Great Moments In Television History: Planet of the Apes The TV Series


On September 13th, 1974, audiences that tuned into CBS saw the premiere of a new TV show with a familiar premise.

The episode opened with a spaceship crashing on an Earth-like planet.  One of the astronauts was killed.  Two of the astronauts — Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Peter Burke (James Naughton) — survived.  Virdon and Burke discovered that the planet was inhabited by humans who, despite it being the year 3085, were living in medieval villages.  The humans were kept in a state of serfdom by the Apes who ruled the planet.  The Apes spoke English and had formed their own society of militaristic gorillas and scientific-minded chimpanzees.  Looking through an old book, Virdon and Burke discovered that they had crash landed on Earth, far in the future!

You know the drill.  Planet of the Apes was based on the famous series of films, with the first pilot episode featuring Virdon and Burke discovering in less than an hour what took Charlton Heston a journey into the forbidden zone to figure out.  Because the humans had “blown it up,” the Earth was now ruled by Apes!

As fugitives from ape justice, Virdon and Burke spent the next fourteen episodes being pursued by the fanatical General Urko (Mark Lenard), who was determined to capture the two astronauts before they revealed that Apes had not always been the planet’s masters.  Traveling with Virdon and Burke was a sympathetic chimpanzee named Galen (Roddy McDowall).  Usually just one step ahead of Urko, Virdon, Burke, and Galen traveled from village to village, seeking a way to fix their spaceship so that they could escape the Planet of the Apes.

Planet of the Apes got off to a strong start with an exciting and concise first episode but the series quickly ran out of gas.  Because Virdon, Burke, and Galen had to flee to a new village at the end of every episode, the show was never able to devote much time to exploring the most intriguing thing about the original Planet of the Apes films, the culture of a world where humans were subservient to apes.  Because Virdon and Burke were largely interchangeable with little in the way of backstory or personality, the show very quickly ran out of a stories to tell.  It didn’t take long for Planet of the Apes to start repeating itself with multiple episodes in which Virdon or Burke got involved in local village drama before Urko showed up and forced them to flee again.

There were some good moments, though.  Probably the highlight of the series was the third episode of the series, The Trap.  In this episode, Virdon, Burke, Galen, and Urko all reach the ruins of San Francisco at the same time.  After an earthquake buries Burke and Urko in a subway tunnel, the two of them are forced to work together to survive.  Burke and Urko make an unexpectedly good team and Urko seems like he’s on the verge of a change of heart when he spots an old poster for the San Francisco zoo, one that features a caged gorilla being gawked at by humans.  Urko’s angry reaction to seeing the poster is well-acted by Mark Lenard and, for a few minutes, his obsession with capturing Virdon and Burke can be understood.  It wouldn’t last but, in that moment, Urko went from being just another villain to being a complex character with his own clearly defined motivations.

The show also benefited from Roddy McDowall, who, by this point, was an expert at acting while wearing chimpanzee makeup.  McDowall brought heart and humor to the role of Galen, even if he was too often treated like a servant by Burke and Virdon.  Whenever the two humans were scared to go out in public, they sent Galen off to gather information.  Galen did a good job but he still deserved better.

Finally, Planet of the Apes had one of the coolest opening title sequences of all time!  Take a look:

Though cancelled after only 14 episodes, Planet of the Apes The Television Series lives on.  Episodes can currently be seen on MeTV.

Film Review: Factory Girl (dir by George Hickenlooper)


Oh God.  Factory Girl.

Released in 2006, Factory Girl was a biopic about Edie Sedgwick, the tragic model/actress/artist who was briefly both Andy Warhol’s muse and one of the most famous women in America.  Before I talk too much about this film, I should probably admit that I’m probably the worst possible person to review a movie about Edie Sedgwick.

Why?

