As you hopefully know, I’ve been away for the last week or so, and for the last part of that trip, I was in San Diego for my first Comic-Con experience.
Like I said in my return post, I enjoyed SDCC immensely. I had done lots of research on the event and asked questions of people had attended before, but all of that didn’t quite prepare me for actually experiencing the exhibit hall floor and the lines for Ballroom 20 and Hall H. But after the first day, it’s easy to find a rhythm with how things work at Comic-Con these days. People wear cool, but oftentimes ridiculous costumes just to get attention.* The pretzel dogs are delicious. People ask a lot of dumb questions. And the lines for the two major ballrooms are totally ridiculous.
*I noticed a lot of people just dressing up in costumes that were totally unidentifiable to me and seemed like glorified Halloween costumes. I got the sense that certain folks just wore whatever as means to get attention from the people who like taking pictures with/of those in costume.
Anyway, the following paragraphs would include a quick day-by-day analysis of what I experienced based on what was happening around me. Last year, I wrote a column for my school newspaper about the buzz from certain panels and things like based on what I could garner from press reports, tweets, etc. Hopefully actually being there has helped me figure out the buzziness even more, so I’ll rank each panel I attended on a 1-5 scale in those terms as well. This is ultimately late considering the Con ended more than 48 hours ago, but perhaps just think of this as what I would have written had I been posting daily.
We arrived sort of late to the Con because we had to travel in from Las Vegas, but I was totally surprised to find that the line to pick up badges was basically non-existent at that point. Shocking. For those not initiated, Ballroom 20 is the big 4k-capacity room where most of the major television panels took place. Naturally, that’s where I spent almost all my SDCC time. And that’s where it started, with a kind of long line — that ultimately wasn’t squat compared to what I waited in the next three days — before getting in for the first three panels of the day in Ballroom 20: Burn Notice, White Collar and Psych.
Burn Notice: I was definitely disappointed to see that Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar were not in attendance for this one, but of course, Bruce Campbell made up for it with his wonderful throwing-out-money gag. Tim Matheson provided some solid answers about directing various episodes and the clips with Michael and Jesse giving sarcastic Comic-Con advice served as nice book-ends. But this is a USA series, so there was obvious not a whole of information given out about future plots, because well, USA series work in vague details. However, the Sam Axe prequel movie was a crazy cool announcement — albeit one that I want more information about — and I got a free t-shirt out of the deal. Buzz: 1
White Collar: For its first appearance at the Con, the Collar crew had a funny introductory bit with the cast planning a caper in Con-friendly costumes. Unfortunately, the rest of the panel fell flat. I hate to place the blame, but I didn’t like Willie Garson’s position as the moderator because he didn’t ask any good questions and pushed the cast and crew into conversations that felt too insider-y for the audience to really be included. It’s not too fun to watch a bunch of celebrities play “Hey, remember when…” for an hour when it’s not funny at all. Buzz: .5
Psych: The Psych team also delivered a hilarious introductory clip that included a riff on Nestor Carbonell’s time on Lost and an appearance from Tears For Fears’ Curt Smith. In a very cool transition, Smith brought his performance to the live stage, accompanied by stars James Roday and Dule Hill. From there, the Psych cast was fun and charming while providing some solid answers about the progression of the series, their chemistry and Dule Hill’s general awesomeness. Then Hill proved it by doing his tap dancing bit from last week’s episode. If Psych were a bigger series, people would still be talking about this panel. Buzz: 2.5
After that, I decided I’d rather explore the insane exhibit hall floor instead of sit and watch the Showtime panels I could really care less about. Also: I was hungry. The exhibit hall floor was jam-packed, crazy, sweaty and kind of disappointing for someone most interested in television swag. But hey, I saw some cool Walking Dead and Inception stuff.
Friday was the only day that I spent anytime in a ballroom other than 20, as the day started in 6BCF with Hawaii Five-0. We actually planned on being in the line early for Walking Dead, which began afterward, with no clue what was in the room beforehand. Thus, it was actually kind of nice surprise to be in attendance for Daniel Dae Kim’s glorious return to the Con. Plus, I actually really liked what I saw and heard from the Five-0 team — which included EP Peter Lenkov, pilot director Len Wiseman, Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci — enough so that I’m now totally watching the pilot. DDK fielded a lot of Lost questions, which also made if feel like a makeshift panel for the now-finished series, so that was nice too. A generally fun panel to start the day. Buzz: 3.5
The Walking Dead: This was a tremendously anticipated panel for me and I have never came close to reading the comic book the upcoming AMC series is based on, nor do I totally care for zombie stories. Call me an AMC mark, I guess. Nevertheless, the smaller 6BCF ballroom filled to the brim for this one and from start to finish, this was one of the more rowdy panels of the Con. The footage shown was pretty damn good, Darabont talked a lot and the fans didn’t ask too many stupid questions. And of course, they had “real” zombies walking the aisles! It seemed from Twitter that people were talking about this one all day and into the weekend. Buzz: 5
After that, we spent almost three (!) hours waiting in the Ballroom 20 line, which was 8,000 people deep at 12:15 p.m. Most people there were in line for the 5:15 True Blood panel, but of course, we had no idea if any of the 4,000 people already in there would leave. Thankfully, enough did for us to get in right in the middle of Joss Whedon’s one man show. I’m far from a Whedonite, but found the 30 minutes with Whedon to be compelling, hilarious and totally enjoyable. He didn’t talk much about Avengers, but seemed totally honest about his television-centric answers. Then we sit in on the EW “Women Who Kick Ass” panel that featured Elizabeth Mitchell, Anna Torv, Jena Malone, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ellen Wong, which was a surprisingly refreshing panel with good audience questions and fairly gripping stories from the audience.
