Friday, August 27, 2010

The Great Kitten Rescue 2010!

Strange how a most unsettling, but ultimately miraculous, event could take place on a mundane Friday afternoon. My friend Mike and I were chatting on our way to lunch on this, our last day of relative freedom before we take our teaching responsibilities much more seriously. I’d just pulled onto busy Clyde Morris Boulevard when we both noticed the kitten at the side of the road. Inches away from traffic. And it was Tiny. Gray. Cute. Confused.

I slowed but, fortunately for the SUV behind me, my rear bumper, and the kitten, I didn’t slam on my brakes. Instead I felt immediately guilty for leaving the kitten to cross against the light and, as soon as we could find a place to U-turn, headed back.

We double-parked, flashed the hazard lights, and trooped up to the kitten, now flattening itself into the grass a few yards off the road. I stepped between the kitten and the road to provide a barrier (and a reason for the kitten to run away from the road if it needed to escape), while Mike quietly approached from the cross-street side.

Obviously, “here, kitty, kitty,” spoken in a slightly worried tone trying to masquerade as “come hither,” spooks potentially traffic-bound animals. The kitten scooted around me and bounded into the road.

There is a reason why I don’t have pets or children.

Horrified, uncertain, and unbelievably thankful that the women driving the three nearest cars stopped immediately, the kitten and I debated what to do. I opted for the “here, kitty, kitty” approach that had been working so well, while the kitten scampered in front of the first car’s rear tire. And promptly launched itself into the wheel well.

By now two lanes of horrified drivers were blocking the intersection, and I hated to suggest that maybe the car-with-kitten might have to move. Calling to the cat, cautiously approaching the car, and trying to spot the cat without actually crawling under the car weren’t doing much but creating a massive traffic jam.

“Try honking your horn,” one motorist suggested, and the now-parked car dutifully beeped. The cat could care less. It was safe from all the people now hovering around the vehicle, including that first weird woman who’d been so concerned about it leaving its retrospectively nice safe place on the berm.

Suddenly—just like in one of those hero series—a young woman sprinted past me to get to the kitten. She dared go where no one had gone before—under the car in the middle of Clyde Morris. She coaxed the kitten into her hands, pulled it to safety, and got traffic—and bystanders’ hearts—started again.

Rachael the Cat Rescuer offered to have the kitten checked out to make sure it was only frightened from its NDE. The kitten seemed immensely glad to be in Rachael’s capable hands.

My curiosity almost killed the kitten, but, thanks to a hero who leaped into action (and traffic), as well as drivers who cared enough to stop their day and their vehicle for one little gray cat, this story has a happy ending. I may not have faith in my ability as Kitten Whisperer, but Rachael and a line of patiently stopped drivers renewed my faith in people.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Tale of Two Garage Sales

Two memorabilia sales involving two of my favorite TV shows took place this weekend. Each left a distinctly different impression, although I wasn’t present at either and didn’t take home any bargains. Both sales reinforce the notion that what is one person’s clutter is another’s treasure. What separates these sales from most others is the nature of their international Internet coverage.

Lost’s “garage sale,” better known as LOST the Official Auction, began yesterday. As a long-time Lost fan, I was curious how the sale would turn out. As a fan also counting coins to save toward another holiday (to the U.K., once the lovely holiday to Canada is paid for), I decided to sit out the auction. Good thing I did—I quickly would have been outbid on everything that caught my eye in the extensive, six-season catalog. (I listed some of my favorite items in my PopMatters blog on Friday, and I likely will follow up with another post-auction blog once the bidding dust clears.)

Lot 91—one of Charlie’s Season One costumes—brought in $3500, and "Charlie" wasn’t even wearing it at the time. With items fetching multiple thousands of dollars, the auction undoubtedly is a success story for the sellers. Anyone with the cash to bring home one of the many items on the block yesterday alone should be happy not only to have snagged a piece of Lost but to have won against some extremely determined bidders, both online and in person. If not shelling out $3500 or more to own part of Charlie’s past makes me a lesser Lost fan, I guess I’ll have to live with it. I’ll just use that cash to fly to Hawaii to make some beach memories of my own.

