Category Archives: soap opera

Arrow: The Huntress Returns

I am sure that I’ve mentioned several times what not-a-fan I am of Jessica De Gouw, so I guess you all know how I feel about her character’s return to “Arrow.” I must admit to being puzzled by this episode’s title, because, even though most comics fans know that Helena Bertinelli is the Huntress, they have never yet called her that on the show. At least Oliver was referenced as Green Arrow once, even if it was a throwaway comment.

In the opening sequence, Helena corners her gangster father’s lawyer in a strip club. She’s looking for her father who’s in an FBI safe house. In a nice touch, Helena is wearing a pseudo-stripper costume quite similar to one of the costumes the Huntress wore in the comics. And of course, she still has her crossbow. And like former flame Oliver, her taste for blood.

Filed under subplots and soap opera, Laurel’s mom, played by genre favorite Alex Kingston, is back in town after a long absence, and she insists that her dead daughter, and guilt foundation for Oliver, Sarah, is still alive. Quentin, over-reactionary as always, isn’t buying it.

Also in that folder, Oliver’s club is about to open, and he’s getting more than serious about McKenna, sounds like the perfect time for psycho ex-girlfriend vigilantes to come calling. Oh yeah, and Mia ran into Roy again, and tried to get him employed at the club. Is there a romance between the two potential Speedies brewing? It’s funny, but they’d be perfect for each other. They like all the same stuff…

Helena is in town to kill her dad. Apparently he cut a deal and will be getting a new identity. She drops in on Oliver just as he starts looking for her. She says she needs his help to get her father, as she can’t do it alone. Helena as a character here on “Arrow” is certainly unstable, and sadly Jessica De Gouw’s acting has not improved. Remarkably, she’s become even less likable now. Appropriately, Oliver and Diggle are treating her as a villain.

Tommy is having a bad day. He’s on the outs with Oliver cuz he can’t trust him any more. Helena beat the crap out if him. And Laurel has called it quits cuz he can’t be honest with her. Whereas at first I thought that Tommy becomes Merlyn the Magician, now I’m thinking perhaps his death is what cements the enmity between Arrow and Merlyn. Thoughts? Let’s face it, no matter what happens, Tommy is no Jimmy Olsen.

Nice touches this episode include the name of Oliver’s club (Verdant means green), Roy Harper being afraid of needles, the shout out to Coast City, and of course the all too short cameo of DJ Steve Aoki. And at last, somebody (Quentin Lance in this case) finally calls Helena the Huntress. Finally also, spoilers for those who haven’t seen the episode yet, but I’m gonna miss McKenna a lot.

Bates Motel

I’ve never been big on secret origins, except when they are shorter than a sentence or two or a minute or two. Just tell us what we need to know about the character or the situation and start the story. As a matter of fact, one writer rule states that you should always start in the middle of the story – beginnings are for suckers. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho is a near perfect classic of the horror thriller genre, did we really need an ongoing prequel TV series? Why do we need A&E’s “Bates Motel”?

While it might not be the first to do such, I do blame “Smallville.” It’s the story of Superman, before he was Superman. If you’re a comics person, your first instinct is probably Superboy, and that’s really the problem with “Smallville.” All of the names are the same, but nothing else is. “Smallville” bears very little resemblance to Superboy. In the series, there is no Superboy, we see the looong journey of Clark Kent growing to manhood, and in the last moments of the last episode of the series, he finally becomes Superman. Over a decade later. Yeah, that long. And the whole time, all you really want from this show is to see him as Superman.

And that is why I hate secret origins, especially when they disguise themselves as ongoing TV series. I have to wonder, is that what “Bates Motel” will be like? Will we be waiting forever for our young protagonist Norman Bates to begin showing signs of the sociopath he is by the time the events of Psycho roll around? Will it take a decade?

The other obstacle (or perhaps it’s a good thing, for the new show at least) is the many folks who are watching who have no point of reference for Norman Bates. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s a factor. After all, believe it or not, there were teenagers watching “Smallville” who didn’t get the Superman (or Superboy) references and thought it was just a cross between “The X-Files” and “Beverly Hills 90210.” Certainly that worked. Half the audience was there for the soap opera, and half for the pseudo-superhero stuff. Perhaps “Bates Motel” might just work as a show about a gawky kid with a overbearing mother who run a creepy motel, period.

