Monday, July 29, 2013

Get Out Alive With Bear Grylls "The Mountain Will Give You Strength" Review

Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls isn't a surprising series. The obstacle, food, shelter routine results in repeats. Teams that do well each week continue to do well while teams that don't continue to not perform well. The successful teams get frustrated. The less successful teams hang their heads and hope no one notices their hung head or their poor performance. Bear continues to give the teams disgusting survival food such as maggots and worms that don't reluctantly eat. One team enjoys the feast pit for winning the survival test each episode. The feast pit is now so uninteresting to watch that I didn't even notice it this week (or maybe the editor decided not to show it). The one surprising aspect of the series thus far has been the shocking non-elimination of Robin and Wilson every single week.

Robin and Wilson would've drowned in an actual survival situation in last week's episode, but Bear kept them around because he didn't like Alicia's attitude. The one team that wouldn't get out alive survived elimination because they smiled and ate their food like they were told. Robin's effort in "The Mountain Will Give You Strength" is admirable--she even gets an aside in which she details her personal battle against obesity and how her trip up the waterfall is a sign she's fighting and fighting. Wilson just lags behind and doesn't get an aside explaining why he's struggling; he's a middle aged man who probably tired after a long's day journey. Bear's been lenient on effort and positive will-power, though he acknowledges Wilson's dragging others down. Jeff and his partner basically blamed Wilson for losing the survival test. I haven't figured out Bear's evaluations yet.

Mama Donna and Canden went home this week mostly because of Mama Donna's struggles mentally and physically. The duck eggs seemed to crush poor Mama Donna. Bear didn't think her daughter could keep her mother going and so he sent them packing. Mama Donna seemed to struggle as much as Wilson throughout the obstacles and subsequent hike to camp. Mama Donna and Canden, at least, boiled the eggs. Sure, they didn't eat the boiled duckling inside the egg, but the editing suggested Robin and Wilson stood by and watched Austin and Jim figure out shelter. I don't think Wilson spoke more than seven sentences in the entire episode, whereas Mama Donna seemed to undergo the same sort of thing Alicia experienced in last week's episode, or Esmerelda before Alicia.

Bear repeats, "the wild is revealing," at every elimination round. I would like it if Bear threw in a reference to Charles Darwin since Get Out Alive is sort of like watching the survival of the fittest. I mean, it's a stretch for me to write considering the continued survival of Wilson and Robin, but those who get down in the wild and feel hopeless, helpless and sad, feel that way because of the wild. I wonder about an alternate version of Get Out Alive wherein Bear follows ten teams as they try to live like Henry David Thoreau did at Walden pond, which would transform Get Out Alive into a sort of commentary about preserving nature. I don't know.

Get Out Alive's also developed this trend of showing women breaking down and losing their whatever-you-want-to-call-it. I don't trust the editing at all. I think viewers are getting 20%-30% of what actually happened (though it is probably LESS). Bear's eliminated the last three teams because a woman can't keep it together. Meanwhile, the men's edit are great. They're eating ducklings, maggots, carrying two heavy bags--you know, just being MEN. It could be a coincidence that the last three teams (heck, the first team eliminated had TWO women) had women struggling with her situation. I don't know what it means or if it means anything. I'm just observing a developing trend. Madeline and Louie done well since the beginning of the series, though.

Amazingly, though, after four episodes, Robin and Wilson continue to play for the big money. I'm going to start rooting for them because I never expected them to get this far. Through four episodes, I think Jeff and his partner are the favorites.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls "Leave No Man Behind" Review

Bear Grylls stressed mental strength in the third episode of Get Out Alive. Alicia and Spencer were sent home because they ran out of cheerfulness. Nearly every other team turned on them. I wrote about mental strength vs physical strength in last week's review because I felt sad about Esmerelda's departure--she was basically catatonic this week. Anyway, Get Out Alive does follow teams trying to survive in the wild by following Bear's set of instructions. Bear emphasizes physical and mental well-being. Teams usually follow Bear's instructions somewhat poorly. Physical well-being and mental fortitude have been, by episode three, dwarfed by the primitive behavior. I'm referring to ancient times when the first man beat his neighbor with a stick, or something.

