Thursday, July 29, 2010

Laura Linney! The Big C! Watch It Now!

As you may know, Laura Linney, a.k.a. my very favorite actress in all the land, is starring on a Showtime series called The Big C as a woman with terminal cancer who decides to live free and easy. Or something. The concept seems both well-worn and yet undefined, which results in a TV show that feels like it hasn't quite come together yet...but there are a lot of places it can go once it does. Of course, that it's all centered around Laura Linney is all the better, since she hits the ground running with a character who fits right into her wheelhouse. Whatever's on the page comes across funnier and more emotional with Linney giving the performance.

How do I know if it doesn't premiere until August 16th? Oh, Showtime is streaming the premiere online (albeit edited for broadcast-cable standards -- gotta order Showtime to hear the swears!).

Check it out here at HitFix, and I will hopefully return later for more in-depth thoughts.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Trailer Trash: Here Comes the Fall

I haven't done one of these posts in a while, but now that the clips for the crop of fall (i.e. good) movies are coming out rapid-fire, I'm psyched to dive back in again:

You know, I had just gotten over my combination Stockholm Syndrome/Lucy Van Pelt thing with M. Night Shyamalan. By all rights, The Village should have been it for me, but only with The Last Airbender did I finally learn my lesson and just stayed away. Devil is only produced (and based on a story) by Shyamalan, which I guess is enough for me to fool myself into thinking that yet another promising-looking Shyamalan trailer is going to turn out okay. But come on, who could resist such a simple premise: five people stuck in an elevator, one of whom is apparently the devil. Sounds like it's worth a look, right?

Going the Distance
So...I've gone through my whole "I like Justin Long and fuck all y'all" spiel, right? And the "I kinda like Drew Barrymore most of the time and I don't want to hear it" spiel? Okay, well: those two. I am forever on the hunt for a good romantic comedy, and I've had quite a dry spell. Other reasons to hope that this is elevated beyond the usual dreck: 1) Director Nanette Burstein helmed the teen doc American Teen, which I loved (I still love you, Mitch Reinholt!); 2) Christina Applegate, Charlie Day, Jim Gaffigan, Kelli Garner, and Jason Sudekis in the supporting cast. It's tough to tell whether a rom-com trailer is successful. Basically, you want it to sell the chemistry of the leads (check) and not give away all the best parts (remains to be seen, though that Gaffigan-at-the-table reveal is going to be hard to top). I'm in, y'all. I saw Leap Year -- I need a success this year.

The Social Network
This one had all the internet abuzz two weeks ago, and with good reason. From the initial audio-snippets-only teaser to this clip featuring that choral version of Radiohead's "Creep," the promotional campaign for this movie has been full of creativity, energy, and the swagger of a movie that aspires to be an event. And for a movie that's an action free tale of, essentially, the behind-the-screens squabbles of a web site, that takes some balls. Fortunately, I have faith that David Fincher has those balls. From the looks of the trailer, the film boasts the kind of swagger only possessed by Ivy League douches making fists full of cash. You can sense that, beyond the nuts and bolts of the story, Fincher (and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin) are out to tell a story of American ambition and the tyranny of the Ivy League douche. I don't entirely trust Sorkin on this front, which is keeping me somewhat reticent, but at worst, this movie ends up being the evolutionary Shattered Glass, delivered with more visual panache, Jesse Eisenberg playing against type, Andrew Garfield continuing his breakout year, and Justin Timberlake returning to his unfortunate N Sync hair in service to an auteur. Sign me the hell up.

The Adjustment Bureau
Had I not been in Union Square one day when they were filming this movie, it'd have likely slid off my radar entirely. Have you all been hearing a lot about this and keeping it from me? Anyway, the director is kind of a wild card -- he wrote The Bourne Ultimatum (good) and Ocean's Twelve (not good, but that wasn't the script's fault) but this is his directorial debut -- and Phillip K. Dick adaptations have been hit and miss, but this trailer has me excited. It's something of a risky proposition to hang a sci-fi pic on a romantic storyline (even Christopher Nolan didn't lean as heavily on DiCaprio/Cotillard in Inception), but even in a short trailer, I'm buying Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. Add to that a few tantalizing glimpses of Terrence Stamp and John Slattery as fedora-clad observers (kind of like less creepy Dark City people), plus that score from Sunshine that I finally nailed down, and I've got a brand new movie to obsess about ... until March, which is when it's been pushed back to. Probably good strategy (the buzz is clearly elsewhere this year), but still: DAMN IT.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


It only took for half the summer to be over before we got to the 2010 movies worth talking about. Even the failures were either two middle-of-the-road to be worth yakking about (Iron Man 2; Alice in Wonderland) or too awful to contemplate watching even for the A/C (The Prince of Persia, Twilight, The Karate Kid, Grown Ups, The Last Airbender, Robin Hood, Get Him to the Greek, and on and on). But now that we've finally reached the portion of the year where we're allowed to see good movies again, it's no surprise everybody is hopping all over themselves to talk about...

I can't fairly say where it's going to settle on my lists quite yet, and I'm not about to take any sides in the Great or Hate Debate. It's interesting, I definitely see many of the gripes I've seen crop up in the select negative reviews. Well, maybe not all of them -- I can't cosign the complaints that the dreamworlds weren't surreal enough, both because I feel like it made sense within the world of the film (these specific dreams were created by architects for the expressed purpose of being navigable) and because I think I've seen enough of the Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds school of dream rendering at this point (isn't that what we all hated about The Lovely Bones, after all?). It seems to me that dreams -- most of the dreams I can remember -- are more like familiar scenarios that seem real enough ... except for all the ways they're not. A stairway that keeps ascending. A rainstorm that splashes against the backdrop of an indoor bar. Familiar faces where they don't belong. Everybody's looking at you. I thought Inception got that right.