“Bates Motel” is set present day, we begin with Norman’s dad dead, and Mom rushing them away to start over again, a habit she seems to have. The two are a little bit too close, and Vera Farmiga is just as overbearing as Norma Bates, as Freddie Highmore is creepy as young Norman. She’s a bit too pretty for my tastes, even as a young Norma Bates, but her paranoid craziness fills out the rest of her character well.

On their latest ‘start over,’ they buy an old motel foreclosed on by the bank. When a even creepier neighbor starts to harass them because the motel and property had been in his family for decades, well, things escalate. He breaks in, rapes Norma, and Norman saves her, after which Mom finishes the job, killing the attacker. Don’t call the police, we’ll cover this up ourselves is Norma’s battle cry. We kinda start to get the vibe maybe Dad’s death wasn’t quite what it seemed.

As creepy as the killer and the collaborator are, Nestor Carbonell is even scarier as Sheriff Alex Romero. If you locked me in a room with the three of them, he’s the one I’d be most scared of. There are some genuinely chilling moments here, as well as some “90120” caliber teenage soap moments. There’s also a cliffhanger that is very tempting to keep me watching, but I have to wonder, will this drag on forever and take a decade to get to the point, or will it surprise me. We’ll just have to wait and see.

For a different view, be sure to check out my friend and fellow writer Marie Gilbert‘s review over at Biff Bam Pop!.

Soap Revival

We have talked now and then here at Welcome to Hell about the death of the soap opera. It is simply a genre and a style of television that has seen better days, and perhaps a lost audience. However, sometimes, I get proved wrong.

Just a few day ago verification of rumors popped up with the announcement that “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” were coming back. Maybe not to their traditional ABC afternoon time slots, but to the internet. Beginning April 29th, at 12 PM, new half-hour episodes of “All My Children” will be available on iTunes, on Hulu, and on Prospect Park’s The Online Network.

Welcome back!

Arrow: Betrayal

“Arrow” is at a point now where you need a score card to know what’s what and who’s who. I’m not sure that’s a place this show should be at right now. I’m sure there’s a core audience, but despite the handy elevator pitch origin story in the opening of every episode, I’m not sure that any new viewers wouldn’t be hopelessly lost. No matter how you slice it, even I was having trouble keeping all the balls in the air at the beginning of “Betrayal.”

Oliver confronts his mom about the notebook full of names that he got from Felicity last episode. She throws it in the fireplace, suggesting the only way the family can heal is to stop asking questions. Diggle tails her throughout the episode, discovering some nasty secrets. When Oliver confronts her later as Arrow, heh, well, that’s this episode’s cliffhanger.

In the main story this episode, Cyrus Vanch, former muckety-muck of the Starling City underworld has been released from prison, Iron Heights specifically – nice shout out to the comics. He wants what’s his back, as well as the Triad’s and the Bertinelli family’s (I guess that means we haven’t seen the last of China White or the Huntress). And he also wants Arrow out of the way. Using his contacts on the police force, he learns Laurel knows Arrow, so he kidnaps her. This forces Dad to cooperate with The Hood.

In the attack on Vanch, I am again struck by the violence of this so-called hero’s methods. By my count, there are at least eight of Vanch’s men who take arrows right in the chest. Can you live through that? It’s what bothered me about previews of the show before it aired. Have they made Green Arrow into a serial killer? Man, give me an old-fashioned boxing glove arrow any day.

In the soap opera portion of the show, honesty gets between Laurel and Tommy. Disappointingly this coupling has yet to be used to its potential as far as being a plot complication. So much unused potential, but I’ll keep waiting. Laurel’s relationship with her dad is suffering from problems similar to hers with Tommy as well this episode. I wonder what’s next on “All My Arrows”…

On the island, Oliver meets Slade Wilson, played by Manu Bennett, Crixus of Starz’ amazing “Spartacus” series. Comics readers will immediately recognize the name Slade Wilson as the not so secret identity of Deathstroke. Again, for TV they have flipped things. Wilson is apparently one of two Deathstrokes, and not the one Oliver encountered earlier. Apparently Slade is who trains Oliver. I won that bet.

There are other cool shout outs this episode as well. Vanch’s lawyer worked for Wolfman and Perez, referencing the writer/artist team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez, who created the New Teen Titans, a team that occasionally featured Speedy. They also, most notably, created Deathstroke. Laurel wants to call DA Kate Spencer for help to put Vanch back in prison. Kate is of course the civilian identity of Manhunter. Arrow and Laurel meet atop the Winick building – Judd Winick, former MTV “Real World” wrote the Green Arrow comic for a while.

