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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Whether to Watch FARGO is Not a "Dilemma"

Article first published as FARGO Review on Seat42F.

Fargo FX
FX’s new FARGO is the story of a pregnant police chief (Frances McDormand) tracking a pair of hit man (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) near the town of Fargo. The guys have been hired by a local failure (William H. Macy) to kidnap his wife in order to extort money from the woman’s father. But during the abduction, she is accidentally killed, setting off a series of dangerous, somehow funny, events. And bodies get put into a wood chipper.

No, wait a second. That’s the excellent 1996 film of the same name. Remarkably, pretty much none of what I said in the preceding paragraph applies to the story of the series, which goes in its own direction. I’m not saying that FX’s FARGO abandons the premise entirely. Although none of the character names have been changed, there are some very familiar character types.

Wimpy Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman, Sherlock, The Hobbit) encounters by chance a hit man named Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton, Armageddon), who encourages Lester to find his inner man. The local police chief (Shawn Doyle, Big Love), who has a pregnant wife (Julie Ann Emery, Hitch), and his deputies, Molly (Allison Tolman, Sordid Lives: The Series) and Bill (Bob Odenkirk, Breaking Bad), are looking for Lorne, though they don’t yet know who he is.

By taking some characters that seem a lot like the ones in the movie and keeping the setting and the accents, FARGO ties itself to the earlier work enough to bring the fans of it in. Yet, in making some very different choices with the story from the first scene onward, it makes the action unpredictable, keeping viewers guessing what might happen and who could die next.

This FARGO expertly maintains the balance between blood and laughs that one might expect. Characters (yes, plural) that might be considered important die in the very first installment. At the same time, the dialogue and bumbling happenstances, especially when Lester is around, make the proceedings enjoyable and lighter than one may expect from a program with a high body count. There are numerous occasions when I could not help but laugh out loud, a distinction most sitcoms fails to reach on a weekly basis.

The pilot is titled “The Crocodile’s Dilemma.” For those unfamiliar with the logic paradox, this refers to a crocodile kidnapping a child. The croc promises the father that he can have the kid back if and only if the father is able to accurately predict whether the crocodile will give him back the boy. If the father states that the crocodile will not give back the son, then he has correctly predicted and the croc must hand over the boy, though then that means the father didn’t correctly predict because the crocodile didn’t keep him.

If that makes your brain hurt, I understand. FARGO isn’t quite as complex as all that. What it is, though, is a well-crafted series of events, some from cause and effect, others arising by chance, that intermix in such a way that there doesn’t seem to be an easy, logical way out for the main players. Since the show has ten episodes to tell their story, it isn’t obvious yet how unwinnable the scenario will be, but it does feel like this is the type of situation set up in “The Crocodile’s Dilemma.”

The cast is truly fantastic. Freeman and Thornton, of course, have a body of work that implies they can handle themselves, and they do, beautifully. But so do the rest of those named above, along with Kate Walsh (Private Practice), Colin Hanks (The Good Guys), Keith Carradine (Dexter), and numerous other guest and recurring roles, with a heck of a lot more famous folks signed to appear in later hours. Whoever put together this crew deserves major credit, as FARGO would not work without its cast.

Strangely, there are also a couple of parts that are left wanting, mostly because they are not played by big names, but seem like big names should have been obtained, meaning it feels like FARGO failed to get its first choice and settled for a replacement. The bully introduced in the first hour is definitely a “Tom Wilson type,” but is not portrayed by Tom Wilson. We also meet a “Stephen Merchant type” later on. I could be wrong about the second-choice standings, but these parts feel just too close to those performers to be played by anyone else.

Other than that, though, I have no complaints. FARGO is a compelling, highly entertaining masterpieces, crafted so intelligently, and executed in the best of methods. The tiny touches, such as a message spelled out on Lester’s refrigerator, kick the quality up yet another notch. I am already a firm fan of this miniseries. FARGO airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

Friday, April 18, 2014

GLEE Is Kid "Tested," Mother Sort of Approved

Article originally posted as TV Review: 'Glee' - 'Tested' on Blogcritics.

