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Thursday, November 26, 2015


Article originally published as TV Review: 'The Walking Dead' - 'Heads Up' on Blogcritics.


I was wrong.

I have to start my review of this week’s The Walking Dead episode “Heads Up” with that statement because of how vehemently and often I had asserted that Glenn (Steven Yeun) was dead. When last we’d seen the original cast member, he is lying on the ground, seemingly being ripped apart by a huge crowd of Walkers. I was sure he could not have made it out of the alley alive. “Heads Up” reveals that apparently he did.

Now, I’m torn as to how much to go into the way Glenn is brought back, because I run the risk of sounding like sour grapes. I do think, however, that the way The Walking Dead orchestrated his survival is as unrealistic as the show has ever been. Usually, it’s a series that stays as grounded as possible, despite the central, highly unrealistic conceit of a zombie apocalypse. But in this case, they break that trend and go into superhuman territory.

A popular theory floated on the internet and by friends of mine in the wake of his ‘demise’ is that Glenn is safe under Nicholas’ body and manages to crawl under a dumpster, waiting out the Walkers until they leave. I dismissed that scenario because there are a LOT of Walkers in the alley and there is no realistic way they would only tear at Nicholas. They would have ripped into Glenn as well, if not immediately, as soon as they’d eaten their way through Nicholas. Instead, the crowd isn’t so tight that Glenn can’t slip between their legs and under the dumpster, which makes no sense given what viewers previously witnessed. It also doesn’t make sense that within the very small space, in which Glenn is able to maneuver, Walkers don’t crawl under and get him. He can’t defend all sides at once, and there’s enough of them that he should not be able to fight them off, especially not for the day or two in which he’s hiding.

If The Walking Dead had presented a believable way for Glenn to make it out, I’d readily admit I’d been fooled by the shot of the pocket watch and the set up that left no doubt he should be dead. I’d heap admiration and respect towards The Powers That Be, happy to be proven wrong. That would have been brilliant writing. Instead, I feel a bit let down by the show itself. The series failed to meet the high expectations I’d formed based its past excellence. So I am absolutely wrong, not because I misread the situation as it unfolded on screen, but because I trusted writing that did not live up to that trust, which is kinda depressing.

To make matters worse, shortly after Glenn gets out from under the dumpster, he comes across the Walker body of one of the Alexandrian party. This guy hadn’t even attempted to hide when he was attacked (not that there was any way he could have). He is smashed against a fence where a bunch of Walkers were pressed against him. How is enough intact to be recognizable? This makes no sense for the world of The Walking Dead. He would have surely been devoured or at least completely unrecognizable!

Thankfully, the rest of “Heads Up” is up to the usual standards of the show. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is starting to realize the Alexandrians are part of his family now, as some of his group, like Tara (Alanna Masterson), already accept. Carol (Melissa McBride) catches Morgan (Lennie James) hiding his prisoner, which is going to result in bad stuff. Morgan boosts the confidence of Dr. Cloyd (Merritt Wever) in a very sweet moment. Ron (Austin Abrams) is so plotting to make an ill-advised move against Rick and/or Carl (Chandler Riggs).

I think Michonne (Danai Gurira) realizes that Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) doesn’t plan to live long, and I will be surprised if she makes it past next week’s installment. And the moment with Spencer (Austin Nichols) on the wire teases that some of the things in the comic book will probably repeat on screen next week, though likely with some twists. These are all really great scenes that further character development and set up what is sure to be an exciting finale. Almost enough to make me forget the missteps at the start of the hour, and enough to keep The Walking Dead in my “favorite TV show currently airing” slot.

Plus, we get a really sweet plot between Glenn and Enid (Katelyn Nacon), in which our miraculously resurrected hero convinces the girl to come home, saving another soul and reinforcing that the reprieve he has been given is probably temporary, as the moral center of the show never lives long. Glenn’s impending death will right the mistake made, though I still doubt that (SPOILER ALERT!) Glenn will meet his fate the same way he did in the comics, as perfectly moving and disturbing as that is.

