Friday, December 31, 2010

Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales

     If you've watched A Charlie Brown Christmas in the last eight years or so, you may have noticed some extra scenes that weren't in the special prior to this decade. With commercial times getting longer and longer, extra scenes were added in 2002 so that the original 30 minute special could be aired intact, with more footage, in a one hour time slot. Of course, a few weeks ago, the special aired with only some of those extra scenes. But like most holiday specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas has become fluid, aired many different ways.

     For the first time on a solo-release DVD, the extra 18 minutes have been released as Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales. You do not get A Charlie Brown Christmas, but you get all of the bits added to that show this decade. The DVD was actually put out last year as a CVS Exclusive, but has recently been released at stores everywhere.

     Charlie Brown's Christmas Tale includes several stand-alone segments, listed under five headings. It's classic Peanuts, completely in line with the family-friendly humor you've come to expect from the name Charlie Brown. Sally writes a letter to "Samantha Claus". Linus talks to a girl at school who keeps changing her name. Lucy tries to get her brother, Linus, and her crush, Schroeder, to buy her good gifts. There is no over-arcing plot, but that doesn't really matter. If you enjoy Charlie Brown, or your kids do, it's a good gift. The shorts are cute.

     Also on the disc is a 24-minute "bonus feature," "Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown?" It's the only bonus feature included, a special from 1983, and not Christmas related, but still, the Peanuts gang in character. Considering the longer length and the more cohesive plot, I'm surprised this wasn't the main release, with Tales being the bonus feature. My only idea about why it would be released the way it is would be to better market it around the holidays.

     In Is "This Goodbye, Charlie Brown?", Lucy and Linus move away after their father gets a job elsewhere. Sally, predictably, is broken up, as is Charlie Brown. Schroeder is upset too, to his surprise. It will not be shocking to anyone who has followed the strip or the TV specials that the move does not last long. But you get more real, sad emotions from the main characters than practically any other Peanuts story. Plus, keep an eye out for a rare glimpse of Linus and Lucy's parents!

     A subplot involves Peppermint Patty's crush on Charlie Brown. It's a sweet story, an awkward, childhood romance. Poor Patty doesn't know how to express herself to Chuck, and he, of course, sure doesn't pick up on the signals. Even if one of those signals is a middle of the night phone call. Which begs the question, why didn't his parents answer the phone? Surely, they heard it in the middle of the night and were upset! Though parents were never much of an element in the series.

     If you like Charlie Brown and Peanuts, you're going to like this DVD. If you don't already, you probably won't. It's a fine example of classic Peanuts.

     To buy this DVD, please check out your favorite store, or visit the official site. Visit the Warner Bros. official site to get the inside scoop on all Warner movie and DVD releases.

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Article first published as DVD Review: Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales on Blogcritics.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hellcats Fall 2010 Overview

     The CW's Hellcats is not just Bring It On: The Series. Nor is it another 90210. It's a teen (or just past teen) drama, sure, with all the usual affairs and scandalous twists. But it's also an inspiring sports series, as those cheerleaders are very much athletes, and there's some legal mystery tossed in for flavor. Plus, a few unnecessary, but fun, dance numbers a la Glee. I guess that's what makes it worth watching. There are plenty of elements to keep things interesting.

     After eleven episodes, I'm still not particularly impressed with the cast. They're decent, but not above average. I am most enjoying Matt Barr as Dan Patch. Dan is certainly the most likable, and the most in touch with who he is of the central characters. He also carries the Memphis accent pretty much by himself; even the other characters who are from the area seem to have shed it. Perhaps it's because he's a townie, while the rest are integrated with the college students, who arrive from all over. Lead Alyson Michalka is also one of the better ones, as many of her emotional scenes are played on her face, rather than dialogue. Her disconnect from others is part of the character trait, so her tendency to underact at times seems like a choice rather than a failure.

     I do have to give credit to Heather Hemmens's Alice. While she was established as the villain from day one, her motivations have been made clear, and even made viewers sympathetic to her bitterness. As the episodes this fall unfolded, it was clear that Alice did have lines she would not cross, even if she went further than most characters would. She's not completely disloyal to those around her, even if she often puts herself first. It's the subtleties that make her character successful, and Hemmens does accomplish those with grace.

     One quick criticism. Marti joined the Hellcats as a replacement for the injured Alice. Alice healed from injuries several episodes before the fall finale, and yet, how they both fit on the team now has never been dealt with. There are only a certain number of flyers the Hellcats can accommodate at once. It appears to me that Marti kept the flyer position, and Alice just dances now. But is that how it is? It would have been nice to have dealt with that on screen.

     As mentioned before, there is some legal plot going on, with Marti investigating an old case for an inmate named Travis (Ben Cotton), whom she has come around to believing innocent. I will certainly not knock the series for trying something different, and adding such an odd element to their show. Odd, considering that most of the scenes deal with college cheerleaders. However, it almost feels like it should be its own spin-off. It's like there are two different series going on at once. Should Hellcats continue for a few years, I could totally see Marti and Morgan Pepper (Craig Anderson) doing their own law-based series, leaving the other characters to the cheering. It could be quite enjoyable.

