Monday, November 06, 2006

Brought to you by the letter D

So a couple of weeks ago, a reader sends me an e-mail complimenting Neil Patrick Harris for his ability to succeed playing a character so different from Doogie Howser, and whether I could think of other TV actors who had successfully reinvented themselves like that. I didn't have space in that week's mailbag, so I held the letter a week and put it into today's column -- not realizing, of course, that ol' NPH would come out of the closet over the weekend. Not that it invalidates anything I wrote, but on this Monday morning, the man's versatility isn't really the top subject people are interested in.

So in honor of Doogie -- and to compensate for a busy weekend that didn't give me much writing time -- quick hit spoilers coming up on, in order, "Desperate Housewives," "Dexter" and "Doctor Who," plus honorary D show "Battlestar Galactica."

Now that's how you do a Very Special Episode, "Desperate Housewives." I figured the much-publicized death would be of a non-regular, but the shooting of Nora happened so abruptly that it shook me, and this is a show that I generally consider a Take One For The Team selection. Some fine performances all around, but especially by Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross and Laurie Metcalf, may Carolyn Bigsby rest in peace. When even Teri Hatcher isn't annoying me at the moment, it's a sign that Marc Cherry and company really have gotten things back on track.

One of the best "Dexter" episodes so far, in which the creators' ability to make us like this guy have us suddenly rooting for a serial killer to escape justice. I thought the Patrick Bateman alias was a little too clever, but the tension between Dexter and Deb gave some weight to his scrambling. (Also, is this the first we know that Deb was Harry's biological daughter? I had been under the impression they were both foster kids.)

I didn't comment on last week's "Doctor Who" because so much of it was set-up for the Cybermen conclusion. And while it didn't move me on the same level as "The Girl in the Fireplace" or "School Reunion," it worked very well. Raise your hands, anyone who's ever read or seen another parallel universe story who didn't assume Mickey would stay to take Rickey's place. (And was I the only one wondering if Rickey and the blonde guy were a couple? Apparently, it was in the script but then got cut.) What I love about this series is how every character gets their turn in the spotlight, whether it's Mickey escaping tin dog status, Alt-Pete proving to be a swell guy, or, my favorite, Mrs. Moore becoming a character I liked and mourned in the space of about four minutes. (Until she got zapped by the Cybermen, Tennant was looking at her like he was ready to sign up another companion.) Hell, I even felt bad for the poor bride-to-be who got Cyber-ized, and she had, like, three lines of voice-modulated dialogue. Aside from the deux ex machina of using the TARDIS power cell to get out of the cliffhanger, another superb outing from these fine folks.

Ron Moore spends the latest "Battlestar Galactica" podcast discussing how much of this episode had to be saved in post-production, particularly the Cylon scenes. And it's a credit to the editors and writing team that very few of the seams showed in the final version. There was too much tell and not enough show in the subplot about Starbuck and Tigh sowing dissent throughout the ship, but beyond that, it worked. The use of dissolves and classical music lent the Baltar storyline just the right amount of unreality, and Adama's showdown with his surrogate brother and daughter was the best moment Edward James Olmos has had all season, St. Crispin's Day included. Interesting, the divergent paths that Kara and Saul take after that meeting. But then, the person who was taken away from Kara still exists -- as much as it may hurt at first, she can have some kind of relationship with Kacey -- where Saul has nobody and nothing to live for.

What did everybody else think about any of these?

17 comments:

jim treacher said...

I probably picked the wrong week to start listening to the Galactica podcast, huh? Bit chaotic. But it was nice to have Moore's explanation for why this episode didn't really work. The one thing I liked was Tigh, who's turning into Quint in space.

I've only seen the two episodes of Dexter that they put on the Internet for free, but in the books, I'm pretty sure Deb is Harry's biological daughter.

Adam said...

On the article, how about Marcia Cross (Melrose Place/DH) as someone who has excelled at playing two very different characters?

Niffer said...

I thought the different reactions from Kara and Tigh said more about each as a character and less about their losses. Yes, Kacey is still alive, and no, Kara didn't try to kill Kacey. But, Tigh's return to the bottle says more about his weakness, and Kara's ability to pull herself together is another sign of her ability to persist and survive.

Toby said...

Re-watching this season of 'Doctor Who' after catching the bit torrents of the British broadcasts, I'm so impressed by the details that play into the overall story for the year. Especially as Real World factors had to be taken into consideration with relatively short notice, it all gels together perfectily by the season finale. (You'll see....)

Never even considered the Ricky and Jake dynamic; but I can totally see now where hints of it still exist It's a shame now that it couldn't have been left in.

I also was a big fan of Mrs. Moore in her four minutes or so of the spotlight. I'm still holding out hope that the actress and character can be brought back on either 'Doctor Who' or 'Torchwood', but of course as her counterpart in the Doctor's original dimension.