The Walking Dead concludes the first half of its sixth season next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.

Monday, November 23, 2015


Article originally published as JESSICA JONES Review on Seat42F.

JessicaJones Netflix

The following review is very light on spoilers, so please read on!

After the success of MARVEL’S DAREDEVIL last spring, many have waited with bated breath for the next installment in the studio’s Netflix universe. It arrives this Friday in the form of JESSICA JONES, a noir detective series that gets a lot darker and a lot scarier than anything Marvel has done before. And, as one might expect, it is excellent.

JESSICA JONES begins with the titular character (Krysten Ritter, Breaking Bad, Don’t Trust the B-) working as a private eye in Hell’s Kitchen. As is familiar to the archetype, Jessica is a hard-drinker, trying to escape demons from her past, while being excellent at her job. This feels a bit like Veronica Mars, a show Ritter did an arc in, and viewers think they know what they’re getting.

Not even a full hour in, though, JESSICA JONES takes a twist into new territory. It isn’t that the show abandons the early tone or style; it still infuses what comes after. But while the series begins rooted in a genre we’ve seen before, it expands the horizons of those bearing witness to the proceedings in short order.

Part of this is because JESSICA JONES is kind of a horror show. Kilgrave, a.k.a. The Purple Man (David Tennant, Doctor Who, Broadchurch), is the scariest villain I’ve ever seen in the superhero realm, and what he does is more disturbing than the fare fans are used to. This is not a Marvel series appropriate to watch with the kiddos. Instead, it features what appears to be an unstoppable bad guy who does things far worse than simple violence permits, making for a premise that will send chills up and down and back up your spine. He is terrifying.

Jessica also has a very rich backstory that is barely teased in the initial episode. We know she has undergone some trauma; that’s clear from the way she lives her life, trying to get past something that has scarred her soul. But the more we learn about her, the more it makes sense that she’s this screwed up. Some characters have reasons for doing destructive things and we forgive them for it, but for Jessica to even continue existing in the world as she does makes her far stronger and resilient than your average person.

This means Jessica’s abilities are not limited to the physical. Her superpowers are not the point of JESSICA JONES, and we get them in small doses, not showy sequences. It’s not even immediately clear what she can do, other than lift cars and jump high. Yet, those aren’t the most impressive things about her, which is a departure for a comic book adaptation.

Jessica isn’t alone in her world, much as she usually acts like she wants to be. She has a sort-of boss, Jeryn Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss, The Matrix, Vegas), an estranged friend, Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor, Grey’s Anatomy, Crisis), and a neighbor without boundaries, Malcolm (Eka Darville, The Originals). She also (sort of) meets a bartender by the name of Luke Cage (Mike Colter, The Good Wife) who is probably more compatible with her than either expects, and who will be headlining the third Marvel Netflix series next year.

Given the pedigree of the cast, made up almost entirely of actors I already admire and respect, it’s not a surprise that the performances are every bit as excellent as the production. Ritter has needed a vehicle to show her ranger for awhile, and this is it. Tennant completely transforms into a monster unrecognizable, and I’ll never watch him the same way again. The scenes with Colter already have me excited for his turn in the lead. This is high quality television period, not just for its genre or when compared to its peers, but across the entire spectrum. I would posit it is the pinnacle of everything Marvel has done thus far, and a promise of continued greatness.

All thirteen episodes of JESSICA JONES’ freshman run will be live on Netflix this Friday. I recommend you watch as many as you can this weekend, lest you be lost when your friends and co-workers are talking about this on Monday, as they most definitely will be.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Article originally published as INTO THE BADLANDS Review on Seat42F.

Daniel Wu as Sunny - Into the Badlands _ Season 1, Epsiode 1 - Photo Credit: Patti Perret/AMC
AMC’s newest drama, INTO THE BADLANDS, premieres tonight. Set in a future where guns have been eradicated, the territory is broken up into domains runs by Barons, who use teams of assassins to keep their subjects in line. This makes the setting seem more like the past, but don’t think on that too deep. Instead, just enjoy the gratuitous violence.

