Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Weeds is "Red in Tooth and Claw"

This season, the final one for Showtime's Weeds, the show is going back to its roots. With the Botwins living in the suburbs once more, surrounded by upper middle class opulence and the wisp of a normal life, there is nothing Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker) wants more than to stay there. That's why, in this week's episode, "Red in Tooth and Claw," she tries to get out of the the drug business.

There is definitely something ideal about living this way. It's the American dream. Sure, one may have to donate a bit of money and kiss some butt, playing local politics, but that's far better than running from guns. Life here isn't dangerous. As Nancy watches Stevie (Ethan and Gavin Kent) play soccer, a happy, normal child, she knows that she wants to give him this life, as she has failed to do with her other two sons. The life she used to have, before all the craziness started, way back in the early days of Weeds.

Alas, wanting doesn't make it so. Nancy has forgotten why she got into the pot business in the first place - to support her family. She is broke once more, and has no prospective income coming in. Shredding the pot she does have is a dumb move. It's understandable, given how she just saw such a horrible reflection of herself in Kiki (Kat Foster). And sure, it helps Nancy go straight. But it also takes away the only thing of monetary value that she really has at this time. She may get the life she wants temporarily, but it will come crashing down around her soon enough.

Where might Nancy seek help? In "Red in Tooth and Claw" she finally meets the neighbor whose pool she has been secretly using. It turns out he is a rabbi, and thus, resists the sexual advance Nancy inevitably tries to make. It's interesting to watch her in this scenario, as she has a certain method to get her way, and a rabbi throws that off. But perhaps he can offer her some helpful guidance, at least spiritually. Then maybe she can be happy with what she has, instead of wanting to be with a group of people, meaning this rich neighborhood, that she doesn't fit into anymore.

Andy (Justin Kirk ) also gets a bit spiritual in "Red in Tooth and Claw." He is seduced by yet another woman, and wonders aloud if this might be a karma payback, or the work of a god who just likes to see him get laid. He does seem to get with a lot of people throughout the run of Weeds. This monologue is a great way to address that concern for viewers who have remarked how unrealistic this is. It's very tongue in cheek, which is classic Weeds style.

However, Andy's dalliance with the roller derby chick costs him a reconciliation with Jill (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whom Andy actually has real feelings for. As lucky as Andy thinks he is, there is a reason that he doesn't end up with any of the many women that throw himself at him. Getting sex is one thing; maintaining a meaningful relationship takes a different skill set. Andy is good only at the first, not the second, and his run with Jill may be over, sadly.

Yes, it's a little messed up that Andy goes after Jill, especially after all the years that he pines for Nancy. But Nancy was Andy's sister-in-law, so at least Jill is slightly more appropriate. Both sisters are a lot alike, so it's clear that Andy is attracted to the similar qualities in each. No matter how hard he tries, he probably won't get either girl, and there's scarce time left for him to find someone who actually appreciates him. Nancy and Jill would each benefit from finally fully committing to Andy, but that ship has seemed to have sailed. What will become of Uncle Andy?

Silas (Hunter Parrish) is at a crossroads. With his pot stolen because he isn't open to head from a guy, he has no stash and no job. Nancy has not yet told him about her desire to go legit, but will this be something Silas would even consider? Silas grew up with Nancy's illegal machinations, and that's the life he not only knows, but has chosen. He is lost without the growing business. It's really a blessing, though, because he should have noticed how destructive this life can be by watching his mother, and it's time for him to pick something else. Perhaps the only way he can do that is by being forced out.

Shane (Alexander Gould), alone of the Botwin family, has staked his claim on a worthwhile path. Funny, since he went darker than any of the rest when he murdered a woman a few years back. Shane has a good girlfriend (Daniele Watts), who is a positive influence on him, and he is fitting in very well to the cop world. It's heartening to see him making good choices, and to witness those choices pay off. As long as Shane doesn't do something stupid to screw it up, he's got his life made.

