TV Review: Gotham

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 7 October 2014.

In the comic adaption wars, Marvel may well and truly own the silver screen but DC has rapidly cemented its domination of our televisions. I’m a recent convert to Arrow, now about to enter its third season. With compelling characters and a gritty revenge based overarching storyline, it is easy to binge on an episode or five.

Joining the DC ranks will be the Arrow spin-off The Flash, premiering in the States tonight. Existing in the same universe, I’m looking forward to enjoying the adventures of Barry Allen following his encounter with an exploding particle accelerator and then being struck by lightning (as you do). Let’s hope it fares better than the 1990 series which starred John Wesley Shipp (who will appear in the new Flash series as the lead’s father) in an awkward Michael Keaton Batman inspired rubbery suit.

Already out of the gate this year is Gotham, a drama series set in the Batman universe. Actually, make that the pre-Batman universe. Focusing on a young Detective Gordon (The O.C.’s Ben McKenzie), the pilot episode opens with the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Gordon bonds with the now orphaned Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) at the scene of the crime. At this moment, they are both set on their paths to become the future straight edge Police Commissioner and masked vigilante Batman. If you don’t know whom becomes who, then you probably should stop reading here.

For the casual Batman movie watcher, the references to future members of the Rogues Gallery is about as subtle as Bat nipples. A young girl tending to her plants introduces herself as Ivy. An ambitious criminal receives a beating that renders him with a penguin-like limp. A forensic specialist at the Gotham City Police Department likes to tell riddles. A young thief clad in all black likes to climb on things and often coughs up fur-balls (I made that last bit up).

Die hard fans will also appreciate the appearance of mob leader Fish Mooney (a fantastic Jada Pinkett Smith), as well as Detectives Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) and Crispus Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones), all relatively minor characters in the Batman universe.

The rendering of Gotham City is quite spectacular, in a comfortable hybrid of Christopher Nolan’s modern boom town and Tim Burton’s gothic megalopolis. At a glance, there’s no doubt that this is Gotham.

Here’s the thing. I’ve seen the first two episodes and come to the conclusion that what this show needs is Batman. Sure, the similarly veined Smallville kept Clark Kent out of the Superman suit for ten seasons (with the exception of the very last few seconds of the show) but the series still centred on Kal-El coming to grips with his powers. The only great change coming up for Gotham’s Bruce Wayne is puberty.

Comic book readers and film fanatics are programmed to appreciate Detective / Commissioner Gordon as a supporting character. I honestly don’t know if I can sit through at least a decade of this show waiting for Batman to appear.

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Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 14:23  Leave a Comment  
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A Game of Binge Watching – Game of Thrones

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 7th January 2014.

The way we consume entertainment has changed, and the studios know it. No longer are we obediently tuning in once a week for a fix of our favourite TV show. Instead, we are turning to “binge watching” and the market is adapting to our needs.

Many moons ago, when I was studying at university, the highlight of the week would be my weekly episode of The X-Files. Every Thursday night, I’d sit transfixed by the spooky adventures of Mulder and Scully, and Friday morning would be dedicated to the dissection of the storyline with my mates, between lectures of course.

Dominant US streaming service, Netflix, fired a shot across the bow of traditional television   content providers last year when they began to produce their own exclusive series. House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black both premiered to critical acclaim. The resurrected Arrested Development and Hemlock Grove were met with mixed reviews. Instead of a traditional weekly release schedule, these new shows were unleashed upon the world in complete season blocks. Viewers could watch episodes at their own pace.

Combined with the ever popular DVD box sets, iTunes downloads and marathons on pay TV, the pressure is off to timetable TV viewing. Binge watching is the new normal, and I experienced it for the first time this past weekend. Say goodbye to sleep and hello to Game of Thrones.

Lauded by critics and fans, I was well aware that Game of Thrones, based on the popular books by George R. R. Martin, would be a must-see on my never ending list of movies and TV shows to eventually watch. However, I kept putting it off as I was reluctant to deal with its large ensemble cast and complex, political storyline.

