Sunday, February 19, 2012

Comic Book Men: AMC’s Kinder, Gentler Reality Show

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on February 19, 2012. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.  

Kevin Smith (centre) and the rest of the Comic Book Men

AMC has come a long way since the premiere of Mad Men in 2007. Firmly establishing itself as a destination for original programming, the channel has had its ups (Breaking Bad) and downs (Hell on Wheels). But last Sunday, it stepped decisively into television’s 21st century with Comic Book Men, its first unscripted series. Yes, AMC now has a reality show.

For all the television that I regularly watch, I have to admit that reality shows rarely make the cut. I’ll watch (and enjoy) the odd episode of Amazing Race, but most of the unscripted shows currently on the air are often just too plain loud for me. The shows are too often populated by poorly drawn, unrealistic characters whose problems are usually the result of their own narcissistic reality distortions – quite simply not people I want to welcome into my home, at least not voluntarily. Nevertheless, the best of those shows can often be genuinely entertaining, and, like good film documentaries, can provide insight into people, worlds, and situations beyond the average viewer’s everyday experience. With Comic Book Men, AMC opens the door to the slightly mysterious kingdom of the comic book store. And now that it’s here, it feel almost like an inevitably. The world of comic book and sci-fi nerds is much more fashionable now than it ever has been. After all, the boys of The Big Bang Theory have been making comedic fodder of it for five successful seasons.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lilyhammer: Netflix’s Impressive Entry into New Original Programming

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on February 9, 2012. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.  

Steven Van Zandt stars in Lilyhammer on Netflix

It’s been a big week in new media: as speculations about the future of Apple iTV reached a fever pitch, and Amazon announced a new partnership with Viacom that adds over 2000 new titles to its service, Netflix, the granddaddy of streaming media, premiered its first original television series: Lilyhammer, a low-key wiseguy-out-of-water comedy starring The Sopranos alum Steven Van Zandt. This is only the first of three series that Netflix will be offering exclusively to its subscribers. Last week, it was officially announced that Netflix would air an original new season (with full original cast and writers) of Fox’s beleaguered but brilliant sitcom Arrested Development (2003-2006) in 2013. And later this year, 26 episodes of David Fincher and Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards will be available exclusively on Netflix. Spacey will star and Oscar-nominated director Fincher (The Social Network) is directing the pilot.

But its innovative delivery system is fortunately not the only original feature of Lilyhammer. The show, a co-production by Netflix and NRK1 (the main channel of Norway’s public broadcaster), is a quirky black comedy, starring one familiar television face and a whole cast of Norwegian actors. What was completely unexpected, at least for me, was the fact that it is very much a Norwegian show, and much of the show’s dialogue is in Norwegian. When the show premiered on Norwegian television at the end of January, it broke all ratings records for the country with one in five Norwegians tuning in.