The description of the series may sound a bit flip, but so is the show itself. There are numerous fight scenes, which have been the focus of much of the promotional materials for the show. Is there ever any reason we need to see extended fight scenes where one supernaturally gifted combatant takes out an entire gang? Nah, but it’s fun, and that’s why this type of material exists.

INTO THE BADLANDS does have substance, too. The characters are interesting, and the political machinations between those who seek to extend their power provide engaging drama. But I’m simply pointing out that by mixing it with light entertainment, it makes INTO THE BADLANDS slightly less than, say, The Walking Dead, which uses fighting for one’s lives to enhance scenes, rather than making it the center of sequences.

At the center of INTO THE BADLANDS is Sunny (Daniel Wu, The Man With the Iron Fists), the lead protector for the land’s most powerful Baron, Quinn (Marton Csokas, Klondike). Sunny is a loyalist who is comfortable with the current system, until he’s not. Mysteries from his past are brought up when he finds a kid, M. K. (Aramis Knight, The Dark Knight Rises), with inexplicable powers and a coincidental symbol. This, combined with news from his secret girlfriend, Veil (Madeleine Mantock, The Tomorrow People), make Sunny question everything he values and believes to be true. He begins a real hero’s journey.

It’s because of this compelling character that I want to watch INTO THE BADLANDS. Sure, it’s entertaining, but that in of itself is not enough these days. Thankfully, this program doesn’t just rely on that, even though that’s the most obvious, flashy thing about it.

There’s also an enticing sexual component. Quinn is married to Lydia (Orla Brady, American Odyssey), and will soon take a second, much younger, wife, Jade (Sarah Bolger, The Tudors). AMC stops short of showing any real nudity, as basic cable usually does, but there’s certainly sexiness in the power wrangling that is just getting started. While this plot doesn’t cover any new ground, at least not yet, it does add another interesting layer to the proceedings.

The Widow (Emily Beecham, The Village) ensures the boys won’t be the only ones having fun. She’s a new Baron who is at odds with Quinn and has her sights set on M. K. When she shows up, she immediately grabs the spotlight, and she clearly has some physical attributes of her own. This character should help ally fears that INTO THE BADLANDS is only set to attract male viewers. She’s beautiful and badass.

All of these characters exist in a fully realized world. Great thought has gone into building this system, incorporating historical context, while twisting it enough to be unfamiliar to students of the past. The result is a setting believable and strange at the same time, and one well-suited to the people who populate it. The product design is excellent. It’s almost a sci-fi / fantasy show, while managing to stay more grounded than what is typical of that genre. It’s hard to strictly categorize it, but I see that as a plus, showing originality.

For all of these reasons, INTO THE BADLANDS is worth checking out, even if you’re not into the martial arts. It airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on AMC.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Article originally published as SPOTLESS Review on Seat42F.

Spotless Esquire

Esquire is the latest cable network to get into the scripted game, premiering its first original series tonight, SPOTLESS. A Franco-British import, SPOTLESS aired in France last March, and now comes to American television exclusively on Esquire. Honestly, my viewing habits being skewed almost entirely to scripted programming, I am not familiar with Esquire’s slate or how it might fit their audience. But this is a quality show that would be right at home on BBC America, Sundance, or A&E. If that’s the direction Esquire is going in, I’ll be paying more attention to it from now on.

SPOTLESS is a tale of two brothers who went through a traumatic event in childhood, and now, coming together for the first time as adults, find they have very different ways of dealing with things. Jean Bastiere (Marc-Andrew Grondin, C.R.A.Z.Y.) has a wife and two young girls, owning his own business cleaning crime scenes and building a respectable life in London. He struggles financially, ever since the recession, but he has tried to put the past behind him and move on mostly honestly. By contrast, Martin Bastiere (Denis Menochet, Inglourious Basterds) has sunk deeper into the mire, conducting himself as a criminal. Now, their lives have become messily intertwined.