     I guess that subplot, though, demonstrates a level of realism that imbibes Hellcats. Life is complicated, and people are involved with several different things at once. Keeping the principal cast small (only six), and using supporting characters as support, rather than giving them their own plots (for the most part), has allowed Hellcats to do what other shows cannot, as they are too involved trying to serve everyone, and don't allow any one character too much depth.

     Yes, I did say in the preceding paragraph that there are six main characters, even though seven names appear in the opening credits. Wanda (Gail O'Grady) might as well be supporting, as she really only pops up in Marti's arcs. I know O'Grady is a talented actress from her previous work, and could handle a larger piece of the Hellcats world. But I really like Wanda in her current space, and there is something to be said for someone who can play that type of character and do it so engrossingly. As such, I would not lobby for a change in Wanda's part, other than perhaps a few more one-liners every now and then.

     A large part of this fall has concerned getting the Hellcats to qualify for the national championships. Yet, the cheerleading saga has not choked out the other story. It's something that has hung over everyone, but not consumed them except when it needed to. It justifies the title of the series, but does not define it. I like that.

     I love, love, love the Bill Marsh (Aaron Douglas, Battlestar Galactica) character. Having grown up in a town and a high school where football players were often above the rules that applied to everyone else, it's thrilling to see such a corrupt athletic department, with emphasis on the football program. It's so bad that one of the athletes, Lewis (Robbie Jones), actually quit the team in protest. Sure, other shows have toyed with the idea, but I can't remember one that delivered so evil a character as Bill. I personally believe football players and the game are often too glorified, and like seeing them taken down a peg. Well, at least in viewers of the show's opinions of them, as no one can watch Hellcats and like what's happening under Bill's leadership.

     That being said, there are plenty of great coaches in the real world like Red Raymond (Jeff Hephner). Introduced as a thorn in Vanessa's (Sharon Leal) side, he, like Alice, has grown into something more complicated. He's a truly moral coach, trying to keep the crap away from his players and his team. The one time he did cross that moral line was to help out Vanessa, and so his action can be excused. Red has power, but not enough to change the system. More coaches (and athletic directors) like Red could change the sport, and keep experiences like the one in the show from happening too often.

     On top of all of that other stuff, the series still takes time to work on religion. Savannah (Ashley Tisdale, High School Musical) was home schooled, and originally attended a very religious college. She transferred to Lancer, but her younger sister, Charlotte (Emma Lahana) remains at home, in the religious school, and in the church. Charlotte is pregnant, go figure, while Savannah remains a virgin. It's a commentary on the stifling affects that can be had being raised in uber-religious families. But Savannah is a positive role model for the faithful, and shows that a balance between the holy and the secular produces great individuals. The series doesn't demonize religion, but provides several different viewpoints into how faith affects people, and the children they raise.

     Overall, it's a pretty good show. I can't point to many weak points that need fixing, and they've covered a lot in eleven episodes. As I said, all of the actors are at least decent, and will surely grow better with time. The story arcs are excellent, and the different elements coming to the table are pretty well mixed. While not life-altering, it earns a season pass on my TiVo, and is worth watching.

     Hellcats is currently taking a winter break, but will return January 25th to the CW.

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Article first published as TV Review: Hellcats - Fall 2010 Overview on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Archer The Complete Season One

    I loved FX's Archer last winter, and no viewer was more excited than me when it got a surprise second season pick up. So when the DVD of the first season came in the mail yesterday (on its release date), I was ecstatic! After reviewing this DVD, I still am, but only for the episodes, not for any special features included, of which this DVD is sorely lacking.

     There are no commentaries. There are no cast interviews, or creator interviews. No one talks about where the idea for the series came from, or what's coming up for season two. The best special feature included was probably a thirty second promo for the show that never aired, my guess, because it was kind of wrong. However, Archer's humor often crosses a line, and that's what makes it great, so I'm not sure how this promo was any worse than what airs during the episodes.

     What is included is a roughly twenty minute 'Making Of'. The 'Making Of' is divided into a number of very short segments, almost all having to do with animation. You get to see how the scenes are created, step by step. There's some bits of storyboard translated into animation. If you're an animation guru, you probably already are aware of the techniques being used. If you are a casual viewer, you may not care, or be bored by it. As such, I'm not really sure who this feature is geared towards. Because this is an animated show, I'm sure it is rewarding to all the people who work very hard to make it happen to see their contributions rewarded. And they deserve it; they really do. But like an ending credits scroll, not many people are actually interested in most of it. If this was one of a number of features, I would say it was kind of neat. As the sole feature of substance, it disappointed.

     There is also about two and a half minutes of deleted scenes, mostly just quick jokes cut out, and a so-called 'Original Unaired Pilot'. I have serious doubts if this is actually an unaired pilot. It's actually the exact full episode "Mole Hunt", the original of which is also included on the DVD, with one big twist that runs through the entire episode. Now I won't spoil the twist, except to say it was completely unexpected, funny at first, and wore thin long before the episode was over.

     As a bonus, FX included the pilots of Louie and The League on the DVD as well. I think both shows are hilarious, and if you haven't seen them, they're worth checking out. The League has already completed two full seasons, so putting a pilot on at this point seems odd, but Louie has only done one season, so the timing is great for it.