I will, however, agree with the complaints that certain characters weren't drawn richly enough. It seems like Nolan gave a lot of thought to his lead (DiCaprio) and the minor players (Ken Watanabe; Cillian Murphy), but he could have given a lot more attention to Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page. (Incidentally, Tom Hardy's is the one character we get to know exactly the right amount given his role in the movie; we get just enough to know he's a competent forger, a bit cocky, and in possession of a scorching sexual chemistry with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.) We spend so much time with Page's Ariadne* -- as her name suggests, she's our anchor (our TOTEM, even!), providing a thread for us to follow when DiCaprio's Cobb gets too lost in the dreamworld. The problem is, she's pretty much just that, without a whole lot of insight into why she's doing what she's doing. Her biggest bit of characterization -- she's spooked by the dreambuilding process but returns to it because, thereafter, the lure of building her own reality became too strong -- is delivered by DiCaprio in her absence.

I also kept wondering why Page was the only character who cared about Cobb's incredibly obvious psychological issues. Gordon-Levitt obviously sees them and acknowledges them. It felt like a shortchanging, then, to have him basically cede the entirety of caring about it to Page. You'd think he'd take more of an active role in helping Cobb get his shit together, what with Cobb hauling Marion Cotillard into every dreamscape to shoot JGL in the leg. It's not like his character had anything else to occupy his time, either.

That said, I really can't see myself lingering on the elements I found wanting when so much of it felt so impressive and satisfying. As a pure action blockbuster, it goes without saying that it towers over this summer's offerings. And while Descartes may not have much to worry about in terms of it reinventing our perceptions of reality, Nolan deals with such concepts in a way that feels respectful of his audience's intelligence without feeling needlessly dense. For a movie that goes four levels deep into a nested dreamscape, it retains its structure so well. The forever-falling car of the first dream layer almost becomes a totem of its own. Gordon-Levitt floating through hotel corridors trying to manufacture gravity is a minor masterpiece in itself. Not to mention the fact that a film that deals with both dreams where you don't know if you're dreaming AND a character who is basically a face-dancer never once uses those elements to cheat the audience.

Yes, the score could be oppressive (though I found the urgency rather thrilling). Yes, the MacGuffin was rather low-stakes. But I can't think of a movie this year that has delivered with stakes this high. That kept me riveted through the prisms of action, spectacle, ideas, narrative. There are a lot of things this movie is not, but as a top-notch heist movie within the dream of reasonably rigorous sci-fi within the dream of a mainstream-targeted blockbuster, it's incredibly satisfying.

To create dreamscapes in which every action, decision, and thought feels vital and important (how many times did the turn of a head signal something big?) is an accomplishment in any season. In this sorry-ass summer, I'm not surprised some took it as miraculous. That's it's not quite is far from a disaster.

*So, yeah, Ariadne. It's an obvious but not insurmountable quirk. But it does play into the "Is it or isn't it?" conclusion of the film. There's going to be a temptation to use that ending to gloss over any number of flaws, particularly the thinness of character that I mentioned above. In my opinion, it's no excuse. If that ending is to work the way it should, it needs to be just as plausible that we're out of the dream as it is that we're still in it. So stop that, apologist people.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hottie Birthday

My lovely friend Jason turns 23 today, and I totally forgot to get him anything. Like a jerk of a person! In order to make it up to him, I decided to deliver a post full of many of the reasons we became friends in the first place: pics of hot guys! Sure, My New Plaid Pants is funny and insightful and shamelessly obsessive, but if I'm being honest, I knew we'd be friends when I saw he shared my affinity for rando hot guys like Mike Vogel and Charlie Hunnam. Ours is a bond forged in man-nipples.

So here's to you, friend! Never stop being a total perv.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Emmy Nomination Reactions

(Thanks to Gawker for the list.)

Emmy nominations were announced this morning! Technically, I'm on vacation, but I had to get on here and see how I did in my predictions!

"Breaking Bad" (AMC)
"Dexter" (Showtime)
"The Good Wife" (CBS)
"Lost" (ABC)
"Mad Men" (AMC)
"True Blood" (HBO)

How'd I Do? 5/6, missing True Blood for House. In my defense, this is a pretty WTF nomination, as you don't see True Blood reflected in any of the other categories.

How'd They Do? Pretty much as predicted; can't really complain when the twin AMC giants are there.

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO)
"Glee" (Fox)
"Modern Family" (ABC)
"Nurse Jackie" (Showtime)
"The Office" (NBC)
"30 Rock" (NBC)

How'd I Do? 5/6 -- though I had "Nurse Jackie" just on the cusp. I'm slightly shocked that it was "The Big Bang Theory" that fell off, though. With the exception of "The Good Wife," it was not a great morning for CBS.

How'd They Do? Well, they nominated the wrong two NBC comedies, and snubbed brilliant work from "United States of Tara," "Party Down," "Cougar Town," et cetera. But within the parameters of what was likely, they didn't nominate "Entourage." That's progress.

Jim Parsons - "Big Bang Theory"
Larry David - "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
Matthew Morrison - "Glee"
Tony Shalhoub - "Monk"
Steve Carell - "The Office"
Alec Baldwin - "30 Rock"

How'd I Do? 5/6, missing Matthew Morrison for Charlie Sheen. I wouldn't have necessarily put Matthew on my list, but this still seems like an upgrade.

