Television Update

Joss Whedon Actors

I recently reviewed Chuck, as did Mike, for the Mike-Kate Video Club. Last week, we reviewed Castle. A thought occurred to me: every actor should be required to go through Whedon-camp.

Both Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin are Joss Whedon graduates, and both of them make a tremendous difference to the quality of their respective shows. I think, in part, Whedon's success with actors is that he allows them to play more than "that guy/gal every week who . . . " David Boreanaz certainly grew as an actor while in Whedon's care.

Wonder Woman

Recently, I also started watching Wonder Woman. And boy! talk about having a light bulb go on--a number of things clicked in my brain as I watched the beginnings of Seasons 1 & 2:

1. For instance, I was curious why two such disparate characters as Brennan (from Bones) and Roz (from Frasier) would be written as admiring Wonder Woman.

Now I know why. Lynda Carter is truly amazing. When you consider that the show was made in 1975 and a whole decade of annoying, whiny, supposedly "strong" women would come between her and Scully, she is even more amazing. Lynda Carter was Scully and Brennan and Cordelia and Samantha Carter before those confident, professional women were glints in anyone's eye. She plays Wonder Woman with complete unself-consciousness. She holds her head high; she isn't cowed or alarmed by anyone. And she never whines. It isn't the material. It really is the actress.

2. Wonder Woman explained Bruce Boxleitner to me.

Bruce Boxleitner plays Scarecrow in Scarecrow & Mrs. King and although I love the show, I've never understood the casting. Bruce B. is so . . . bland. He is supposed to be playing this suave, sexy CIA agent, and he is neither hunky enough (David B.) or strange enough (David D.) to really pull it off. He's just . . . bland. Don't get me wrong: Bruce B. is a respectable actor. But James Bond he isn't.

And I never understood why anyone said, "A-ha, he's the man to play our cool, charismatic CIA operative!"

Until I watched Wonder Woman. Bruce B. could be Lyle Waggoner's kid brother. I went, "Oh, that's the look they were going for."

By the way, Lyle Waggoner is even blander than Bruce B. Interestingly enough, Lynda Carter--who is obviously no fool--played Diana Prince/Wonder Woman as interested but certainly not infatuated with "Steve" (Lyle W.) from day one. She has this way of tilting her head and saying, "Hmmm" even in the midst of inane dialog that makes clear how totally unimpressed Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is by Steve's "Oh, Diana, it's too bad you aren't as beautiful as Wonder Woman" dialog.

(Actually, now that I think about it, the women in 1970s Columbo episodes are a lot like Lynda Carter. It really was the 80's with Murphy Brown and Maddie Hayes, etc. etc. that created the angst-filled/whiny BUT I'M STILL TOUGH supposed feminist heroine.)

In any case, with Wonder Woman I was reminded of something I already knew: writers in Hollywood know their Hollywood history. Being able to "place" Wonder Woman in that history explained to me where a lot of writers have gotten their inspiration/ideas.

Just one more piece of the media puzzle.

Law & Order: UK

Finally! Netflix doesn't have it (available), but my local videostore does. I was unbelievably excited about this show, and I'm glad to report that it didn't disappoint.

Basically, the episodes are remakes of original Law & Order episodes. It is interesting to see what translates and what doesn't. Of course, I'm not 1st generation British (just fifth generation), so I don't really know if any of it translates.

However, from my American p.o.v., I thought the tenants' rights issue didn't translate but the 13-year-old killer did. I realize that Londoners have tenant issues, but the original tenants' rights episode is so incredibly New Yorkish in its arguments and setting, the translation seemed a bit belabored.

The 13-year-old killer, however, seemed to translate with very little effort. England has had its share of crazy young killers!

In any case, the cast is more than good: Harriet Walter plays the Van Buren/Cragen role; Jamie Bamber puts in a remarkable performance playing the Noth role (Bamber is one of those baby-faced actors who can be seriously underestimated but is actually extremely good at anything he does); Ben Daniels does a surprisingly good job playing a softer version of Ben Stone; Bradley Walsh (who I was not familiar with) is beyond excellent playing the Sorvino/Briscoe role; and Freema Agyeman, who I did not care for in Doctor Who, does a great job in the Robinette role (she really does make a far more believable prosecutor than a crazy mythic figure's sidekick).

I can't forget Bill Paterson in the Adam Schiff role! What is it about adorable grumpy old men? (Adam Schiff never fails to make me laugh; his deadpan, c'est la vie sarcasm reminds me of Brass on CSI.)

One of the fun things about Law & Order: UK is how many British guest stars I recognize: Sean Pertwee, Patrick Malahide, Lesley Manville!

I really feel like I'm watching Law & Order, Seasons 1-3 again, back when Law & Order was REALLY good.


Joe said...

Whedon does have a way of bringing out the best in actors, but his true ability is to spot talent. This isn't as easy as it sounds, especially with secondary and bit parts.

I suspect one reason is that Whedon has a very clear vision of each character and he matches actors to these roles. Evidence of this is that some actors seem so good in his shows and then stink in everything else (or at least stumble.)

(Actors are remarkably insecure and need a lot more directing than most admit. Until they know the part, even very good actors tend to chew the scenery when left to their own devices.)

Mike Cherniske said...

So, in response to our last conversation, I've been madly searching for "iconic" wonder woman comic stories to recommend for you. And the sad truth is- that there really isn't any. Wonder Woman shows up as a great supporting character is many stories, many times as a foil to Superman or Batman, the best of which is Kingdom Come.

I found a great article that talks about this a bit-

Anyway, I also hear really great things about the Wonder Woman Animated Movie that came out last year. I've recently ordered a few Wonder Woman graphic novels and trades, and they were all kinda... Meh.