Part of the conceit of Weeds is that its characters are weeds themselves, the annoying plants choking out the ones you want around, ruining the landscape. Shane has turned himself from a weed into something better. What chance do the rest of them have in the short time that the series has left, as it will bow out permanently at the end of the season? Will they need to be pulled from the garden of life so that others can thrive? Or will they, too, find a way to not be as destructive as the term weed implies? Weeds has been a terrific show for many years, and I can't wait to see how it ends.

Weeds airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.

For Weeds DVDs and streaming episodes, please click here. If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Check out my new website, JeromeWetzel.com! Article first posted on TheTVKing.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Childrens Hospital The Complete Third Season checks in to DVD

Cartoon Network's Adult Swim isn't just for animated shows anymore. One of their best live action shows is Childrens Hospital. Originally a webseries doctored to deliver episodes running around 10 minutes each, The Complete Third Season, includes 14 installments from the first season created just for television.

Childrens Hospital is a unique, odd comedy. Although all the doctors and patients are white and speak English without an accent, the setting is Brazil. The story revolves around a staff of health care professionals who heal sick people and sleep with each other. But despite being as good looking as the more serious shows of the same description, these performers double as comedians. One doctor only heals through the power of laughter. Another is the owner of the facility in disguise.

Sometimes episodes build upon previous installments, and sometimes they are stand alone artistic pieces. The only constant in the Childrens Hospital universe is that viewers never know what to expect when tuning in, and no matter what it is, it will be funny.

The show's strength comes from its extremely strong ensemble. From creator Rob Corddry (The Daily Show), to Henry Winkler (Happy Days, Royal Pains), to Megan Mullally (Will & Grace), to Malin Akerman (Watchmen), each star has serious acting chops and plenty of screen experience. Also in the cast are Lake Bell (How to Make It in America), Erinn Hayes (Worst Week), Rob Huebel (Human Giant), and Ken Marino (Party Down). These people know what they're doing, and how to really sell their parts, rolling with whatever twists each new script throws at them.

Of course, when the playground looks as fun as Childrens Hospital, everyone else wants in on the action. Which means that the show has an unusually high number of familiar faces popping in for recurring roles and guest spots. Among those featured on this DVD are Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Tom Lennon (Reno 911!), Nick Offerman (Parks & Recreation), Sarah Silverman (The Sarah Silverman Program), Kate Walsh (Private Practice), Paul Scheer (The League), Jordan Peele (Key & Peele), as well as many other veterans of Ken Marino's previous shows, The State and Party Down. Plus, Michael Cera (Juno, Superbad) gives voice to the hospital PA.

Honestly, the list above of people involved in Childrens Hospital is far from comprehensive. That alone should tell you what kind of quality you're getting. But if famously talented people aren't enough to entice, the show has great, sharp writing covered, too. Medical cases range from a boy stuck in a box of quicksand, whom only Lola (Hayes), who is not at the hospital, can save, to Blake (Corddry) needing to transplant an executed killer's heart into a boy before he turns 18 at midnight.

Watching the characters be doctors is cool, but it's the special episodes that really kick Childrens Hospital up a notch. Season three has several that qualify. "The 70's Episode" is a "lost" episode from the 1970's, still featuring the same cast "way back when." "Childrens Hospital: A Play in Three Acts" is a piece in the style of Thornton Wilder. "Party Down" has the cast of canceled series Party Down catering a bar mitzvah. And "Newsreaders" is a "what if?" that gives almost all of the characters their own spin-offs.

I understand that a lot of this review sounds like gushing. There is a good reason for that. This show deserves great things said about it and a much bigger audience than it currently has. However, it's also hard to break down in detail what makes it so good because each episode is so different, and the writers seem to reinvent the characters constantly. It's an ever-shifting universe that defies pinning down. However, the overall tone and extremely high quality serve the show well.

As awesome as the episodes are, the special features on this single disc DVD set are lacking. The special features include more than 30 minutes of deleted scenes, bloopers, and gags, but they are very oddly organized. And without the context of the episode they belong in, they just aren't as funny. The extras also include six minisode promos in which Dr. Owen Maestro (Huebel) shrinks and goes inside of a body to teach kids about medicine, but these, too, lack much of the show's magic, likely because only one actor from the series appears.

