Comedy Central confirmed Tuesday that it had ordered seven episodes of a new animated series, Freakshow. It is slated to begin airing on the cable channel next winter (late 2006 or early 2007).

The show will chronicle the adventures of a group called the Freak Squad, who work as circus side show freaks but are occasionally called to service by a secret government agency to fight evil. Featured characters include a human-clam hybrid and conjoined twins.

The “heroes'” arch nemeses consist of superhero wannabes who failed to join the “World-Famous Justice Squad ( a not-so-subtle spoof of the Justice League) and decided to turn to a life of evil.

The show features the voice, writing and producing talents of David Cross (Men in Black, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and H. Jon Benjamin (Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist).

Hard Pill

5 out of 10
Hard Pill

{NO SPOILERS}

Premise: A gay man unhappy with his life takes part in drug trials after a pharmaceutical giant develops a pill that may “cure” homosexuality.

So, what would happen if scientists found the cause of homosexuality and said they developed a pill that could “cure” the condition.

This is the premise of Hard Pill, a so-so film being shown this month on the Logo Network.

The film follows the life of a gay man named Tim, plated by Jonathan Slavin (Inconceivable, Summerland), who doesn’t feel like he fit in with the rest of the gay world. After he enrolls in a drug company trial, the film follows his life as he tries to change his sexual orientation from gay to straight.

The film also focuses on how his decision and the outcome of the drug trial affects the men and women Tim’s life.

The Premise as Science Fiction
One of the great strengths of science fiction is that it can use its “what if” factor to show a morality play of a possible future to question the morals of today. In fact science fiction television has a long and proud history of doing just this, from the original Star Trek and Twilight Zone in the 1960s to today’s Battlestar Galactica.

Ironically, for an issue film, this is where Hard Pill is its least effective. The film is muddled and unfocused. As the main character experiences his transformation, the people around him struggle with his changes. But as the final credits roll at the end of the film, it is anyone’s guess about what the thematic purpose of this film is.

The film’s weakness ultimately is that it fails to take a stand of any kind. Not let nature be; not whether homosexuality good or bad; not anything. It leaves the viewer wanting – in the bad sense.

The Screenplay
Written and directed by John Baumgartner, Hard Pill has the infuriating knack for starting compelling stories but never fleshes them out to be anything but distractions. That is annoying.

Especially in the case of the romance between Tim’s commitment-phobic friend Joey, played by Scotch Ellis Loring (Wonderfalls), who stumbles accidentally into a relationship with gay activist Brad, played by Timothy Omundson (Judging Amy, Deadwood, John Doe, Xena: Warrior Princess). The relationship between these two builds, but the story is dropped without any form of resolution.

Acting
The sole bright spot of this film is the acting talent, which is top-notch. Each performers rises above the material and uses what little is there to shine in their own way.

Some adult themes.


RATINGS
Overall: 5 out of 10
V-Chip Rating: TV-14 DS
Genre: Science Fiction.
Sex: Adult situations, heterosexual and homosexual kissing.
Violence: None.
Eye Candy: Low.

IMDB listing

CAST
Jonathan Slavin … Tim
Scotch Ellis Loring … Joey
Susan Slome … Sally
Mike Begovich … Don
Jennifer Elise Cox … Tanya
Timothy Omundson … Brad

Well-known television actor Dennis Weaver died last Friday from complications of cancer. He was 81.

Known as the last of the great TV cowboys playing cowboy-hat wearing heroes well into the 1980s, among science fiction and fantasy fans, Weaver may be best known for a single work; a little movie-of-the-week that wowwed critics and audiences alike back in 1971. The film, of course, was Duel, directed by a then-unknown Steven Spielberg.

The film about a seemingly supernatural evil embodied by an 18-wheeler truck hellbent on killing Weaver’s character, was such a hit with American audiences, that it was released in movie theatres in Europe.

Actor Peter Dinklage’s hard feelings over CBS’ abrupt cancellation of Threshold don’t run very deep. He has signed on to costar in another genre series at the Eye Network.

In he show, called Ultra, Dinklage will play a character known as “The Scientist.” In Threshold, Dinklage played a wise-cracking and hard-partying womanizer who also was a brilliant scientist.

Ultra is based upon the Image Comics title of the same name. The comic parodizes fashion and entertainment magazines in its style and layout as it follows the exploits of a single girl in the city, played by Lena Headey (The Brothers Grimm, The Cave), who must balance the demands of her faltering love life with the demands of being a super hero.

The pilot was written by Joan of Arcadia and Judging Amy creator, Barbara Hall. Both of her previous shows, although popular and critically acclaimed, were cancelled by the network because they attracted an audience too old for CBS’s marketing wishes.

Hall hopes Ultra as a cross between Smallville and Sex and the City will bring in the younger viewers CBS covets. Ultra is vying for a spot on CBS’s 2006-2007 schedule.

Award-winning science fiction and fantasy writer Octavia E Butler died suddenly Saturday, a victim of an apparent stroke. At age 58, she had achieved much more than once would expect from a dyslexic African American lesbian born to a shoe shiner.