Allow me to repost something that I wrote when I reviewed Edie’s final film, Ciao Manhattan:

“In the late 60s, Edie Sedgwick was a model who was briefly the beautiful face of the underground.  Vogue called her a “youthquaker.”  She made films with Andy Warhol, she dated the rich and the famous and for a brief time, she was one of the most famous women in America.  But a childhood full of tragedy and abuse had left Edie fragile and unprepared to deal with the pressures of being famous.  She was fed drugs by those who claimed to care about her, she had numerous mental breakdowns, and, when she was at her most vulnerable, she was pushed away and rejected by the same people who had loved her when she was on top of the world.  Edie died because, when she asked for help, nobody was willing to listen.

 

Edie Sedgwick (1943 — 1971)

I guess I should explain something.  I don’t believe in reincarnation but if I did, I would swear that I was Edie Sedwick in a past life.  Of all the great icons of the past, she, Clara Bow, andVictoria Woodhull are the ones to whom I feel the closest connection. (Edie is the reason why, for the longest time, I assumed I would die when I was 28.  But now I’m 29, so lucky me.)”

(Incidentally, I wrote that two years ago and I’m still alive so, once again, lucky me.)

Anyway, my point is that I’m always going to be a hundred times more critical of a film about Edie Sedgwick as I would be about any other film.  If you’re already guessing that I didn’t particularly care for Factory Girl, you’re right.  However, there are some people whose opinions I respect and some of them love this film.

Anyway, Factory Girl is a biopic that’s structured so conventionally that it even opens with Edie (played by Sienna Miller) narrating her story to an unseen interviewer.  I can count on one hand the number of successful biopics that have featured someone telling the story of their life to an unseen interviewer.  It’s a conventional and kind of boring technique.  Anyway, the film follows all of the expected beats.  Edie arrives in New York.  Edie is spotted by Andy (Guy Pearce).  Edie makes films with Warhol.  Her famous dance in Vinyl is recreated.  Edie becomes Andy’s platonic girlfriend but then, she meets and falls in love with Bob Dylan…

Oh, sorry.  He’s not actually Bob Dylan.  According to the credits, his name is Folksinger.  He says Bob Dylan type stuff.  He rides around on a motorcycle.  He carries a harmonica.  Oh, and he’s played by Hayden Christensen.

See, the first half of Factory Girl is actually not bad.  Sienna Miller gives a pretty good performance as Edie, even if she never comes close to capturing Edie’s unforced charisma.  Despite being several years too old, Guy Pearce is also credible as Andy Warhol.  The film itself is full of crazy 60s clichés but, even so, that’s not always a terrible thing.  Some of those 60s clichés are a lot of fun, if they’re presented with a little imagination.

But then Hayden Christensen shows up as Bob Dylan and the film loses whatever credibility it may have had.  Hayden, who gave his best performance when he played a soulless and largely empty-headed sociopath in Shattered Glass, is totally miscast as a musician who once said that if people really understood what his songs were about, he would have been thrown in jail.  The film attempts to portray Dylan and Warhol as two men fighting for Edie’s soul but Christensen is so outacted by Guy Pearce that it’s never really much of a competition.  Even though the film makes a good case that Edie’s relationship with Andy was ultimately self-destructive, Guy Pearce is still preferable to Hayden Christensen trying to imitate Dylan’s distinctive mumble.

Anyway, Factory Girl doesn’t really work.  Beyond the odd casting of Hayden Christensen, Factory Girl is too conventionally structured.  In its portrayal of the Factory and life in 1960s New York, the film never seems to establish a life beyond all of the familiar clichés.  (Before anyone accuses me of contradicting myself, remember that I said that the old 60s clichés are fun if they’re presented with a little imagination.  That’s a big if.)  At no point, while watching the film, did I feel as if I had been transported back to the past.  If you want to learn about Edie Sedgwick, your best option is to try to track down her Warhol films.

Edie!

What Lisa Watched Last Night #90: Hostages Episode 1 “Pilot”


Last night, after I got back from dance class, I watched the first episode of the new CBS series, Hostages.

hostages-toni-collette-tate-donovan-cbs

Why Was I Watching It?

