Tagged: J. J. Abrams

Box Office Democracy: 10 Cloverfield Lane

I am not prepared to be this afraid of John Goodman.

I don’t remember a time in my life before the Roseanne show. It was a staple growing up, even if I didn’t start watching it regularly until the last few seasons. John Goodman is a lovable funnyman, and no amount of playing shady characters in Coen Brothers movies was ever going to shake me of that conviction. I was not prepared for the sheer mesmerizing terror that was Goodman’s performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane, a role I never would have expected for him but one that he embodies so totally and perfectly that pushes everything to another level. This is the kind of performance that should win awards but never will because every award-giving body has decided to become self-parody at this point and only send home statues for ludicrous acting clichés.

There’s such a pervasive feeling of menace coming off of Goodman in this film and it is honestly incredible. He spends 80% of the time playing Howard as a quiet, almost nervous, man and so his violent outbursts feel so much bigger because of the contrast. There’s also something to be said for the way the sets are laid out and the film is shot, it makes his physical presence feel so much bigger, like a tiger in a subway tunnel a perpetual threat with no way around it. Howard ebbs and flows from genial host to quiet threat to barely contained rage to completely uncontrolled like some kind of inscrutable tide on an alien planet. 10 Cloverfield Lane would be tense even reading the screenplay, but the way Goodman dominates every frame he’s in turns everything up even higher and makes for some unbelievable tension.

I don’t want to underrate John Gallagher Jr’s contribution to this film (he does fine work and has a devastating monologue) but Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the other half of this film. She plays opposite this dominating presence and holds her own. Where Howard is imposing dangerous force, Michelle is calculating and clever. She doesn’t always know what’s going on but she’s always looking for the next thing, the way out, she never lets herself get too complacent. The two feel like equals in an asymmetrical game of chess, but so too does Winstead feel like the equal of Goodman, and that is the highest praise I can give an actor this week.

It’s hard to praise anything else about the movie because it all just seems to serve these performances. It’s well shot, but it isn’t particularly dynamic or new feeling. The script is a fine effort and has enough levels that I was arguing about character motivations on the car ride home, but there isn’t that much that happens. It has the kind of score that seemingly every remotely scary movie has these days saved by a couple great needle drops on the soundtrack. It’s a sign of good filmmaking that these things fade in to the background, there’s more craft in appearing to do nothing than in being as flashy as possible.

The billion-dollar question for Bad Robot and Paramount here is “Does this make Cloverfield in to a credible anthology horror series?” and the answer seems to be a solid maybe. I’ve seen so many social media posts this weekend comparing the twist ending in 10 Cloverfield Lane to The Twilight Zone, and while that’s not giving the former enough credit and grossly oversimplifying the latter it would need to be the model. If they’re all going to be as compelling as 10 Cloverfield Lane, I would happily watch a movie under this umbrella every few years. If they’re going to be more like the original I’m dramatically less interested and there’s the problem; I do not trust the people at Bad Robot to make enough good movies in a row without a prominent franchise to prop them up. I hope they can prove me wrong.

Marc Alan Fishman: No Star Wars for Old Men

Star Wars

I know, I know, I know. Two Star Wars articles from ole’ Fish in the same number of weeks. He must be off his meds! Well, I was perfectly content to drone on this week about Jessica Jones, or really phone in my column with some generic platitudes of geekery for the new year ya’ll are celebrating here on this, the second day of 2016. But nay, I must dust off my hatespew bomber jacket and launch a complete snark to nerd strike like I haven’t had to do in the longest of times. Strap in – this is gonna be one Sith of a ride.

George Lucas came out to Charlie Rose’s Hulu series to declare that Disney – the “…white slavers that takes these things” – has shat the bed on his magnum opus, Star Wars. Yes, you read that clearly, Maz Kanata. Lucas believes that J.J. Abrams and Mickey are guilty of warping the intended vision of franchise with their “retro movie”. Per Georgie:

“They looked at the stories, and they said, ‘We want to make something for the fans’… They decided they didn’t want to use those stories, they decided they were going to do their own thing. They weren’t that keen to have me involved anyway.”

Let’s make it clear before I take my gloves off – Lucas is at peace with the sale of Star Wars. Per the interview (and others both at the original sale of the franchise and multiple since) he proclaimed his desire to move on. All he wanted to do then with Rose… was take a teeny tiny shit in the corner of the room before he left the house for good. Note that he has since redacted the “white slavers” phrase, so no hard feelings, right?

Well, maybe there weren’t any before. But now, I’m seeing red as well as Kylo Ren does in his daydreams.

It’s clear from the interview that Lucas is still very much in love with Episodes I, II, and III. His desire is still to stretch the boundaries of CGI in film. To explore new planets, new ships, and new aliens. This far surpasses any desire for good story, good performance, or good filmmaking. In his mind – per the childish retort – Abrams’ film is somehow pastiche or homage at best. That by starting from the perspective that the fans should be catered to, Episode VII is somehow a lesser product.

Of course, George Lucas is entitled to his opinion. Rare that I’d dare say this without jest behind it, but truly, his opinion is just wrong.

Beyond the overly syrupy glorification that was my column last week, I’m fairly certain most everyone has left the theater renewed in their love for that galaxy far, far away. And with a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so too, would the critics agree. It also doesn’t hurt that at the time of writing this article, the flick has grossed $1,200,000,000 – not counting any of the tie-in merchandising and futures to come. Are we all just blind? No, we’re not.

What grinds my gears to a screeching halt is the “have your cake and eat it too” attitude being presented. George Lucas walked away with four billion galactic credits with the sale of his epic franchise. And with it, should have gone his right to say anything short of a wookie moan of utter pleasure. Episode I, II, and III were a cacophony of wooden acting over thin plotting with a greasy sheen of CGI gloss so thick the 2-D prints came with a Z-axis. That here, in the wake of near global cheer over the apology that was The Force Awakens, we learn that deep down, George had his fingers crossed the whole time. Not that it matters. I think one of the better parts of this interview dropping has been my Facebook feed choked with support for the new film – and the expansion of the Star Wars brand now firmly in the hands of artisans who will bring back the spirit of collaboration that made the original trilogy the success it was in the first place.

This leads me down the path towards the bigger question of creator rights. Simply put: how well can we truly part with our creations? In the face of a big fat paycheck, can we look the other way as our brainchildren become the pawns of a new master? And regardless of whether our intellectual property is handled well, or becomes 2015’s Fantastic Four, are we allowed to publicly offer a cold shoulder and a smirk? If the blaster were held to my temple, I’d quickly say no. The check cleared, and with it any right to be involved in the conversation any longer. Especially if with that deal came the feeling that there were no “keen” feelings to share with one another once the ink was dry.

George Lucas now is akin to Anakin Skywalker. He is too worried about his own ego and power – sounding less like a Jedi master, and more like an immature child complaining about the feeling of sand in his shorts.

