Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Television Tuesday: Human Target Finale

Welcome to the final installment of the She Said/She Said Human Target discussion between myself and author Samantha Hunter. My first review of Human Target (pre-Samantha) was here. If you've missed any of the cross blog posts, Samantha's first volley was here, my backhand return happened here, Samantha's hard serve down the center line occurred here and my weak return volley begins now.

Well now. That was an adventure.

At this point, Samantha and I are very close to agreeing on much about the show Human Target. We agree that season one was vastly superior to season two and that the show majorly veered off course with the attempt to make it more "woman friendly" by adding two new female cast members (one of whom is totally worthless story wise) and thus creating a forced romanced between our hero Christopher Chance and his unnecessary benefactor Isla Pucci has been a key component to the show's downgrade. But all that agreeing is boring, so here's some conflict to spice it up because we don't seem to agree on a key point.


In her latest post, Samantha wrote the following:

I don't believe the actors themselves need to have personal chemistry to make it work (in response to Kiersten's Mr. and Mrs. Smith note) — it's nice if they do, but to my mind, it's their job to sell the story, either way.
Chemistry is essential to selling a romance. Do I believe it is an actor's job to sell a story, or in this case, a romance, no matter what may or may not inherently exist between him/her and his/her counterpart? Absolutely. It's their job to make us believe in something that isn't there. But good casting directors look for pairs that have chemistry together because it's something you simply can't fake. An Officer and a Gentleman is an iconic movie, a romance yardstick in many ways with richly drawn, deeply portrayed characters. But Richard Gere and Debra Winger who portrayed, respectively, the hero and heroine of the film, famously hated one another. I mean they loathed one another. They had extraordinary chemistry together, perhaps fueled by their mutual hatefest.

In Human Target, we don't even see that, and it shows. I don't believe it's a flaw of the actors (I could believe it's one of the director, but that's something else), because, as I said above, it's something you can't fake, it's there or it isn't, and a good casting director, a good showrunner, will pick a pair that have it. Human Target didn't.

Samantha adds: 

I see it as a failure in the acting and the writing. It's their job to make the chemistry work.  Romance is a natural offshoot of a show like this — you have a show full of sexy, magnetic guys, and it would be completely unbelievable that they don't at least hook up here and there.
My point exactly. There were several great women guest stars peppering season one. Why bring in a totally new romantic interest rather than build upon what had already proved itself to work?

Case in point: White Collar. Marsha Thompson, late of LOST (sniff, miss you!), who played Agent Diana Barrigan in the pilot was not retained for season one. Though not a romantic foil, Thompson's chemistry with star hottie Mathew Bomer was great, but when the full season began, she was nowhere to be seen. Now I don't know what actually happened because the producers failed to consult me (more fool them). Maybe it was scheduling, maybe it was a specific choice, but she was gone. Instead, Natalie Morales was added to the cast as Agent Lauren Cruz and I cringed every time she came onscreen – she just didn't fit and had zilch in the chemistry department with Bomer. Come season two, who should return to the show but Marsha Thompson with Morales out. They didn't try to force a different woman into the slot; they went back with what had worked the first time. Take note Human Target.

From Samantha: 

Season one was solid, with all kinds of good bits to build on. But the pacing was all off as they grappled with how to do it, and I don't feel I know any of these characters any better by the end of season two.
Again, agree. Season one was solid. The show wasn't quite sure what it was, but it was certainly feeling its way out. This is not unusual for a new show. The comedy Cougartown started out as a sitcom about women over 40 looking for love with younger men. But when the producers saw the kooky chemistry that developed amongst the cul-de-sac crew and that the show was best when that group got to hang out together and drink lots of wine, a great show was born (though continually hampered by that off-putting title).

Human Target was beginning that chrysalis towards the end of season one. We heard about the old man all season, we'd even seen a showdown between Chance and his former comrade in assassinations, Baptiste. Then in the season one finale, we got more rich detail into Chance's back story and boy was it a doozy. Why should Winston and Guerrero be treated any differently?

Here is where, in the spirit of a show about a reformed killer for hire, I'd like to mention character assassination. Winston and Guerrero were characters with magnificent potential who were hamstringed by the ridiculous misdirection that was season two. Winston has gone from jaded former cop to whiny den mother who spends more time floundering around looking for a storyline than being the crucial clutch player of season one.

