Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Fades scares up Blu-ray and DVD

The Fades, a new British sci-fi / horror series, recently completed its first season run on BBC America, and is already available in stores. This show is the story of 17-year-old Paul (Iain De Caestecker, Coronation Street, The Little Vampire), who is suddenly drawn into the supernatural. The Fades are ghosts who cannot cross over to the other side, and are fighting a war with the Angelics, humans with special powers. The Fades have found a way to gain substance in the real world by feeding on people. Paul realizes that he has more powers than any of the Angelics, and they begin to argue over whether he could be the savior who ends their war. Death, destruction, and the possible end of mankind make the stakes high in this six episode adventure.

While not yet renewed for a second series, The Fades does not end with a neat tying up. Nor should it. It is a bold, innovative show that is not afraid to kill off main characters and take big chances. In fact, The Fades advances more plot, twists, and major game changers than most American shows do in a full, twenty-two episode season. It should be praised for that.

In the first episode, Paul is merely having dreams, but thinks he is a normal boy. By episode six, he has not only faced down death and come back from it, but is poised to become the hero who saves the world. The character changes fundamentally, as do so many of those around him.

Not everyone survives series one, and should a second be commissioned, as it must, they will be missed. Unless the show finds a way to bring them back, which it very well could, given the material. Death is an obstacle here, and though total annihilation is possible, it doesn't touch everyone.

The Fades is filled with engrossing characters. There's Sarah (Natalie Dormer, The Tudors, Captain America: The First Avenger), an Angelic killed in the first episode, who can't let go of the love that she has for her ex-husband, Mark (Tom Ellis, EastEnders, Miranda), whom she is still living with when she dies. She resists the draw of John (Joe Dempsie, Skins), the leader of the reborn Fades, who is an alluring trickster bent on world domination.

There are other Angelics, too. The most important one in The Fades is Neil (Johnny Harris, Atonement, Whitechapel), who first approaches Paul to help them. But as time goes on, Neil doesn't always agree with Paul's decisions, nor that of the other Angelics. Neil is headstrong and battle weary, and isn't willing to rely on any possible savior if that means he needs to give up trying to win the battle himself. He also takes the approach of a desperate man, which doesn't always serve him well, from a moral stand point.

Paul's family both grounds him, and complicates matters, as they can easily become pawns in the game. Paul has a mother, Meg (Claire Rushbrook, Whitechapel, Linda Green), and a twin sister, Anna (Lily Loveless, Skins), who are quite helpless against the baddies. Paul's best friend, Mac (Daniel Kaluuya, Psychoville, Skins), isn't much more capable, but at least he loyally stands by his pal through everything. And Anna's best friend Jay (Sophie Wu, Kick-Ass) further distracts the hero, as she becomes a love interest for Paul. So it's a little hard for Paul to keep his mind just on the matters at hand.

The many layers and stories interwoven together are what makes The Fades so great. It could have picked a couple of elements, and made a wonderful story. But by packing all of these and more into six hours of television, the result is a busy, enticing, exciting mess of an apocalyptic showdown, the likes of which have rarely been seen on the small screen. This is definitely a must-see British series.

It's rewarding to see The Fades on disc because BBC America censors the language and nudity. For those who are offended by such things, cable is the way to see this show. But for fans who think these elements enhance the series, this release fixes those things toned down by the network.

The Blu-ray release looks and sounds great, as one would expect with such a special effects-laden story, though the audio is sadly not presented in surround sound. But the discs themselves leave a bit to be desired. For one thing, the menus blare creepy music at a much louder volume than the episodes or extras, which makes them a pain every time one must navigate them. For another, the extras are mostly short bits of two minutes or less, grouped together by categories such as 'Extra Scenes,' 'Deleted Scenes,' and 'Mac Explains.' Now the lengths in themselves aren't the problem, as they add up to a satisfactory amount, and it's great that extra and deleted scenes are included for each episode. However, there is no 'Play All' button, even within the subcategories, so every minute or two one has to go back through the noisy menus. I recommend muting during these times.

That's really a minor complaint, though. The extras, including interviews with Johnny Harris and Natalie Dormer, are good, if not particularly deep. And the series is plenty awesome enough to make up for any inconvenience built into the discs. Seriously. It's unlike anything else on television.

Buy The Fades Season One today.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Is 'Karma' good for How I Met Your Mother?

This week's How I Met Your Mother on CBS is called "Karma." Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) finds Quinn (Becki Newton, Love Bites, Ugly Betty) at a strip club working under the name Karma. Actually, they've both been there on a regular basis for over a year, but he finally notices her. Barney tries to ask her out, but ends up being played into spending lots of money on her. He is sincerely hurt, and seeing that, Quinn decides to give him a chance. Meanwhile, Ted (Josh Radnor) tries to decide what to do with his spare room, and Robin (Cobie Smulders) crashes in the suburbs.

Season seven has been the year of Barney looking for a serious relationship. The writers have tried him with Robin, but that didn't work out. He ends his next relationship because he thinks that he can get back with Robin, but is let down. Now he's considering Quinn. Has he learned his lesson, or will he toss Quinn aside at the first chance for another shot with Robin?

Quinn is a great character, played by the wonderful Newton perfectly. She is a match for Barney in every way, with similar personalities. If anyone has a chance to truly turn his head from Robin, as it should be, after he was scorned, it's Quinn.

So might Quinn be the woman Barney is going to marry in the flashes of a wedding seen earlier this season and last? Well, it's hard to tell. Perhaps Robin will be the bride, because she's familiar, and it's what many fans want. But it might be the bolder, more realistic move to go with someone else. And should that be the decision, Quinn might just be the perfect girl to make that happen. Plus, keeping Newton working on television is a worthy goal.

It's kind of a shock when Ted decides to move out of his apartment, where he has lived for the entire run of How I Met Your Mother. But Ted is desperately looking to make a change, because what he has been doing for the last seven years has not given him the result he seeks. He wants a wife, and he is failing over and over again. So the smart thing to do is make changes, any see if one can get different results. Giving up the apartment unsticks him from his comfort zone, and could be just what he needs.

Still, it's heartbreaking to see the place empty at the end of "Karma." It is some comfort that Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel) will be back in it, given it was once their home. But it won't be the same.

While staying with Lily and Marshall outside of the city, Robin is unhappy, and thinks that they are, too. This plot culminates in "Karma" when the couple sees Ted's gift of the apartment. The question is, is this the right decision for them? They were willing to live in the suburbs for their child, but both prefer city life. Will they feel guilty for putting their own needs above the kid's? Or will they make peace with the fact that many kids are raised in New York City and do just fine, so why not theirs? This story is probably not yet over, though moving back downtown seems to be the right decision.