Overall, this DVD set is definitely worth the buy, despite the lack of satisfying extras. Whether you're a loyal fan or a newbie, this is a great batch of episodes to purchase and watch over and over again. It is clever, creative, and fresh in a way few comedies ever achieve. Childrens Hospital The Complete Third Season is available now.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Please click here to buy the first two seasons of Childrens' Hospital on DVD.  Check out my new website, JeromeWetzel.com! Article first published as DVD Review: Childrens Hospital The Complete Third Season on Blogcritics.

Wake up, Alphas!

Grade: 77%

ALPHAS returns to SyFy for a second season with “Wake Up Call,” which opens eight months after the events of the season one finale. Dr. Rosen (David Strathairn) remains locked up in an institution, making friends with his captors, while the rest of the team has scattered. But soon, as Dr. Rosen predicts will happen, an emergency forces the government to call him out of lock up and reassemble his group to fight the good fight.

Dr. Rosen is an absolutely fantastic character. The way he has such knowledge about how the world works, and his utmost confidence in that knowledge, is impressive. Even when things are not looking good for him, he has a calm, knowing that things are always changing, and they will again soon. His morality may sway a little, but he always manages to right his course and fight for justice. It’s almost like an Alpha power, and makes him a very worthy leader for the group.

Outing the Alpha phenomenon to the public is a huge gamble. Rosen knows it is the right thing to do, but he pays a price for doing so. While Rosen does get his team back, with assurances that he will have even more control over their missions and their outcomes, that isn’t an all clear to preach to a mass audience. Perhaps he thinks he won’t need to if he maintains control. Surely he has learned his lesson about lack of oversight not being a good thing, under any circumstances.

One wonders, if ALPHAS did not take place in the television world, if Dr. Rosen would have been released quite so quickly. It might have been neat to explore the team leaderless a little longer, as well as the affects of an extended captivity on Rosen. Sadly, in a television show like this, a status quo must be maintained for the procedural elements to work. The end of “Wake Up Call” doesn’t ignore what has come before it, but by fixing the major elements, it sets itself up for a bunch of stand alone stories.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a procedural. However, ALPHAS has so much potential to move beyond that. And it is doing so, sort of. Season two will be about catching all of the bad guys that Stanton Parish (John Pyper-Ferguson, Brothers & Sisters, Caprica) has let out, as well as stopping a war between humans and Alphas. But there will definitely be cases of the weeks along the way, and entire hours that are mostly spent chasing a single suspect. These are the stories that aren’t quite as compelling as the ones that cater more to the larger arcs.

It’s very interesting to see how the rest of the team has moved on before Rosen brings them back together, and like in Rosen’s case, I wish they had spent a bit more time exploring those experiences. Each goes down their own path, some back to what they were before, and others making different choices.

Bill (Malik Yoba) has assumed de facto leadership, continuing to work with Clay (Mahershala Ali), though his decisions splinter the group. Only Hicks (Warren Christie) and Gary (Ryan Cartwright) continue to work with him, having no where else to go, and dreading a return to life with no purpose. And it isn’t long before Bill’s weak leadership gets Gary taken away by the NSA, and later locked up in prison. Bill may try, but he just doesn’t have that unique personality that Rosen has to keep these individuals together.

Nina (Laura Mennell) and Rachel (Anita Ghanizada) backslide, with Rachel hiding out in her parents’ house, and Nina going back to manipulating people to get what she wants. This does expose weaknesses within them, neither enjoying these lives, but not having the strength to change them without Rosen’s help, either. Not that the others aren’t weak, too, because they are, in different ways. And it’s not a sexist choice that sidelines the girls, but rather, the plot that best serves each layered, complex part in the way that it has been written up until now.

ALPHAS isn’t perfect, and “Wake Up Call” does disappoint a bit in the quick resolutions and easy answers. However, it is still a highly entertaining show, fully realizing a particular world, and exploring it in interesting ways. If the preview can be believed, it also looks like season two is going to be pretty darn good. Watch ALPHAS Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on SyFy.

