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Monday, October 5, 2015


Article originally written for Seat42F.

MARVEL’S GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was an awesome surprise last summer, a film set far apart from the others the comic book company’s movie studio has released, yet thoroughly enjoyable in its own right. Full of unique, developed, magnetic characters and a moving story arc, it is worth repeat viewings, and has quickly sparked both a sequel and a cartoon spin-off. That spin-off, also titled MARVEL’S GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, premiered recently on Disney XD. And it is not worthy of the name.

I used to watch cartoons as a child, of course, but have not watched this type of cartoon since probably around 1990. The type I’m talking about is a formulaic action drama in which a generic group of bland characters jump from action scene to action scene, spouting trivial dialogue that means nothing to the story, and lacks any emotional depth or character development. MARVEL’S GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is exactly this, and could have blended in a late 1980s lineup seamlessly.

Gone is everything that makes MARVEL’S GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY special. Sure, the characters, including many of the supporting ones from the movie, are still there, as are the settings, and even the soundtrack. But they are all merely set dressing for a trite, flat adventure, not used to any real effect. For instance, Drax the Destroyer (David Sobolov, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare) still talks about getting revenge, but we no longer feel the sadness in his eyes. And Peter Quill (Will Friedle, Boy Meets World, Kim Possible) pops in the song “Hooked on a Feeling” as background noise as the team stages a raid, but it doesn’t mean anything like the songs do in the movie, it’s just static.

I am loathe to blame the voice cast, because I know many of them have good reputations in the voice-over world, though I haven’t watched most of their work. Yet, the magic that the original group, none of whom return, brought to the film is completely missing. Friedle’s Quill is fine, I guess, as a lead, but he doesn’t exhibit the layers that Chris Pratt communicated in each line. A large part of this could be because Friedle is not given the material with which to play, but part of it is the chemistry between the ensemble just isn’t there.

The plot itself is extremely A.D.D. In a single half hour, there are no less than six, arguably more, sequences that are all about shooting and running, both on the ground and in space. The movie has its share of action, to be sure, but it’s not constant. It slows down to get inside the characters’ minds. This cartoon shows no signs that it will ever do that.

Even the mystery of the pilot, in which Quill discovers that he’s half of a specific alien race, has no impact. That’s because the show has not given viewers enough time or substance to get to know the character. Now, being a follow-up to the movie, it might assume we already know him. But because this Quill is different, we need to meet him all over again, and we don’t get to.

There’s also much made as to whether the characters are outlaws or heroes. Gamora (Vanessa Marshall, Star Wars Rebels), of course, argues for the latter. Yet, since there are no consequences in sight for the former, no one questioning their motives or holding them accountable, the question is a moot point, merely included so Gamora gets a couple of lines, not because it matters.

The bottom line is, I won’t be giving this series another chance. It is a generic as they come, with none of the spark of its source material, and no compelling reason to tune in, the cliffhanger lacking any real sense of danger because of how tame the violence is. Not being a child any more, nor having one yet to seek an opinion from, I can’t say for certain if it will hit its target audience; after all, myself and many of my friends used to watch this kind of junk. But I know there is better, more intelligent programming out there for kids, and it would be nice to see even a little bit of effort on the part of this production to be something stand-out.

MARVEL’S GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY begins its regular run on Disney XD on September 26th.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Can I Get a "Witness" (Or Two)?

Article originally published as SLEEPY HOLLOW Review "I, Witness" on Seat42F.


SLEEPY HOLLOW returns for a third season on FOX with “I, Witness.” Ichabod (Tom Mison), gone these past nine months, returns home just as a demon begins terrorizing the town. Abbie (Nicole Beharie) is happy to see him and lend a hand, but her new job as an F.B.I. agent keeps her (sort of) busy, though luckily she’s still assigned to the area. But is the demon an isolated menace, or does a mysterious woman who happens to be fond of boxes portend further troubles?