"Karma" is a terrific example of how How I Met Your Mother is fully recovered from the slump it was in for awhile. Tune in to CBS Mondays at 8 p.m. ET later this spring for more fresh episodes.

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Being Human picks up on the "Eve of the War"

Being Human returns to BBC American with "Eve of the War" this past weekend. The action picks up a few weeks after last year's finale. Viewers learn that, in the interim, Nina (Sinead Keenan) has been killed in retribution for George's (Russell Tovey) slaying of Wyndam (Lee Ingleby). Now, George is a shut-in, protecting his unnamed infant daughter by not allowing her out of her nursery. That is, until Tom (Michael Socha) shows up with information about Griffin (Alex Jennings, Whitechapel, The Queen), Wyndam's replacement who ordered Nina's murder.

Tom and George have their work cut out for them in the revenge game. Griffin is a few steps ahead, bringing in the Old Ones, and plotting to kidnap George and Nina's daughter, the first baby born of two werewolves. Disappointingly to the vampires, the baby appears all-human. The Vampire Recorder, Regus (Mark Williams, the Harry Potter films), reveals that the baby is prophesized to wipe out all the vampires from the face of the Earth, so Griffin decides to kill her.

The new vampire characters in "Eve of the War" are interesting, if a bit murky in their motivation. Is Regus really willing to see the annihilation of his entire species just to allow a prophecy to come true? Yes, he has dedicated his life to such works, and without prophecy fulfillment, his efforts seem to be a waste of time. But this is a serious offense against himself and his people, not to mention, he is missing a third of the scroll, and doesn't even know the whole story. Perhaps he is a good guy who just can't stand to see a baby killed?

The new vampire villain looks to be Cutler (Andrew Gower, Monroe), who is far more suited to modern times than Griffin is. Cutler tries to warn Griffin that his plans will fail, and is cunning enough to hide in the shadows when all hell breaks loose in the vampire place. Cutler will surely take over the local hive, and possibly the plans for world domination that Griffin aspires to. As such, Cutler will be the face of evil our heroes must defeat. Or so it seems from the season premiere alone.

It's a shame that Being Human kills Nina off screen. With the injuries she suffers near the end of last season, that seems a cleaner time to end the character than with an unseen hit. However, her death, and the way it is carried out, gives great motivation to George, who seeks to avenge her any way that he can, which eventually leads to his own reckless downfall. George dies a hero, in a powerfully moving scene, because the result of his actions is the saving of his daughter, whom he names Eve. Awesome way to take out George, which makes Nina's disappearance all the more regrettable.

This leaves Annie (Lenora Crichlow) with plenty of story going forward. Not only does she have to serve as a mentor to new housemate, Tom, but she has to raise George and Nina's baby. This is surely a lot for a ghost to handle, given her limitations. It also makes Annie even more the heart of the series than she previously is, which Crichlow should be able to handle with the ease that she has demonstrated repeatedly already.

To round out the house, because Being Human fans know that a vampire, werewolf, and ghost must band together to protect the human race, "Eve of the War" introduces Hal (Damien Molony). Hal has long been part of a similar trio as the main characters of this show, but his werewolf pal is dying. It is unknown what will happen to the ghost that he lives with, but Hal should have some guidance and wisdom to offer Annie, being that he has been a protector of mankind for so much longer.

Oh, and there's a plot set in a dystopian 2037, where a young woman (probably a grown Eve, though that is unconfirmed) has her friend kill her so she can, as a ghost, kill a baby and save the world. No idea how this works into the rest of the story yet, other than the prophecy connection, as she has Regus's scroll, including the missing piece.

"Eve of the War" is a fantastic season premiere. It changes the tone of Being Human into something a good deal more exciting than the original premise, and certainly a faster moving series. The new characters are interesting, and the plot arcs just beginning look to be really cool. One could not ask for a better premiere!

Being Human airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Robin of Sherwood set 2 concludes series

Robin of Sherwood Set 2, containing all thirteen episodes of the third and final series, is now on Blu-ray and DVD. When Robin of Sherwood Set 1 ends, Robin of Loxsley (Michael Praed, Timewatch. Dynasty) is dead, leaving the characters in disarray. As Set 2 begins, a new Robin, Robert of Huntingdon (Jason Connery, Shanghai Noon), emerges. This Robin is significantly different, coming from a privileged background. But he is soon tapped by Herne the Hunter (John Abineri) to take over the legendary sword, and with it, the role of Robin of the Hood. The new Robin is reluctant, until Marion (Judi Trott) is kidnapped, and he springs into action, rousing the Merry Men back together, and resuming the noble work left undone by his predecessor.

If one is a fan of Set 1, Robin of Sherwood Set 2 has many of those same great characteristics. It is largely shot outdoors, in authentic settings. The budget may not be huge, but what there is is dedicated to the special effects of the magical elements, which are stepped up in this second set. This is a show with a lot of the supernatural, and also, a lot of sword fights, which are usually executed in a seemingly realistic manner. The acting is the same high quality as Set 1, and aside for a handful of cheesy missteps, the story, as a whole, remains among the best of the genre. Robin of Sherwood, which aired in the U.S. as Robin Hood, is worthy of being remembered, and Set 2 carries on the proud traditions of Set 1.

Connery, son of Sean, takes over the mantle well. He is physically and temperamentally very different from Praed's Robin, which is a good thing. Any imitation would have fallen short, and for Robin of Sherwood to keep going with a different lead, a new nature needed to be incorporated. Connery plays the part in a manner that does not resemble the former Robin, but it is not inferior, either. He handles the dramatic and the mystical with ease, and one wonders why his career, while respectable, did not take off further after this.

Of course, many of the other great characters from the first set return. Of particular note are Will Scarlet (Ray Winstone, the fourth Indiana Jones), Nasir (Mark Ryan, the new Transformers films), and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Nickolas Grace, Brideshead Revisited). The latter is a fantastic villain, who still chills and proves a worthy antagonist three seasons in. Another bad guy with an intriguing twist is Sir Guy of Gisburne (Robert Addie, Excalibur), who uncovers a startling secret. Unfortunately, Robin of Sherwood is canceled before all of the implications of that twist can be fully explored.