G3This week’s Glee is a bit odd. Though seemingly about love and sex, it sort of also promotes an abstinence agenda. Artie (Kevin McHale) gets an STD and loses the girl he likes because he sleeps with a couple of skanks. Mercedes (Amber Riley) wants Sam (Chord Overstreet) to wait until marriage to engage in carnal acts… maybe. And Blaine (Darren Criss) is feeling self-conscious, killing his sex life with Kurt (Chris Colfer). One would think this means “Tested” teaches a lesson that sex is bad at this age, yet most of the characters come out of the hour feeling the opposite.

I give Glee credit for tackling several elements of a sensitive topic without really taking sides. It dances around judgment, letting the characters fall into shades of grey, rather than being right and wrong. Many shows, this one included, often have a viewpoint they are trying to push. In “Tested,” however, it seems more a character exploration than a message episode, which is surprising in a good way, even if the execution is only fair compared with other recent installments (i.e. worst episode in the New York-centric run so far, but better than a lot of this year’s entries split with Ohio).

I have to admit, I don’t buy Artie as a ladies’ man. There is someone out there for everyone, and in the right environment, multiple partners may be interested in the same man at once. But Artie? He’s annoying and whiny and unlikeable. I barely understand why his high school classmates are pleased to see him in the city, let alone any new fellow students. I’m sure these girls could do better, and given Artie’s immaturity and nervousness when dealing with this week’s topics, how does he possibly handle himself in the bedroom in this scenario?

Artie seems an inconsistently built character. Which is all the more disappointing because Glee has portrayed people with disabilities and differences so well in the past and he’s the only one left in this category, no one else in the center of the story having something like this that sets them apart. But his wheelchair has nothing to do with his personality, and it’s the latter that’s the problem.

G2Artie’s conquests, Vanessa (Galadriel Stineman, The Middle), the crazy one, Jessica (Tahlena Chikami, Prom), the chill one, and Julie (Stephanie Hunt, Friday Night Lights, Californication), the sweet one, are a varied group. They all get to participate in Artie’s lame “Addicted to Love” number, and Julie pops back up in the confusing “Let’s Wait Awhile” performance, looking quite uncomfortable. None of the three really get developed that much as separate individuals, barely used in the songs, mostly as background, and more ‘types’ than fully fleshed-out people. So I guess they probably aren’t sticking around, leaving Artie back at square one.

“Let’s Wait Awhile” is confusing because it seems unnecessary in the thrust of the tale, as well as captures characters in ways that don’t quite gel with their established personas. Artie has to wait until his STD is treated, but he’s trying to play it off as being tender, which doesn’t suit the rest of him in this episode. Julie is understandably thrown because this is a first date and sex isn’t on the table. Surely she just wants to run off at this point. Why doesn’t she? She’s not shown to be shy later on.

Sam and Mercedes sing in “Let’s Wait Awhile,” too, as Mercedes asks Sam to wait for sex, and it’s just as confusing to their story. It’s hard to buy Mercedes’ religion as the reason she’d like to put this off, the girl singing a very secular (and unrealistic), though enjoyable, “I Want to Know What Love Is” in her church. This indicates she doesn’t have a ton of respect for the religious building, or she’s part of an extremely progressive congregation, which would most likely take a more liberal view on premarital relations. But I don’t quite buy the religious angle, either, because during Mercedes and Rachel’s (Lea Michele) girl talk, an excellent scene for the pair, Mercedes seems more scared about pain and pleasing a man than morality, and she hints later that she might not wait til there’s a ring on her finger after all.

Sam is a bit more consistent. It’s easy to see why the nineteen year-old boy wouldn’t want to wait forever, even if he does love Mercedes. But I like that he comes around, lighting a bunch of candles in a grand romantic gesture. I really enjoy the chemistry between the two, under-explored when they dated before, and I want to see them make it work. Sam does care deeply about her, so he’s willing to make the sacrifice. Good for him.

G1The final couple in “Tested” is Blaine and Kurt. Blaine is gaining the freshman fifteen (though his paunch only shows through in a couple of select scenes), letting himself go. The root cause is determined to be that he’s jealous Kurt has come into his own and doesn’t feel worthy of his fiance any more. This is a very sympathetic position, and it’s understandable how Blaine gets that way. Kudos also goes to Kurt for making sure Blaine feels comfortable discussing the issues and supporting his lover. Their union may be suffering some rocky stumbles, their beautifully-staged “Love Is a Battlefield” an excellent illustration of the latest, but it definitely looks like it has what it takes for the long haul. They’ll get through this.

