Big, big news: Paramount’s going to make a Martian Chronicles movie. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, and would love to see a network like HBO make a show or miniseries out of the books. But even if this isn’t the Mars exploration story I’d most like to see adapted, it is a sophisticated look at what happens when humans try to start a society from scratch. And it reverses the standards Aliens Invade For Inexplicable Reasons And We Respond By Kicking Ass But Learning Nothing narrative (I mean, isn’t it really bizarre that we always end with the battle, not what we’ve learned from captured alien technology, or whatever? We really need a terrific movie about what happens after the invasion along the lines of District 9. Or, you know, an Ender’s Game adaptation that isn’t horrible.) by having us be the invaders. We need smart science fiction that goes beyond the wreck of Los Angeles, beyond superheroes, and it sounds like we’re actually going to get some of it.
It looks like Chinese moviegoers aren’t going to get to see Source Code. I’d actually assume that the Chinese government would be more concerned with time travel movies that take characters into the future, particularly if it’s democratic, or with speculative fiction that inspires demands for greater openness, or with adaptations of Tom Clancy’s The Bear and the Dragon, in which the Internet Liberates China by way of illuminating the truth about resource wars than with movies about time travel into the past. But then, I imagine it’s not only historical inaccuracies the Chinese film bureau’s worried about, but historical interpretation. Audiences can draw ideas for the future from the past, too.
I’m absolutely sure that Liz and Kenneth are going to track down Tracy Jordan based on the end of the last episode of 30 Rock, but I actually wonder if it would be a good thing for the show if they didn’t. I do think 30 Rock is near the end of its productive period, but if it’s going to continue, it might benefit from a serious creative shakeup.
The last two episodes of the show have been some of the best it’s had in a long time. “Queen of Jordan” was a brilliant half-hour parody of the Real Housewives franchise, and “Plan B” shuffled through genres like Ricky Jay in a David Mamet production. I think that just making fun of a combination of Bravo and Logo shows would be a good idea, though 30 Rock‘s gay jokes (leaving aside the insinuations that Liz is a lesbian) have generally been pretty funny.
But broadening the aperture of the show beyond a single program or a single network could reap huge creative payoffs. All of the writers could work on different shows, but still work together occasionally. Jack could make Kenneth his assistant, resurrecting Jack’s prophecy that “in five years, we’ll all be working for him—or dead by his hand,” which is funny, and on which the clock is ticking. Having Liz as a programming director could give her some victories and opportunities to prove her competence, restoring the multi-season arc about Jack’s influence as her mentor. And the show could cycle through some more actors, which given that they’ve run out of really good Tracy and Jenna shtick. Plus, Tina Fey is fantastic at writing alternate show ideas, ranging from Gold Box, to Are You Stronger Than a Dog, to the glories of MILF Island. I really, really want to watch America’s Next Top Pirate.
People, have we discussed my crush on Amber Tamblyn? She was a hell of a lot of fun as an anxious cop seeking to make it as a homicide detective without help from her wealthy parents on The Unusuals. She’s prickly and charming as an aspiring filmmaker who has a pregnancy scare in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies*. And she’s one of the few Hollywood actresses who work fairly regularly who look like actual human women as opposed to cartoons.
So it’s completely excellent news that she’s working on a show set in a public school with Ed Burns, of The Wire fame. We get a lot of shows about cops and hospitals, but public schools are probably the branch of government that the largest numbers of Americans have the most contact with, and they’re largely absent from the small screen, with the exception of the occasional show like Boston Public or Glee. Both of those shows are topic-of-the-week stories rather than systematic critiques of public education. But oh, how we need one. Our debate over education reform is cinematic in the extreme: it’s got great, strong personalities, ranging from Michelle Rhee to past National Education Association president Reg Weaver (Note to Mr. Burns: if you need a consultant who can tell you stories about Reg Weaver’s wife’s poundcake, I am ready and available); the issues are intensely emotional and not easy to resolve, providing fertile ground for debates and anti-heroes; and the schools bring together people across race, class, and age lines in the same way that crimes and emergency rooms do.
Burns and Tamblyn seem like a great combination to make that kind of show happen. Tamblyn’s human and fun, she’ll be a relatable portal for audiences, and one who can perhaps help translate Burns’ sophisticated ideas about education for a mass audience. There’s no question that Season Four of The Wire is intensely compelling television, but it’s also so grim that it’s not necessarily the right starting point for broader questions about how to fix all of our schools. But we don’t need more Dangerous Minds-style pablum, either. We need a show that can introduce audiences to the broad language and basic outlines of the debate over education reform, the same way Law & Order teaches due process and House teaches medical ethics. It’s not a substitute for policy, but it’s a step towards common understanding.
*By the way: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies are completely substantive and excellent. I haven’t ever read the books, but I’ve seen both movies, which deal sensitively and intelligently with race, depression, and decisions about sex. That doesn’t mean you have to see them, but if there’s a tween or teenage girl out there you ever need to bond with, you could do a mitzvah by suggesting an evening that’s a double-header of these two movies.