Alicia had a rough episode. Her and her partner, Spencer, blew the survival test challenge. Alicia barely ate the grub given to her by Bear. Other teams accused Alicia and Spencer of standing around doing nothing while they were active in collecting wood for the shelter. At Bear's elimination party, Louie and Other Guy called Alicia out, causing her to cry, and then I felt sad, too, because I didn't like watching Alicia cry. Spencer described the series as a competition. Indeed, Get Out Alive is a competition. Bear sends a team home each week. I liked deluding myself into thinking Get Out Alive would emphasize the togetherness of the experience; the idea that it's important for people to support each other or else they'd all die--a "Live Together, Die Alone" philosophy. Alas, Get Out Alive continues as a rather generic series.

Bear Grylls is the consistent strength of the episode. The best part of "Leave No Man Behind" is when he rescued Wilson and his wife from the water. Bear instructed them on breathing techniques, keeping calm, while everyone else looked on from shore. Bear possesses admirable mental strength. Part of the journey for the teams may be to reaching the place Bear reached when he's alone, except for a camera crew and production team, and his situation looks hopeless. Bear doesn't like the frivolity of the group during the waterfall challenges or that Robin and Wilson almost drown or that Jeff hurts his knee because Ryan overlooked the dangers of plunging into the water below. I often think, "I'd prefer to watch Man Vs. Wild" during Bear's heroic moments on Get Out Alive.

Bear's judging remains confusing. I'm confused because the title of series suggests any team that would've died without Bear around to save them should probably lead to elimination; however, Robin and Wilson don't go home. Robin and Wilson don't throw Madeline and Ryan under the SEPTA bus, which counts for something. Spencer and Alicia didn't pull a Dawson's Creek on any teams either. The editing of reality TV makes it hard to figure out what actually went on. Another complaint of mine concerns how little time is given to the personalities of the team. I still don't remember names. Robin and Wilson are solid competitors when not in danger of drowning, though. Some team members insult Wilson behind his back, but he seems like a decent fellow, follows orders, and does what he can. Alicia and Spencer freak the heck out after losing the survival test. Spencer looked like Freddie Freeman when he threw his make-shift paddle into the water. In the end, positivity overcame negativity. It always does. I'll miss Alicia, as well as Spencer's beard.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls "Living on the Edge" Review

Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls' second episode is exactly like the first episode. The teams don't compete in the valley. Instead, Bear challenges the team to climb a mountain, trek across the summit, find food below, set fire, and then make slingshots in the survival challenge. The challenges continue to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of each team. Personalities are revealed through the challenges, which was welcomed. Last week's premiere boxed the teams into one-dimensional archetypes. Yes, some team members had sad stories, but the editing did not make any one much more than a sad story. Bear watches from afar, ever the Prospero.

Mountain episodes of Man Vs. Wild were usually entertaining because Bear can climb any mountain range. I think he's climbed Everest twice. Bear makes the act of climbing look ridiculously easy. The teams learn that climbing is not ridiculously easy, though the heights they must climb don't appear too daunting. A helicopter brings the teams to the starting point. The teams climb. Some people are slower than the others. Esmeralda continued to struggle. Tolerance and support from other people isn't widespread. Most are quick to tear down someone rather than help, say, Esmeralda, through her struggles. Conflict is what reality television feeds on. It's better for the product if Canden insults her mother in front of the entire group or if Esmeralda’s called out for being slow and 'mentally weak' as Madeline and Spencer accused her of being.

Esmeralda and Domenick are sent home by Bear at episode's end. Esmeralda never pulled herself together after vomiting last week. I rooted for Esmeralda and Domenick through tonight's episode. Esmerdela looked achingly sad. I felt sad watching her. She's barely looking at the camera during the asides. Perhaps her dark eyeliner made her look sadder than she was. Bear drew her attention, and she apologized for her trance-like state. The challenges revealed how unprepared the girl is for the wild, but the challenges also revealed the strength of her relationship with Domenick. Domenick didn't berate her during her struggles, which is what every male from MTV's The Challenge would do to a female partner. Bear commended Domenick for what he showed during the challenges in supporting the woman he loves, calling him a rock. Get Out Alive focuses on the survival element. If you fall behind, don't listen to instructions, then you'd die in the survival. I liked that Domenick was with Esmeralda until the end, unwavering in his love for her.

