The sun over Miami, or, The threat of non-diegetic time

I was pumped when the third season of Dexter made a conscientious effort to incorporate a more substantial Cuban American dimension to the political economic landscape of present day Miami.  Former Oz castmates Angel Batista and Lt. María Laguerta just weren’t doing it for me.  Jimmy Smits wasn’t half bad as the Assistant D.A. with serious anger management issues —  because all Latinos are calientes, sabes? — but the real windfall of this post-Ricky Martin renaissance of Latin@ consciousness was Smits’s onscreen wife, played by sleeper hottie Valerie Cruz.

Headshot ca. ¿quién sabe?
Headshot ca. ¿quién sabe?

The appeal of Cruz’s character, it seemed to me, was precisely her sobriety, her nonchalant elision of Latina stereotypes.  She also had a certain hardbody MILF quality that never fails to please.  You can imagine my delight, then, when I finally got around to watching the first season of nip/tuck and discovered that Cruz was a regular cast member.  My curiosity was piqued, and I schlepped over to IMDB to see what other projects she’s currently spicing up: apparently she’s slated for a cameo on an upcoming episode of Dollhouse.  I was more troubled to learn, though, that Ms. Cruz is putatively just a hair older than myself.  (And hence eminently dateable, right?)

Dr. Grace Santiago, ca. 2003
Dr. Grace Santiago, ca. 2003

This screen capture is from an episode of of nip/tuck that aired in September 2003.  Presumably it was shot well before that, let’s say summer of 2003.  If Ms. Cruz is indeed 32 today, she would just have turned 27 when this scene was shot.  Now, I’ve never been good at guessing people’s ages, but I always thought one of the benefits of having mestiza blood was that pigmented skin tends to age better.  ¿Qué onda, nena?  Either your agent has grossly overestimated how much he can fiddle with your reported age, or you are in some serious need of a better sunblock and a twice-daily regimen of Créme De La Mer, the concentrated stuff.  Or maybe the good Dr. Troy could echarte la mano with a chemical peel or something?

(Don’t even get me started on Cruz’s butch turn in The Dresden files.)

I’m still working my way through the first season, but for anyone keeping score, nip/tuck may well edge out Dexter as TV’s Most Interesting Miami-based Serial Drama.  (Michael C. Hall will always be David Fisher for me, six pack or no.  Sorry, dude.)  Incidentally, my vote for the Absolute Worst Serial Drama On Television goes to yet another Miami-based production, Burn notice, a show so unredeemably bad it doesn’t merit further discussion.

– J.C. Freñán

Dichen Lachman looks like a half-Asian Barbie doll.

Hot DAMN. Eliza Dushku’s not so hard on the eyes, either.  Too bad both of them are well nigh impossible to watch on Joss Whedon’s new, post-Firefly disasterpiece, Dollhouse.  (I wonder if Tahmoh Penikett would rather bump uglies with Lachman or former BSG castmate Grace Park?)

Beyond his eye for exceptionally good-looking young ladies, I never really understood Whedon’s appeal.  If Buffy was a campy, allegorical exploration of the microdrama of suburban teen life, and Angel wrestled with the demons of post-adolescence — like, say, unwanted and “unresolved” pregnancies [EN: that second link is absolutely lousy with spoilers] — what the fuck was up with FireflyThirysomethings in space?  And now why is Dollhouse — a less campy allegorical exploration of America’s Hollywood complex? — SO UNREDEEMABLY BAD?  My best guess: it’s too hard to suspend disbelief at the model of value it’s proposing — ie, the “exuberant” [sic] price tag for watching Dushku try to act her way out of a wet paper bag.  At least the worst actor ever to tarnish a David Simon production, Mike Kellerman, P.I., has found work again.

(And for anyone keeping score, It’s always sunny in Philadelphia‘s version of “The most dangerous game” TOTALLY schools Whedon’s.)

– J.C. Freñán

TV pet peeve #1: “6 months earlier…”

I can’t figure out if I should direct my ire at scriptwriters or editors for a pox that is infecting contemporary television narrative: the Totally Gratuitous Flash-Forward.  (I do think we can safely blame J.J. Abrams for popularizing chronological monkey business like this.)  An episode begins with a visually or narratively provocative scene, the viewer is presumably overwhelmed by the totally banal question “How did we get here?” and suddenly we cut to a title screen that re-directs us some hours/days/weeks earlier in the story.  The following is a running list of programs that have resorted to this lamest of storytelling devices.

Battlestar Galactica: season 1, episode 4 (no time elapse specified); season 2, episode 12 (“48 hours earlier”); season 2, episode 14 (“48 hours earlier”); season 2, episode 15 (“94 hours ago”); season 3, episode 3 (“1 hour earlier”).  BSG is the worst offender, by far.

Breaking bad: pilot (“2 weeks earlier”); season 1, episode 2 (“12 hours earlier”). I’m otherwise enamored of this show, so it was disappointing to get two consecutive flash-forwards like this.  Season 2 plays with this device a little in the pre-credits sequences, but for the most part it’s not over the top or obnoxious.

Capadocia: pilot (“16 horas antes”).  (Was I really all that surprised?  No.  Not really.)

Damages: pilot (“Six months earlier”).  They built the whole goddamn show on this device.  WEAK.

Dollhouse: season 1, episode 9 (“12 hours earlier”).

Hustle: season 1, episode 3 (“1 week earlier”); season 3, episode 3 (“2 months earlier”); season 3, episode 4 (“a week earlier”).

Prison break: season 2, episode 3 (“12 hours earlier”); season 2, episode 15 (“six hours earlier”).  (Must be Michael Scofield’s brain tumor keeping him from telling time properly.)

Shame should also be directed at the directors of Michael Clayton (“4 days earlier”) and The illusionist for resorting to the flash-forward.  What is this, your seventh-grade Creative Writing class?

*ANY* fucking story becomes provocative when you cut a slice out the middle and show it first. Writers, editors: if you can’t figure out how to make a story compelling without dangling a little taste of what’s to come at the beginning, you’re in the wrong line of work.  The flash-forward is NEVER A GOOD IDEA.

– J.C. Freñán