Saturday, August 30, 2008

TV: Two Misses at the End

A funny thing's happened to me during my TV viewing over the last couple of days. At times, there has not been sports or American presidential foofooraw on the tube. Yep, I'm catching up with some of the backlog of series recordings that have been piling up during the Olympics and my current unfortunate tendency to work.

And I wish I'd stopped a little short of finishing both Ocean Girl and In Plain Sight.

The first three seasons of Ocean Girl, a fifteen-year old teen SF series from Australia, were entertaining, if a little hokey. It had a heavy eco-friendly message, but coached it in terms teens could and would watch happily.

It starred Marzena Gordecki as the title heroine, a princess from the Ocean Planet, living on earth on an island off the coast of Australia. Orca City, a marine research station, housed brothers Jason and Brett Bates, played by David Hoflin and Jeffrey Walker respectively, who stumble on Gordecki's character Neri. For three years they had adventures aplenty, running into all kinds of characters. It was good stuff, highlighted by some great underwater swimming effects. Gordecki, who seems not to have done anything other than this series, was most impressive because it looked like she did a LOT of her own swimming stunts.

All three seasons are available from the American Amazon site, but be warned, you have to have a multi-region player capable of viewing Australian-made DVDs to watch them. I managed to get the fourth season of Ocean Girl and feel sorry for all the effort it took to get a cobbled-together copy of that last season.

It is a mess. It's well-established that the Ocean Planet is capable of space travel and is concerned for the well-being of the seas and all its creatures on Earth. Neri has a sister, another princess named Mera, who visited during the second and third seasons. All in all, it's obvious that there is almost a paternalistic situation vis-a-vis the Ocean Planet and Earth. In the fourth season, that's all thrown away in a lame story about the Ocean Planet people using pyramids to invade Earth and enslave what's going to be left of the population after the polar ice caps are intentionally melted. Fighting off the forces of the Ocean Planet are Neri, Orca City and the previously-unheard of Praxis. Praxis is an alien-fighting organization that is populated by Australians and one incredibly stupid American send-up and holds sway over all other forces. It's ridiculous. And so are the so-called advanced Ocean Planet people, who stumble around a marsh hunting for a fleeing Mera. It's all quite awful.

Do yourself a favour if you have tweens. Make an effort to get the first three seasons of Ocean Girl and ignore any and all urges to complete the set. As far as you should be concerned, Ocean Girl ends with the third-season triumph over the forces of UBRI. (Those were the nasty guys in the second and third series)

Now, onto In Plain Sight, USA's series focusing in on the Federal Marshal's Witness Protection system. Mary McCormack, who basically is watchable reading a telephone book, stars as Marshal Mary Shannon, a combination of tough federal agent and completely screwed up personally. It's fun to watch her do her job so competently, ably abetted by partner Marshal Marshall Mann (played by Frederick Weller) and her boss Stan McQueen (played by Paul Ben-Victor). Weller's brilliant as the straight man to McCormack's bundle of barely restrained hostility. Ben-Victor's got the pushover boss with the occasional glimpses of competence role down pat.

It's the home life that lets McCormack and the show down badly. Shannon has a screw-up sister played by Nichole Hiltz who's at least pretty to look at. Still, most shows have to have some character to deflate the lead character's ego a little and to require the odd saving. Admit it, Superman NEEDS Lois Lane, and did all those years before marrying her.

No, the problem with the series and with the final episode especially, is a hateful character played by Lesley Warren. Shannon's mother Jinx is one of the most unlikeable characters seen on TV screens in many a moon. Her drunken rantings make you wish somebody would put a gun to YOUR head to put yourself out of your misery.

Still, Jinx was seen little enough that you could just fast-forward through her scenes and assuage those rumblings in your gorge. She has a completely, utterly unfounded reaction to seeing her landlord daughter in the penultimate show, shortly before Mary gets kidnapped. But then, in the final episode, after Mary's been returned only slightly harmed, this Mother of the Year candidate (in the Mommie Dearest universe only), teams up with the screw-up to utter some of the most inane and idiotic dialog ever to come out of a writer's computer. There's a writer out there with some serious mommy issues.

IF the series is to return, they have to kill Warren's character off-screen during the hiatus. Warren's probably a nice person. She keeps getting work that require her to slather on the make-up and look like somebody trying desperately to hang on to some mis-spent youth. She plays that role time and time again. This time, she has to say no. The writers hate the character and the viewers hate the actress playing the character. Jinx is that unlikeable.

Besides, Mary will always have her sister to cause trouble. Again, this is a series to catch on DVD when it comes out. Just skip the last episode and move on to the extras.

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