How'd They Do? I don't know whether to groan or snore at ANOTHER Shalhoub nomination. I had started to doubt by prediction of a Joel McHale snub in the last few days, and I'm disappointed to see my first instinct was correct.

Bryan Cranston - "Breaking Bad"
Michael C. Hall - "Dexter"
Kyle Chandler = "Friday Night Lights"
Hugh Laurie - "House"
Matthew Fox - "Lost"
Jon Hamm - "Mad Men"

How'd I Do? 4/6; I missed Matthew Fox and Kyle Chandler for Kiefer and Simon Baker.

How'd They Do? Way better than I thought they would! I'll never be called a Matthew Fox fan, but he gets nominated for his best season here, so I can't begrudge. And Kyle Chandler! Effing finally! Really strong group of actors here.

Lea Michele - "Glee"
Julia Louis-Dreyfus - "The New Adventures Of Old Christine"
Edie Falco - "Nurse Jackie"
Amy Poehler - "Parks And Recreation"
Tina Fey - "30 Rock"
Toni Collette - "United States Of Tara"

How'd I Do? 4/6 -- missed Lea Michelle and JLD, having picked Patrica Heaton and Mary-Louise Parker. I pretty much ate crow on a lot of these "Glee" nominations. Guess the Emmy voters are fans.

How'd They Do? Poehler was the one on the bubble who I was worried about, so in that case alone, this is a success. And I actually think Lea Michele is pretty great on "Glee," so I'm not complaining.

Kyra Sedgwick - "The Closer"
Glenn Close - "Damages"
Connie Britton - "Friday Night Lights"
Julianna Margulies - "The Good Wife"
Mariska Hargitay - "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"
January Jones - "Mad Men"

How'd I Do? 5/6; missed Connie Britton for Holly Hunter.

How'd They Do? CONNIE BRITTON! Fucking finally. I honestly thought this nomination would never come, so I am obviously thrilled. Some sad snubs here, though, from Anna Gunn to Katey Sagal, to Lauren Graham. Voters could have gives Mariska and Kyra a year off.

Chris Colfer - "Glee"
Neil Patrick Harris - "How I Met Your Mother"
Jesse Tyler Ferguson - "Modern Family"
Eric Stonestreet - "Modern Family"
Ty Burrell - "Modern Family"
Jon Cryer - "Two and a Half Men"

How'd I Do? 4/6; obviously I didn't think the Colfer nod was happening, and I missed Jesse Tyler Ferguson for Ed O'Neill. Pretty surprised by that one.

How'd They Do? If you cover up Cryer's name, not half bad! The Colfer and Ferguson surprises are really pleasant ones, and even though great work from Tracy Morgan, Justin Kirk, and Michael Urie was snubbed, this is a strong group. (Also, I called the Rainn Wilson snub, didn't I?) Also, on a shallow note: three gay characters and three/four* gay actors nominated in one category! Go team!)

*Give or take whatever Jon Cryer is telling people these days.

Aaron Paul - "Breaking Bad"
Martin Short - "Damages"
Terry O'Quinn - "Lost"
Michael Emerson - "Lost"
John Slattery - "Mad Men"
Andre Braugher - "Men Of A Certain Age"

How'd I Do? 6/6, baby!

How'd They Do? Part of me sees this category as Aaron Paul and Five Guys Who Shouldn't Beat Aaron Paul. But I will never be sad to see Emerson and O'Quinn get recognized for being awesome.

Jane Lynch - "Glee"
Julie Bowen - "Modern Family"
Sofia Vergara - "Modern Family"
Kristen Wiig - "Saturday Night Live"
Jane Krakowski - "30 Rock"
Holland Taylor - "Two And A Half Men"

How'd I Do? 4/6; missed Bowen (though she was probably next on my list) and Taylor for Jenna Fischer (shoulda known better) and Vanessa Williams (who I honestly thought would get one more Ugly Betty victory lap).

How'd They Do? It's not a terrible list, though the Holland Taylor nom is a head-scratcher considering she'd been snubbed last year and the show as a whole really dropped off the radar this year. I'll never begrudge Kristen Wiig, but I didn't think this season was the same kind of breakthrough the last couple were. I still think this comes down to Lynch v. Vergara, but I'd be more interested if they'd nominated Rosemarie DeWitt or Merrit Wever or Busy Philipps.

Sharon Gless - "Burn Notice"
Rose Byrne - "Damages"
Archie Panjabi - "The Good Wife"
Christine Baranski - "The Good Wife"
Christina Hendricks - "Mad Men"
Elisabeth Moss - "Mad Men"

How'd I Do? 3/6; Quoth myself: "One of these years they're going to stop nominating the Grey's Anatomy women. I have no idea if this is that year." (Spoiler: this is that year. Sad neither Sandra Oh nor Chandra Wilson ever won.) Good on Archie Panjabi for getting through on what seems to be pure performance. And the Sharon Gless nomination appears to exist under the Cagney & Lacey Memorial Perpetual Nomination umbrella.

How'd They Do? I don't watch "The Good Wife" so I can't really say, but I am sad Chloe Sevigny couldn't break through for Big Love. But how sad can I possibly be with Christina Hendricks finally an Emmy nominee? This category seems wide open for the win, too, so I'll be excited to see who comes out on top.

