Comic-Con Preview Night is when people willingly line up to watch live-action commercials.
And, as was the case this week, another case of Hollywood deja vu.
Three of the shows in Wednesday’s Comic Con previews — “Time After Time,” “Lethal Weapon” and “Frequency” — are recycled movie ideas. The upcoming “Riverdale” series is an adaptation of Archie Comics.
The comedies included “Powerless,” a show about insurance adjusters in a world populated by superheroes. “People of Earth” is a Conan O’Brien produced comedy about an alien abductee support group.
Risk Aversion 101
In many ways, the Comic Con previews show that liberal Hollywood can be very conservative when it wants to be. The shows mostly focus on tried and true concepts, such as plots from successful movies or a long-running comic strip.
“Riverdale” proved a welcome surprise. It’s not simply not a direct adaptation of Archie Comics’ well-known characters. Instead, it’s more like Archie Comics meets “Twin Peaks” and “Dawson’s Creek.”
The pilot episode is well-acted and fairly interesting. Clearly, the producers have done their homework on catering this show to a specific demographic–teen and pre-teen girls.
The young women in the audience were very engaged. For males, the female cast members were all incredibly attractive, from the teens to the adults. If the show has a weakness, it’s that Archie himself is too perfect. He’s an athlete, he’s good-looking and he has women chasing him. He also acts like he doesn’t have normal teen hormones.
There’s no nerd clique in this pilot, although it’s possible that Jughead may end up filling that niche. Surprisingly though, the show is a mystery/drama rather than the comedy you’d expect from an Archie adaptation. The chemistry and love triangle between the leads is strong, and the mystery delivers that “Twin Peaks” vibe. It could connect with teen girls, if only for the love triangle between Archie, Betty, and Veronica.
“Powerless,” which stars Vanessa Hudgens, was also a surprise. DC’s first comedy superhero show is the antithesis of the dark DC movies.
The premise of a show, insurance adjusters dealing with the aftermath of battles between heroes and villains, seems like a certain loser. The audience disagree, laughing repeatedly at the pilot.
The always great Alan Tudyk steals his scenes as Vanessa’s boss, but the pilot affords plenty of laughs for the other characters. Whether the premise is strong enough to sustain a show over the course of a full season remains unknown. The laughs rely heavily on the novelty of each joke within the overall concept.
“People of Earth” lands like an asteroid causing an extinction-level event.
The show revolves around a support group for alien abductees, and a reporter who has his own apparent abduction experience. Unfortunately, the whole show plays like a late-night comedy sketch that lasts too long, and the characters are neither funny nor believable, just odd.
This could be forgiven if it made some point or commentary about the human condition, but sadly, it’s just bad. It is more original than the other preview shows, but it’s just not any good.
The “Time After Time” pilot basically rehashed the 1979 movie in under an hour. The plot itself is delicious–H.G. Wells invents a time machine, which Jack the Ripper uses to escape to 2016. That forces Wells to go to the future to try to apprehend him.
However, we’ve seen this sort of thing before (and much better done) with Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow.” The female lead is no Abby Wells either, but more of a whiny millennial looking for a hug.
Political correctness rears its ugly head when Jack the Ripper taunts Wells with the idea that rifles and handguns can be bought in a store in the 21st century. Leaving aside the ridiculous nature of that claim–it’s set in NYC which has tough gun laws and Ripper Jack has no ID–America had a Second Amendment in the 1890s, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that it might still exist in the 21st century.
“Frequency” likewise treads little new ground, until the pilot’s last few minutes. The movie version involved a son communicating with his father 20 years in the past via ham radio, trying to prevent a murder.
The pilot episode essentially rehashes the movie, replacing the father/son dynamic with a father/daughter duo. Otherwise there wasn’t much new until near the end, where the law of unintended consequences takes hold.
That might make enough drama and tension for a television series, but it’s a tedious way of playing “Quantum Leap” to fix the present by altering the past, using a ham radio.
“Lethal Weapon” introduces suicidal ex-Texas cop Martin Riggs to stable detective Roger Murtaugh. And surprisingly, though we’ve seen it all before, it works. Give credit to Damon Wayans for bringing believability to his role, especially in his scenes with his wife. He manages to tone down his worst comedic tendencies. The actor is so likable that pairing him up with the suicidal Riggs clicks.
Wayans may not have Danny Glover’s gravitas, but he’s just fine for the small screen. Hopefully, the TV show will realize that adding a jazzy score would help things along tremendously.
Yes, it’s the salt and pepper, buddy-cop action comedy that’s been done before. So for this show to succeed, it’s going to have to be all about the chemistry between the characters. Luckily, it looks like they’ve got a good start with the pilot.
TNT’s “The Last Ship” is an unabashed love affair with the U.S. Navy. The cast and crew are not ashamed to show it.