One thing “Tested” does well is give us bonding time among pals. As mentioned above, Mercedes and Rachel get to share a special moment, and since we haven’t seen a lot of their friendship, this is really cool. Similarly, Sam, Artie, Blaine, and Kurt hang out at a restaurant a couple of times, enjoying one another’s company and offering advice. With this suddenly smaller cast, Glee has time to luxuriate in such dynamics, and it’s all the better for it, showing off a side of each player that is less well developed before now.

“Tested” isn’t the best episode musically; the songs more concerned with showcasing Riley’s amazing voice than furthering the plot, which is the major drag-down factor at play. (Side note: when is Sam going to get a true solo?) But the writing is more complex than I expected, and this does feel like new territory for Glee. If this is the worst installment we get in the New York run, it should still be seen as a triumph overall.

Glee airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

WAREHOUSE 13 Not "Endless"

Article first published as WAREHOUSE 13 Review on Seat42F.

WAREHOUSE 13 Episode 5.1 Photos Endless Terror
Syfy’s WAREHOUSE 13 has only six episodes left to air. This week’s season five premiere, “Endless Terror,” doesn’t have much time for final arcs, though, as it is mostly concerned with tying up the loose ends from the previous season’s cliffhanger. Looking at the episode descriptions for the final five, it sounds like this show will go out with some character development, rather than a major villain that must be defeated, so the understated premiere could be part of the design.

As “Endless Terror” begins, there is still a bad guy to take down. Paracelsus (Anthony Stewart Head) has control of the Warehouse and, by extension, Claudia (Allison Scagliotti). Pete (Eddie McClintock), Myka (Joanne Kelly), Artie (Saul Rubinek), and Jinks (Aaron Ashmore) try to break past the building’s defenses and get inside before Paracelsus can put together a couple of artifacts and carry out his dastardly plan.

Our heroes don’t succeed right away, of course, and the result is an action-packed hour full of time travel and alternate timelines. This conceit allows WAREHOUSE 13 to parade through quite a few familiar faces, including some characters that are no longer alive, a fitting tribute to the final year. Plus, we get Rebecca Mader (Once Upon a Time) as Lisa DaVinci, so that’s fun. It’s a pretty solid story in terms of the premise, and a good way to being a victory lap, even if it left me wishing this particular arc filled all six episodes, not just a single one.

The major problem in “Endless Terror” isn’t in the big picture; it’s in the details. It’s been awhile since WAREHOUSE 13 was on the air so I don’t remember exactly if it has always been as cheesy as this entry is. If anything, the episode seems much heavier on the schmaltz, more concerned with delivering zingers than making a cohesive tale with developments that make sense. As such, it certainly isn’t among the best of installments.

WAREHOUSE 13’s charm has always relied pretty heavily on humor. The funny things the characters say are a main draw, and that element is intact as ever. Nothing has changed about the writing or the chemistry. However, while the plot may have had a few instances of deus ex machine or happy coincidence in the past, it isn’t built heavily on them, and the characters are often in real danger, even if they try to play it off as if they aren’t. “Endless Terror” abandons the toehold on reality, laughing off potentially deadly circumstances is such a way that makes the show seem hollow.

If this is how the players will be treated, it may be a good thing that WAREHOUSE 13 focuses on growth and development of its central cast, rather than an epic battle. Claudia is still upset with Artie for hiding her sister, Claire, from her. Myka’s brush with death has to be weighing on Pete even more than he lets on. Those are things that beg further exploration, and will hopefully drive this last half-dozen adventures.

Will fans be disappointed if WAREHOUSE 13 goes out quietly? I think so. After all, the series has tackled large arcs before, with evil geniuses who are not easily dispatched. One would expect the final leg to take this quality to the next level, not to ignore it altogether. Yet, “Endless Terror” is seemingly the wrap up of the last of these, choosing a different path to go down now.