Hope flows through Warehouse 13

Grade: 85%

SyFy’s WAREHOUSE 13 begins season four with “A New Hope.” Picking up right where season three left off, with the Warehouse destroyed, and Mrs. Fredericks (CCH Pounder), H.G. Wells (Jaime Murray), and Steve (Aaron Ashmore) dead, Artie (Saul Rubinek) has an inkling of a plan that might reverse time and give them another chance.

This quest of Artie’s takes him, Claudia (Allison Scagliotti), Pete (Eddie McClintock), and Mya (Joanne Kelly) first to France, then to the Vatican, as they follow a series of clues that point to a Knights Templar conspiracy. They have a scant 24 hours to globe trot and solve the mysteries, as well as break into a couple of semi-well guarded areas that are, perhaps, a bit too easy to get in to. Along the way, members of the team are lost, including one fatally.

It will come as no surprise that (SPOILER!) Artie wins the day, Pete, Mrs. Frederick and H.G. live, and the Warehouse is restored as if nothing ever happened.

The countdown and the race, with a team member dropping off every few minutes, gets the blood pumping enough to keep the lack of freshness in the story from being too obvious. There aren’t any real stakes in “A New Hope,” as fans don’t believe for an instant that the Warehouse, Mrs. Frederick, and especially Pete, are gone for good. But the urgency of the characters’ actions, and the total commitment by the actors to the proceedings, do make the episode exciting. While a similar formula has been used plenty of times on television before, the episode maintains the unique, WAREHOUSE 13 flavor that keeps fans engaged week after week, so most won’t mind.

Even if there isn’t a lot of real suspense in the episode of the week, a quick story to restore the status quo, a number of really neat arcs kick off in “A New Hope.” Claudia is intent on bringing Steve back, no matter what it takes, which, going by past experience, both on this series and others, will not go well. Cheating death comes with consequences. Steve may return, a welcome development, but will it be the same Steve? Will he be changed? What cost might there be to Claudia’s soul to achieve her goal?

What’s more, Artie is being hunted by a dark evil. The leader of the knights (Brent Spiner, Star Trek: The Next Generation) warns Artie that using the artifact to reverse time at the end of “A New Hope” will have grave repercussions. By the end of the hour, Artie has a dream of Claudia stabbing him. While Claudia’s quest to bring back Steve may have already been put in motion, it seems like these two stories will tie together nicely.

Claudia grew up a bit of an outsider. She has welcomed the chance to have a family while working at the Warehouse. Now that she has established a life and grown into herself, she is going to do anything to hold onto it. Losing Steve, her first field partner, is a huge blow, and the motivations behind her mission are not a mystery. She is a damaged girl just trying to hang onto the bit of stability she found after years of searching.

Artie is older and should be wiser. He has lost friends before, and knows he will again. Yet, he cannot stomach the huge cost that comes just prior to “A New Hope,” and rather than taking the advice the misfortune. Even had it just been Pete’s life, and not the Warehouse, he still may have acted. As much as Artie likes to pretend to be gruff and try not to get too attached to his team, he cares too much for his own good. Maybe he can use these life lessons and experiences to help Claudia?

Another interesting bit of “A New Hope” is when Artie convinces a couple of the Regents to recommend a pardon for H.G. Obviously, Artie witnessed her sacrifice herself to save the others in last year’s season finale. And H.G.’s motivations are always varied and layered. But will Artie consider this a repayment of debt to her for her willingness to die to save him, or has he changed his opinion of her? And will his faith be proven justified, or did H.G. have yet another reason for acting the way she did? The good news is, she gets to stick around so we can find out!

There is a reason WAREHOUSE 13 is so popular. It’s funny, charming, and fast paced fun. Tune in Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on SyFy.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A "Shock Wave" rips through Burn Notice

Last night's installment of USA's Burn Notice, "Shock Wave," was huge, in terms of plot development. The major characters are split up. Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) and a team go after Anson (Jere Burns), whom they have located. But when Michael's brother, Nate (Seth Peterson), who is accompanying the squad, gets reckless, he and Anson are both killed. Meanwhile, Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) avoids British intelligence long enough to earn her CIA-approved release, and Sam (Bruce Campbell) protects Barry (Paul Tei) from some of Fiona's former gun-running associates.