Martha Thomases: The Star Wars Conspiracy!

2014 NBCUniversal TCA Winter Press Tour Portraits

So since Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens today, and since I’m not going to go see it until after this weekend at the earliest, I thought I would do a trip down memory lane combined with a little bit of pop culture history.

You know, a nostalgic story about the experience I had seeing the first one in a theater, then a reference to Jack Kirby, and a sideline into older types of mythologies that tell similar tales. By the end, we would have deduced that there are no new stories, only new ways to tell them, and we would have been entertained and elevated.

And then, I got lost on the Internet.

Apparently, Star Wars in general and J. J. Abrams in particular are all part of a plan by the Jews to eliminate the Aryan race.

I’m not going to put in a lot of links to substantiate my points. I don’t want to drive any more traffic to the sites. I feel soiled enough that I looked at them.

Look, I get that there are crazy people out there, people who get set off by things that, for the rest of us, are innocuous. So when John Boyega was cast as one of the leads in the new film, racists went nuts saying the film is anti-white propaganda. Because, clearly, all leading roles in movies are by Divine Right given to white men. If they aren’t, it’s because of some social justice warrior affirmative action social engineering. Or, something.

I liked the original Star Wars trilogy. I liked parts of the next three movies (I would watch Ewan McGregor do just about anything, including crawling through sewers). Even when I didn’t like something, I was interested in what Lucas wanted to do.

When he sold out to Disney (and then gave most of the money away), I was nervous about what would happen. As it turns out, I like J. J. Abrams more than many of my fellow nerds. I liked his Star Trek movies, despite my friends’ attempts to prove to me, empirically, that they’re bad. I liked a bunch of the television shows he produced. I like saying “Bad Robot” when the animated logo comes on.

So I want to see what he does with Star Wars.

It is interesting to me that so many who decry “political correctness” and “censorship” and “social justice warriors” demand exactly those things when the person speaking has another point of view. in this case, the person speaking is Abrams (with the implied consent of Lucas and Disney). If he chooses to make a film about a white woman, a black man and scores of characters of many species, that’s his right.

I mean, Kirk Cameron made Saving Christmas, a movie I have no desire to see, and I didn’t call for his death.

I certainly didn’t see it as part of a millennia long conspiracy to destroy my way of life, and therefore a call to rain down violence and destruction on those who chose to buy tickets. The people at the crazy websites who don’t like Boyega & Co. use Hitler as a good example to support their positions. Because J. J. Abrams is trying to “kike” things up. (Yes, they use that word.)

You know, there are always the crazies in the world, of all stripes. Usually, they have enough common sense and/or shame to try to disguise their craziness. No one in the United States, in my lifetime, has wanted to be seen as a Nazi. Maybe an extreme conservative, even a racist, but not someone in favor of death camps.

Until this election cycle.

If you don’t want to see John Boyega, if that’s an affront to your morality, don’t go. More seats for me.

Mindy Newell: May The Force Be With Us

boba_fett_by_uncannyknack-d7r4mvm-970x545

Hans Solo: C’mon, baby, don’t let me down. • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Five days and counting down.

Unless you live in France, where all new movies must open on Wednesdays. Or unless you live in the United Kingdom, where it premieres on Thursday, December 17. Or unless you live in Bayonne, NJ, where my local theater, Franks Cinema, is starting showings also on Thursday at 7 P.M. Which is weird because I haven’t seen anything, either on television or on the web, about the U.S. release date being moved up by one day.

Not that I’m complaining.

Of course I’m talking about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams’ newest baby, which he “adopted” from George Lucas when Disney bought Lucasfilm. To tell you the truth, I’m very nervous about the film, the saga having been tainted by the prequel trilogyalthough Return of the Sith was somewhat saved by the final light saber duel between Obi-Wan and Annakin. Still, Lawrence Kasdan is part of the writing team, and he is responsible, along with the late Leigh Brackett, for what I consider the best of the Star Wars saga, The Empire Strikes Back.

Aside: Once upon a time I sent Marvel editor Louise Simonson a story treatment for What If? – it was an alternate version of Empire’s ending, in which the twist was that Darth Vader got to Luke, hanging on that weather vane or radar apparatus or whatever it was, before the Millennium Falcon. She called me and told me that she loved it, but since Marvel’s Star Wars was a licensed property, I couldn’t do anything that reworked the canon. That was my first experience dealing with licensed properties. And by the way, I think it is a major sin that ComicMix’s own John Ostrander and his work on Star Wars for Dark Horse, who inherited the license from Marvel, was cut out of the “new, official” history.

Anyway, like many of us I have been bemused by what it seems to me to be an overdosed marketing campaign launched by Disney, although in an online story dated December 8 by Robert Hackett for Fortune magazine, he quotes Disney CEO Bob Eiger calling the publicity machine “extremely deliberate” and “carefully constructed” and specifically saying “We are managing this with great care.” The article goes on to say that Disney has spent only $17 million on public relations, against the usual $50 million that movie studios typically spend on “blockbuster” movies.

Of course that $17 million doesn’t count the seven marketing partners that are flooding the airwaves, including Fiat Chrysler. To be honest, I do find some of these ads very clever and amusing. I just saw an ad for Dodge, which the company titled “The Force Gathers.” With “The Imperial March” ominously playing, a black Dodge Viper – a stand-in for Darth Vader – leads an army of white Dodge Chargers, Challengers, and Durangos, i.e., “Stormtroopers,” down a major metropolitan street, passing scared pedestrians and heading towards two very nervous parking valets standing in front of a theatre playing The Force Awakens. The fun twist is the homage to another major film that changed movies forever, as one valet paraphrases to the other, “We’re gonna need more valets.”

Still, part of me is sad and misses those halcyon days when a sci-fi fantasy space opera made on the cheap exploded onto the world through simple word-of-mouth. Those days, I think, are pretty much gone forever.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens carries a huge monkey on its back.

I really hope it doesn’t let us down.

Thanks and a tip of the Dark Helmut to Nerdist.com for the awesome hunk of art atop this column.

Glenn Hauman: A Bang-Up Opening Weekend

Boy, what a week, huh? We haven’t even recovered from the mass shooting in Colorado Springs, their second in six weeks, and whammo! We have a mass shooting in San Bernardino.

With two major shooting events in America back to back, the usual script of recriminations and wailing didn’t hold, and people stopped being publicly polite and deferential to the enablers– the people who are now being called out for offering thoughts and prayers, but are not thinking about how to prevent more deaths from guns and praying that no one calls them on it.

This has led to unprecedented public calls for change, like the New York Daily News front page which has been retweeted over 22,000 times; by contrast, the New York Post front page of “Muslim Killers” got less than 4% of that. And the New York Times ran their first front page editorial since 1920, calling on America to end our gun epidemic.