Mike O'Malley - "Glee"
Neil Patrick Harris - "Glee"
Fred Willard - "Modern Family"
Eli Wallach - "Nurse Jackie"
Jon Hamm - "30 Rock"
Will Arnett - "30 Rock"

How'd I Do? 2/6; I guessed on the wrong two "30 Rock" guys (Matt Damon and James Franco are bigger stars AND were funnier; I stand by those picks), and while I guessed that Harvey Fierstein would be snubbed for a lesser "Nurse Jackie" performance, I didn't expect it would be a nothing Eli Wallach turn. Whatever, I got NPH and Fred Willard right!

How'd They Do? They nominated Mike O'Malley, which I never expected but give them big credit for. A great performance from an actor I didn't think was capable of such.

Beau Bridges - "The Closer"
Ted Danson - "Damages"
John Lithgow - "Dexter"
Alan Cumming - "The Good Wife"
Dylan Baker - "The Good Wife"
Robert Morse - "Mad Men"
Gregory Itzin - "24"

How'd I Do? 3/7l I got Lithgow (a no-brainer), Danson, and Cumming. And in my defense, I don't watch "The Closer" or "The Good Wife," so it was harder to see Bridges and Baker coming.

How'd They Do? Lithgow will and should waltz to a trophy. Robert Morse is the rare nod to a Guest Actor who's actually part of the ensemble, so that's nice.

Christine Baranski - "The Big Bang Theory"
Kathryn Joosten - "Desperate Housewives"
Kristin Chenoweth - "Glee"
Tina Fey - "Saturday Night Live"
Betty White - "Saturday Night Live"
Elaine Stritch - "30 Rock"
Jane Lynch - "Two And A Half Men"

How'd I Do? 5/7, missing Joosten and Lynch for a pipe dream hope that Judith Ivey's superior "Nurse Jackie" performance would be recognized. She died, she chewed scenery, what more do you want??

How'd They Do? Can't really complain about Cheno, Fey, Stritch, and Betty White, can you?

Mary Kay Place - "Big Love"
Sissy Spacek - "Big Love"
Shirley Jones - "The Cleaner"
Lily Tomlin - "Damages"
Ann-Margret - "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"
Elizabeth Mitchell - "Lost"

How'd I Do? 3/6, incorrectly guessing Christine Lahti and Debra Winger and also incorrectly guessing that the Cagney & Lacey umbrella would cover Tyne Daly on "Burn Notice."

How'd They Do? Two of the biggest, best surprises of the whole slate: Mary Kay Place! Elizabeth Mitchell! So very well-deserved, and a long time coming.

BONUS OUTRAGE: The only things I care about in the Reality Show categories this year are Cat Deeley and RuPaul's Drag Race, and since both were snubbed, I feel like I can ignore that category this year. (I'm no reality snob, obviously, but the Emmys have dug a deep rut as far as those shows are concerned.)

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Low Res Interview: Drew Z. Greenberg (Part 3)

This is a continuation of my chat with Buffy and Warehouse 13 writer Drew Z. Greenberg. Part 1 can be found here. And Part 2 here. And be sure to catch the premiere of the second season of Warehouse 13 on SyFy this Tuesday, July 6th.

Joe Reid: So you brought up the fun genre jumble to be found in Warehouse 13 -- that show's got pretty buzzy by the end of the first season. I have to admit, I had to catch up to it, but the premise alone made me think of Alias, a show I loved, and basically, "What if you were in charge of the Rambaldi evidence locker on Alias?" It's a fun premise. Since the second season begins on July 6th, and maybe there are Buffy fans reading this who haven't caught on to the show yet, can you give a quick overview of the show? Why are they going to hate themselves if they don't tune in?

Drew Z. Greenberg: Warehouse 13 is about two Secret Service agents assigned to work at a top-secret facility housing all the mysterious, supernatural, unexplained objects in the world which would cause trouble if left out there on their own. Each week our agents investigate strange events to find and bring back whatever powerful artifact is wreaking havoc, and, along the way, they usually get to have some fun, get into a bit of trouble and, ultimately, be big freaking heroes.

It's funny, I'm reminded on a fairly regular basis just how much DNA Warehouse 13 shares with Buffy, which seems like an odd thing to say, because on the surface, they're two very different shows. But, like Buffy, Warehouse has a premise which allows us to go to nearly any genre we want, providing a new experience every week. (OMG, here comes the Shameless Plug Monster, I'm trying to fight him, I can't -- arrrgh! Season Premiere, Tuesday, July 6 at 9/8c on Syfy!!... darn, the Shameless Plug Monster is STRONG...) Every artifact can do something different, so one week you get an action-adventure superhero story, then it's a whodunit mystery in the modeling world, then it's a twisty, intense, mind-bending thriller, then it's a body-switching fantasy comedy.

Most of all, the show is fun. There are all these artifacts to explore, things that let you teleport or know the future or become a super athlete or cheat death (but remember, there's always a price...). And our characters love and care about each other, they like going out on these cases with each other and throwing themselves into, as we said in the pilot, this world of endless wonder. (It helps that our amazing cast has a crackling chemistry among them: Eddie McClintock, Joanne Kelly, Saul Rubinek, Genelle Williams, Allison Scagliotti and CCH Pounder are able to riff off each other and have a blast with each other, and that translates to the screen.)

This season, we're able to delve more deeply into how our characters are settling into their new lives -- whereas last year the Warehouse was a new assignment, now it's home, and this group has formed a tight-knit, de facto family. The family was threatened in the season finale; our second season premiere picks up that story right away and we start sorting things out. But as a result of MacPherson's intrusion, we have a brand-new threat this year, someone surprising and yet totally in keeping with the Warehouse and what it stands for. And that threat will test Pete and Myka's place in this Warehouse in a whole different way. The show is such a great ride, and I'm so proud of how far we take it this season. Come along with us, won't you? (That wasn't the Shameless Plug Monster, that was me. I know, it's confusing sometimes.)

