A Trip to ‘Emerald City’ (POV #2)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Time now for the second perspective on Emerald City. Which do you agree with, #1 or this one, #2?

Characterization, Emerald City style. Right – it isn’t there!

by Robin Reed

It’s not that I object to a new take on L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories. I read Philip Jose Farmer’s “A Barnstormer in Oz.” I tried to read Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked” (and I just now learned that there are three more books) but Maguire managed to make a magical, enchanted land boring. I haven’t seen the musical based on his book. The original books are in public domain, so new versions are inevitable.

I was in college when I first saw “The Wizard of Oz” with Judy Garland in color. The change from black and white to color was wasted on me before that because I only saw it on black and white TVs. I have liked it ever since. I’m not a big musical lover, but the comedy and vaudeville shtick made me like it.

I have read several of the books by Baum. The second book is about a boy named Tip who escapes the witch who is holding him and treating him like a slave, travels to the Emerald City, and discovers that he is a girl, in fact the princess Ozma. He’s not too happy about the change at first, but learns to like being a girl and is in many other books as Ozma.

This story is part of “Emerald City” on NBC, as are other elements drawn from other books. I looked forward to the show when is was announced, but I’m afraid I have given up on it after two episodes. It looks great, they must shoot in exotic locations, but I just don’t care about the characters. Dorothy is an adult, and has a pistol because she travelled on the tornado in a police car. Her Toto is a police dog, a German Shepherd. The scarecrow is a hunky guy, a lion in a cage is shown but its level of cowardice is unknown so far.

As I said, it’s not the adult themes and situations I object to, it’s flat characters and a plot that doesn’t interest me. Vincent D’Onofrio would be better without being buried in a wig and beard.

In the age of CGI, someone will someday make a wonderful, magical Oz movie or TV show, with characters from the books that would be hard to do without computer animation. “Emerald City” is not it.

A former student in TVWriter™’s Online Workshop, Robin Reed is a writer and cartoonist known mostly for her fantasy and science fiction work. If you haven’t read her Powers series of books you’re missing a treat.

TV Review: The Daredevil is in the Details


by Robin Reed

In Marvel Studios/Disney’s ongoing efforts to take over the media universe, they have now reached Netflix, where the original series Daredevil recently debuted. Thirteen episodes fell all at once into our binge-watching lives, and I have taken in six of them in the last three days.

I am a long-time Marvel comics reader, though I faded away from constant comics consumption in the late eighties when I realized that the characters would never really change, that by the nature of the industry they couldn’t change. I craved endings, and superheroes never end as long as their books, movies and TV shows sell. Even death isn’t the end, they come back whenever there is another chance to profit from them. Sometimes they snap back to their beginnings and devoted readers such as myself are left with years of stories in our heads that have been rendered nonexistent.

Daredevil was created when someone at Marvel said, “How about a blind superhero?” How this was possible was explained half by the old saw that blind people compensate with sharper hearing, smell, and touch; and half by a mysterious chemical that spilled over young Matt Murdock in an accident. At least it wasn’t radiation, the other favored bit of handwavium in the Marvel universe.

Daredevil was in the doldrums, sales-wise, until Frank Miller took it over and introduced DD’s mentor and trainer Stick (parodied as Splinter in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who also used a chemical, called a Mutagen, to explain the origin of the turtles.) Miller also created Elektra and made the Kingpin, normally a Spider-Man villain, into DD’s nemesis.

Netflix has brought Daredevil into the twenty first century, yet also left some classic elements back in the last century. It treats the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen as if it was still a lower class, crime-ridden area. However, with the prices in Manhattan, the area is gentrifying and is called Clinton or Mid-Town West by the real estate sales people these days.

Tying into the events of the first Avengers movie, Hell’s Kitchen is being rebuilt after all the destruction of the Chitauri invasion. One of the forces behind the rebuilding is a new crime boss, so scary that no one will say his name. His name is of course Wilson Fisk, though he is not yet called The Kingpin. Vincent D’Onofrio is very good in the part, though he can’t manage the sheer size that Michael Clark Duncan did in the Ben Affleck DD movie.