This led a right wing wacko pundit to stop using his words and start using his gun:

https://twitter.com/EWErickson/status/673203319528116224

Ain’t he sweet?

Well, no, he ain’t. Because this isn’t the only place he wants to use his gun. He wants to bring his gun to the opening night of Star Wars.

I have never worried or fretted about things like this. Even after the Aurora, CO, shooting at the “Dark Knight Rises” showing, I never once worried about going to a theater and getting shot. I have taken the view of Stonewall Jackson that, believing in God, I am as safe on the battlefield as I am in my bed. Of course, Stonewall Jackson was killed on the battlefield.

After the events of Paris and in light of the unvetted Syrian refugees coming into this country, I am rather nervous about going to the opening day of “Star Wars.” […] I would like to find a theater in my area that allowed concealed carry permit holders to bring their guns to the movies.

Let’s ignore the racist fear-mongering and the daffy idea that fired bullets are worse if they come from outsiders rather than good old Americans. He wants to bring his gun into a movie theater showing Star Wars so that he can protect himself and maybe other people, because he thinks that guns are useful in a crowded, noisy, confused venue with cluttered sight-lines full of innocents.

I know lots of people who are going to go to movie theaters to see Star Wars on opening day. Heck, I know people who own movie theaters that will be showing Star Wars on opening day. (If you’re in Jacksonville, enjoy the wretched hive of scum and villainy.) And we have someone who shows his displeasure at ideas he doesn’t like by shooting them. To prove he’s a responsible gun owner.

Can’t you imagine him shooting at the screen if he doesn’t like John Boyega’s character?

Aw, but really, what are the chances of that? Everybody always reacts so calmly when J.J. Abrams reboots a science fiction franchise.

Erick, heed the lesson of Master Yoda. You’re carrying a gun because you’re afraid, and fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to… ah, I’d tell you to go watch The Phantom Menace for yourself, but do yourself a favor and lock up the gun first before you fire into your TV.

As for me, I’m giving the wast word to Barry Kripke:

 

John Ostrander: Idle Speculation in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

star_wars_wallpaper_4I can tell by the saturation of TV trailers that Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens is opening real, real soon in a theater near, near to you.

Of course I’m going to see it, probably around March when seats will become available. Pre-sales have been incredible. And I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers. Originally, I read the Star Wars novelization before the first movie (a.k.a. Episode IV) so I knew the plot twists and turns. I was determined to be spoiler-free for Empire Strikes Back but, at a Chicago Minicon I attended, a ten-year old boy came up while I was talking with Larry Charet, the event co-organizer, and asked him, “Do you know if the Star Wars comic adaptation is like the movie?” (The adaptation had come out ahead of the movie.) Larry didn’t know so the kid continued, “Because in the comic it says the Darth Vader is Luke’s father.”

Gaaaaah!

Well, I didn’t kill the kid. (And no, you didn’t get a Spoiler Alert from me. If you don’t know that little item from the movie after all this time, you didn’t care anyway.) And J.J. Abrams and the folks at Disney are being very parsimonious with information other than what they want us to know.

Not knowing anything hasn’t kept fans from idle speculation, When has it ever? So I’m going to do a little idle speculation of my own. I don’t know anything more than any of you do but, since I wrote Star Wars comics for ten years, some people may think that I have an inside track on all this. I don’t. Anyway, here’s my big theory:

Han Solo is going to die in The Force Awakens.

I’m not the first person to speculate this. It’s been back and forth over the web but I have some reasons.

  • Harrison Ford is getting up there in years. He’s 73 right now. A really good looking 73, I’ll grant you. I wish I looked even half as good as he does. Star Wars Episode VIII isn’t due to come out until 2017 and it has just barely started filming. Episode IX won’t be out until 2019. Ford is getting ooooold, folks.
  • Ol’ Harrison is a tad bit reckless, my fellow fans. He crashed a plane recently. He walked away but he could’ve just as easily been killed. So maybe the Powers-That-Be (aka Disney) don’t want to take that chance.
  • Maybe the way they lured Ford back to the role (outside of a big paycheck) is to promise to do what Ford wanted them to do back in Episode III – kill off his character.
  • Star Wars consistently kills off characters. Death is a prominent feature in the films. Qui-Gon Jinn, Darth Maul, Darth Sidious, Amidalalala, almost the whole freaking Jedi Order, Luke’s aunt and uncle, Obi-Wan Kenobi, everyone on the Death Star (both 1 and 2), Yoda, Emperor Palaptine, Anakin/Darth Vader – the list goes on and on. Han’s death would have a shock and a strong emotional impact for even the casual fan. If whoever kills him escapes, it provides a strong plot element for the next two films. The fans will want to see the killer brought to justice. Guaranteed continued high attendance.
  • It’s not like we’ll totally lose Han. A Young Han Solo film is scheduled for 2018. If it’s young Han Solo then it’s a guarantee that Harrison Ford won’t be playing him. He’s oooooold.

I’m standing by this one for now. Han Solo is going to take the dirt nap. If he doesn’t? Hey – that’s fine by me too. Just remember you heard it here first. Or second. Or forty-fifth. Let’s think of this as an experiment – will I become an anonymous source? Will anyone quote me? That would be a giggle.

Han Solo is going to die. For sure.

Unless he doesn’t.

Oh, and I forgot. Spoiler alert.

Marc Alan Fishman: #DarkSideMatters

han solo star wars episode 7

By the time you read this, there will only be 46 days, 5 hours, 29 minutes, and 7 seconds until Star Wars: The Force, Black to the Future debuts. OK, I’m not even sure if that time calculation is right. I mean, who knows when you actually read my article, right? The point should not be missed though: the hype train is in full force for the next installment in Mickey Mouse’s epic empire. And boy howdy, could I give two poops less about it all.

Forgive me, Star Wars fans. The force is so very, very weak with me. My generation didn’t grow up with Star Wars, unless we had older brothers or sisters. Return of the Jedi debuted when I was two. And by the time I was old enough to even absorb any of the original trilogy, video rental was still only a rare occasion in my household, although Voltron was the singular entity that was a must. When Lucas re-released A New Hope and its brethren, I was deep within the heart of my own adolescence; so I eventually came to understand and appreciate the fandom. I won’t lie: I bought myself a lightsaber. I owned more than a few of the franchise video games, X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter being the crown jewel. I even spent a summer enjoying the collectible card game. But all of this was at an arm’s length.

When Phantom Menace debuted, I recall the insanity that swept the nation. Star Wars permeated every available licensing opportunity in every retail establishment as far as the eye could see. And then the movie actually came out. I remember the apologists extremely well. Sure, look past the overused CGI. Ignore the banal plot circling around trade negotiations. Pay no attention to Jar Jar Binks, Watoo, or any of the other obvious stereotypes that apparently caused no undue stress for the focus groups. But we all knew it. As good as the original movies were, the next generation of Star Wars felt hollow. When they made A New Hope, you could feel the … well… hope. By the time we’d reached Jedi, Star Wars was more machine than man. The prequels never had a chance.