Of course, the main thing the series will be judged on this year will be the last episode ever. If they can manage to nail that, giving us emotional closure and a fitting conclusion, fans will forgive any missteps along the way. I’m cautiously optimistic because the writers have done some cool things in the past, but this first episode back is so uneven as to make me a little nervous. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes.

WAREHOUSE 13 airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on SyFy.

SUITS "Out" for the Season

Article first published as TV Review: 'Suits' - 'No Way Out' on Blogcritics.

S1USA’s best series, Suits, wrapped up its third season last week with “No Way Out.” Mike (Patrick J. Adams) decides to stay with the firm, much to Rachel’s (Meghan Markle) dismay, since this leaving for a new career is Mike’s way out from under his fraud. But then Eric Woodall (Zeljko Ivanek, Damages, Argo) of the Justice Department hauls Mike in for questioning on illegal collusion, and the whole situation becomes unpredictable and tense.

Although unrelated to Mike’s lie about being a lawyer, this twist really makes Mike evaluate his current path. He’s a great lawyer and he loves working for Harvey (Gabriel Macht), his best friend, but does he really want the threat of hard time hanging over his head forever? Not only that, but Mike’s actions could get Harvey and others he cares about in trouble. Woodall seems to be a wake-up call, a chance for Mike to take stock of himself.

Rachel’s frustration with Mike for wanting to stay is justifiable, but taking his decision personally is not. She tries to paint it as Mike choosing Harvey over her, but that’s not it at all. Mike loves the family he’s finally got and doesn’t want to throw that away. These are natural feelings. He solicits Rachel’s advice because he really does take her seriously, but in the end, he has to do what is right for himself. I hope she can forgive him for it.

Had Mike gone through with leaving early in “No Way Out,” before the Justice Department gets to him, Harvey would feel betrayed. Harvey tells Mike he should leave the firm, but he doesn’t want Mike to go. Their relationship could have been severely damaged, Harvey feeling like Mike is ungrateful for everything Harvey has done for him. Because of the events of the season finale, though, Harvey understands why Mike has to go, and their bond is stronger than ever, both having demonstrated their unconditional loyalty. Very clever story structure, Suits staff.

Could Mike ever go back to Pearson Specter? It doesn’t seem likely. It’s a huge shame that one of the leads, arguably one of the two most important people on the series, has to be away from the main group. He still has connections, living with Rachel, palling around with Harvey, and his new company being a client of his old. But it won’t be the same. The problem is, if Mike gets his law degree now, he risks exposing his past wrongdoings. And once he gets away from the guillotine, it’s hard to imagine he’ll want to stick his head back in. So he’s probably gone for good, unless there’s a non-lawyer job opening.

Jessica (Gina Torres) has to be relived that Mike quits. She and Harvey have an engrossing conversation about how they are becoming the man they both hate. They don’t want their firm to be one of lies and corruption. Jessica goes along with Mike for Harvey and because it’s too late to avoid exposure herself once she finds out. But not being close with Mike, this will be seen as a win for her, a chance to take control again.

Unfortunately, Harvey won’t see it that way. Losing Mike and his girlfriend, Dana (Abigail Spencer), in the same day is rough, compounded when the woman he trusts most, Donna (Sarah Rafferty), clearly doesn’t trust Dana. Harvey likely will think Donna is glad that Dana is gone, which could cause serious tension in their working relationship. The scene between Donna and Harvey early in “No Way Out” in which Donna asserts she just wants Harvey to be happy is stressful, not reassuring, and they are not on the same page here.

There’s still the question of if Dana is trustworthy. She pulls away from Harvey just when Harvey is being a good man, finally, though he does lie to her about Mike for awhile. Still, coming clean about the secret to her may not be wise. Harvey trusts that Dana won’t tell, but I’m not so sure. Their relationships has been rocky as of late. If she continues to date Harvey after leaving the firm, I will consider them fixed and Mike safe. If she moves on, as appears to be where Suits is heading, Dana could easily grow angry and bitter and want to get even with Harvey later.

The way Suits brings things back around when viewers least expect it is part of what makes the show so great. This season finale finds Mike arrested for something he did some time ago, not anything recent events have brought up.  Mike gets away with it, yet again, but there’s always a plethora of other shoes just waiting to drop from the things the characters think they’ve left behind.