I spent the last three months watching and reviewing Big Brother for the Big Brother Blog.  During every episode of Big Brother, CBS would show at least one commercial for Hostages.  It was obvious that CBS was obsessed with the idea of making Hostages into the show that the entire nation would be watching and debating, a bit like a network TV version of Homeland or Breaking Bad.

The commercials, for the most part, all featured Dylan McDermott looking grim while Toni Collette frowned and, occasionally, some old white guy would tell Collette that she was the only doctor he trusted to operate on her and she would reply, “Thank you, Mr. President.”  In short, the commercials made the show look terrible.  The only question was whether or not Hostages would be intentionally bad or unintentionally awful.

Last night, I got my answer.

What Was It About?

President Paul Kinkaid (James Naughton) needs to have surgery and, of course, only one doctor can perform the operation.  That doctor is Ellen Saunders (Toni Collette).  Ellen is so concerned with the President’s health that she doesn’t realize that her husband (Tate Donovan) is having an affair, her son is selling weed, and her daughter is pregnant.

Meanwhile, Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott) is a FBI hostage negotiator.  When we first see him, he’s gunning down a bank robber and smirking while he does it.  It turns out that Duncan needs money to take care of his sick wife.

Eventually, Duncan and a team of other black-clad operatives end up inside the Saunders home where they take the entire family hostage.  They tell Ellen that, if she wants to save her family, she must assassinate the President…

What Worked?

The show turned out to be just as bad as I was expecting it to be!  Whenever I saw the commercials for Hostages, I would think to myself: “That looks like it’s going to be a really boring, tedious series.”  Judging from the pilot, I was right.  It always feels good to be right.

That said, I do have to say that, alone among the cast, Dylan McDermott seems to understand that he’s playing a ludicrous character in a silly show and — much as he did in American Horror Story — he responds by giving an appropriately melodramatic performance.  While the rest of the cast appeared to be convinced that they were appearing in the next Homeland, McDermott seemed to be enjoying a joke that only he and the viewing audience could understand.

What Did Not Work?

If there’s even been a show that would obviously benefit from an over-the-top, melodramatic approach, it would be Hostages.  So, why did the pilot appear to be taking itself so damn seriously?  As I watched last night’s episode, I found myself wondering if anyone involved in the show (other than Dylan McDermott) understood just how silly this all was.  Instead, the show moved at an almost somber pace and all of the actors (again, with the notable exception of McDermott) delivered their lines with the type of gravity that one would usually associate with Jeff Daniels delivering one of Aaron Sorkin’s pompous polemical speeches on The Newsroom.  Considering all of the melodramatic potential of this show’s plot, Hostages really has no excuse to be as boring and predictable as it was last night.

Toni Collette is one of my favorite actresses so it was kind of sad to see her give such a boring performance in the lead role of Ellen Saunders.  Then again, as written, Ellen Saunders is a pretty boring character.  It’s as if the show’s producers and writers were so proud of creating a professional woman that they didn’t notice that they neglected to give her a personality.

Finally, the President is just some boring old white guy.  What’s up with that?

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

I was tempted to say that, like the family in Hostages, I would totally freak out if a bunch of people appeared in the house, pointed their guns at me, and announced that they were holding me hostage.  However, it then occurred to me that nobody in Hostages really freaked out about being held hostage.  They were certainly annoyed and occasionally, they even attempted to be defiant.  But they never really freaked out.

Nor could I really see much of myself in the character of Ellen Saunders or her daughter.  Since neither one of them came across as being anything more than a two-dimensional plot device, neither one of them was capable of inspiring any “just like me” moments.

I tried to relate to Sandrine Holt, who plays Maria, the only female hostage taker.  However, Maria spent most of the episode carrying around a gun and, while I’m totally into the 2nd amendment, I’m not really into guns.

Then I remembered that, early on in the episode, Ellen’s daughter talks to her best friend.  The friend takes one look at her and says, “Your eyes are puffy,” which is the exact same thing that I would say if one of my friends had puffy eyes.

So, that was my “Oh my God!  Just like me!” moment.

Lessons Learned

Sometimes, commercials don’t lie.