For a series so old, it is remarkable at how well Robin of Sherwood has been restored! The picture quality is quite good, if a bit soft, with clear colors, and images relatively sharp, considering. It isn't the same as today's releases, of course, but it is definitely one of the better touched up series of the past that surely needed a lot of work. That it looks as good as it does deserves high praise. The audio is pretty good, too. The episodes are not available in surround sound, but the stereo mixes are decent, and not distracting. Sound effects and music are blended well with dialogue, and it does not appear that anything gets lost in the output.

Robin of Sherwood Set 2 delivers on the bonus features. Nine of the thirteen episodes have audio commentary tracks, which use some of the principal actors and creative team. There are fun anecdotes, and some rich background information. There are also cast filmographies, a thirteen minute blooper reel, a photo gallery with over 400 images, three episodes with tracks available to listen to the music by itself, and a preview for the U.S. Showtime run.

That's far from all. A 76 minute documentary called "Nothing's Forgotten: The Making of Robin of Sherwood) tells a comprehensive story of the series, with many of the central acting and backstage team involved. The band Clannard, which won awards for scoring the show, gives a twelve minute interview about what they bring to the table. Performer Mark Ryan talks about the swordplay techniques used in an eight minute feature. And Esta Charkham, a producer, presents a four minute retrospective through photographs.
Robin of Sherwood Set 2 is a solid collection, well worth the purchase price. For fans of British television of the fantasy genre, this is a must-have for any comprehensive collection. Buy Robin of Sherwood Set 2 on sale now on Blu-ray and DVD.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"The End of All Things" doesn't stop Fringe

FOX's Fringe this week, "The End of All Things," finds Peter (Joshua Jackson) and the others frantically searching for Olivia (Anna Torv). With few leads, it seems fortunate that the primary Observer involved in events, known as September (Michael Cerveris), shows up in Walter's (John Noble) lab. Sadly, this Observer has been shot and is near death. Peter goes into September's mind to see if he knows where Olivia is being held, and instead, Peter discovers that he has a soon with Fauxlivia (also Torv) in his timeline. The Observer advises Peter to go home, then ejects Peter before dying and disappearing.

The Observers are a mysterious race, and Fringe fans may never learn everything that they do. But what is known is that other Observers are not happy with September, and want him to suffer the consequences. Do those consequences involve death? Or did someone else attack September. Why would anyone else wish him harm?

In "The End of All Things," September reveals to Peter that the Observers are human beings from one possible future that travel through time and observe events. September feels guilty for interrupting Walter's work in this timeline, causing Walter not to save Peter's life. As such, this alternate timeline, as shown all season, is a mistake. This particular reality shouldn't exist. Why, then, is Peter in it? And why do the Observers want to erase Peter completely? If Peter is supposed to survive, without September's interference, shouldn't the others want Peter there?

Then again, in the 'normal' timeline, September intervenes and saves Peter from drowning because he is "important." Important how? To solve the paradox? And now that it is solved, why is Peter still around? Does this mean that Peter shouldn't exist, and that September interrupting Walter means nothing? The possibilities are many, and confusing.

The bottom line gleaned, though, in "The End of All Things" is that Peter must return home. Sure, September could have been referring to Peter's house, which he does go to, and it leads to him finding Olivia. But obviously the Observer also meant something more. Where is home and how does Peter get there?

An interesting concept explored in "The End of All Things" is how video cassettes can write over a recording, but images and flashes from the original video may come through. This opens up a theory about what has happened to the universe. Perhaps this Peter-less timeline is recorded over reality, and Peter's appearance, as well as Olivia suddenly developing Peter's Olivia's memories, could be the other timeline bleeding through. In this case, Peter must negate this whole existence to restore what was. Is that what has to happen? Or can the two timelines co-exist in alternate realities? Is what is happening to Olivia a symptom of a gradual shift, or does everything need to be replaced all at once? And if it is the former, how hurt will Olivia be, once everything else is back to normal, that Peter is rejecting her now?

Blair Brown must be praised for her multiple Ninas in "The End of All Things." The Nina being held by Fringe Division is likely still Olivia's caring mother figure, and is telling the truth about her non-participation in drugging and kidnapping Olivia. There is another Nina working with David Robert Jones (Mad Men's Jared Harris) who is not on the up and up. Both versions of Nina are played very well, keeping the character murky, and viewers must continually reassess what is the truth about the women. It is a truly fantastic performance!

Lastly, what is David Robert Jones's game? In the real timeline, he is killed before he can carry out whatever dastardly plan he is cooking up, which somehow involves Olivia's abilities. In this alternate world, he lives on, testing Olivia again. At the end of this week's installment, the other Nina and DRJ escape to the other universe, so the threat that they pose continues. DRJ is a wonderful villain, and it's great that Fringe is using this opportunity in season four to bring him back and explore him further. What is really exciting is what potential powers in Olivia his activities may unlock!

Fringe will return in four weeks to FOX, Friday nights at 9 p.m. ET.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

"On My Way" to Glee

FOX's Glee ends its winter run in a big way with "On My Way." Karofsky (Max Adler) attempts suicide, rocking both the New Directions and the Warblers. This puts their petty feuding into perspective, leading to a unified front at Regionals in supporting a charity to help others like Karofsky. It also is another contributing factor in Rachel (Lea Michele) and Finn's (Cory Monteith) march to the altar. The pair pushes up the ceremony to just after Regionals, as their parents scramble to prevent it. And on the way to the wedding, Quinn (Dianna Agron) is involved in a horrific car wreck while texting and driving. 

Glee will never be blamed for not doing enough to promote a stop to the bullying of teens, especially gay ones. Karofsky's arc in "On My Way" almost comes to a tragic end, as he feels shamed enough to try to take his own life. It's with great relief that his father (Daniel Roebuck) catches him in time, and saves the lad. The scene is emotional, powerful, and one that no viewer will soon forget, especially with Blaine's (Darren Criss) haunting "Cough Syrup" laid over it. It is an excellent moment for Glee.

It's also a transformational moment for Max Adler. Originally introduced as a stereotypical bully, the character of Karofsky has really grown into a fan favorite, and deservedly so. His arc, which climaxes in "On May Way," not only affects every character on the series, as well as every viewer at home, but surely deserves at least an Emmy nomination for Best Guest Actor. This young man plays Karofsky in such a way that will tug at every heart string. It's no wonder that the characters rally around him, offering their support in their own ways, even after what he has done to them.

Also stand out is the scene where Kurt (Chris Colfer) visits Karofsky in the hospital. Kurt and Karofsky are not meant to be together, but their growing friendship is certainly a Glee highlight. Given the circumstances leading up to the suicide attempt, Kurt should not blame himself for not answering Karofsky's calls. He comes to see him, and that's what Karofsky needs.