     The price of $19.99, as it is currently listed on Amazon, is a little steep, considering the first season of Archer was only ten half hour episodes. However, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia charged the same price last year for a single, hour-long special episode, so compared to that, it's a steal. There is currently no Blu Ray release, just the DVD. I would recommend shopping around for a price around $15, which is about the worth I would assign to it. But I totally recommend buying and watching Archer, as it is an awesome comedy.

Archer First Season Episodes: A-
Archer First Season DVD: C-

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Article first published as DVD Review: Archer The Complete Season One on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Event Fall 2010

     NBC's The Event delivered an exciting pilot, though initially it seemed like the first half of what was intended to be a two hour episode. Having now viewed all 10 episodes from the fall run that no longer seems to be the case. Though the first episode was light on explanation, episode two, when combined with the first, doesn't make the story seem any more complete. Instead, it they are the beginning of several much larger arcs, some of which wrapped up in a few weeks, and some of which are still open. The biggest question still is: what is the Event that the title refers to? If network promos can be believed, it hasn't happened yet.

     Overall, this is a pretty cool show. It has elements of Lost, 24, and a little bit of V. Large parts of several episodes have been done in flashback, revealing different things in the main characters' pasts. It's a storytelling method that has not been implemented in every episode, and it has not been overused. Sometimes the backstories are there to inform us about present events, and sometimes they're just about revealing traits of the characters. Very few of those flashbacks are superfluous, the rest of the story has needed them to better illustrate some points. The one that does seem unnecessary, as far as the rest of the episode is concerned, is when Sean (Jason Ritter) met Leila (Sarah Roemer) for the first time. But it was incredibly sweet and completely welcome.

     The cast is excellent, and almost every character is layered nicely. This is best demonstrated by the three Washington D.C.-based main characters. First there is President Martinez (Blair Underwood), who seems so idealistic but has participated in covering up some of the recent events, opening himself up to being blackmailed by his slimy Vice President, Jarvis (Bill Smitrovich). Jarvis fancies himself a patriot despite his having been complicit in the attempted Presidential assassination.  Despite showing a political convention, the show dances around which party each character belongs to, but I think it's pretty clear that Jarvis is GOP and Martinez is Democrat. That does paint the series with a liberal lean, even though a lot of the action and anti-terrorism stuff traditionally appeals to a more conservative audience. An interesting choice.

     Director Sterling (the always perfect Zeljko Ivanek) at first seemed duplicitous, and he sometimes is. But he is the true patriot, willing to do anything reasonable for his country, and not willing to endanger its citizens. He may have disagreed with Martinez's decision in the pilot, but he would never have gone to evil lengths to stop it.

     However, finding out that Jarvis was the mole within the President's circle doesn't make sense. Jarvis all but accused Sterling of being the guilty party early in the season, in private. If he had wanted to remove suspicion from himself, surely that confrontation would have gone down in front of at least the President and some aides. In retrospect, it was only meant to fool the viewers, and doesn't make much sense for it to have happened. There have been a few other moments like that, but this is the most glaring example.

     Obviously, the main story is about the aliens who came to earth in 1944, lead by Sophia (Laura Innes).  Many of them have been in a prison in Alaska for the last 66 years. Their motivations, or even how they ended up here, is still unknown. What has been shown is that there are factions within the group, as there very likely would be in the real world, who don't agree with their leader. The biggest faction is lead by Sophia's son, Thomas (Clifton Collins Jr.), who ended the season deploying a communications satellite to send a message home. This is a twist I didn't see coming, and have no idea what he's really up to.

     Thomas has been the least consistently written character.  He spent a whole episode being berated by his mother for not being a capable enough leader, even though in the rest of the stories, he has shown independence and the ability to command others enough to be a serious threat. However, as he is also my least favorite actor of the group, and he is involved in some of the biggest, action-packed plots, I am focused enough on other things to not notice this issue most of the time. I think his character was certainly not really fleshed out when the series began, and we're seeing on screen the different writers' different approaches to figuring him out.

     One major problem with the show is that there are a lot more aliens in the meeting hall with Sophia than previously shown escaping their crash site in 1944, even taking into account limited camera angles. What's up with that? Do their children age quickly, and then stop? Is that how the population grew? I didn't see any kids among them. What about half-breeds? Surely, marrying and having kids would have raised suspicion, since they don't age, and would have had to leave their families at some point or risk exposure (that was dealt with to some extent, though not fully, when trying to explain the drastically different numbers of aliens).

     One of my favorite characters is Simon Lee (Ian Anthony Dale). One of Sophia's group who escaped imprisonment, Simon currently works for Sterling. A few episodes into the series, it seemed certain his cover was blown, but some pretty clever writing kept his job intact. Simon is loyal to Sophia, but also to the men with whom he serves. He seems to have the ideals of morality and the sacredness of human and alien life in hand more than any other character. While playing both sides, he wants the greatest good for both and is not motivated by selfishness. The episode where we saw him in love with a woman in the 1950s, and his later encounter with her in her old age, demonstrated as much. He is a truly good man (being?).