Click below for more on Warehouse and which pair of actors from the Joss Whedon stable will be reuniting...

JR: What was it like being in on the ground floor with this one, as opposed to picking up Buffy in mid-stream? I mean, your first episode got to introduce a pretty significant character (Claudia) at a very formative stage of the show. Do you feel more ownership of the show and the characters, or is it an apples and oranges kind of a thing?

DZG: It is very different coming in on the ground floor versus a show that's already up and running, like Buffy was. On the one hand, Buffy was a pretty well-oiled machine, and all the kinks had been worked out by the time I got there. On the other, so many stories were done in the first five years, you have to get used to pitching and hearing, "Oh, we've already covered that ground." It's just part of the deal. On a new show, it's a completely clean slate, so there's still a lot of freedom to try things out. And as you start finding what works, what doesn't, and you start putting the bricks of this building in place, it's hard not to feel a sense of ownership. Jack Kenny is the show-runner, and what you see on screen is ultimately reflective of his excellent stewardship. But he was generous enough to let all of us on staff feel like we had a stake in putting the show together, so as a result, we can all look at this show as something to which we each contributed some elements.

Yes, I'm definitely proud of Claudia, though it's important to note the entire group created her -- Jack had discussions with the studio and the network about bringing the character on the canvas long before I ever showed up. Then she was the result of much, much thoughtful discussion among the writing staff before we ever started breaking her episode. So I felt a kind of responsibility in that script to make sure she lived up to all of our expectations. And with the insightful direction of Steve Surjik and, of course, with the incomparable Allison Scagliotti breathing life into her, Claudia became a part of the family right away. So, let's be clear, Claudia was a group effort. But I can't lie: when I'm sitting at home and the episode "Claudia" comes on, I grin a big grin to myself. I was there when she was born. I was a part of her coming to be. It's a good feeling.

JR: EW reported the other day that David Anders (of many wonderful things but most awesomely he was Sark on Alias) will be appearing as a guest star on Warehouse this season. Season 1 saw, among other guest stars, Tricia Helfer from Battlestar Galactica. Any other genre-friendly actors coming this season that you can spill?

DZG: Oh, boy. Can I.

This season we'll have a lot of genre-friendly people joining us. Among them: Sean Maher (Firefly), Jewel Staite (Firefly, Stargate Atlantis), Philip Winchester (Alice, Crusoe), Paula Garces (Defying Gravity, The Shield), Tia Carrere (Relic Hunter, Wayne's World), Lindsay Wagner (The Bionic Woman), Rene Auberjonois (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Boston Legal), Neil Grayston (playing his Eureka character, Douglas Fargo), Faran Tahir (Star Trek) and the aforementioned David Anders (Alias, Heroes). Plus, we'll see Nolan Gerard Funk (Spectacular) and Cody Rhodes (WWE).

And we have a few more exciting guest stars I can't mention yet but which we'll be announcing shortly, and I think they're pretty exciting, too. I'm hoping you'll think they're exciting also. I can't wait to talk about it once I can talk about it.

JR: Oh wow, Firefly fans take note! Will Sean and Jewel be in the same episode? A Simon and Kaylee reunion, in other words?

DZG: Not only do Sean and Jewel appear in the same episode, they get to play some nice scenes together that I think Simon and Kaylee fans will appreciate.

JR: Also, next time you see CCH Pounder, can you tell her I recognized her by her voice in Avatar? I'm still disproportionately proud of that.

DZG: I sat next to CCH Pounder during our audio commentary for the "Claudia" DVD, so, you know... I got to check THAT item off my Bucket List. (She's super awesome. Try not to be jealous... okay, be jealous. Because she's super awesome.)

- - - - - - -

Many, many thanks to Drew Z. Greenberg for being such a wonderful interview. Watch Warehouse 13's second season premiere on SyFy tomorrow night!

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Low Res Interview: Drew Z. Greenberg (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my chat with Buffy and Warehouse 13 writer Drew Z. Greenberg. Part 1 can be found here. And be sure to catch the premiere of the second season of Warehouse 13 on SyFy this Tuesday, July 6th.

Joe Reid: While we're on the subject of fan response ... as you may or may not know, this blog's recent bout of Buffy Fever arose in response to the fan-favorite countdown on Logo. Obviously, I'm not going to ask you to talk about why we feel some episodes to be better than others, but it did remind me that fan interest (and fan debate, and fan entrenched-opinion) is still really strong. I know Lost gets all the credit for having the ultimate obsessed online fan community, but the Buffy fans were pretty intense. How aware were you guys of the fan responses during Seasons 6 and 7? Was it a matter of trying to keep it at bay so you could tell the stories you all wanted to tell, or were there attempts made to incorporate/respond to what the fans were liking/not liking? I'll bring it around to Spike (...because I always do), and ask if the huge waves of support for his character and the "Spuffy" (sorry) pairing drove the story more overtly in the direction of his redemption/their relationship?