I find Jean a very interesting protagonist because he’s not exactly what one would expect. Usually, the hero is either noble, with a strong moral compass, or is deeply flawed, highly skilled, but not going at using those skills around other people. Jean falls in the middle. He presents himself as an upstanding man, and resists going afoul of the law when mobster Nelson Clay (Brendan Coyle, Downton Abbey) tries to recruit him. Yet, he seems to have little problem cheating on his wife with Claire Wiseman (Tanya Fear, Kick-Ass 2), nor keeping secrets.

Jean also loves Martin. Despite the years they’ve spent apart and the disaster Martin thrusts upon him, there is a bond of love and affection that Jean honors. They went through something together long ago, and it has made their relationship unshakeable, no matter what. For someone going for the life Jean keeps as his public front, one might expect Jean to shun Martin. In SPOTLESS, he does the opposite, which feels strangely authentic, even as viewers may question why Jean would do so.

It’s this complexity that makes SPOTLESS intriguing to me. I can’t easily pin down exactly who Jean is (Martin and Nelson are quite a bit easier to do so), but he seems like a mostly good man, not just a television character archetype.

I’m not sure where the story is going, either. SPOTLESS doesn’t confine itself to Jean’s perspective, but allows individual plots for Martin and Jean’s wife, Julie Greer-Bastiere (Miranda Raison, MI-5), that have nothing to do with Jean. And the paths they go down aren’t what one might expect, especially Martin’s story in the second episode, which feels totally in-character for Martin, but diverges far enough away from the central core that it feels like another narrative entirely. Which is another positive, since most people’s lives aren’t solely focused on one thing for very long.

SPOTLESS is a dark dramedy. Its hour-long episodes contain adult content, including violence and censored nudity and cursing (which probably aired in their full version overseas, but unfortunately we don’t get that on U.S. basic cable). However, it also is humorous in some of the crazy stuff that happens, with bold dialogue and over-the-top danger. Now, none of this is off-the-rails enough to detract from how genuine the program feels, but it does make the material lighter than it seems at first glance, another plus.

I recommend checking out SPOTLESS. It airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. on Esquire.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

DONNY! Should Be donny

Article originally published as DONNY Review on Seat42F.

Donny USA Network

USA has a new comedy series called DONNY!, premiering this week. One might be forgiven for thinking it’s a reality show, considering it airs right after the reality series Chrisley Knows Best and follows TV personality Donny Deutsch (Today) as he hosts a self-help series (think Dr. Phil). But it’s not. DONNY! is a scripted comedy where Donny plays a fictional version of himself that satirizes the very thing he often actually participates in. Does your head hurt yet? (It shouldn’t, because there are gobs of shows right now doing the same thing.)

The Donny in DONNY! is an egotistical player who flirts shamelessly, gives his cell phone number to attractive psychopaths, and needs attention and affection heaped on him at all times. He has hired three attractive woman as his assistants, Jackie (Hailey Giles, Scorned), Zoe (Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Weird Loners), and Violet (Jessica Renee Russell, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos), and works with an attractive female producer, Pam (Emily Tarver, Best Week Ever). While none of these girls seem to fall for his shtick, surrounding himself with them says something about Donny, as does paying more notice to his too-young, greedy girlfriend, Galina (Tina Casciani, Role Models), than to his kids.

DONNY! reminds me a bit of Blunt Talk on Starz. The major difference is that Donny seems to be getting along just fine with his life as it currently is, while Patrick Stewart’s Walter Blunt is falling apart spectacularly. The thing is, with an unlikeable persona, as both Blunt and Donny are, it’s satisfying to watch them fail, so Blunt Talk has the edge there. Plus, Stewart is a far superior performer than Deutsch (or most people, really), so any comparison between the two is not positive for this newer series.