     While Simon is an example of great character development on the show, sadly, not every character is used to their full extent. However, given the changing amount of screen time Sean, Sophia, Martinez, and the others get, and depending on who is involved with the major plots moving the story forward, I would bet that won't stay true for long. I can't imagine right now how Christina (Lisa Vidal) could really be worked in more, but maybe with Vicky's (Taylor Cole) greatly reduced role in the last few episodes of the fall run it could be in the works. And why Martinez didn't do much important in the last few episodes, even though he was still a presence, is something I definitely wonder about.

     Most cheated at this point is Leila's father, Mike (Scott Patterson). As the pilot who almost flew a plane into Martinez and Sophia, as well as the father of another main character, Mike has spent most of this run locked up by the government and his screen time has been scarce. As a Gilmore Girls fan, I want more for Patterson, and the finale left me with hope that will be coming down the line. With a twist I saw coming from about hour three, I was nevertheless excited when Sean and Leila realized that Mike is an alien. I wonder if Sterling and Martinez know yet. They should with all the medical work done on Mike at the CDC and if not, there will be another huge plot hole for the writers to plug.

     The action during the run has been intense, and the story has kept me guessing--there are so many threads unraveling at once, it's impossible to be bored. But, the stories aren't so numerous as to be very confusing either. While it does not (yet) live up to Lost or 24's legendary status, there is enough here that, if handled right, it could be a great show with at least four or five seasons worth of interesting tales. The current stories will probably only take us though one or two as the series has chosen to keep the revelations coming fast, rather than dole them out slowly. I think that is the right decision in this case, and I, for one, am interested in finding out what happens next. So far though it's pretty good. We'll see what comes next, and whether that will push the series to greatness, or condemn it to mediocrity... if it doesn't get canceled first.

     The Event will return to NBC on Monday, February 28th. A little too long between episodes for my taste, and after Sweeps--which isn't a great sign--but here's hoping that it does well.

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Article first published as TV Review: The Event - Fall 2010 on Blogcritics.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Psych - "Yang 3 in 2D"

***Note: lists the episode title as "Yin 3 in 2D", but the Psych web site lists it as "Yang 3 in 2D".***

     USA's Psych completed it's fifth season last night with "Yang 3 in 2D", the latest chapter in Shawn's (James Roday) battle with the Yin Yang serial killer. Whenever Yin and/or Yang show up in an episode, the show takes a decidedly darker turn. Shawn's bravado is shaken, and often he appears genuinely concerned. After all, in the past, the killer has almost taken out his mother, Madeleine (Cybill Shepherd) and the woman he loves, Juliet (Maggie Lawson), among others. Last night, Yin almost got best friend Gus (DulĂ© Hill), although Shawn was also captured and got a front row seat for the execution. I love Psych's trademark goofiness, but it's always nice to see a change up, and Yin Yang sure provides it.

     The episode began when a girl named Allison (Mena Suvari, American Beauty, American Pie) showed up at the police station, scared, claiming she had just escaped from Yin. No one believed her, except Shawn, spurred by the fact that she had a picture of a young Shawn with Yang (Ally Sheedy), whom he did not remember meeting as a child. Although the background in the photo was fake, the two of them together was real. Shawn put Allison at his father Henry's (Corbin Bernsen) house for safe keeping, but she was quickly re-kidnapped. Shawn followed several clues to find her, including watching some video diaries made by the deceased Mary (Jimmi Simpson).

     In the end, Shawn and Gus fell right into Yin's trap, and for the first time we saw the second half of the serial killer team, this one played by Peter Weller (Dexter). Juliet got Yang out of jail, broke into Yin's fortress of a house, and figured out Allison's true nature. But it was Yang, who has had an unhealthy fascination with Shawn all her life, who saved Shawn and Gus, killing Yin. Not only that, it was revealed that Yin was her father.

     It makes me sad to think that this might be the last chapter in the Yin Yang story. I count all the Yin Yang episodes among Psych's best hours, and I feel like there was more room to play here. I was disappointed Mary was killed in the last round, and even more so that Yin was taken out this time, especially because Weller is terrific. Wouldn't it have made it a better story if Yang and Yin escaped, only to return in a year or so as a team, stronger than ever? Maybe even take out one of Shawn's closest friends or family next time? Granted, that may go too dark for this series, but I would have loved a further escalation.

     Instead, Yang is the only survivor, and she is going back to jail, already declared mostly harmless. Sure, she could always break out of prison and revert to her evil ways, spurred by the joy she might (or might now have, it wasn't clear) gotten from killing her father. She didn't actually do any of the earlier killings, but last night's episode might have given her a taste for murder. Yes, that would be a great episode, but I'm not convinced that is the path they will be taking.

     I was pleased to see the return of Madeleine Spencer. Henry called her with a simple question, not intending to involve her, but her arrival in town upped the suspense factor in the episode. Clearly, Shawn was not happy about it, having another important person in his life to worry about. Shepherd's inclusion in the series has long been a tease, originally looking like she was signing on to the cast, and then only doing a handful of episodes. My TiVo still lists her as a principal cast member for every episode of Psych that airs. I'm always pleased to see her, but she's been in far too few episodes of the series.