Time heals all wounds … and J.J. Abrams heals all franchises. At least enough to please Disney and Lucas to pass the reigns over to him. And well they should. I happened to catch his Star Trek on basic cable the other night (I’d seen it in theater, but not since), and truly it held up. Not that any previous Trek movies were ever Star Wars in terms of mass appeal and profit, but the concept remains the same: Abrams is handed the keys to the castle, and is left to accentuate what we love, and maybe shine it up a little bit. But mark my words, we’ll be one misplaced lens flare away from instant satire.

But that isn’t why I’m ranting today.

Amidst the ramp up for The Force Awakens a few tidbits have permeated my news feed. Amongst them was the odd rise of a few bad apples calling to #BoycottStarWarsVII, via a Twitter campaign. Their argument: the new lead, John Boyega, is black. No, I couldn’t believe it either. I mean, sure, boycott Star Wars because Phantom really was that bad. Boycott it because the Hateful Eight will be coming out close to it and Tarantino has never steered us wrong.

To have a few trolls even insinuate that the placement of a black actor, or female in the lead of a major franchise was reason to save one’s shekels is laughable to me. So much so, that upon seeing it being mentioned on my news feed made me initially believe it to be the brainchild of a viral marketing campaign. Want to fight social injustice? See Star Wars. Tell me it’s not brilliant. But alas… there truly are still openly racist idiots throwing stones at an impenetrable fortress, in hopes of toppling a giant they can’t even comprehend. I’d like to think the franchise got it’s fill of minstrel tap dancing after Episode III ran final credits.

Far more disturbing to me than a few errant racists with Twitter accounts are the baby boomers with Facebook. I’ve seen more than a handful of reposts already calling for the “Spoiler Free” sharing of elation for one week after the film debuts. Because people aren’t capable of just avoiding Facebook until they see the movie. Or just as scary, the celebration of Star Wars Day at K-Mart (or Toys R Us, or Target, I think), wherein fans waited in line for hours for the opportunity to buy some toys. Or frightening me down to my core… the news that Fandango and AMC crashed like the Titanic over people preordering their tickets to opening night. That night well over a month and half away. I couldn’t even get a show time next week for Trumbo without consternation. Egads.

Look. I get it. Star Wars is to many of us, the literal gateway to our eventual geekdom. It’s what lay-people and nerdlingers can unite in mutual love for. The gentle hum of a lightsaber brings men to their knees, and boys to their feet. And to know that Han, Chewie, Luke, and Leia will once again be in our lives? Well the only thing that could make that better is if a soccer ball was a droid. Wait. It is?! Great googly-moogly, kiddos…

How can we just sit here and wait? Oh yeah! Patiently. At the end of the day, it’s only a movie. Even if it turns out to be as amazing as we’ll all hope (note: it won’t be, but it’ll be great), Episode VII will always miss the crucial ingredient that A New Hope had a long time ago. In a galaxy far away, The Force Awakens won’t have the magic of being something we haven’t seen before.

 

Molly Jackson: Star Trek’s Broken Promise

Broken Promises

Yesterday was the 49th anniversary of Star Trek’s television premiere. In case you are a first time reader, you should know that I #Star Trek. Serious love of the Trek here. But as we reach this momentous occasion, I do have one serious complaint about the franchise. And it isn’t J.J. Abrams.

49 years ago, Star Trek promised a future filled with exciting technology. Over the years we have seen a lot of it come into existence. Want a communicator? Buy a cell phone. Want a hypospray? They actually existed before the show! Basic tractor beams have been invented, as well as a basic phaser. Federation Starships have inspired engine designs and the Prius was inspired by a shuttlecraft. But through all of this, the technology I want still hasn’t made an appearance. The future is here, 49 years later. Where is my damn replicator?!

That’s right, I want a replicator. In fact, I go on this rant every time I have to stop something interesting to cook a meal because I am so hungry. (My roommate is really tired of hearing about it.) Actually, this post was even paused to cook dinner. After a lifetime of watching Star Trek, I am just disappointed that I still have to cook rather than enter a disk or speak my current craving and poof! There’s my meal, all hot and steamy.

Yes, I realize that TV isn’t reality but Star Trek has broken that barrier through its impact on the science and technological development of the world. My one hope is at least some people are trying. There is a company in Israel that has something you could refer to as the world’s first replicator. It sounds more like a Keurig for food than what I’m looking for but baby steps. Maybe in my lifetime, I could order my dinner instead of having to cook it, not to mention the added benefit of feeding the planet.

Many of today’s engineers and scientists were inspired by watching Star Trek growing up. While I didn’t take on a career in the sciences, you can tell it obviously made an impression on my world. Maybe we will see a breakthrough for the 50th anniversary. If not, then we need to get Star Trek back on TV to inspire a new generation of thinkers. You know, for the benefit of science, the future… and my stomach.

Marc Alan Fishman: New Star Wars? Meh…

Blow out the torches and put the pitchforks back in the barn, kiddos. Any longtime fan of ole’ Marc Alan Fishman knows well that he isn’t much for the lightsabers and midichlorians. I’m not here necessarily to slight a multi-billion dollar franchise that helped spawn a legion of fanboys that in-turn became the heroes of my youth. Instead, I’m here to explain calmly and coolly why I’m skittish that the hype machine that will churn out the next Star Wars will not be the second coming all the wookies and rogues are awaiting with baited breath.

  1. J.J. Isn’t the Messiah

J.J. Abrams is a talented director and writer. But he’s not a miracle worker. While his track record and profit margins have never been snickered at, I look over his IMDb resume and nothing strikes me. Yes, he created cult (and successfully syndicated) hits like Alias, Lost, and Fringe. Yes, he helmed Cloverfield – lauded for its original take on a typically tropey concept. And yes, he successfully brought the Enterprise into our modern cineplexes.

But I specifically look to his Star Trek movies when I attempt to envision an Abrams’ Star Wars joint. And it has me fretting for the future set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Abrams’ Trek was clean to the point of stringency. His lens-flared Apple-esque vision held with it no lasting memories beyond the tepid jokes. While he crammed every spare inch of celluloid with today’s troop of tasteful thespians, can anyone here denote a single performance that was anything more than brilliant pastiche? I love Simon Pegg. I tolerate Karl Urban. Hell, I’ve pined for Chris Pine. But cast as living ret-cons, they all floated on the “close by not quite” vibe for their namesake roles.

“You incredulous Dewback!”, you chortle, “J.J.’s Star Wars is using the original cast and veritable no-names for the new roles!” Too true. And if it’s one small saving grace as to why I think the new movie will be reasonably entertaining and not the new testament, it’s largely because I think Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher have plenty more to pump into their historic roles. But I digress.