It’s gratifying to see Harold (Max Topplin) not only return, but stick by Mike as a friend. Harold may be wavering in his resolve, but he is reigned in, and his first instinct is to toe the line. Part of me holds out hope Harold can come back to Pearson Specter, since he is unemployed again now, but another part doesn’t think the show will go that way, choosing a more realistic approach to situations over serving fans’ desire. Yet, this little taste of Harold makes me miss him greatly.

Louis (Rick Hoffman) also shines in the small parts of the episode he’s in, as he always does for Suits. Harvey asking Louis for help with the Justice Department is a meaningful, and Louis terrorizing Harold again is even better. Louis is the most interesting personality in a show chock full of interesting personalities, and I love that Suits keeps giving Hoffman the material to chew through, as the performer does such a stellar job of it.

“No Way Out” is full of character moments in a tense situation. It serves the plot well, but more importantly, it gives the players all chances to not only shine, but grow. This is actually quite typical for Suits, just ratcheted up a little for a season finale. It’s why I can’t wait until it returns again.

Suits will be back on USA this coming June.

S2

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

JUSTIFIED Penultimate Season Finale Review

Article first published as TV Review: 'Justified' - 'Restitution' on Blogcritics.

J2FX’s Justified completed its penultimate season this week with a nice wrap up of this year’s arcs, and an excellent setup for the final go-round. In all, it feels like the series is not only coming full circle, but preparing the perfect batch of endings for its motley crew of players.

The season’s antagonists have been members of the Crowe family. In “Restitution,” the season finale, Kendal Crowe (Jacob Lofland) is about to be tried as an adult for the shooting of Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen (Nick Searcy). Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) tells Kendal’s mother, Wendy (Alicia Witt), that the case will go away if she can get her brother, Darryl (Michael Rapaport), who is actually the guilty party, to confess. Wendy does so, killing Darryl in the process.

Justified does an excellent job of creating complex family relationships. Like Margo Martindale’s brood before them, the Crowes are developed quite deeply, and the shifting alliances and positions make sense to the story. Viewers may root against these characters because they are not on the right side of the law and hurt innocents, but rarely do we see bad guys so compellingly detailed as those in this series.

The ending, Wendy taking down the leader of her clan gang, is about a mother protecting her child, but also about making up for her own past wrongs and escaping a family curse. There is so much emotion that goes into that scene, and the authentic way Witt and Rapaport play the showdown is simply amazing. Let’s hope they follow in Martindale’s footsteps of at least being nominated come award season, as they deserve it.

It’s interesting to see the Crowes clean up their own mess, Raylan stepping back and pulling the strings from the sidelines. Usually, Raylan wants to be right in the thick of things. Perhaps having a baby convinces him that he must be more careful, giving him a reason for self-preservation. With his transfer to Florida to be near his kid imminent, Raylan doesn’t want to screw up his chance at happiness.

Of course, there’s still time for Raylan to make more mistakes as he helps with AUSA Vasquez’s (Rick Gomez) new mission, likely Raylan’s last in Kentucky: bringing down Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). Boyd is a dangerous and tempting foe, his path with Raylan inexorably entwined throughout the show. They have been friends at times, which only serves to make their animosity more intense. It makes sense for Raylan to want to be present for Boyd’s comeuppance. Yet, there’s a nagging suspicion that Raylan won’t be as triumphant as he expects, and maybe he should just get out of town while he’s ahead.

It’s cool to see Rachel (Erica Tazel), now the acting chief, and Tim (Jacob Pitts) go hard after Boyd. They’ve often been under-utilized on Justified, but with their beloved boss, Art, taken out of commission, they show their mettle in working towards justice. The Crowes and the Crowders are responsible for a great many ugly things, and Tim and Rachel definitely step it up when facing these foes.

Raylan will need his co-workers’ help because Boyd isn’t exactly acting alone. His most recent alliance is with Katherine Hale (Mary Steenburgen), whom Winn Duffy (Jere Burns) introduces Boyd to. Katherine seems nice enough on the surface, but there’s an undercurrent in her role that is edgy and scary. Boyd teaming up with her immediately makes taking on Boyd a more risky venture, sure to increase the stakes and drama in season six. Hopefully, though, they will be the only bad major bad guys, instead of splitting screen time as other years have done, allowing the stories to focus even more on them.