     Speaking of underused, why was Chief Vick (Kirsten Nelson) barely in the season finale? She is constantly the least-seen character on screen, and sits out episodes frequently. As one of the original cast members, it would be nice to see her get some more story. Whatever happened with the possible Vick/Henry love plot? It went away far too quickly.
     Back to last night's episode, I have been pleased by the slow growth of Shawn and Juliet's relationship. I know the people behind the series may have been hesitant to finally put their two romantic leads together, having danced around the issue since Juliet's first episode, the second episode of the series. Having decided to go for it, they've backed off from making it central to most of the episodes, likely to protect and nourish it, without overdoing things, or risking jumping the shark. But it's a coming together of equals, as evidenced by their promise to protect each other in this episode. They are perfect for each other.

     The final scene of the finale, where Lassiter (the amazing Timothy Omundson, who has only gotten better with each season) witnessed the two of them together in a more-than-friends way, was wonderfully executed. I look forward to the repercussions of that, as it will surely interfere with both of their jobs.

     Also, kudos for using the extended version of the theme song in the finale, which has popped up more and more recently. It is far superior to the shortened version, and the show seems to have taken note of that. I also enjoy any alternate versions, such as the Christmas one used last week.

     Psych will return to USA next summer for its sixth season.

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Article first published as TV Review: Psych - "Yang 3 in 2D" on Blogcritics.

No Ordinary Family Fall 2010

     It's hard to keep up with all of the television on now, especially with so much worthy of review. So with none of the new pilots this falling knocking my socks off, I decided to just let them all build up on my TiVo until I got around to them, and so I wouldn't waste my time with those canceled quickly. As such, today was the first day I began tackling those new series, and did all ten episodes (including a rewatch of the pilot) of ABC's No Ordinary Family in one day. Here's my overall impression, having given myself about one hour to digest and reflect on all of the TV.

     This show is pretty cheesy. So often there are things we are just supposed to overlook. For instance, in the third episode, we're really supposed to believe that Stephanie's (Julie Benz) engagement ring was just found at the scene of another crime, days later? Really? Or that the guys that J.J. (Jimmy Bennett) invited over for poker would just give up all that money to a kid they're not friends with and who claimed to have never played the game so easily? Or in the same episode, two teenagers could so elegantly break into a high school to fix a sculpture? Or that Jim's (Michael Chiklis) fire proof-ness extends to his clothing? Or that the family can afford the suddenly huge increase in budget for food and sneakers that Stephanie requires, not to mention household repairs, without hardship? There's a lot the writers (or maybe editors) are asking us to overlook here and take for granted.

     That being said, there is so much potential in this show, it drives me crazy. Here is a well defined family, with normal family issues, along with the host of new things cropping up because of their super powers. Each of the Powells is handled by a capable actor, and their family chemistry is solid. Not only that, but George (Romany Malco) and Katie (Autumn Reeser), the parents' best friends, are also so incredibly likable, that they have become my favorite characters. This is a very talented cast put together, and they know exactly who they are playing. Whatever level of cheesiness makes it through, I still want to watch these six people, and what they are going through.

     Equally impressive is Will / Joshua / The Watcher (Josh Stewart, Dirt). His creepy mystery has held my attention beautifully through ten episodes, and the more I find out about him, the more I want to know. His motivations are obviously murky, with some allegiance to his boss, Dr. King (Stephen Collins), but some also to unknown feelings. He has not revealed all he has learned about the Powells, and I do believe he may have genuine feelings for Katie, at least, I hope he does. However, I predict a King / Watcher showdown as a centerpiece in the second half of the season, if not the season finale. It's something I greatly look forward to. And if the Watcher survives it, perhaps an upgrade to full time cast member in season two?

     As far as the major arcs and plot twists, there have been some pretty good ones. J.J.'s nemesis slash math teacher, Mr. Litchfield (Jason Antoon) had an excellent run at trying to prove J.J. was a bad kid. I totally believed he would drop the issue when he did, because as much as he watched J.J., I think he knew that something extraordinary was going on, and knew who saved his life. I've also been really into Stephanie and Katie's research of Dr. Volson, as well as everything that goes with that. I dig the whole back story with Dr. King and Dr. Volson, much of which has yet to be revealed. Could Dr. King be Dr. Volson? Only time will tell. Also, why is Dr. King holding on to the body of the Powell's pilot (Tate Donovan, Damages)? The fact that the pilot was played by such a wonderful actor makes me think there are plans for him. There's no need to waste Donovan.

     I also give the show credit for a heck of a fall cliffhanger. Shortly before the closing credits, the Watcher wiped Daphne's (Kay Panabaker) memory, going all the way back to just before she acquired her powers. The Watcher has been shown killing a number of people before this, and not all (any?) of them deserved it. But here, instead of killing, he simply wiped away some memories. Sure, it's cruel, but it's also a bit merciful, for him. Why did he do it, and what will the consequences of his action be? I am fully intrigued.