I will be the first to say that SLEEPY HOLLOW is in need of a reboot this season. Last year devolved into a boring procedural that lost cohesion and became quite full of plot holes. But the way in which “I, Witness” begins could give anyone whiplash. Irving has left town, Katrina and Henry are really dead, The Headless Horseman is destroyed in the opening minutes, and the archive building is about to be torn down. Other than our two leads and Jenny (Lyndie Greenwood), who remains a helping hand, the show has tossed out just about everything that has anchored its first couple of runs.

That may or may not be a good thing. “I, Witness” is certainly an interesting episode. The demon is but a brief distraction, with the majority of the plot focused on more ongoing tales. There’s lots of banter between Abbie and Ichabod as they catch up, having not seen in each other in nine months, and the aforementioned mysterious woman, Pandora (Shannyn Sossamon, Wayward Pines), is definitely present to stir things up. That gets SLEEPY HOLLOW back to its strong roots, a sweeping mythology story of the two witnesses trying to stop the seven tribulations.

Where things fall apart a bit for me is the inconsistency in the way the story is laid out. Aren’t the seven tribulations basically supposed to be hell on Earth? How come almost no one has noticed the world is in serious peril yet? Abbie says she has a new job that keeps her busy, but she gets to run around with Ichabod as much as she wants during the day. (The fact that the demon gets mixed up in her unconnected case is just ridiculous.) And SLEEPY HOLLOW can’t decide if it wants to stick with history or not, bringing Betsy Ross (Nikki Reed, the Twilight films) into the story as a super spy. It’s a bit more jumbled than it needs to be.

Killing the horseman is the biggest miss. This is someone who has been a dangerous foe and has a lot of history with our heroes, and there isn’t even any set up to get him to this point. To wipe him out in a brief scene with Pandora feels wrong. He deserves more than to be written off without even getting the chance to fight back. I could be wrong in thinking he’s permanently deceased, but that’s what seems to happen when his powers are taken and he dissolves in the black smoke.

That being said, I’m willing to give this year a chance to make up for past wrongs. Betsy and Pandora are but two of the four new main characters, the other two sitting out this episode, though we’ve seen one of them before. The story seems poised to get back into longer arcs and more personal backstory. And Abbie and Ichabod are back to doing what they do best, saving the world with the same chemistry any other crime procedural duo has. So it looks like “I, Witness” gets things off to a mostly good start.

SLEEPY HOLLOW airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

New "Laws" for MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.

Article first published as AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Review "Laws of Nature" on Seat42F.

MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. - "Laws of Nature" - "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." (ABC/Kelsey McNeal)

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. does not do slow and quiet, as evidenced in the third season premiere last night, “Laws of Nature.” Months have passed, and Inhumans are starting to show up across the globe. S.H.I.E.L.D. seeks to catch and protect them, but they suddenly have competition in that market, and it’s not Hydra (or, at least not entirely Hydra). Not all the members of the team are focused on this, though, with personal issues driving the motivations of several.

Daisy (Chloe Bennet) is probably the most changed. Rejecting the name Skye, she now leads Coulson’s team to find the Inhumans. An intense opening scene in which she meets Joey Gutierrez (Juan Pablo Raba, Narcos) beautifully illustrates the challenges she faces, both physical and emotional. It’s not easy for someone to suddenly gain powers they can’t understand and control without warning, and while Daisy has gone through it herself, not everyone is receptive to her assistance.

Mack (Henry Simmons, now a full-time cast member) does his best to help Daisy, but he doesn’t have the same experience she has, so that’s why she approaches Lincoln (Luke Mitchell, also promoted to full-time). But Lincoln wants nothing to do with her, even after the monstrous Lash (former NFL player Matthew Willig), who looks like Raina’s overgrown big brother, destroys Lincoln’s new life. So Daisy is failing on multiple fronts.

Her failure does not mean that she should be written off. Daisy has shown remarkable strength and character over the past two seasons, growing into a very formidable member of the team, and earning authority despite her limited tenure. While she is drawn into MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. because of her past, she is well-poised to write her own future, and it’s a pleasure watching her go through this. And Lincoln will have to come around, eventually.