J1The marshals do have a secret weapon in Ava (Joelle Carter), whom they spring from jail. Ava likely cooperates even though she cares for Boyd because the months spent behind bars have been rough on her, and every day she spends locked up is another day she could die, having made more enemies than friends in confinement. She’s also a good choice as a weapon because Raylan knows her well and Boyd is blinded of suspicion by his love her for.

The Raylan-Ava-Boyd triangle, sure to be a centerpiece of the final season, cannot end well. Part of me is rooting for Boyd and Ava to somehow escape and find a happy ending. The other part of me knows they don’t deserve to avoid justice any longer. What is worrying is that it will be surprising if all three survive, one or two likely to be killed off along the way. The problem is, they are all too dear to go without being a huge blow to the program. We’ve spent years getting to know them, and any deaths here will be rough on fans.

I’ve been a fan of Justified from the first scene of the show. Over five years, it has maintained a consistent high quality, if not raising the bar from time to time. This inspires confidence that season six will be quite memorable, and with the stellar fifth year finale, it’s already on the right track.

Justified will return to FX in 2015.

COMMUNITY "Story" Far From "Basic"

Article first published as TV Review: 'Community' - 'Basic Story' on Blogcritics.

C1NBC’s Community has reached the end of its fifth season with the two-parter that airs this week and next. Part one, called “Basic Story,” finds absolutely no story happening at Greendale. This drives Abed (Danny Pudi) nearly insane, as there always must be a story. But no, the Save Greendale Committee has done its job and saved the school, so all is good in the world. That is, until an insurance appraiser (Michael McDonald, Web Therapy) finds the campus has value, and then the school board can’t wait to sell it off, meaning the Save Greendale Committee did their job too well and had the opposite effect on the school.

It’s absolutely fantastic that “Basic Story” starts with no story. True, Seinfeld made a ten-year run off of a lack of plot, but Community is a show that almost always has something going on. The meta way in which Abed references this, combined with his break down, as he sees his life as a television show and can’t cope with that illusion being broken, is funny and intelligent. It’s another new direction for Community, one that feels very apropos, should this end up being the series finale, the real end of the story.

Fans of Community have long pushed for six seasons and a movie, made famous by their hashtag. Since this is only year five, these viewers, myself included, do not want to see things come to an end now. It would be a promise unfilled, and a terrible tease to get so close to that goal and then fall short. Yet, as has frequently been the case in years past, Community teeters on the brink, unsure of it’s fate. Will the network please just give it one more run, bringing us that much closer to the twitter prophecy?

It’s hard to imagine talking about any other show in these terms, pointing to a social media trend and calling it destiny. Yet, for a series as weird as this one, a program that breaks all the conventional rules of the standard sitcom, it feels right. Just like Abed breaks the fourth wall within the confines of the series, Community should match up with the expectations and dreams of its fans. NBC would be stupid not to give it one more pick up, a gift to those who have followed it for so long, even if it barely makes financial sense. It’s not like the network has an abundance of other successful options to choose from.

If “Basic Story” and its second half does end up being the series finale, though, it is sure to be a good one. This whole fifth year has been a depressing tale of accepting life as it is and giving up on flights of fancy. Jeff (Joel McHale) has to be realistic, returning to the place that drives him crazy and accepting that’s where he belongs. That this place may now be yanked away from him, after he’s put forth so much effort to make it work, feels like the ultimate injustice, and yet one that fits with the tone of the show as a whole.

Jeff deals with the situation as fans would expect him to. At first, he’s in denial, even sending Abed away because he’s can’t cope with the possibility that there might be a problem at Greendale. Then, he acts like he’s OK with the outcome, dissolving the Save Greendale Committee without any huge, outward display of emotion. Finally, he prepares to hook up with Britta (Gillian Jacobs) again, even proposing marriage, settling in love as he does in life.

Some root for Jeff and Britta to be a couple, but I’ve long been a Jeff-Annie shipper. While Britta helps Jeff grow, usually unintentionally, she often feels like she’s the wrong choice for Jeff. In the end, she could be right, but not under these circumstances, where Jeff is just clinging to an anchor as the ship goes down. Their almost-sex is pathetic and sad, not celebratory or fulfilling. So Annie (Alison Brie) is still in the running!