The biggest impact comes when Kurt helps Karofsky imagine what might happen in a few years, and how his life could change for the better. One can easily picture hundreds of gay teens glued to their television sets, picturing their own futures, identifying with both guys, and wishing for their own happy ending. Glee delivers the ultimate "It Gets Better" video in this sequence. And it really does get better, and will only get more so as society adjusts away from this latest form of bigotry. If "On My Way" prevents a few real suicides by offering that hope, the series has more than proven its worth.

What is really surprising is how Sebastian (Grant Gustin) changes. He has taken over the villain role on Glee, but that comes to a abrupt halt this week. Sebastian previously insults Karofsky in a bar, and that comes back to jar him in "On My Way." He deals with his own guilty feelings. Will the change be permanent? Probably not, and who would want it to? Television needs bad guys to stay interesting. But it's great to see that Sebastian has some depth to him, and is not wholly two-dimensional.

"On My Way" contains a great moment for the staff, as Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) gathers Sue (Jane Lynch), Will (Matthew Morrison), Emma (Jayma Mays), and Bieste (Dot Marie Jones) in his office to discuss how to handle the Karofsky's situation. Each teacher feels somewhat responsible for not seeing it coming, and also compassion for their students. Their reactions are professional, but also show the deep personal connection educators feel to the children that they work with. In fact, it's among the finest behavior shown by their characters. If they were like this every day, they would be ideal teachers, instead of the caricatures they sometimes are reduced to.

Will is not at his finest in "On My Way." He sits the New Directions down to talk to them about suicide. Not only does he not tell his students that they can always call on him, which is what he should be doing, but he also tells a lame story about considering the final act of desperation himself after getting caught cheating on a test. Not even a test that will get him into college or anything, just a standard test for a class. It does not come across as sincere, and doesn't live up to the moment that it should be.

Facing change in "On My Way" is Sue. She is pregnant, somehow, and the father has still not been revealed. This softens her up considerably, allowing logic to easily be forgotten in favor of an engrossing story, and some character development. In the end, she even offers to help the New Directions win at Nationals, and claims there is no catch to her motives. Could she really be sincere? If Sue brings to bear her formidable coaching talents, which have won many a Cheerios national title, and doesn't try to sabotage them in some way, the group should be unstoppable. What an exciting prospect! And also a fitting, satisfying, happy ending to the three year arc of many of the characters. This would truly be a full circle moment for Sue, and one cannot help but wish that this spirit is genuine.

Quinn returns to focus in "On My Way." Looking forward to soon head off to Yale, she tries to leave things good between herself and her classmates. She does this by offering sympathy concerning Karofsky, and being less judgmental about Rachel's wedding. The scene where she asks Rachel if she is still welcome at Rachel's wedding is sweet, and reminds viewers of what these two characters have built over the years. It's not exactly friendship, but there is a special bond between them. Sue allowing her back on the Cheerios is just icing on the cake. Things put in order, Quinn can happily move on.

And then the car wreck happens. Setting aside the anti-texting-while-driving message that Glee is touting, which is probably an important one for teens, though not particularly appealing, how will this change the course of Quinn's life? The challenges she's had to overcome deal with body image and pregnancy. Is Glee really going to ask for more of her when her victory is so near? It seems a little off that Quinn gets into Yale, but now that fans have accepted that twist, would Glee dare to take that accomplishment, a reward for all the work she has done on herself, away? And certainly any chance of her cheerleading again is now gone.

Might Glee kill Quinn off? It seems unlikely, especially coming so soon after Karofsky's close call. It would also extend a depressing tone into at least one more consecutive episode, which doesn't seem like a move that Glee would make. However, the series should definitely consider it. Agron has had a nice run, and her death could really put things into perspective for many characters, even more so than Karofsky's. It would also give a Nationals victory, dedicated to Quinn, of course, even more umph. If the actress is going to depart the show soon anyway, why not leave in such a way that she will be fondly remembered for, and as a deeply powerful motivator?

Besides Quinn's wreck, the other cliffhanger in "On My Way" is whether or not Rachel and Finn will go through with their wedding. As the episode closes, it is time for them to take the plunge. They are at the courthouse, surrounded by family and friends and Sue. Both characters seem ready to go for it, with none of the hesitation or doubts that have plagued the past few episodes. In fact, Glee almost goes to lengths to get fans on board with the matrimony, something that hasn't really been attempted until this episode. So is the deal done? It seems certain, unless news of Quinn reaches them beforehand, which wouldn't be realistic.

The wild cards here are Burt (Mike O'Malley), Carole (Romy Rosemont), Leroy (Brian Stokes Mitchell), and Hiram (Jeff Goldblum). Setting aside that Burt has not been in Finn's life long enough to react so strongly, what plan might these four come up with? Carole is slowly getting on board with the marriage, and possibly Leroy, too, but Burt and Hiram are dead set against it. What will they do to try to stop the wedding? It would be very unlikely that they would come around this late in the game, and keep their mouths shut, barring something happening to change their mind. And there simply isn't time for that. But will whatever they do actually change Rachel and / or Finn's mind?

By the way, are we to assume that Hiram and Leroy have been at all of the New Directions' events, just unseen up til now? For their characters to be absent seems unlikely, and their attendance at Regionals really makes the hole left by them over the past two and a half years really felt. It is a big mistake to wait until now to bring them into the story, though it's too late to fix that. Thank goodness the course correction is happening now, but it feels a little too late.

As far as music goes, "On My Way" delivers pretty well, though most of the episode is lacking song. There is merely one performance outside of the Regionals contest, and that is Blaine's aforementioned number. While powerful in context, one gets the impression that it might not have stood so well on its own. Context does matter, though, so it gets a passing, but not spectacular, grade.

The Warblers are a bit of a let down while performing "Stand" and "Glad You Came" for their Regionals entry. The group is severely lacking strong leadership without Blaine this year. Sebastian is an interesting character, perhaps, but he pales in comparison on fronting the group. Neither song choice is particularly impressive or memorable, and it's a relief that the Warbler's third number is omitted.

The New Directions, of course, are much better. "Fly"/"I Believe I Can Fly" is a cool mash-up that features six different members of the glee club! The second song, "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)," is, as promised, for the Troubletones, with each of the three main New Directions girls in the group getting solo time. Though where did the others come from? They haven't been practicing with the New Directions. One would be forgiven for assuming that they had quit choir until they suddenly show up here.

