Guilty as charged

TV is under careful scrutiny. Instead of just a handful of major networks, premium channels (HBO, Showtime), basic cable (Lifetime, Comedy Central, MTV) and even syndication (“Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”) have leaped into the fray. “Sex in the City,” “That’s My Bush,” “Undressed,” “South Park,” “100 Center Street,” “Relic Hunter” — oh, my! A new season is always starting, new shows are constantly premiering. It’s a constant lug, a steady stream of uncertainty. So before even the wisest viewer can surf through all 900 channels on satellite TV, an original series can burn to ash, smoldering with failure.

So much competition — not enough quality. Do industry analysts really expect me to watch eight hours of TV per day? Not really, but they still harbor the idea that one day the fast-food generation will lose all willpower, submitting themselves to full-time employment as channel surfers.

However, it should be noted that watching TV does not actually pay anything. That’s why, like most hot-blooded Americans, I’m weary. But not just weary about what I watch and when I watch it. My weariness is framed in paranoia. Often turning my TV on is a repulsive chore. Usually within five minutes of surfing, my 27-inch screen radiates with impurity.

That brings me to an in-depth discussion of guilty pleasure. My favorite synonym for the phrase is “shamefaced amusement.” It reeks like an oxymoron. Its definition is putrid. We all suffer from it. Luckily, the disease usually isn’t contagious.

The diagnosis generally begins with a friend or family member questioning your judgment. After admiring your taste in restaurants and clothing, your friend, Billy Sarcasm, may trust your opinion to enhance his television viewing habits. As if yearning to discover a hidden gem in a bowl of Cheerios, Billy joins you for a relaxing evening at home. Sandwiches are made. Twelve-ounce sodas are snapped open and gulped.

An hour later, your comic-book, fantasy-hungry membrane may be demanding more. You may be vibrating in your lounge chair, unable to wait another 168 hours for a new episode. Your eyes are wide-open. You just watched the premiere episode of “Witchblade,” eagerly anticipated by you after TNT aired the pilot episode, a two-hour movie, last summer. Now it’s on weekly. Your prayers have been answered.

But a startling revelation is made: Billy Sarcasm hates “Witchblade.” After suffering through the hour-long show, squirming in his seat the entire time, he questions your motives for watching such a ridiculous tour-de-crap.

You’re charged. You want to say something intelligent, something witty and educated. But you can only think of the most overabused, ultra-clichéd motto of the 20th century to chamber in your comeback pistol: “It was cool, man.”

Hot on the sky-burning success of X-Men, “Witchblade” delivers what graphic-novel junkies have supposedly been craving: outrageous action, Tarantino-wannabe drama and slick special effects. Badge-toting detective Sara Pezzini (beautiful Yancy Butler) leads the cast. She’s physically emotional (translation: She rides a motorcycle) and she wears a mystical gauntlet known as the Witchblade. Since the pilot episode, Pezzini has developed an uncanny ability to deflect bullets, shear flesh and see into the past — though such superpowers often arise against her will. With the Witchblade’s awesome strength, she hones her skills and chases criminals — or sometimes slaughters them — in the back alleys of New York City.

Those who remember the big screen adaptation of The Punisher or maybe even Fox’s TV rendition of Marvel’s “Generation X” might be veering away from comic movies for fear of hazardous content. But rest assured, “Witchblade” pulses with life. Though I’m not sure if “pulses with life” is a positive statement.

“Witchblade” may have a hard time addicting fans of the comic. Sure, both supernatural blasts and levity in human characters are juggled in the series, but ultimately its success will be a matter of style. If the show maintains its current direction, cultists may be the only embracers.

Best described as experimental TV, the show has a choppy texture, both bold in execution and overwhelmingly dependent on extended action shots. During several sequences, built to a decent momentum by a grinding techno soundtrack, several minutes pass before even one bullet is fired. Slow-motion and repeat cuts are favorites of director Ralph Hemecker, who appeared to be more concentrated and consistent in the two-hour pilot than in the debut episode of the weekly series.

“Cool” — what you once said about your favorite Dolph Lundgren flick. Lorenzo Lamas and Shannon Tweed also qualify as guilty-pleasure celebrities. But no matter how many reasons Billy Sarcasm can think up to steer your thoughts, he still can’t convince you that “Witchblade” is reason enough to indulge in a “Different Strokes” marathon.

It’s hyperactive, kinetic and chock-full of stimulating visuals. Some special effects are arguably torn from The Replacement Killers and every John Woo shrapnel-fest also seem to have inspired a creative collage in “Witchblade” — though unfortunately on a much lower TV budget.

Hopefully Billy realizes that he too has a shamefaced amusement. Watching reruns of any Aaron Spelling-produced series merits a presentation of the golden trophy of guilty pleasures (sorry, Billy, I had to tattle).

So regardless of adversity, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. will continue to be “Witchblade” night in my home.

Jon M. Gibson actually watches more than 20 hours of TV per week, regardless of what he says. E-mail him at [email protected]
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