August 19, 2010

News: Debuts for Lost Girl, Todd and the Book of Pure Evil

Todd and the Book of Pure Evil will debut on SPACE Wednesday, September 29, 2010.  The first two half-hour episodes will air back-to-back, from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM ET.  The show stars Dark Oracle‘s Alex House as the title character.  Maggie Castle, Bill Turnbull, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins and Jason Mewes also star in the series.

SPACE is pimping Todd and the Book of Pure Evil rather heavily, with a Todd-centric InnerSPACE special airing September 22, 2010 at 9:00 PM.  The show will also be previewed at FanExpo Canada on August 28, 2010, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

As for Lost Girl, it debuts on Showcase Sunday, September 12, 2010, at 9:00 PM ET/PT.  The show stars Anna Silk as nascent succubus Bo.  Also appearing are Ksenia Solo as Bo’s best friend Kenzi, Kris Holden-Reid as shapeshifting homicide detective Dyson, and Zoie Palmer as Lauren the human.

A current trend in television is to take monsters and set them against a modern relationship drama or sitcom backdrop – Being Human, Ugly Americans, True Blood, Neighbors from Hell, this.  I’m generalizing a bit, but a lot of shows are embracing and/or subverting horror conventions.

I’m looking forward to Todd and the Book of Pure Evil more than Lost Girl.  Todd and the Book of Pure Evil doesn’t do itself any favours by the “Evil Dead meets The Breakfast Club” self-comparison.  At least the press bumf contains the words “vengeful penis monster.”  I can’t get a bead on what this show will be like.

As for Lost Girl, I’m on the fence with this series.  It uses the basic “human-like cryptid learns of her secret past” plot.  I’ve also obtained two scripts from the series.  Nothing stands out for me.  Lost Girl takes itself so damned seriously for a show about faeries.

I don’t want Lost Girl to be Troma-level dumb, but Todd and the Book of Pure Evil might be the smarter proposition here.  I never thought I’d say that about a show starring a slacker and his magic evil book, but there we are.

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March 8, 2010

News: Todd & the Book of Pure Evil currently in production for SPACE

Frantic Films, Aircraft Pictures and Corvid Pictures are currently filming Todd & the Book of Pure Evil for SPACE.  The half-hour supernatural comedy, shot in Winnipeg, focuses on teen metalhead Todd (Dark Oracle‘s Alex House.)

The Book of Pure Evil is just that, a book that grants people their deepest desires…for a price.  Each week, some random Crowley High student will use the Book of Pure Evil, having learned nothing from the Wishmaster film series.  Todd quests to destroy the book with help from Jenny (Maggie Castle), Curtis (Bill Turnbull) and nerdy Hannah (Melanie Leishman.)

Jason Mewes – yes, that Jason Mewes – has a role as Jimmy, Crowley High’s janitor.  Chris Leavins, of cutewithchris.com fame, is guidance counselor Atticus Murphy Jr.

I’m ambivalent about Todd & the Book of Pure Evil.  Garry Campbell’s attached to the project as co-executive producer.  His prints are all over The Good Germany and The Ron James Show.  I’m not saying T&BPE will suck due to him, but his name doesn’t scream “quality content.”

On the plus side, Todd & the Book of Pure Evil will be helmed by Craig David Wallace.  Wallace co-wrote the screenplay for the 2003 short which led to this series.  Why it’s taken seven years for T&BPE to be developed…wait, I’m answering my own question.  It’s Canadian television.

I’ll reserve judgment about T&BPE until it airs.  It could be the horror-comedy version of The Jon Dore Television Show, or it could be Big Wolf on Campus with casual swearing.  With Jason Mewes in the cast, I’m hoping for the first scenario.

Also, please let this show have actual horror in it.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer-like shows have too much bad writing and unneeded character development in them.

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October 9, 2009

TV Review | Sanctuary 2.1 – “End of Nights (Part One)”

Sanctuary (SPACE: network debut October 9, 9:00 PM ET/6:00 PM PT; Syfy: second-season premiere October 9, 10:00 PM ET/9:00 PM CT) has trod a long road to get to basic cable in Canada.  It comes to SPACE this season from The Movie Network.  Tracing the show back to its source, Sanctuary originated as a web series.  Sanctuary is on Syfy in America, currently one of Canada’s best-known exports.

