Sunday, November 10, 2019

Wake Up to THE MORNING SHOW

Article first published as THE MORNING SHOW: TV REVIEW at Seat42F.


WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the first three episodes.
One of Apple TV+’s new dramas is THE MORNING SHOW. Set at a Good Morning America type of series, the program follows anchors past and present as they navigate through the current political climate and their own ambitions. Featuring an all-star cast, this is probably the best program I’ve seen from the brand-new streaming service so far.
As the pilot begins, sexual harassment charges go public against veteran anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell, The Office). The network reacts quickly, firing him. Producer Chip Black (Mark Duplass, Togetherness) is thrown because he was preparing to let go Mitch’s on-air partner, Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston, Friends), go for being past her prime (in talent, not age). All this drama excites the new head of news for the network, Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup, Watchmen), and other anchors like Yanko (Nestor Carbonell, Bates Motel), Daniel (Desean Terry), and Alison (Janina Gavankar, The League) want the empty seat. But it’s little known, passionate, online sensation Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon, Big Little Lies) that swoops in and takes the spot.
The plot of THE MORNING SHOW is beyond juicy. It has the #MeToo controversy that is still so relevant, but also all manner of scheming and backstabbing. While none of the characters come off as unlikeable, there is plenty of insecurity and ambition. Besides those mentioned above, behind-the-scenes staff Hannah (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Touch) and Mia (Karen Pittman, Luke Cage) seem like key players, as does Alex’s secretly estranged husband, Jason (Jack Davenport, Smash). So there’s no shortage of participants, and not all of their motivations are immediately clear.
Add to all the individual concerns, there’s the business perspective of a network and a popular, but struggling, series that that must be taken into consideration. The Morning Show is losing ground to competitor Audra (Mindy Kaling, The Mindy Project) and looking to shake things up; Cory himself is a new approach. So even before Mitch blows everything up, there’s tension. But with this latest development, no easy way out is apparent, leaving the cast to fight amongst one another.
What’s more, there are actual questions of journalism and responsibility layered in. Bradley is temperamental, to be sure, but there’s a level of genuineness and naivety to her role. She believes in the profession and the mission, and doesn’t like being used as a pawn, which she’s smart enough to pick up on immediately. Will she bring back what The Morning Show needs to rise again, or will it chew her up and force her to be something she isn’t? And which needs to happen for the show to succeed? This isn’t The Newsroom, after all, and drama can equal ratings.
Perhaps the toughest part for some to swallow is the effort made to humanize Mitch. It’s very easy to write him off as soon as the rumors start, and the all-too-ripped-from-the-headlines button under his desk does him no favors. But then, in the third installment, Mitch is talking to his high-profile friend (Martin Short, Saturday Night Live) about snap judgments and nuance, and there’s a moment where some may start to feel sorry for Mitch. Not because his behavior was excusable (it isn’t), but because he truly doesn’t know why he’s been taken down, or how what he did was wrong. Should inappropriate consensual relationships be a death knell for a career? As a straight, white man, I refuse to weigh in on that and I certainly understand how some may have no sympathy for him, but I’m fascinated by the questions raised. What is an appropriate punishment for the details of his case?
Reviews for THE MORNING SHOW have been mixed, but I like it. It’s smart, it’s quick, and it makes you think about things we should all be considering more carefully than we usually do. Catch it now on Apple TV+.

UnderSEE

Article first published as SEE: TV REVIEW on Seat42F.