Is there anything redeemable about Donny or DONNY!? Well, that’s debatable. Donny does have charm, or else he wouldn’t get so much attention. I do like that not everyone in DONNY! falls for Donny’s game, and Donny (the person, not the character) has to have some level of humility or redeeming qualities to allow that. My assumption is that Donny (again, the real person) is a pretty nice, interesting person, and it’s just this show and the character of Donny that I don’t like, though I haven’t seen him elsewhere.

It has been said that DONNY! does for Donny Deutsch what Curb Your Enthusiasm does for Larry David, but I think that’s an inaccurate comparison. David is a brilliant writer who created one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time, Seinfeld. Curb is an extension of the Seinfeld world in that it shows a character named Larry who has a personality perfectly suited to write that show. DONNY! tackles a completely different genre, one I would argue takes far less talent to make. Abhorring reality and the fake ‘health’ professionals, I find it hard to hold it anywhere near the same regard.

Now, one could point out that DONNY! pokes fun at the hated genre. Except, because Donny himself is part of that system (or so I’ve read on Wikipedia), not a comedian on the outside, it doesn’t come across as a scathing commentary on it. Instead, it seems like Donny is having fun being self-referential in a way that reinforces the ‘character’ he is playing.

I admit, my bias against reality television in general could definitely be coloring my view of DONNY! But try as I might, it’s very hard to separate that out in this instance, given the show’s content. I get that people like reality for reasons I cannot fathom, but it definitely isn’t quality television, and contributes to the ‘junk that rots your brain’ stereotype some see the medium as being. As a defender of quality programming, this type of thing is a total turn-off and I can’t recommend it.
That being said, if you like reality television or Donny Deutsch, then you might enjoy this.

DONNY! airs Tuesdays at 10:30 on USA.

Friday, November 13, 2015

AGENT X Not the Spot

Article originally published as AGENT X Review on Seat42F.


TNT’s latest drama is AGENT X. Apparently, there is a secret section in the Constitution that outlines the Vice President’s real power, and remains unknown to the public, or even the President, to this day. These words give the VP the ability to use an unnamed agent to do the bidding of the U.S. that must be kept off books. AGENT X is that agent, and the new Vice is ready to use him.

(Yes, this is fiction. No such article exists.)

The center of AGENT X is Natalie Maccabee (Sharon Stone, Casino). The first woman to hold the second highest office in the land (have they never heard of Selina Meyer?), she is surprised to learn about the Agent X program from her new right-hand man, Malcolm (Gerald McRaney, House of Cards). Having to take control with barely any direction, President Thomas Eckhart (John Shea, Smallville) himself must deny his knowledge now that he’s been promoted to the top spot, Natalie is nervous at first, but settles into the job quite nicely.

On the other side of the show is Agent X himself, John Case (Jeff Hephner, Chicago Fire). He is an almost-superhuman agent who can slide in and out without being seen. In the first couple of episodes he tangles with Olga (Olga Fonda, The Vampire Diaries), an enemy spy who is quite formidable, and still bests her without too much trouble. He’s the sexy eye candy for the ladies, bursting with the testosterone that keeps the guys coming back.

So AGENT X splits its time between two different types of shows. One part is adrenaline-fueled action, James Bond on steroids, and the other deals with politics and conspiracy theories, a more grounded version of The Librarian. Both go for a simplistic world view, without getting too deep, and with the same type of attitude with which the main player in 24 approached the world. It’s light, popcorn fare that is entertaining, but refrains from going too deep.

The cast is good. Stone and McRaney are always likeable, and Hephner fits well into the archetype. James Earl Jones (Star Wars, The Lion King) shows up as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which lends some gravitas to the series. This isn’t a character study type of program, so it’s unlikely any of these actors will get to deliver an impressive, Emmy-worthy performance. But they do just fine in the roles they’ve been given, and make the show pretty watchable.

My problem with TNT series these past few years is that they lean too heavily on the action, not paying enough attention to plot and the cast. AGENT X improves in this category, still giving the basic element that TNT fans have come to expect, but with a bit better foundation to back it up. As I’ve said, it’s not deep, but it also doesn’t flit over things as quickly as Falling Skies or The Last Ship, marking a noticeable improvement for the content of this network.