As great as Rachel does in leading the finale, "Here's to Us," it's also really neat that the so many other members of the group get to shine, too, in the first two songs. It's taken three years, but the other characters have been fleshed out enough to finally take a bit of spotlight of their own, without leaving everything on the shoulders of one girl.

So "On My Way" will stand out as a high point of this season. Not musically, perhaps, but definitely in terms of story and character development, as well as societal impact. Great effort for a mid-season finale.

Glee is taking a break, but will return to FOX in April.

MORE GLEE: If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here for all of the Glee reviews I've ever written. To purchase Glee DVDs, streaming episodes, music, and more, please click here. Article first published as TV Review: Glee - "On My Way" on Blogcritics.

Happy Endings - 'The Butterfly Effect Effect'

This week, on ABC's Happy Endings, "The Butterfly Effect Effect," the gang wait for Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Jane (Eliza Coupe) to have their annual fight to signal an end to winter. Assuming that they have grown past that phase, Brad and Jane instead stage a fight for their friends' benefits. But with their hearts not in it, it does not have the intended effect, as everyone can sense something off about the situation. Though, soon enough, a real fight between the couple breaks out, and balance is restored.

It's a little weird that everyone is so involved in Brad and Jane's relationship, isn't it? Sure, on ensemble sitcoms where two of the ensemble are married, their private lives are always minimized in favor of group dynamics. Happy Endings has done a pretty good job balancing the parts up til now, but the events of "The Butterfly Effect Effect" just seem a bit too intrusive into the union. Of course, friends will be there to comfort Brad and Jane during any rough patch. But when everyone else gets involved in the fight so much, it just feels wrong.

Not to mention the fact that Penny (Casey Wilson) and Dave (Zachary Knighton) actually try to goad the fight into existence. Other shows have proved that selfish, uncaring characters can be funny (see Seinfeld and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia). Happy Endings is different because the group is infused with a sense of loving warmth. They may tease one another, but they don't actively try to sabotage the others for their own gain. Again, until "The Butterfly Effect Effect."

Meanwhile, Max (Adam Pally) has gone into a bear-like state of hibernation. He stumbles around the apartment with a full beard, bundled up, eating honey with his hands. There's also a cheap gay joke in here somewhere that, thankfully, the episode avoids. This whole thing is very, very funny, allowing Pally some of his best visual gags yet, but it doesn't make sense for his character. Where is his boyfriend? How long has Max been allowed to hide in the apartment? Surely, not for long. Just last week he was shown out and about. Then he just drops the whole act when the others tell him to. It's a great one-note joke, but doesn't fit in the continuity.

It's not that "The Butterfly Effect Effect" is a bad episode; the main actors in Happy Endings are far too good for that. It just feels like it's an episode of a different series. It loses the spirit of many of the characters just for the sake of a few laughs. This could be chalked up to winter doldrums setting in, and the characters not feeling like themselves, but if so, there needs to be some explanation of that on screen. Instead, winter is touched upon, but not used as an excuse for personality changes. In this, Happy Endings fails to live up to the generally high standards that the series has been setting.

That is, until the last minute of the episode. When everyone makes up, and they all force Brad to buy them dinner at the Chop House, the true tone of the show returns. Which is why it is so glaring that most of the rest of the half hour doesn't match up. The series remembers its identity at the last moment, and pulls itself away from this side trip. Good course correction, but it's a shame it needs to be made at all.

Happy Endings airs Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Raising Hope engages in "Sheer Madness"

FOX's Raising Hope goes for "Sheer Madness" this week. Sabrina (Shannon Woodward) and Jimmy's (Lucas Neff) relationship is still new, so they hide their embarrassing habits from each other. This doesn't sit right with Virginia (Martha Plimpton), who encourages them to be themselves. To do that, Sabrina goes off her meds, which reveals her irrational fear of spiders crawling into her ears at night, which she solves by wearing pantyhose on her head. As this plays out, Burt (Garret Dillahunt) feels guilty for hiding his own shameful secret from Virginia, but is scared of what she might say if he does come clean. To this end, he seeks advice from Andrew (Ethan Suplee). 

Raising Hope did the bold thing last week by putting Sabrina and Jimmy together. A year and a half is enough dancing around the issue. The series deserves praise for taking the chance, something many shows why away from. While their relationship is only one week old in "Sheer Madness," it is already showing signs of working well for the series. Now that she is with Jimmy, Sabrina gets the chance to reveal a little more of her character. Woodward is a constant delight, and any opportunity for her to be even funnier on the show is appreciated.

How will the couple progress from here? Making it through this first trial is a valid test, though it's a simple, easy one that just covers the onset of being together. Jimmy accepts Sabrina the way she is, which is just a more pronounced version of the personality she has already shown. But he also cares enough to help her try to get over her fear. It's telling that Jimmy doesn't ask Sabrina to go back on the meds, but rather, tries to help her work on her issues in a healthy way. This doesn't end well for Jimmy's face, but it should prove just fine for his heart.

There are signs already that Jimmy and Sabrina's relationship is similar to Virginia and Burt's. Both care a great deal about each other. They overlook flaws, and love the other person for who they are. They understand each other. This is evident on Jimmy's part over the past year and a half, but it's gratifying to witness that, with Sabrina, this just may be a two-way street.

In this story, Virginia is arrogant in her assumption that she and Burt are the perfect couple, with nothing to hide from each other. They have a very open, honest relationship, but that doesn't mean that they are perfect, as "Sheer Madness" soon reveals. This isn't a bad thing. It makes them relatable and normal. The fact that Burt goes to great lengths to hide his foot shaving habit speaks to his continuing desire to be adored by Virginia. When she finds out, she handles it wonderfully. This is certainly a couple in it for the long haul, and one who shares deep love. And if Jimmy and Sabrina continue to follow their example, as they seem to be doing, there could be a second pairing just as good on Raising Hope soon.

Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman) is a strange character, in that the humor she plays up in the series is divisive. This reviewer, for one, does not usually find her character amusing, which is a shame, given the actress's long body of excellent work in film and television. However, in "Sheer Madness," it's hard not to like her. The way that Leachman goes for the gusto in describing the foursome that she lost her virginity to is quite impressive, and it dares anyone not to appreciate her in that moment. She proves once more why the term 'comedy legend' is apropos in describing her. Well done!

"Sheer Madness" is not quite as good as last week's episode, but considering how epic that particular one was, how could it be? Instead, the truly excellent cast and writing staff (and surely everyone else involved) deliver the consistent, funny, touching content that few series can do week after week, and that's plenty.