     This series will not make any Top Television Shows list at this point, because there are still a number of bugs to work out. However, building blocks have been laid that could really prop the series into something awesome, given the right growth. I'm hoping it gets that. Soon, if it wants a second season. No Ordinary Family will return on January 4th.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional tv news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Article first published as TV Review: No Ordinary Family Fall 2010 on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Burn Notice Fourth Season Finale and What's Next

    USA's Burn Notice is known for big, cliff hanger finales. They do one every year, but this might have been the biggest one yet. It was presented in two, separate parts entitled "Out of the Fire" and "Last Stand", and while the first half was fun, the latter is what was most impressive. It was exciting, action-packed, and contained plenty of suspense. The final scene was of Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) being handed a coat and arriving in Washington D.C., presumably his burn notice gone, or expected to soon be. For four years, the major premise of the show is that Michael's life has been hindered by this burn, and he has done everything he can to clear his name and get his job back. While it was not explicit that he accomplished that mission, he did have a list of people who burned him. And somehow, that was supposed to clear his name. And it was put into the hands of Congressman Cowley (returning guest star John Doman), who could do something about it.

     What will the direction of the series be, then, for season five? The pessimistic part of me thinks that there will be some twist that will keep Michael on the outs. He has come so close to finishing things several times, and it has never worked out. The D.C. thing could have been a red herring, designed to make us thing he's out of the woods. Perhaps the organization that made his life a hell will go down, but there still won't be enough evidence to clear Michael. Or maybe the government just won't want him back, after all of the other 'questionable activities' he has been involved in. This is my least favorite possibility, but the most probable.

     Or, it could go the other way. Perhaps Michael will be offered his old job, but he will decide to turn it down and return to his friends and family in Miami. As much as I know he wants his life to return to what it used to be, he has developed some very strong bonds in Miami, and I could see him giving up that old dream for a new one. Without the burn hanging over his head, he could enjoy Miami and make peace with who he is.

     Either of these two options would allow the show to continue with it's case of the week format, in the city that is as much a character as Michael is, though the latter would need a new, large arc to go with the side stories. USA has shown no interest in tinkering with the elements that define its series. That's sad, in a way, because I would like nothing more than the show to pull an Alias and completely redefine what it is. I'm not knocking how good the show has been up until now, as it has been good. But how exciting would it be to have a new premise, a new setting, new supporting characters, and totally different situations thrown at the same characters we've grown to love?

     Going back to the Michael returning to Miami bit, as I find that very, very likely, and my dream set up very, very unlikely, Jesse's (Coby Bell) fate is a little more fluid than Michael's. He was the first new principal character to join the series, being a regular for just this past year. I think his inclusion was a successful experiment, and hope he sticks around. Hence, I imagine that not-cleared scenario will happen, because Jesse doesn't have those same ties to stay in Miami, and he would probably leave the show if he got his job back. Unless he was made a handler or supervisor or some type of attache from the government to Michael, an interesting possibility. In fact, I would really like to see that.

     The number one reason I see Michael staying in Miami is Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar). They have tip toed around each other for much of the series, at times closer than others. Fiona's willingness to follow Michael into a suicidal standoff in last week's finale shows just how deep their bond has become. Surely, there will be lasting consequences for that decision. No matter which way Michael's plot goes, it is definitely time for a full-fledged Michael and Fiona romance, with an official, sticking relationship.

     Michael's mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless), used to be fairly useless, but has really become an essential heart to the group. Her involvement in several missions has been a delight, and the way she stood up to Vaughn (Robert Wisdom) while being held captive in the latest episode proves she deserves to be more involved in Michael's activities, at least as much as she'd like to be, which would never be one hundred percent. A move of the series out of Miami, my unlikely wish, would most certainly see her departure, and that alone is enough of a reason for the network to not consider it. Without Mama Westen, something would feel off.

     Sam (Bruce Campbell) would be at home anywhere, and will surely be Michael's right hand man no matter where his life leads him.

     Burn Notice will return for a fifth season next summer. Only time will tell just how much the show will change, and what the full effects of this finale was. Either way, the show ended this season on a very high note.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional tv news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Article first published as TV Review: Burn Notice Fourth Season Finale and What's Next on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Good Wife "Nine Hours"

     Sometimes a show that is already great produces such an amazing episode, I am enthralled by every second and want to talk about it to everyone I know. The latest example of this accomplishment was last week's fall finale of CBS's The Good Wife, entitled "Nine Hours". The plot was practically ripped from the headlines, timely and interesting. Real stakes were on the table, and the characters had to stretch themselves, trying desperately in a last ditch effort, and making mistakes along the way. This scramble had a (spoiler alert!) happy ending, but I wasn't sure it was going to until the end. Sure, it was likely that things would work out for our heroes, but it wouldn't be the first time a show tossed a twist in that ruined everything. However, though it took the easy ending, it was not a disappointment.

     The episode began when Alicia (Julianna Margulies) got an early Saturday morning phone call asking if she planned to add an addendum to an appeal to stop an execution she had filed the night before. The file clerk was breaking the rules to tip her off that she may have a chance to save her client, Carter Wright (guest star Chad Coleman, The Wire). Immediately, she called Will (Josh Charles), who was heading out of town for the weekend, and he called Diane (Christine Baranski), who was at the prison visiting their client. All sprang into action, calling in a whole team of lawyers to the firm on their day off to try to save Carter's life.

