Digressions of a Traveling Housewife.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Eureka Cast and Crew New Heroes of Comic Con
Heroes began its run at Comic Con two years ago. The Heroes panelists last year (mostly the cast members) thanked all the bloggers for creating buzz, and asked them to do it again. Measuring by the turnout, they apparently took direction too well. I like Heroes, but am willing to wait until September for the premiere rather than fighting a crowd of 12,000 for one of 6,500 seats.

Later on Saturday, another of my favorite shows hosted a panel of main cast members, and creators. Eureka is an odd little show airing Tuesdays on the Sci Fi Network. The show tends to borrow plots and tropes from famous science fiction and fantasy literature (including movies and shows). These little in-jokes ratchet up the intelligence of the show, already at a high bar.

Essentially, U.S. Marshall Carter (boyishly cute Colin Ferguson) and his errant daughter Zoe (Jordan Hinson) end up stuck in a top-secret town named Eureka, which the writer revealed is in Oregon (not northern California, the Town of Eureka’s actual home). The town is a conglomerate of the best minds solving futuristic problems today; most of Eureka's geniuses work at Global Dynamics (a not-too-sly reference to the major defense contractor General Dynamics). The entire town is filled with geniuses who work on futuristic studies. Only Carter seems exempt from being a triple-nine genius, but his charm, affability, and skillful use of Occam’s razor grant him entrée into the world’s smartest town. He becomes their replacement Sheriff when the former one is injured in the first episode.

One reason I like the show is that it reveals genius in many forms. Aside from the mathematicians, physicists, geneticists, and Henry (a modern-day Michaelangelo who specializes in everything, artfully portrayed by Joe Morton), only a few characters display differential genius: Sherriff Carter (Ferguson), Jo Lupo (Erica Cerra), Café Diem chef Vincent (Chris Gauthier), Beverly Barlowe (Deborah Farentino) the psychologist, and Taggart (Matt Frewer). Sheriff Carter’s genius is tracking the obvious—rather than the obscure—raisons for the cataclysmic events which stymie the GD Directors. Chef Vincent’s culinary genius translates into any food, any time and deliciously rendered. (Fergusson answered the question about Carter’s fave food at the Diem “It’s probably a burger and fries.”) Jo Lupo, Deputy Sheriff, is a genius at warfare, ammo, and maintaining an upright military pose at all times. Taggart’s genius is with animals; not unsurprisingly, he often more resembles the wild lab escapees more than the town’s human inhabitants. One panelist noted that the ducks (in the Duck Duck Goose episode) actually followed him around adoringly, as if he were the animal trainer. Take that, Max Headroom.

The town’s most elusive genius is clearly Lojack, the sometimes-invisible, high-IQ dog. Questioned by a fan why Lojack has effectively disappeared from the show, Ferguson gave a very funny spiel about how difficult it is to work with animals which may (or may not) respond to their trainer’s commands. Also, the expense and time involved in working with live animals is prohibitive; Ferguson noted that trainers were calling the rats in an upcoming scene, which to him seemed silly. He got big laughs from the audience.

The cast and crew of Eureka are my new heroes because the show is still unknown enough that everyone who wanted to see the panel was allowed in to witness these warm, funny, charming actors (who are clearly intelligent in their own right) and creators talk about a show they obviously enjoy producing. Ferguson, particularly, was magnetic and amiable. He’s a dangerously charming man overflowing with energy and snappy retorts, though most of these involved being in a towel for much of one upcoming episode, referred to as the "Groundhog Day" episode. The jokes continued despite the PG warning on the backs of their place cards. One enthusiastic fan asked if Henry would be in a towel in any upcoming episodes. Clearly, the entire cast is becoming wildly popular, and approaching—if not yet reaching—sex-symbol status.

In fact, the cast seemed to have just barely grasped their own popularity among fans after two seasons of the sleeper hit. Before the panel, Jon and I ate at the excellent Masala Indian restaurant. After filling up on their buffet, on the way to the car to drop off our load of swag, we encountered an ice cream truck loaded with cones and the cast of Eureka. They were as happy as the few fans who spotted them, and the cast all appeared as awestruck as those who gathered for free treats and photo ops. I kept getting big smiles from Salli Richardson-Whitfield (Dr. Allison Blake), who is obviously as mulata as I am. (I love a show where mixed heritage folks are represented.) The cast all seemed overawed at the audience response, displaying the innocence and heart-warming gratitude that proves they are not jaded by their popularity—yet.

Unlike the overexposed Heroes of NBC, the stars of this underrated show are still real enough and approachable enough to merit a spot at Comic Con, whose purpose should be to spotlight new shows. Clearly this is the main purpose of Comic Con—to advertise the underground hits—not the mega-stars, but the upstarts.