Spurred on by my significant other, who has already devoured every available episode, I was inspired to purchase the double season box set on blu-ray (I don’t steal media) and begin my binge. Let the games begin.

My Game of Thrones experience had a confusing start when I accidentally watched the second episode first. Initially impressed by the brazenness of the writers to begin the show mid-storyline, my enthusiasm soon turned to frustration. I didn’t have a clue what was going on.

A quick check of an episode guide online set me straight and I begin in earnest. Thankfully, everything made sense this time around and by the third instalment, I was well and truly hooked.

Produced by HBO, home of my beloved Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones is serialised storytelling at its best. Lavishly produced on location mostly in Northern Island, with CGI enhancements, the show is a feast for the eyes, particularly in high definition. The acting is uniformly exceptional, with a cast willing to strip off with great regularity.

With fifteen episodes devoured and five to go before I have to make the critical decision to either wait for the Season 3 box set to become available on February 19 or download the lot now from iTunes, I am well and truly addicted. Besides food and (a little) sleep, nothing will stop me from finishing the show. I’m even fast forwarding the opening credit sequence to get to the story faster.

Game of Thrones Season Four will premiere early this year. It’s already in my diary.

Published in: on January 7, 2014 at 16:59  Leave a Comment  
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TV Review: Under the Dome

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 2nd July 2013.

The latest adaption of a Stephen King novel arrived on our TV screens last week. Premiering on Channel 10 just hours after its US broadcast, Under the Dome was watched by 1.7 million Aussie pairs of eyeballs. That’s a pretty good rating for a network that has been consistently failing in the rating of late. Reef Doctors anyone? I didn’t think so.

The premise is ripped straight out of The Simpsons Movie. A small town in the USA is encased in a mysterious dome. Even said dome’s crash landing was reminiscent to the completion of new buildings in The Simpsons Tapped Out game. I half expected Homer’s voice to exclaim “Kaboom”. Unfortunately, there are no further references to The Simpsons in this review. Doh!

The debut of the titular transparent structure hopefully set the tone for the rest of this 13 part mini-series. Landing on a farm, the dome wall managed to turn an unlucky cow into one of those Gunther von Hagens anatomy art installations. Wait, there’s one more Simpsons reference. Don’t have half a cow, man!

With two occasions of severed arms, told from the two available perspectives, Under the Dome introduced itself as an episodic thriller with lashings of gore. Finally, there’s something to watch each week alongside Hannibal and MasterChef.

Over the course of sixty minutes, we were introduced to the central characters and the subplots were laid which will hopefully entice viewers to stay for the entire season. The show opened with Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel), a war vet with a stupid name and mysterious motives for being in Chester’s Mill, burying a body, which we later discover was the husband of investigative reporter Julia Shumway (Rachelle LeFevre). Of course, by the end of the episode, Julia has unknowingly befriended Barbie. Why does every two bit American town have an investigative reporter? Wouldn’t the majority of stories in the local newspaper concern corn prices and weather forecasts?  And what’s with the ridiculous surname? The last TV character to have that surname was ALF.

Then there’s shady used car salesman and local politician “Big Jim” Rennie (Dean Norris) and Sheriff “Duke” Perkins (Jeff Fahey AKA The Lawnmower Man), both of whom seem to have known that the dome was coming because they were stockpiling propane gas. Maybe they were just preparing for a big town BBQ? After all, there is that half cow for disposal now. And do we really need to stoop to such silly stereotypes as car salesmen in local government?

For the younger demographic we have Joe and Angie McAlister (Colin Ford and Britt Robertson), teen siblings whose parents are locked out of the dome leaving them home alone. Let’s hope that the Wet Bandits are not around. The episode started with Angie in bed with local psycho Junior Rennie (Alexander Koch), son of “Big Jim”, and ended with her handcuffed in the basement. Breaking up is hard to do.

Overall, Under the Dome is shaping up to be an interesting watch but I’m going to give it one or two more episodes before committing. It won’t take much for the show to degenerate into a soap opera set inside a bubble. The producers need to tempt us back week with just a little more information about the dome.

