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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Is This the "Best" ONCE UPON A TIME Can Do?

Article originally written for Seat42F.

This week’s ONCE UPON A TIME is called “Best Laid Plans” because the characters in it don’t always get what they want, no matter how hard they try and how much thought goes into it beforehand. Whether it’s Regina (Lana Parrilla) trying to play the villains until she finds out their plan, or Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming (Josh Dallas) attempting to ensure their child ends up with a clean soul, things don’t go the way they think they will. It’s hard to control the outcome of anything in life.

In fairy tale land flashbacks, Snow and Charming ask The Apprentice (Timothy Webber) to help ensure their unborn daughter will be good. He tells them a vessel is needed to channel the darkness into, and they decide Maleficent’s egg is just the thing. By the time they realize there’s a baby within, not a monster, it’s too late, and baby, Cruella (Victoria Smurfit), and Ursula (Merrin Dungey) go tumbling into our world.

The whole magic spell in this episode makes no sense, a hole-ridden plot even more shaky than what ONCE UPON A TIME has been delivering on a regular basis lately. If Snow and Charming go to all of this trouble, then Emma (Jennifer Morrison) should be guaranteed to be a hero, right? The darkness has been removed from her. So why do Snow and Charming go to great lengths in the Storybrooke present to try to keep her that way? Why are they worried their fretting over what they did would ruin her as a child? It just doesn’t add up.

This backstory does explain how the female witches came to be on Earth, where Gold (Robert Carlyle) finds them earlier this season. However, when they meet back up with Maleficient a few episodes ago, there is no mention of their disappearance. Assuming they stay on Earth from this point until Gold finds them, why is that not a part of the story earlier in the season? Why doesn’t Maleficent ask what happened to them, or they volunteer what became of her baby, which Gold finally shows her in “Best Laid Plans?”

Lo and behold, Maleficent’s child is none other than Young Emma’s (Abby Ross) friend Lily. Is it just me, or does the coincidence seem too much? ONCE UPON A TIME already shows us how Emma and Lily meet, and it certainly seems like it’s purely by chance. Are we expected to believe there is fate involved, forcing them to come together? That’s not something the show has used before in a major way, especially knowing The Author (Patrick Fischler, Lost, Mad Men) is locked up by this point and can no longer manipulate the story.

Yep, we finally see The Author in “Best Laid Plans,” too. Or, more accurately, we see the last author. He’s the latest in a long line, but unlike his predecessors, he manipulates the story, rather than just observing and recording. Of course, somehow the book continues to be written after he is trapped in the page, as it records the events of the curse, which again, doesn’t make sense.

No amount of great little moments can make up for this gigantic plot holes. Regina and Henry (Jared Gilmore) have a terrific scene in which they communicate with a look, but that is overshadowed by what’s happening around them. Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) is deliciously jealous of Emma’s friendship with August (Eion Bailey), but it’s resolved too quickly. Gold talking to an unconscious Belle (Emilie de Ravin) would be moving, if his character hadn’t already been completely ruined, his redemptive qualities stripped away over the past year. Emma finding out her parents lied to her might be effective, if it weren’t couched in the nonsensical part of the story in which she could still somehow go bad. Ditto for Maleficent’s pain at losing her child to so-called “heroes.” I just don’t get why this show, which delivered half a season of greatness just over a year ago, could fall so far and not recover. It really bums me out.

ONCE UPON A TIME airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

THE GOOD WIFE Fans "Recipients" of Another Great Installment

Article originally written for Seat42F.

Thank you for your advice. All options are open to me, and I’ll make a decision within 48 hours.
That’s the repeated refrain on this week’s installment of THE GOOD WIFE on CBS, “Undisclosed Recipients.” Alicia (Julianna Margulies) has won the State’s Attorney election, but that is just the beginning of her problems. She tries to play open and honest with everyone, donors and her partners at the law firm alike, but it doesn’t work too well. It’s time for her to start being a politician, and Eli (Alan Cumming) makes that very clear to her.