The humanity of "Living on the Edge" is the most engaging element of the episode. The challenges aren't interesting. The post-production team seemingly agreed--the challenges are edited horribly. One can't get a sense of the distance the teams travel, except for a map which looks unreliable. Anyway, mountain climbing and mountain trekking takes a toll on Mama Donna. She struggles to keep up with the group. Canden, her daughter, attacks her rather than help her. Alicia tells Spencer that she could cry listening to how Canden talks to her mom. The audience is reminded of Alicia's mother's chances of not walking again. At camp, Alicia sits with Mama Donna to tell her she'd feel sad if Bear sent Mama Donna and Canden home. Donna's support helps Alicia. Their conversation is cut to a few seconds in the episode. Get Out Alive would be aided by more time spent between individuals, focusing on the important mental aspect of survival. Bear barely settled down in Man Vs. Wild, but Survivorman Les Stroud would give himself a boost playing his harmonica and looking at the stars.

Bear stresses the importance of following his directions. Teams need to accomplish their tasks, eat what he advises them to eat, and help each other; however, the feast pit affects the set-up of the series. The object of the game is to survive until the end. The teams learn what it takes to survive on a daily basis. Any one lost in a forest somewhere in the world right now does not have the luxury of winning a game and enjoying a feast pit. The feast pit is a refuge from the game, an equivalent of Stroud's harmonica. The feast pit bolsters a team's morale, and the mental and physical energy of the team. Get Out Alive includes the feast pit because it's a game show. The best team should be rewarded. Sending the teams into the wild on a Survivorman-like test of survival would not work on television, or it'd resemble Survivor. (Yeah, it'd resemble Survivor).

Of course, Bear is the Prospero of the South Isle of New Zealand. If teams don't follow his instructions, he'll eliminate those teams one by one. Bear used to stress the importance of keeping the mind in a healthy place during a survival mission, but those that make someone else feel worse for awhile tend to last in the game more than someone like Domenick, who was a rock of love and support. I realize Bear ultimately decides on whether a team would die in the wild, but the feast pit is a reminder that it's all a game. Bear's insistence on the physical element of survival coincides well with the more primitive view of nature, i.e. that it's an unfeeling beast that'll take you from this planet at any second, and if you don't take care of your body then your body will not take care of you. The body will die regardless of the mind's strength.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Camp "Pilot" Review

I'm flipping through the Xfinity guide last night and see NBC's Camp scheduled for 10pm EST on Wednesday. Immediately, I'm annoyed. Why couldn't NBC run a half-hour series at the 10pm spot? I'm selfish, though. Anyway, NBC spins Camp as a comedy-drama, but Camp's essentially a comedy with heartfelt moments. It's like a mid-90s summer film such as Camp Nowhere or Bushwhacked; or perhaps it's like the 1980s classic, Meatballs, which stars Bill Murray.

Camp does not star Bill Murray, but Rachel Griffiths stars as the owner of Little Otter Family Camp. Her character's name is Mack. Her marriage recently ended. The rich folk across the lake want to buy out Little Otter for purposes of expansion. Mack's an enthusiastic counselor, a loving mother, but she's lost after her marriage. The camp's falling apart around her. Speakers are busted and can't be used for the talent show. Her son's rapidly maturing, preferring to bunk with his peers rather than her as he quests to get to third base or beyond with a girl before summer's end. Negotiating sessions with the owner of Richfield, which is the rich camp across the lake, ends in hate sex. Mack's a mess, but she's an entertaining kind of mess. Camp's tone is light and fun. The darkest moments of the "Pilot" are optimistic, if that makes sense.