During the panel, the cast answered the rather banal question of why the show is so named. (It’s titled after Archimedes’ exclamation (“I have found it!”) on discovering water displacement as a measure of mass.) In the show, Archimedes’ statue graces the town fountain; in the first episode, the fountain’s statue is seen rising and lowering itself into the bathtub fountain. According to Ferguson, that is no longer done in the show; apparently, despite the shows fictional advances, the crew itself has to perform many of the technical stunts with muscle rather than technology, including raising and lowering Archimedes on a stick; this became too much to handle in addition to all the other prop movements, such as managing S.A.R.A.H the talking house.

The Panel was the funniest and liveliest I saw this year or last. Funnier even than Groening’s panels. But don’t take my word for it. You can watch the entire panel at Sci Fi’s website.

With 14:30 left in the panel, you can listen to my question (and the response) about the significance of the ice cream.

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San Diego's Comic Con Hosts Capacity Crowds... And More
There are lots of reasons to come to San Diego in July. Escaping the Mid Atlantic's torturous heat for one. The best CONUS surfing for another. But for nerds, geeks, and sci fi freaks, July in San Diego means Comic Con has come to town.

In its 39th year, Comic Con has almost outgrown the SD Convention Center; near the bay and Seaport Village, the Convention Center hosted nearly 125,000 attendees daily during its four days. With 400 events over the long weekend, not everyone gets to see their favorite shows' panels. Last year, Jon and I were able to squat in room 20 half the day and see four events in a row, including the preview of the Heroes season premiere. This year, though, organizers clearly oversold the convention to both attendees and events, which created huge problems.

Like most good things, Comic Con has been overrun by corporations. For example, this year's Heroes event was moved to the largest venue, Hall H, which reportedly holds 6,500 people plus SRO. Because attendees camped out overnight for the preview, there was no chance of attending the third installment of Heroes at Comic Con. We got there an hour early; to get in line, I walked around the entire building, around the back by the loading dock, and halfway to Seaport Village before surrendering to the obvious. There was no way I (or most people on the forced hike) would be getting into the screening and panel. (Later on Saturday, I got a recap of the main episode from a nice young man in line ahead of us for BSG, which was also oversold. He had the grace to ask me if I really wanted him to spoil it for me; I pointed out I would have gone had I been able to get in and spoiled it for myself.)

After giving up, I rejoined Jon and went to the Futurama panel instead, which was just as rewarding and not nearly as overcrowded, and which was immediately followed by the Simpsons panel, both good alternatives to Heroes. That's probably why the event coordinators set Futurama against Heroes. Though they didn't show any previews of the next Futurama movie, they did answer questions and give the audience a good time.

Groening and his gangs are always good for a lot of laughs; the panels were a good way to start our visit. The creators did show a clip of why people shouldn't download pirated videos titled Downloading Often is Terrible (D.O.I.T.), a shaky copy of which someone posted here.

The BSG panel and screening was likewise as crowded and oversold, but this too seemed unimportant, as the show is nearly over with only half a season left to air. No great loss to me, but some young folks were crying to get in. Literally.

Sadly, Comic Con also does not offer sign-language interpreters for the hearing impaired, which I only discovered because a Spanish-speaking woman with her kids asked an "Elite" security person for assistance. I interpreted for her, but no one could interpret for her disappointed daughter. Clearly another black mark for Comic Con organizers, and one which might interest the ADA.

I was really bothered by how much they oversold the convention this year. It has grown past the Convention Center's capacity to host it, which may be their evil plan. Rumors abounded this year about moving Comic Con to Vegas or LA, and by overselling the events the coordinators may try to justify moving to a new venue. I'd hate to see that; San Diego and Comic Con are conjoined terms, in most peoples opinion, and have been for almost 4 decades. Certainly, Vegas is a terrible choice; late July in Nevada? It's 110 degrees.

The other limiting factor for Comic Con is how the organizers oversold it to the shows. For example, although Jon and I both adore the painfully funny (emphasis on pain) hit show The Office, the panel starring Rainn Wilson (who plays Dwight Schrute) seemed sorely misplaced. The show has zero connection to comics, science fiction, or fantasy. A clue to the show's presence is found in the deleted scenes of the season 2 episode "Dwight's Speech," in which Dwight blathers about his adoration of Starbuck in BSG (we presume he means Katee Sackoff's Starbuck, not Dirk Benedict's Starbuck). This slim, non-canonical connection is clearly not enough to justify an Office panel, but they were there anyway.

It seems the comics are getting pushed aside for other media, which is a shame. The comic is the thing! It's right there on the convention guide's cover. It's in the title of the convention, and the repeating pattern behind most of the panels, at least in the big rooms. Nonetheless, comic book sales were pushed to three small aisles, while movie and television corporations have taken over half the exhibitor's hall.

I predict that the overblown Comic Con will split in two, that the comics will go one way, the sci fi shows another. The comics are the inspirational source material to many corporate undertakings, but the artists' exhibits are in the back corner of the hall, hidden behind the monstrous, two-story displays of Warner Brothers and the networks.

To me, Comic Con is about finding out what's new in science fiction, fantasy, and comics. When a show is so over-exposed that every fan in the audience has a despondent twin in the parallel universe of the halls, it no longer needs Comic Con to sustain it.

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