From South Central to Miami

BoyzNtheHood

I’ll be honest — I’m not really in it for me. This blog is driven by an interest in entertainment news because that’s what I like. There’s a lot I find that appeals to me as a blogger here. After a time, I guess I didn’t expect something to really appeal to me as someone who enjoys television and movies. This coincides with recent news from Deadline, and a thought I had just days ago — I remember the trailers for Abduction two years ago, but where the hell has John Singleton gone?

I couldn’t have asked for a better answer. He’s partnering with Russell Simmons to executive produce, write, and direct an in-development HBO series, Club Life: Miami, which sounds more akin to Singleton’s early work than his later traverses into commercial Hollywood.

There isn’t a great deal of information as of yet, so let’s for now look back on Singleton, staging this show as a return to form (which it may or may not pan out to be).

In the 90s, Singleton was one of the trailblazing independent filmmakers, along with Spike Lee, Robert Rodriguez, and Kevin Smith. He had a screenplay coming out of college, and made the risky move to step up and direct it. For his transgressions at an early age he was rewarded with Academy Award nominations in both counts. Today, Boyz N the Hood is remembered as the film that sparked an outpouring of ‘hood’ films in the 90s, among the most prominent being Juice and Menace II Society.

But the debut (right up there with District 9 and The Shawshank Redemption as stellar first-time movies) also demonstrates the filmmaker’s gift for cultivating powerful performances out of actors — working with many first-time actors over his career. Boyz was not only Ice Cube’s first (best, and last) screen performance, but Cuba Gooding Jr.’s. Baby Boy introduced to the cinema Fast and Furious regular Tyrese Gibson.

And speaking of Fast and Furious, following the critical and financial disappointments of dramas like Poetic Justice (one in the preciously small Tupac acting canon) and Higher Learning, Singleton seemed to turn to more mainstream titles like 2 Fast 2 Furious and a reimagining of Shaft (with Christian Bale as the villain).

My recollection of 2 Fast tells me it was an alright movie (greatest title ever), but it’s a disappointing moment for two reasons — the three films opening Singleton’s career, and then Baby Boy in 2001, are clearly very personal stories tackling life in urban America, racism, and coming-of-age (Boyz N the Hood is like — imagine Rebel without a Cause, and now give James Dean an actual reason to be angsty… Having a cop threaten you with a gun and call you a punk for being out at night is a good one).

And of course, Abduction, which was just so random. It was like that time in Alex Proyas’s promising career when he went from I, Robot, a minor but significant departure from the amazing Dark City, to Knowing, a minor and insignificant entry in the Cage Rage canon. Two years isn’t a bad time for turnaround on directors making new movies, but those were two tense years.

If Club Life: Miami, despite its weird VH1/video-game-ish title, manages to bring Singleton back into the spotlight, it’ll prove television as the great refuse for feature filmmakers and stars. It may also be a stepping stone for the great director to pursue more personal projects, and that would be the return of a profound, unique voice.

Further Effects

Variety be saying this much

Variety reports that YouTube is teaming up with a subsidiary of DreamWorks Animation — AwesomnessTV — and NBC Universal’s Universal Cable Productions to produce Side Effects, an hour time-slot-length TV show — but on the Internet?

TV on the Internet may not be crazy these days — how did you watch the first three seasons of Breaking Bad? — but original programming for the web is still a developing medium. It might be the wave of the future, and it may just begin with Side Effects. Of course, YouTube will have to compete with Netflix as a platform, which has the prestige aspect nailed down, thanks to personnel and projects in the manner of Kevin Spacey, Eli Roth,  Jenji Kohan, Arrested Development, etc. Much as we love Felicia Day, her profile doesn’t reach as far as David Fincher, another one of these big-time Hollywood directors indulging in television.

There’s plenty of obstacles we could dream up to stand in this project’s way (BSG had a built-in fanbase, musicals don’t necessarily skate by on TV unless they’re Glee), but it’s more heartwarming to think about the paths this could open up. YouTube is a diverse enough platform that it could do well expanding into this kind of territory, and we’d never worry about it compromising what it — cat videos, as we very, very well know.

From the creative side, there’s never been a better time to be an independent filmmaker — ten years ago. Nowadays, all avenues are opened. The first person to use kickstarter to co-finance, with an actual factual cable company, a YouTube drama series that’s also available on VOD and later Blu-Ray Disc… well, they’ve seemingly won everything already. I’d like to see a great big cocktail of Internet services that take up positions along the development/production throughline.