The main teenage male character, a youth who does not want to be at the camp as a counselor until a pretty girl hangs out with him, punches out one of the rich youths from across the lake. The rich youth made a rather obscene comment about his new lady friend and the Popsicle in her mouth. Mack brought the main teenage male character into her office wherein she stressed the importance of protecting him from harm, but this guy explains that if he didn't punch out the dude he'd set the course for the rest of his life. Somewhere in there the audience learns that he survived lymphoma. I don't remember any character's name besides Mack. I don't take notes for review, because I'm a wild dude. The main teenage male character's bit of back story is inspirational in the context of the scene. He's overcome cancer, and now he's overcoming fears, timidity. He's found courage (and that coincides with his new lady friend, another character whose name I forget).

Summer's an optimistic season. People are happy in the summer. The sun shines every day. The days are warm. Summer camp offers a respite from the daily grind of living. Camp's characters are happy, optimistic, bright-eyed and free. The counselors get together to steal speakers from Richfield for Mack's sake. Mack's teenage's son's offensive use of 'faggy' leads to self-awareness and ownership of his mistake. The kid's seemingly not motivated by the thought of hooking up with the offended girl but is instead motivated by the thought of thinking decently. The outcast girl isn't deeply wounded by rejection from a group of girls. She just shrugs and finds other people.

Camp's a fun way to spend a hour on Wednesday nights. The storytelling's breezy and light like a good day at the beach. One can relax during the show and not think deeply about character motivation or the meaning of the story. The writing's witty. The pacing's great. Scenes move. There's never stagnation. The beats are short and effective. I liked the more bizarre parts of the "Pilot," such as the attractive counselor getting hit in the head while swimming by her favorite author/director/screenwriter just as she's hooked up with the guy who makes puppy faces at her whenever she walks into a room. The war between the camps has been seen before in other shows with camp. Camp episodes, or series, do two things. One depicts a dictatorship, as in "Kamp Krusty" or Heavyweights, while others show the possibilities and promise of summer camp.

The setting is lovely to look at--Australia's a beautiful country. Camp shot in Australia because it's cheaper to film in other countries. The actors and actresses are Australian. The American accents are decent. Everyone involved looks like they're having a marvelous time on set. The show is fun. Characters hang out under the stars, smoking and drinking. Nothing is impossible to overcome at Little Otter Family Camp, and that's nice to see once in awhile.

Other Thoughts:

-My favorite summer camp series aired over a decade ago on the Disney channel. Does anyone else remember Bug Juice? I never attended overnight summer camp as a child. My camps were at the local playgrounds for most of the day. Pre-teen Chris lived vicariously through the adventures of the Bug Juice campers. I’d watch the series with my older sister late at night. Disney used to re-run episodes from 2am-4am. The Bug Juice campers worked together on activities and on friendships with each other. I liked the community atmosphere of the campers.

NBC’s Camp isn’t comparable to Bug Juice. Camp’s a scripted comedy, and Bug Juice was reality television. Camp’s similar to Adventureland.

-Next week’s episode promises capture the flag fun. I haven’t seen capture the flag in mainstream television for years, maybe not since Bug Juice or Wild n’ Crazy Kids. Any series that follows its “Pilot” with a game of Capture the Flag deserves another viewing.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Twisted "The Fest and the Furious" Review

Ever wonder what a random blogger thinks about your favorite show? Well, wonder no more. During the slow summer months, I'll tune into random shows and write about them. This continues with ABC Family's Twisted, a series most notable for the ABC Family's intense narrator during the promos ("FRIENDSHIPS WILL BE TESTED!").

I don't care that Denise Richard's character threw the important necklace into the water. I don't care that Danny's the pariah of the town, that he divides not only the town but the family of the police chief, or that he cuts a banana using a comically large knife. I tuned in for the Fall Fest. Mayor Rollins correctly stated the importance of the fest for the town and for the state of New York. I would not have tuned in without the fall fest setting. Twisted's concept seems similar to Pretty Little Liars, but it's also a YA version of Rectify. Sundance's Rectify focused on a man freed from death row who returns to his home town where the townspeople are not convinced he's innocent. Rectify is haunting, meditative, melancholic, spiritual, whereas Twisted is, uh, not.