Many villains are given a human side, but Fisk’s more gentle side is the first we see of him, as he goes on a somewhat awkward date with an art gallery owner named Vanessa. It isn’t too long, though, before he decapitates a fellow gangster with a car door.

The show is very dark, a shot of daylight is rare. Even when Matt is arguing in a courtroom there is nothing but blackness behind him. Every punch lands with a thud that sounds like doom. In fact, I was aware of the foley effects more than in most movies or TV shows because they are so exaggerated.

Besides his enhanced senses, Daredevil is able to take a lot of physical abuse. He gets cut and bleeds a lot, but doesn’t need weeks in a hospital to recover. This is explained only as a trait inherited from his father, a boxer whose main tactic was to let his opponent hit him until the opponent got tired. This isn’t really a super power, just another bit of “there’s no story if he can’t do this.”

I grew up when the Comics Code Authority was in full force, so I was a little surprised by language that they never would have allowed, but it is the twenty first century on a platform that has no restrictions, so I got used to it quickly. Another thing the CCA would have banned is the portrayal of rampant police corruption. A year ago I might have thought it was over the top, but since then we have had the real New York police department throw a hissy fit because the Mayor said something that everyone knows is true.

Charlie Cox is good as Matt/Daredevil. Elden Henson is his law partner Foggy Nelson, who plays a lot bigger role than I remember Foggy playing in the comics. Deborah Ann Woll is Karen Page and Rosario Dawson is a woman who gets involved when she finds DD in a dumpster, and tries to keep him from going over the edge. All of these people have lives outside of Daredevil’s story and aren’t just sidekicks and love interests.

One aspect of the Ben Affleck DD movie that I liked was that he slept in a sensory deprivation chamber because every sound even from blocks away was loud enough to keep him awake. This DD doesn’t do that, and he never did in the comics, but I thought it was a neat idea.

Now if you will excuse me, I have seven more episodes to watch.

Robin Reed: Amazon Studios and Me

Solidarity Department:

Because we’re writers, and we support each other, dammit:

gorilla_picby Robin Reed

In this brand new TV landscape, when every distributor of shows has become a producer of shows, there should be more opportunity for writers. To test that theory, or because I was bored the other day, I pulled a comedy pilot I wrote circa 2004 off my hard drive and posted it to Amazon Studios.

The script is based on a company I worked for in the nineties, a balloon/singing telegram/stripper service with a storefront in a small shopping center. It didn’t take much to turn the craziness of that real experience into a comedy script.

For the next forty five days, “Gorilla Factory” will be subject to the opinions of whoever is out there reading Amazon Studios scripts, presumably many of whom also have a submission on there currently and have reason to shoot everyone else down. At the end of that time, Amazon has the option to give me some money and develop the show further, or much more likely, flush it into oblivion.

If there are any more interesting developments, I will write more here on TVWriter.net. If you have any interest in perusing my script for yourself and giving it a rating, you can find it HERE

Robin Reed: My Most Favorite Thing on TV Right Now

Hmm, doesn't look like a Henson muppet to us., but what do we know?
Hmm, doesn’t look like a Henson muppet to us., but what do we know?

by Robin Reed

The show that I have to stop and watch every time I come across it these days is “No, You Shut Up!”

Host Paul F. Thompkins discusses current events with a panel of puppets who seem to be forgotten relics from the Henson Creature Shop storage shelves. There is usually a human guest also, though he or she is usually forced to answer only in rap, or while doing impressions, or something else very silly.

The show is on the Fusion Network, which probably has other shows but I don’t know what they are. I don’t know exactly when the official air time of the show is either, I just find it while flipping channels, and when I do I have to stop and watch.

I do know that the Henson company does have a role in producing “NYSU!,” a credit at the end says “Henson Alternative.” Maybe some of the younger people are making it without telling Brian Henson.

Or maybe Jim has…returned?