I followed the auction online for almost six hours before I gave up—it was still going strong, even if my eyes had glazed over at that point. The initial adrenaline rush of the auction's pace finally gave way to sadness. The sale of “personal effects” reminded me that this character is long gone. And that saddened me.

I only learned about the second sale this morning as I read entertainment news online. This sale took place with very little fanfare, apparently, beyond its neighborhood, where signs proclaimed Torchwood's John Barrowman was holding a garage sale. This morning’s online Welsh newspapers—and soon, undoubtedly, more entertainment media—offer multiple slideshows of the “everything must go” sale.

Although each story tries to reassure U.K. residents that they won’t be losing their national treasure to the U.S. come January, like many who read the story, I think the disclaimer sounds a wee bit suspicious. Sale items ranged from couches to a car, clothes to TV memorabilia, dishes to a stove—I wonder if the sale signs touted Everything including the Kitchen Sink! Somehow this type of sale (and, in last week's OK, an article allowing readers to check out the house) sounds like the estate agent will be making an announcement before long.

But back to what’s important—TV memorabilia. According to Wales Online, Barrowman sold Torchwood scripts, among other memorabilia. (If I’d known, I might have made a quick trip to Wales—or asked a friend or two to go shopping for me! Hmm. Definitely need to think about my budgeting priorities, don’t I? I’m noting a few inconsistencies in my own approach to garage-sale buying. Perhaps that's the point, though; Barrowman's fanbase wasn't encouraged to storm Sully.) For a mere £1 more, Barrowman signed an item. Just think how much one of his signed Torchwood scripts would’ve raised on eBay—especially given the feeding frenzy I just witnessed during the Lost auction.

The Lost auction made me feel sad at the ending of a series—once and for all. Barrowman’s garage sale left me with a different impression. Yes, I’m saddened that Torchwood won’t be completely filmed in Cardiff next year—it’s one of my favorite cities, and I loved the original concept for Torchwood. Yes, I question how much longer, with U.S. filming on the horizon, Barrowman will be so accessible to his fans, whether in the U.K. or U.S. Some connections, such as saying hello to stage-door fans after a West End production or holiday panto, just won't be possible when Torchwood is being filmed in L.A. Nevertheless, Barrowman’s sale just sounded so un-Hollywood that I couldn’t help but think it was a great way for the neighbors to spend a Saturday.

Sure, it might involve ego to think that plenty of people might turn up to buy one’s clothes and household items (whether from an island TV show or an SF actor) simply because of one’s celebrity. But it also indicates a distinct lack of ego to place homemade signs around the neighborhood, keep the event low-key until it’s over, and donate money to a children’s charity. Barrowman's garage sale could’ve been over the top and as highly promoted as the Lost auction. (OK, so there are probably lots more Lost fans than Torchwood fans internationally, but Google the actor's name to see just how many articles have appeared in the past month alone.) Instead, it did generate post-sale media attention (which, I suppose, could be ego inflating), but it didn’t generate the kind of fan interest that could cause problems for residents or inflate prices out of the average neighbor’s price range. It sounds like the kind of neighborhood garage sale I’d browse in hopes of finding that one-of-a-kind collectible I’d take home to treasure, not because I spent a fortune on it but because it meant more personally than what I paid for it.

My niece, who will someday inherit my collection of personalized autographs and action figures, assures me that she will enjoy the profits from eBay. (I’ve learned that not all my family members are as sentimental over the same TV shows or films that intrigue me.) For all that she might envision a Lost auction-type sale, I rather hope that a Barrowman-style garage sale sends my once-prized possessions off to good homes.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Return of QL?

Oh, boy. Quantum Leap may be coming back.

Even with the misspelling (Becket) on the series’ final screen leading fans to hope the words were false, Dr. Sam Beckett unfortunately “never returned home.”Thus, it seems he can’t be in the proposed new QL movie. Even more unfortunately, Scott Bakula told a Comic-con crowd that his leaping days are over.