Be here next episode when Oliver tells his mom that she’s failed the city, same Arrow time, same Arrow channel.

Arrow: Vendetta

When last we left our CW prime time drama loosely based on the comic book superhero Green Arrow – Oliver and Helena had find each other kindred spirits in revenge, justice, and romance; Walter had returned home to care for Moira; Tommy was making time with Laurel, and had been financially cut off by his dad – finally revealed as the mystery character played by John Barrowman. Up to speed? Good, here we go with “Vendetta.”

I have to confess I was a bit taken aback when I saw that Arrow was going to try to take the Huntress (never named thus in the previous “Muse of Fire” by the way) on as a sidekick/partner to train. It’s not something that had occurred to me. He teaches her archery in a rather clever scene. She of course opts for a crossbow. At first, at least.

Arrow and the still unnamed Huntress make their debut against a warehouse full of drug dealers. Nice little fight scene. While Jessica DeGouw’s acting has not improved, she does look good in costume, purple and black with a crossbow and cross motif. I would have questioned it if it had a cape, but I gotta say I would have liked a cape a whole lot more than this long coat. Sorry, it’s an accepted conceit – superheroes wear capes. Deal with it. And the similarity to Hit-Girl’s costume is unsettling.

Whereas last week Diggle was doing too much Alfred to Oliver’s Batman, this week, he does a decent Lucius Fox, as played by Morgan Freeman in The Dark Knight. Although, unlike Fox, Diggle is a sensible voice of reason. Stephen Amell’s naked torso and Felicity Smoak both return in this episode, but we get enough of neither.

Last episode I was entranced by the bits with Oliver and Helena, and Tommy and Laurel. But here, where all four meet for dinner, I was bored and completely taken out of the show for the first time in a while. This was “Melrose Place,” not a superhero drama. Zzzzzzz…

Ultimately the Melrose incident leads to China White and Frank Bertinelli going to war as well as Arrow vs the still as yet unnamed Huntress. It is a very unsatisfying conclusion, and she remains unnamed. I think that irks me more than anything.

This was not the best episode so far. The superheroics and the island flashbacks have vanished. The soap opera aspects have creeped in. I’m not happy. Hopefully things will get better for this week’s mid-season finale. We’ll see.

RIP Larry Hagman

Larry Hagman passed away yesterday from complications of his ongoing battle with cancer. The actor and director was 81.

The son of actress Mary Martin, he began acting early. From “Edge of Night” to “I Dream of Jeannie” to “Dallas” to “Nip/Tuck” and back to “Dallas” again, he has had a fairly steady career for decades.

Throughout numerous television roles and even a few movie roles (I still have a warm spot in my heart for his appearance in the 1970s Blob sequel), he will be best remembered as the villainous oilman J.R. Ewing. The mystery of who shot him at the end of season three of “Dallas” was one of the most talked about television stunts in history.

While most memorable as J.R., I will have to agree with my friends Taryn and Ian in that I will always remember him as Major Tony Nelson on “I Dream of Jeannie.” Maybe it’s my age, or a wish to remember him as a good amusing guy, but I will miss ‘Master’ the most. An American television icon, Larry Hagman will be missed.

A slightly different and more detailed version of this post appeared earlier today here at the Biff Bam Pop! website.

Battleship The Movie

Battleship ~ There been a lot of bad press and even worse word of mouth on this flick, and let’s be honest here, this is a movie based on a board game. And not a game that lends itself well to a plot, mind you, this is not Clue we’re talking about here. All that said, and bear in mind, this is by no means a brilliant movie (it’s no Doctor Zhivago) but it is pretty good flick for one made based on a board game.

The acting is pretty bad by most here, I would say below soap opera level, no offense meant to soap opera actors, but it doesn’t bode well for folks like Liam Neeson and Alexander Skarsgard. The special effects of the completely indecipherable alien ships are the draw here, as it should be for a summer blockbuster. They are kinda like rejects from the Transformers movies, only not, but they are impressive. Also impressive is how they actually tie aspects of the film to the specifics of the game “Battleship,” that, I thought was clever. Spoilers, if there are such a thing here, but it was really sweet that the old guys who fought in World War II and their antique battleship are the guys who save the world, especially nice in lieu of Memorial Day this past weekend.