Meanwhile Guerrero has gone from bad ass mother*cker whose name alone makes the baddest of bad guys cringe in fear to some disgruntled babysitter of the hardly to be borne Ames. Why not, as Samantha suggests, delve deeper into the backgrounds of these two compelling men? Guerrero was affected by Chance's change of life direction; by choosing not to kill him, Chance proved he'd undergone a fundamental alteration to his core code. By his own code, Guerrero could no longer go up against him; instead, whenever Chance asked for helped, Guerrero would now drop everything and go. This relationship offered a number of comic moments, such as when, after speaking with Chance, Guerrero hanged up the phone, opened the trunk of his beloved Eldo (Eldorado), and said to the bound, gagged, and beaten man inside "it's your lucky day, dude." This is a complex character, essential a really bad dude with a wonky moral code who kills all too easily but whose loyalty to Chance is unquestioned. What rich stories might be gained from putting that loyalty to the test?

Samantha and I disagree in our enjoyment of the episode Imbroglio. I think I was so delighted to see some of the old show's fire again that I missed the overall picture. Upon review, I more than see her point about Guerrero looking less than completely accomplished as he's somewhat easily overpowered. This was further illuminated by the following episode, Cool Hand Guerrero, where a nascent if skilled thief like Ames easily broke through paranoid Guerrero's safe and in addition went on to break his pass code for the super secure briefcase. That he kept files on everyone wasn't surprising (only Chance could possibly be considered anything close to "friend"); that he'd made it so easy to find those files had me screaming at the screen. The Guerrero of season one would never, ever be that obvious.

Still, I maintain that the show is at its best when Chance, Winston, and Guerrero are left alone to do their thing – whether it's their action thing, their male bonding thing, or their shoot shit up thing. Above all else, these guys have fantastic chemistry together.

And that's essentially the heart of what Human Target lacked this season – chemistry. Chemistry in the stories, chemistry in the character interactions, and, above all, chemistry in its "romance". Human Target is a show that needs to snap, crackle, and pop on all cylinders. It needs to be tasty to our senses, to our minds, and most especially to our hearts. If it miraculously gets renewed for a third season, I won't be disappointed because I'm not done with these three amigos, but without a return to form, whether I'll be tuning in remains top secret.

Thanks to everyone who tuned in to mine and Samantha's pas de deux of blog posts on Human Target. We had so much fun doing it that we're currently brainstorming new shows to dissect in our next discussion. Human Target Season One is available on DVD and it is definitely worth checking out. Season Two – well, enough's been said on that. For now.

Disclaimer: I did not receive any enticements, bribes, or assundry for watching this show or for beating it into the ground, merely the kind request of a fellow writer to blog about television we loved – or loved once. Please, don't send Guerrero after me.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Television Tuesday: Human Target Part Deux

Few things bring as much joy as discovering someone as obsessed over a TV show as you are. If nothing else, you can at least share the same medication. Imagine my delight when Samantha Hunter and I began tweeting about Human Target, a show I blogged about here a few weeks ago. After our mutual appreciation fest had worn itself out, we decided to chat about the show back and forth on our blogs - She Said; She Said - and share some love for good television while discussing the finer points of an action hero versus romantic hero and how (for my part) this show has quickly gone completely off the rails by forcing romance on its hero. Samantha took the first pass earlier this week; now it's my turn.

I'm not going to reiterate my objections to the two women characters added to the cast for Season Two (exactly how much longer are we to be forced to endure Ames?). Rather, I'd like to focus on Samantha's points regarding the relationship between Christopher Chance, our hero, and his boss and benefactor, Ilsa Pucci.

First of all, what relationship? There is zero chemistry between these two characters. Look, there's a reason Mr. and Mrs. Smith destroyed a marriage: the chemistry between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie literally leaps off the screen. It crackles before your very eyes. There's no crackle between Chance and Ilsa. There's not even a spark. How are we expected to believe this supposed romance when the hero himself couldn't look more bored?

I do agree with Samantha that Ilsa began to come into her own in the jungle episode. Certainly, we got more insight into her back story (I'm a sucka for a good back story). But even there, I rolled my eyes. Northern Ireland? Really? I'm all for blind casting, but Indira Varma is not remotely Irish. Trying to convince me otherwise merely yanks me right out of the story. I'd actually forgotten that Isla was assaulted at the end of that episode. That's the point: I forgot. There wasn't anything remotely memorable about that episode. Except clearly Northern Ireland. And the spiders.

Samantha proposes that Isla is actually now in danger of becoming a more interesting character than Chance.

