Terra Nova or Terra Bull?

I apologize for the awful pun but it seems appropriate for such an awful show. But the big question is: Why did I keep watching after the first episode?

Okay, I almost didn’t. But since we have On Demand, that gives me opportunities to watch television when I really shouldn’t. Meaning that there is nothing on worth watching so I could go read a book or do just about anything else. (Since I spend so many hours in front of the computer, I’m not about to log even more time there.)

True confessions aside, I started watching additional episodes of Terra Nova. Maybe I enjoy cataloguing all the things that are wrong with it in my head. Maybe I love dinosaurs so much…but wait a minute, entire episodes pass without so much as a dino head popping up over the trees.

I guess I’m just hooked on watching and thinking about all the things the writers and producers could have done so much better. Here’s another example of where big budgets are misspent on effects with no attention to plot and character.

None of the actors are particularly engaging although the central character, Jim Shannon, is okay. Commander Taylor, the leader of the Terra Nova colony, is probably the most compelling character on the show, or at least he was when he appeared to be complicated in the first couple episodes. Alas, he turned out to an upright good guy, a bit over zealous perhaps but with Good Reasons.

One of the more disappointing aspects of the show is that it devolved into basic good vs. evil plotting. The bad guys are awful in every way with no redeeming features. The good guys stand for everything moral and upright – and never hesitate to make absolute decisions that will affect everybody without consulting anyone else, never mind votes or polls. Worst of all, the only real villain in the show is a whining selfish young man who is utterly unconvincing as someone capable of wreaking havoc on civilization.

First recommendation for this show: Get a scary villain, stat. Find someone the audience will love to hate. A villain we believe will stop at nothing…and is capable and competent. Also charismatic enough for us to believe he or she can attract followers.

In the early episodes, we learned there were rebels among the colonists that were trying to sabotage Commander Taylor. Being an avid reader/watcher, I immediately thought the rebels would turn out to be the right-minded people and Taylor the stiff-necked Facist and ultimate control freak. But instead of playing up that aspect of Taylor, it slowly comes about that he’s a great guy who only does what is best for his colony. Kinda like the Pope, Taylor seems to be infallible. Jim Shannon becomes his lieutenant and right-hand man as they jump into futuristic vehicles and mix it up with various bad guys and occasionally some wild life.

Second Recommendation: More dinosaurs, please. More exotic and dangerous plants. The plots need less manomano combat although I appreciate that running away from T-Rexes would get old. But it so easy to forget this is a prehistoric setting, what with all the future technology and stereotypical bad guys running around.

Really this could be a decent show, even if those two recommendations were followed. There’s still myriad issues though. For instance, the military troops are racially diverse but the colonists themselves appear to be all white with a few medium brown. Very creepy if you analyze what that means except that the colonist are totally background figures with no lines.

Meanwhile, the Shannon family provides all of the domestic drama on the show. The family scenes are excruciatingly painful to watch so they need to go away or be improved. Sadly for the actors, that would mean some recasting or intense acting coaching for all involved. Jim’s wife is charming enough and easy to watch, but she is kept completely unruffled at all times. Her role as a genius scientist/doctor is a solid one, but it is beginning to look like she is the only doctor in the colony, which makes no sense. As a mother, she is understanding, wise, and flawless, and nowhere near human.

As for the kids…the youngest is cute, so annoyingly cute and obviously exists for child-in-peril plots. The teenage daughter is beautiful and as intelligent as her mother, but crushing on a soldier. The teenage son has plenty of angst with his Dad, but the actor playing him must have gone to the same acting school as the villain.

I just had a revelation in thinking about the cast. The women are largely black-haired, brown-eyed and brown while the men are largely steely-blue-eyed individuals. Everyone is ripped of course, but you wouldn’t expect them to allow fat middle-aged or old people into such an ideal community.

From what I understand, it is more likely the show will not return. I can’t think of any good reason to save it but at the same time, I am so disappointed that so much money was wasted on something that could have been solid entertainment.

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A Dud

Already GoneAlready Gone by John Rector
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The story opens with a shocker, then moves quickly but even with splashes of gore and violence, there is a curious detachment to the proceedings. Eventually, things move into the realm of totally unbelievable. Eventually I stopped caring and finished it only to see how the author would wrap it up. Left me scratching my head.

I’d say this is a fast read for someone who likes action and violence with little regard to plot and character development. The one female character in the book is shallow and inconsistent. The reader is supposed to believe that the main character loves her beyond reason, yet there is no connection or even warmth between them.

I have almost forgotten the book already and by next week, it will be gone from my brain entirely.

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Chet and Bernie Do It Again

The Dog Who Knew Too Much (A Chet and Bernie Mystery #4)The Dog Who Knew Too Much by Spencer Quinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the fourth book in the Chet and Bernie mystery series. I’ve enjoyed every single one of these books and while some may be marginally better than others, they are each entertaining and readable.