Make no mistake about it. This is a game changer. Michael is devastated by the loss of his brother, and will surely blame himself for getting Nate involved, even if Nate's own dumb actions led to his demise. It's a good thing Fiona is out of prison, because Michael is going to need a lot of comfort, and he will be driven even more by a longing for revenge than before, so he'll need some reigning in. Otherwise, both Weston brothers could be in body bags before long.

The question is, will Maddie (Sharon Gless) blame Michael? She hides out at home for most of the episode, but "Shock Wave" ends with Michael delivering the tragic news. Because of Michael's character, he will not defend himself if Maddie begins getting accusatory. It's no secret that she doesn't like a lot of Michael's activities, and after this, expect bigger push back from her to bring this whole spy life to an end.

Would that be so bad? With Anson down, yet again Burn Notice reveals a deeper level of conspiracy. Every time Michael catches someone who is involved in his burn notice, that person is killed, and he learns that there's someone else behind them. It's an endless cycle. Fans might be forgiven for thinking Anson was at the bottom of the whole thing, having stuck around longer than most previous villains, and being played oh so well by Burns. But nope, someone has Anson killed, so there's more to discover.

It is supremely disappointing that, after being strung along this long, Anson is not the real power behind Michael's bad luck. It's predictable, of course, given the series's pattern. But it's starting to feel like this will never end for Michael. The best thing he can do now is to try to forget it all and move on. Which won't happen because Michael is not good at letting things go.

But with Nate's death, it really looks like Michael might either have to give up his elusive white whale, or go down like Ahab. Which will it be? It's a decision that cannot possibly be revealed until the series finale, and because of USA's sunny nature, it will probably be neither, with Michael ending up triumphant, no matter how unrealistic that is, or how against the grain it goes with the path that has been revealed. Of course, to be fair, Burn Notice is a hero tale, and that kind of bleak outlook would betray the tone of the series.

That has always been my problem with Burn Notice. No matter how great it is, and trust me, "Shock Wave" is a terrific episode, with lots of action and suspense, there is always some nagging feeling that it's not quite living up to its potential. Perhaps in the age of the antihero, so well played on other networks, the happy ending and lightheartedness seems trite. This episode comes as close to greatness as the show has ever been, with each of the original trio getting their own thrilling tale, and the stakes being quite high. But then, as soon I start reflecting, the larger picture makes the good feelings begin to crumble again. Luckily, it's entertaining enough to survive such doubts, and emerge out the other end, still immensely watchable.

The other problem I have with "Shock Wave" has nothing to do with the episode itself, and everything to do with the impatient culture currently reigning. I stopped watching previews of next week's episode long ago because networks, all networks, have little respect for the surprise twist. But avoiding trailers and clips are not enough to stay in the dark anymore. It was no secret for anyone on the internet that Burn Notice would feature a major death last night before the episode even began.

As soon as I started watching "Shock Wave," it was obvious who it would be. Burn Notice wouldn't dare kill off one of their main characters, who are all pretty popular with fans, because it would be a little too dark for the mood the series sets. And while some theorized that Barry would bite the big one, the longer his story with Sam went on, the more obvious it was that they were both dead or neither of them were. Given rule number one, that made Barry safe, too. Though, the Barry and Sam stuff was beyond cool!

But Nate started making mistakes right out of the gate. He disobeyed Michael, and didn't know at all how to handle himself. Without the knowledge that a death was coming, this might have made me think he would be taken hostage or something, because killing him off really is a bold, unexpected move for Burn Notice to make. However, because of the spoiler that was nearly impossible to avoid, the death was anything but surprising by the time it actually happened. Which is a real loss for storytelling, which was great in this episode when taken alone, without the leaks.

So I guess the lesson is, stay off the internet. Funny for an internet-based reviewer to be saying that, though reviews almost always deal with what already happened, not what is going to happen. Even if it's your favorite show you just can't wait to get some nugget of information about, someone is going to ruin some of the best parts if you're not careful. "Shock Wave" is a spectacular episode when viewed in a bubble, but suffers repercussions because of hype and people who just can't help but share when they have a juicy piece of gossip. It's not tantalizing to tease a big event. It's a slap in the face to regular viewers.