The best character on MARVEL’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., though, remains Coulson (Clark Gregg). Armed with a new hand (hehe), as we knew he would be, Coulson spends most of “Laws of Nature” tracking down Rosalind Price (Constance Zimmer, UnREAL, Entourage, House of Cards, etc.), his competition for the Inhumans. Their exchange in the subway is perfect, and in Rosalind, I feel like Coulson has met his match.

Though, they aren’t exactly on opposing sides. It turns out, someone is killing Inhumans, but it’s not Rosalind’s group. I think. (Maybe it’s Hyrdra?) So that means this could be a match made in heaven. Or T.A.H.I.T.I. Wherever. As long as Zimmer sticks around as long as possible (as allowable by her other work), I’m happy.

Speaking of chemistry, the electricity between Hunter (Nick Blood) and Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) has not cooled off. They are at odds and yet happy together at the same time. This pair has an odd balance, one born of both love and conflict, and yet it seems like they are as good together as they’ll ever be, and it’s nice. Someone on MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. has to be happy, and my vote is for these two. Who may very soon have their own spin-off anyway.

Poor Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) isn’t so lucky. He’s spent months trying to find a way to get Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) out of the monolith. Even Coulson gives up, telling Fitz it’s hopeless and she’s probably dead. The fact that she isn’t, instead trapped in an alien wasteland, with the rock-thing serving not as a cage, but a portal, only makes Fitz’s seemingly hopeless mission feel warranted.

I can’t help but wonder, though, despite not wanting Simmons off the show, if it might not have been a more powerful story to see Fitz dealing with a truly lost cause. The hero pushing on is a predictable archetype, and usually MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. is better than this. It also doesn’t feel entirely right that Coulson and others have given up on Simmons without confirming what happened. I’m still waiting for the twist to redeem this plot, such as Coulson perhaps still working on this in secret, and I expect there will be one coming. Hopefully.

Ward (Brett Dalton) and May (Ming-Na Wen) are both absent from “Laws of Nature,” but that’s OK. MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. has expanded its cast enough that not every player must be in every hour, and there’s plenty going on without them. Of course, I look forward to their imminent returns in the near future. But even sans those two, the season premiere is a solid one, setting up a new, interesting arc as the Inhuman-triggering substance spreads globally, and providing plenty of character drama meat to boot. This is a satisfying first episode back for a reliable series.

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

Is (CODE) BLACK the New Grey's?

Article originally published as CODE BLACK Review on Seat42F.

Code Black CBS

CBS, usually the home of crime procedurals these days, decided to try its hand at a medical one with CODE BLACK. Set in a busy emergency room, the title refers to the state the staff goes into if there are not enough personnel and resources to handle the patients coming through the door. While many medical facilities may see this occasionally, the one at the center of the show, LA County Hospital, goes through it on a regular basis, nearly every day of the year.

CODE BLACK is high energy fun. From the start to the finish of the episode, a lot occurs because the tempo of the setting is a very busy one. While the premise would not work at most hospitals, the specific scenario chosen seems realistic enough, and the pacing keeps things interesting. Viewers will not have time to get bored.

But it isn’t always realistic. The trap any medical show falls into is that the cases must be unique in order to engage the audience. House, M.D. kind of got around this limitation because of the nature of the unit that Dr. House ran, but most series, such as Grey’s Anatomy, just decide to suspend reality in this aspect of the program in order to make more compelling stories. Judging by the pilot, CODE BLACK does the same. I don’t know that this is strictly a negative aspect, since so many other shows do the same thing, but it is worth noting.

Credit goes to the production design, which makes the LA County Hospital look much more authentic than in other medical dramas. The white board shows signs of being erased many times over without a good cleaning, and the paint is cracked and peeling. Too many television programs go for the stylistic look, to their detriment, and the approach CODE BLACK takes lends more credibility to the presentation.