The entire panel was full of praise for the men and women in the U.S. Navy, which was pretty refreshing after more than a few panels where stars (often foreign actors) were not shy about their feelings in the current election cycle.
Stars Eric Dane, Bridget Regan and Adam Baldwin offered up anecdotes about working with Navy SEALS, while Executive Producer Steven Kane proudly spoke of receiving an award from the Navy for the show’s portrayal.
Some scenes from the remainder of the current season were played, which revealed several tantalizing hints of things to come:
- Fan favorite Tex is back.
- The president of the U.S. is attacked during a coup attempt.
- Some kind of biological or chemical WMD poses a threat.
- There’s a fight on a locomotive.
Sadly, an action show featuring the military is not everyone’s cup of tea; I heard one guest tell her partner, “I don’t know why anyone would watch that show; it’s about the military.”
It would have been funny, but for the fact that the comment came after “The Man in the High Castle” panel. That series depicts an alternate history in which the military forces of German and Japan have conquered and divided America. She missed the point about what happens when you don’t have a military around to protect the country and its interests.
“The Man in the High Castle” is Amazon’s most successful streaming series. The show’s producers and cast were all present but extremely tight-lipped about the second season.
However, several key facts came out.
- Tagomi’s apparent travel into an alternate timeline in which the Allies won the war was NOT a dream sequence, and the reasons for what happened will be revealed as the season progresses.
- We will meet the Man in the High Castle in the second season (and thus, Hitler is not the Man in the High Castle).
- New characters will be introduced.
- Joe does not go to Mexico.
This last bit was apparently not supposed to be revealed, but came out as an accidental slip from actor Luke Kleintank, while the rest of the cast just gasped and shook their heads. Alexa Davalos explained that in season 2, her character faces constant danger. To prove her point, a clip showed her character escaping from the trunk of a car after her apparent kidnapping.
The producers seem unconcerned about the pacing of the show. They plan on taking their time to develop the story. Hopefully, this doesn’t mean the show will move slower than it already does, because fans seem eager to resolve some of the show’s mysteries.
The preview night also let two intriguing movie projects showcase their wares.
Director Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” features Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the most famous leaker in modern history.
Shailene Woodley plays Snowden’s girlfriend and Zachary Quinto co-stars as reporter Glenn Greenwald. All four appeared at the preview panel along with Stone.
There’s no denying that Stone is an accomplished and successful director, but he loves to bring his personal politics into his projects. “Snowden” appears to be no different.
When questioned by the moderator, the cast agreed that the movie had strengthened their already existing beliefs about his case, with only Gordon-Levitt pointing out that Snowden’s case is far more complex than can be described in a 140 character tweet.
The cast and director all agreed with raised hands that Snowden is a patriot and a hero, demonstrating that the far left and the far right can become indistinguishable.
No one in the cast or Stone would call Snowden a traitor, even though he now resides under guard in Russia and didn’t work within whistleblower protections afforded by the U.S. Congress. Interestingly, while Stone referred to Snowden as withdrawn, with no friends or close family ties, he also cited Snowden’s beliefs that he spoke for many of his co-workers within the NSA.
It’s hard to reconcile how someone who has trouble with human contact could be as perceptive as Stone makes him out to be. The irony of the audience being told not to steal/share the clips/trailer from a movie about Snowden was apparently lost on many in the audience.
Indeed, the mentality of the audience and cast seemed to be that while it’s okay to post their private lives openly on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, it’s wrong for the government to look at that information for national security reasons.
It would have been nice if Team “Snowden” had told people that the best way to maintain their privacy is to not share personal information in exchange for entertainment and convenience in the first place. Instead, we’re given silly advice about putting band-aids over your cell phone camera.
Luc Besson made his first Hall H Comic-Con appearance this week. The event welcomed him with the Comic-Con Inkpot award for his outstanding contributions. The director who brought us “The Professional” and “The Fifth Element” was jubilant as the audience cheered for his new science fiction movie, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” coming July 21, 2017.
A Work in Progress
Several scenes from the movie with rough special effects were shown, along with alien and costume designs. Besson’s wife, Virginie Besson-Silla, not only showcased the aliens, but also provided backstory as to how the City (named Alpha) came into being.
Based on a French comic book by Jean-Claude Mézières (who also worked on “The Fifth Element”), the story centers on an interstellar city built over centuries as humans and alien races docked their ships together to form a space station.
Over time, the station grew as large as a planet, with environments ranging from liquids to land to gaseous. Specific details about the movie were sparse, with Besson explaining that the action takes place over the course of a day, and will include not only the city but also an alien trading planet, the largest in the universe.
Cara Delevingne plays Laureline, who seems to be an action heroine in the mold of Leeloo from “The Fifth Element,” with American actor Dane DeHaan as Valerian. The clip also showed that Rihanna plays a role, with DeHaan’s chuckles seeming to hint that it might be some kind of sexual encounter.
“Bones” is a special HiT correspondent at the 2016 Comic-Con.