But how does TV companies getting involved affect all this? If they help to set a standard, imprint a viewing methodology in the audience’s mind for full-length TV online, the indies will follow suit. And then we might see some additional interesting content. That’s a best case scenario though, and a good way to reconcile big business studios with the artistic temperament of broke people.

Gilligan’s Next Move: The Weight of a Name

REMEMBER MY NAME

Not to be too frequenting of television or even just Breaking Bad on this site, but Breaking Bad has left a lasting mark on television, and for showrunner Vince Gilligan, it was the “best job I will likely ever have.”

Has there ever been a showrunner, beyond Aaron Sorkin, whose got more than one named television series to their… names? Gilligan’s anxiety might be justified, but it might be like Robert Rodriguez’s, fresh off of his first big success, was worried about losing the spotlight upon his ‘sophomore slump.’ No, that was your predecessor, John Singleton

Among his projected next moves was a show for a network, Battle Creek, which comes packed with the exciting premise of “two detectives with very different world views who are teamed up.” But let’s leave that aside for now, I don’t mean to poke eyes.

The question is “Why CBS?” CBS is the network that rakes in the highest ratings by creating these nonsensical schedules filled with the vilest mix of reality TV, derivative dramas, and cheap comedies (sometimes still with laugh-tracks). It’s the lowest common denominator principle — contrasting with early AMC, who’ll get a relatively small number of people who are intensely interested, CBS will attract everyone, but nobody super cares.

The sophomore slump question may after all be a factor here, because even though Gilligan is certainly established as a major talent, the executives at CBS will hit harder and demand more influence over the creative project. And that’s what’s expected, it’s not unfair for them to maintain a certain brand, one that obviously B&E the Industry doesn’t agree with, but is proven.

What’s more interesting to me is the idea of what failure could mean, and it is more likely than any scenario where our man Vince does not go to CBS, because Creator of a TV series does not have the same cache as Movie Director. And in Hollywood it’s all about ‘what have you done for me lately,’ and for fans, their DVRs don’t lack for work.

A man like this this should not be forgotten, so I’ll urge you to keep him in your mind, an open mind, but I would never ask you to keep an open mind about a damn, dirty CBS show.

Breaking Mad Men

Don Draper says what
The end is coming. See it — over there? No? Well, it’s coming. Take Weiner’s word for it, just as you did Gilligan’s.
So Mad Men, AMC’s first and most decorated original drama, is taking a cue from Breaking Bad, ratings juggernaut (but small-fry to The Walking Dead), in splitting the final season across two years. With b-squad shows like Low Winter Sun being as terrible as they are (ugh), The Killing being canceled again, and a Breaking Bad spin-off the one surefire hit on the horizon, the shining era for AMC seems to have lit up an encompassing dusk as it slowly fades to black. Not a good time for two of their three biggest shows to hit town.
It’s standard practice to use a popular show to launch a fresh new one, and while the Breaking Bad/Low Winter Sun matchup didn’t set off fireworks like Showtime’s recent Dexter/Homeland pairing, they’ll have a few more chances now, in 2014 and 2015.
The Mad Men episodes will be shot all fourteen, straight-through, but released over two years as two half-seasons.
The question is — does it matter? Will this give a boost not only to Mad Men ratings, but AMC’s image? It’s a strange time for media, where quality content is what selling. Say what you might about The Walking Dead, whose showrunners are killed faster than the zombies — it does better than most network shows both critically and commercially. The sentiment that appealing to the broadest audience, thereby stretching a show out to an ungainly, amorphous but vaguely Law & Order-y shaped piece of plastic, is slowly losing favor, and AMC has had a hand in that.
The move to split seasons is proven, but unpopular. Like in The Social Network, when Zuckerburg refuses ads on his site because it isn’t ‘cool,’ AMC’s gotta do some serious image reevaluation. There doesn’t seem to be a killer app on the horizon, and AMC has a reputation for being stingy come pilot season.
When Mad Men comes back, will it be the unheralded event that this last year of Breaking Bad has been? Breaking Bad is unique — heavily serialized, it’s like the final installment of a movie trilogy. The last Harry Potter outgrossed each predecessor because maybe people had time to catch up, and you had to get the ending. Mad Men has an ‘ending,’ but its story didn’t have much of a beginning. It opens on Don Draper carrying out an average day. It’s an interesting one, but arbitrarily chosen along his fictional timeline. Not like Walter White’s, whose story had a clear beginning.
If AMC executives don’t recognize that critical difference between those two shows, one must wonder about how they’ll do beyond 2015. And for Mad Men, here’s the man himself discussing the end of the show he previously worked on, The Sopranos. This might give you some clues as to the ending of his current show, but… you might not like what he has to say…