The mystery and tension of Twisted isn't gripping. Of course, I haven't watched the previous four episodes of the series. Twisted mixes in a few teen dramas from past years. The teaser resembles early Veronica Mars when Lily Kane would show up to haunt Veronica while also revealing possibly helpful clues about who murdered her. Fall fest reminded me of pretty much any early WB teen drama. Dawson's Creek had some kind of fest every season; Everwood's second episode had the Fall Thaw. Twisted's relationship drama between teenage characters resembles pretty much any relationship drama between teenage characters. This series is sort of comforting and nostalgic. I watched "The Fest and the Furious" because I wanted to be taken back to a simpler time in my TV watching, to those days when I thought teenage dramas were life's answer.

Festivals in any TV series, particularly early in the series, are smart to do because the important characters come together. For small town dramas like Dawson's Creek, Everwood, Hart of Dixie, etc., early festival episodes help define the town's identity. The identity of the town in Dawson's Creek, Everwood, and Hart of Dixie is immensely important. When Dr. Brown talks to his deceased wife in the middle of the fall thaw, it has an affect on not only the town's personal perception of him but his professional, as he works as the town's doctor, competing with Dr. Abbott for business. Twisted's Fall Festival further defines the town's relationship with Danny, the suspected murderer of Regina. Since the mayor refers to the fest as the most important event for the town, the police chief character feels more pressure to tie Danny to the crime, to do his job, as the rest of the town looks down on him for gathering basically nothing incriminating after weeks of investigation.

Danny's presence at the fall fest affects the police chief, the townspeople, and even parents. Drama leads to more drama as characters are confronted about Danny or confront Danny. The rebellious Jo agrees to help the mathletes sell pies, but her mathlete friend is upset to see Danny helping out because he likes Jo. Jo likes Danny, though. Danny likes Laci, and Laci likes Danny; however, Laci feels guilty hooking up with Danny because of her dead friend (I think). A bearded nut pushes Danny into the pie table, ruining the pie sale, which forces the police chief's hand. The police chief can't gather incriminating evidence, which bites him in the behind when he and his wife discuss Jo's time at the fall fest formal. Personal shortcoming, prejudices, feelings for other people, physical displays of affection, and so on, are brought out by the fall fest. It's great for it's what should happen at a fictional small town fest in a teenage drama. I couldn't be happier with all the nonsense that unfolded because of the fall fest.

Maddie Hasson and Avon Jogia have natural chemistry. Their scenes together were the hightlights of the episode. They were natural. Maddie Hasson has that angsty teenage look nailed (probably because she is a teenager). The suspicion against Danny seems flimsy, but I've not seen more than this episode. I read random message boards and recaps in prep to write about the series. A poster on TWoP wrote a long post regarding Danny as a sociopath. This episode had a scene in which Denise Richards finds out what the signs of a sociopath are, and I didn't see the connection between what Richards heard and what we saw from Danny. He tries to obey Jo's father's request to not attend the dance and he also leaves the fall fest early. Of course, please recall my apathy towards the mystery and suspension so vital to the series.

Twisted executed the other elements really well. It's not terribly hard to drop in on an episode and follow the story, as well as the characters personal arcs. I went into the episode hoping for nonsense teenage drama and that's what I got.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls "The Wild is Revealing" Review

Discovery and Bear Grylls parted ways a little less than two years ago. The final Man Vs. Wild episode aired November 29, 2011. Man Vs. Wild was Discovery's more exciting program of survival experts tasked with surviving in exotic places for a week. Les Stroud's series was consistently better. Any one who wanted to learn how to actually survive in the wild watched Survivorman; any one who wanted to see possibly crazy stuff watched Man Vs. Wild. Bear Grylls would skydive, swim in artic waters, eat ANYTHING he could find, climb rockfaces, make a toboggan out of the carcass of a wolf in Siberia, and so on. I wrote about the last two or three seasons of Man Vs. Wild out of delight for the things he'd do to survive. People are quick to remind any fan that Bear Grylls staged his stunts and stayed in hotels during an episode's shooting, but those facts didn't affect my enjoyment of the series.