Is it of human or alien origin? How is it powered? Where did it come from? Can you dig under it? Will it snow when you shake it?

Let’s hope the audiences stick around to keep Under the Dome running long enough for some satisfying answers.

Published in: on July 2, 2013 at 17:20  Leave a Comment  
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Undies on the Outside: Thoughts on Superman

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 25th June 2013.

As long as I can recall, the Man of Steel has been a part of my life. For most of my childhood, I had a cardboard Superman stuck on my bedroom wall with pins in his arms and legs so his joints would articulate. Each night I’d doze off with a smiling and waving Kal-El looking over me.

My parents were early adopters of the VHS format in the early eighties and one of my perennial favourites was Superman II, taped off the television. Every couple of week I’d pop the tape in the top of the machine (yep, the VHS player was old school) and enjoy Supes battling Terrence Stamp’s evil General Zod.

Mum had also recorded the original Superman movie but I was less keen on it. I found the scene at the beginning of the film depicting the destruction of Krypton too traumatic for my sensitive little mind and would often fast forward through it and start with Kal-El landing in the cornfield in Smallville.

It was only recently that I discovered that both Superman and Superman II were filmed simultaneously. Original director Richard Donner clashed with the producers and was sacked after finishing the first film and three quarters of the sequel. Richard Lester was brought in to finish Superman 2 and drastically changed the storyline. In 2006, after much lobbying from fans, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released and it is magnificent.

Although a little patchy now, the flying effects in the first two films were groundbreaking at the time. I often could be found as a kid trying to replicate the effects by lying on top of a kitchen stool in a flying pose and making whooshing sounds. Maybe I invented planking?

I went to see Superman III with my mother at the now defunct Roxy Cinema at Parramatta. Even at the tender age of eight, I could tell that the film was terrible. A vehicle for coked up comedian Richard Pryor, this turkey saw Christopher Reeve split into two personas when exposed to synthesised kryptonite that was infused with cigarette tar, and then fight a supercomputer, as you do.

In 1987, I received the Lucky Book Club tie-in adaption of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and wisely steered away from seeing this movie bomb until recently. By this stage, Reeve was not keen to repeat the campy trash of the third instalment and was only swayed by the lure of story input. What resulted was a truly atrocious low budget film which involves Supes disarming the world of its nuclear arsenal and then fighting Nuclear Man, who is created when said bombs are thrown into the sun for disposal by the Man of Steel.

During the late eighties, Superboy started screening on TV in the late afternoon timeslot. Also a low budget affair, I remember it being rather low key, with a young Superman fighting drug dealers and crime lords, rather than super villains (or supercomputers). The romantic adventure series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman followed in prime time in the early nineties. I didn’t watch this one because it was more drama than heroics, plus I was too enamoured with The X-Files at the time. And I still have to catch up on the final eight seasons of Smallville which was a little choppy in terms of quality and certainly very slow moving (just put on the suit and fly already).

In 2006, Bryan Singer’s underrated Superman Returns hit the big screen. I must admit that as soon as John Williams’ iconic score began, the cinema got just a little dusty. Unfairly labelled as a failure, there is plenty to enjoy about this movie, which was largely filmed in Sydney.

On Thursday, Man of Steel will arrive and I cannot wait. Despite hit and miss director, Zack Snyder, being at the helm, I will buy my ticket and hopefully love it. After all of these years together, Superman surely won’t let me down.

Published in: on June 30, 2013 at 16:19  Leave a Comment  
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TV Review: Masterchef 2013 – Boys vs Girls

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 4th June 2013.

Call me old fashioned, but when it comes to reality TV cooking competitions, I prefer Masterchef. Sure, there are other (and higher rating) options available but I like my cooking competitions to be more about the food and less about human melodrama, double crosses and stereotypes.

So it was with a heavy heart that I witnessed the debut episode of the new season of Masterchef on Sunday night. Expecting the same old, comfortable format of previous years, I was horrified when judges George, Gary and cravat guy announced that the theme was boys versus girls.