Watch Raising Hope Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Doctor Who brings "The Sensorites" to DVD

BBC has just released the classic Doctor Who serial "The Sensorites" on DVD. This six-part tale is from season one of the series, originally airing in the summer of 1964. The Doctor (William Hartnell), Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Ian (William Russell, Harriet's Back in Town), and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill, Romeo & Juliet) find a spaceship whose inhabitants are apparently dead. Or so they think until the "dead" begin to wake up. But the ship is trapped, forced to stay in orbit of the Sense-Sphere, where the Sensorites live. This race has had a bad encounter with humans, and it's unclear whether they mean to harm the travelers. Can the Doctor broker peace?

"The Sensorites" introduces the Sensorite race, which isn't a particularly memorable one. They are a scaredy-cat species, at least as afraid of the humans as the humans are of them. They are terrified of the dark and loud noises, and quite oddly, cannot recognize members of their own race. This particular characteristic is incredibly weird, and surely not realistic. It is hard to comprehend how a culture could function when they can't tell one individual from another. This is not delved into in depth, but on the surface, at least, it doesn't make a lot of sense.

The Sensorites, despite their timidness, do still prove a threat, or at least, certain Sensorites do. Some of these aliens wish to kill the Doctor and his companions, while others just want their help in curing a disease inflicting the race. Which want which? Again, impossible to know, because no one can tell which Sensorite is which, making it easy for one in power to be replaced.

One thing that "The Sensorites" can be credited for is being the frontrunner to the rebooted Doctor Who race, the Ood. The Ood are from the Ood-Sphere, which is, apparently, in the same solar system as the Sense-Sphere. Many consider the Ood a better set of characters, but those fans should thank "The Sensorites" for laying the groundwork, which in present day has been built upon.

As much as the Doctor is the star of the series, Susan is center stage in "The Sensorites." Like the aliens, she possesses telepathic abilities, which allows her to help solve the mysteries that the group faces. She also speaks of her home planet, enriching the back story of a character not well known. Ford is up to this challenge, really making Susan quite interesting in this installment, and it's too bad that she doesn't get more focus more often.

In the end, it is discovered that the Sensorites are being poisoned by humans on the planet, who have become monsters. The offenders are stopped, and sent home to be treated for madness. It's an unexpected twist, and not one that seems particularly brilliant. There isn't really a set of clues that leads to this discovery, but rather, it's tossed in at the last minute. Slightly disappointing.

What "The Sensorites" does well is deliver a sci-fi experience. The look of the alien world is pretty, well, alien. The set builders use lots of curved lines to differentiate the architecture of the Sensorites. Being that this is made in 1964, and predates most filmed science fiction, Doctor Who really had room to play at making a new environment, and they do so very well. There is also a general level of creepiness infused in much of the adventure, owing to the slow burn unfolding of the plot, wonderfully capturing a tone of unease in this strange place.

"The Sensorites" DVD comes with some pretty great extras. Twenty-one minutes are devoted to looking into the writer of this serial, Peter R. Newman, who, strangely enough, has only one other screen credit. There is a seven minute extra examining what a Vision Mixer does, and two minutes cover how the Sensorites' voices were developed by said mixer.

The commentary track has a lot of voices on it, but it is moderated to avoid being too confusing. The performers behind Ian and Susan are present, as well as some guest stars, the director, Frank Cox, and a couple of crew members. In all, there is a wealth of information to be gleaned from these tracks. Also included is a photo gallery and PDF materials, which include some design sketches. Pretty neat.

For a serial so old, "The Sensorites" looks good. The audio and picture have been remastered, of course, and perhaps that's why it took so long to reach release. The work is fantastic, and one may be surprised at how nicely it is presented, considering.

Buy Doctor Who - "The Sensorites," available now on DVD.

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Article first published as DVD Review: Doctor Who - The Sensorites on Blogcritics.

Doctor Who's "The Caves of Androzani" gets the Special Edition treatment

Now on DVD from the BBC is Doctor Who's "The Caves of Adrozani" Special Edition. Broadcast in 1984 and voted the best Doctor Who story ever by fans in both 2003 and 2009, "The Caves of Ardozani" finds the Doctor (Peter Davison, the fifth actor to play the role) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) landing smack dab in the middle of a war. Trapped as they are between gun runners and drug dealers, there is the added threat of poison that is slowly killing the pair. And only one of them survives the ordeal.

Yep, that's right. "The Caves of Ardozani" features the last regular appearance of Davison's Doctor, who regenerates into the sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) at the end of the four-part adventure. It is an emotional scene, with the Doctor dying right in front of Peri, only to awaken again seconds later. It's even better, when one considers how many old companions recorded new content for the special effect that goes with the event. The monumental sequence is the subject of an eight-minute extra on the DVD, which can be viewed with or without commentary, and it is mentioned in multiple other extras as well. Surely, as big as the events of "The Caves of Ardozani" are, no element of the story is more important than the finale.

But before that happens, plenty else must occur. The battle that the Doctor and Peri drop into is raging between General Chellak (Martin Cochrane, Specials) and Sharaz Jek (Christopher Gable, The Boy Friend). Chellak has control of the caves, and has an army to back him up. But Jek has control of the planet's precious resource, which lengthens life, and he has many androids to protect him. Adding to the power struggle is a duplicitous politician named Morgus (John Normington), who is comfortable playing with others as his personal pawns, and who has no problem assassinating presidents to get his way.

Which means that the struggle within "The Caves of Androzani" is multi-layered, and has many players. Each of these characters has his or her own motivations and goals, making for a very full two hours. There are officers who serve Chellak, as well as gunrunners who also come into play. As such, the story is complicated and intricate.

Almost too much so, in this reviewer's opinion. If one does not give "The Caves of Androzani" one's full attention, it may be hard to follow along. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Jek willingly makes android copies of others, including the Doctor and Peri, and thus, it's hard to trust that any character is real at any given time. It's barely-contained chaos that can end in no other way that destruction and death. Which is exactly what happens to the caves, and to almost all of the guest stars.

Folded within this action-packed serial is a very touching story about the Doctor's affection for Peri. Other companions become dear to the Doctor over the years, but surely this relationship ranks among the strongest. Peri is poisoned, and is about to die. The Doctor rescues her, but escapes with only enough antidote for one of them, and he is also ailing. The Doctor's death is a heroic sacrifice, giving over his own life so that Peri may live on. The knowledge that he will regenerate does not take away from this at all.