True Blood: I was farther back for this panel than any other so that could have contributed to it a little more, but my lord was it loud for this panel. Almost all of the cast was there, so not one person was given a lot of time to answer questions and give good details about their characters. And surprisingly, the fans asked lots of questions to Alan Ball instead of dumb shipper inquiries, so that was nice. The spoiler clip for the season’s second half was ridiculously confusing and featured things and people I didn’t recognize. I know that I’m not a huge fan of the series, but I know the people and it seems like more book characters are coming in. So there’s that. People went nuts. My girlfriend went nuts. True Blood rules Comic-Con again. Buzz: 5
After TB, we stuck around for the TV Guide Hot List panel, which was a total mess. It featured a random group of actors from various series — V, Human Target, Chuck, The Cape — none of which seemed totally invested in being there. Zachary Levi did his best, but he was basically just warming people up for the Saturday Chuck panel, anyway. This panel proved to me that there are three types of panels at SDCC. The first is put on by a third-party — in this case, TVG — that features a disconnected group of people who have little in common and thus can’t really carry on much of a conversation. The second is dampened by a moderator who is too close to the product — like Willie Garson and White Collar — that creates a weird inside baseball situation that’s just not that entertaining to watch. The third kind of panel is moderated by an outsider — like a TV critic — who asks good questions and pushes the discussion forward.
As the weekend started, we had to get up earlier and earlier. The Chuck panel was to start the day at 10 a.m., so we jumped in line at 7:30 in hopes of nailing a good seat. After the long wait on Friday, we also just decided it was best to stay after Chuck, endure the animation block and be close for V, Fringe and Vampire Diaries. That unfortunately meant no moving over to the Indigo Ballroom for Community, but sacrifices have to be made, I guess.
Chuck: The Con favorite had a middling panel that started almost 10 minutes late, featured lots of video clips — though the Linda Hamilton announcement exploded throughout the Ballroom — and then ended suddenly when the evil Con microphone police lady wouldn’t allow Sepinwall and Fienberg throw it to fan questions. …and that’s why the Chuck panel should have never been only 45 minutes instead of the regular 60. Stupid. Fedak, Schwartz and Levi gave some nice deets about S4, though. Buzz: 4
After Chuck came a slew of animation series that I could really care less about: Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, Futurama and The Simpsons. I find the first two generally offensive and have lost my slight interest in the latter two over the years, but I have to say, all of the panels were at least entertaining. Seth MacFarlane does seem like a major douche and The Simpsons crew looks and seems old and tired. Buzz: 2, if only for Simpsons staffer Matt Sellman s*** talking MacFarlane
V: The V panel was as memorable as the series’ first season — not at all. The 45-minute panel flew by quickly, saw lots of awkward fanboys drool over Laura Vandervoort and was only saved by EP Scott Rosenbaum’s intelligent planning for the hopefully better second season. Meh. Buzz: 2
Fringe: I would have loved to see some new footage from Fringe, but I guess the hilarious interactions between John Noble, Joshua Jackson and Lance Reddick had to do. Much like Zachary Levi in his panels, Joshua Jackson was very, very good at working the crowd into a laughing tizzy, making good on FOX’s decision to push his character further into the forefront (especially with Anna Torv barely answering one question). Also: Lance Reddick is a funny man. There were a lot of slight teasers for S3, but my favorite was J.H. Wyman’s honest discussion of the fans’ muted response to standalone episodes. I was surprised to see how excited and loud people were for this series. Buzz: 3.5
The Vampire Diaries: For someone who only saw the first three episodes of the CW “hit,” I was utterly confused and at least partially compelled when watching the sizzle reel from season one. We didn’t stay for the whole thing after a good seven hours in Ballroom 20 and the girlfriend just wanted pictures of Ian Somerhalder anyway. I read that Kevin Williamson was very coy in answering any questions and the season two preview hit well to the only half-full Ballroom 20. Good for them, convinced me to catch up. Buzz: 3.5
We woke up super early — 3:40 a.m. — to check out of the hotel and be in the pre-line line so that we could get a good seat for the early Smallville and Supernatural panels before all the Gleeks took control of Ballroom 20. But aside from that, the Con crowd is certainly more receptive to the two CW series than a general audience, so most of the people who literally camped out since 6 p.m. the day before were, in fact, in line for Smallville or Supernatural. Insane. After a nearly six-hour wait, we were in and close.