Hell, Sanctuary was even nominated for a technical Emmy this year.  At this point, star/executive producer Amanda Tapping can write her own ticket.  Diversifying from Stargate Atlantis will do that to you.

At first glance, Sanctuary is Torchwood with intelligent cryptids, or “Abnormals,” in place of aliens.  The 150-something Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping) is a non-glib, female Jack Harkness.  Werewolves and vampires feature, since they’re kinda neat.

I don’t call Sanctuary an own-brand Torchwood, even though this is the first episode of Sanctuary I’ve seen.  Frankly, the show’s more Primeval than Torchwood.  Sanctuary needs LGBT themes to be even close to Torchwood.

The acting, as is so often the case in Canada, ranges from good to bad.  Agam Darshi is surprisingly tolerable as new girl Kate Freelander.  Christopher Heyerdahl is uneven as Abnormal jack-of-all-trades Bigfoot, yet excellent as space-time hopper/ex-serial killer John Druitt.

On the flip side, Jonathon Young annoys me in his recurring role as half-vampire/inventor/smart-ass Nikola Tesla.  Young is given a few one-liners and a flippant attitude, a character archetype played straight.  Henry Foss (Ryan Robbins) and Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne) are generic and uninteresting characters, even granting Foss’ werewolfism.  Compared to Magnus, Foss and Zimmerman seem like warm bodies attached to subplots.

Amanda Tapping’s British accent fluctuates over the course of “End of Nights (Part One).”  At the same time, Tapping is better than Torchwood‘s John Barrowman in that she’s more forceful and believable as the head of a clandestine organization.  They’re all business, no lesbian kissing down at The Sanctuary.

Sanctuary hovers around the upper echelon of SPACE’s offerings.  It’s better than Primeval, which is like saying that mild nausea is better than having your face run over by a motorcycle.  Sanctuary isn’t better than Rabbit Fall (there, I said it) or Watchmen: The Motion Comic, but it’s not bad.  It’s too easy for a show on SPACE to eclipse the heights of Total Recall 2070, Defying Gravity and Star Trek: Voyager.

The main problem with Sanctuary is that it’s no better than competent.  It’s a campy show that isn’t overly ambitious.  Sanctuary isn’t insultingly bad, like Tripping the Rift, but “End of Nights (Part One)” doesn’t make me want to check out Sanctuary‘s first season.

Sanctuary looks fairly cheap, with much Vancouver location shooting.  I actually prefer the unreal look of the CGI to the very real shots of darkened corridors, bannisters and dilapidated-looking buildings.  I tend not to care about a sci-fi show’s special effects unless they’re Adventures of Sinbad levels of inept, but Sanctuary looks chintzier than it actually is.

Sanctuary makes for a good time filler, but there’s not much to the show beyond this.  ”End of Nights (Part One)” is all bla bla Cabal, bla bla Abnormals, plus a poorly-realized car chase.  I might watch another episode of the show to see if I’m missing something, but Sanctuary isn’t sucking me in at this time.

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October 5, 2009

TV Review | Stargate Universe 1.1, 1.2 – “Air” Parts I and II

Stargate Universe (SPACE: two-hour premiere October 2, 9:00 PM ET; in regular timeslot starting October 9, 10:00 PM ET) surely needs no explanation.  Stargate is the pre-eminent science fiction franchise of the 2000s.  Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis have ensured that the franchise will be a syndication staple for at least a decade, so why not add another chapter to its history?  It’s the thinking that has birthed Stargate Universe, as profitable franchises can be flogged for as many spinoffs as they can bear.

I am not impressed with the first part of “Air.”  It starts off well, with people being launched out of a Stargate and onto an abandoned Ancient spaceship.  That remains the strongest visual for me after watching the show’s first two hours, which means “Air” has blown its load in its first five minutes.  The first hour, despite a well-made battle sequence, is boring overall.

Eli Wallace (David Blue) is a nerd stereotype – lives with his mother, obsessive gamer, dumpy-looking.  Eli solves a riddle encoded into the Prometheus video game.  After Eli disbelieves that the Stargate Program wants anything to do with him, he is sent to the George Hammond battlecruiser and coerced into helping it.  Eli’s an ascended fanboy played straight.