As far as the rest of the cast goes, Rihanna steals the movie, she is a delight. Taylor Kitsch, who I have loved as both Gambit and John Carter, is almost a cipher here. He’s terrible in this role, paper not even cardboard. Liam Neeson… well, if you have seen the preview, you have seen almost all of his scenes. Talk about calling it in, taking the cash and running. I did however also like John Tui and Tadanobu Asano, the latter of which is being called the Johnny Depp of Japan – they were both quite good.

The rest of the movie? It gets not only monotonous and predictable but it actually manages to make those big impressive alien ships get boring after a while. And the jumping from ship to ship to ship when they get sunk got a bit ridiculous after a while. We all knew we would beat the aliens, but it got so I wanted to yell “Get on with it already!” more than a few times.

All in all, it was an enjoyable two hours of mindless popcorn movie fluff. It wasn’t bad enough to want my money back, but as I said, this wasn’t a great film either. I don’t think it deserves the bad word of mouth it has been getting either. Come on folks, it’s not like this was Moulin Rouge! or The Dark Knight.

Dark Shadows 2012

Dark Shadows ~ When I first saw the trailer for this new version of Dark Shadows my thoughts were, “Oh boy, here’s Tim Burton raping another piece of my childhood, just like he did with Batman, Willy Wonka, Planet of the Apes, and tried to do with Superman.” To an extent, I was right, but if I’m absolutely honest, having seen the film, there’s also a lot of love and homage in there too, right next to the blatant disrespect and mockery.

The story for those who don’t know is that of Barnabas Collins, cursed by an ex-lover, also a witch, to become a vampire in the 18th century, imprisoned, released and awoken in the 20th century. This was the basis for the last few years of the late 1960s/early 1970s ABC soap opera cult classic “Dark Shadows.” Tim Burton, a supposed fan of the series, has decided to remake it as a camp comedy horror drama, emphasis on the camp and the comedy. Not that “Dark Shadows” wasn’t camp, mind you, it was, it just wasn’t planned to be. Like all good camp, it took itself deadly serious. That’s not the case here at all unfortunately. Often, as with most of his films, what’s funny to Tim Burton is rarely funny to everybody else.

All the good zingers are in the previews, so don’t go in expecting much more. That said however, in between all the failed jokes are tons of in-jokes and Easter eggs for fans of the show. Tim Burton may have disrespected the TV series, but he certainly did know it backward and forward. He does streamline and he does change many details, but still the love is evident. It’s when he tries to make fun of it and fails that fans and non-fans alike will cringe.

I dislike Johnny Depp’s Barnabas Collins quite a bit. As he sometimes does, it seems as if he made up a character in a improv class and then built a movie around it. Depp might be better off getting together and making movies with that Borat guy rather than raping my childhood with substandard remakes of old soap operas. He does have Jonathan Frid’s speech patterns down however. I have to give props to Helena Bonham Carter’s Dr. Julia Hoffman for the same reason. Her voice is perfect, but her over the top dye job alcoholic drag queen version of the doctor not so much. Fans of the show will laugh their asses off at her, it’s both hideous and hilarious.

Another of my favorites, Jackie Earle Haley is cast brilliantly as groundskeeper Willie Loomis (and yes, I bet that’s where “The Simpsons” got the name from). He is one of the highlights of the flick, both dramatic and comedic. Don’t blink or you will miss the two second cameos by surviving cast members of the soap opera – Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Selby, Lara Parker, and the recently late Jonathan Frid – as guests at the ball/happening with Alice Cooper.

Michelle Pfeiffer is pretty pedestrian for a role she wanted so badly, but she doesn’t have much room to act next to the scene-eating Depp. Same for one of my faves Jonny Lee Miller and newcomer Bella Heathcote – not enough room. I would have loved to have seen more of them, but such is the way of the soap opera. Speaking of over the top scene-stealing, Eva Green from “Camelot” is just absolutely crazy town as Barnabas’ nemesis Angelique. It’s almost as if the actors got drunk and played make-believe as their characters at some points. Also, much like 1989’s Batman, Burton is unable to come up with an ending so it feels like he starts pulling ideas of out his butt. Seriously, the last twenty minutes of this movie are insane, and not in a good way. It’s almost unwatchable.

The problem is that it’s not all bad, and that this really could have been a good movie, and not just that, a good movie, a respectful remake, and it didn’t have to resort to low brow comedy. The credits sequence in the beginning, set to the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin,” with Victoria Winters coming to Collinsport, is so ABC telemovie that not only would Dan Curtis (creator of “Dark Shadows” as well as more than a few movies of the week) would have been proud, but I was half-expecting to see Kim Darby, Kate Jackson, or Karen Black make an appearance.