I’ve loved Sam Beckett—the TV time traveler one—for 21 years. My wish for more QL has finally come of age. In an era of dark SF TV heroes (and Heroes’ parodies), having a lead character “make right what once went wrong” is inherently appealing. It’s not na├»ve, simplistic, or unrealistic to want to believe in a hero who wants to improve people’s lives—and often fight for (and win) human rights and dignity in the process. Perhaps that’s what I’ve missed most since QL’s demise, and whether a younger “Sam” leaps into action or older, more experienced, always-sexy Sam fits into the story in some way, society needs a Quantum Leap these days. This time I hope the movie is made and honors the original.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Torchwood: Whose Story is it in this brave New World?

Whose story is it anyway? In recent high-profile TV series, that question may not have an obvious answer. Sometimes the hero or protagonist isn’t always known until the TV story has been completed.

That’s especially true of series with a large ensemble cast. Although Jack Shephard long was a (sometimes questionable) hero and (always) lead character in the ever-changing cast of Lost, it took until the last moments of the last episode before I felt confident that the Lost story was, indeed, Jack’s story.

Of course, many other characters, including dear Hurley and my beloved Charlie, saw their story lines—before and after death—take unexpected and series-changing turns before that big post-death reunion scene. But, ultimately, Lost was Jack’s story. It began with his eyes opening on the island, and his on-island, corporeal life ended with a final glimpse of another plane carrying true love Kate and half-sister Claire to the rest of their lives. Even after death, everyone gathered because of Jack and entered the next phase of their existence only when he was once again among the formerly lost. The circular structure began with Jack opening his eyes and ended with their final closing, with the added bonus of an afterlife denouement.

Maybe I’ve grown accustomed to seeing “Jack” as the one around whom a story or series revolves: Jack Shephard, Jack Bauer, Jack Harkness.

Although I’m again traveling without benefit of online access (and relying on others to post my blogs for me), I can’t seem to get away from Torchwood. Tonight’s catfish dinner at Shoney’s came with a side of hardcopy USA Today. I must be so attuned to Torchwood that my fingers automatically flipped to the TV section, which included a brief mention of Captain Jack and John Barrowman in T4, now subtitled The New World. As I’ve mentioned before, in my personal blog and at PopMatters, silly me (and I write this not as facetiously as I might have a few months ago) thinks of Captain Jack and Torchwood synonymously. Where you have one, you should have the other.

Yet, in this New World, is Torchwood Jack’s story? Several fans (including—thank you, comment posters!—one who felt I was correct in writing about Torchwood comic #1 that Captain Jack = Torchwood) have wondered about the teaser art for T4: The New World picturing Gwen standing front and center, with Jack in the background. Gwen looks toward the camera; Jack looks off to the right (a rather forward-looking perspective). One of the most common promo photos of CoE presented, from left to right, Ianto looking down, Jack (centered in the photo) looking straight at the camera, and Gwen looking to the observer’s right (that future-forward POV again), although print posters and DVD and CD covers favored a photo of the trio with Gwen front and center, flanked by Jack and Ianto.

[OK—here comes the blatant promo for my hot-off-the-press/also available as e-book Tarnished Heroes, Charming Villains, and Modern Monsters, from McFarland and able to be ordered there as well as at Amazon—and sold at the Orlando book signing on the 28th: I analyze the CoE poster, Torchwood in general, and Ianto, Jack, and Gwen specifically in the book, which also has Captain Jack on the cover. See?]

But back to the New World and speculation about Gwen’s and Jack’s roles. According to RTD’s and Julie Gardner’s latest interview (see the AfterElton article for a full account), two years after CoE, Torchwood is legend, and at least one CIA agent is interested in learning more about them during yet another global crisis. Gardner calls T4 a “reboot,” but Airlock Alpha reports that T1-3 canon will be preserved, and RTD thinks of the 10-hour story arc as one of Torchwood’s later adventures, a complete story in itself. If ratings warrant another miniseries, Torchwood will continue.

But who will be its leader? And who will be perceived as the series’ lead? Is it Gwen (Eve Myles)—the sole Earthbound Hub survivor? Is it Jack (John Barrowman), who somehow finds a reason, two years after his dramatic exit, to return to Earth in presumably linear time? Or will it be a new character, such as a (former) CIA operative, who continues the Torchwood tradition of a succession of team members and new leaders with an extremely high turnover rate?