Battle of the sexes? Really? Really? In a competition based on individual achievement, what relevance does the number of Y chromosomes have on one’s ability to prepare food for human consumption? What’s next? Battle of the blood types? Battle of the races? Plants versus zombies?

The episode began with the new array of kitchen cannon fodder arriving at the MCG for a showdown worthy of a place amongst the greatest competitions ever played on the hallowed turf: separating egg whites. Insert record scratch here. For the record, self-confessed cooking nerd Rishi bested opera singer Clarissa to separate 1kg of whites. Woohoo, boys rule!

The teams then rushed down, down (prices are down) to the nearest non-specific supermarket with only $204, representing the average family spend on groceries per week, to buy ingredients for a 3 course meal for fourteen. The boys had a few bucks more for winning the Great MCG Egg White Challenge™. I’m still not entirely sure about the link between the weekly expenditure statistic and the spending limit for a single meal, but who cares? It’s boys versus girls!

Desperation (for ratings) was the main scent emanating from the Masterchef kitchen as the producers immediately established the heroes and villains for the new season. Michael is the misogynist. Noelene is the eye rolling sarcastic divorcee. Jules likes to sledge the boys and call it like it is. A dispute at the supermarket over which ingredients to lose when the girls overspent led to the social worker labelling her teammates as “moles.” Wow, infighting already. It’s so My Kitchen Rules.

Clarissa is the annoying bossy one. As she dumped ingredients off the conveyor belt at the checkout, ethnic housewife with a heart of gold Samira was heard to utter, “Don’t let Clarissa touch my nuts”, without a hint of irony or innuendo. Unfortunately, this was the high point of the show.

To squeeze in yet another reference to the nameless supermarket chain sponsoring the program, the producers have also included an employee in the competition. Faiza, a veteran checkout chick with 8 years experience, saved the day for the female team by proposing that they half a clove of garlic to save 40c. Her employee discount card may have been more useful.

The fact that I am writing about the contestants and not the food isn’t a good sign for Masterchef Season 5. Falling ratings have prompted changes to the original format which replicate characteristics of its competitors. I’m predicting that Masterchef becoming more like the others will make it harder for viewers to distinguish it in a crowded reality TV marketplace. It’s been fun but I’m voting myself out of the Masterchef kitchen this year.

Published in: on June 30, 2013 at 16:01  Leave a Comment  
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New TV Reviews: Defiance, Da Vinci’s Demons, Hannibal

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 23rd April 2013.

A fresh batch of episodic TV series has hit our screens, fast tracked from the USA within a few days or weeks of their original airdate. This strategy was tried by the Australian free-to-air networks a few years ago in a bid to curb illegal downloading, with mixed results. Ratings didn’t rise proportionately compared to the known downloading figures, and it left the local networks vulnerable when a series was abruptly cancelled. This is less of a problem for the pay TV broadcasters because they are less at the mercy of ratings and advertisers, and have a tendency to run a show in a particular day and timeslot for its entire season run.  Regardless, it is pretty hard to compete with illegal downloading, which allows fans to view a program within minutes of its US broadcast, ad-free, without the need for a recording device.

Defiance is the latest big budget series from the US Syfy Channel. Starring Australia’s own Grant Bowler (he’s actually a Kiwi) and Julie Benz of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame, the show is set in the near future following the arrival of the Votanis Collective, an alliance of five alien races. In the movie length pilot, Joshua Nolan (Bowler) and his adopted alien daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) arrive in the outpost town of Defiance and soon become embroiled in a murder investigation which will jeopardise the entire population.

This show has been developed in conjunction with a multiplayer online game of the same name. Allegedly, both the game and series will influence each other, whatever that means. A large cast featuring multiple alien characters may turn off some but I think this show will reward dedicated viewers. Think of it as Babylon 5 meets Firefly via Eureka.

Da Vinci’s Demons is the latest series from David S. Goyer, the writer of Batman Begins and the new Superman movie, The Man of Steel. A fictional take on Leonardo Da Vinci’s early life, the show stars Tom Riley as the genius inventor, artist and intellectual. The first episode features flying machines, conspiracies, cults, opium smoking, a gay Pope and plenty of nudity. Fun for the whole family!