Part of Apple TV+’s slate of programming, SEE is a post-apocalyptic drama about tribes of blind people warring over mystical things, such as a pair of twin babies who can see. Plenty of battles and lots of animals skins and furs, it’s a show that appears to take place hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago, while actually having a slight futuristic sci-fi aspect to its fantasy.
Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones, Aquaman) capably stars as Baba Voss, leader of a tribe on a hill. Before the series begins, a mysterious woman, Maghra (Hera Hilmar, Da Vinci’s Demons), comes among them and is taken in by Baba, under his personal protection. But when she gives birth to a pair of babies, one male, one female, whom nurse Paris (Alfre Woodard, Luke Cage) says are special, an army of witchfinders threatens the people. Baba and his tribe must flee, and their escape route is supplied by the infants’ unseen true father.
The premise involves disease wiping out most life on Earth and the survivors being left universally blind. SEE is set hundreds of years after these events, but for some reason, the individuals in it live like historical tribal people. Why? Would it not make much more sense than technology was clung to, which would provide assistance for an unseeing people? Would that not be a more reasonable future after such a disaster? And even if technology could not be salvaged, why are most people far away from the remnants of what was? It’s quite late in the pilot before we see any ruins. Would so many people be willing to just walk away? And where are the new trappings of life that would be specific to a totally blind society?
Worse are the battles that are a key part of SEE. Some elements of different fighting are shown for the blind people, with special listeners and sensors. But there are melees typical of modern film, where there is much close hand-to-hand fighting. In such a situation, it would be nearly impossible to tell who is friend and who is foe without some major difference between the peoples. This could be in clothing materials or hair styles or something, but none is obviously present. There’s blind swinging and stabbing, and even some distance throwing of weapons that somehow strike their targets. Some care is given to adjust to the world in the premise, but not nearly enough. The battles don’t feel realistic, unfortunate as they seem to be key to the genre.
Character development is lacking, too. Most of the people are forgettable, blending together. Several warriors stand by Baba when the council of his people threaten to turn against them, but it’s not easy to differentiate between them. The acting is being sold as much as one can, but I don’t think the performers are given much to work with.
It’s not much of a mystery to me why Woodard and Momoa are the only very recognizable faces among these masses. I don’t know who would want to sign on to a half-baked fantasy series so soon after Game of Thrones. Horrible ending aside, GoT left a lot to live up to, and it would be foolish to try to follow it without a solid plan. SEE does not provide such an example. It’s closer to Vikings, which was somewhat good, but wasn’t under the pressure to stand out that this is. It’s hard to see it running very many seasons, even on a brand-new network that is motivated for its earliest shows to succeed.
SEE is not without any redeeming qualities. Production design is interesting, and there are some ideas worth exploring. It just doesn’t do enough to begin strong, and thus is unlikely to be more than a blip in television history, over soon and quickly forgotten.
SEE is currently running on Apple TV+.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Discover LIMETOWN

Article first published as LIMETOWN: TV REVIEW on Seat42F.


I discovered the scripted podcast LIMETOWN shortly after it premiered. I devoured both seasons (despite the long break in between) of the creepy drama about a town of more than 300 people that went missing without a trace, and the investigator with a personal connection seeking to expose the truth. I wasn’t alone, with the feed rising to number one on the charts about two months after its premiere. Now, that podcast is a live action television show, available exclusively on Facebook.
I get it, a show on Facebook, it sounds like a joke. Or some cheap web series of the kind that were popular about ten years ago. LIMETOWN isn’t that. It’s a well-crafted, slow-burn suspense tale with a decent budget and professional presentation. The episodes are half an hour long, and it’s very easy to believe you’re watching it on a cable or streaming service, rather than on social media.
While the actors in the original audio drama were mostly unknowns, the show has recognizable faces. Jessica Biel (The Sinner) stars as Lia Haddock, the journalist from American Public Radio, an NPR-like radio network, that digs into the case. If you haven’t seen Biel’s recent work and still dismiss her as ‘that girl from Seventh Heaven,’ I recommend you check out some of her credits. She’s really fantastic, and this role is no exception, playing a woman on the very edge of insanity and obsession.
Lia has haunting memories of her younger self (Vera Frederickson) interacting with ‘Uncle Emile’ (Stanley Tucci, Spotlight). Emile worked on the Limetown project alongside Dr. Oskar Totem (Alessandro Juliani, the newer Battlestar Galactica) and dozens of other scientists. The town included spouses, children, support staff, even pigs. But they all disappeared during a three-day period, with emergency personnel blocked from entering by private security, and then only Totem’s body found. Where did they go? Are they still alive?
LIMETOWN only really has one lead in Lia, although we sometimes see her boss, Gina (Sherri Saum, The Fosters), and assigned co-worker, Mark (Omar Elba, Berlin, I Love You), as she tracks down Lenore (Janet Kidder, Arrow) and other people hiding in the shadows. I get why the television series felt the need to expand the cast, but I’m glad it didn’t build up those roles too much to distract from the main plot. Although giving Lia a girlfriend (Kandyse McClure, also Battlestar Galactica) does help round out who the protagonist used to be before completely disappearing in her work, which she’s on the verge of when we meet her.
I won’t spoil how season one of the podcast concludes, which I assume will be similar for the show, despite being early in its run, given how faithful the story seems to play out so far. Though, there were only six episodes of that, while there are more for the visual medium, so I expect some more expansion, at the very least. All I will say is Lia’s story is tragic, and I’m really looking forward to seeing if the show follows the second season of the podcast into a somewhat new direction, or doubles down on the journey already being followed.
Without knowing how it ends, though, I am very satisfied with what’s been done so far. The first few episodes are gripping and intense, with a rich tapestry that is more (necessarily) complex than the original while maintaining its spirit. It’s graphic, but not too gory, and scary without relying on the jumps. On its own, it’s fantastic. As an adaptation, it succeeds. This is a show I would want to watch even if I wasn’t already totally engrossed in the story.
Watch LIMETOWN on Facebook, with two new episodes dropping every week, with six already out and another four to come.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