     One of my (and many fans') favorite characters is Cary (Matt Czuchry), Alicia's competition in season one, who now works for the District Attorney. Cary had worked on a project with the clerk, and Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) sought his assistance, which he was reluctant to give. Cary is not a bad guy, but he is a bit bitter with the firm, you see. His emotions towards them are completely understandable, even if most viewers wanted Alicia to win, as she did. I think we all know how Cary feels, not getting recognition he believes he deserves. I wish he had more screen time this season, because every time he graces the stage, he gets some good meat. In this episode, a call from the director of the Innocence Project, Barry Scheck (guest starring as himself), convinced him to join the cause. This was great, even though regrettably Cary had almost no screen time after he agreed to help.

     Diane also had some great stuff. She was simultaneously wanting to help her firm with their legal case, but also attempting to convince Carter's daughter (Alexandra Metz) to visit her father, and the warden (Michael Pemberton, Damages) to extend visiting hours so that she could. These aims came into conflict when Diane acted on something she overheard, temporarily helping a last minute court hearing, but also losing goodwill at the prison. It's this type of actions have consequences storytelling that makes The Good Wife so compelling, though those consequences aren't usually as quickly apparent as they were this week. Life is complicated, and these types of touches make the show feel authentic.

     Besides the major legal plot, Alicia's family had some drama brewing of its own. Her husband, Peter (Chris Noth), was preparing for a debate. We assume he did well, until asked if his wife had forgiven him for his affair, and then he was stumped. Has Alicia? The show rarely has explicit conversations between the two of them, stating exactly how they feel. Alicia has been sending plenty of mixed signals this season to that effect. Peter has to be confused and doubtful. Sure, he's back living with his family, but he sleeps in the maid's quarters (alone; they don't have a maid). It's a pretty neat tactic, one not seen often on television, trying to rely on physical cues and inferences to tell a whole major story arc. As a viewer, I felt as speechless as Peter. How could he possibly answer that when he, and we, don't know ourselves? The show does not seem poised to answer it too quickly, as Alicia is clearly considering acting on her feelings for Will.

     And on top of all of that, Alicia's daughter, Grace (Makenzie Vega), was finding God. Religion is not a common theme in The Good Wife, none of the principal characters being particularly spiritual, though it does rear its head from time to time. Grace's family obviously is uncomfortable with the teen praying openly and wanting to attend a religious camp. Sure, church attendance in the 21st century is down, but here's a look at a real family, and how non-practicing parents might deal with a daughter who wants to believe. Though, Peter himself also dealt with religious issues this year, so he may be more understanding than Alicia. This was just the beginning of an arc sure to continue in 2011 episodes.

     Crack writing, tight editing, brilliant acting, interesting direction, and a world that seems so realistic, sometimes it's easy to forget it's fiction. These elements are demonstrated consistently in The Good Wife, and it is the reason the show received so many Emmy nominations for its first season. With episodes like "Nine Hours", it can expect to see more of the same next year. The Good Wife will continue its sophomore season on January 11th.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional tv news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Article first published as TV Review: The Good Wife "Nine Hours" on Blogcritics.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sarah Palin's Alaska

     I cannot stand Sarah Palin politically, can't imagine a situation where I would ever vote for her, and in the past have barely tolerated her when she speaks on other subjects. I say that not to upset or offend anyone, least of all the Palins, but so you understand my mind set when I first tuned into her new mega TV hit, Sarah Palin's Alaska. By the way, I also have little patience for reality television. However, in this series, I find something highly entertaining and addictive. I would recommend checking it out.

     Now, it's far from perfect. Sarah certainly hasn't won me over completely. She still can be smarmy, and her offhand insults at the Obamas and the like annoy me. Half of the time her on-camera interviews come across as totally scripted and insincere. It's those times where she's not talking to the camera where she starts to seem like a normal, even likable, person. When her kids are disrespectful, but she holds her tongue, she proves her mettle as a mother. She's tough, but not smothering. If the show is any indication, she seems like a pretty good parent, and someone it would be fun to spend some time with. She isn't afraid to get dirty, is tougher than most, and seems to have a solid, loving marriage.

     That's why her public persona up to this point, quite the opposite in a negative way, has become more baffling than hated to me. I'm sure she'd never invite me to join her up in her home state for some fun, but if the chance ever arose, I'd jump at it, and likely enjoy myself quite a bit. The family appears to be having so much fun every week, it's easy to imagine joining them.

     The rest of the Palin family is portrayed just fine. Todd doesn't talk much, but when he does, you see a supportive, hard working family man, which was the image I already had of him. Sure, her daughters are a bit mouthy every once in awhile, but what teenage girl isn't? They certainly are better than many I have encountered. For the most part, they seem pretty grounded and sweet, raised quite well by their parents. That may be a surprise to anyone who views Sarah as ignoring her family for the sake of career, as quite the opposite appears to be true. Sarah's father cracks me up, and seems like a warm-hearted, generous man. None of her relations and in-laws come across in anything but a positive light.