I’m sure this show is wildly inaccurate historically but for fans of Rome, The Tudors and The Borgias, you could do much worse. I’m going to give it a couple more episodes but I have a feeling I’ll eventually lose interest in this one.

Hannibal is my pick for best new show, although it is definitely not for the faint hearted. The series is based on Thomas Harris’ book Red Dragon, which has been produced as a feature film twice: Manhunter (1986) and Red Dragon (2002), the latter a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Troubled FBI investigator Will Graham, (Hugh Dancy) is sent by his boss Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) for counselling with forensic psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). The two strike up a working relationship, although viewers are well aware that sooner or later, Lecter will become Graham’s greatest adversary.

For a mainstream network show, this is pretty gruesome stuff. Death is depicted explicitly and you might find yourself watching through your fingers. Despite the gore, the most compelling component of Hannibal is the characters. Graham and Lecter make a great team, and it will be interesting to see just how long the producers can draw the story arc out before the inevitable climax. Suggestions of Lecter’s culinary preferences are made in this first episode, although methinks this may be a red herring. Dancy and Mikkelsen are both excellent, with the latter wisely avoiding any attempt to impersonate Anthony Hopkins’ chilling portrayal of Hannibal the cannibal.

Defiance airs on SCI FI Thursdays at 9:30pm.

Da Vinci’s Demons airs on FX Tuesdays at 7:30pm.

Hannibal airs on Prime Wednesdays at 9:45pm.

Published in: on April 27, 2013 at 17:41  Leave a Comment  
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Crazy Americans – A review of the A&E Channel Australia

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 27th November 2012.

A new channel recently popped up on my pay TV. Called A&E Australia, it appears to run nothing but weird American reality programs aimed at men, starring weird Americans. I did a little research and apparently this is a spinoff from America’s A&E Channel, which began in the eighties as the Arts and Entertainment Network. I find this interesting because there is certainly nothing airing at the moment which would fall under the category of the arts, and the entertainment jury is still out.

To be fair, I made a point of sampling A&E and it was strangely hypnotic. The programming is incredibly consistent. The protagonists of every show are male. The women that appear in said shows are generally portrayed as nags. Every commercial break is initiated by an overdramatic cliffhanger that is usually revealed as a complete non-event after the ads. However, one show seamlessly blends into another and before you know it, a two hour reviewing session leads to a week on the sofa.

Here are my recommendations for a great brain-free evening in front of the A&E Channel (being awake is optional).

My pick of the bunch needs to be Ghost Adventures, which bizarrely aired previously on W, a now defunct channel aimed at women. Three idiots travel around the world with the sole purpose of being locked overnight in some of the most haunted locations. Once inside, they turn off the lights and proceed to investigate using an array of the most unscientific “scientific” equipment ever.

I have no idea why they insist on turning the lights off wherever they go. None of the eyewitnesses report the ghostly happenings occurring in pitch black. And if ghosts indeed exist, do you think they would care if the lights are off? I suppose it just makes for better television to see the investigators fumble around in the dark. Each episode uncovers spooky dismembered voices making contact with non-specific messages such as, “Help me” and “Pass the peanut butter”.

Ice Road Truckers follows the trials and tribulations of the crazy drivers who deliver supplies to remote parts of Alaska or Hoth or somewhere icy by taking their loads across frozen lakes. Just as every movie featuring a frozen lake requires someone to fall through the ice, the truckers regularly find themselves in trouble when and where the ice gets a little thin. Alone in the snowy wilderness with half a truck under the ice? What should you do? Maybe ask for help from the twenty man television crew following you around.

Mountain Men focuses on men who choose to live in isolation out in the backwoods in Alaska or Hoth or somewhere. Perhaps if they ordered less stuff from ebay they wouldn’t put the Ice Road Truckers’ lives at risk to deliver it to them. Anyway, the men live off the land by eating squirrels and pinecones. Living so far away from the modern world brings a unique series of obstacles and challenges: bears, wolves, wampas and twenty man television crews following you around.