Despite the spoil sports, definitely continue to watch Burn Notice, because "Shock Wave" and the earlier episodes this season have established a new pattern. The show is playing a higher level game than before, and it's working extremely well for it.

Burn Notice airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on USA.

Check out my new website, JeromeWetzel.com! If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Article first published on TheTVKing

Friday, July 27, 2012

Futurama builds "The Six Million Dollar Mon"

In the latest installment of Comedy Central's Futurama, "The Six Million Dollar Mon," Hermes (Phil LaMarr) is disgraced after being rated the least valuable employee at Planet Express and fired, replaced by a machine. It doesn't matter that he is the one who does the firing to himself, it still hurts. Adding insult to injury, Hermes is almost mugged by crazy Roberto (David Herman). To cope with these events, Hermes begins getting robot implants, until there is nothing human left about him.

"The Six Million Dollar Mon" is, overall, a very good episode. It really focuses on the characters of Hermes and Zoidberg (Billy West), exploring their relationship, and their personalities. Futurama is at its strongest when it takes the time to work with what it already has, which are fully developed, complex characters. Adventures are nice, but character exploration is what makes good television great.

The episode uses these individuals and their quirks to be funny. When Zoidberg thinks Hermes's meanness towards him is Hermes's way of showing affection, it's sweet. When we learn that Hermes really does hate Zoidberg, it informs on the way their characters interact, and is tragically amusing. Zoidberg building the Hermes puppet continues this trend, simultaneous making us laugh at the visual gag, but also feel sorry for poor, pathetic Zoidberg, knowing this is his way of coping with not truly having any friends. Many people can relate to this.

Add to that, Professor Farnsworth (also West) acting as a mad scientist, and Scruffy (also Herman) refusing to fix anything that is not a boiler or a toilet, and there are some truly classic moments. Best of all is Bender (John DiMaggio) being fascinated with a machine that bends, and appearing jealous of Hermes's shiny metal ass, a trademark catchphrase of Bender's.

There are a couple of smart plot twists in "The Six Million Dollar Mon." Once Roberto is executed, and then Mecha Hermes wants a robot brain, it's fairly predictable what is going to happen. Still, it seems clever, even if it's a trope used in other fiction, because of the sincerity it is played with. Ditto for Zoidberg rebuilding Hermes piece by piece. One can see where the writers are going, but it's still fun to be taken along for the ride. It's the seamless way it all ties together that kicks the story a notch above the norm.

Plus, Futurama really delivers the references in this episode. From the title, a play on the television show of almost the same name, Hermes getting a Cylon eye, and seeing Helper's grave in the robot cemetery, "The Six Millon Dollar Mon" has goodies for geeks galore, whether one is a fan of The Venture Brothers or Battlestar Galactica. These are more than just cut scenes, a la Family Guy, but actually add to the value of the plot here.

That being said, it isn't a perfect episode. The sequence where LaBarbara's (Dawnn Lewis) curry drips through a number of different places, finally burning the Robot Devil (Dan Castellaneta), is a throwback to the other animated shows that lack the ingenuity and cleverness of Futurama. Worse, Leela (Katey Sagal) and Amy (Lauren Tom) invite a distracted Fry (West again) to shower with them in a cheap joke that is totally out of character for all involved.

Still, Futurama delivers more consistently than most, and remains a must-watch show, even after the many years of episodes that have come before this one. Catch Futurama Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.

Check out my new website, JeromeWetzel.com.  If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Article first published on TheTVKing

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Aqua Something You Know Whatever goes back to the Stone Age

Fans might have missed the return of Cartoon Network's Aqua Teen Hunger Force on Adult Swim a few weeks ago. This is because it has, yet again, changed the title. The series, now known as Aqua Something You Know Whatever, has not lost a bit of its comedic charm, and after a couple of years of mediocre tales, has returned to its former glory. This is definitely apparent in this week's installment, "The Granite Family."

