Saturday, October 21, 2017
Orange County Screenwriters Association


Powerless / Apple Tree Yard

powerlessI have been a comic book fan since childhood when my dad would take me and my sisters to the local drug store to peruse the offerings after church on Sunday; something I'm sure the priests would not have approved of. 

"Powerless" would have been a welcome addition to that ritual although I'm positive it would never have been considered at that time.

The concept is simple: the world has superheroes from the DC Universe and some that haven't been created yet, I'm assuming.  I'm at a disadvantage here because beside the big marque characters I haven't followed a lot of any comic book series for a while.  "Jessica Jones" was new to me although I did remember "Luke Cage."  I can't honestly tell you what DC has been up to - but "Powerless" is a fun step!

In this world, as you can easily imagine, there is a lot of collateral damage in any superhero/super villain fight.  Marvel has already covered this somewhat in "Jessica Jones" a heroine who lives in a post-Avengers battle world where superheroes aren't loved for the destruction they've instigated while saving the world.  Supervillains are one thing, yo; getting to work when entire blocks are closed down due to buildings falling is entirely another.

So, bricks and concrete rain down regularly on unsuspecting passersby; food stands are ruined, trains derail.  In general we are "powerless" to stop the damage that these superfolk do to us.  Something that the residents on the commuter trains angrily but stoically live with: "Siri, push my meeting one hour.  There's a superbattle in front of us."

Enter Vanessa Hudgens as Emily Locke.  She is starting work at Wayne Security which is run by Bruce Wayne's brother, Van (Alan Tudyk).  She will be heading up a team of engineers (Danny Pudi, Ron Funches, Jenni Pierson) who don't like her (she's their fifth boss in as many months) or respect her go-getter, Pollyannaish approach to the job. Plus, she's always either quoting Bruce Wayne's book "Wayne or Lose" of which Emily has a dog-eared copy, or her father who owned a flower shop (he always smelled like flowers.  Hmmm.  A little weird, right?)

170201 3463417 Wayne Dream TeamAdd in that Van Wayne hates being in charge of Wayne Security and wants to be brought to Gotham City (this all takes place in Charm City) as part of Bruce Wayne's team - the Dream Team!.  Wayne (Bruce) is a successful world business leader and has the admiration of many.  In fact, Hudgens' character is seen reading his book on the way to the first day of work.  She also is almost part of a train wreck that day when the tracks are destroyed by a superhero/villain fight but all she can think of is to take a selfie to show the folks back home.  She narrates that she was raised in a "fly-over" state - one that superheroes flew over on their way to big cities. 

Get the tone?  Yeah, it's very funny and tongue-in-cheek poking fun at the tropes of comic books and that world.  I really like that even though most of the standard DC superheroes are mentioned, we only see the B-team - like Olympian who looks as silly as he sounds.  And the competing firm to Wayne Security is Lexcorp who always steals away their business.

The characters are fun, the situations are funny, and the writing is at time super-sharp.

I enjoyed the way the writers took a fantasy league concept and applied it to superheroes.  And that the division of Wayne Security is trying to create products that mitigate superbattle damages like a watch that sniffs a supervillain's signature and warns you that they are in the area so you can flee or an umbrella that allows bricks to bounce off you instead of crushing you.

One character and actor in particular had me LOLing.  Really.  Actress Christina Kirk portrays Jackie, Van Wayne's Gal Friday.  Her timing and lines are drop dead perfect.  I LOVED her.  Every show has a breakout character - she could be the one.

Some further fun from a Wikipedia entry:  Atlin Mitchell has been cast in a recurring role as Crimson Fox. Adam West, who portrayed Bruce Wayne / Batman in 1960s television series Batman and its theatrical feature film, narrated the pilot episode, introducing Wayne Security. Marc McClure, who portrayed Jimmy Olsen in the 1978 film Superman and its sequels and spin-off Supergirl, portrayed Emily Locke's yet-to-be named father in the pilot.

Only three eps were available for "Powerless" - I devoured them all bingeing and then wanting to go back and watch them again.  But that's me.  I can see where this would not have been a slamdunk in some markets.  Tudyk's guitar playing moments and sometimes too broad characterizations didn't thrill me although some other moments were spot on as the vacuous and self-aggrandizing boss.  And as mentioned, Christina Kirk had me hungry for more.   Hudgen's sunny-shiney character was terrific - she owns the part.  So, for me, this was a glass more than half-full and I hope it continues.

In what could be either perceived as a good sign or a bad sign, show creator Ben Queen apparently departed over creative differences (Deadspin article.) 