[Isla] is actually becoming such an interesting heroine that Chance has to catch up. The danger here is that as she becomes more interesting and layered, he becomes more flat. That may have been okay when it was just the guys — an action hero can be more one-dimensional – but if you are sparking up romance, conflict, inner turmoil, and so forth, your hero HAS to rise to the occasion. While he has been written as a fantastic action hero — he plays that to a tee — the romantic hero presents new challenges.
I have to agree with Samantha. When the stakes rise, be they emotionally, romantically, or externally driven, an action hero must also rise to the occasion. But while Samantha calls Chance's characterization flat in light of Ilsa's evolving complexity, I see it as simply a total lack of interest in this fabricated romance.

One of the things I loved about Season One was the slow reveal of the origins of Christopher Chance. The allusions to "the old man", the assignation tango with former friend, the killer Baptiste (Lenny James rocked it hard in that role), that nail-biting finale when Wilson is kidnapped and freaking Armand Assante comes to their rescue. The holy crap revelation that Lee Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man himself, was also once Christopher Chance (the richness of The Princess Bride homage in that reveal pleased me to no end. "I am not the Dread Pirate Roberts. My name is Ryan.")

It's not an over exaggeration to say that the Season One finale gave me chills.

The characterization of Christopher Chance is a rich feast of a man trained to kill without conscience who came to a crossroads in his life and took the unknown road. This has mainly been lost in Season Two as the show as deviated away from this premise in order to force this "romance" down our throats. Of course Isla is becoming more complex in comparison to Chance; his previously compelling story has been truncated to fit the demands of having two additional full time cast members and a romantic subplot that supersedes any effective continued development of our hero whether he's action or romance oriented.

Samantha writes, "There is a difference between strong and silent, self-assured, confident and restrained — and emotionally stunted. In the finale, some of the very best moments were the hanging off the building declaration ("Don't let me go…" "Never")"

Actually, I found that moment a major fail. This level of emotional commitment has in no way been earned by these characters. It's like the writers are following a template and this is where the instructions say to put in the Last of the Mohicans moment. Chance and Isla went from zero to 60 in about 3.3 seconds and that's only a good thing if you're an Enzo.

Samantha continues:

[Chance] has to be talked into going after her at the end. As much as I liked the trek across the city in the 'vette (and the music was great), Chance had to come to this on his own, not be pushed into it by Winston (who could have delivered that awesome line quoted above at the start of the show, not the end).  That he didn't do this just puts another flag in the emotionally dumb camp, and there is nothing attractive about that. The biggest problem is that while we have seen Ilsa grow and change over the course of the season, Chance has not — or not much — most notably,  in spite of his promise on the side of the building, he was in fact very willing to let her go.
That's because he's not in love with her. He's merely doing what everyone tells him he should be doing (including the writers). I figure as long as Ilsa continues to pay the bills, Chance is happiest when she's anywhere BUT by his side.

What makes it all so much worse is that the bones of the show I love occasionally still shines through. Remove the ridiculous romance and you have great episodes like Imbroglio.

Ilsa is attending the opera with her sister-in-law sans the rough and tumble guys. At the last moment, Chance and the wonderful if seriously defanged Guerrero (worthy of a whole post all on his own) also attend. Some dodgy intelligence has given Chance a bad feeling. As Isla confronts them, scornful of their proposed interest in La Traviata, Guerrero deadpans "I'm not gonna lie, if I have to sit through this Baroque stuff, I'd much prefer Rossini."

Ha! I rewound that moment. Twice.

Imbroglio crackled with intensity, high-stakes, action and humor. Not surprisingly, Ames was nowhere to be seen in the episode and even while at its center, Isla was significantly toned down. Honestly, it was such a thrill to watch Chance kick bad guy ass again. Because the heart of this show, of the story, are these three men, Chance, Guerrero, and Wilson and oh, so much not the romance.

The Season Two finale showed sparks of the old fire as Guerrero got to go all super assassin on the CIA. Suddenly, it just. Got. Interesting (though don't think too hard about how a rogue CIA agent can suddenly take down headquarters but is quickly subdued by the bad ass Guerrero.) I think it's telling though, that when the CIA spies fast roped into the loft, my first thought was where's Carmine the dog? Do not hurt the dog!

That fire was quickly snuffed out, abbreviated for a misapplied, run-through-the-night-to-stop-the plane segment where Chance didn't exhibit an iota of passion or urgency to reach Ilsa before she left (the Corvette showed more urgency than Chance, but come on, it's a 'vette. It's not like it'll let you drive it slow). Frankly, I don't think the man cared.