LIVING WITH YOURSELF Review

Article first published as TV Review: LIVING WITH YOURSELF on Seat42F.


Looking at the poster of Netflix’s new series LIVING WITH YOURSELF, you might think you know what the show is. After all, Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) has made plenty of comedies, and many of us know what those are. They’re familiar and amusing, but not usually ground-breaking or particularly memorable. I’m not picking on Rudd here, and I enjoy the genre he works in, but there’s a certain predictability to a lot of that resume. Toss in the clone aspect, and it seems like it’ll contain even fewer surprises, with the duplicate jokes having been done on numerous occasions in the past.
If that first paragraph describes your initial thought, as it did mine, you could not be more wrong. LIVING WITH YOURSELF is a very complex and rich tapestry of a world and story, with characters who go through complicated issues and question their identities. It’s funny, sometimes, but that’s beside the point, as it is so much more than that. Like The Good Place, it makes you think about what it means to be a good person, and this one also gets into motivation, the paths not taken, how experience shapes us, the idea of a soul, being one’s best self, and a lot more.
Rudd is excellent as Miles Elliot, maybe the best role in his career thus far. Or rather, roles, as he plays two versions of Elliot. One has been worn out by some tough things in life, frustrated with his job, and fighting with his wife. The other has the exact same memories, but a fresh body unencumbered by aches, pain, and stress, giving him a totally different viewpoint. He’s the idyllic Miles, the person Miles could be if he started over with a clean slate. It’s interesting just how much an attitude makes a different, but it requires a huge thing like being cloned in order to gain that new attitude. It’s a testament to Rudd just how different these two parts seem despite being essentially the same individual.
The cloning process itself opens up all sorts of questions. The operation is secret and shady, and at least some clients don’t realize the operation involves killing the original human after the copy is made. In Miles’ case, an error causes the death not to stick, and thus the problems are born. These two Miles share one car, one job, one social security number, which isn’t a practical way to live. And they both want that one life. Not to mention, the guys that run the cloning experiment (James Seol and Successions’s Rob Yang) have their own stuff going on.
In early episodes, Miles’ wife, Kate (Aisling Bea, The Fall), seems like the one glaring problem with the show. Not because of anything Bea is doing (or not doing), but because she isn’t developed at all, playing a pretty straight-forward, one-note spouse, the type present in so many shows and films. But by the fifth half hour, which centers on Kate, LIVING WITH YOURSELF proves the final piece of its worthiness by giving Bea a showcase to shine. As soon as her part of the story is filled in, the plot gets even better, really fleshing out the world in a needed way. We quickly care as much about her life as we do Miles, and that makes things so much more satisfying.
Other characters, including Miles’ co-worker Dan (Desmin Borges, You’re the Worst) and sister Maia (Alia Shawkat, Arrested Development) add little bits that will surely pay off, and there is a fair amount of mystery baked in, too. It’s a delightful, engaging mess of a world, one that feels very lived in.
I cannot recommend LIVING WITH YOURSELF enough. This show is excellent, stand-out in a landscape filled with great programming, and has something new to say. Season one is streaming on Netflix now, so go check it out.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

LOOK No Further

Article first published as TV Review: LOOKING FOR ALASKA on Seat42F.