J.J. Abrams has the chops to make a palatable port of the seminal series. But, to date, he’s done nothing that screams to me that he was/is/will be the end-all be-all director that will remove the taste of the prequels from my memory. Which leads me to reason two:

  1. Episodes I, II, and III happened.

Preach to me all you want. Rebels, countless in-canon comics penned by incomparable scribes such as our very own John Ostrander, and a litany of extended universe novels may all showcase how amazing the Star Wars universe can be. But in all those aforementioned examples, the target market clearly was always the hardcore Star Wars fan. Not John Q. Averageguy.

The fact is this: Episodes I, II, and III did make it to movie theaters. And sure, they banked considerable cash. But find me someone who walked out of any of those flicks, declaring that they trumped the original trilogy in any way (and “CGI” sure as a Sarlacc don’t count) and you’ve found the village idiot. The prequels were bloated, underwritten, over-produced crap-fests that proved to an entire generation that George Lucas’s original vision had forever been tarnished by the very commercialization that originally made him his fortune. And I’m being nice – we know there’s plenty of people who didn’t walk out of Return of the Jedi singing ole’ Georgie’s praises. The fact remains: the prequels happened, and they’re not going away. Episode VII may end up amazing… but it’s still sitting on a foundation of midichlorians… and of wooden acting.

  1. Hype is a dish best served virally.

I’m wracking my brain to find the last thing in this world that lived up the hype built up over countless marketing ploys. The Dark Knight comes to mind. That’s about it. The fact is Star Wars is a globally recognized juggernaut franchise. When it comes to hitting the multiplex, Lucas and Disney will spare no expense ensuring the world at large knows of the impending Episode VII. Count the coverage of the teaser trailer alone, and then multiply it exponentially as we march closer and closer to the midnight premiere.

Do you remember Episode I? The tent cities that dotted the movie theaters, coated in cosplayers? Do you remember the aisles of every toy store choked with every non-chaser action figure of every background character that would be in the upcoming film? Or how about the happy meal tie-ins. Or the Hostess snack-cake collectible mini-comics. Or the 7-11 collector cups. Or the Pizza Hut Jabba the Hut slice-n-dicer. OK, I made up a few of them, but don’t deny the past (and the inevitable): nothing will stop Mickey and George’s empire from marketing en masse come this December. Santa doesn’t stand a chance.

And if you think Episode VII will be that good enough to forget the sins of the past, and the sins to come… well, I’ll see you at the North Pole.

 

Emily S. Whitten: The Almost Human Interviews

Emily S. Whitten: The Almost Human Interviews

Whitten Art 131119Almost Human, J. H. Wyman’s new science fiction crime drama which is being produced by J.J. Abrams, premiered in two parts on Sunday and Monday on FOX. The series centers around the Los Angeles Police Department, where a detective who dislikes robots is partnered with an android capable of human emotion – a very I, Robot-esque premise with the potential to result in an interesting dynamic.

I can’t speak about the premiere, not having seen it as yet. But I did sit down and discuss the show with Karl Urban, Michael Ealy, Minka Kelly, Lili Taylor, and Naren Shankar while in San Diego this summer. Read on to see what they had to say about the pilot and the upcoming season!

Karl Urban (John Kennex)

What drew you to this project, and what are your thoughts on the concept and the character?

What drew me was primarily the script. I read the script and I was drawn to the character of John Kennex – a character who’s been in a coma for two years; who wakes up to find that he has a completely robotic leg, that he is responsible for a massive loss of life within his team, and is pushed into the front line of trying to protect and serve humanity. I found that infinitely interesting. A character who is searching for himself, and finds answers in the most unlikely source, which is his synthetic partner. He’s a character who has an aversion to technology and he’s partnered up with a robot, and ironically, the robot is almost more human than humans.

Character and story aside, it was the opportunity to work with Joel Wyman, who I’m a huge fan of. I loved Fringe. It was a really smart show. It wasn’t a stereotypical dumbed-down show. So I knew going into this that the stories were going to be smart; that we’re not going to talk down to an audience. And then obviously, it was my continuing relationship with J.J. Abrams, who really drew me into the project. I wasn’t looking to do television; but once I started looking at all of the elements involved, I thought, “How can I turn this down? This could be really, really cool.”

How has the experience been different, between movies and TV?

So far, the process is fundamentally the same; and if you’ve seen the pilot, you only have to look at that to be blown away by the production elements involved. It looks and feels like a movie, and I feel that it’s going to be really fun to explore the narrative of a character over a season, instead of just two hours, where things are condensed. So I’m excited; I’m looking forward to it.

What do you hope that John learns from Dorian over the course of the show?

It’s my hope that Dorian kind of puts John in touch with himself, with his humanity. In the best world, they learn from each other; because in a way, they’re both searching for what it is to be human. John does not remember vast tracts of his life. He is a character who has a lot of pain; of bitterness; of anger; of torment; of guilt; of frustration – all these emotions, this baggage that he has; and I think consequently, he’s quite closed off. And I think that Michael Ealy’s character, Dorian, is a wonderful mechanism for opening him up a bit, softening him up a bit over time. At the point where we discover John in this pilot – John’s not John yet. He’s just coming off a really heavy deal. I’m really thrilled and excited to see where we go from here.

Doing a movie, you know the whole story going into it. What do you think about doing a TV show, where you might not know where things are going?

I think it’s exciting. It’s just like life – we don’t know what’s just around the corner. And I certainly am aware of the through line for my character for the first season, and that’s enough for me. I just want to concentrate on making the best show we can, and delivering really interesting, compelling characters who are accessible and identifiable; and dealing with stories that we can all related to and empathize with, showcased against the canvas of this slightly futuristic world. And to me, that’s interesting – the technology that is in Almost Human, it’s coming. It’s down the pike. We’re putting stuff into the show that has been fully researched, and this technology is just around the corner. I don’t think of the show as a science fiction show. It’s a slightly futuristic show. It’d be like, “we’re a cop show in the early nineties that has characters walking around with cell phones.” You know? “That’s never gonna happen!” And here we are.

Michael Ealy (Dorian)

What appealed to you about the show, and what are your feelings about your character?

First and foremost, obviously the pedigree of the producers is there. These guys know how to drive a ship. My first meeting with Joel was three hours long; and I went from feeling like, “Eh, I’m not sure about this,” to “Dude, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. Okay!” So the fact that he’s driving the ship makes me confident that the story is going to go in the right direction and it has the potential to last.

The way the material was written was very interesting to me, because despite all the cool stuff, and the technology, and the idea that this guy is a synthetic; there’s so many little things that I find interesting and relatable to what it is we’re going through now. There’s discrimination; there’s political correctness: “Don’t call me a fucking robot!” You can’t say that to Dorian. It’s offensive. And the idea that a robot, a machine could be offended?  I’m like, “Okay, you gotta wrap your head around this for a second.” This is something where we’re not there yet right now; but because the show is set in the near future, it’s right around the corner.