What a lot of crime shows forget to do is to make the characters the center of the show, and medical dramas tend to not have that problem as much. Sure, there are patients to treat constantly coming through the door, and most will not return for another hour. But while the focus of the majority of CBS’s fare is the investigation, with character moments saved primarily for the beginning and ends of the hour, medical series tend to focus on emotional arcs for their players throughout the installments, even while they are dealing with the emergencies. CODE BLACK is no different in this regard, which already gives it a leg up on its same-network peers (save The Good Wife, which operates in a similar manner, favoring character over formula).

CODE BLACK’s ensemble is delightful and given decent material. The person with the most authority on the floor, the renowned Dr. Leanne Rorish (Marcia Gay Harden, Trophy Wife), has gone through a tragedy that worries her former student and fellow doc, Neal Hudson (Raza Jaffrey, Smash). Together, along with long-serving Dr. Rollie Guthrie (William Allen Young, Moesha), they manage four new residents who have been assigned to them (played by Golden Boy’s Bonnie Somerville, The Brink’s Melanie Chandra, The Joneses’ Benjamin Hollingsworth, and relative newcomer Harry Ford). They are all cared for by ‘Mommy’ senior nurse Jesse Sallander (Luis Guzman, How to Make It in America).

When compared to others of its kind, CODE BLACK is more enjoyable and intriguing than most. I can’t say it has any single element that makes it stand out in particular, but I really like the chemistry of the cast, which is the heart of the show. It could be my new Grey’s Anatomy (which I love dearly) when that show goes off the air, but for now, it’s one of the few new broadcast shows this fall I consider worth watching. It lacks depth and falls a bit short on realism, but it’s still very entertaining overall.

CODE BLACK premieres Wednesday, September 30th at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Don't "Knock" GOTHAM

Article originally published as GOTHAM Review Knock, Knock on Seat42F.

GOTHAM: (L-R) Gordon (Benjamin McKenzie) and Captain Essen (Zabryna Guevara) in the Rise of the Villains: “Knock, Knock” episode of GOTHAM ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Nicole Rivelli/FOX.
As good as GOTHAM’s sophomore premiere is, the second installment, “Knock, Knock,” is even better. Gordon (Ben McKenzie) attempts to get Bullock (Donal Logue) to come back to work, but his former partner resists the force, happy at home with his fiancĂ©, Scottie (Maria Thayer). Meanwhile, Bruce (David Mazouz) and Alfred (Sean Pertwee) clash in a big way, and Galavan (James Frain) coaches his crew, though will he be able to control them for long?

“Knock, Knock” is the episode in which The Joker breaks out in a big, big way. While it’s true that the moniker has yet to be uttered, there is no mistaking whom Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan, Shameless) is as he gives a chilling, insane performance. Jerome is the villain who surprises, and the one who is hard to predict and understand. His slaughter at the police headquarters is maybe the darkest thing GOTHAM has done thus far, and it sets him up to be the most dangerous personality in a city choked with dangerous personalities, the first to truly give The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) a run for his money. I think if Galavan tries to continue to control Jerome, Galavan will not be long for GOTHAM.

I am disappointed to see so many officers get up off the floor at the end of “Knock, Knock.” It is plenty clear that Jerome and his men are not taking prisoners, and while I’ll forgive them for missing Leslie (Morena Baccarin), who hid, and Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), who heroically saved Ms. Kringle (Chelsea Spack), it doesn’t seem like they are leaving many alive at the time of the assault. I can’t help but wonder if the network required the shot of officers standing up to make the whole thing seem less violent for a broadcast network airing. It takes away from the brutality of the attack a bit. But that’s really the only weak spot in an otherwise outstanding episode.

Of course, Jerome’s actions prompt Bullock to return to work, which is super necessary. Essen’s (Zabryna Guevara) death is tragic, but it is also meaningful. We know Gordon and the police force have to be losing the struggle before Batman eventually shows up on scene, and “Knock, Knock” is the first big victory we see for the baddies. By losing Essen, the good side will galvanize and the war should begin to become all-out in the near future.