Yes, my John Hughes-trained heart surged to see the Corvette streak through the rain at night towards Isla – but that's mostly because I like well made cars. Frankly, the 'vette was the only thing keeping me watching at that point because I was so abysmally bored. I knew exactly what was coming next, I could have written the scene myself, and when I'm saying the lines out loud along with the actor and it's the first time I've seen the episode, honey, that is not a good sign.

Look, Human Target is a show worth saving, but not in its current state. I would rather see it be canceled than have to endure another season of these story and character bastardizations that aren't generated by organic growth but rather manipulated to suit the flawed visions of outside forces.


Monday, February 14, 2011

My Funny Valentine

Happy Valentine's Day! Can you believe we're already in mid-February? I could have happily skipped right over the first 6 weeks of this new year. Though apparently, the Groundhog saw his shadow so we're headed for an early spring.

Good thing, 'cause love is in the air. Admittedly, I'm not the biggest cheerleader for Valentine's Day - unlike St. Patrick's Day when the Irish music is piping all around me nonstop. With V Day, the trick seems to be not to take it too seriously and to know that the first person you have to remember to love today or any day is yourself.

Still, if asked (you're asking, right?) I'd have to say my favorite V Day would have to be in 1991 when I decided to screw the whole "couples only" mind-set for V Day. Being date-less didn't mean I had to hide in my dorm room and listen to Indigo Girls on endless repeat. Really.

Instead, I took matters into my own hands (no, not like that). Since the college's theatre production that year was a musical, Camelot, and, for the first time being performed off campus at the Gloucester Stage Company, I decided to dress up and take myself to the musical for Valentine's Day, borrowing a friend's car and buying my own dang ticket. No, it wasn't pathetic and sad but sort of social - it was empowering. After I told a friend about my plans, he insisted on taking me to a florist and buying me a red rose wrist corsage. Flowers on V Day. Sigh.

Ya know what? I had a blast. I stood tall when asked who I was with and replied "myself" (I had to stand tall; I was wearing four-inch heels). I endured pitying glances and too hearty "oh that's great!" and "well, good for you!" responses. I didn't care. The play was great, the night was marvelous, and when I got back to the dorm room, another guy friend had left me a beautiful peach rose on my dresser. My 18-year-old heart swooned, I'm not ashamed to say. I grinned for days.

Sidebar: Camelot was randomly on TCM channel this afternoon. I have mad love for Richard Harris (The Lion in Winter remains an all time favorite movie of mine) and clearly a soft spot for Camelot itself. Not for the first time, I wound up spitting unkind epitaphs at Guinevere. I mean, come on woman! You're married to a great king. Keep your flippin' legs shut already. Lancelot will not live up to his name, I promise. And then after wrecking a kingdom and breaking your husband's heart, you go to a nunnery? Yeesh. Even Vanessa Redgrave can't fix that one.)

Back in 1991, I think what makes that particular Valentine's Day so special to me was that I made a choice. A choice not to allowed the strictures of society, the ones that say if you're not one of two, you can't enjoy Valentine's Day, to keep me from doing just that. Years later, I would take that philosophy with me to Ireland and Italy, having adventures in some of the most beautiful places in the world without waiting till I had someone to go with me. Or, to put it into Silverado parlance: "Life is what you make of it, friend. If it doesn't fit, you make alterations."

Romance is great. It's amazing. I am a romance writer after all and I think, done right, it can melt hearts and rejuvenate the way someone feels about herself. But ultimately, Valentine's Day is about love, not only romance. Check out a greeting card wall if you doubt it. Or better yet, the streets of New York.

Love that comes in all kinds of guises.

Speaking of guises, no one knows the many faces of love quite like Harlequin books. For decades they've been the front line of romance novels. Love 'em or scorn them (and you better not let me hear you do that!), everyone knows the name. And I love the fact that vintage Harlequin covers have become available as office products. Nothing like a piece of Gothic romance art to add zest to your notebook cover.

To celebrate Valentine's Day and all the myriad ways we love, I'm giving away three 2011 Harlequin vintage covers calendar. Hey look! A picture! (Taken with my phone, so images may not truly reflect the awesome sauce that is this calendar).

Want one? Leave a comment and tell me about your favorite or funniest or most poignant or even your worst Valentine's Day. Let me know the best ways you've shone/been shone love. I'll pick a random winner on Thursday.

I wish for all of you a day, a week, a year full of love in all its versions.