As much as one roots for Alicia to stand up to influence and do the right thing, it’s easy to see why Lemond (Mike Colter) and Redmayne (Ed Asner) think they should have influence over her. They did pour a lot of support into her campaign with the expectation of getting something in return. Alicia may not have agreed to terms, but she did take the money. She could have refused or made a stink about it, but she wouldn’t have won. Perhaps THE GOOD WIFE goes too easy on politicians and the influence of money, or perhaps they are just showing that even the best person is put in a difficult position within this broken system.

Eli provides a way out, backing up the stereotype that politicians are slimy liars. He tells her to deflect and appear to appreciate advice she won’t seriously consider. This works on Redmayne, and it works on Castro (Michael Cerveris), who is looking for professional respect. A variation of this also works on Alicia’s partners, whom are trying to lowball her in buying her out of the firm. But I don’t think it will work on Bishop.

Bishop isn’t a part of that world. He isn’t a public figure in the same way the rest are, preferring to dwell in the shadows. He also uses violence to fight, not words, giving him a different set of tools. Redmayne may forget that Alicia doesn’t choose who he wants, but Bishop won’t overlook Alicia refusing to call of an investigation on him. She could wind up hurt, or worse.

Alicia needs assistance in dealing with Bishop. I think it’s time she brings Eli and Marissa (Sarah Steele) fully into the loop here. Perhaps she puts them at risk by coming clean, but both have been very valuable advisors, different sides of the same coin with varying opinions. If the brain trust of these three can’t figure a way out of this, I’m not sure no one can.

The other thing that happens in “Undisclosed Recipients” is that a hacker leaks the firm’s emails because they are representing a client suing a file sharing site. Because these people let off steam, and also because they work with people they don’t always like, there are many damaging comments made that now come to light. Cary (Matt Czuchry), Diane (Christine Baranski), David Lee (Zach Grenier), Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), Lyman (Jerry Adler), and just-returned-from-New York Julius (Michael Boatman) all succumb to infighting over this. Alicia is spared only because the released emails are from the time of her campaign.

It’s interesting to see dirty laundry brought to light in this particular environment. The type of job and the sort of people who do this work create a much more tumultuous atmosphere than in most offices. Not everything said is what the authors are really thinking, though some of it is. I think it reminds us that we all find ways to work with people we don’t agree with or like, and we can’t condemn others for being no better than ourselves. It’s quite a thought-provoking story, as much as it is a juicy, dramatic one.

That Finn (Matthew Goode) lets comments Alicia pre-emptively admits to making about him roll off his back shows that he’s a different type of person that the rest of the cast. Or he just trusts Alicia more than he would most people, her actions speaking louder than words. He would be a great ally for her to have, a reasonable, logical individual who cares about her. I hope he takes the job as her deputy. Marissa, too, shows no judgment as she reads Alicia’s messages, so she also needs to stick around, given her considered take on the world (though it’s worth noting none are about her).

I also don’t think THE GOOD WIFE has seen the last of these emails. Alicia’s are not released, but they could be, as the hacker says they have two years’ worth of stuff. Given Alicia’s new job and how much more damaging this could be to her in the high-morality role, it seems too tantalizing a bait to not toss in the water. Expect this to come back up at some point, whether it’s sooner or later.

Once more, THE GOOD WIFE gives us excellent, engaging plot with authentic, layered characters in a very real situation. It rips from the headlines, but also stays true to the individuals created. I can find no flaw with “Undisclosed Recipients,” another excellent hour from the stellar series.

THE GOOD WIFE airs Sundays on CBS.

THE WALKED DEAD Did "Conquer" Story and Ratings

Article originally written for Seat42F.

The central question of the season finale of AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD is, what will the Alexandrians do with Rick (Andrew Lincoln)? After Rick’s gun-waving breakdown at the end of the previous episode, Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) is leaning towards kicking him out of the settlement, but she holds a town forum first to get opinions. As scary as Rick may have been in the moment, though, is he wrong, and do the people see that?