Presuming that Torchwood may be Jack’s story may be inaccurate. Torchwood existed before Jack came along, even if he was a part of it for a very long time. In Torchwood history, Jack wasn’t even Three’s leader for all that long (less than a decade). Is the series really the story of Torchwood, the one-time institution turned legend and rebooted into reality in 2011?

On the one hand, the first Gwen-prominent promo poster for T4: TNW isn’t all that surprising. After all, she’s the one left behind on Earth to represent whatever remains of Torchwood. Jack needs to come back before he can join the story—so standing in the background seems a logical place for the man who abandoned Earth and everything Torchwood. On the other hand, the promo art makes me question whose story TNW will be. Indeed, if titles are prophetic, TNW may provide more than new cast members, new locations, and a new miniseries format.

Still, RTD made a point of noting that Jack, John, and everyone’s favorite RAF coat are a lot of fun. As the AfterElton article quoted him, RTD commented "I love a joke. And it's — you look at the iconography of the series. You have the poster outside, which is — it's John Barrowman as Captain Jack standing in a World War II coat. There's a size and a sense of fun to that. You've got a bisexual hero being played by an openly gay man in a modern-day thriller set — that's got to have fun, doesn't it?”

I’d rather that this comment hadn’t turned up in the “humour” section of the interview (I admit I’m fan-biased instead of journalistically objective here), but I agree with Ianto (in T2’s “KK, BB”) that Torchwood (and Torchwood) “is a lot more fun with him.” I’m keeping my fingers crossed that, just like Lost and 24, Torchwood is really Jack’s story.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Torchwood's New Writers' Room

Interesting Torchwood news to break up a lazy Friday afternoon. Among the list of writers developing at least one script for the 10-episode Season Four is one of my favorite scriptwriters--Jane Espenson.

Whether you're a Torchwood fan who loves or loathes Russell T. Davies, you might be impressed with the other inhabitants of this year's writers' room. Among them are John Shiban, Doris Egan, and John Fay. If you're not familiar with these names, think of a few of the many series for which they've written at least one episode: Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, House, Supernatural, Buffy, and Torchwood.

I'll get back to Torchwood writer John Fay in just a moment.

One of the reasons I'm so impressed with Jane Espenson (beyond the fact that she was a great interview for the BSG book David Lavery, Hilary Robson, and I wrote a few years back, and I was so pleased she agreed to our request) is that she writes fantastic character-driven episodes. She also pays attention to detail. Although she still may be best known for her Buffy episodes, she wrote some of my favorite BSG episodes before moving on to Caprica (which is another reason why I wanted to include that series in my most recent book about SF TV heroes and villains).

In my research for the latter book, I came across an interesting quote from Espenson, who was discussing her love of Torchwood and the way that it compared with Caprica: "The way they own Jack's sexuality is very admirable and very much like what we're trying to do. The people around him have to be comfortable with it because he's comfortable with it. It's fantastic. Love Torchwood. Love it, love it, love it." That Espenson is part of Caprica, with its open and accepting take on same-sex marriage, bodes well for Captain Jack. It's a much more positive indicator than the "Starz' Spartacus" connection that his character may not fundamentally change.

It's also an indication that the dark nature of Torchwood will continue, as supported by Davies' recent comments about the story arc of Season Four being as dark as Children of Earth's. Espenson is a fan of darkness, as shown in Buffy and BSG, among others. However, her definition of drama is closer to mine. Bodies may indeed fall, but there's a good story reason for death and destruction.

Which brings me back to John Fay. When Torchwood Series One and Two or Janto fans realize he was a writer of Day Four, they may not be so happy with today's news. Fay's only Torchwood episodes are, indeed, two of CoE's five days. However, he also is the only current U.K. resident listed on the writers' room roster. With fan concerns that Season Four will be too Americanized, Fay's inclusion is especially important because he adds another British presence to the writers' room.

What struck me most from the list made public today is the combined strength of the writers' credits. I've liked much of these writers' previous work, and they create a highly experienced team. They seem to know their way around SF, especially dramatic, controversial plots and have helped flesh out some of the best SF characters on recent TV. I'm hopeful that they'll make the return of Captain Jack plausible, and while he may remain a very dark character, also might become even more layered and memorable, not merely more angst-ridden.