"The Granite Family" plot is simple enough. Master Shake (Dana Snyder) has trouble relating a a Flintstones-esque cartoon on television, so he decides he needs to live through the Stone Age in order to get the jokes. Never mind that TV won't be around in that era. Frylock (Carey Means) offers his time traveling thong to Shake, but Shake decides a better option is to start a nuclear war, which he handily accomplishes, and the planet's cities are reduced to rubble. Riding out the event in Carl's (Dave Willis) bomb shelter, Frylock plans on using his thong to stop Shake, but fails.

Continuity has never been as important as laughs to Aqua Teen, no matter what the title of the series is. There have been many episodes where things are destroyed and characters die. Luckily, none of that sticks, as the show works because of the people and settings that make it up. Yes, Shake manages to level society in "The Granite Family," but that's just a great demonstration of how self-centered Shake is. Things will return to normal next week.

Nor should one worry about believability. The fact that Shake can easily sneak into the White House and launch missiles at Russia via a big, red, unguarded button is humorous and drives the plot forward. It's not important that there is no way this situation could take place in real life. Shake needed to reach his goal, and fast, so the writers devised a visually humorous way for him to do so.

Besides how funny the episode is, and believe me, there are a ton of great jokes, there are also a lot of terrific references shoved in. Anyone who enjoyed The Flintstones back in the day will grin when Aqua Teen pokes fun at the tropes and repeating elements of the classic series. Animals not enjoying their jobs? Yes, please! Longtime fans of this series will delight in a brief cut scene of Ignignokt (also Willis) and Err (Matt Maiellaro) on the moon, somehow understanding what Shake is doing. Plus, who can resist the obvious digs on Time Warner and Fox?

Now, my only problem with Aqua Teen has always been that it sometimes gets a little gross. For instance, in "The Granite Family," is it necessary to see Meatwad (Willis again) holding a steaming bag of liquid poo in the bomb shelter? This isn't funny to me, and actually interrupts enjoyment of the show. But perhaps to some fans, this kind of humor is what they are looking for, and if so, Aqua Teen has you covered,

Overall, the new season has been pretty solid, including this episode. Watch Aqua Something You Know Whatever Sundays at midnight on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.

Check out my new website, JeromeWetzel.com.  If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Article first published on TheTVKing

Monday, July 23, 2012

Doctor Who outwits The Krotons

The Krotons is the fourth serial in the sixth season of the classic British series, Doctor Who. Originally aired in December 1968 and January 1969, this four-part serial featuring the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) has just been released for the first time on DVD.

In The Krotons, the Doctor and his companions, Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Zoe (Wendy Padbury), land on a planet inhabited by two races, the Krotons and the Gonds. The Gonds are treated as inferiors, being taken care of by the Krotons. In exchange, the Gonds hand over the smartest of their people to be companions for the Krotons. This arrangement is mostly fine, though one Gond, Thara (Gilbert Wynne), who happens to be the son of the Gond leader, Selris (James Copeland), begins to speak out against the deal.

The truth of the situation is far graver, as the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe soon find out. The Krotons are executing the bright Gonds, not using them as companions. This keeps intelligence limited and the Gonds subservient, never allowing them to find educated enough leaders to do any in-depth investigation, or to try to shake up the system. That is, until now, as the Krotons' real actions are exposed publicly. Though even then, the Gonds are not in agreement over how to proceed.

The Krotons is a post-invasion tale, in which life goes on after the aliens take over. Generally, stories of this nature happen at an earlier place on the time line, but it's cool to see the "new normal" post-take over, and the rebellion as it develops.

The Krotons are not all powerful, as one might think at first. If they were, they would leave the planet and move on. They need the Gonds, though the Gonds don't need them, and are actually hurt by their presence. In this, the Krotons are like a parasite. Even worse, the Gonds don't see the truth because of the reality the Krotons have been perpetuating upon them.

But any deal of this nature will eventually crumple, and when it does, it's quite entertaining at a television show. Hence why The Krotons works so well as a Doctor Who serial. Now, this desperation story is not something new. But, as usual, Doctor Who presents it in a way that seems fresh and different, compelling to watch.

It's easy to feel sympathy for the Gonds, and to demonize the Krotons. Perhaps the Krotons were doing whatever they had to to survive, but does that excuse treading on the rights of others? Most people would say no.