Someone asked me, “Have you ever been interested in the future like this?” I was like, “No. Never been interested in the future.” Not that I didn’t care about my future – it’s just that I never really thought about the future, like where we’re going to be. But this show has made me think, “Well, my kids will be living in a world that could be similar to this.” My son could potentially be partnered with a Dorian, if he becomes a cop – you don’t know. So it’s one of those things where it provokes so much thought and intrigue that instantly, it’s like, “This is the project you sign on to.”

As an actor, how do you balance trying to show the emotions but also be a “machine”?

It is by far the most difficult role to try and play human / machine, machine / human. Which one is he in this scene, and which one is he in that scene? And Joel and Brad Anderson, our director on the pilot, have been very helpful in helping me find those fine lines. I based Dorian on three particular characters in movie history: Jason Bourne, Robert Patrick’s Terminator, and Starman, from the Jeff Bridges movie. Doing that has helped me gauge how far I can go in this particular moment, or how small I can be in this; and it’s been incredible. I look forward to where he’s going to be in other episodes, and the levels that I can play with this guy.

In the pilot, it looks like there’s a skosh of humor between John and Dorian. Is that going to continue?

I think the humor plays nicely in the show, without being forced. You read the script, and you might go, “heh,” and that’s your reaction; and I think that’s enough. It never feels sitcom-y or like it’s a setup. It’s more…usually the humor is inadvertent or it’s just the irony of the moment. Especially from John’s perspective, it’s like, “Wow. Really?” Like, “You’re offended that I called you a robot?” Detective Paul, played by Michael Irby, he constantly refers to me as “Bot.” And that is, to Dorian, the equivalent of certain terms that we don’t say anymore in this day and age. So it’s like, “Sigh.” He has to kind of check himself before responding to that. But the humor itself, I think we have a nice blend of that right now. I think it’s honest; it’s truthful. And there is truth in jest. I think that is what we’re playing with right now.

What do you think that Dorian will learn from John over the course of the series, and John learn from Dorian?

I think John will grow. I’m hoping that Dorian’s hunger for humanity will cause John to understand that he’s blessed, and that what he has is special. And what I hope Dorian understands is that everything human is not good, and sometimes being able to do what he’s able to do…because it’s so “natural,” being programmed in him, to be able to figure out the pixels in this particular canvas, he doesn’t appreciate that. I’m hoping he learns to appreciate some of that, and I think, based on what I’ve read so far, that’s going to come; especially in the relationship between him and Rudy, played by Mackenzie. Their relationship is going to grow. We’re going to understand those two a little bit more.

In the pilot, your character said “I want to be a cop.” For an android to want something that we’d think of as distinctly human is interesting territory. Can you talk about exploring the humanity through the eyes of this non-human, and how he might be in pursuit of a more recognized state of humanity? Is that something you try to bring into the character?

By all means. I’d like to describe him as a reflection of the humanity that we all take for granted, daily. There are people in this world who don’t understand the preciousness of what it is to have a child, and they walk away or run from that responsibility. And that lack of humanity is something that Dorian cannot fathom; because he wants it so bad. I like to consider him as very observant. Not so much intuitive, but observant of human behavior, and so if he sees you make a sad face, he wants to know, “Okay, what does that sadness feel like?” Because he really wants to feel it.

And ultimately, where he’s going to go remains to be seen. But I feel like his desire to embrace humanity sets him apart from other machines that we’ve seen in the past, and I think it gives a hopeful tone to the show. Oftentimes in futuristic or sci-fi shows, you see that man and machine don’t co-exist. I think what we’re trying to say is that these two, hopefully, can co-exist and create a model for the masses of society to understand that man and machine can work together. You know, Dorian would love it if there were more Dorians out there! But he is coming out of being decommissioned, and that’s a hard thing for him to swallow.

That’s interesting, too. The newer models of the robot partners are less appealing and more robotic. I hope they look at Dorian and say, “We need to get back to this model.”

That’d be cool, wouldn’t it? It’s interesting, because those guys, the MX43s, they look like superheroes. They’re all like, 6’4”…and Dorian looks at them and he goes, “Ooh, intimidating.” He’s such a smart-ass! Because he knows, at the end of the day, “They are machines, and they can’t do what I can do. And they can’t think like I can think, and they will never be able to feel like I can feel.” He has a certain amount of pride in that, and at the same time, I think what John has to learn is, Dorian can be more helpful than hurtful. Because he’s not an MX43. And that’s a slow grind for him. So we’ll see how it goes.

Minka Kelly (Valerie Stahl)

What drew you to the show?

When they present a show to you that’s produced and created by Joel Wyman and J.J. Abrams, you know it’s going to be something pretty cool; and not only does it look cool, it’s a beautiful subject matter. The way that they explore the direction we’re going technology-wise – it’s growing so fast and I think the fear is that we’re going to lose touch with each other and the ability to connect, on a human emotional level; and I’m afraid of losing that.

I feel like we’re already sort of in a place where kids aren’t being taught how to write in cursive anymore, and they’re not learning how to write a letter and put a stamp on it and mail it, because they just text, or email, and this show really explores the risk of that. I love that my character really fights and believes in not losing touch with humanity, and not losing that human emotional contact and connection, and so that’s what drew me to the story and to the character; because I feel like that’s a really real subject and issue that we’re facing.

Will we get to learn more about your character as the season goes on; and what can you tell us about her background?

You’re going to learn a lot about my character throughout the season. There’s so much about her; there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye. It’s going to be a really fun character to play, and definitely the most challenging I’ve ever played, with what they’re telling me they’re going to do. There are a lot of different sides to her, that you’ll see, which is as much as I can say. She’s not an android; but there are some really fun aspects to her that will be revealed; and you’ll know why she’s there, why she does what she does and why she fights for what she fights for, and as far as Detective Kennex goes, she just looks up to him in such a big way, because he really also believes in those same things – humanity, and his morals and beliefs, she has in common with him. So a lot of that will be revealed.

It seems like they’re setting up an interesting relationship dynamic between your character and Karl’s. Can you go into a little bit more detail about that? Are we going to see some romance, or…

I think when you’re working with these guys, nothing is off the table; you can’t say never to anything. Right now, as it is, there’s no romance that we know of. I’ve asked Joel that same thing. Right now it really is an admiration. She just looks up to him. He’s a hero of hers, and so she’s just very excited to meet him, and work alongside him; and maybe one day be as great as he is at what she does.

Are you enjoying the sci-fi aspect of it? That whole “creating whole new worlds” thing?