My final recommendation comes in the form of Barter Kings.  In this gem, two entrepreneurs trade objects for a living. With no cash changing hands, they usually start with a small object such as a TV and trade their way up to a much more valuable item. Supposedly these guys are professional cashless traders, which begs the questions, exactly how do they get their groceries, and how is it possible that they appear to be so filthy rich? Surely you can’t trade your way to a mansion for your wife and three kids complete with speedboat and pool without spending a cent? I’ve done my research and it is possible. He used to have four kids.

Singin’ in the Rain TV Commercial

This is the 2nd TV commercial I have directed. Thanks to Mike Foxall at Central West Creative for the fantastic editing and production.

Published in: on October 9, 2012 at 01:43  Leave a Comment  
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Being John Malkovich 2: Being Lara Bingle

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 10th July 2012.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the sequel to the Spike Jonze comedy Being John Malkovich. It finally premiered on TV a few weeks ago but so far I’m not impressed. Being Lara Bingle has none of the indie charm of the original and I’m still waiting for Josh, Sharon or Hermonie to find the portal that leads literally into Lara’s head. I guess when that happens we’ll finally find out if one can breathe in a vacuum.

Farewell Whitney, Dr House… Hello Steve Winwood

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 14th February 2012.

This past weekend brought the news of Whitney Houston’s untimely passing. When Michael Jackson died on June 25 2009, the pay TV music stations ceased their regular programming and switched to non-stop Jackson videos. This did not happen with Houston. I’m not particularly surprised. Although arguably as big in the late eighties as The King of Pop, Houston’s days as a viable creative or commercial act were long behind her.

I only own one Whitney Houston CD. I bought it in 1987 with the money I had saved from collecting aluminium cans. I lost interest soon after. In Whitney, that is, not in collecting cans for money. Most of her fans from the eighties probably did the same.

It is always sad when drugs claim a life, regardless of whether they were famous. In Whitney’s case, it is such a waste. The knockout voice had departed but she had real potential for a comeback as an actress. Although I don’t care for the film or Kevin Costner, Houston was showed charisma in The Bodyguard.

 

Why is it that every time I go to the new supermarket, they are playing Steve Winwood’s 1986 hit Higher Love? I hadn’t heard it for years, and then in the space of a few days, twice I’ve found myself singing along as I wander the aisles. They’ve obviously done their research. Somewhere in the world, lab technicians in white coats are testing the effects of Huey Lewis on the shopping habits of rats. Well, the Winwood certainly made me increase my expenditure. Unfortunately for the supermarket, I just bought my usual stuff and then went home to order a copy of Steve Winwood’s greatest hits CD online.

 

Fox announced the cancellation of House last week. After eight seasons, this current one will be the last. As far as I’m concerned, the show had flatlined years ago. Recent ratings would suggest that most people agree with me. There is no doubt that the acerbic Gregory House will go down as one of the great TV doctors of all time, brought to life by the brilliant Hugh Laurie (although someone should have taught him to hold his walking stick in the correct hand).

Although it initially made for fascinating viewing, House was very formulaic. If you were one of Doctor House’s patients, you might want to get another physician. You are guaranteed to get a little better, then much worse, then a little better, then much, much worse, whilst House’s team of medicos misdiagnose you over and over again on a clear perspex whiteboard. Eventually, you’ll survive but only after lots of convulsing.

As ratings began to slide, the producers and writers resorted to more outlandish and silly storylines. Dr House goes to the mental asylum. He finally gets together with Cuddy but they hit turbulence which results in House driving his car into her, er, house. He goes to goal and jumps over a shark whilst waterskiing.

If there are two things I’ve learnt from watching TV, it’s to leave town when Jessica Fletcher arrives, because someone is going to die, and to avoid being admitted to Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital (House) or Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital (Grey’s Anatomy). The medical staff are incompetent or way too distracted with each other to keep you alive. Try Eastman Medical Center and ask for Doogie Howser, M.D.