Rick’s contention is that the Alexandrians have been lucky thus far and they are not prepared to take care of themselves when that luck runs out. He and his people have been out in the world and have seen firsthand how bleak it can get and how cruel people can be. This darkness may not yet have touched Alexandria, but it will.

“Conquer” begins by showing us some of that evil that Rick is so worried about. Morgan (Lennie James) has been tracking Rick all the way to the D.C. area. Stopping for a little breakfast, he is set upon by two “Wolves,” people who ruthlessly take all they can, set traps of brutalized Walkers, and have no qualms at all about killing people that they come across. Morgan is able to deal with two of them and walk away, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still pose a threat, especially as we don’t know the size of their group.

Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Aaron (Ross Marquand) run into this same contingent on the road. They lose a man they are considering recruiting, distracted by one of the Wolves’ traps. Not prepared, they realize too late what is happening, and are soon stuck, finding an ominous note that bad people are coming. Thankfully, before the duo perishes, Morgan shows up and saves them because he’s just a good dude.

THE WALKING DEAD presents a world where two types of people survive. One type is the bad sort, like the Wolves or The Governor, but another is the kind that look out for others and stick together like a family. Morgan is an example of the latter, altruistic towards innocents, and not even killing the Wolves that attack him. Daryl and Aaron are, too, each willing to sacrifice themselves for the other before deciding to make a break for it together, which they thankfully don’t end up having to do.

Glenn (Steven Yeun) proves himself in the same category in “Conquer.” Nicholas (Michael Traynor) feels threatened, not understanding the gift of protection Glenn is offering him. Frightened, Nicholas strikes, luring Glenn outside the walls and shooting him, trying to kill him. Multiple times the two scuffle, Glenn tough enough to survive one idiot and a handful of Walkers. In the end, though, while Glenn could easily kill Nicholas, he does not, instead limping back to Alexandria together. Not many would spare Nicholas as Glenn does, likely seeing Nicholas the scared child that he is.

Nicholas will likely come out of this learning something about Glenn and having a new-found respect for him. He isn’t the only one changed by his encounter with Rick’s people, Tobin (Jason Douglas), Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge), and even Deanna’s husband, Reg (Steve Coulter), believing Rick should stay and maybe is needed to save them. The weaker in this world have to put their faith in someone, and those like Glenn and Rick are the types to earn that faith.

Which brings us back to the start of this review, and that is to Rick himself. His gun swinging does feel a little crazy, but “Conquer” gives us a little more insight to the sheriff. Despite Carol’s (Melissa McBride) assertion the two of them should continue their deception, Rick doesn’t feel comfortable lying to the others, especially Michonne (Danai Gurira). He’s worried Michonne won’t side with him against Deanna (though of course she says asserts her continued loyalty), but he thinks Michonne deserves to know what’s going on. Here, we see Rick’s nobility, and as he explains to her, he snaps a bit because he is totally frustrated at how blind these naïve people are, which is understandable. He refuses to apologize to the group, but he does offer to make them his family and teach them how to survive, being open and honest. This puts him firmly in the good column.

There is a slight snag in the neat ending, as Deanna orders Rick to execute Pete (Corey Brill) after an angry Pete accidentally murders Reg, a regrettable happenstance. This seems to be Deanna deciding in Rick’s favor and putting to bed the debate, but Rick murders Pete just as Morgan walks in, and Morgan is all about zen-like non-violence these days. Fans of THE WALKING DEAD widely love Morgan and wish him to be a part of the cast. Will Rick’s brutality, necessary as it is, scare him away? Will Morgan’s journey have been for nothing?

Two more intersecting subplots of note plays out in “Conquer,” making more obvious some of the internal struggles Rick and the others go through as they try to adapt to civilization again. In the first, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) tries to literally bury her demons as she cleans up dead Walkers outside the wall. She’s at a very low point, even lying in the mass grave with them because she feels as dead as they are. Still, she is clearly trying to get better as she goes to Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) for advice and spiritual guidance.