Which is why "The Caves of Adrozani" is a great story, but not the best, despite what the polls say. It has a lot of wonderful things in it, but the many, twisty characters, not so clearly defined, hurt it a little, just because there is so much wedged into a relatively small amount of time. Well, that, and really cheesy giant bat costumes don't exactly help, either. But the acting is terrific, except, arguably, that done by Bryant herself.

Adding another layer to the already busy story is Jek himself. He is a lonely, tormented soul. He has a beef with Chellak, and his reasons for the conflict are personal. But he is not without care for others. For instance, he develops a very deep, somewhat creepy, bond with Peri. It's almost a Phantom of the Opera type of relationship that they share. But in the end, he contributes to saving her life, rather than hurting her, so he's an all right guy.

Considering that this release is a Special Edition, there are plenty of extras included, more than enough to make this DVD worthy of your hard-earned money. A commentary for the story is here, featuring Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant, and the director, Graeme Harper. Hearing from the people who were actually on set is thrilling, and all three add a lot to the history and understanding to the episode.

In fact, many of those who worked on "The Caves of Androzani" are still alive, and are featured in the various special features. A 36-minute extra called "Chain Reaction" interviews a number of them about their experience with this particular story, which was originally titled "Chain Reaction." Harper gets his own 12-minute interview, in which he dwells on directing both this serial, and a modern Doctor Who tale from the current reboot. Five minutes are devoted to the creation of Sharaz Jek, who was almost played by several of today's well-known icons. Old talks with Davison and Colin Baker are present. Plus, there is a photo gallery, extended scenes, and PDF materials.

In short, this is a great Doctor Who story, and even if you have already purchased it on DVD, this release adds a lot to the tale. For anyone interested in the best of Classic Who, and how it got made, this is a set for you.

Doctor Who "The Caves of Adrozani" Special Edition is available for sale now.

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Article first published as DVD Review: Doctor Who - The Caves of Androzani Special Edition on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Life's Too Short another hit for Gervais and Merchant

This week, Life's Too Short premiered on HBO. The series is a fictional mockumentary, following the life of Britain's "go-to dwarf," Warwick Davis (played by the real Warwick Davis). While fans of Davis may know him from his turn in the Harry Potter and Star Wars franchises, and less so for a starring role in Willow, this Warwick is short on cash and going through a messy divorce. So he bugs his old friends Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant to find him work, which is not something that they are eager to do. 

Life's Too Short blurs the line between reality and fiction. What is happening on screen is scripted, not real. It would be quite surprising if Davis is really hard up for dough, given the long list of screen credits he carries, including many recent projects. Instead, in the style of Gervais and Merchant's previous series, The Office and Extras, a doddering idiot runs around with a lot of moxie, but little skill to get what he wants. Because the guy at the center of this show is playing a character who shares his name and much of his back story, one can be forgiven for thinking, at first, that this is non-fiction. However, Warwick Davis is just another character in the vein of David Brent.

Which is not a complaint at all! Davis really sells the part, making Life's Too Short very enjoyable. Also, Merchant and Gervais have perfected this shtick over time, and what is presented in this latest incarnation is actually very smooth and funny. From climbing through the doggy door of his house, to bending reality when speaking of his divorce, the character of Davis is someone who is very entertaining, even if he is not well liked.

Those who complain that Life's Too Short is offensive haven't been watching very well. The involvement of Davis in the project, as well as a number of other very short actors, gets around the picking on dwarves criticism, since they are complicit in the project. People are surely allowed to make fun of themselves, no? Plus, there is never an issue of size in anything that matters. His wife isn't leaving him because of his stature. His height has nothing to do with why Merchant and Geravis are annoyed with him. Instead, it's Warwick's blustery attitude that the show rides on.

Like Extras, Life's Too Short looks to recruit many A-list guest stars. In the first episode, Davis sits in on a meeting between Liam Neeson and Gervais and Merchant. Neeson insists he would like to get into comedy, and aided by Gervais, Neeson practices some improv. Nesson keeps throwing AIDS and other dark material into the sketch, which is actually quite hilarious, mostly because of the awkward air in the room. While the character of Neeson may not be able to garner any laughs, the actor certainly knows just the right delivery to hit on.

Life's Too Short is a fantastic show that should not be missed. Tune in to HBO Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Glee considers matters of the "Heart"

FOX's Glee this week focuses on "Heart." Rachel's dads, Hiram (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) and Leroy (Tony Award winner Brian Stokes Mitchell) learn of Rachel (Lea Michele) and Finn's (Cory Monteith) plans to marry. They act very supportive, but secretly plot with Burt (Mike O'Malley) and Carole (Romy Rosemont) to derail the ceremony. Unfortunately for them, their machinations backfire, and the young couple decides they will tie the knot this coming May.

Rachel and Finn are too young to marry. They haven't known each other, or been together, long enough to take this step. They are both going into it for the wrong reasons, which have been expounded upon in depth in previous Glee episode reviews. So it's a little disheartening (hehe) that "Heart" chooses to overlook any of these elements, at least in the minds of the central couple, and instead, focuses on how they get along. Which is splendidly, for now. There is a little bit of a rocky start to a night spent together, but they come through it stronger than ever. Unfortunately.

When are parents going to learn that kids will do what they are going to do? Rachel and Finn are making a mistake, true, but it's far too late for their mom and dads to do anything about it. Hiram drops a few passive-aggressive comments, but other than that, both couples seem set on reverse psychology to undo the impending union. This fails, as all such plans do. How will Hiram, Leroy, Carole, and Burt cope with this, and what is their next move? Or will they just get on board, and do what Rachel and Finn want?

"Heart" introduces Hiram and Leroy to Glee viewers (apparently someone forgot that a picture of Rachel's dads was featured in the pilot, though with different actors). It's hard to think of two better men to play these pivotal roles than Goldblum and Stokes Mitchell. Both are fantastically flamboyant, in a way that fits the situation. As they croon "Chapel of Love" and "You're the Top," it's immediately obvious why Rachel is who she is. The two guys also have delightful chemistry, and it feels like a great home setting for Rachel's character.

Love is in the air at school, too. Artie (Kevin McHale) continues to hate being alone, and sets his sights on Sugar (Vanessa Lengies) as his next possible boo, thinking her Valentine's party is the perfect time to hook up. Unfortunately for Artie, Rory (Damian McGinty) has the same idea, and two end up competing over the girl, who doesn't really seem right for either one of them.