Bear Grylls and his crew shot a number of episodes in New Zealand, which is where his newest reality series, Get Out Alive, is shot (specifically in New Zealand's South Island). The landscape is stunning, and the challenges are typical Man Vs. Wild challenges. Get Out Alive brings together ten teams to compete and survive. The teams are broken up into three units--for fire, shelter, and obstacle. Bear Grylls watches from random places like he's the Prospero of this land, and he basically is the Prospero of the show. He's responsible for everything. He plans the challenges, evaluates the performances of the teams, and then eliminates the weakest team at episode's end. The teams consist of parent/child, couples, and best friends. Each team member has his or her own special source of motivation. Almost all of the team members experienced personal tragedy. Some are fighting for themselves or for a loved one that dealt with cancer, a cataclysmic fall down the stairs, and the motivations are all relatable and worthwhile to hear.

The team members, though they stand out with their own personal stories for a few seconds, still become looped together. Reality TV shows transforms complicated and complex human beings into easily digestible archetypes so that families at home can instantly connect with player x, which is fine, I guess, for a summer reality TV series. "The Wild is Revealing" has jarring transitions to a team member's personal story. The former Miss Alabama's story of her car accident and near paralysis is brought about by the night's supper--a deer. She hit a deer, and she overcame the accident to win a beauty queen pageant and, now, compete on a nationally televised reality TV series. Bear Grylls reveals the prize money amount. The episode cuts to a few asides in which the teams explain why the money would matter to them. Their reasons invariably involve something sad that further connects the audience with the team member so that when team x wins the audience feels as happy and satisfied, and even fulfilled, as the winner.

"The Wild is Revealing" doesn't reveal much about the teams. The revealing parts are in the asides, but the wild reveals basically nothing about the teams. The challenges are Man Vs. Wild lite. The teams need to find dinner, cross a glacial river, set up shelter, start a fire, drink urine, skin a deer, and help each other out. Get Out Alive is like one of the Man Vs. Wild episodes wherein Bear brought in a celebrity or viewers to survive with him in a jungle or a desert or somewhere in Scandinavia. Bear watered down the challenges, which hurt the episode. Anything with Bear Grylls hinges on his insane challenges, e.g. crossing a waterfall using a tree branch. The action in this episode is slow. Barely anything interesting happens. The hypothermia scare is given less than two and a half minutes on screen because there's too much left to do. The glut of teams affects the development of a solid narrative, besides the 'let's not get sent home' narrative.

The teams don't really bond in the premiere. Man Vs. Wild had beautifully meditative moments halfway through an episode, after Bear made camp and built his fire where he'd sit and think and take in the beauty around him. One team member comments on the beauty of their surrounding. Bear made it clear in the opening of the episode that teams needed to help each other. Another team member thinks everyone will become best friends through the journey. The series is caught up in the generic reality formula. Teams fight for survival. The editing moves from challenge to challenge without pausing to reflect with the characters as they reflect on how they got there with everyone else. The episode connects the audience with the teams, but the teams don't connect with each other, and that's important for a survival series. Les Stroud played his harmonica and thought about his family at night, and Bear thought about his family. I wanted consistent heart instead of spurts in the asides that fade and are forgotten as folk drink urine or bicker about not preserving the meat.

Get Out Alive is disappointing. Bear Grylls as host isn't as fun as Bear Grylls as star. Bear's brand of survival will reach new eyes and ears, so his survival tips won't be repetitive for those folk; however, I've watched a great deal of Man Vs. Wild. Get Out Alive is just like an episode of the show, but it lacks Man Vs. Wild's fun and excitement. Bear is a charming and honest host, though. He's great when he's eliminating a team, and he's great when he's offering constructive criticism to the team. My favorite bit was Bear's "Don't jump into glacial waters without removing your only set of clothes because you might die" to the guy who jumped into the water with his only set of clothes. The father/son team did the best in this episode; they seemed like the only team that gave a damn about what they were doing.
Out Out Alive essentially is Man Vs. Wild in a new format.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Scattered Thoughts about Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing

I watched Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing over a week ago and didn't write a review, so I wrote scattered thoughts about it instead because I admire both Joss and William Shakespeare.