     But the Palins aren't the biggest draw of the show for me. The hook is that you get to see the beautiful state of Alaska, and all it has to offer. In last night's episode, the family went whitewater rafting, and then Sarah took Piper to see some sled dogs. My wife would have loved that trip! Huskies are her favorite breed of dog. I won't say it was better than any other episode, as they all come across with about the same quality, but it's nice to see one more piece of that semi-wilderness every week.

     New episodes are presented Sunday nights on TLC, and reruns air frequently. Even if you're not a Palin fan, check it out. You might be surprised at how easy it is to watch.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional TV news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Article first published as TV Review: Sarah Palin's Alaska on Blogcritics.

Brothers & Sisters Season 5 So Far

     This season of ABC's Brothers & Sisters began rough, with the loss of cast member Rob Lowe, and the reduction of some of the others' parts, including the departure of Emily VanCamp. I am most upset about VanCamp, as I took her breakup personally, and am most unhappy about it. Happily, Ryan (Luke Grimes) was finally booted as well, having been rarely seen last spring. I figured the necessary shakeup due to actors wanting to leave created the uneasiness I felt, and eventually things would settle down into the show I've loved for years.

     Sadly, that has not been the case. The last two episodes of the fall run in particular demonstrated just how downhill this series has rolled. In "Get a Room", all of the Walkers (who appeared in the episode) ended up in the same hotel and ran into each other in a comedy of errors. The show has done similar things before, but apparently they're running out of ideas on how to make this massive collision of their lives happen. I can tell you, sending them all coincidentally to the same hotel was not it. It lost all believability, even as I tried to tell myself, as they said in the episodes, "well, the rooms were half off".

     Even worse was the fall finale, "Cold Turkey". Nora (Sally Field) decided to go away for Christmas with her new boyfriend, Karl (John Terry, Lost). First of all, the Nora Walker we all know would never, and I mean never, abandon her family on Christmas. I don't care how they tried to explain it away, and gave her a huge guilt trip for going. She would not have left in the first place. Second of all, the dream sequence she had, where her kids had grown up evil and colluded with stepmother Holly (Patricia Wettig) to kill Nora was ridiculous. I don't care where Nora's brain was, it was way too bizarre. I sat very uncomfortably through the entire scene.

     Speaking of Holly, she has been MIA for most of the season. Yes, she suffered serious amnesia from the car wreck, forgetting a lot of her life. Her arc where Justin (Dave Annable) helped her was sweet. But I was very disappointed when Holly asked Justin to move on, and he did. Why is Holly even still in the cast? That dream scene was the most we'd seen of her in weeks. She's a wonderful character, developed so beautifully over four seasons, and now she's being completely wasted. Please, writers, get her back into the story fast.

     On the other hand, the one character having a good year is Saul (Ron Rifkin). Dealing with HIV is not 'good', of course, but Saul has already had more story this fall than all of last season. As a fan of Rifkin from his days on Alias I'm delighted to see the better treatment.

     I also have been fairly satisfied with Kevin (Matthew Rhys) and Scotty (Luke Macfarlane). Although I was heartbroken and sickened to see Scotty do the unthinkable and cheat on Kevin, that flashback actually justified it, showing the bad place the two had grown to, and what motivated him to do it. Scotty's intense regret helped, and they came out of it without going overboard. If the couple ever split up, proving definitively that no Walker can have a good relationship, I would likely be done with the show. Kudos for the one plot that is working among many.
     The relationship merry-go-round of the Walkers this season has been horrendous. Kitty (Calista Flockhart) is by far the worst offender, who, after just unplugging her husband, has bounced to a couple of different guys, none of which really clicked with her. Sure, the writers 'dealt' with her feelings on that issue, but they still went ahead with these dumb stories. Her latest is twenty-seven year old Seth (Ryan Devlin), who happens to be her boss's son. The whole thing is just wrong. The way-younger guy thing for a conservative republican mourning her husband? No, not in character at all. I love Devlin, but he needs to get off the sinking ship and back over to Cougar Town, where he was fantastic. And just where was Kitty's young son last week while she was in the hotel?
     Sarah (Rachel Griffiths) has fared little better. Sure, she's in a very stable relationship with Luc (Gilles Marini), whose addition to the cast I celebrated. But from the underwear modeling to the zany mishaps in the hotel, they have not been in a good place. And I don't mean their love hasn't been solid, it has, but crappy story telling has led them to some bizarre twists that were as unappealing as they were unnecessary.

     Honestly, if this is how it's going to be, the series needs to end. Not as many episodes were ordered this year, so plenty of people think it's a sign of the writing on the wall. I have adored this series since it's premiere, and never missed an episode, but the beloved characters are just being ruined at this point. I don't think I've ever seen a show I loved so much go to such a bad place. Please, please, just do a series finale this year and put the Walkers out of their misery. Unless they can fix the show, and then at least one more year is needed to wash the bad taste of fall '05 out of our mouths.

     It's been an entire week since Brothers & Sisters aired their last new episodes, but they will return to their Sunday night slot on January 2nd.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional tv news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Article first published as TV Review: Brothers & Sisters Season 5 So Far on Blogcritics.