However, if things work over there as they do with the production of 'Lost', that might be a problem. I've read the actress has been a naughty girl in the legal problems department....

Next week should be of interest to "TV historians" as they go back to the early days of the industry in Britain.

Tosy And Cosh said...

It took me a long while to convince myself that, yes, that is Kim Kelly on ER - a testament to how well Busy Philips is playing two very different characters. (And I keep hoping the writers push her and Sam together)

rick said...

I think "Dexter" the show is losing me, which is unfornate, because "Dexter" the character is totally winning me over. It seems like the show is a little too much CSI and a little too little The Sopranos. Also, I have a strange hunch that his sister is the "ice-truck killer," but maybe that's just what they want me to think.

I'll keep watching. Michael C. Hall is too good.

Dan Coyle said...

I don't normally watch Desperate Housewives but that was a very good episode. You know something? Brenda Strong? She's tall. Really Tall. Freaking GARGANTUAN.

David J. Loehr said...

I was wondering if you meant deus ex machina instead of deux ex machina, but I wasn't sure, because one means "from the machine, God," and the other means "from the machine, two," which is appropriate for the number of times Doctor Who has gone to that plot device over the years...

Matt said...

If they're following the book (as they apparently are), Rick's wrong, but sort of right. And the ending of the first Dexter book (with the reveal of the Ice Truck Killer) is one of the lamest dei ex machinae ever, especially given that it's intended to be psychologically profound.

undercover black man said...

Re: that question about TV actors who reinvented themselves... a tip of the rabbit ears to Susan Dey, from Partridge Kid to "L.A. Law" female lead, one of the best female dramatic roles on TV during its time.

jim treacher said...

I thought the deuce ecch machinist at the end of Darkly Dreaming Dexter worked within the context of the novel. If I can take it on board that a crime scene technician is moonlighting as a serial killer who only preys on serial killers, that ending wasn't much more of a leap. But I won't know how they'll deal with it on the show until the DVD box set comes out, so I'll shut up now.

Oh, and another TV actor who reinvented himself: Rick Schroder. Although NYPD Blue was kind of a blip, wasn't it?

anon said...

Alan,

I liked the examples from your article, but I think Michael Chiklis deserves mention as a much more recent example of a TV actor reinventing himself. Jack Klugman for Oscar/Quincy and Ed Asner as Lou Grant/Lou Grant come to mind as well. Also, although she didn't have _two_ hit roles (I think), Betty White has often walked the line between saintly characters and bitchy characters. But I'm sure you have a much more comprehensive list.

Anon

Anonymous said...

"I think Michael Chiklis deserves mention as a much more recent example of a TV actor reinventing himself."

Reinventing himself? I don't know whether to quarrel or not. Chikilis does what actors are supposed to do: playing different characters as different characters.

Look at his work in all of his biggest projects (The Commish, Daddie Dearest, The Shield, Fantastic Four and, yes, the Three Stooges bio-movie.) These are fully realized personalities, distinctly and consistently drawn.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The point on Chiklis is that very few TV stars are allowed -- whether by casting directors, network execs, or audiences -- to ply their craft and play roles significantly different from the one that made them famous.

And where were you guys with all these great suggestions when I was writing the column? Huh? Huh?

jim treacher said...

Yeah, wasn't Chiklis on some sitcom playing a stay-at-home dad right before he landed The Shield? Well, no matter what else happens in his career, he's got to be happy that everybody's pretty much forgotten Wired.

dez said...

"And where were you guys with all these great suggestions when I was writing the column? Huh? Huh?"

Heh, do your own work ;-)

anon said...

anonymous poster above:

What Alan said. Alan's Ledger column concerned Neil Patrick Harris, and how Harris managed to find a role that has allowed him to shed his Doogie Howser past. My comment wasn't meant to reflect on Chiklis' abilities as an actor per se -- just on the difficulties he might have had in getting serious roles after _The Commish_.

And yes, jim treacher, Chiklis has to go through _Daddio_. But Harris had to go through _Stark Raving Mad_. Everybody has to pay some dues. Just wait till you see what Matthew Perry's _next_ project turns out to be.

Sometimes time helps, too. Rob Morrow just doesn't evoke Joel Fleischman for that many people anymore, and Gerald McRaney eased from Rick Simon to genially gruff father figure for a while before his turn on _Deadwood_. Tom Selleck has followed a similar route, and I think he's just about due for an interesting role.

Also, I don't know how this works in foreign markets. Did the British think it was weird when Robbie Coltrane went from _Nuns on the Run_ to _Cracker_? I don't really know what sort of career he's had in the UK, but before _Cracker_ I always thought he was just known for his comedy.

Anon