-The story about Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing production can found anywhere on the internet. Whedon got his friends together, some cameras, and filmed a wonderful adaptation of one of William Shakespeare's better comedies. Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing stood as thee adaptation of the play, in my opinion. His Benedick and Emma Thompson's Beatrice are wonderfully portrayed; however, as captivating and engaging as the lead performances, other aspects of his adaptation suffer. Claudio and Hero are among Shakespeare's least interesting characters, and Don John's a poorly written villain with little to motivate him other than the playwright's awareness that he needs a bastard brother to stir drama up in the middle of the play so that frivolity, merriment and dance may end the play. I had no doubts about Whedon's Benedick and Beatrice. Whereas Claudio and Hero rank among the weakest characters Shakespeare wrote, Benedick and Beatrice rank among the best. Beatrice and Rosalind are my two favorite female characters, and Benedick's one of my favorite male characters. The success of any Much Ado About Nothing adaptation hinges on the performances of the leads. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof were spell-binding in the roles, which is what I completely expected.

Fran Kranz is a favorite of mine since his performance as Topher on Dollhouse, so I watched his Claudio carefully in hopes he'd find some life and bite to the character. Ditto for Jillian Morghese, excluding the bit about Dollhouse since she wasn't in Dollhouse. Kranz added life and bite to the character that isn't quite on the page. Much Ado can be a problematic text to adapt 400 years after Shakespeare wrote it--I'm basically thinking about the dramatic wedding scene in Act III when Claudio lays into Hero because he thinks she's been with another man the night before. I've seen Claudio played as a total dick in that scene, but Kranz brought relatable humanity to the scene. Modern audiences will turn on a character that publicly humiliates a female character for being unchaste, for not being a virgin. Kranz' Claudio seems more hurt by the thought she slept with another man the previous night than by the thought that he'd marry a non-virgin. The staging that makes the scene is when Hero faints and Claudio makes a move to go to her, but Don Pedro leads him away. Claudio walks away like an asshole in the play, but Whedon and Kranz brought new feeling to the character in what's usually the cruelest part of the play. The wedding scene's the only scene that matters for the characters, really, and because of that staging, and the earnest performances of Kranz and Morghese, I think of it fondly.

-The most entertaining duo of the play, besides Benedick and Beatrice, are Dogberry and Verges. Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk were hilarious in the roles of Dogberry and Verges, respectively. Whedon's adaptation doesn't dig into the idea behind Dogberry's buffoonery. Much Ado is populated by high-born characters with a ridiculous command of the english language, and these characters are completely obsessed with themselves and with each other--they are a collection of Narcissists looking into the water before falling in and drowning. Dogberry's an ass; his command of the language is terrible; he botches interrogations, but he figures out Don John's responsible before any other character considers the bastard. Dogberry provides laughs just when the play could be confused for a tragedy. Shakespeare's comically incompetent characters are usually the wisest in the play (though I'm partial to the Friar as the wisest in Much Ado About Nothing).

-The home of Joss and Kai Whedon is a splendid place to film. Much Ado is filled with beautiful shots and scenes. The early morning pool scene in which Don John plants the seeds of nonsense into Claudio's brain about Hero comes to mind; the outdoor staircase made use of in Benedick's soliloquy about Beatrice. The masquerade party in the back yard had the most sustained beauty of any scene in the play, excluding Amy Acker's presence because she is the most beautiful person in the film. Joss Whedon's composition and arrangement of "Sigh No More" was an unexpected pleasure to hear during that party scene. Once I heard the music strike up, I knew the camera would find Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancheron. Much Ado About Nothing would've been a splendid picture without prior knowledge of Shakespeare because of the involvement of some of my favorite actors and creative types in the world. The Whedonverse gave me so much joy and pleasure over the years. I adored seeing Denisof and Acker play characters whose relationship ended happily. Fans of ANGEL were waiting for that stunning closing shot of Alexis and Amy for over a decade.

About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.