The good father is in no position to counsel her, or anyone else who asks, for that matter. He hates himself so much for not saving his parishioners that he goes outside the walls and tries to commit suicide-by-Walker. When he can’t bring himself to do that, killing his first undead, he tries to goad Sasha into taking him out. I do think the emotional confrontation that follows, which they both walk away from, should be cathartic enough to help them begin to move on, but it’s very charged and it takes us into the depths of their pain.

THE WALKING DEAD packs a lot into this final hour and a half. All of the stories mentioned above are deeply personal and complex in their highlighting of personalities. We also see Maggie (Lauren Cohan) be set up as a spiritual healer, Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) make peace, and Tara (Alanna Masterson) looks like she’s recovering. So much goodness, and still with pacing that doesn’t feel rushed.

“Conquer” does succeed in overcoming the strife of the past eight episodes, though, bringing everyone, Alexandrians and our group alike, which are now one and the same, into a common cause. This is super necessary, as we know the Wolves will soon be coming. Thankfully, Rick has a bigger group than ever to help fight those that are evil and give those that deserve to the best chance possible to survive. It’s going to be a hell of an exciting sixth season.

THE WALKING DEAD will return, likely around October, to AMC. The companion series, Fear The Walking Dead, which takes viewers to L.A. in the early days of the Walker outbreak, launches late this summer on the same network.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Break Your "Date" With GRIMM

Article originally written for Seat42F.

The latest installment of NBC’s GRIMM, “Double Date,” introduces us to a Wesen with multiple personalities. It turns from a male (Mark Famiglietti, Terminator 3) to a female (Briana Lane, The Real Housewives of Horror) and back again, both forms being completely separate individuals. This make the creature especially dangerous when it starts preying on horny guys, and the deadly liquid it secretes in its Wesen form is pretty bad, too.

There are actually some very interesting moral quandaries raised in “Double Date.” To arrest the Wesen, Nick (David Giuntoli), Hank (Russell Hornsby), and Wu (Reggie Lee) must trap it in its male form, which doesn’t sit right with Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell). While the Wesen doesn’t have an equivalent in the real world, there are definitely shades of gender rights, mental illness, and transsexuality built into the story, and a general feeling of icky-ness when the cops take the ability away. While GRIMM doesn’t delve too deeply into the issues it raises, at least this case makes one think.

It also paints Nick as a bit of a bully. Being a Grimm is his job, and sometimes he has to go outside of the legal boundaries in order to get that job done. Yet, Nick shows no remorse over what he is doing to this Wesen, nor worries about its state of mind after it is caught. While Nick doesn’t kill Wesen like other Grimms, he has definitely developed a professional detachment that makes him seem cold and cruel. I hope this is an angle the show examines more in the near future.

I’m not super hopeful that will be the case, though. “Double Date,” like many recent installments, concentrates a lot on the case-of-the-week, minimizing the serial arcs of the show. This hour is a little less procedural than the last few, but still majorly falls into the formulaic column, a huge disappointment. I feel like I could copy and paste many of my complaints about GRIMM in recent columns and reuse them this week, though I’ll refrain from doing so. It still bums me out to see a program fall this far in quality and story freshness as GRIMM has this year.

In the serial bits that do exist, Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch) is sleeping in her car, refusing to come home. Nick didn’t kick her out, but she isn’t happy with herself, and won’t let him care for her. Their separation is purely her decision, which is frustrating since she is doing nothing to work through it. Even worse, she goes to Renard (Sasha Roiz) for help. Renard may be the one person who can understand her, but given her past with him (under the influence of a spell, but still…), this won’t sit well with Nick.

Not that it sits that well with Renard. He has his own issues to worry about, finding himself inexplicably covered in blood with no medical explanation. Whatever is happening is a result of what his mother did to him, but neither he nor the viewers quite understand what that means yet. If only GRIMM would devote a little more time to this, it could be a very interesting subplot.

Adalind’s (Claire Coffee) segment of the episode is smaller and less intriguing. She decides she’ll get Viktor (Alexis Denisof) to sleep with her so she can frame him for her current pregnancy, which seems a dumb idea, given the issues she’s had with the royal baby she birthed already. Before she can seduce him, though, Viktor is sent away. I don’t know why Viktor is being replaced by another royal, who is not seen in “Double Date,” but the way the camera just misses him makes me think he’s leaving due to an actor availability issue, which stinks and is poorly handled.