That being said, I’m still not going to watch Agent X. There are a ton of very high quality series out right now that are just plain better than this one. This is a sign TNT is moving in the right direction, but it’s not there yet. If you want mindless entertainment, this is one of the best examples I’ve seen in awhile and will serve you well. This show itself, given time, might even become more worthy. But for now, if you’re looking for the biggest talent in the writing and production department, there are plenty of choices on AMC, FX, HBO, Starz, and others that run circles around this one. When there were fewer choices on television, AGENT X would have stood out. Today, it just doesn’t measure up.

AGENT X airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on TNT.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

FLESH AND BONE Goes Into Brilliant Drama

Article originally published as FLESH AND BONE Review on Seat42F.

Flesh and Bone Starz

A little over a year ago, I was about ready to give up on Starz, the original programming coming from that premium cable not being my cup of tea. Then came the excellent Outlander, and as of last night, it is joined by the equally fantastic, yet wholly different, FLESH AND BONE.

FLESH AND BONE tells the story of Claire (Sarah Hay, Black Swan), a scared, nervous, talented young ballerina that runs away to the big city and lands a plumb role with a professional company. Claire has a lot of personal and emotional issues going on, so this is probably not the ideal time for her to make such big changes. Yet, she’s clearly running from something and trying to find happiness, or at least purpose and peace. She has the type of rare ability and dedication that can help her to succeed in this competitive arena, and so she just might make it. But it won’t be easy.

The ballet world portrayed in FLESH AND BONE is anything but welcoming. The director, Paul (Ben Daniels, House of Cards), is demanding and erratic. He may also be brilliant, but Claire will have to survive working for him awhile to benefit from that. The company already has a lead dancer in Kiira (Irina Dvorovenko, Power), who isn’t likely to step aside for a new ingĂ©nue. Claire is placed in an apartment with Mia (Emily Tyra, Boardwalk Empire), a promiscuous, bitchy girl. And she is hit on by Ross (Sascha Radetsky, Center Stage), who wants more than just to be nice to her. In short, Claire is surrounded by those who might wear her down.

But she has some experience in dealing with hostile people. As we find out in the pilot, her brother, Bryan (Josh Helman, The Pacific), is creepy and probably abusive. So Claire can likely handle those who don’t touch her and are just mean.

Plus, it’s not like Claire doesn’t make any friends. Blunt, rich Daphne (Raychel Diane Weiner, Hickey) may seem abrasive, but she offers assistance to the newbie. And Romeo (Damon Herriman, Justified) may look like a homeless criminal, but he’s actually sweet. So Claire is slowly building a support system.

The main players in FLESH AND BONE, which, besides those listed above, also includes ambitious Trey (Karell Williams), have very small resumes. I managed to find an IMDB listing for each, except Williams, but in many cases, those credits number fewer than five. This is a group of mostly inexperienced unknowns.

Yet, that doesn’t detract from the show at all. If anything, it works in the production’s favor, feeling like the program is bursting with deserving, undiscovered talent. It helps that many have actual dancing backgrounds and possess the skills to back up their characters. It also helps that they deliver compelling, fresh performances. I have no complaints at all about this group.

The show itself feels a lot like Black Swan. It’s not as artistically offbeat, perhaps, but it’s a very specific tone and style that fits very well into this world, but is not repeated in most other shows. It is a specific product, like Mozat in the Jungle. I can’t tell if the budget is big or small, but it seems appropriate for FLESH AND BONE, with the settings, props, and costumes, perfectly suited to the story. Overall, it just exudes high quality, with great attention to detail and design.

I have to say, FLESH AND BONE is one of the best pilots I’ve watched in some time. It’s original, it’s gripping, it’s grounded, and I’m already completely hooked on the story and the characters. I will definitely be tuning in every week.

FLESH AND BONE airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.