Sure, Eli went to MIT, but I can’t believe Stargate Universe actually goes this route with a character.  Blue does what he can with the material he’s given, but his character is not overly convincing.  There is no reason to get behind Eli Wallace until the second hour, when he’s shown as overeager and naïve as regards military protocol.  Eli’s not as annoying on second viewing, but he’s in danger of becoming Wesley Crusher.

Dr. Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle) is either a Dr. Gregory House-type genius or the downfall of The Icarus Project, the Stargate Program being fond of ominous names.  Carlyle anchors the show, and is its obvious star.

Rush does have his tender moments, yet he’s usually detached from all but his work.  If someone accidentally dies on his watch, so be it.  Rush has the potential to be an interesting character, more due to Carlyle’s acting than anything else.  In lesser hands, Rush would be the stock misanthropic genius, although he does seem cribbed from House M.D.

Stargate Universe feels like a gestalt of borrowed plots and characters from Popular Shows, even when it’s not trying to be.  The first part of Stargate Universe is Sliders all over again.  Instead of Quinn Mallory and company making a second jump before completing the first, the Stargate fucks up before it can dial the ninth chevron to Earth.

Parallel dimensions are replaced by Red Dwarf, I mean a decaying Ancient spaceship.  SGU takes the Lost tack of telling its story in both flashbacks and real time.  Eli Wallace is a variant of The Last Starfighter.  References to prior Stargate shows are a given.

Somehow, Stargate Universe is meant to be edgy as Stargate military personnel shag in the first hour.  Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper spend so much time proving how unlike the previous Stargate series SGU is – hey kids! fucking! – that original storytelling is placed on the back burner.  I almost expect a statue of Seshat to figure in the show’s mythology.

The second part of “Air” is better, as less time is spent focusing on Wesley – er, ah, Eli – and more of the main characters get airtime.  Louis Ferreira is a standout as Colonel Everett Young, who is situated as Rush’s dramatic opposite.  He isn’t in “Air” for a long time due to his being badly wounded, but I can at least emotionally invest in his character.

Senator Alan Armstrong (Christopher McDonald) and his daughter Chloe (Elyse Levesque) are given meaty roles, although Alan’s role is limited to sacrificing his life as he prolongs Destiny’s life support systems.  The Senator is not evil, though he does resort to pulling out a gun in the second hour of “Air.”  His character, in the end, is there for sacrifice and to define Chloe’s backstory.

Stargate Universe takes from more successful shows and wads everything it can into the Stargate mold.  I can understand the move to “edgier” storylines – a franchise can’t cater to the same fans forever, lest the show find its inner Rick Berman and go shit.

At the same time, Stargate Universe is a reboot of a reboot.  In addition, Wright and Cooper were responsible for Stargate‘s initial reboot.  While I’ll give SGU time to find itself, Wright and Cooper should have handed the reins to someone else.

Maybe a Robert Smigel-helmed Stargate series?  Think about it: wormholes, the X-Presidents, Doug Dale in a major role.  Damn it, this has to happen.  For the good of television, this needs to happen.  Until then, I’ll put Stargate Universe on the back burner.

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September 6, 2009

TV Review | Star Trek: The Original Series (Remastered) 0.1: “The Cage”

The main draw of SPACE’s Star Trek Labour Day marathon is the debut of remastered Star Trek: The Original Series episodes.  This includes the Canadian television premiere of the remastered Star Trek: TOS pilot, “The Cage” (SPACE: September 7, 10:00 PM ET), which recently entered syndication after forty-four years.

It took me a few minutes to get used to the remastered Star Trek.  I do like the old, primitive Trek effects, but “The Cage” does look good in its tampered form.

There are a few effects that ring false, such as the opening transition from the ship to the bridge.  The effect is too modern for a forty-four-year-old pilot, but its inclusion amounts to a few seconds of television time.  Overall, the CGI is subtle enough that it doesn’t detract from the pilot.

Vina (Susan Oliver) is the only survivor of a scientific expedition that crash-landed on Talos IV.  The native Talosians engineer events that force USS Enterprise Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) into a holding cell with Vina.