Drew Z. Greenberg: Yeah, I always say (even now), there are two kinds of people in the world: people who are obsessed with Buffy and people who haven't seen it yet. In terms of being aware of fan response during Seasons 6 and 7 of Buffy: honestly? Production is set up so that by the time an episode airs, we're already far, far down the line in the season. So even if we had been aware of fan response, we wouldn't have been able to do anything about it, 'cause for us, that train had left the station about four months before, and we were in a whole new part of the story arc. And the hard, hard truth is that we just weren't that aware of fan response, at least not at the time. You know... you're desperately trying to get 22 episodes of television on the air, and anyone who's spent any time in production knows you barely have time to stop at red lights. Your friends end up hating you, 'cause you suddenly drop off the face of the planet, your relationships become extra work, your plants die, goodness help your pets -- it's just not that easy to stop down and say, wait, wait, wait, now let's review all the message boards RIGHT NOW. This is not to say we're not invested in listening to the fans, it just means it doesn't often happen when we're in the middle of it.

And not for nothing, but, seriously? "Huge waves of support for" Spuffy? Yes, a lot of people liked them together. But a lot of people didn't like them together, at least if the buckets of hate mail I got after "Smashed" are any indication. And this raises another point: how COULD we listen to fan response? For every fan who hates something we do and swears to stop watching unless we change it THIS MINUTE, there's another fan who loves that very same thing and swears to stop watching if we EVER STOP. So... my personal philosophy is that I'm just going to keep my head down and try to tell the best, most organic, most complete story I can tell. It will be to my personal taste, and I will desperately, fervently hope it's to yours, too. If it is, yay! If it's not... please don't take it personally, you might like my next one.

JR: Along those same lines, there were a few moments in Season 7 where the show itself seemed to be acknowledging that, like, "Yes, Buffy is making another big speech," or "Buffy really does think she's better than everybody, huh?" Were those just little course-corrections along the way, or was the idea from the outset "Let's take Buffy to the edge of unlikeability and then pull her back"? Maybe talk about this in light of the final scene in "Empty Places," where the Scoobies and Potentials mutiny against Buffy and unite under Faith? That episode made a pretty convincing case that Buffy needed to be taken down a peg or two.

DZG: Yes, the goal of Season 7 was to show that Buffy was feeling the weight of all this responsibility on her shoulders -- she had somehow inherited a literal army. And at first, she responded badly to that responsibility. She had to be reminded that her friends and family were there for her, had always been there for her, even as she became more and more aware of her painful isolation from the rest of humanity and, in Season 7, actually started leaning into that isolation. So, yes, the goal from the beginning was to turn her into a bit of a general who needed to wake up and see that her loyal friends were still her greatest strength. (Which doesn't mean we didn't have a good time poking gentle fun at ourselves and the speechifying by the time we got to the end, because, what are we, made of stone??)

Click below for Anya-talk, plus what brings on Vengeful Floaty Jane Espenson...

JR: Watching that scene in "Empty Places" over again just now, and particularly that righteous bit of dialogue Anya gets, I was struck by how basically 90% of all my favorite Anya moments that aren't comedy/levity come from you. Sleeping with Spike in "Entropy," lashing out at Willow in "Older and Far Away," cutting Buffy down to size in "Empty Places." Is this a coincidence or did you make a concerted effort to balance out Anya's zaniness with some gravity?

DZG: I'm immensely flattered that you liked much of the serious stuff I wrote for Anya, but I definitely don't think it was just me. All the writers had moments of tapping into her anger, insecurity, selfishness, love... (however, you may continue to praise me as much as you like, I don't mind). The character was such a rich creation -- a demon with no regard for humans made human! And a vengeance demon who hates men in love with a man!! Genius! And her forthright assessment of things was never out of left field, because Anya did just speak the truth, often in a funny way, but always with unflinching, brutal honesty. And Emma is such a great actor to write for, because she's so skillful at playing that humor with genuine pathos behind it, it seemed like there were always levels to Anya's attitude, whether in a big speech or a throwaway joke. So it was fun to get behind there and tap into it when necessary. Personally, I love the moments when a comic-relief character turns on you and calls you out, because it's so startling, so unexpected, it means more dramatically. Plus, it's always a chance to tap into my own not-so-deeply buried anger and unleash it on the world. Yeeeee-ha!!

JR: So I made mention earlier how much I love the episode "Him." So I'm going to make you talk about it. It played very much like a throwback episode, revisiting the old High School Is Hell motif from the first few seasons, this time through Dawn. Was that part of a conscious back-to-the-beginning theme for the season? Also, how different was it writing an episode that was largely removed from the big season arc? Was there a greater sense of freedom to just go nuts?

DZG: I don't remember any conscious decisions to make "Him" part of a back-to-the-beginning theme. On the other hand, I do think it was a natural result of returning Buffy to a high school setting (now as an adult) and finding story areas there. Also, it served the purpose of illustrating how far Buffy had come since her days as romantic, lovestruck teenager when she got to (a) be one again and (b) witness Dawn's own despair over a boy she liked. (And so, on one level, it illustrated how much distance Buffy had put between herself and her own beginning, and how far "back to the beginning" might be.)

During my tenure on the show, I got to toggle back and forth nicely between standalone episodes and arc-y episodes, so I never felt I was missing out on either. "Him" came early enough in the season that there wasn't that much out in the open yet about the season-long arc, so in the absence of something pertaining more directly to the arc, I liked getting to tell a complete story, beginning, middle and end. I was pretty sure I'd be back to an arc episode soon enough. In terms of a greater sense of a freedom to go nuts, Buffy was one of those rare shows that crossed all genres and formats -- a comedy one week, a horror the next, a teen drama the next, so I already felt like I had the freedom to sort of go nuts every week. I feel like I get to do that on Warehouse 13, where we can do comedy, thriller, mystery, drama depending on the week; rare though that experience is, I've gotten to do it on both of these shows. So i feel I've gotten to have freedom aplenty.