C2Speaking of Annie, she allows herself to be pulled in to a treasure hunt with the Dean (Academy Award-winner Jim Rash) and Abed. At the last moment, Abed discovers a clue that could save Greendale from being bought out by Subway (anyone else getting Chuck flashbacks?), and they begin searching for the lost riches. This is zany, silly stuff, the kind that the best of Community is made of. But is it real, a Greendale mystery brought to light, or is it Abed forcing a savior into being where none exists?

“Basic Story” has other great character moments, too. The Dean’s breakdown is moving, Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) shoots off some terrific one-liners, and Hickey (Jonathan Banks) and Duncan (John Oliver) bond over an unexpected possible family connection. Best of all, Chang (Ken Jeong) betrays the group yet again. If this is how Community is going out, it’s fitting that Chang should become a henchman for the wrong side, the Subway stooge that spies on the group. Another excellent effort in a long string of them for this show.

Community will conclude its tale, at least for now, Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

BEING HUMAN The End Goal

Article first published as TV Review: 'Being Human' - Series Finale on Blogcritics.

BH1SyFy’s Being Human brought its four-season run to a close last week in “There Goes the Neighborhood: Part 3.” It’s a sweeping wrap-up for all three of the main characters, really concluding the journeys they’ve been on, giving them one last challenge, and then sending them off into an emotional sunset. For the British version, losing the main cast was just a stepping stone. But for Americans, this is how a show is expected to end.

Sally (Meaghen Rath) dies quite early in the hour, which is sure to be a big disappointment to some Being Human fans, since she’s one of the original trio. However, she’s definitely had her share of the story this year, and it feels very right that she should give up herself to save Aidan (Sam Witwer), whom she loves. It’s her way of finally achieving the heroic quality she has sought, and it really propels Aidan into his own conclusion.

Aidan is made human again by Sally’s sacrifice. His years of life quickly catch up on him, meaning he has only about a week to live, but that’s OK. At least he gets the chance to experience life as a human being again. He tastes cheeseburgers and spends times with his surviving best friends, Josh (Sam Huntington) and Nora (Kristen Hager). We do see Aidan go through stages of grief, too, depressed that he’s going to die, and trying to bargain a way out of it. But in the end, this is part of the complete cycle people experience, so it’s fitting, and he does find acceptance.

Aidan follows Sally’s example and takes himself out to save Josh. By going into the house alone to confront Ramona (Helen Colliander), the final big bad who, fittingly, has been involved in the proceedings through the series, secretly living in, or being, the house in which the main characters reside, Aidan gives Josh a chance at happiness. Both Aidan and Sally do something completely selfless, ensuring their friends will survive.

This means, they both get their doors. Neither character expects to be rewarded in the afterlife, believing, with good reason, that they’ve done too much bad to be forgiven. Yet, as all heroes do, they find inner strength, and it redeems them. Perhaps this finale is a little predictable, but it delivers the emotional punch needed, and it’s a fulfillment of what both have been working towards.

What this means is that Josh and Nora are able to be a happily married couple, not bogged down in the supernatural drama that has plagued them any more, raising a couple of kids in peace. It’s a little creepy that they name their son and daughter after the two deceased (and doesn’t it work out too perfectly that they have one of each?), but again, this is where fans wants to see them. They (meaning both the characters and the viewers) have suffered enough and deserve a little contentment.

BH2Being Human plays it safe in crafting the series finale because it gives viewers exactly what they want. This may make the tale predictable, but after four seasons, it also feels earned. Perhaps one could have asked for a little more drama, some twist that pulls away from the sappy, love-letter quality of the hour, but I don’t think anyone who has been watching is upset at the way things are done. It’s the ending most would have written themselves, if given the chance.

Does that mean that Being Human has solved the series finale conundrum that the creators of many popular shows have been struggling with these past few years? I think not. Being Human, while good, is a relatively simple show when compared with the others. Lost and Battlestar Galactica, among other series, had a multitude of directions they could have gone in, and different members of the audience wanted different outcomes. Being Human is more straight forward, so its mold won’t apply to everyone. But for what it is, it did well. I’m glad I tuned in.