the things that they were telling us were dark might have actually gotten dark.

It's still on terrestrial TV in the U.S. (even if it is on the more freewheeling Fox network). It cannot compete with basic cable (_The Shield_) or premium cable (_The Sopranos_, _Oz_) in the sheer darkness department. Come to that, _The Inside_ is still nowhere near as dark as the late and more grown-up Fox series _Millennium_, also about a damaged and previously victimized profiler. The show needs to shut up about how dark it is and let the audience come to that conclusion independently if they feel like it.

I don't believe the lead character at all. At best, she's cardboard to me. Worse, I've now seen the second episode as well, and without dropping spoilers, I can't take these characters seriously as effective law enforcement agents. It's one thing to have some darkness in your past to give you insight into the present, but these people act without intelligence, and only dumb luck has kept them from running off the rails and ending up dead. Depending on the true answer to the question raised at the end of the second episode, I find that either I have no respect for the lead character or else I'm actively repulsed by her.

Now that you've explained to me that Minear inherited the show from someone else, I'm a little more sympathetic to his situation, but the end result is still underwhelming at best. I'm going to give it one more episode on trial, on the strength of Minear's name alone.

Hoookay, ran over the posting limit in my very first LJ comment. I'll break it up by subject, but damn, I miss Usenet already.
HOUSE, M.D.
(U.S.: Fox, Tuesdays. U.K.: Ch.5, Thursdays; Hallmark, Sundays)

I've finally gotten a chance to see the pilot at last thanks to a kindly benefactor who took pity on a decrepit old woman. To my surprise, my chief criticism of it is the same as my chief criticism of the pilot to _The Inside_, though not as strong in this case: they made things a bit too obvious. They were a little too eager to make sure we didn't miss who these people are, what their identifying characteristics are, and what their relationships are supposed to be like. I still liked the lead character and the episode's sense of humor, though, something noticeably lacking in _The Inside_.

I'm biased in favor of _House_, though, because I joined the first season late and have seen a total of eleven episodes now, all of the other ten of which I think are better than the pilot. From the episodes I have to compare (1, 2, 6, 9, 16-22), the last half of the season is noticeably more intense than the first half, although I think that both 6 and 9 are solid eps. Episode 21 is easily Emmy-caliber material for both Hugh Laurie and the series creator/episode writer.

Oh, and there's a reason that House is Holmesian. The creator admits up front that the character was inspired by Holmes and the real-life doctor that Holmes was based on ("Homes" --> "House"), although even Sherlock had better manners than House does.

There are no sinister overtones about House's choice of subordinates, but I did find it interesting that he seems to have chosen two of them because he sees their "damage" as potential strengths, and he didn't go out of his way to reassure them that he didn't have malicious motives for choosing them.

The medical procedural formula (which more closely follows a police procedural formula except that the "criminal" is a health problem that has to be identified and defeated) is a mainstay of the series from what I've seen, but it's used as the season develops to bring interesting things about House and his associates into the spotlight. I find that to be good writing, not bad: the ability to use plot as an instrument of characterization instead of treating the two as independent elements. By the last one-third of the season, there's a new (human) antagonist plus personal complications to add to the usual medical formula.

As for how humanitarian compassion interacts with medical science -- may I quote a nonspoilery three lines from the 21st episode? They don't reveal plot, just a bit of House's medical philosophy.

And for what it's worth, there are numerous other "interesting nods towards how dehumanising it can be to be a patient" in the series.