Smallville: The Con favorite celebrated its final season with an entertaining look back at the past nine years and then a stellar 90-second look at the first few episodes of season 10. The series has always been good at putting together awesome Con clips and this year was no different, the crowd went NUTS. Also making the crowd go nuts? Moderator Geoff Johns, Erica Durance and of course, Tom Welling (who may have gotten the biggest individual Ballroom 20 pop all week). John Schneider is returning as Pa Kent and he joined the cast on stage, which was awesome. It’s obvious that Welling looks up to the guy like he’s a real father or something, enough so that when a the nasty Con microphone b***h cut off a father trying to get Welling to give his name card to the guy’s daughter for her 18th birthday, Schneider brought the father back up and basically said to Welling, “do it, son…AND SIGN IT TOO!” It was fun to watch for big Smallville fans, even if the series of Neo-Clark-clad fans asked dumb questions like “What’s your favorite scene” kept us from getting anymore solid info on S10. Buzz: 4
Supernatural: The full cast and major creative team — Kripke, new showrunner Sera Gamble and sick genius Ben Edlund — were on-hand to discuss the almost unnecessary sixth season and they did a realistic job in convincing the crowd that it’s okay to move on after the wonderful finale. Kripke fielded a lot of questions about his decision to leave his showrunner duties and wrapping up “his” story last year and Ackles kept making fun of other people in a humorous way. There was an air of secrecy from everyone, but the humor — the panel closed with a S5 gag reel — kept things entertaining. Buzz: 3
After that panel, I took time to get some food and pick up my much-anticipated What’s Alan Watching t-shirt while American Dad presented an offensive Christmas episode about killing Santa. Huh.
Glee: Then, of course, all hell broke loose. The Glee cast (minus Lea Michelle, Cory Montieth and Matthew Morrison) plus Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck walked on stage in the dark as the worst sizzle reel ever played for a good 20 minutes. For a series that would seem tailor-made for a sizzle reel, the footage we saw featured a disconnected collection of full scenes that ranged from ultra series (Sue’s time with her sister) to ultra cool (Artie’s flash mob dance) to ultra uncomfortable (the Kurt-Finn-Kurt’s dad “faggy” scene). After that, a bored looking Ryan Murphy fielded the question I would have asked (Why was there no exploration of the fact that while totally wrong for his word choice, Finn was completely harassed for months and driven to using said word by Kurt?) with a superiority that I expected. The fans basically booed the guy asking the question and Murphy more or less deflected. Chris Colfer later noted that Kurt is just looking for love, even though he thinks he’s better than everyone — which of course was given a rousing response. How unfortunate. The rest of the panel saw Murphy contradict himself by saying that the series would get much more intimate and avoid going “big” in one breath and noting that more tribute episodes and a Rocky Horror tribute would be on the way in the next breath. EW’s Tim Stack also called the Quinn-Mercedes relationship “totally organic,” which made me spit up some soft pretzel in my mouth. Lots of cheering happened for things I shrugged at and vice versa — just as I suspected. Buzz: 4.5
Sons of Anarchy: The finale panel I attended was light on answers and general enthusiasm, but Kurt Sutter and company were surprised at the crowd response for a series that seems totally out-of-place at the Con. Good teaser for S3 as well. Buzz: 2.5
And that’s it! Those are my day-to-day, panel-to-panel thoughts on Comic-Con 2010. Let’s finish strong with some quick hitters.
Things I learned at SDCC 2010:
- Alan Sepinwall is very, very tall.
- Being around people who are in the midst of a message board meet-up, trying to find each other based on weird usernames, is as creepy as you’d expect.
- Free swag isn’t as cool as you’d think.
- People really, really like True Blood.
- People (probably pretend to) really, really hate Twilight.
- Those people who live-tweet and live-blog major events like this are more talented than they might seem.
- If someone wants to bring a firearm into the San Diego Convention Center during Comic-Con, they can — no bag check.
- People love zombies. And attractive people.
- Soft pretzels are almost worth the $4 cost.
- After getting three free shirts from the USA panels, the buttons and foam fingers from the FOX animation block and Glee respectively are not as exciting.
- Critics that I look up to are kind of awkward on stage in front of 4,000 people.
The biggest individual pops in the panels I saw:
- Tom Welling
- Nelsan Ellis (I know, right?)
- Zachary Levi
- John Noble
- Anna Paquin
- Daniel Dae Kim
- Jensen Ackles
- Robert Kirkman
- Bruce Campbell
Most electric crowds:
- True Blood
- The Walking Dead