The Talosians have developed great illusory powers, using them to tempt Pike into mating with Vina.  The Talosians, underground survivors of a nuclear holocaust, are breeding a slave race to repopulate their planet.

“The Cage” is a very good unsold pilot – a bit portentous, as Star Trek episodes of the 1960s are.  ”The Cage” contains most of the classic Star Trek elements – disguised social issues of the 1960s, good character interaction, a bit of sex appeal, and at least one over-choreographed battle.

The predictable plot – Captain Pike fights a race of highly evolved, emotionally detached aliens – is overshadowed by Pike’s guilt over a failed mission on Rigel VII.  ”The Cage” is standard sci-fi improved by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s concise dialogue.  Alexander Courage’s music score is excellent, making “The Cage” more exciting than it really should be.

It’s easy to see why “The Cage” didn’t sell NBC on Star Trek.  Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock is a bit excitable, which doesn’t play to Nimoy’s strengths.  As much as I like Majel Barrett-Roddenberry’s Number One, she’s superfluous to the action, as is most of the crew.  ”The Cage” is all about Captain Pike, from his desire to become a slave-dealer to his imprisonment on Talos IV.

John Hoyt is excellent as Chief Medical Officer Phillip Boyce.  He should have been retained for Star Trek: TOS‘ second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”  Jeffrey Hunter’s histrionics as Captain Pike are a bit hard to take, not that Star Trek ever mastered understatement.

I’m not surprised Star Trek was almost completely recast.  ”The Cage” possesses little talent depth beyond Hunter, Nimoy, Hoyt and Barrett-Roddenberry.  As wooden as William Shatner is as an actor, the man can connect to audiences in the way Hunter can’t.  Folding Number One into Spock was the best thing to happen to Leonard Nimoy, as it defined Spock’s character and gave Captain James T. Kirk a dramatic opposite.

“The Cage” isn’t on the level of the best Treks.  There’s a bit too much talk, the pilot relying far too much on Hunter’s talents.  All the same, “The Cage” is good television.  You can’t say that about Star Trek: TOS episodes like “The Way to Eden” or “And the Children Shall Lead.”

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August 2, 2009

TV Review | Defying Gravity 1.1

Warning: mild spoilers.

Defying Gravity (CTV/’A’/ABC, two-hour premiere August 2, 9:00 PM ET/PT; in regular timeslot starting August 9, 10:00 PM ET/PT on CTV/ABC; premieres August 7, 8:00 PM ET on SPACE) is an anomaly in the world of prime-time Canadian content.  The creator of the show, James D. Parriott, has run or co-run shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Sons of Anarchy and Ugly Betty.  He created Misfits of Science, Voyagers! and Forever Knight, so his sci-fi credentials are solid.

Michael Edelstein, meanwhile, was one of the original Desperate Housewives executive producers.  Less excitingly, he executive-produced Hope & Faith and Threat Matrix.

On the Canadian side, Omni Film Productions has produced such shows as The Odyssey, Edgemont, Alice, I Think and Robson Arms.  Defying Gravity is not as Canadian as The Listener, but it’s not quite an American show filmed in Vancouver to save money.  On the sliding scale of CanCon, Defying Gravity floats near the middle.

Defying Gravity has been publicized by Parriott as Grey’s Anatomy in space, which has birthed a million unfunny Grey’s Astronomy jokes.  The show also takes a strip off Virtuality‘s “reality show in space” concept.  It’s an attempt to make science fiction appeal more to women, or at least that’s the excuse offered.

The excuse is insulting.  Defying Gravity tries to balance sci-fi with relationship drama.  Big deal.  Doctor Who, Being Human and Torchwood do it.  Any space opera worth shit is about compelling characters mixed with exciting action.  Sadly, Defying Gravity doesn’t hit the ground running, due to its insanely slow pace and familiar characters.

Maddux Donner (Ron Livingston) narrates the series, he of the “left crewmembers to die and needs to atone” backstory.  Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris) is carrying Donner’s baby – maybe – after a one-night stand, and could be gay.  Ted Shaw (Malik Yoba) is married to Eve Weller-Shaw (Karen LeBlanc), yet had a pre-launch affair with Jen Crane (Christina Cox).

