Monday, August 23, 2010

The Rainbow

A Televisual review.

Every so often, something comes along that cries out to be talked about. Invariably, this is something special; or an event that polarises opinions, but merits discussion. In the modern world this tends to be a media based thing - films, TV, music, books - something that comes along that warrants attention.
And every so often something comes along that is just so bad, it beggars belief that whatever it is actually came into being. One perfect example of this is SyFy's new television show Haven. I've been watching TV for over 40 years and I don't think I've ever seen a TV program so unbelievably bad as this.
'Haven is a supernatural drama television series loosely based on the Stephen King novel The Colorado Kid.' Or at least that's what its Wiki entry claims. The key word in that sentence is loosely because any link between this TV series and the novella by King is tenuous at best. The original Colorado Kid story was essentially an unsolved mystery story about a body that turns up on the estuary sands of a Maine coastal town called Haven. The story explains the long and drawn out process to find out who the man was and then how and why he ended up thousands of miles from home, dead and with no identification. It has no real ending apart from the hypothesis of the FBI agent investigating the incident (in many aspects it is very similar to King's From A Buick 8 in the the way it is told). That's it. That's the premise of the 170 page thriller.
Haven, the TV series, has the following in common with the book. Dave and Vince, the editors and owners of the local newspaper (albeit considerably younger and less professional) are present, so is the chief of police, George Wournos and, of course, the town itself. That's sort of where the similarities end. It should be noted that The colorado Kid was a mystery novel and there was no hint, at all, that something supernatural was working in Haven.
Haven's premise is that an FBI agent is sent to Haven by a mysteriously black (as in race) FBI chief (not disimilar to Anna Torv's boss in Fringe) to investigate the death of a suspect. She discovers that the town is very similar to the way Agent Stephanie McCann, from the book, found it - quaint, antiquated and like something out of Murder, She Wrote. But there are some strange things going on in this sleep little coastal community; things that appear to be attributed to 'The Troubles' - whatever they might be, and trust me, 7 episodes into a 13 episode run and we're still not even clear what anything is in this town.
The new agent, Audrey Parker is portrayed as a difficult woman who lives on her own and has a troubled, if not slightly mysterious past; as in she was orphaned and never knew her parents and we haven't yet discovered why. She quickly solves the case assigned to her, but not without discovering the local deputy she's been paired with is a bit odd. He's either being paid to be an emotionless cypher or the guy who plays Nathan Wournos (son of the chief) cannot act to save his life and no one has bothered to notice. Nathan suffers from a condition that means he feels no pain at all and it seems that physical malady has turned him into a cold block of emotionless cop, or so I hoped.
Before the end of the pilot, Audrey is shown a newspaper clipping by Dave and Vince of the local paper; in it is a picture that looks like the blond Audrey, but with dark, possibly red, hair and holding the hand of a child. It sits under the headline 'Who is the Colorado Kid?' but as there are others in the picture and it looks like a crime scene, Audrey can decipher nothing more from it.
Also, it needs mentioning that no one in the cast has ever been seen before, apart from the guest star of the week; which started with Nicole Boer and fizzled out, presumably becauser the budget, or lack of it. However, Eric Balfour is one of the three main stars of the show. Balfour has been in Buffy, 24 and a host of other films and TV shows; you'd recognise him easily because he normally dies in most of the things he appears in because he's the punk kid who's got death written all over him. Balfour plays Duke, a man of questionable morals and a thorn in Nathan's side, for reasons that I think they've attempted to address but failed miserably.
So sets the scene for new mystery subplots, designed to draw us in to this bizarre new world. However, the story, about someone gaining revenge in an odd fashion is so full of holes that it would struggle to hold anything - jelly included. The opener also tries the formula of setting someone up as the likely antagonist, onloy for them to be killed, maimed or incapacitated by the midway point, thus hoping to throw the viewer (as well as the cops) off the track. Now, with the first episode this was quite clever, but as the same plot device has now been used for the last 7 episodes, you now watch it and immediately rule out the chief suspect, just by the way he acts in his first scene - the guilty looking guy didn't do it!
Over the space of 7 weeks, I'd hoped that the series would start to move along. It hasn't spectacularly. What we have had is a succession of weird happenings a week: a succubus styled woman who drains the life from men to produce perfect babies within 48 hours; animated stuffed animals, butterflies of death, a woman who has the power to draw voodoo pictures of people, waves of rotting produce and a host of others so weird I've completely forgotten about them. Each episode's story is pretty rank and you hope that the bits in between will reveal what Audrey's connection to the woman in the photo is, or what Nathan's real problem is (hinted at, but not revealed), what the Troubles actually are and any of the little things that keep getting hinted at. But no, we get dialogue that is so trite its unbelievable. We don't even get progression of a subplot; all we get is the same information told again.
