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Monday Notebook: "Harry's Law" and Other Topics

By admin Published: January 17, 2011

Above, an "SNL" video I enjoyed. Not that I watched the entire show. Gwyneth Paltrow was the host, and life's too short, so I just checked for online highlights. One more reason why I love online video. And another: skipping the Golden Globes, then picking up what looks most interesting the morning after. Look, as much as the awards may give some people needed validation (any praise for Chris Colfer, for instance, is deserved), the awards are still a joke, and Ricky Gervais was on the money about the way those few Golden Globes voters can be manipulated. So at this point I have limited myself to his funny, semi-mean opening monologue.

Since I skipped the Globes, I probably missed a large number of promos for "Harry's Law," the NBC series premiering at 10 tonight. Kathy Bates stars as a lawyer who after a personal crisis gets dropped by her fancy law firm and starts her own practice in a downtrodden Cincinnati neighborhood. Actually, in one of the glossiest, most brightly lit downtrodden neighborhoods I have ever seen -- not to mention one with a closed upscale-shoe store. I like Kathy Bates, and Nate Corddry and Brittany Snow, who co-star, and I kept trying to convince myself that I liked the show. But that took some work since David E. Kelley is behind this thing, and I am decidedly Not A Fan of his most recent work. I wouldn't call this as bad as, say, "Girls Club" or "Snoops" but it's bad enough in the two episodes I previewed. The courtroom stuff was especially absurd. Not recommended.

I talked about my issues with MTV's Americanized version of "Skins" in my video last week, posted below. Sunday's Channels section had some notes on both "Skins' and Syfy's Americanized version of "Being Human," which I would watch again. Since I haven't seen it online, I will post a copy of that column after the jump.

In case you missed it:
-- My longer take on Robin Swoboda's departure from her morning show is here.
-- My column about "American Idol" and its 10th season is here.
-- This week's video column, with "Justified," "Buried," "Paper Man" and more is here.

The TV column:

American television has made its contributions to vampire lore, among them The Vampire Diaries, Angel and True Blood. But for its latest, TV has borrowed from its British counterparts.

Being Human, which premieres at 9 p.m. Monday on Syfy, is an Americanized version of a British series of the same name, both about housemates who are also a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost. TV series concepts now cross the pond with great regularity, and Being Human is just one of several recent examples, including Showtime's Shameless and MTV's Skins, the alienated-teens series that premieres at 10 p.m. Monday.

For a long time, idea importers knew viewers saw a show for the first time in its American rendition. But, especially since the rise of BBC America and of DVD, audiences have had a chance to see overseas originals; the British versions of Being Human and Skins have long since won fans on these shores.

So series makers must consider how to draw in new fans without alienating the old. Even if the old are relatively few in number, every viewer counts these days. Well, at least every viewer under 50 with money to spend.

Having seen Skins and Being Human in both their American and British forms, my perspective is bent accordingly. I was less than thrilled with the American Skins because its first episode was so very close to the original that it felt as if something was being reworked unnecessarily. I found Being Human more approachable.

Part of this may come from the way that the American Being Human is a bit more vivid in its premiere than its predecessor. The concept is still the same. The three main characters ` played by Sam Witwer, Meaghan Rath and Sam Huntington ` are reluctantly supernatural; Aidan, the vampire, especially wants to drop his bloodsucking ways but that would also mean getting past his manipulative mentor, Bishop (Mark Pellegrino). But the American version is less naturalistic than the British, its characters more colorful even when the bloodletting is a bit toned down.

The American series also offers more background right away for the characters. (The British version had a pilot, which was significantly recast, before going to series, but the DVDs of the first British season do not include it.) Characters' stories have been tweaked; Aidan, for example, is much older than his British counterpart. Still, there are other times when the American series is very similar to its predecessor, right down to the way shots are framed.

But, as I said, I was able to get past the similarities between the two versions of Being Human to settle into the American series. While its ideas are not all that different from some previous monster lore, its characters and situations are entertaining in their gory, suspense-laden way.

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