For her work, she had been awarded two Nebula and Hugo awards.

Below is an excerpt from her bibliography at Wikipedia and reprinted under this GFDL license.

Octavia Estelle Butler (June 22, 1947-February 25, 2006) was an American science fiction writer, one of very few African-American women in the field, and a leading lesbian writer. She won both Hugo and Nebula awards, and was the first science fiction writer ever to be a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.”

Butler was born in Pasadena, California. Her father, a shoe shiner, died when she was young; her mother raised her in a struggling, racially mixed neighborhood. As a child, she was considered shy and a “daydreamer;” she was later diagnosed with dyslexia. She began writing at the age of 10 “to escape loneliness and boredom.” She was 12 when she began a lifelong interest in science fiction.

After getting an associate degree from Pasadena City College, she attended California State University and UCLA. She gave credit for her development as a writer to the Open Door Program of the Screen Writers Guild of America and the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop.

Butler moved to Seattle in November 1999. She described herself as “comfortably asocial–a hermit in the middle of Seattle–a pessimist if I’m not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.” She died of a stroke on February 25, 2006 at the age of 58.

After taking a couple weeks off during the month of February, the dark fantasy thriller, Supernatural, is set to return to The WB this week before moving to Thursday nights at 9 p.m. (8 central) starting March 16.

The network is paring the show up with Smallville, a move many expect to be ported over the the new CW network in September.

With this consolidation, The WB (and the new CW network) will have a 2-hour female friendly fantasy block on Thursday nights to counter program crime shows, reality programs, news magazines and sitcoms on the other networks.

With the casting of hunky heartthrobs Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, a strong following among women was to be expected by the network. But according to Nielsen results, Supernatural’s dark tone, witty dialogue and action also has been drawing a sizable male audience.

Although nothing is official at The CW, Supernatural is considered a shoo-in.

Just days after taking over the reins of the soon-to-shutter WB network, development honchos at the new CW network are already tweaking shows in development for next year.

Making news this week, CW execs are taking a closer interest in the new Smallville spin-off, Mercy Reef. In a move that bodes will for the show’s chance for being picked up, network programmers replaced one blond hunky actor for another hunk.

This is the show that will feature a young Aquaman character, called A.C. (short for “Arthur Curry”). This version of A.C. debuted in a highly-rated episode of Smallville this past fall with former American Idol heartthrob Alan Ritchson playing the role. Ritchson-as-eye-candy made such a splash in the media and ratings, that the WB quickly ordered a pilot for a new south Florida-based Aquaman series.

They quickly dumped Ritchson, who although he looked the part, did not have the acting chops to carry a series. They opted instead to cast former Abercrombie & Fitch model, Will Toale. The WB has had repeated success with casting A&F models in its shows, most notable is former A&F model Tom Welling as Smallville’s Clark Kent.

But as CW execs started looking over WB shows in development, they took an interest in the Aquaman show and its cast. The first move was to recast supporting characters with well-known name-brands such as Ving Rhames (Mission: Impossible, Dawn of the Dead) as MacCaffery, A.C.’s mentor and former Miss Universe from Puerto Rico, Denise Quinones, as Rachel, A.C.’s love interest, to draw a more upscale and ethnically diverse urban audience (the primary target for The CW Network).

The final step was to recast the lead character himself. CW execs ditched Toale for Justin Hartley (pictured), who has spent the past four years building a sizable fan base as Nicholas Crane on the supernatural NBC soap, Passions.

Although the CW has taken a high interest in the series, Mercy Reef has not officially been added to the 2006-2007 network lineup.

Prolific actor Darren McGavin died Saturday. Best known among science fiction and fantasy fans as the original Carl Kolchak from Kolchack: The Night Stalker in the 1970s, ironically, his last performance was an uncredited cameo in the pilot episode of ABC’s short-lived reincarnation of the series a few months ago.

McGavin was featured in dozens of science fiction, fantasy, horror and spy-fi works on television in in the cinema. Along with Night Stalker, he had stand-out performances in such genre fare as the 1980 TV miniseries, The Martian Chronicles and had a recurring role as Agent Arthur Dales on The X-Files.

Here is a list of some of his genre work starting from the most recent:


  • Night Stalker – (2005) TV Pilot … Reporter Standing at Desk
  • The X-Files – (1998, 1999) … Agent Arthur Dales
  • Millennium – (1997) … Henry Black
  • Touched by an Angel – (1997) … George Zarko
  • Gargoyles – The Silver Falcon (1995) … Dominic Dracon
  • Captain America – (1991) … Gen. Fleming
  • Monsters – Portrait of the Artist (1989) … Hubert
  • Around the World in 80 Days (1989) … Benjamin Mudge
  • Highway to Heaven – (1988) … Hale Stoddard
  • Tales from the Darkside – Distant Signals (1985) … Van Conway
  • The Hitchhiker – Nightshift (1985) … Old Man
  • Firebird 2015 AD (1981) … Red
  • The Martian Chronicles (1980) … Sam Parkhill
  • The Demon and the Mummy (1976) …. Carl Kolchak
  • Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974) … Carl Kolchak (1974-1975)
  • The Six Million Dollar Man (1973) … Oliver Spencer
  • The Night Strangler (1973) … Carl Kolchak
  • The Night Stalker (1972) … Carl Kolchak
  • Mission Mars (1968) … Col. Mike Blaiswick
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – The Deadly Quest Affair (1967) … Viktor Karmak

Underworld Evolution

8 out of 10
Nanny McPhee (2005)
NO SPOILERS

Of all the so-called family films I’ve seen in the past 12 months, two have stood out as films I’ve told adults to go see – whether they have children or not. One is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the second is Nanny McPhee.