Sure; it’s so funny because working on the show, being there on the day, shooting these scenes, it doesn’t feel like a sci-fi show, because we are also telling a beautiful story, and we’re all connecting on a human level; so then when I see the show, I’m reminded it’s a sci-fi show, and the world that they’ve created is so cool and exciting. I think that you can’t really put this show in a box. It’s not just sci-fi; it’s not just procedural. There’s also a lot of humanity that we’re exploring. I’m attracted to that aspect of it.

It sounds like there are a lot of serious themes; is it fun on the set? Are there going to be fun parts to the show as well? What is the overall tone?

I think there’s a little bit of everything. Even in the pilot, you see Michael Ealy and Karl Urban, they’re great together, and I think there’s a lot of humor involved. I mean, even the scene with him in the car; that was my favorite part, I love that. And I think if you don’t have that, you’re in trouble, because it can’t just always be so serious. I don’t think that’s why you tune in. You want to laugh, and you want to feel all kinds of things. And I think this show really does cover all of that. There’s something for everyone there.

How much ahead of time do you like to know about where your character is going?

I used to think I didn’t want to know ahead of time, but in this case, I’m really glad that I know, because it’s even gotten me more fired up. When Joel told me where we were going and what we were doing, it just got me really excited to go to work; and I just feel so lucky that I’m a part of a team that has such great imagination. So I’m excited to see how far they go with what they’ve said they’re doing. We’ll see!

Lili Taylor (Maldonado)

What drew you to the show?

I think Joel and J.J., their imaginations are pretty great, and that’s exciting to me. And one other thing was, my character was originally a man, and they were open to making it a woman; and I thought that said a lot about, again, their imagination and flexibility.

Was the material appealing to you?

Yes; I’ve always wanted to play a cop! But so what, you know – I can do that in an acting class or something. I don’t have to bother everyone else with my little dream. But what interests me is, I loved Children of Men; and I thought that template was just perfect. And I know that’s what they’re talking about here; and find that this show wrestles with some interesting questions. We know this is a really wild time to be living in, just crossroad-wise, and this show might get into some of that stuff that we’re wrestling with.

If it was originally a man, how did you end up with the part?

I have to verify this…I think my manager suggested it, and they were open to it. And that just is fantastic.

The role that was being written – did they change much when they made it a female part, or did they keep the character much the same?

Sort of the same, but obviously because I am who I am, it’s changing a bit. But what I like is that whoever she’s become, she still has a real strong feminine side. Because sometimes women in those positions of power, they just, like: they have balls. It’s like, “Are you a woman?” Where’s the femininity? So she’s able to be a boss and still know that she can do it without suppressing that. Like what Helen Mirren was doing in Prime Suspect; and I love that template also. And I’ve talked to them about that, and they’re open to that kind of thing as well.

Talking about the dynamic between your character and John – they seem to have kind of a close relationship, but yet it’s not necessarily a good relationship at all times…

To me, they almost seem more like sister and brother in a way, than like, mom, or boss/employee. And I think they have a bond because they experienced a tragedy together, and that’s an interesting place to start from. But she is still his boss…so it’s like, older sister.

What can you tell us about your storyline?

I know that they’re going to be talking to us about it. Joel was saying that he was sort of more secretive on Fringe, and that he’s doing it different now. Because it just does work better, when you have open lines of communication; everybody sort of wins.

How much ahead of time do you like to know where your characters are going?

I like to know, because it’s a house of cards. I’ve gotten used to not knowing, and I’ll accept that; but if I had known certain things that a character did in episode 11, in episode 3, or earlier, I might have created some different choices. Like if all of a sudden you find out your character is a psychopath, in episode 13, but you didn’t have any glimmers of that happening, that’s hard.

You mentioned that the show is going to be touching on some interesting questions. Can you elaborate?

Well, climate change, some of the neuroscience stuff, the Google Glass – I mean, that’s sort of on a lower level, but that can open doors to the ethical dilemmas. Even bringing an extinct species back, like recreating the dodo. On so many levels, I feel like we’re just in a can of worms. Like you do one thing, like bring back an extinct species, and all of a sudden another species gets threatened. Just all sorts of wild questions are being raised.

What backstory do you know?

I don’t know any. I know there was a bad raid two years ago, and we lost a lot of officers.

It sounds like the show is exploring humanity and what it means to be human. If you could set it up so that your character got to make one comment on what it means to be human, what do you think that would be?

To be human? I think it’s to fall down and get back up; and then fall down and get back up. And on and on and on.

Naren Shankar (former executive producer and co-showrunner)

Note: On September 9, 2013, it was announced that Shankar, who joined the series after the production of the pilot, would depart the series due to creative differences. However, I think he said some really interesting things about the show, many of which will presumably still hold true, so I’m including his interview. Also, won’t it be interesting to see in what ways they take a different direction after the change in personnel?

How did you get involved in the project, and why did it appeal to you?

I was on CSI for many years. I ran the show with Carol Mendelsohn for about eight years. I came off it, and I was looking for a way to get back to my roots; because my first shows were all science fiction. That was a huge chunk of my career and the stuff that I love. I was on Star Trek, and The Outer Limits, and Farscape; and after eight years of dealing with dismembered corpses and real-time drama, it wears you down a little bit. And I saw the pilot, and it really was a great combination, and perfect for me. Because it was futurism, and it was a police procedural. It had great relationships in it. Very much in keeping with NYPD Blue; I mean, these were all shows that I loved. And then I met with Joel and we hit it off really, really well. So it was a great match and I’m delighted to be here.

It sounds like you’ll be able to blend a bit of your current procedural background with your sci-fi background…

Yeah, and also, I used to be an engineer. So, there really isn’t a show on television right now that really deals with futurism. And I think it’s kind of amazing; it’s actually hard to pull off. Because what we really want to do, in the absolute best version of this show, is give people a little glimpse of what’s coming down the road.

We really are trying hard to maintain relatability to the present. Because you want to see a little bit of the seeds of present day technology, extrapolated thirty, thirty-five years in the future. Because it’s very easy to create a world that is unrecognizable to people, and that world, we can’t really attach to. And then you just go, “Ehh, it’s just stuff.” I think it also narrows the appeal of the program pretty substantially. Whereas, if people can actually relate to it, understand that this is the world that might be coming, it gives them a totally different way to attach to the program. And if they can see that it’s not about futuristic crime-solving, it’s about people in the future dealing with the future, they can relate to that. That’s, I think, a really important distinction; and I think that’s what we’re trying to achieve.

So as the show goes on, are you going to continue keeping an eye on cutting-edge science and incorporating that? Can you give us an example of something that’s on the cusp right now, that you might have brought into the show?

Absolutely we are. And for an example, people right now are worried about location tracking, and privacy. Episode two deals with these issues, but extrapolated into the future. Taking that notion and doing some pretty nasty things with it. We’re going to try to do that as much as possible; and yeah, you have to keep up with it, because things change so incredibly fast. It’s actually super-difficult to come up with.