Speaking of Batman, I still can’t believe GOTHAM won’t show the caped crusader. It is true that Bruce is very young, but he already has Alfred training him and Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk) helping him set up the Batcave. We are in early stages of a superhero here, and I think we need a teenage Batman to enter and join the fight by season three or four. He can train with Ra’s over summer hiatus, no?

I am incredibly surprised at how far Barbara (Erin Richards) has fallen. Hanging around with villains is one thing, but “Knock, Knock” finds her taking an active, willing role in their nefarious deeds. She lures Gordon out of the precinct, allows him to be beaten up, then jumps on his chest and kisses him. She’s not only evil, she also seems crazy. This means that when she claims to ‘not be sick,’ she could very be wrong, and there’s still a chance that, with proper counseling, she could come back to him. But right now, that seems a far-off prospect.

GOTHAM has a lot of personalities to juggle, and the more they add, the less time the others get. Yet, the way “Knock, Knock” manages to serve Essen, Gordon, Bullock, Nygma, Bruce, Alfred, Barbara, and Jerome all so well proves how the writers have become quite adept at balancing everyone. With so much packed into a single episode, the possibilities open in the twenty episodes left this year are many, not to mention the multiple years this show should get in the future. With smart pacing and expertly woven complex webs, GOTHAM has the potential to be around for a long time, and deserves to be if it can keep up what it’s already doing.

GOTHAM airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Article originally published as ONCE UPON A TIME Review The Dark Swan on Seat42F.


ONCE UPON A TIME, there was an uneven series that lured its fans into false senses of security with excellent season openers and an occasional good run, but constantly disappointed in the end. This ABC drama returned for a fifth season tonight, and while the opener, “The Dark Swan,” is pretty promising, I don’t hold out high hopes that it will be able to maintain such quality, especially as there are worrying signs present.

As “The Dark Swan” begins, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) finds herself in the Enchanted Forest, haunted by the Dark One (Robert Carlyle) inside of her. She struggles to resist, remembering that, as a child (Mckenna Grace, The Young and the Restless), she was warned not to pull the sword from the stone. Since she will soon be in Camelot, this is wise advice to keep in mind. Oh, and she has a run in with wild, brave (hehe) red-head Merida (Amy Manson, Atlantis).

I really like the way Emma is handled in this episode. I was worried she’d immediately go evil, but instead, she really tries to keep herself in check with Merida, which wouldn’t be easy for the best of people. Emma may very well embrace her role as the Dark One, as the end of the hour indicates, but at least we know the Emma fans love is inside somewhere, doing her best to keep the power at bay.

Quick side note, why does ONCE UPON A TIME do another time jump and memory wipe? They’ve done it before, and I feel like they’re repeating themselves by doing it again. I understand it’s a hook meant to keep viewers coming back, but it has to organically fit in the story for it to not come across as a cheap stunt. It does not gel all that well in “The Dark Swan.”

Emma’s internal struggle raises an interesting point as it pertains to Rumple, the previous Dark One. Rumple manages to be good and redeem himself prior to his death in season three, but then reverts to a villain when he is brought back. If the Dark One’s hold is so strong that it cannot be overcome, how did Rumple manage to stay a hero for so long? And why didn’t ONCE UPON A TIME show us his warring as he fell back into old patterns?

An arc for Rumple similar to what Emma is going through now would have made the entire show make more sense and stave off some of the negative reviews I’d written in the past. The writers should take the opportunity no to bring this up, and even if it’s too late to entirely make up for that past mistake, it would still help a bit with the overall impression of the series.

Of course, the rest of our people will not let Emma sweat this out on her own. It’s a bit convoluted how it all comes about, but the eventual take away is that Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) allows Zelena (Rebecca Mader) to open a portal (and then she is recaptured), which Regina (Lana Parrilla) redirects to Emma. Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin), David (Josh Dallas), Henry (Jared Gilmore), Robin (Sean Maguire), and a surprising number of recurring players, including Granny (Beverly Elliott) and Leroy (Lee Arenberg), hitch a ride with our core cast in Granny’s diner on a twister.