There is a Medical Examiner, who appears, like Dave and Vince, to be old enough to tell Audrey what's going on, but instead of explanations or hints, we get: 'The Troubles are back again' or 'You're not a local until you've been here 30 years and even then you're not' and lots of other pointless gems of wisdom that, oddly enough, King uses in his Maine set stories. Frankly, if I was FBI agent Audrey Parker I wouldn't be quite so obliging and if she's a crack FBI agent, like she was portrayed in the pilot, how come she's allowing everyone to give her cryptic clues without trying to follow them up or even, God forbid, question the people concealing glimpses of the woman in the picture, who now it seems is most likely Audrey's mother.
I get the impression that the writers are trying a little too hard to be enigmatic and have lost sight of what they originally intended to do. Or, they might be two 12 year olds, because some of the writing is so bad it makes you wonder why SyFy bought it in the first place! I appreciate the program is made on a really small budget, but that doesn't excuse the unbelievably poor and badly written scripts, or the fact that the editor of the show quite conceivably didn't read the scripts before assembling the finished rushes. There have been at least 3 occasions where the script refers to things that haven't happened yet; most tellingly in an episode where stuffed animals are gaining revenge on those that shot them. Audrey turns to her partner and says something along the lines of, "there's something fishy going on here; we've got two animal attacks in the space of 24 hours." Which would have been okay had they not been sitting in their car outside the place where the first attack took place and where the actual second attack doesn't take place for another 24 hours. It just sort of makes you want to know what substances the producers were on when they allowed this thing to be aired on cable TV.
There is another startlingly bad bit ofm plotting during ther latest episode. The two cops suspect a girl of being involved in the strange events taking place, so they stop in at her art class and ask for an interview. She lies to them almost immediately and they confront her on it and then Audrey suggests that perhaps going down to the station would be a better place to talk, away from her art class. But the girl's attitude changes and she says that unless they're planning on arresting her, she's not going anywhere and she's not talking to anyone and she storms back into her art class. The two cops; one of which is a crack FBI agent, look at each other, shrug their shoulders and leave! This is a town where weird shit happens all the time and they suspected her, yet she shouts at them and they back off. God, I think in the USA, the term and practice Probable Cause is used whenever possible. In this part of the world, the police walk away when a girl shouts at them!
In fact, the entire show feels so staged that even though as long as a week might pass during an episode, it's like whenever the camera isn't on these people they just cease to exist. Any character development is ignored; but I'm not entirely sure what it's ignored for, because nothing else much happens. Every time a character appears it's like they've never been on the show before (or in the town) and they show it. I'm surprised some of the actors aren't looking into the actual camera and smiling while they say their lines with much skill and passion.
Balfour is the only real actor and it shows; his scenes at least feel as though there's a pro on the stage; the problem is his character is so changeable that you have to wonder whether the writers actually have character studies and sheets or if they're doing it from memory only after a heavy night on Bolivian Marching Powder and Tequila Slammers!
Emily Rose, whom plays Audrey would be an ideal choice to play a 30-year-old Buffy Summers; its like she's sort of based Audrey on Buffy as an older woman - she's full of wise cracks and witty retorts and she's blond and athletic, even if she doesn't stake vamps or have super powers. Nathan, played by Lucas Bryant, is as dull as brown crimpolene trousers, yet the actor would probably make a perfect Roland of Gilead, with a little grey around the temples and a couple of fingers missing. As the son of the sheriff, who, it seems is based on the Mayor of Amity from Jaws, he's about as effective as a chocolate teapot and even his father doesn't seem to think he's up for much; so far this has been one of the few consistent things. He's not useless and he's not a bad cop; he's just not much of anything really and even though the writer's have given him a love interest, the actress who plays her acts worse than Bryant. It's like she's got a gun pointed at her head every time she speaks and she's supposedly French Canadian, however, her accent ranges from outrageous in a Monty Python kind of way to almost English in a Liz Hurley kind of way - she's also another one of these people who seemingly knows things. I just wish one of the main characters would just come out and ask someone what's going on, rather than sitting around all day mulling over shit and talking about who's the best pastry maker in the town.
Haven is rancid shit. It's got the hallmarks of going down in history as possibly one of the poorest made TV shows of all time; but it has one thing going for it - the scenery. The show is filmed in Nova Scotia and while parts of it look like bleakest industrial Cornwall and other parts like Northern Scotland, it is, for the most, quite spectacular and with its sparsely dotted houses and idyllic locations, it makes you want to go there and make a TV show that's better than this. And, to be honest, if you had a camcorder, about $50 and a car you could probably make it far better.

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