Will GRIMM gets its act together before the May finale? Or is it destined to be a much weaker show for the rest of its days, favoring crime-solving over character-development? Sadly, all signs seem to point to the latter.

GRIMM airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

ARROW Has Some Great "Tendencies"

Article originally written for Seat42F.

Any television episode that features a wedding is bound to have something dramatic interrupt the proceedings, and ARROW’s most recent installment, “Suicidal Tendencies,” is no different. Diggle (David Ramsey) and Lyla (Audrey Marie Anderson) barely say their I-dos (again) before two emergencies force them and their friends into action. Will their love story have a satisfying ending?

Thankfully, Oliver (Stephen Amell) seems to want Diggle to be happy, sending him on his honeymoon instead of allowing him to deal with the threat in Starling City. Ra’s and his followers continue to impersonate The Arrow, ruining Oliver’s good name, in the hopes that Oliver will abandon that persona and become the next Ra’s. It doesn’t work because, while the city turns against The Arrow, Oliver remains committed to clearing his name and stopping the imposters.

Oliver’s foe in “Suicidal Tendencies” is Ray, a.k.a. The Atom (Brandon Routh). While Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) and his cops are no match for the superhero, a fellow crusader might be. Except, Ray is too new, unequipped to really deal with The Arrow. So it’s more a battle of the minds, with Oliver trying to convince Ray that he’s innocent of the murders. Eventually, this works out, but not before fans get a showdown between the pair, which The Arrow easily wins. Hopefully, this new alliance will survive the death of Mayor Castle (Christina Cox), which will surely be pinned on Arrow.

On a more personal front, both Ray and Oliver feel betrayed by Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) when they learn the other’s secret. This is understandable for Oliver because he gives up a chance at romantic bliss with Felicity in order to save the city, and she is now in the arms of someone else doing the same. But Ray is still naïve, not knowing the price of the life he’s chosen, and Oliver is sure they won’t work out. Ray has to decide if Felicity is leading him on, a complicated effort when she’s still keeping a past flame’s secret. Yet “Suicidal Tendencies” ends with them reuniting. I doubt they can make it work long-term, but while I root for Oliver and Felicity to wind up together, it’s nice she has this relationship for now.

Speaking of love, despite Oliver’s intentions, Diggle and Lyla don’t get to fly off on vacation. They are intercepted by A.R.G.U.S. and sent on a mission with a couple of members of The Suicide Squad, Cupid (Amy Gumenick) and Deadshot (Michael Rowe). While the team tries to take down corrupt Senator Cray (Steven Culp, Desperate Housewives, Bosch), the newlyweds wonder if they have any shot at domesticity while they engage in such dangerous professions.

Deadshot says they do not, and we see why he believes this in a series of flashbacks to his character coming home from war. This is far more compelling than the usual Oliver flashbacks, the story of a man whose child doesn’t recognize him and whose wife is afraid of his PTSD. It’s heart-breaking, and certainly gives a lot of depth to the recurring player. By the time Deadshot sacrifices himself (I really hope he’s not actually dead, and he probably isn’t) to stop Cray, which isn’t completely effective, even Diggle, whose own brother was murdered by Deadshot, can’t help but respect the man.

But that doesn’t mean Deadshot is right about the couple. Lyla gives up A.R.G.U.S. because they let Cray get away with his lie in the aftermath, so both parents aren’t going to continue to be in constant danger. Even if something happens to Diggle, their baby will still have a parent at home. And something won’t necessarily happen to Diggle. Lyla rejects his offer to quit Team Arrow, citing the good they are doing for the city, but that doesn’t mean Oliver won’t do everything he can to make sure Daddy Diggle goes home in one piece every night.

“Suicidal Tendencies” is mostly a great episode because of the character development and questions it raises. ARROW has been on a roll this year, and by finally making the flashback element interesting again, this installment raises the bar even more. Overall, I really liked it.

