The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the agents are drinking. It's upfronts season in New York! This is the week the broadcast networks throw fancy parties to announce the new shows they'll be canceling in a few months and celebrate the returning veterans whose survival was brokered through a bruising backroom combination of studio strong-arming, dumb luck, and blind optimism. Over the next few days I'll be posting my thoughts on all of the announcements, with the giant caveat that I haven't yet actually seen any of the new shows in question. Which isn't such a big deal because, odds are, you won't be seeing them for very long either.
Next up: ABC
On the surface, ABC (which, it must be disclosed, shares a corporate parent with Grantland) would appear to have three major advantages going into the 2013-14 season. Scandal, its sudsy Thursday-night body wash (as in adult soap; I'm not giving this up until it catches on), is TV's hottest drama, the rare modern show given time to find its audience that actually went ahead and found it. Modern Family, though now more sour than sweet, remains a ratings giant and Emmy magnet on Wednesday nights. And rival NBC is still around, hemorrhaging viewers and doing things like this, making it the easy and obvious target for the jokes of easy and obvious TV critics.
But dig a bit deeper and it's clear: ABC is in a situation more desperate than a housewife and one not even Olivia Pope could fix. Despite the above-mentioned tentpoles — and including reliable reality performers The Bachelor and Dancing With the Stars — ABC has actually spent the last two seasons in an epic-fail-off with the Peacock punching bag, spending most of 2013 in last place among the 18-to-49-year-old viewers that advertisers care about. President Paul Lee's highly touted 2012 crop of new dramas — Last Resort, 666 Park Avenue, Zero Hour, and Red Widow — all detonated faster than a nuclear missile from a rogue submarine inadvisably parked on Thursday nights, and the non–Shonda Rhimes hours that survived (weakened Revenge, word-of-mouth-fueled Nashville) are teetering. Still, Lee's plan to stop the bleeding is a good one: He intends to broadcast most of his dramas as two uninterrupted blocks of 12 episodes in the fall and spring, à la Lost. The only issue? These new shows aren't Lost.
Last week, Steven Soderbergh bemoaned the state of the film industry during a talk at the San Francisco International Film Fest, and this week, the Girls in Hoodies respond to some of his arguments. We use examples from a so-far-underwhelming summer movie season and Baz Luhrmann's upcoming The Great Gatsby 3D as fodder, and probably alienate every fan of Marvel's Avengers mega-franchise in the process.
On Thursday, Ghostface Killah stopped by MTV's RapFix Live to plug Wu-Block, the new collaborative effort from him and D-Block's Sheek Louch, and happened to get on the topic of his recent, odd little legal skirmish. While taking fan questions over Twitter (how 2012 of you, RapFix Live!), Ghost was asked, "There are rumors that Marvel is trying to sue you over Ironman. How wack is that?"
I mean — this one kind of nerdsplains itself, doesn't it? He's Ant-Man, a scientist who can shrink himself down to ant size using science. He also has a helmet that lets him tell ants what to do. Whenever there's trouble — or, at least, whenever there's trouble that can be in some way ameliorated by the timely appearance of a giant swarm of ants and/or a human the size of a G.I. Joe — Ant-Man is there, making himself useful.
Director Edgar Wright's been talking about making an Ant-Man movie for years, and as of Monday, that long-TBA project has an official (yet distant) release date: November 6, 2015. 2015! We are officially scheduling movies for the Back to the Future II time frame now! I can't wait to hoverboard to the multiplex, can you? Anyway, the movie doesn't exist yet except as a script by Wright and Attack the Block's Joe Cornish, but Marvel showed some test footage at Comic-Con over the summer, which a fan subsequently recreated from memory and turned into this actually-pretty-cool-looking animated storyboard:
On the last page of Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates No. 15, on sale yesterday, Captain America gets a phone call informing him that he's just been elected president of the United States. The story is by writer Sam Humphries, newish to Marvel and new to superhero comics in general. (He was previously best-known as the writer of Our Love Is Real, a sci-fi comic set in a future where people have sex with animals, plants, and occasionally minerals. You should read it, it's great. "Not just about people fucking plants!" — Grantland.)