While John Green may be best known for The Fault in Our Stars, and Turtles All the Way Down seems to have caught on quite a lot, his debut novel, LOOKING FOR ALASKA, is good, too. More raw, less polished than the others, it is written in the familiar style of Green, creating interesting teen protagonists, but without the complexity or level of insight some of his later works feature. If anything, the book feels a bit more personal to the author than those others, and I myself found the main character of Pudge easier to identify with. It was with this perspective I took part in It’s All Been Done Presents’ Quarterly Book Club last winter to talk about the novel. (That video discussion is available on YouTube or iabdpresents.com)
Excitingly, Hulu premiered a miniseries adaptation of LOOKING FOR ALASKA last week. If you’re a John Green fan, or fan of the coming-of-age story at all, you should watch it. If you liked the book, as I did, you should definitely watch it. It is a faithful adaptation of the source material, and I daresay, in the hands of the great Josh Schwartz (Gossip Girl, Chuck), is even improved upon, adding complexity to minor characters and better building out the world.
The plot begins with Miles Halter (Charlie Plummer, Boardwalk Empire) going away to a boarding school in Alabama, Culver Creek Academy, seeking ‘the great perhaps.’ Quickly and ironically nicknamed ‘Pudge’ by his assigned roommate, Chip ‘The Colonel’ Martin (Denny Love), Miles finds kinship and perhaps his perhaps with the offbeat Alaska Young (Kristine Froseth, The Society). However, tragedy both big and small will shake all three.
I do think the television show telegraphs the climax a bit too obviously. The opening scene of the series is an unclear look at what will happen, but it seems relatively predictable. The book’s countdown, echoed in the miniseries, does something similar, but perhaps with a bit more ambiguity.
That aside, however, LOOKING FOR ALASKA is terrific. It has fine performers and tells a great tale that is both narrow and wide, relatable and specific. Some events are re-ordered or differently emphasized than in the novel, but only in the service of the larger story. Having viewed five hours in a row (unable to stop myself after the intended one or two to write this review), I haven’t found a single issue with the departures Schwartz and the writing team have made.
The characters are better formed than on the page. Yes, Alaska is still framed by and large by how Pudge thinks of her, surely a disappointment to many viewers who wish for more gender parity and anyone who can see what an awesome job Froseth does in the role. Yet, the focus is on Pudge, with all other characters shaped by how they relate to him, and some manage to stand out around him. Love does an absolutely stunning job as the complicated Colonel. Ron Cephas Jones (This Is Us) rounds out a great subplot as Dr. Hyde, an elderly teacher who understands the kids better than they think. Timothy Simons (Veep) makes a potentially one-note authority figure someone that is understandable to be sympathetic with a little distance the students don’t have. Sofia Vassilieva (Medium) is heartbreaking as Lara Buterskaya, Pudge’s more attainable love interest. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jay Lee’s (American Vandal) performance as Takumi and the memorable guest turn by Deneen Tyler (Treme) as The Colonel’s mother, Dolores.
While now in my thirties, I am still a sucker for a well written version of adolescence, and LOOKING FOR ALASKA delivers that in spades. Many try to capture the spirit of the age, but few do it as well as John Green or Josh Schwartz, and their union delivers a near-perfect result.
I have to stop writing now because I can’t wait a minute longer to finish out this miniseries. I highly recommend it. All eight episodes are currently streaming on Hulu.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Activating TREADSTONE

Article first published as TV Review: TREADSTONE on Seat42F.


USA recently premiered a new drama series called TREADSTONE. If that name rings a bell, you are likely a fan of the Bourne films, and this show is set in that universe. Sleeper agents from the Treadstone project are being awoken to carry out assassinations. Can they be stopped, and should they be? Who knows about them, and what will they do with that information? Which random (physically fit) person walking down the street could be the next one activated?
Full disclosure, I didn’t care for the first Bourne movie, and never gave any of the sequels a chance. However, I did like the pilot of TREADSTONE. It is action-packed and full of mystery. It’s easy to get sucked into the situation as it is presented. Part of my issue with Bourne was how hard it was to follow, and the television continuation seems to do a much better job of laying out the myriad of questions while still allowing viewers to keep track of everything they need to know. It’s a hard thing to balance, and it seems to be well done here.
I also like much of the cast. Gabrielle Scharnitzky (Storm of Love) stands out as an older KGB agent named Petra who is protecting some very classified secrets on her farm. Her story is immediately sad, but also a bit humorous, and certainly compelling. Emilia Schule (Berlin Station) is interesting as a young Petra in flashback, and I look forward to seeing how the two will connect their character through the years. Michelle Forbes (The Killing) is always excellent, and her role as Ellen Becker, a CIA veteran trying to manage the fallout of these events, is no exception. Hyo-Joo Han (Dong Yi) is also impressive as one of the first sleepers to wake up, SoYun Pak. Can she continue her dual life, especially as she doesn’t understand half of it?
The male portion of the ensemble is a little less solid, though that may be at least partially due to inferior material to work with. The one who stands out the most from this gender is Brian J. Smith (Sense8) as Doug McKenna. Doug appears completely unaged between flashback and the current day, a confusing fact not explained in the first episode. He rings a little too close to Jason Bourne for my taste, and his plot threatens some of the same avenues I didn’t like about the initial movie. Hopefully, this will be overcome by the strong women’s roles.
As far as the look and direction of the show, it’s spectacular. With an international setting, there is a wide range of places covered and no limits to where the tale may go. Episode one makes full use of this premise, and I would expect the series to continue to expound upon that over time. The tone is consistent and the pacing is fast, but not too fast. From a technical standpoint, I have no complaints.
I’m not sure if I will watch any more of TREADSTONE. I likely won’t purely because I didn’t connect to the source material, and while there are some impressive elements, especially concerning Petra, Becker, and SoYun, the weakness of other characters make the show a maybe-dump. With so many other strong options to watch, it’s hard to argue for even a good series with these initial problem areas. A deciding factor could be the creator, Tim Kring, who wowed with the first season of Heroes before disappointing fans in subsequent years. That, in my opinion, is just enough to tip the balance against this show, though not by much.
TREADSTONE airs Tuesdays on USA.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Investigating NANCY DREW

Article first published as TV Review: NANCY DREW on Seat42F.


After the success of Riverdale, it’s not surprising that the CW looked for other well-known properties to darken and expound upon. Enter NANCY DREW, which premiered this week, and was developed by CW staples Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, along with Noga Landau. The drama finds the famous literary girl detective entering adulthood and dealing with the death of her mother, surrounded by peers who she doesn’t consider friends. Toss in sex and the supernatural, and NANCY DREW is adapted into a show typical for the network’s fare.
Nancy Drew is an obvious character to undergo this treatment. She’s already been adapted into television and movies multiple times, each with their own take on the sleuth. She also evolved over the years in her book series, changing with the times. So there isn’t a definitive version of the heroine that the series must live up to. Instead, for a character that has already proven highly malleable, there’s a long leash as to what can be done with her.
Virtual newcomer Kennedy McMann stars as the titular character in this version. In keeping with the network’s other programming, Nancy is surrounded by a group of friends, not totally unheard of in the written works, but also not nearly so present in most iterations. They include her current hookup, Ned Nickerson (Tunji Kasim, Nearly Famous), old nemesis and boss George Fan (Leah Lewis, Guidance), rich girl and fellow waitress Bess Marvin (Maddison Jaizani, Versailles), and a new addition to the lore, perhaps to make the cast more gender balanced, burnout dishwasher Ace (Alex Saxon, The Fosters).
And in keeping with CW formula, there are a couple of adults tangentially involved. These include Nancy’s dad, lawyer Carson (Scott Wolf, The Night Shift, Party of Five) and his love interest, Detective Karen Hart (Alvina August, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), as well as socialite Ryan Hudson (Riley Smith, Proven Innocent).
NANCY DREW has a ton of clich├ęs for a teen drama, even if the main characters might not quite be teens anymore. They are more advanced in their careers than most people their age, with George running the diner and Ned having his own autobody shop. There’s at least one who engages in inappropriate behavior with a much older adult. There’s forced drama between them, with Ned boasting a criminal past, even though there’s zero tension that he might actually be dangerous. And the small town setting allows for huge coincidences, like the fact that Nancy’s father represented Ned in court and keeps his file readily accessible to her.
But that’s not all that NANCY DREW has working against it. It just feels flat. While I don’t think any of the actors, taken separately, are horrible, none are stand-outs, either. The pacing is weird, the twists feel forced, and the story feels gimmicky. The supernatural element comes across as forced in. The romantic aspects are unbelievable. The murder mystery and town lore isn’t compelling. Not to mention, a big chunk of the pilot is just a huge exposition dump, which isn’t a great way to start a series. Backstory is told to us right off the bat, rather than doled out over time as the tale progresses.
Even Nancy’s mother death, which could be formative, is hokey, used as an excuse for the cheery Nancy to go dark, making her backstory the lighter substance of what the character usually is, though I can’t imagine anyone being cheery in the environment presented, clashing with the tone of the show. Veronica Mars did this same type of story so much better, and with a new season of that having dropped just a few short months ago, this will definitely suffer by comparison.
In case you couldn’t tell, I didn’t like NANCY DREW. While I may not be the show’s target demographic, I usually enjoy shows in this vein, new and old, including Riverdale, Dawson’s Creek, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, The Vampire Diaries, and even Gossip Girl. I appreciate a good soapy spectacle, even if it’s a bit fluffy. However, NANCY DREW just doesn’t have enough attractive elements going to reach even someone predisposed to like it, so I can’t recommend it.
If you want to anyway, NANCY DREW airs Wednesdays on the CW.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

In Swoops BATWOMAN

Article first published as TV Review: BATWOMAN on Seat42F.


The CW’s Arrowverse expands again with BATWOMAN, a new drama that launched last night. The story begins when Kate Kane (Ruby Rose, Orange is the New Black) leaves an intensive training program to return to her home city of Gotham. The woman she loves has been kidnapped by a supervillain and she wants to help. Rejected by the paramilitary organization that has replaced the missing Batman in keeping the city safe, which happens to be run by Kate’s father (Dougray Scott, Hemlock Grove), Kate discovers cousin Bruce Wayne’s (not yet seen) secret and dons the cowl herself.
BATWOMAN has some major things going for it. It features the first lead lesbian superhero on television, and she’s just one member of a diverse cast. There are complex, convoluted relationships that won’t easily be worked out and some intriguing surprise twists in the pilot. It’s dark, which makes sense because the darkest contribution to the Arrowverse is Arrow itself, about to begin its final season. It’s also dark like Batman, and we’re in his setting.
The darkness also works against it, though. Arrow has always been the least fun of the group. While it is respected for kicking off the whole interconnected universe of DC Comics television, it has given way to lighter shows that have heft without being depressing. Do we really need a replacement in this category?
It’s also a bit messy. The connections between Kate and Bruce aren’t fully explained, and the show chooses to briefly mention or hint at several family relationships, rather than really exploring them. While this does keep the story moving, people who haven’t read the comics may struggle to figure out how all the characters are connected, both to Batman and to each other. For instance, while Batman fans will likely assume Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson, Unproductive) is Lucius’ son, that isn’t confirmed in episode one. It’ll probably become clear in time, but the series doesn’t take the minutes to do it right off the bat, making it less accessible.
It’s also confusing how BATWOMAN connects to Arrowverse immediately. If it’s set on Earth 1, which is a fair assumption to make since all the shows except Supergirl are, we’ve already seen Earth 1’s Batwoman. It occurred last year during the big crossover event, and she was already established as a hero. Yet, in the pilot of Batwoman, she hasn’t yet donned the costume. I’m expecting and hoping for a big time jump soon to bring her back in line with the other series before the next crossover, which will be coming soon. Otherwise, it could be really weird and off. Unfortunately, there’s no mention as to when that is actually taking place, though the fact that Batman is said to have been gone for three years indicates this may be starting just a little before her 2018 introduction.
This complaint about the timeline isn’t all bad. While jumping forward in the tale so soon after premiering could very well be awkward, I’m glad BATWOMAN took the time to explore the hero’s origin story. She’s not nearly as well known as a Superman or Spiderman, so skipping over it is not optional. The origin itself is interesting, especially the parts about her sister, and I’m glad it’s included.
The main villain in BATWOMAN seems to be Alice (Rachel Skarsten, Lost Girl), and she’s not only crazy, but has lots of cool secrets. I also like Kate’s step-sister, Mary (Nicole Kang, You), who feels anything but a stereotype.
Of course, the fact that Kate is gay is also groundbreaking and will provide important stories. One started right away is that Kate’s love interest, Sophie (Meagan Tandy, Teen Wolf), is married to a man despite Kate and Sophie’s past. There’s a military component, too, and the service’s unfriendly attitude towards homosexuals, though I don’t see BATWOMAN being as overtly political as Supergirl.
I have mixed feelings about the pilot of BATWOMAN. I’m far from ready to write it off, but I’m not fully on board yet, either. Hopefully, it will find its footing before it has to put its own stories on hold to deal with the larger universe it’s a part of.
BATWOMAN airs Sundays on the CW.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