Nadia Schilling (Florentine Lahme) is competing with Zoe for Donner’s affections.  Ajay Sharma (Zahf Paroo) goes batshit insane in the first half of the pilot despite being the most psychologically stable of the Antares crew, and so on, and so forth.

Livingston makes for an entertaining Donner, while Malik Yoba is decent as Shaw.  Dylan Taylor’s character, the geeky porn enthusiast Steve Wassenfelder, could be the dark horse of the ensemble given time.  If nothing else, the main characters are engaging in the way that The Listener‘s Craig Olejnik wasn’t.

The main problem with Defying Gravity‘s pilot is that the science fiction and soap opera elements are not blended in very well.  The crew’s backstories are a little too pat and the show is too earnest to be “sexy.”  Defying Gravity isn’t actively horrible, but it’s obviously picking and mixing genres in an attempt to chart its path.

At the same time, Defying Gravity tries for more dramatic depth than the pilot can handle.  A Ganesa figure, placed on the Antares by Sharma at the end of the pilot’s first half, is obvious symbolism.  Defying Gravity is playing the field, attempting to be plausible sci-fi while dealing in “who fucked whom” tales.

The second half of the pilot is better-handled than the first.  There is some sex, but Defying Gravity keeps the focus on non-sexual relationships between the Antares crew.  That’s what I find interesting about the series.  I don’t care about the libido-killing HALOS suits or the attempts to ape Lost.  Gimmicks like that won’t ensure the show’s success.  Well-written characters will.

As it is, Defying Gravity is ABC’s Greatest Hits in Space.  I actually think ABC is doing the right thing in giving the show an early August timeslot, as the show could blow up right as the fall season hits its stride.  Parriott has his DNA all over ABC, so the network’s going to give him some attention.

If Defying Gravity fails, big deal.  Ugly Betty and Grey’s Anatomy are still going concerns, although Ugly Betty is on life-support at this point.  Canadian television can still pin its Yank-baiting hopes on The Bridge and Copper, since cop procedurals are as numerous as copies of Super Mario Bros. 3.  As for Edelstein…eh, maybe he’ll revive Brandy and Mr. Whiskers as a sex-filled romp.  It couldn’t be worse than Wipeout.

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July 19, 2009

TV Review | Torchwood: Children of Earth 1.1

I go into Torchwood: Children of Earth (SPACE: July 20-24, 10:00 PM ET) not being a Torchwood fan.  This is due to the first-series episodes I watched, which I felt were terrible.  The show struck me then as trying to be Doctor Who The Alien Slayer, failing miserably in the process.  Torchwood allegedly improved in its second series, not that I watched to find out.

Torchwood: Children of Earth has done exceedingly well for BBC One.  Viewers think it’s just awesome, enough that Torchwood: Children of Earth grabbed viewing figures of almost 6 million and held on to them by week’s end.  The New York Times thinks Torchwood: Children of Earth is silly, not that the Times gives a damn about proper arts criticism.

The question remains: do I like Torchwood now, as it gains its best-ever standing?  Emphatically, yes.  This is the first episode of Torchwood I’ve seen that feels properly adult as opposed to “here’s an alien, I’m gay, you’re gay, let’s have an orgy.”

I’m not going overboard with praise for Torchwood: Children of Earth.  The children-presage-alien-invasion angle takes its cue from John Wyndham’s “The Midwich Cuckoos,” running it through a Quatermass II filter.  It’s bluntly obvious the ideas aren’t new.  Being derivative is one of Russell T. Davies’ main faults, so no big surprise there.

What makes Torchwood: Children of Earth promising is the fact that, even though it’s derivative apocalyptic storytelling, it’s damn good apocalyptic storytelling.  The alien menace, at least in the first episode, is abstract.  There is proper setup for the episodes to come.  Main protagonist Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) even keeps the man-kissing to a minimum.

While the soap opera elements aren’t removed from Torchwood, the human reaction to an alien invasion comes first.  Torchwood: Children of Earth finds the balance between science fiction and its brand of human drama, adding a layer of government conspiracy in the process.  Even the sight of children standing and screaming doesn’t hurt proceedings.