Spencer Quinn has created the most endearing and believable non-human character in Chet (the Jet), a large “police dog” who flunked out of K-9 training, but wound up as a partner to a private eye, Bernie. What makes Chet unique in the genre of thinking or talking animals is that while the novels are narrated by Chet and the action unfolds from a dog’s PoV, no one else can communicate with Chet. In other words, Chet’s best friend is a Jack Russell terrier named Iggy, but at no time do they “talk” to one another. Bernie might know something is up with Chet, and the reader knows exactly what Chet wishes he could tell Bernie, but at no time do they communicate by language or telepathy or any other device. This serves to make the stories more believable since Chet does nothing more remarkable than tell his own story.

The plots within the novels are generally satisfying although not groundbreaking. The entertainment comes purely from Chet’s commentary and canine way of thinking. The humans in the room might be having an earnest conversation filled with important information, but Chet is usually too busy sniffing out crumbs on the carpet to pay attention. No matter how bleak the situation (and the stories do have a dark underbelly at times), Chet’s mood is elevated by the appearance of food or just the thought of his beloved Bernie.

While the books can stand alone, there’s no reason not to start with the first one. I am already looking forward to the fifth.

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FEVRE DREAM by George RR Martin

Fevre DreamFevre Dream by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

No spoilers in this review.

This is Martin’s effort at telling a vampire tale. The main character, Abner Marsh, is a steam boat captain in 1857, aging, fat, and down on his luck. He is approached by a mysterious stranger who will only meet with him at night, and makes him an offer to good to refuse. No surprises about the stranger, although Abner Marsh isn’t so quick to catch on since he hasn’t been inundated for at least twenty years with books, movies, and TV shows about vampires.

Martin loves to provide details, especially when it comes to food. The book sags under the weight of drawn out lists of food and myriad details regarding steam boats. I am always impressed by his research and he did a great job of capturing the era, but for me, it was overkill and caused my attention to wander.

I liked Martin’s take on vampire lore in that he gave them a history and even a biological background. Still, their behavior overall was predictable and this novel had few surprises for me.

Having said that, by the end of the book, I was hooked by the story and the characters. However, the three star rating is due to the extremely drawn out beginning, in fact, the entire first half of the book dragged to the point that I doubted I could finish it. The two main characters are engaging yet never as complex as Martin’s SONG characters. I suppose everything Martin writes must suffer in comparison.

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“The Walking Dead” on AMC: Boredom is a bigger threat than Zombies

Caution: Here there be spoilers, both in this blog and following the link.

One thing that makes it hard for me to blog regularly is the fact that there are already so many well-written blogs out there. Today I read a Salon.com blog about TWD that said what I’d been thinking about this show. You can read it here: http://www.salon.com/a/sgtibAA/

I like to write dialogue so I sympathize with the writers of TWD to some extent. It must be heavenly to write pages and pages of angst-filled speeches with zero restraint. But omg, no one really talks like that. The characters deliver speeches to one another, scene after scene, with intermittent gore-splattered moments that are supposed to reawaken the viewers with some success.

SPOILER: The moment that one character sent another to purchase a pregnancy kit, my heart sank. I detest pregnancy as plot device particularly when nothing original will be done with it. In this case, it especially disheartening since the parents involved have already had lengthy discussions about the future and its impact on children.

I don’t think most of us watch Zombie stories because we want to watch moral discussions. We want to see the consequences of those decisions and to some extent, seeing the characters wrestle with ethical and moral dilemmas is part of the suspense and drama. But listening to them talk, talk, talk endlessly about it makes for terrible pacing.

I remember when LOST became extremely dull to watch, particularly the first part of season 3. The producers retooled it for the second half and the momentum changed entirely. Here’s to hoping that TWD does the same.

AMERICA’S WOMEN by Gail Collins

America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and HeroinesAmerica’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is well researched and interesting, packed with anecdotes about women in American history that we didn’t learn about in school. I didn’t read the entire book although I will likely go back and read more, since it is a book that you don’t need to read from cover to cover. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t contain the specific information that I was hoping to find, but the bibliography has tons of sources that are well worth looking at.

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CHANGE OF HEART by Jodi Picoult

Change of HeartChange of Heart by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like Jodi Picoult’s writing overall. She’s the sort of writer that I just slip into reading whatever story she is telling, but this one jarred me early in the process. For one thing, I knew what the twist would be at the end almost immediately. Maybe Picoult wanted readers to catch the clues she gave about the crime that was central to the story but I was annoyed that something was so obvious to me but not to anyone else in the book. I could get past that though; the real sticking point was that many chapters were from the PoV of a Catholic priest and it was clear to me that Picoult misunderstood some major theology points about Catholicism. The priest simply was not believable and I chafed at every chapter that he narrated.

The miracles and mysticism in the early parts of the book were intriguing and well-written, but by the time matters reached a critical point, I was skimming along to see how all the story lines resolved. It was actually a fairly satisfying ending, although the story failed as far as tracing one characters fall from faith. I also felt that the second half of the book was far less subtle as far as the writing went. Dialogue became cumbersome with info-dumping and became somewhat tedious. This is a book that should leave a reader wanting to discuss the issues it raises about death, capital punishment, revenge, redemption, religion and so on. All weighty topics but in this book, the topics sink rather than inspire discussion.

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