The way the heroes get to the Enchanted Forest is fun and clever, though one wonders if it’s all not just a bit too much. Was it really necessary to bring the whole diner and get it operational again? I’m also super excited to see the dwarves and others come along, as Leroy rightly points out that they’ve been left out of the loop for far too long, but will they be well-used? And it’s weird they bring a baby with them, isn’t it?

I’m excited about Emma’s arc, a meatier role for supporting players, and the inclusion of King Arthur (Liam Garrigan, The Pillars of the Earth) and his realm. I’m worried about the amount of characters drawn unnecessarily into the primary arcs and that ONCE UPON A TIME has a track record of good starts that they can’t maintain. This doesn’t stop “The Dark Swan” from being a mostly enjoyable hour, but does not necessarily bode well for upcoming installments.

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

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

BLOOD & OIL Bad Combination

Article originally published as BLOOD & OIL Review on Seat42F.

Blood And Oil

It should not surprise you to learn that ABC’s BLOOD & OIL is a prime-time soap. After all, the alphabet network relies on the genre just as heavily as CBS does on crime procedurals. It’s sort of their hallmark. But there are good prime-time soaps (Grey’s Anatomy) and bad prime-time soaps (remember Betrayal? No? Me, neither). Which one is this?

Sadly, it is bad. A lot happens in the first hour of BLOOD & OIL, and it turns out to be too much. In an effort to keep the story rocketing along, the writers abandon even the slightest tinge of reality. A terrible car wreck? Yep, both occupants walk away unscathed. Need a large sum of money in a short amount of time? No problem, they’ll get it. Want to build a better life for yourself and your family? It only takes a week, but in this world, it could probably just as easily be gone in even less time. Half a dozen twists rocket past so fast you just might get whiplash. I don’t know how the production can possibly keep up this pace for twenty-two hours a year, as even in the pilot, it seems like they’re blowing through all the possibilities.

That just makes the show hard to get into. If you cannot relate to the people, or at least wish you were them, why would you watch? There isn’t a deep mystery, nor a bunch of secrets remaining hidden. It’s just betrayal and bad deeds, one after another, that cause harm to the other characters, and makes life harder. Then, a fantastical solution presents itself so that they can quickly move on to the next thing. The show itself has ADD.

BLOOD & OIL is basically an inferior Dallas. Inferior even to the recent TNT continuation of that show because of BLOOD & OIL’s all-over-the-place structure, with about an equal quality cast. As soon as you see the premise, you’ll see why Dallas is the first show that springs to mind to compare it to.

The cast is a solid B-tier. All of the actors are serviceable, but none stand out as excellent. They handle the scenes well, but without a lot of subtext. All of these performers could be well-used in certain parts, but not as the lead ensemble of a drama like this, and their combined average deliveries keep the show in the middle strata of quality.

Set in a North Dakota oil boom, we get a batch of moderately interesting players. Chace Crawford (Gossip Girl) is Billy LeFever, a brash young man with big dreams. Along with his high school sweetheart, and now wife, Cody (Rebecca Rittenhouse, Red Band Society), Billy borrows a lot of money from his family and friends and moves to a town he is sure he can strike it rich in. Once there, he meets tycoon Hap Briggs (Don Johnson, Dash Bridges), who ends up taking a shine to Billy. Hap has his own strong, loving partner, Carla (Amber Valetta, Revenge), and a screw-up son, Wick (Scott Michael Foster, Greek). These two families are the center of BLOOD & OIL, with a few townspeople sprinkled in every once in awhile.

What would make BLOOD & OIL worth your time? Perhaps a slower, more thoughtful arc in which the characters actually have to work for what comes to them. Maybe there could be some challenges we see them struggle to overcome. And perhaps some deep scenes which require more than a surface-level emotion could be added. None of this is evident in the first hour, and I’m not confident any of it will be incorporated into future installments, either.

BLOOD & OIL premieres Sunday, September 27th at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.