SciFi Weekend: Improving Heroes; Torchwood Not Sanitized; True Blood Season Two; Terminator Times Three; And Actresses Doing Their Job

With Pushing Daisies being canceled, Brian Fuller is returning to Heroes. He discussed his ideas on improving the show and gives some information on the arc for the second half of the season in an interview with Entertainment Weekly:

AUSIELLO: Where did Heroes go wrong, in your opinion?
It became too dense and fell into certain sci-fi trappings. For instance, in the “Villains” arc, when you talk about formulas and catalysts, it takes the face off the drama. And I think the goal for everybody is to put a face back on the drama. You have to save something with a face; otherwise you don’t understand what you’re caring about. I thought the “Villains” arc started out very interestingly, and then became sort of muddy and dense and I couldn’t get my hooks into the characters to understand their motivations. I also started to feel confused about what people’s abilities were. One of the great things about the first season is that the metaphor for their abilities was very clear. Those metaphors seem to have gotten complicated in the past two seasons. I share that concern with everybody on the writing staff. It’s not like I’m coming in and saying, “This is what you need to do to fix it!” Everybody knows what needs to be fixed and everybody is sort of rowing in that direction.

Your work starts with episode 19, yes?
Yes. I’m fortunate to be coming into a very exciting story line. [Former co-exec producers] Jeph [Loeb] and Jesse [Alexander], before they left the show, set so many great events in motion with the “Fugitives” arc [kicking off Feb. 2]. It really is a fresh start. All of the characters are back in their real lives. You see Peter as a paramedic. Claire is looking for colleges. We get away from the world of formulas and quasi-magic.

Are the “Fugitives” episodes leading up to 19 solid?
Yes. Episodes 14, 15 and 16 are amazing. The whole “Fugitives” arc starts out very strongly, and then it gets a little dense in the middle in terms of the mythology. So I came in right at the point where everybody was realizing, “Oh, we’re getting too dense here and we need to put faces on stories because there is no face to a formula; there is no face to saving the world.” So it’s turning this big ship back into a character stream, and everyone on the writing staff shares that desire. We need to get back into a character place, because that’s where this story started: Very clean, superhero metaphors to everyday life. That’s the path that we’re taking. But it is a big ship so it’s going to take a little while to turn it.

Any plans to trim the sprawling cast?
People will die. And some will return. Matt’s wife [Janice] comes back. We’ll find out what happens when you have a superbaby. We’re also going to tell fewer stories per episode. We’re going to limit it to three or four with one big one that you can wrap the stories around. We’re altering the structure of the show so that there’s a very clear A story that takes up a larger percentage of the show so that that story gets traction.

Are you looking at Season 4 as a complete reboot of the series?
It’s not necessarily a reboot as much as it is going back to the basic spirit of the show and pulling people back in. I don’t think the issues with the show have been about the serialization as much as about the density of the stories that have been serialized.

The second season of Torchwood seemed a little tamer than the first, and there were fears that having this season’s Torchwood miniseries on BBC 1 would result in it being toned down even more. SyFy Portal reassures us that this is not the case:

“We certainly haven’t neutered or sanitized it in any way,” Lyn told the official Torchwood magazine. “We want appeal to a bigger audience than ever, but it’s not been turned into a Children’s BBC show to achieve that. The key thing for Season 3 is that, no matter how dark it gets, we still want to keep the warmth ‘Doctor Who’ has in abundance.”

The third season, otherwise known as “Children of the Earth,” will run over five nights and collectively will tell an epic tale that will test the Torchwood team like never before.

“‘Torchwood: Children Of Earth’ is about how human beings behave when they’re faced with an unstoppable force, something so much bigger than they are,” Lyn explained. “Some of them turn out to be heroes, and some of them turn out to be shits. I think that describes at least one of the dominant themes of these episodes.

“Also, the love story between Captain Jack and Ianto continues to unfold, as does the story of married life for Gwen and Rhys, as Rhys’ character comes into play a lot more, and he becomes almost the fourth member of the team, largely by accident. It’s hard to have perspective on it when you’re right in the middle of filming, so I think I’ll just say it’s going to be brilliant.”

24 returns with a four hour season premier over two nights starting on January 11. Of course the best way to watch 24 is on DVD, catching several hours in a row in real time. Getting the first four hours quickly will give a bit of this experience. While the show now takes place in Washington, D.C. and CTU is gone, there will be some familiar faces, such as Chloe returning to help Jack hack into some computers.  Spoiler TV has pictures showing the return of Elisha Cuthbert, along with a brief teaser of the premier.