JR: Given that "Him" was such an overtly comedic episode, did you ever wake up in the middle of the night to Jane Espenson hovering over your bed, plastic knife in hand, warning you to stay the hell of of her turf?

DZG: Jane was most supportive of my jokiness, both in "Him" and elsewhere. So I don't think she'd become Vengeful Floaty Jane over a script like "Him." Now if I ever insulted Weird Al Yankovic, then maybe Vengeful Floaty Jane might appear. (It's okay, Jane, I wouldn't!! It was just an example!)

Stay tuned for Part 3, coming soon!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Low Res Interview: Drew Z. Greenberg (Part 1)

So you guys, we all had so much fun with the Buffy episodes last week, I kind of didn't want it to end. At the same time, I've been fortunate enough to keep correspondence with actual Buffy writer and all-around excellent guy Drew Z. Greenberg. I asked Drew to chat about the Buffy days, as well as the second-season debut of his current show, SyFy's Warehouse 13, and Drew was gracious enough to oblige. [I'm breaking this up into 3(ish) parts, so keep checking back throughout the next couple days.]

Drew joined the Buffy writing staff in 2001. In addition to Buffy, he's written for Firefly, Smallville, The O.C., and Dexter. Warehouse 13 kicks off its second season this Tuesday, July 6th, at 9PM on SyFy.

Joe Reid: Hey Drew! Thanks again for doing this.I guess to start off: In Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode 7.13, "The Killer in Me," written by you, Buffy and Spike venture into the abandoned labs of The Initiative in order to remove Spike's chip. HOWEVER, in episode 4.21 ("Primeval"), it was clearly stated that The Initiative was filled in with concrete, never to be spoken of again. Care to justify this EGREGIOUS breach of continuity? Was it worth ripping apart the entire fabric of the Buffy universe? Explain yourself!

Of course, if your sense of shame is just too great, we could maybe instead begin with how you came to find yourself on the writing staff of Buffy? Were you a fan of the show beforehand? What does a guy have to do to score such a sweet gig?

Drew Z. Greenberg: I think my sense of shame is exactly the right size. But that's neither here nor there, is it?

So... my humble beginnings on Buffy, eh? I was a fan of the show, yes. In fact, I wasn't just a fan -- I was a huge fan. (Or, well, I thought I was a huge fan. I would later meet a lot of people who were far, far better fans than I was -- as evidenced by the fact that several of them had chosen to pay money to meet me. I would never have wanted to meet me.) But Buffy was certainly my favorite show on the air -- when I bought my first TiVo, it was the first Season Pass I programmed in. (I don't know what further proof of my love you would need.) I admired Buffy's attitude, I identified with Willow's shy sweetness, I lived for Xander's quippiness. I cheered when Joyce put Snyder in his place, I longed for Buffy to get Angel back his soul, I swooned when Willow and Tara danced. I told all my friends how good this show was; I was always trying to get them to watch it with me. Most of all, I loved the writing.

How did I land the gig? I'd graduated from law school, moved to L.A. to give this writing thing a try, and wrote a couple of specs which got some positive responses. One pilot in particular got me a lot of attention. When it got me a meeting with Mutant Enemy execs, it didn't matter to me that everyone told me over and over there were no jobs on the Buffy writing staff: just by getting to visit and talk to people who were involved in making Buffy, I felt like I'd won a prize. And when those execs arranged for me to meet Joss and Marti, I still didn't completely get what was going on -- I was just thrilled to meet these people who wrote my favorite show and were such heroes to me. Marti had read my pilot, and that was exciting. Joss had read my spec Buffy -- and that was terrifying. And when I found out they wanted to hire me, I got goose bumps the size of actual geese. And nearly as noisy.

I don't know if I'm ready yet to talk about The Great Concrete Question, though I think you were kidding. Let's see how honest I feel over the course of these questions. Or how drunk I get. Either/or.

Click below for more on "Smashed," Amy the rat, and The Gay...

JR: Yeah, it's safe to say I'm not actually fired up about The Great Concrete Question. Though I'm not turning down you getting drunk. So you wrote six Buffy episodes all told -- "Smashed," "Older and Far Away," "Entropy," "Him," "The Killer in Me," and "Empty Places." "Smashed" being the first. It's safe to say that episode was incredibly pivotal (Buffy and Spike DO IT; Amy gets de-ratted); did you know going in what a turning point that would be? And can you maybe talk about the process of writing for such a serialized show? What story points come from the showrunner, from the room, and from you personally?

DZG: Me getting drunk is not a complicated process. It involves the following tools: one-half glass of wine. Aaaaaaaand... that's it. (Thanks, genetics!)

I did know what a turning point "Smashed" would be, and, yeah, it made me kind of giddy/nervous/excited/humbled/awestruck/hurl-ish. Two stories I'd been watching play out for a few years at home were about to hit new levels, and it would be in a script I wrote. So... mild freak-out time. As a room, we were going down a bunch of roads, trying out various plans to get us there: I remember we spent a long time playing with the notion of the Buffy/Spike sex-having at the halfway point in the episode. And then one night -- and I've talked about this before, maybe on the DVD commentary -- this kind of magical thing happened. At that point in the season, it was rare to have the entire staff all together in one room, because we had so many scripts already in various stages of development, people often had to be out working on their own episodes. But this one night, I remember it so well, everything lined up, we happened to have the whole staff there, and Joss sort of had this inspired moment where he saw the structure of the episode and started laying down the beats (story-wise, not rapping-wise), and the only thing missing was an actual "CLICK" noise when it fell into place. And once I saw how the story would go, I got up and did a very, very ugly dance in front of the entire staff because I was so happy. My hope is that they've all erased that moment from their memories.