Rory wins Sugar, for now, but does so by lying about his upcoming deportation. Rory has had little to no plot all season, and so it's nice to finally get a little story for him, as well as a song when he uses "Home" to woo Sugar. But this plot seems to come out of nowhere, and his sneakiness doesn't exactly gel with the Rory first introduced all those months ago. While, perhaps, his character has changed from the time spent in Ohio, viewers not having been privy to such a change, or the reason for it, are left confused. This is a very weird plot.

The second Glee Project winner finally makes his debut in "Heart." Joe Hart (hehe again) is played by Samuel Larsen. Joe is an odd character, introduced as uber-religious, but also a bit of a live-and-let-live hippy. It's fun to hear him perform "Stereo Hearts" and a mash up of two songs, both titled "Cherish." Yet, it's totally bizarre when he decides not to judge Santana (Naya Rivera) and Brittany's (Heather Morris) relationship, given his character's introduction. Not only does Joe come out of nowhere, but his odd behavior makes him hard to pinpoint. Sadly, it's not in a complicated, deep manner, but rather, it feels like the writer's just aren't sure what to do with him.

Santana is hauled into Figgins's (Iqbal Theba) office for kissing Brittany in the hall. The broken rule isn't a PDA issue, which would be understandable, but rather, because the girls are lesbians. This kind of bigotry is completely intolerable, and thankfully Glee continues to highlight that. In 2012, homophobia is the new racism, and it's pretty darn ugly. Given what happened in New Jersey this week, this is incredibly relevant to the current news cycle.

Kurt (Chris Colfer) gets a surprise secret admirer in "Heart" when Karofsky (Max Adler) returns. Dressed as a gorilla at first, Karofsky makes a play for his former tormentee. Kurt is flattered, but gently lets him down. It's not surprising that Dave latches onto Kurt, given that Kurt is the only out gay teen Karosky knows while dealing with his internal conflict. It's only surprising that it's taken this long for Dave to act on those feelings. But Kurt is very happy with Blaine (Darren Criss), and Kurt and Karofsky just don't seem like a matching pair, anyway. However, hopefully Karosky will find a reason to return to Glee again soon, because his character arc has been neat, and any screen time for him is welcome.

The assignment Will (Matthew Morrison) gives his kids this week is to study the best love songs of all time. Yet, only two are featured in "Heart," which is pretty disappointing. Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) and Mike Chang (Harry Shum Jr.) kick things off with "L-O-V-E," a great number, if not really being relevant to any of the episode's stories. Then it's not until Mercedes (Amber Riley) delivers a coincidentally timely (given Whitney Houston's recent passing) rendition of "I Will Always Love You" while pining over Sam (Chord Overstreet), that another example of this theme comes along. This is a truly powerful performance, and well appreciated. But that's it. Other songs, such as the guys' "Let Me Love You," are fun, but nothing deserves the "best" title other than those two numbers.

"Love Shack" is a strong ending for the episode, with Blaine returning in top form, to lead the group in a remarkably enjoyable version of the old pop hit. It surely shouldn't be on a "best love songs" list, but Glee turns it into something really fun with great choreography and tongue-in-cheek jokes. The best moment may be Finn's face as he cheesily pops up into frame near the end. The performance is an appropriate ending, even if it's mainly fluff.

Which is kind of what "Heart" is: fluff. The plots glosses over anything serious or real. The episode is amusing and entertaining. It's not bad, but there is so much missed opportunity here for it to be better.
With the impending end of many characters' runs on Glee, things will probably take a more dramatic turn soon. Maybe even next week, which is the winter finale, and features Regionals. Until then, this is a serviceable, if not overly impressive, entry.

Glee airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

MORE GLEE: If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here for all of the Glee reviews I've ever written. To purchase Glee DVDs, streaming episodes, music, and more, please click here. Article first published as TV Review: Glee - "Heart" on Blogcritics.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

"Dave Returns" to Parks and Recreation

In this week's episode of NBC's Parks and Recreation, Leslie's (Amy Poehler) old flame, Dave (Louis C.K., Louie), comes to town. He is willing to help Leslie win an important endorsement in the police chief, but he'd also like to rekindle their romance. This doesn't sit well with Ben (Adam Scott), of course. Luckily for Ben, Leslie has no intention of going back to Dave. Also, Andy (Chris Pratt) works on Leslie's campaign song, and Tom (Aziz Ansari) tries to lock Ann (Rashida Jones) into a relationship.

Dave was a fantastic character on Parks and Recreation, and Leslie's first real love interest. It was so exciting when they got together, and depressing when Dave moved away. Plus, Louis C.K. is a great comedian, with a terrific series of his own on FX. It's exciting that he found the time to return to Parks and Recreation in "Dave Returns," given his busy schedule.

However, Leslie is with Ben now, and that relationship, having been given more attention and development, is now the priority. No one wants to see them split up, even by an old, beloved boyfriend. Dave is a great recurring character, and hopefully C.K. will find the time to do some more guest spots. Perhaps if Dave gets the Chief of Police job, it will give him an excuse. That seems unlikely, though, considering that "Dave Returns" ties everything up nicely between him and Leslie. Still, one can wish.

Andy's story is satisfying. Andy often contributes the least on group projects. He tries pretty darn hard to be valuable, but his intelligence is low, and his skills are limited. Music is his forte, and having him work on Leslie's song is a perfect use of the character. Yet, he still struggles. Which isn't unusual for a creative type. Ron (Nick Offerman) is the one who, anonymously, comes in and saves him, adding a saxophone track, without revealing that they share a love of song. It's a cool story, using characters the way that they should be used, without venturing outside of who the people in the show are at their core.

And who would have thought that perfectionist Christ (Rob Lowe) was so, so, so bad at singing? Hilarious! Rob Lowe really goes for the terribleness with gusto!

Also sticking to his defined self is Tom. Tom lets a little sincerity show last week with Ann, which sees them end up on a date together. Tom enthusiastically wants to keep acting like his over confident, somewhat jerky and creepy, self, putting the facade back up, post-date. Ann only wants to be with him if he brings the tone a little lower. She does eventually agree to a second date, but only after he wears her down.

This is a delicate balance. For Tom to be worthy of Ann, he must find his true self. Yet, the character he presents is very enjoyable for the viewing audience. And fans also want Tom to find love. So what happens is that some sort of middle ground must be struck. Tom needs to stay funny, but also not be so insane that Ann cannot be with him. These two characters work well together, but only if things are handled correctly.
Watch Parks and Recreation Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

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