The President America story is less, um, groundbreaking than Our Love Is Real, and — as ripped-from-the-headlines election-year stories go — almost quaintly nonpartisan. Some context: A few years ago, right-wing bloggers jumped on another Captain America story that could be read (especially on a day when the fish were not exactly jumpin', right-wing-blogger-news-wise) as depicting the actual, nonfictional tea party in a light that seemed less than flattering; Fox News's Mike Huckabee got similarly Worst Issue Ever–ish last spring when DC Comics' Superman — sick of "having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy" — decided to stand before the U.N. and renounce his American citizenship. (Huckabee, reported Politico, "said he wouldn't purchase the comic book, and that American kids should be taught that their country is great.") And then there was the time Rush Limbaugh transformed into one of comic-shopdom's most durable clichés: Fat Guy Who Is for Some Reason Really Upset About Bane.
Dumb as they are, flaps like these are always bittersweet moments for comics fans; the fact that people still bother to feign outrage about things that happen in actual, printed comic books proves that actual, printed comic books — with a little help from a couple of hundred-million-dollar blockbuster movies, OK — are still culturally important enough to argue about. "We've wanted these characters to be taken seriously for a long time," Humphries says, "and now they are, and we have to deal with that."
Are you one of the millions and millions of people who enjoyed the charm and levity of The Avengers? Good news, then: Joss Whedon, the writer and director of the billion-dollar blockbuster, has signed on for its sequel, Marvel Studios announced Tuesday. Whedon's return was no sure thing, as Marvel has traditionally swapped out directors for the second (and third and fourth and … ) installments of its numerous recent hits. Then there was the question of whether or not Whedon, whose career has been focused on projects that belong somewhere along the opposite end of the spectrum from the third! biggest! movie! of all time!, would want to return. But it turns out both parties wanted some more of a good thing. And that means that, for at least one more go-round, The Avengers franchise is in very capable hands. Oh, but there's more!
On Wednesday, Marvel Films announced the director for Captain America 2: The Return of the Sepia-Stained Pectorals, due to be released in 2014. Make that directors: Brothers Joe and Anthony Russo were given the gig over fellow finalists Tim Story (Fantastic Four) and George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau). At first blush it may seem strange that the fraternal filmers responsible for the “Advanced Gay” episode of Community and the Arrested Development episode in which Jason Bateman and Will Arnett endeavor to track the seal that ate their brother’s hand would be given the keys to such an expensive, if retro, sports car. (The first Captain America made over $368 million worldwide in 2011. Take that, globalization!) But from a purely creative perspective, the Russos — whose previous feature credit was 2006’s failed bromance You, Me and Dupree — are actually an inspired choice. Their time on manic sitcoms like Happy Endings and especially Community provided opportunities to direct everything from bottle episodes to full-on paintball bloodbaths, and their zippy sensibilities are a good fit for the winking pop propaganda that made the first installment a surprising success. But there’s an equally clever business sense at play here as well. After dabbling with proven cinéastes for the opening chapters in their ever-expanding multiplex multiverse — Shakespearian Kenneth Branagh for Thor, '40s fetishist Joe Johnston for the first Cap, and aging swinger Jon Favreau for Iron Man — Marvel has turned to another medium entirely to find the talent capable of keeping the party going, and, more importantly, the costs down: television.
Intense scrutiny goes hand in hand with the casting of any iconic superhero, and yet a few years back, when the Fantastic Four film installed Chris Evans as Johnny Storm (the Human Torch), I don't recall anyone complaining that Bill Murray didn't get the gig. Granted, at the time Murray was well into his fifties, just a bit older than the character of Johnny Storm. But the man had experience!
Over the weekend, from the dais at a comic book convention in London, DC Comics co-publisher Dan DiDio revealed that as part of an ongoing reboot of its entire line, DC plans to change the sexual orientation of a preexisting character. Then, yesterday, the other biggest comic book company on earth, Marvel Comics, announced — on The View, no less! — that their first openly gay superhero, Northstar, would marry his boyfriend in an upcoming issue, because bigfooting the competition in the news cycle makes striking a blow for human rights that much sweeter.
This weekend Warner Brothers will debut Green Lantern, a wildly hyped superhero epic that aims to do for DC Comics what Iron Man did for DC’s blood rival, Marvel: use a lesser-known property to establish a shared cinematic universe that will span multiple films, franchises, and corn chip flavors. The reportedly $300 million (!) movie is a test balloon that, with the right box office, could lead to a Justice League film and, with the company’s bigguns safely squared away in prestige projects, a day at the multiplexes for everyone from Aquaman to Klarion the Witch Boy.