Robin Reed Sees American Horror Story: Freak Show

Not Horror, Not That Freaky
by Robin Reed

Don’t read this if you don’t want to know details of “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” which recently ended its run.freakshow-a-creepy-poster-collection

I am usually right there and ready to be scared when any horror film, book, or TV show comes out. When the word horror is in the title, you know I have to check it out. So when “American Horror Story” started a few years ago, I watched it. For a while. I liked it at first, but then it just got dumb. It was set in the current day (as of several years ago) so the internet existed. How hard is it to enter the address of a house you are looking at into a search engine and find out that it is internationally famous as “The Murder House” and a tour passes by every day with people who want to see it? There were some shivers and cool stuff near the beginning, but I lost all interest after a few episodes.

So I skipped the next two seasons. The only reason I decided to watch “American Horror Story: Freak Show” is that I find the circus/carnie culture interesting, and I have been treated like a freak often enough to feel some kinship to the people in such shows.

I watched every episode, with many characters I liked, and an atmosphere of dread, at least at the beginning. Many people on the internet loved to hate “Twisty the Clown,” (though that name was never mentioned in the show itself.) I thought his character was too easy for a show that was supposed to be groundbreaking. He was the show’s Freddy Krueger, or Jason. But at least he was scary. As the show went on, the scariness drained out of it.

The characters I liked best were the freaks themselves. Some were the product of special effects and makeup, but some were real people who are different. Jyoti Amge, the smallest woman in the world; Mat Fraser, who has floppy arms because his mother took thalidomide when she was pregnant with him; Rose Siggins, who was born with useless legs that were amputated so she could move herself around; and Erika Ervin, a six foot eight inch tall transgender woman.

These characters were all written as real people and had their moments in the story. As did others such as Kathy Bates as a bearded lady with a strange accent, (which I researched, finding out that it is a Baltimore working class accent.) Her son is the Lobster Boy, with hands that look like flippers. Michael Chiklis is a strongman, and Sarah Paulson is conjoined twins who look like one woman with two heads. (This really can happen, twins like that had a short-lived reality show not too long ago.)

There are also dwarves, and actors playing pinheads. Pinheads are people with microcephaly. They have small brains and thus small heads.

There were interesting characters, and interesting plot twists and turns, but the show as a whole was too long, and the decision to kill off Twisty may have seemed clever to the writers but it’s like making a Nightmare on Elm Street movie and removing Freddy Krueger less than halfway through. After he is gone we get a variety of villains, included a man who wants to kill the freaks and sell them to a museum of anatomical oddities, the strong man, who kills Ma Petite, the freak everyone loves, because he is being blackmailed by the man who wants to sell her to the museum, and of course Dandy, the local rich kid who is a blossoming serial killer.

None of these have the focus and intensity that Twisty did, so while the show might be called a drama about horrible things, it really isn’t horror. Horror makes you feel scared and uncomfortable and stays with you long after you read or watch it. American Horror Story: Freak Show was a pretty good drama about these people, but not horror.

I usually like Neil Patrick Harris, but he was brought in seemingly to showcase hoary horror concepts such as a ventriloquist dummy which may or may not be alive, and a magician really sawing a woman in half. His part in the show killed a couple of episodes but had no real effect on the story.

Jessica Lange is in every season of “American Horror Story” and she is good as Elsa Mars, the owner of the show. Her German accent sounded right to me, for someone who has been in the US for many years. Her big secret is that she is a freak too. She has two prosthetic legs. She walks on them so well that no one knows unless she rolls her stockings down to reveal them. The legs are wooden, carved to look like human legs, so I’m not sure it’s possible to walk that well and to keep them secret, and even become a TV star with the public none the wiser.

The best episode was about Pepper the pinhead. Another pinhead who she loved dies and she is inconsolable and unable to perform. Elsa takes her back to her sister, who does not want her. This ties in with an earlier season that I didn’t see, with Pepper in an insane asylum. Pepper was largely background in “Freak Show” until this episode, but becomes a character who makes us feel for her, though she can’t speak and is mentally handicapped.

I don’t know why several songs in a show set in 1952 are performed several decades before they were written. Maybe it has something to do with the overall connections between the seasons.

There are a lot of good things, but the whole doesn’t add up. There were thirteen episodes, and some were longer than an hour. I think they could be edited down to six or seven hours, and would be much better.

“American Horror Story” has a lot of fans, and they trace the connections and characters that appear in different times and locations. Personally, I have done my time and will let those fans continue to watch without me.