This film is a modern classic. Like the latest potter movie, and like the classic Disney films of the 1930s and 1940s, the makers of Nanny McPhee know that evil and dark times are required to make the good times matter.

In the title role, Emma Thompson plays the magical Nanny McPhee, who takes on a physical appearance that matches her charges’ behaviour. The more ugly the children’s behavior, the more ugly the Nanny appears.

As the best-known actor cast in a major role in the film, she succeeds in keeping her supporting role from overpowering the other actors and plot of this sweet film. In a bit part, the films biggest star, Angela Lansbury,
does a delightful turn as the pompous Aunt Adelaide, who is near sighted in more than one way.

The true strength of this delightful film is that it is a true family film. It falls happily into a category of its own. It isn’t mind-numbingly boring to adults like most movies for children. Emma Thompson also wrote the script, which is adapted from the Nurse Matilda series of children’s books by Christianna Brand.

It is no wonder that Thompson has won an Academy Award for her abilities to adapt literature for to the big screen. With Nanny McPhee she again does an outstanding job. Here the adults have human faults and the children talk like children, not miniature grownups.

Thompson has a gift for dialogue which is rare, Thompson sets a rhythm and lyrical quality in all of her scripts that are reminiscent of the playfulness in some of Shakespeare’s farces.

Nanny McPhee is one of those films that didn’t set the box office on fire, but is destined to live for years as a classic family film due to its magical mix of wit and moral relevance.


RATINGS
Overall: 8 out of 10
MPAA Rating: PG
Genre:Fantasy
Sex: None.
Violence: Slapstick violence. Some implied dark humor.
Special Effects: Average.

CAST
Emma Thompson … Nanny McPhee
Colin Firth … Cedric Brown
Kelly Macdonald … Evangeline
Celia Imrie … Selma Quickly
Derek Jacobi … Mr. Wheen
Patrick Barlow … Mr. Jowls
Imelda Staunton … Mrs. Blatherwick
Angela Lansbury … Great Aunt Adelaide

Underworld Evolution

3 out of 10
Underworld Evolution (2005)
NO SPOILERS

Every so often a stylish little film comes out of nowhere and becomes a cult hit. That happened in the fall of 2003 when a lower budget vampire and werewolf movie called Underworld opened in theatres. To almost everyone’s surprise, it was the top movie of the weekend and went on to attract a sizable audience and made a handsome profit for the studio.

The film was full of chemistry. A mixture of nihilistic sexiness not seen since 1983 when Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie and Susan Sarandon steamed up the screen with The Hunger, did a vampire film get so much attention in fandom.

After the debut, fans were pleased to hear that both a sequel and prequel were already written for Underworld. Sony, the studio in charge of the film, set December 2005 as the debut for the new film.

But things started to go sour. First, Sony moved the debut of Underworld Evolution, as the sequel was named, out of the prime holiday season. Second, when the film finally did debut on the weekend of January 20, 2006 – the studio refused to pre-screen the film to critics.

That is usually a bad sign. It usually means that studio honchos are afraid of bad word of mouth since they think the film is poor quality and do not want to take a ribbing from critics.

Well, I’m breaking out the ribs.

Underworld Evolution is one of those sequels like Jaws 2 or the Matrix sequels that leaves many fans befuddled and annoyed. Like those films, this movie achieves the rare and dubious honor of making the original film appear less special in hindsight.

Quite frankly it is a movie that should never have been made.

The special effects are sub-par, the story is predictable and boring and the acting talents of the talented cast are wasted since it seems the studio was more interested in showing the scenery and action than any emotional depth or character development.

If you like the Underworld mythos and world of the original movie and want to get more of it. I suggest skipping Underworld Evolution the movie, and instead head over to your local bookstore and buy the novelization by Greg Cox.

The book costs less than a movie ticket, lasts longer and is better written.


RATINGS
Overall: 3 out of 10
MPAA Rating: R
Genre:Dark Fantasy
Sex: Minimal.
Violence: Fantasy violence. Graphic depictions of death.
Special Effects: Average

CAST
Kate Beckinsale … Selene
Scott Speedman … Michael Corvin
Tony Curran … Marcus
Derek Jacobi … Corvinus
Bill Nighy … Viktor
Steven Mackintosh … Tanis
Shane Brolly … Kraven
Brian Steele … William
Zita Görög … Amelia
Scott McElroy … Soren
John Mann … Samuel
Michael Sheen … Lucian