Which is not to say that it’s without problems. There are some very obvious issues as ARROW allows tropes and flubs to slip in. From Cray revealing his entire plan to our heroes, to Deadshot not flinching when Diggle slaps his injured arm, to Ray having to fill in last minute as minister, there are some sloppy parts of the hour. ARROW isn’t usually this obvious in its flaws, but considering the bigger picture, they are not enough to tear down the episode.

ARROW airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on the CW.

COMMUNITY Finds "Decorum" in a "Crisis"

Article originally published as TV Review: 'Community' - "Basic Crisis Room Decorum" on Blogcritics.

TV Review: ‘Community’ – “Basic Crisis Room Decorum”

It’s not unexpected that Greendale is accused of granting a dog a diploma on this week’s episode of Community, “Basic Crisis Room Decorum.” It’s only surprising that it’s taken this long. The community college not known for its standards is accused by its rival, City College, of graduating a canine, and the Save Greendale committee must scramble to minimize the impact.

The new Save Greendale group is really coming together. Elroy (Keith David) wanders into the mess when Britta (Gillian Jacobs) runs by his trailer sans pants, and slowly begins to understand them. The Dean (Jim Rash) is more interested in flirting with Jeff (Joel McHale) than admitting his mistakes, but he can still be helpful, if bringing olives is helpful. Even Vicki (Danielle Kaplowitz) and Dave (Darsan Solomon) assist, though they know they aren’t really part of the club, and will barely get to say anything. OK, so Jeff, Annie (Alison Brie), and Frankie (Paget Brewster) are really coming together.

C3The alpha females are finally clicking. Frankie is the first one Annie calls with the news, and the two seem to have developed a mutually-respectful working relationship. “Basic Crisis Room Decorum” tests that bond when Frankie wants to get Greendale off on a technicality, which goes against Annie’s high moral standards. Annie almost transfer schools in protest. But at the end of the day, they find a way to work together, which is heartening.

Chang (Ken Jeong) remains a bit of an outsider. He isn’t invited, which is kind of a jerk move, considering how long he’s been part of the group. He isn’t getting much of his own stories, either. While Chang isn’t always the best character, I do think he’s earned a little more than “Basic Crisis Room Decorum” and the previous two episodes this year give him.

“Basic Crisis Room Decorum” is a great illustration of Community in general. It is funny, such as when viewers discover that Jeff gave The Dean a false cell phone number and The Dean has been texting a teenager in Japan for some time. But it also has a lot of heart. Abed (Danny Pudi), Jeff, and the others might be willing to deny the truth, but Annie will not, and they care about her hapiness. Thus, they devise a way to make a commercial supporting Greendale that also lives up to Annie’s standards. This sweet / humorous combination is why Community has so much emotional heft, and why it earns so many loyal fans.

C2The other component that makes the show successful is its weirdness. In season six, the weird comes in little tidbits, rather than devoting a full installment to it, at least so far. While the past may have seen paintball wars and pillow fights, this year Britta has a trippy hallucination mid-episode in “Basic Crisis Room Decorum.” It may be that an entire half hour in a dreamscape won’t fit into the more somber tone Community has taken on in its later years. But by including these bits piecemeal, at least the writers still give fans of the weird what they want.

I don’t have any specific complaints about “Basic Crisis Room Decorum,” which is a very enjoyable episode, but I do have complaints about its presentation. As thrilled as I am that Yahoo! Screen revived Community from cancellation to help fulfill its #sixseasonsandamovie prophecy, I wish the platform had worked its bugs out before launch. The video feed stutters constantly this week on a connection I know is stable and fast, tested before and during streaming.

Tuesday night, the day the episode premiered, it was completely unwatchable, and Wednesday was still tough. Add to that, the player inexplicably switched back to an earlier episode halfway through, and in trying to get back, I had to watch three full batches of commercials (twelve total ads) in a row. It’s worth it to endure these issues to get fresh Community, but it does make the viewing experience a hardship to endure. #FirstWorldProblems

New episodes of Community are available every Tuesday on Yahoo! Screen.