Can you talk about the episode structures? Is it going to be similar to a police procedural, or more with long-term serial arcs throughout the season?

We’ve talked a lot about that. With Fringe, it was super mythologized, and tightly, tightly serialized. CSI was literally at the opposite end of that spectrum. We’re trying to work for a combination of those things. But I think the best example that we can give you – and we’ve had many discussions about it – NYPD Blue had really interesting and compelling cases and criminals, but the mythology of the show was really the mythology of the characters’ lives. That’s what the serialization came from. It was really the continuing character arcs. Was Sipowicz going to fall off the wagon; or he’s having prostate cancer; and how is his partner dealing with his girlfriend who’s in the precinct. .. It was maybe a little soapier than what we’re going for; but I think we are trying hard to focus the mythology on the continuing aspects of the characters in the show. There are going to be some very lightly serialized arcs; but the idea is to give people a great case every week, with people who are continuing to develop in terms of their relationships, and their relationship to the world.

I understand you want to be cutting edge, but being a sci-fi show, and given your background on Star Trek and all, what about opportunities to sort of comment on where we are now?

You’re hitting the core of it – we want to comment on things as they are now, or where we feel things might go. With Star Trek, we were so remote in terms of where we were relative to the present day. Star Trek was positing a future where people had evolved past their baser instincts and were actually not quite as barbaric or as violent, and everybody had plenty, because you had a replicator. And that is not the future that we’re talking about.

We’re talking about a future where technology has done a lot of good and a lot of ill. If you’re talking about the broader message of the show, in a way it’s like, you’ve got a synthetic who’s kind of human, and a human who has synthetic parts. And n the long arc of the show, we’re talking about, where is humanity going? Are those two things coming together? Because a lot of people believe that they are; I’m actually one of them. But that means things can go really good, or things can go really bad. But maybe that’s the only chance for survival of the species, is some combination of technology and biology. And I think in a larger sense, that is what the show is dealing with.

How far in advance have you mapped out ideas for the future of the series?

We’ve mapped out quite a bit. We’ve laid out character arcs for the first thirteen episodes for all of our guys. We kind of dug into the backstories of all of our characters very well. We’ve got some very interesting stuff coming up; and it’s dealing with, like, you know everybody in the world who’s a regular in the show has a very particular relationship with technology. And you’re going to see that as the show goes on. And we have tons of ideas for cases. It’s a great combination. I think you’re really going to like how the John and Dorian relationship evolves; and there’s going to be some interesting codependence as the show continues. We’ve been busy.

Have you mapped out any general ideas for where you’ll go past the first thirteen?

Definitely. But we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, and we do want to keep ourselves open to possibilities. If people get hyper-dogmatic about where their shows are, it kind of hurts them. Because then you start writing towards results as opposed to keeping yourself open to unexpected things that you never anticipated. I think when you have a cast of the quality that we have on this program, that’s going to happen. Because in the pilot, just watching, for example, Mackenzie Crook – Rudy, the lab technician – when he plugs Dorian in, he’s nervous. He seems like he doesn’t know what’s going to happen. Well, when I saw that, I was like, “You know, what if?” What is the reason underlying that nervousness? And that led to some very interesting discussions. I think that kind of thing is essential. You can lay out big arcs, but you have to stay open to the possibilities. Because magical things can happen.

Looking at the Dorian character, have you come up with any parameters as to how human-like he can be or become? Are there certain aspects you would never cross?

It’s an incredibly tricky performance. Michael did an amazing job in the pilot; but when you think about it, he’s a guy, playing a robot, playing sort of a human. I kind of liken it to Robert Downey’s performance in Tropic Thunder – an American playing an Australian playing a black man. It’s like, “Whaaat?” But you see the layers of the performance; and when you talk to Michael, he’s always thinking that. So it’s really fascinating.

And when we’re talking about Dorian the character, and writing him, we’re going through the same process on the writing side. You go, “He’s got to be precise, because he’s a cop, and he’s gotta talk like a cop; but he shouldn’t talk too much like a cop, because he’s going to be kind of, like, not human…but not completely; but he’s got to be a little bit of a robot.” So the answer is: we’re finding it. And it’s really, really tricky. But I think at this point, we’ve decided he must have been programmed by a hipster; because he says things like “hey, man,” and I think it episode two we threw in a, “That’s cool.” So we’ll see what happens.

How much of that is led by Michael’s performance?

That was exactly led by Michael’s performance. I don’t know if Joel wrote “hey, man” into the script; or Michael said that and Joel put it into the script; but that is really where that was coming from. I think it was actually J.J. [Abrams]’ note, that was like, “That’s cool.” And we were like, “Yeah, that’s a great line!”

At the end of the pilot, you get the sense that they’ve resolved a lot of their issues. I would imagine that dynamic won’t be static, though?

Here’s the thing; I think that when people come up with shows that are like, “Two people that hate each other but must work together!” it becomes the most false kind of drama; because in reality, that gets resolved almost instantaneously. Because the audience, when they like the characters, they like to see them together, and then all the conflict feels very forced. The issues with John and Dorian is not so much that they are completely resolved; because John has feelings about technology; he just comes to the decision that, “Hey, I can work with this.” And he’s not a guy who doesn’t use computers. John isn’t a Luddite. He understands the world, and what tools are.

But what’s going to happen as the show goes on is, these guys are going to help each other. Dorian needs John because he wants to be a cop. Keeping John on a healthy path to healing himself, sort of dealing with the ambush and all the guys that he lost, and sort of re-integrating with the world is good for Dorian as well. And what we are going to see, as we get into more of Dorian’s backstory – and I’m not going to tell you exactly where that’s going, obviously, because Bad Robot would kill me! But what you’re going to see is, their “conflict” is going to be in terms of that codependency. So we’re not going to have ridiculous arguments: “I hate you!” “You’re not a human!” That’s kind of bogus and it goes away fast.

You were saying you’ve got these great cases lined up. Are some of those to do with the idea of technology as it is in their world? Will we see it on the police side and then in some of the cases?

Absolutely. I think you’re probably going to see more of it on the crime side. It’s like whenever bad guys have a new tool, they’re incredibly innovative in how they use it. It’s like the porn industry. Porn always leads technology. You have to remember, dystopian futures are easier to imagine, because people have an innate fear of technology. What we’re trying to do is dystopian in some respects, but also – I’ll use the word “utopian” only as its opposite. We’re trying to be optimistic about where technology can go as well. We don’t want to create a world where everything is bleak and terrible and awful because of technology. Joel doesn’t feel that’s realistic; I don’t either. It has absolutely got dangers inherent to it; but in many ways it also represents the only thing that people can do to fix things and make things better; and it’s both of those things. So the show has to express that, and we’re trying to.

Well there you go, folks! It all sounds fascinating to me! So check out Almost Human if you haven’t already.

And until next time, Servo Lectio!

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis

WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold