Monday, November 19, 2018


Article first published as TV Review: BODYGUARD on Seat42F.

Netflix recently added another British drama to its mix. A modern political thriller, BODYGUARD follows a military veteran assigned to protect a Home Secretary whose views he despises. Is this a commentary on hyper-partisanship, or a message of how we can all get along? You’ll have to watch and find out.
The first episode spends a long time introducing Sergeant David Budd (Richard Madden, Game of Thrones). We first meet him traveling on a train with his children, and we learn who he is by how he handles a suicide bomber, at odds with how law enforcement would like to resolve things. Then the show moves on to what will likely be the main plotline of the series.
I have some issues with this opening. For one, it definitely gets the audience behind Budd. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for a protagonist, but considering there seem to be two very central characters to the series, it would be nice if there was some better balance. Viewers will likely take Budd’s side in any future conflict purely because we get to see him being a hero first. Not to mention, the portrayal of other police officers on the scene is mostly playing with stereotypes and tropes, rather than reasonable, seasoned people doing their job well. By the time a second character enters who seems a little like Budd, the damage is done.
After this, we find out that Budd’s marriage has fallen apart, though even that comes off as not exactly his fault. Which is where he is when assigned to BODYGUARD The Right Honourable Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes, The Durrells in Corfu). Budd has to tamp down the things that make up his identity in order to just be the job. There’s some good drama in that, even if who he is might just be a larger than life hero.
For her part, Hawes makes Montague likeable. Her policies are quickly revealed to be extreme and at odds with Budd’s beliefs, but otherwise, despite a nasty first scene, Montague is sympathetic enough. BODYGUARD does a fine job showing the pressure she is under and the tough decisions she has to make.
Or does it? As mentioned, Budd is who we’re rooting for, so where there’s conflict, Montague is operating at a deficit. Other characters introduced have very negative opinions on Montague, too, so things just keep stacking up against her. It’s quite a testament to Hawes that she can diffuse that hate, at least for the first episode. I do wonder how things will progress with the deck this stacked.
I am being a bit negative, but mostly because I think BODYGUARD has the bones of a very good series in it. If the pilot were adjusted slightly, it could start on more sure footing, which I suspect the other five hours will have. Will audiences stick with it long enough to find out, or will they turn it off early, as I was tempted to do? I’m glad I finished the first episode out and look forward to watching the rest, but it’s a bit concerning.
As far as direction, acting, and production design, BODYGUARD is excellent. As with most dramas these days, it skews dark, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the world it is portraying. There’s also a timeliness to it that feels important in the current political climate. It’s good to raise issues, whether they are resolved or not, and get people thinking about what freedom is worth. Putting a face on opposing viewpoints is also beneficial.
So in conclusion, the BODYGUARD is very good, almost great. Check it out on Netflix, where the entire first season is available now.

Sunday, November 18, 2018


Article first published as TV Review: HOMECOMING on Seat42F.

One might think it would take a unique series to lure Julia Roberts to the small screen. While crossing over from film to television is anything but uncommon these days, there are still some stars that seem too big to make the move. Well, Amazon’s HOMECOMING is definitely unique. And if you’ve forgotten just how good Roberts is, this series will remind you of that.
Roberts stars as Heidi Bergman, an administrator and counselor at Homecoming, a facility to help soldiers reintegrate into society after traumatic active duty. Heidi truly seems to want to help, though she has to balance that desire with the strict, demanding instructions of her boss, Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale, Ant-Man). We learn early on that whatever she intends doesn’t pan out, and four years later, she’s working as a waitress. But why? What happened?
HOMECOMING is a twisty, suspenseful tale. Most of the plot is set at the facility in 2018, with the 2022 flashforwards making up only a few minutes of each episode. The tone is that of an old Kubrick or Hitchcock drama, with bizarre directing shots to match. It feels out of time in sort of a semi-reality where you can’t trust anything you see. The paranoia is purposeful and not unique to the viewer, as at least a couple of characters share it, too. The closest thing I can compare it to on the modern landscape is Mr. Robot, which makes sense because it has the same creator, Sam Esmail. The mystery plays out slowly in a way that begs to be binged. Thankfully, Amazon dropped all ten episodes of season one at once (though I’ve only had time to view three so far).
The cast around Roberts is every bit as good as she is, pulling together a remarkable ensemble. Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire) is Thomas Carrasco, the man following up on a complaint about the facility in 2022, and gently nudging the spilling of secrets. Sissy Spacek (Bloodline) is Heidi’s mother, Ellen, who tells her daughter she’s lying to herself. Alex Karpovsky (Girls) is an employee at Homecoming. Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding) is Heidi’s boyfriend in 2018, pushed aside in favor of her work.
Then there are the patients themselves. Stephan James (Selma) plays Walter Cruz, the main patient we see and the subject of Carrasco’s inquiry. Walter seems well-adjusted, like he doesn’t belong in the program, but is happy to go along with things. He gets along well with Heidi, developing a camaraderie that is more intimate than I imagine most doctors and patients share (though completely chaste, at least three installments in).  Their bond is immediate and interesting.
The thing that interrupts Cruz’s peaceful stint is his loyalty to fellow soldier Joseph Shrier (Jeremy Allen White, Shameless). Shrier is suspect of everything Cruz takes for granted, insisting that they aren’t even in Florida. Shrier is painted as the crazy man who is probably right, though only time will tell if he’s close to the truth. More importantly, he complicates Cruz’s tenure and treatment, keeping the story quite colorful.
HOMECOMING is based off of a scripted podcast by Gimlet Media starring Catherine Keener as Heidi. Which may explain why the episodes are less than half an hour each, despite being far more drama than comedy. And it’s probably the best adaptation of a podcast I’ve seen. It takes the best elements of that format, and even without having listened (yet, though I definitely will), I can see what parts have been carried over. However, it isn’t distracting as the show also makes full use of the visual medium, seamlessly blending the two in a beautiful, near-perfect marriage.
(Disclosure: I am the creator / head writer of a long-running, scripted, serialized comedy podcast called It’s All Been Done Radio Hour, so I might be a bit more enamored with the medium than most.)
I love HOMECOMING. I think it’s a stellar effort, well done on every level, and the perfect vehicle for Roberts and the rest of the cast. Check out the whole first season on Amazon Prime streaming video.

Monday, November 12, 2018


Article first published as TV Review: TITANS on Seat42F.

DC Universe is a new subscription service from DC Comics. Members get access to comic books, television shows, movies, and more from the company’s properties. To help gain subscribers, the service is also offering brand-new content, the first of which is a small screen drama called TITANS.
If you’re not familiar with the comic of the same name, or even the very-different animated series Teen Titans, TITANS is a group of young superheroes led by Robin, Batman’s former sidekick. There have been different versions, but this one is dark, very dark, and bloody. So adults only, please.
As we meet Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites, The Giver), his alter ego, Robin, hasn’t been seen in a year. Most people assume he’s dead. But really, he’s just working as a detective, recently transferred from Gotham to Detroit, Michigan. Grayson has a soft spot for battered children, possibly because of his own tragic past (his origin story is shown very briefly, and in a way that makes sense for the current story). Which leads him to Raven (Teagen Croft, Home and Away), a young girl suffering from something that looks very much like demon possession. Some very bad man are after her because of it.
There are four leads in the TITANS superhero team. I give credit to the show for not trying to rush them all together or give them equal time. Most of the pilot is focused on Grayson and Raven, first separately, then together, though not with the same amount of screen time. About halfway through, we also get a side story in Austria involving Kory Anders, a.k.a. Koriand’r, a.k.a. Starfire (Anna Diop, 24: Legacy). Except she doesn’t know any of those names, with no memory of who she is or what she is doing. Unfortunate, since, of course, there are men trying to kill her. And then the fourth member, Gar Logan / Beast Boy (Ryan Potter, Big Hero 6), is saved for just the closing scene of the episode, for a bit in Ohio. This feels more natural than most coming-togethers of super-powered teams.
It’s no surprise that TITANS’ pilot is well thought-out and cohesive. DC Universe has enlisted Greg Berlanti, creator of the CW’s DC Arrowverse, to oversee the project, alongside Fringe / Star Trek: Discovery writer / producer Akiva Goldsman and DC animated scribe Geoff Johns. These are three, well, Titans, of DC television, and it pays off to have the first effort headed up by people who already know what they’re doing.
While Marvel has dominated the film world for the past decade, DC is king of the small screen. It makes absolute sense to start developing work for their own streaming service, maybe even an integrated world, in the way Marvel has done with the movies, rather than just keeping feeding other networks. TITANS is the perfect entry point for this effort.
As for whether the price of DC Universe is worth it or not… Well, CBS All Access is my go-to example of bad pricing for a single network’s service. DC Universe is cheaper than CBS, as it’s commercial free at $7.99/month or $75/year, versus $9.99/month or $99/year (though CBS All Access offers a cheaper commercial version, whereas DC does not). However, it also looks to already have at least as much programming available as All Access, plus comics and other additions. While the library size pales in comparison to Netflix or Hulu, which are just slightly more expensive, it’s also more focused than any of the above, meaning subscribers will have more of what they want and less they’re not interested in. So yeah, I’d say it’s worth it, and despite (or because of) not having read hardly any of the comics, already purchased my year pass.
TITANS is available now exclusively on DC Universe, and releases a new episode every week.

Friday, November 9, 2018

DAREDEVIL Resurrected

Article first published as TV Review: DAREDEVIL Season 3 on Seat42F.

DAREDEVIL has returned to Netflix for a third season. The Marvel show jumped the gun by announcing round three before the character of Daredevil seemingly met his untimely end in The Defenders miniseries, thus nipping in the bud any wondering if he may have survived. So of course, Matt Murdock, the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, did make it through his near-death experience and begins to heal, even as his friends mourn his ‘passing.’
Season three takes its time getting the main cast back together, which is keeping in line with pacing from previous seasons. Foggy (Elden Henson) and Karen’s (Deborah Ann Woll) main story thus far is basically just grieving. Karen doesn’t believe Matt is gone, while Foggy is sympathetic, but doesn’t buy into her belief. Instead, he is just a good friend, supporting a pal who is working through her emotions before she can accept the truth.
Little do they know, Matt (Charlie Cox) has been brought to church, his sanctuary. Viewers are introduced to Sister Maggie Grace (Joanne Whalley, The Borgias), a nun who cared for Matt after his father’s death, and now helps him get back on his feet again. Matt is a bit slow to return to fighting form, wallowing in pity for awhile. Maggie is a force to reckon with, helpful without coddling, and it’s easy to see how she helped shape the type of person Matt has become, and can guide him now.
I do wonder how Maggie will play into Matt’s further development. She is listed as a lead for season three, so it’s likely she’s not going away, even though Matt is about ready to leave his resting place behind by the end of the first hour. I can’t imagine she’s a villain; she probably isn’t even as complex as Stick or Elekta, others from Matt’s past who have shown up to complicate things. It’s nice to have another good guy around.
Other new characters for season three include Ray Nadeem (Jay Ali, The Fosters) and Benjamin Poindexter (Wilson Bethel, Hart of Dixie). Ray is introduced in a way that clearly brings him into the Kingpin’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) orbit. The Kingpin is still in jail as the latest DAREDEVIL story gets underway, but that seems poised to change soon, bringing the major villain from season one back to the forefront. Poindexter, known better to comic fans as Bullseye, is also someone (at least on paper) frequently seen with the Kingpin, though he is MIA in “Resurrection,” the season premiere. Again, it is not unusual for DAREDEVIL to take its time getting the plot going, so this is no surprise.
While the first seasons of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were more enticing, in my opinion, than the freshman outing of DAREDEVIL, season three already feels comfortable and familiar in a very pleasing way. Having only viewed the initial hour thus far, I’m not completely sure where this season is going. But while Sister Maggie hints at the past, there are other signs that this year will move things forward more than the last two, a satisfying development for the players.
As other Marvel series have dropped out of the Netflix lineup recently, DAREDEVIL seems poised to survive, much the way its titular hero has. It was first, and it could very well be the last one left standing. I don’t think the Netflix Marvel shows have run out of steam yet, and this first episode back seems to confirm this one has life still in it. Hopefully it puts it to good use, as early signs seem to indicate will be the case.
DAREDEVIL season three is available now exclusively to Netflix subscribers.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Not Your Average Teenage Witch

Article first published as TV Review: CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA on Seat42F.

Netflix released the first season of the highly anticipated CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA last week. Based on the recent Archie comic series of the same name, the titular character is a half mortal, half witch teenager who has come of age and is asked to sign her soul over to the Dark Lord. But Sabrina has doubts, especially when she is lied to about free will and told she must give up her human friends and boyfriend. Does she really have a choice, and why is Sabrina so important to the witch world?
This is not your (parents’?) Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Although fans of the 90s sitcom will recognize character names and broad-stroke personalities from CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA, that is pretty much where the similarities end. This is a dark, creepy, macabre version of the tale. Followers of the Dark Lord call themselves a church, but they’re closer to a cult. Actual teen witches might kill mortals for fun. Blood is used in rituals. And Satan is involved. So don’t expect to sit down with your family to watch this.
CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA looks almost flawless. Its design and setting are very artistically done, visually stunning. Special effects are top-notch. This all contributes to the purposely dreary tone. There is also a sense of fun, whimsy, and magic injected in, lest you think it’s just a dark drama. Costumes, props, the Spellman house… it is all excellently done.
My complaint here is that the picture far too often goes blurry on the edges. This is a great effect when used sparingly, but SABRINA uses it constantly. It becomes distracting and confusing. The show would play much better of 95% of this was taken out.
For tone, I recommend looking to the CW’s Riverdale, which may or may not be set in the same universe. (There is no crossover in season one, although Riverdale is mentioned as a place.) Both share a sense of sexiness and danger. Though SABRINA is louder and more extreme, with the magical element kicking things up a notch.
Most of the characters are equally good. Miranda Otto (24: Legancy) and Lucy Davis (the original The Office) are fantastic as aunties Zelda and Hilda, respectively, updating the stern and goofy bases into complex and surprising characters. Ross Lynch (Austin & Ally) plays perfect puppy dog Harvey Kinkle. Chance Perdomo (Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators) is very interesting as Sabrina’s ‘cousin’ Ambrose, confined to house arrest. Tati Gabrielle (The 100) is perfect as Prudence, leader of the Weird Sisters. Michelle Gomez, memorable in her run on Doctor Who, brings a similar performance to the teacher who inadvertently gets involved. Richard Coyle (Coupling) is awesome as high priest Father Faustus Blackwood.
Less satisfying is Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men) as Sabrina. Shipka is a talented young actress, as proven by past work, but I’m not certain her performance matches the rest of the show. At times, she feels like the strong young woman she is, standing up to authority, even her aunts, protecting her friends, and making her own way. This put-together sixteen-year-old is where Shikpa shines. But she seems less comfortable with the strange and weird. And this may be mainly a writing issue, but it’s completely strange that Sabrina doesn’t notice massive changes in her favorite teacher. I do think Shipka can grow into this role, or some adjusted direction may help. But at least initially, she’s unfortunately not as good as the show itself, not something you want from the lead.
Which is not to say that I don’t recommend CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA. It’s a compelling, creative story that is mostly well executed. I had planned to watch just one episode for this review, but felt like I had to go straight into the second. Once I submit this article, I do plan to watch the rest. There are just a few things to work on for season two for the program to make full use of its potential.
The CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA is available now on Netflix.

Sunday, October 28, 2018


Article first published as MIDNIGHT, TEXAS Season 2 Set Visit on Seat42F. (many more photos available at this link)

NBC’s MIDNIGHT, TEXAS returns for a second season this Friday. If you missed season one last summer, there’s still time to catch up on all ten episodes through Hulu. Or you can just jump in when it returns. But assuming you caught the show, based on the books by Charlaine Harris (True Blood), here’s a bit of a preview for season two, cobbled together from interviews during a recent set visit.
And yes, there will be spoilers. This is a preview, after all.
Season two picks up basically where the first year left off. A hotel has opened in sleepy Midnight, founded by new characters Patience (Jaime Ray Newman, The Punisher) and Kai Lucero (Nestor Carbonell, Bates Motel). They are gypsies who have been going from town to town healing people. They’ve faced some skeptics, and they found some believers. Now they’re ready to settle down and open up a more permanent shop. And they’ve chosen Midnight as the location, an invading presence in a town still trying to settle down from the last big event.
Carbonell, whom you may recognize from Lost, and who was sought after because the new show-runners worked with him on Ringer, looked to Reiki as a way to ground the character. He says the cast is made up of the nicest people, all so welcoming and willing to take big swings, and open to trying things in new ways. He’s very happy to have joined the ensemble. Carbonell learned to trust the moment and the director on Lost, especially during his 13-day shoot (a normal episode takes about eight days) on his character’s backstory episode, which was far different than he had imagined. Now, he brings those skills and experience to MIDNIGHT, TEXAS.
The hotel itself is a sprawling, impressive, versatile set, featuring a pool in the lobby that will definitely get some use. It’s a big of a departure for sleepy, lived-in Midnight. The building is also apparently “so much worse than just being haunted; you’ll wish that was the only problem.”
The hotel isn’t the only thing new that has come to MIDNIGHT, TEXAS. With showrunner Monica Owusu-Breen having left to oversee the new Buffy the Vampire Slayer reboot (which the cast universally insists she will ‘slay’), writer duo Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder (Supernatural), who worked on season one, have stepped into her shoes.
Nicole and Eric said their instructions for season two were clear: make it soapier, sexier, and scarier – essentially, like True Blood, but for network television. (Though not with the obvious move, bringing in Quinn, the weretiger character who appears in both book series. He’s still MIA this year.) With much of the material of the trilogy of books having been covered in the first two seasons, they also had a goal to set up the world for a much longer, larger, more dynamic story.
Everyone involved in the production seems to agree that they have succeeded in this. The action is more sprawling, no longer confined to Midnight, and more serialized. The cast claims the two-hour finale, which they were shooting during the set visit, and which involved a lot of night shooting, will blow your mind. Nothing has been spared.
Oh, and the great Jaime Murray (Defiance, Warehouse 13) has also come on board in an ‘integral’ role, though details about her part were not revealed.
Of course, not everything is about the new cast and sets. Fan favorite characters are well-served, too, with blossoming relationships explored and a threat coming from within, leaving you to wonder who is friend and who is foe.
Manfred (Francois Arnaud) still has to deal with the black ooze coming out of his ear at the end of season one. Plagued by “demon cancer,” he’s not quite himself as the story gets back underway. And he is beset by nightmares that aren’t just nightmares. Can he vanquish demons not just from the outside world, but from within himself, too?
At least it’ll be easy to hide the illness from his squeeze, Creek (Sarah Ramos), who is away at school, and so not around to catch him behaving badly. (Although Ramos is no longer a series lead, she will appear in season two of MIDNIGHT, TEXAS.)
Bobo (Dylan Bruce) has a few different things to contend with. For one, he’s bought the Cartoon Saloon, giving the place a Merlot’s-like feel. Second, he is enjoying his new relationship with Fiji (Parisa Fitz-Henley), his best friend.
Though, things will not necessarily go swimmingly for them. Haunted by past mistakes, Fiji has a lot about herself to figure out. Not to mention, being with her is going to endanger Bobo with a Final Destination-esque plot. So let’s hope the couple can get through that and come out the other side alive.
Perhaps a bit less dramatic is the wedded bliss of Olivia (Arielle Kebbel) and Lem (Peter Mensah). The couple has a few things to work on, such as re-decorating their shared living space into something suitable for them both, and the psychic connection they now have after Lem drank Olivia’s blood. But those aren’t deadly issues. Just fun.
Olivia has had a lot of emotional pain in her life, and this season will provide some healing. Not that she’s stopped being a badass assassin; quite the opposite. But she needs to learn how to embrace the wonderful parts of life, too, and to figure out how to be strong enough to be vulnerable.
Kebbel also promises satisfying, big resolution between Olivia and Madonna (Kellee Stewart), who was revealed to be working for Olivia’s father at the end of last season.
Then there’s Joe (Jason Lewis), whom after a millennia of hiding, is trying to figure out what his life is now. This will lead to some fresh temptations for the angel, and Joe will be forced to confront the person he was.
Which is not to say that season two of MIDNIGHT, TEXAS is backwards-looking. While the past does play into character development, it’s used to inform how the characters grow moving forward, not driving the plot as it sometimes did in season one.
It’s been said that Friday nights are a great night for genre television on the broadcast networks, and with MIDNIGHT, TEXAS moving into the regular season – albeit for a nine-episode run this fall, rather than trying to complete a full twenty-some episodes – let’s hope that stays true. The new and expanded sets look great, the story teased is intriguing, and the cast and crew seem to be having a lot of fun. I look forward to going along for the ride with them.
MIDNIGHT, TEXAS begins its second season this Friday on NBC.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Back to Bayside (and Beyond)

Article first published as DVD Review: 'Saved by the Bell: The Complete Collection' on Blogcritics.

Shout! Factory recently released Saved by the Bell: The Complete Collection. The 16-disc collection covers all the iterations of the series that starred Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Dustin Diamond (along with various other actors at different points), as well as quite a few bonus features. It is available now.


As a child, this was one of my favorite shows, watching re-runs whenever I could, and it still evokes very warm feelings. So the release of the series on DVD makes me extremely happy. I’m sure plenty of others in my generation will feel the same way.
To some, Saved by the Bell was an iconic series in its day. It was very popular, and it tackled serious issues. Sure, it could also be pretty cheesy and fell into the trap of obvious tropes, including its love triangle elements.

The Collection

This is not the first DVD release for this classic, ’90s, Saturday morning comedy series, but it is the most comprehensive, best. Past DVD releases featured out-of-order and missing episodes. The Complete Collection includes all four seasons. The episode order, though not the original broadcast order, makes more sense for the show’s narrative. The DVD set also includes all of Good Morning, Miss Bliss starring Hayley Mills, which was packaged with SBTB in syndication (basically everything except the original pilot); the full season of Saved by the Bell: The College Years, and the two television movies Hawaiian Styleand Wedding in Las Vegas.
It’s very satisfying to have all of these combined into a single collection. If you were a fan of Mr. Belding (Dennis Haskins), Zack (Gosselaar), and Screech (Diamond), it’s nice to see them, along with Lisa (Lark Voorhies) and some other kids, in Junior High in the Good Morning, Miss Bliss season. Granted, there is no explanation as to how and why the four characters suddenly relocated from Indianapolis, Indiana to Bayside, California for high school. But Zack, Screech, Lisa, and Mr. Belding are the same people in a new setting for the next four seasons, titled Saved by the Bell
After that, continuity stays pretty consistent through the main show and beyond. The trio of students are joined by others, most notably Slater (Mario Lopez), Jessie (Elizabeth Berkley), and Kelly (Tiffany-Amber Thiessen). Their story continues into college (The College Years) and the post-high school TV movies. For this set, episodes have been re-ordered to make sense, as they sometimes aired out-of-order, and that also helps viewers follow the story.


This Saved by the Bell  DVD Collection includes a ton of bonus features. There’s a ‘making of’ and a retrospective documentary. A couple of featurettes tackle the music of the show. Some shorts focus on the legacy of the program and Saturday morning television in general. There are a few (less valuable) photo galleries. Plus, audio commentaries. As if often the case, the longer featurettes are a better perk than the photos, and the commentaries are nice, but leave me wanting more. Which is typical for such releases. Best of all, and more of a rarity with similar DVD collection is a booklet to guide viewers through the huge amount of material in the set. The booklet provides explanations for choices made, appreciated transparency to the process of putting this together.

What’s Missing

What the collection does not include is the seven-season spin-off, Saved by the Bell: The New Class, which combined Screech and Mr. Belding with a rotating group of new students. But The New Class was never as well-regarded as the original. And unlike everything mentioned above, did not really go together with what came before it. The missing pilot for Good Morning, Miss Bliss is more disappointing, but the same rights that left it out of the syndication deal likely made it too complicated to get for this, too. And really, that being the only notable exclusion, The Complete Collection feels pretty… well, complete.


Saved by the Bell: The Complete Series is a terrific way to remember the show. The collection is reasonably priced. Which makes sense, given its lack of high-def update and the cheap selling-off of other shows of the same era. I appreciate this much effort was made to preserve a piece of TV history, and look forward to reliving all the best moments, from Bayside and beyond.

Friday, September 21, 2018


Article first published as TV Review: KIDDING on Seat42F.

Jim Carrey returns to television in the new Showtime series, KIDDING, which has thus far aired two episodes. Carrey plays Jeff, who is a very successful children’s television host known as Mr. Pickles. Sort of a Mr. Rogers-type with the marketing reach of Disney, Mr. Pickles is not just a person, he’s a brand. But when one of his twin sons dies in a tragic car accident and his family falls apart, Jeff fights with his boss to take the show a little darker and deal with his loss on-air.

Carrey is a fantastic actor who hasn’t always done projects worthy of his talent. KIDDING is not a dumb comedy by any stretch; it’s a smart, complex look at grief and different ways of dealing with it. Jeff is a very odd person, his on-screen persona his true personality, not an act, and he has a unique viewpoint on the world. Carrey is a rare actor who can make that seem sincere while also allowing the pain to peek through. It’s a really excellent performance.

KIDDING would be fine as a one-man showcase, and indeed, Carrey has earned such a series. However, he is surrounded by a fantastic ensemble that really enriches the story being told. Frank Langella (The Americans) plays Sebastian, Jeff’s boss who is also his father, making that relationship a lot more layered than it would otherwise be. Puppeteer Deirdre (Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich) that works on the show is also Jeff’s sister. His estranged wife, Jill (Judy Greer, Arrested Development), is a nurse at the Mr. Pickles Cancer Wing. This blurring of the personal and professional really informs on Jeff as a character, and they all carry their own weight rather effectively, more than just there to serve him, though they do that, too.

The series is both grounded and slightly fantastical, mostly in the way it applies to its lead character. Jeff doesn’t have a firm grasp on reality because he always sees and assumes the best. His show can exist in a place like that, and he’s been able to get away with it because of the lucky life he’s led. But when issues crash down on him, it’s very interesting to see how someone like Jeff weathers the storm.
I love that this is a very dark drama, but that it has room for small bits of comedy. And I do mean small. The opening sequence of episode two, which involves a car theft, is the funniest thing in the initial pair of installments, and no main characters are really part of it. It’s telling that the story has to step away from its leads to find something so hilarious, because their lives are not equipped to handle it currently.

And yet, there’s something about this show that I’m just not sure about yet. Partly it’s because Jeff’s viewpoint, which the audience is mainly guided by, is definitely not the true telling. Partly because we’re still missing key pieces of the emotional story. Partly because Jeff might very well be a powder keg that is going to explode before long. And partly because there are small hanging threads from episode to episode that beg to be resolved. KIDDING seems like something you’d have to make it through a whole season of before you could properly judge it.

I like this show a lot, mainly because of the actors and the basic premise. In the details, sometimes it can be a little slow, sometimes a little obtuse, but overall, it’s interesting and feels unique. I am very curious to see where it goes and if Carrey can keep his performance reigned in, as the subtlety is very much working for him.

KIDDING airs Sundays at 10PM on Showtime.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

THE FIRST TV Series for Sean Penn

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

Warning: The following contains slight spoilers. THE FIRST is a new drama series coming soon to Hulu. From Beau Willimon (the creator of House of Cards), the show is set in the near future and chronicles mankind’s first attempts to get to Mars. With some very recognizable faces, including the lead, it’s a familiar human drama that also fires up the soul. The spirit of the human race is explored in some interesting ways, and the mission itself takes backseat to the characters, even as it drives the plot forward.

Sean Penn (Milk) stars as Tom Hagerty, a man who is watching the launch with much personal investment. Viewers may wonder why he’s so affected, as Tom isn’t working at the space agency nor among the crew, but you’ll soon find out. Tom is also a widower who would like nothing more than to rebuild his family. However, he can’t help but be drawn to events, even if they begin to interfere with what he says he wants. (I apologize if that sounds a bit obtuse; I’m trying not to give away anything, and it’s particularly hard to do with this series because of its elongated beginning.)

Penn is joined by an ensemble cast that includes Natascha McElhone (Designated Survivor) as the head of the space agency, LisaGay Hamilton (Men of a Certain Age) as an astronaut not assigned to the first crew, Anna Jacoby-Heron (Finding Carter) as a recovering drug addict, Oded Fehr (24: Legacy), Melissa George (Heartbeat), and Annie Parisse (The Looming Tower), among others. It’s a pretty sprawling group, but the story stays focused on just a few players, with others only coming in when they’re needed to serve those leads. This is an effective way to keep the story where it needs to be.

The pilot starts a little hokey, much of what happens in the first half being pretty predictable. Some different casting or direction, a bit less foreshadowing, could have made it very surprising. As it is, most regular television viewers will likely see what’s coming before it happens. THE FIRST boasts one of the most heavy-handed versions of this that I’ve seen in awhile.

However, once you get past that, the story deepens and becomes much more interesting very quickly. While it would be preferable to start strong, even if it’s not a path the show is choosing to pursue, the central threads aren’t much hurt by the missteps, coming through strongly in spite of it. And once the initial set up is over with, THE FIRST is a grounded, complex tale that isn’t just repetition of other stories.

The familiar part of the series is its spirit. For anyone who enjoys rooting for the underdog, or films where a hero overcomes obstacles because of deep-seated beliefs that make them better than the average person, THE FIRST has this in spades. It’s uplifting, inspirational, and feels very good to watch. Yet, Penn’s performance and some very good writing keeps it away from cheesy, instead delivering a powerful, no-frills story.

I’ve watched beyond the first episode, and I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen. I can imagine why Penn agreed to go to the small screen when given material this good. Hulu has been upping its game in the quality department, and this drama is no different, feeling akin to The Looming Tower and other recent triumphs. While not as socially conscious as The Handmaid’s Tale, it does have something to say that reflects part of our humanity, and that’s a great starting point for a show.

THE FIRST premieres September 14th on Hulu.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

THE PURGE Of Story Over Action

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

THE PURGE is a movie series that is now being continued on the small screen, currently airing on USA. The premise involves a radical group called the New Founding Fathers of America taking over the government and instituting a holiday that shares a name with the series. Once a year for twelve hours, all crime (including murder and rape) is made legal, with emergency service workers going off duty. The rich huddle in their protected homes, while the poor are often the participants and the victims.

In this framework, viewers of the TV program meet a number of characters. Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria, East Los High) is a United States Marine who has come home looking for his sister on Purse Night. Said sister, Penelope (Jessica Garza, Six), has joined a cult that sacrifices themselves to those celebrating the event. Jenna (Hannah Emily Anderson, Jigsaw) and Rick (Colin Woodell, The Originals) consider themselves good people, but find themselves rubbing elbows with the morally questionable, especially Albert Stanton (Reed Diamond, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), as they seek funding for their business venture. Jane (Amanda Warren, The Leftovers) usually plays by the rules, but decides to take on her boss (William Baldwin, Dirty Sexy Money) when she has the chance. And there are others, but these are the primary players in the first three episodes, those made available to critics for screening.

None of these characters are in the movies, but some of the organizations and concepts are. Unfortunately, if you haven’t seen the films, as I have not, the series doesn’t take the time to make the rules clear. Yes, it’s easy to understand that people are very violent and are allowed to get away with it for a night. But there are lots of details left out that apparently one would need to have seen the movies to understand.

This does detract from the enjoyment of THE PURGE. As a concept, I find it very interesting. Many have touched on such a thing before, including an episode of the original Star Trek back in the 1960s (which Ben Stiller’s production company is named after). And the show does seem like it will explore some of the concepts in the way (I assume) the movies didn’t have time to do. Morality plays that make you question your values and realign your viewpoints in the face of a much-changed world are in vogue; just look at The Walking Dead.

To its detriment, THE PURGE doesn’t embrace this as fully as it should. Instead, it seems like much more screen time is given to the senseless violence and quick thrills. While these are absolutely necessary to properly tell the story, it’s the balance that feels off, holding the show back from being as good as it could be.

That being said, it is still enjoyable popcorn television. It does touch on some of the things that should be explored further, and hopefully if it gets multiple seasons, they will be. It doesn’t feel too limited by the constraints of basic cable, which generally don’t allow shows to get too gory or intense (AMC and FX historically taking a lot more liberties than this network, USA). It finds a way to skirt that line, keeping it relatively tame while not feeling like it is.

If you like the movies, you’ll probably like the television show. If you don’t like the movies, I’m guessing you should stay away. But if you haven’t seen them, check this out and make up your own mind. Is it worth getting through the brutality to get to the scenes where the characters really dig in? I think it probably is, especially if this world is allowed plenty of time to develop, and you may agree.

THE PURGE premiered last week and airs Tuesdays at 10ET on USA.