Friday, January 11, 2008
This year's Hollywood writers' strike has made me so eager for new TV that I have actually been eagerly awaiting the debut of a new CBC drama. But here I am, and since I am never home on Tuesdays I had to do something that most certainly was not download the first episode of jPod (Promo video | Wikipedia) on Bittorrent and watched it tonight.
First off, before any real critiquing, I will say that I found myself laughing out loud more than a few times at some pretty great lines ("If it was too easy to bury bodies, there wouldn't be any people left.") and setups, like when Ethan's stoned yoga-doing girlfriend suddenly makes it known that she could hear them talking about her through the window the moment the subject of her high-school lack of popularity was mentioned. So someone involved in directing the show definitely has an intuitive feel for what makes for funny and engaging TV moments. Not always a given with Canadian TV, and usually only found on HBO-type American shows. With the source material for the show being a novel I was expecting all the jokes to be talky quotes lifted from the written dialog, so I was very pleased to see well-executed visual setups.
The writing is good, I'm hoping the clever lines aren't just the build-up that a script writer working on a new show has of clever lines stored away in his head pouring out too quickly to sustain over the course of a TV series. Time will tell on that one. Fortunately the book contained many little sub-plots rather than one over-arching conflict that took a whole book to resolve. So the show should work well with episodic story arcs.
I found the acting to be uneven. The actors have a Gilmour Girls / West Wing way of being 'always-on' - which can be a good way of rapid-firing clever dialog, but makes the characters less like real people talking and relating to each other. But here's the problem: Coupland is probably doing this on purpose. All of the members of jPod (the forgotten team at Electronic Arts (The show may be afraid to get sued but I'm not going to bother changing names. Help I'm buried in 2nd-level parentheses.) who's members were all placed there because their surnames start with the letter J.) aside from the main character - a revival of the sympathetic everygeek from Microserfs, is living a carefully constructed identity, deciding to adopt some bizarre habit or obsession and making it their identity. But where the Microserfs characters had hope, the jPodders could all make a pretty convincing case that life is meaningless enough that either constructing a completely new person and acting as them is the only worthwhile way to approach the world. And so the overacting that got on my nerves might just be deliberate. I hope Alain Thicke's character continues to have a lot of screen-time, hopefully his Shatner-esque ability to completely hide self-awareness from the viewer will rub off on the other actors. This is a faint-hope. Right now the moments that are supposed to be sincere, like Caitlin and Ethan discovering a shared love for an old video game as cue for a romantic interest, are telegraphed so horribly you just want to get up from the room and wait for it to be over before it even begins. Pulling off making essentially contrived characters watchable will be a tough feat, it was the weakest part of the book for me.
Characters I want to see more of:
The music was a nice touch, but it was too much 'lets grab recognizable Canadian music icons so people will feel comfortable, and I hope they dig a little deeper into the pile of great but lesser-known Canadian bands as the show goes on. And seriously, don't say "defendoid", say "Defender". You're allowed to mention real-world products, for crying out loud. Using fake names is jarring and takes away our ability to identify with their geeky obsessions even more.
I'm going to keep watching it, and there's enough of a chance that the first-episode wrinkles will be ironed out into a truly high-quality show that I'm holding out hope and telling people to watch it. At the same time, I'm also hoping Coupland will want to move on to something else at the end of the first season. I would really love if the Canadian TV industry moved towards a Channel 4-style of television production, making short runs of interesting shows and moving on to something else before it gets old.