The Live Feed has picked up some information on the second season of True Blood:

Jason goes into the Fellowship of the Sun church in a big way and is surprised by what he finds there. There’s a new creature in town that is unlike any other. Nobody knows what this creature is, I’m not sure if it will be entirely explained in the show — it’s not a werewolf. There are new romances for Tara, Jason and Sara. Bill and Sookie have a lot of issues to sort out — including having made a new teenage vampire that’s living in their house. Bill and Sookie also go to Dallas to find one of their own who has gone missing.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles continues to take advantage of the time travel aspects of its premise. We are accustomed to shows such as Lost in which episodes show events taking place at two different points in time. This week’s episode of Sarah Connor, Alpine Fields, takes this further in having the episode involve three different times. In the present Derek assists with the birth of a child. Interspersed is one story from six months earlier showing Sarah save the family from a Terminator. A third story line shows why the birth is important. We find that the child grows up to have a rare immunity to a plague which Skynet attempts to use to kill the remaining humans, allowing a cure to be developed. In many ways the story of the saving of this child is a close parallel to the entire Jon Connor story.

I wonder if this is all a way for Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) to obtain a ton of publicity without having to do (or remove) a thing. Her interview with the Times of London received tons of links due to this exchange:

She still loves acting, naturally — she would even, steady chaps, go nude. “Yes,” she says. “For Bernardo Bertolucci. It . . . depends. I’m not getting my kit off any time soon, but it is part of my job.”

I imagine that appearing nude on the cover of the January GQ is also part of Jennifer Aniston’s job.

Now on to catching up to tonight’s shows on my DVR. It is the season finale of both Dexter and Californication. Fortunately only the star of one of these shows suffers from the psychological flaw of its main character in real life.

CNN and Science Coverage

Deborah Blum writes how she, and her dog, no longer watch CNN due to its cut backs on science coverage:

We abandoned the whole Cable News Network operation in the first week of December, the day after the organization announced that it was closing down its science, technology and environmental news department, firing its chief science correspondent, Miles O’Brien, six executive producers, and the rest of the science-savvy support staff.

Candidly, the boycott hasn’t been much a sacrifice. The basic news — economy, war, economy, corrupt politicians, economy — isn’t that hard to find elsewhere. But we’re standing on our principles. We will only invest our time in news operations, including the one I’m writing for now, which are smart enough to know that informed science coverage is absolutely an essential part of the news of the day…

I believe that science and technology shape, often dramatically, the world we live in today. I also believe such fast-moving changes need to be explained – thoroughly, skeptically, beautifully – to people who don’t work with or normally follow the world of science. So that when health officials urge us to get a winter flu shot, we can evaluate our own risks and benefits. So that the connections between industrial gases and global climate change are shown with clear logic. So that that when the National Research Council announces, as it last week, that the Bush administration has failed to effectively investigate the risks of nanotechnology, we can decide whether or not to worry.

Her dog too? This makes her dog more concerned with science than far too many Republicans and members of the Bush administration. But then that’s why one reason I bought a bumper sticker which says, “My Dog is Smarter than Your President.”

The Republican Reaction Against Modernity

Yesterday I presented an example of how the religious right is resistant to moderating their views and how they reject those who attempt to do so. The mind set of the religious right, and why they are unlikely to ever moderate their views, can be seen in this response by Robert Stacy McCain at The American Spectator:

The real question isn’t the influence of Dobson, but rather the influence of God, and if you’re waiting for God to moderate his views, I suspect you’ll be waiting a long time.

The assumptions behind this comment are rather disturbing in a modern democracy. The basic assumption is that those in the religious right know the actual views of God and therefore have the right to impose these views upon others. Of course even among Christians there are a wide variety of views as to what God really desires. If the Jesus as described in the Bible were to really appear, I believe he would be appalled by the religious right and see this as one of the greatest evils of our society.

Beyond differences of opinion as to the nature of the Christian God, there are other religions with different beliefs. There are also the fundamental questions of whether there is a creator at all, and if so whether we obligated to live under his beliefs. As humans were created with free will it is valid to question whether humans are any more obligated to follow the views of a creator of the universe (assuming such views could ever be established) than a child is obligated to forever follow the views of the parents who created him.

The Founding Fathers recognized the problem of religious groups attempting to impose their views upon others and intentionally created a secular government characterized by separation of church and state. While this view is clear in the writings of the Founding Fathers, along with many court decisions, the religious right has been promoting a revisionist history which denies this. Although many of the Founding Fathers were Deists, who had a radically different view of the role of God in human affairs compared to Christianity, many Republicans also falsely claim that the United States was founded as a Christian country.

I’ve discussed many times, such as here, how religious beliefs do not provide sufficient justification under our system of government for public policy decisions. I’ve also noted that Barack Obama has expressed similar views. This presents the fundamental difference in belief between supporters of modernity and the religious right, and is argued again today in an exchange between Andrew Sullivan and Peter Suderman. Suderman writes:

…it’s always struck as strange when people argue that Christians have every right to their beliefs, and that those beliefs ought to be firmly respected — but that in politics, those beliefs ought to be kept to oneself. For many Christians, it’s integral to their faith that every part of their life, including their work, be comported in accordance with their religious beliefs. The idea that one ought to turn off or conveniently ignore his or her faith when participating in public life is anathema to many devout believers, and when proponents of a purely secular politics suggest that believers should be able to do that without compromising their faith, they misunderstand the entire nature of religious belief. What the most ardent secularists end up saying is, “I’ll respect your beliefs — provided you never act upon them around me.”