EVIL Stirrings

Article first published as TV Review: EVIL on Seat42F.


CBS has an EVIL new drama, which premiered last week. It’s about a team of investigators who try to determine if miracles and possessions are real. They are skeptics, not believers (for the most part), and the series is about them as people as much as it is about their cases, a departure from the network’s typical procedural formula (though there’s a bit of that in there, too). Will they prove a god and/or Satan exist? Or will their job be a series of debunks?
EVIL was created by Michelle King and Robert King, the minds behind The Good Wife and its spin-off, The Good Fight. Both of those shows, while legal in nature with specific trials and negotiations dealt with, were far from the basic procedural, and provided some wonderful characters over the years. Two episodes in, my impression of their new series is that it will be the same, a rare gem on a mostly has-been network.
The clear lead is Katja Herbers (Westworld, Divorce), who plays Kristen Bouchard. Fired from her job for not being willing to bend the truth on the witness stand while professionally testifying, Kristen is desperate. She’s at home with four daughters (Brooklyn Shuck, Rise; Skylar Gray, Married; Maddy Crocco; and Dalya Knapp) while her as-yet-unseen husband guides mountain climbing expeditions. Thankfully, her mom, Sheryl (Christine Lahti, Chicago Hope), lends a hand, but that’s not nearly enough.
A quick note about the kids: They seem pretty interchangeable and generic at the start, but I don’t believe they’re likely to stay that way. There are a lot of characters and a lot of story threads in EVIL, and for now, the girls are mostly a plot device to ratchet up the stress on Kristen, seen almost exclusively in a group. However, episode two started to distinguish one from the herd, and based on the creators’ past works, I find it probable that viewers will soon be able to distinguish them as individuals quite easily. It just may take a bit of time.
Back to Kristen, she is saved from unemployment by none other than the Catholic Church. Specifically, would-be-priest David Acosta (Mike Colter, Luke Cage), who asks for her help. The two, along with Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi, The Daily Show), make up the team that drives the A story of the initial offerings.
However, EVIL is more than one woman’s work and home life. We see her in therapy with Dr. Boggs (Kurt Fuller, Psych), which strangely ties into the first case. She is visited in her dreams by a demon named Georgie (Marti Matulis, Teen Wolf). And David is taunted by a man who might be supernatural, or at least have supernatural connections, named Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson, Lost).
That’s an ambitious workload for a broadcast network show, especially one on this particular channel. It’s a complex, well-developed world that presents a lot of questions without giving a lot of answers. I wouldn’t call EVIL particularly religious, but it’s not exactly not religious, either. It doesn’t have a point of view or agenda that it’s pushing, with various characters representing varied viewpoints, and none seeming to be more correct than any other. It’s a setting and premise to dwell in, showing us possibilities, rather than telling us what to think.
I like EVIL a lot. Already a fan of the Kings, I think this is every bit as intriguing as their previous shows, as well as being quite a bit weirder. The opening credits of EVIL are reminiscent of The Good Fight, while its lead has echoes of an in-over-her-head Alicia from the beginning of The Good Wife. It seems an evolution of their writing, and one that will probably be quite compelling.
EVIL airs Thursdays on CBS.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Elect THE POLITICIAN