There was a lot of stuff to love set amongst the comedic ruins of this flick. I loved both the inside and the outside of Collinwood, the town of Collinsport they built on the set, including the Blue Whale. The bit with Alice Cooper, which in the previews appears to be a one note joke, turns into brilliance by the inclusion of “The Ballad of Dwight Frye” as background for a couple scenes.

All in all, except for the last quarter of the movie, I did enjoy it. It’s not “Dark Shadows,” it’s not the cult classic gothic soap opera of my youth, but I did laugh, I did smile, and I still have my memories. Worth seeing for the curious, the fans, and for those with no point of reference whatsoever. I just would have rather seen the movie it could have been, as opposed to the one it is.

Jonathan Frid Dead at 87

News came today that actor Jonathan Frid passed away last week from natural causes. He immortalized the role of gentleman vampire Barnabas Collins in the Gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows” in the 1960s and early 70s, as well in a theatrical film. Frid was 87.

Like Dick Clark, who passed away yesterday, Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins was a big part of my childhood. I have very vague memories of the show when it was actually on the air originally (I’m not that old) but I know my sister was a big fan. I can remember it being on when I came home from school in the afternoon, and I recall the haunting theme music from those days as well.

My real association with “Dark Shadows” corresponded with my first TV, a tiny black and white number I put on my bedside table. Local channel 48 had begun showing reruns of the show at 11:30 every night, starting from the episode where Branabas was introduced. Now “Dark Shadows” was on the air before that, and even had supernatural elements, but the show didn’t really start rolling until everybody’s favorite vampire showed up. I would watch whatever 48 was offering before at 11, be it “Mary Hartman,” “Fernwood 2night” or “All That Glitters,” and stay tuned for “Dark Shadows.” It was, in many ways, the best hour on television back then. I can still remember the credits rolling just before midnight on the supposedly still DS set and seeing the coffin shake or a prop fall. Hey, the show was cheap, but serious in its way, and well loved.

Now Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are remaking the show as a campy movie spoof. I’m sure you’ve all seen the preview. I’m not going to comment, but I know that Jonathan Frid had seen it, and sources say he knew they would put their own spin on it. He actually even has a small walk-on cameo in the film. Time will tell. Jonathan Frid will be missed.

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The Death of the Soap Opera?

“One Life to Live,” after an over forty-year run on ABC-TV, ended last week. That leaves only four traditional daytime soap operas still on the air in 2012. Among the survivors is “General Hospital,” the only one of its ilk that I followed regularly for a time. I discount “Dark Shadows” as I only vaguely remember it when it was on, and mostly watched it in rerun on local Channel 48 and SyFy when it was just starting out.

The award-winning “One Life to Live” was part of the ABC daytime soap opera programming shared universe of Agnes Nixon, of which “General Hospital” is currently the only survivor. “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “The Young and the Restless” on CBS and “Days of our Lives” on NBC are the other three. On a sidenote, I gotta ask – am I the only one who thought “The Doctors” was still the soap opera of the same name? Weird. “OLTL” had some highlights in its run, Emmys aplenty, groundbreaking storylines dealing with rape and drugs, and even some time traveling a la “Dark Shadows,” exciting stuff.

“One Life to Live” also actually had some fun with its last days. Residents of the fictional city of Llanview watched on their sets the final episode of an equally fictional TV soap created by Agnes Nixon, who was interviewed. Angels abounded, played by cast members whose characters who had died. There’s even a cliffhanger, and a broken fourth wall, good stuff. But now it’s over, with some characters moving on to “General Hospital,” and the time slot filled by “The Revolution,” another boring health and lifestyle show.

Anyway it seems the soap opera is dead as a television genre, but is it? It may be well on its way out as a genre unto itself, but let’s face it, everything is soap opera now. I have always said that soap opera is at the core of comic books (any serial fiction really) and that as wrestling is the bastard stepchild of comics, soap opera and comics are the bastard stepchildren of mythology – but that’s another story.

Soap opera as storytelling is everywhere, and I’m not just talking about prime time dramas either. The concept of main story with several subplots underlying that soon become the new main story in an unending cycle is how television works now. There’s no more status quo, where the whole world resets when the credits of a given TV show roll. The characters evolve and change as time goes by.

That’s soap opera, and even if the TV series we normally think of when we think of the term are gone, soap opera still lives, in every other television series.

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