And serialized shows will vary from show to show, showrunner to showrunner. Joss had such a clear vision in his head, he would often bring the structure of the season to us and say, "Okay, here's what we're doing." It's all the signposts we need to hit along the way to get to the end of the season. I've worked on other shows where it's up to the staff to design many or all of those signposts. Either way, it's always a good idea to know where you're heading at the end of your season before you start, so that you avoid, as best you can, anyway, veering off into tangent country with story threads that don't ultimately get you anywhere.

JR: Using another example, in "The Killer in Me," you bring back Adam Busch (Warren), you bring back Amy, you have Willow re-create the lead-up to Tara's death. Obviously, the endpoint of the episode (Willow comes to terms with moving on from Tara) could have been accomplished any number of ways. Is it safe to say the "how" of it all was all you? Related: Do you just have a giant soft spot for Amy?

DZG: The how of the Willow/Warren story was all Joss -- that was his pitch. We'd been looking for a way to bring back Adam Busch, 'cause we missed him, and we'd been looking for a Willow/Kennedy story. (At one point -- I kid you not -- I think we had a Willow/Kennedy Ocean's Eleven story on the table. There was heistiness involved. I'm not saying it was on the table very long, just that the idea came up.) So, once again, it was this moment of everything falling into place, of Joss saying, we can do this and this and this and this -- and it turned into one of the best writing experiences I've ever had. I loved putting that show together, I loved the dynamic of Willow truly grieving for Tara in a way only she could, I loved Willow facing who she really was as an actual gay person, and I loved Kennedy's attitude about what it means to be gay, because it was a chance for me to kind of articulate what it means for me to be gay -- it's not always all drama and torture, it's often fun and cool and sweet and exciting and it's made me a better human being. I loved having the opportunity to express that sentiment through a character on TV, 'cause how often do we get to do that?

I do have a soft spot for Amy -- I love tough, angry women, and, let's face it, when she came out of the rat cage, she was one angry woman. But it was just lovely happenstance that I got to write a couple Amy episodes. I consider myself lucky in that regard.

JR: It's a good point about depicting gay relationships -- gay dating; gay casual drinking of umbrella drinks -- on TV. Do you think TV has gotten better at that over the last seven years? Not to hijack the discussion, but it seems like TV has gotten really good at diverse, realistic depictions of gay teens (Ugly Betty; United States of Tara), but gay adults seem to have fallen into the Grand Parenting Canyon. Or am I not watching the right things?

And speaking of Gay Buffy, that was a show that seemed to have a big gay fanbase even before Willow came out. How did you react to the dust-up after Tara's death, some of which claimed that it (and Willow's subsequent veiny rampage) fell into negative lesbian story cliches?

I think you're right, I think TV has come a long way in its depiction of gay teens and gay parents. Since I'm actually on the Warehouse 13 set in Toronto as I type this, I'll add Degrassi: The Next Generation to your list of shows with realistic, fully-realized gay teens. And, of course, Modern Family does a great job showing flawed, funny, loving, realistic gay parents. But you're right, too, in that grown-up gay people who date, who have romantic or sexual relationships -- in other words, who are real people -- are still lacking. (A notable exception, at least as of this writing: Kevin and Scotty on Brothers and Sisters. Like the other characters on the show, they fight, they have families, they have domestic issues, they're sometimes vain or selfish or stubborn and they also, like everyone else on the show, actually have sex -- they're fully-realized characters.) The theory, of course, is that audiences are fine with gay people on TV, as long as those gay people are clowns or eunuchs. The minute that same gay character actually dates or makes out with or lusts after or -- gasp -- has sex with someone: [insert sound of audience fainting from shock/horror]. Is the theory correct? Are modern audiences really that squeamish? I dunno. I like to think not. But right now, there's very little opportunity to test the theory.

I was seriously appalled by the so-called dust-up after Tara's death. I still am, actually. A lot of people tossed around this phrase you're using -- "Dead Lesbian Cliche." But this confuses me. Historically, the media presented same-sex attraction as something shameful -- it was evil or pathetic or sick. And that shame was a burden borne not just by the characters experiencing the same-sex attraction, but also those in their lives -- associates, loved ones and the objects of their attraction. The best solution for all concerned was to eradicate the shame, and this usually meant killing the lesbian or having her commit suicide. Either way, she died so everyone else in the story could get back to their normal lives without the burden of her inconvenient sexuality infringing any more on them. Tara was the exact opposite of those hateful characterizations. She wasn't a problem to be solved, and neither was her sexual orientation, which was always a part of her character. Willow's friends accepted and respected Tara for all that she was, practically from jump: she was the moral center of this group of friends. She was light, she was kindness. We didn't want you to be made uncomfortable by Tara and wish her to go away -- we wanted you to love Tara and want her around more. Which many of you did. And then we pulled her away -- not so you could breathe a sigh of relief that she was gone, as has been the custom with the dead lesbians, but so you would feel the ache of her absence. We wanted you to miss her, to wish she would come back. This is not how the dead lesbian cliche works -- it is the direct opposite of it. Joss bravely inverted the traditional story arc for a lesbian death, and people criticized him for it. To be perfectly candid, I resent that. The knee-jerk reaction -- ACK! DEAD LESBIAN MUST EQUAL DEAD LESBIAN CLICHE!!! -- trades in oversimplification, and, respectfully, I think we can do better than that.

Check back here for the second part of the Drew Greenberg interview!