Sullivan debunks this in arguing:

Er, no. You can act upon them all you want. It is when you require others to be governed by laws deduced entirely from your own religious convictions that problems emerge.

What modernity requires is not that you cease living according to your faith, but that you accept that others may differ and that therefore politics requires a form of discourse that is reasonable and accessible to believer and non-believer alike. This religious restraint in politics is critical to the maintenance of liberal democracy, and that is why Christianism is so hostile to modernity, though nowhere near as threatening as Islamism.

Allowing others to be other is what we call modernity. In my view, it is worth defending. And that’s why I think of myself as a conservative rather than as a reactionary. I like the pluralism of modernity; it doesn’t threaten me or my faith. And if one’s faith is dependent on being reinforced in every aspect of other people’s lives, then it is a rather insecure faith, don’t you think?

Christians have the right to live their lives based upon the teachings of their religion. If they believe that something is the actual view of God they are free to live based upon this. They do not have the right to use the power of the state to impose these views (or their interpretations of religion) upon others.

I’ve had several recent posts on the problems faced by the Republican Party due to the control exerted by the religious right. Robert Stacy McCain also commented on one of my earlier posts but appears mistaken about the nature of this objection. He responded to my view that the Republican Party will have trouble winning national elections if tied to the views of the religious right by writing:

That’s just atheistic bigotry, and as political analysis, it’s useless. Republicans did not lose the election because of creationism, and if Democrats want to presume that they now have a permanent majority on such a basis, I predict their majority will be remarkably short-lived.

First of all, this is not “atheistic bigotry.” The fundamentalist views of the religious right are certainly opposed by atheists, but are also opposed by many religious individuals who either do not share their religious views or who realize that government should not be used to impose their religious views upon others. He is also mistaken in thinking that I am either a Democrat (except perhaps by default due to the lack of a viable alternative) or see the fall of the GOP as a favorable development.

A strong two-party system is valuable in a liberal democracy and I see it as unfortunate that we now only have one viable option. In a two-party (or multi-party) system we have both greater opportunity for checks and balances upon the power of government and the opportunity for a greater variety of views to be offered by candidates. This is especially important for those of us whose views do not fit neatly into the traditional views of either major political party.

Rather than incorrectly seeing my writing as gloating by a Democrat who thinks they have achieved a permanent majority, Republicans such as McCain should see this as a warning of the dangers the Republicans now face as educated and affluent voters, along with the young, are decreasingly seeing them as a viable choice. Republicans are amazed that many of us affluent independents are now voting for the party which they argue will tax us more, failing to understand that a party which promotes views such as creationism will not even be considered, regardless of where they stand on other issues.

I wish to see a movement away from religious fundamentalism by the Republican Party both because I desire a second viable choice and because I do not believe Democrats have a guaranteed permanent majority. While I do believe the Republicans will eventually go the way of the Whigs if they do not accept modernization of their views, this can be a slow process. History and progress do not always move in a straight line and the Republicans very will might win some more elections before their inevitable decline. I would much rather see a Republican Party which accepts the modern world be in power than to have a repeat of the Bush years.

The Republicans have been in a slow decline for decades as two negative forces have increasingly gained influence. While for years Republicans would pander to the religious right for votes while laughing them off as nuts, the religious right now dominates the party. For a moment it appeared Republicans might be backing away from this with the nomination of John McCain, but now the views of Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee look like the more probable future for the GOP.

While the religious right has increased dominance, other conservative principles have been abandoned in favor of tactics. We have seen the original McCarthyism in the 1950’s followed by a resurgence of McCarthyist techniques by many Republicans. Republican victories in recent years have come more as a result of distorting the views of their opponents than promoting a coherent set of principles of their own. Even William Kristol has recently admitted that conservative talk of small government has little relationship to the reality of Republican rule.

For the most part the Republicans became more concerned about holding and expanding power than promoting principles, leaving the religious right with the only remaining viewpoint which had devoted followers. The religious right found a philosophical vacuum to fill in the GOP, regrettably turning them into a party which will increasingly have difficulty winning outside of the deep south and a handful of sparsely-populated western states. They simply cannot fight the modern world and deny modern science forever and expect to win.

Colin Powell on the Republican Party

While the networks dominate the Sunday morning talk shows and the premier of Meet the Press under David Gregory might receive the most publicity, the show to watch today might be Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN. Zakaria interviews Colin Powell who has some comments on the state of the Republican Party. An example:

“I think the party has to stop shouting at the world and at the country,”Powell said. “I think that the party has to take a hard look at itself, and I’ve talked to a number of leaders in recent weeks and they understand that.” Powell, who says he still considers himself a Republican, said his party should also stop listening to conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

“Can we continue to listen to Rush Limbaugh?” Powell asked. “Is this really the kind of party that we want to be when these kinds of spokespersons seem to appeal to our lesser instincts rather than our better instincts?”

Unfortunately that is the kind of party the Republicans have become.