"Powerless" is on NBC.  Watch now - it may not last.

appletreeyard"Apple Tree Yard" is about as far as you can get from "Powerless" and yet I watched both in one sitting.  Of course, ATY is a longer sit so I only got to one episode of this four episode mini-series from Britain staring Emily Watson as Dr Yvonne Carmichael.  Carmichael is a scientist, facing middle age in a passionless marriage who then falls into a sexual tryst with a man she (benignly initially) suspects is a "spook" (spy) - played by Ben Chaplin.

The series is based on a book of the same name.  And while I can see why a certain demographic would be attracted to this, the first episode left me a bit restless.  It is very well conceived and executed.  At one point I found myself settling in and thinking "this is just great drama."  Unfortunately, at some further point I'm thinking - "where is this going?"  Not even the "spook" aspect revelation (it's not that hard to figure out anyway) had me wondering if I should invest more time in this.

Britain has a wonderful film and TV industry.  Some truly greats ("Cracker" "Prime Suspect" "The Long Good Friday" "Layer Cake" the amazing "Sherlock") have come out of the BBC and the British film industry.  "Prime Suspect" for example touched on similar themes to ATY in the form of an accomplished middle-aged woman searching for personal meaning in her life.  The main difference is that in PS, this was tangential to an actual story that compelled and entertained.  I'm not nearly as compelled or entertained with ATY although, again, it has truly superb moments that are worthy of anything I've seen in British - or any - entertainment.

The main issue is the pacing.  Whereas some American TV accelerates (to bad effect) the setup, this one spends far too much time in it without any payoff.  Yes, I expect the plot to thicken tremendously.  Yes, I get that the man in question who is trysting with Watson's character will be more (probably a lot more) than he seems.  I get all that.

And to be fair, they try to mitigate this plodding pace by showing us that Dr. Carmichael is heading somewhere in handcuffs in the opening scene.  She's also doing a voice over that is fairly interesting.  They also stick some of that non-linear storytelling in later in the episode just to remind you that things will be going to shit for our heroine.  Oh, and there's something quite unexpected at the end of the 1st ep which I won't reveal here. 

Yes, that all works.  Perhaps just not quite as well as it could.  In-between those moments are unfortunately some very slow story-telling.  I'm not sure I'm all the interested in seeing sexual encounters take place all over London every ten minutes.  I know, I know - what is wrong with me?  But trust me, it gets a bit repetitive.

Perhaps it's not the long, meandering setup that's bothering me but rather the somewhat awkward way the affair is handled both emotionally and physically.  For example:

  • Where is this sudden urge to illicit sex coming from?  Not much is explained in her life before she's doing this total stranger in a closet.  Oh, yeah - I know, I know - he just makes her wet.  I'll give you that.  Maybe.  Totally out of character (at least to this point) but it could happen, I guess.  But even it is out of character, give me some insight.  There's a (nearly) worthless scene between Watson's character and her friend where instead of saying anything there's a lot of twittering and sly smiling - sizzle, no steak.  Tell me something measurable, please. 
  • Why doesn't she get his name?  And/or try to find out what he actually does in government.  I'll never believe that a scientist and someone who is characterized as being so detail oriented wouldn't do more than just say "thank you" for the sex.   To me, this is an example of the narrative being written to fit the writer's agenda, not the true narrative thread.
  • The (burner) phone he eventually gives her so they can communicate is ridiculous even though there's a scene to support what would happen if the husband ever found out about it.  I guess the different ringtone doesn't tip anyone off.  Plus, really?  A burner phone for an affair?  Is that really something you do these days?  Did I miss that memo?
  • She comes to the conclusion that's he's a spook/spy when he touches upon how you can tell if a CCTV camera is fake or not.  I mean, maybe he just knows how to do that (and it's dead simple anyway) or he's involved in security.  Her sudden leap to her dating a spy is silly and creates another false moment in the narrative.
  • The sex is all either in closets, hallways, bathrooms or outside.  This is covered somewhat in that it's implied it excites him.  She make a stand at this (I think) but then agrees to some even more fetishistic behavior.  I'm thinking they're trying to hit that 50 Shades Of demo.
  • The sex becomes, as mentioned, repetitive.  This is probably because it's always done the same way.
  • And, of course, all this nonsense about cameras just has to come to something, right?  They point at it enough.  But why no CCTC footage to give us a hint?
  • And then, well, watch the episode and see if you don't agree that some of this is just badly handled from a plot and character standpoint.  At least so far.

I will continue ATY at least into the next episode but since the NYT best-selling book on which it's based (by Louise Doughty) is characterized as being a psychological thriller, something psychologically thrilling better happen or I will not be moving forward beyond that.

Not sure where you can find "Apple Tree Yard" but try BBC America.  If not, Amazon/iTunes?  Again, sorry, I'm not sure.

 

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