Russell T. Davies’ work on Doctor Who and Torchwood has been all over the map.  His Doctor Who specials and episodes are normally heavy on spectacle, light on coherent plot.  With Torchwood: Children of Earth, he delivers the whole package.  Perhaps it’s due to two characters dying at the end of the second series, but Torchwood: Children of Earth is not afraid to blow itself up at this point.  It’s event programming that actually delivers on its promises.

Torchwood: Children of Earth is off to a great start.  Either the show is wrapping up or rebooting itself, but Torchwood has definitely improved from its debut.  Past history be damned, Torchwood: Children of Earth is great television.

Aside: why do people refer to this series as Torchwood: Children of Men?  I’ve made mistakes like this before.  I only recently realized Martha Jones’ actor was Freema Agyeman, not Agyema Freeman.  Children of Men, though?!  I’ve seen professionals make this mistake.

Ah, well.  Stay tuned this week as I review Doctor House: Planet of the Dead.  It’ll be excoriating!

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June 16, 2009

TV Review | Watchmen: The Motion Comic Chapters 1, 2

I’ve never placed Watchmen on a pedestal as one of the masterpieces of comics.  I’m not taking away from Watchmen‘s greatness.  I just don’t like treating anything as godlike.  Watchmen was the right comic written by the right person at the right time, coming off a highly publicized reboot of the DC Universe.  The comic book series was written during a period in Alan Moore’s career where he could bang out a good story at the drop of a hat – Skizz, Miracleman, V for Vendetta and Swamp Thing stand as testaments to his talent.

Moore would later have a falling-out with DC over ownership rights issues.  He disowned the film version of Watchmen and its direct spinoff, Watchmen: The Motion Comic (SPACE: premiered Wednesday, June 9, 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT.)

Moore might – I have to underline that, might – have liked Watchmen: The Motion Comic had he owned Watchmen optioning rights.  While the comic’s text-based asides have been excised, Watchmen: The Motion Comic is a good introduction to the series.

Watchmen‘s plot is less important than its milieu.  The story is set in a 1985 where Richard Nixon is still President and the United States won its war against Vietnam.  Non-government “costumed adventuring” has been outlawed as a reaction to superheroes using excessive force when punishing criminals.  Superheroes are shown as deeply flawed people, trying to exist in a world that became disillusioned with them years ago.

While Miracleman explores the idea of the superhero and its possible impact on society at large, Watchmen expands on it.  Watchmen‘s greatest legacy is its relentless tearing down of superhero mores, proving that the superhero fantasy genre can be intelligent and literate if treated as such.  To date, Watchmen is the only comic book to be given the Hugo Award.

Watchmen: The Motion Comic reminds me of Marvel Super Heroes, although the limited animation in W:TMC is much better realized.  I like the Grantray-Lawrence Marvel Super Heroes style of animation, so Watchmen: The Motion Comic doesn’t bother me.  The series comes across as a way for DC to maximize profit from the Watchmen property, but the overall presentation of Watchmen: The Motion Comic belies its low-key production values.

The decision to have Tom Stechschulte narrate is both good and bad.  While Stechschulte is at times expressive and engaging, why have him voice every character in the story, including the two Silk Spectres?  His voice isn’t suited to female characters at all, and the falsetto he gives them rings false.  Stechschulte does what he can with the material, but the one-person narration makes Watchmen: The Motion Comic an audiobook with visual content.

SPACE is scheduling two Watchmen: The Motion Comic episodes per week over six weeks, albeit with commercials.  This causes the episodes to be aired in an odd 75-minute block, as they’re not cut for time.  Watchmen: The Motion Comic might work better on a commercial-free station like TVO, but at least the comic’s not being sacrificed to fit a half-hour timeslot.

As it is, there are complaints on the official SPACE blog about the motion comics being a cynical cash-in to the Watchmen film.  Of course they are, and I’m sure the tie-ins have given Alan Moore no end of grief.  At least this tie-in is by and large respectful to the source material.

I can’t say I’d like to see more DC-related motion comics in the near future, but Watchmen: The Motion Comic proves that such a thing can be watchable.  It’s no substitute for the comics, but nothing is.

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