Article first published as TV Review: THE POLITICIAN on Seat42F.

Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan, the minds behind FOX’s former shows Glee and Scream Queens, have re-teamed for a new Netflix drama entitled THE POLITICIAN. Like their previous efforts, this one centers on young people who act in hyperreal ways, working hard towards single-minded goals with little regard for who they hurt. These kids act like unscrupulous adults, but the show doesn’t prove they aren’t, instead existing within the high stakes laid out by the protagonists, no tongue in cheek wink that the real world will make this all seem trivial in retrospect.
There is a particular style and tone to THE POLITICIAN. Murphy and Falchuk work with high production concepts in American Horror Story, Pose, and their other television series. But this one is a bit different. It’s more like a Wes Anderson flick than their usual work, down to the young, precocious male lead, characters standing stock still in specific places, and the occasional shot of a furniture description page. THE POLITICIAN’s characters aren’t as odd as those in an Anderson work, and it can sometimes take a viewer out of the story here. But overall, it’s mostly a quality work.
Ben Platt (Pitch Perfect) stars as Payton Hobart. Adopted by the ultra-wealthy Georgina (Gwyneth Paltrow, Avengers) and Keaton (Bob Balaban, Gosford Park), Payton feels less valued than his parents’ biological twins, Martin and Luther (Trevor and Trey Eason). Perhaps to make himself noticed, Payton makes it his mission in life to become president of the United States. His immediate focus: win the presidency of his student body. Which is easier said than done with pretty boy and popular kid River Barkley (David Corenswet, Moe & Jerryweather) standing in his way.
There are others involved, of course. Payton wants cancer patient Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch, Ringer) as his running mate to get the sympathy vote, not being aware of what Infinity’s Aunt Dusty (Jessica Lange, American Horror Story) is up to. River’s girlfriend, Astrid (Lucy Boynton, Gypsy), is a serious impediment, and Payton’s girlfriend, Alice (Julia Schlaepfer, Charlie Says), might be one, too. Payton’s advisors, McAfee (Laura Dreyfuss, Glee) and James (Theo Germaine, Adam), don’t always see eye to eye.
Yes, Payton has advisors. The election is treated almost as seriously as an adult campaign would be, and the stakes are just as high if Payton wants to achieve his dreams.
Platt is perfectly cast, playing a role so close to his Tony-winning turn in Evan Hanson. There’s even a dead guy and a crisis of conscience for him to play off of. The rest of the cast seem similarly well suited to their roles.
If I have one complaint about THE POLITICIAN, it’s that it seems very convoluted. There’s a lot going on, and circumstances change quickly with each new twist, of which there are many. Plenty of small moving parts could blow up and derail things at any time. However, other Murphy projects have been similarly dense and came out pretty well, so I think it’s best to have patience and wait. Besides, the character study of Payton seems rich on its own, at least from the first couple of episodes, and may be worth it even if the overall plot is less than satisfying, as has been the case on a couple of seasons of American Horror Story.
If you like Ryan Murphy and flair, you’ll probably like THE POLITICIAN. If you don’t like his other work, don’t expect anything too different here. Not that Murphy is one-note by any means, but he does what he does very well, and this is another variation on those themes.
THE POLITICIAN’s eight-episode first season is available now on Netflix.