Doctor Who The Krotons has had both the picture and sound remastered. Still shown in the original black and white, the presentation is pretty crisp for a serial so old. It's far from perfect, of course, but a huge improvement over the earlier VHS tape, so this DVD should be well appreciated by the fans.

The DVD extras on this single disc release are plenty. Toby Hadoke once more moderates a panel for the audio commentary, this time including costume designer Bobi Bartlett, special sounds designer Brian Hodgson, assistant floor manager David Tilley, make-up designer Sylvia James, and guest actors Richard Ireson, Philip Madoc, and Gilbert Wynne. There are also the usual PDF materials and photo gallery.

As far as featurettes go, a handful suffice. There is a seven-minute one called "Doctor's Strange Love," which features fans' points of view. Part 1 of a Frazer Hines interview from 2003's The Story of Doctor Who, running seventeen minutes, is included. Most importantly, there is a fifty-two minute documentary focusing on Troughton called "Second Time Around."

In short, as with most Doctor Who releases, this one gets my recommendation. It is well written, enjoyably acted, looks good, and includes enough extras to satisfy. Doctor Who The Krotons is available now.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here for every Doctor Who review I've ever written. Article first published as DVD Review: Doctor Who - The Krotons on Blogcritics.

Come on down to Sullivan & Son

TBS's newest comedy is Sullivan & Son, which kicked off with two episodes this week. The "Pilot" begins when Steve Sullivan (Steve Byrne) visits his hometown for his father, Jack's (Dan Lauria, The Wonder Years), retirement party. Though Steve is an attorney in the big city, he decides that he can't let his father sell the bar, which is an institution in the neighborhood, to a stranger. So he gives up his career and fiance to move home and take over.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about Sullivan & Son. Let's start with the positives. First, there is a ton of charm to this series, oozing out every pore. It's been awhile since a sitcom was really about a community brought together, like this one is. There is family and surrogate family, the bar serving as a gathering place for friends and neighbors.

The acting is also pretty decent. The cast is staffed with a bunch of terrific performers, including Christine Ebersole (Royal Pains), Brian Doyle-Murray (Groundhog Day, The Middle), Jodi Long (Eli Stone), Vivian Bang (Yes Man), Owen Benjamin (Pretend Time), Valerie Azlynn, and comedians Roy Wood Jr. and Ahmed Ahmed. Each has already developed a well defined character, and the group chemistry is absolutely delightful. They are totally believable as a gang of people who just love spending all of their time hanging out together.

The individuals relate to each other well outside of the larger group, too. In the second episode, "The Bribe," Steve butts heads with his Korean mother, Ok Cha (Long). She wants to continue to pay off the health inspector, but now that Steve is running things, he refuses, wanting to go by the book. This results in him getting shut down and, after running an illegal backroom bar, arrested. The scene where Steve and Ok Cha confront each other in jail, neither backing down, but coming to an understanding anyway, is a great picture of an authentic, though not necessarily typical, mother / son relationship.

The stereotypes played upon aren't a bother either. Sure, Ok Cha is stubborn and cheap, which viewers are told is standard for Koreans. However, these adjectives do actually apply to Ok Cha, and no one tries to attribute them to her children (unless they deserve it), so while it may seem couched in a slight bit of racism, it's actually handled just fine.

Now, the negatives. Why is Steve's bar packed before 3 p.m. on a Tuesday? The characters kind of poke fun at this conceit, but that doesn't make up for the fact that it's a silly thing. I mean, perhaps if it was just Steve's friends at the bar, it might be excusable. But wider shots reveal plenty of other patrons. This does not make sense.

Also, while the characters in Sullivan & Son are said to do nothing but drink all the time, none of them are too pathetic. No one looks unwashed or smelly or in need of counseling. Even Owen (Benjamin), who is unemployed, seems to be doing just fine. Carol (Ebersole), the bar floozy, isn't ravaged by disease of a hard life style. It just doesn't hold up at all that these are the types of people that spend all day, every day consuming copious amounts of alcohol.

Then, some of the humor is ridiculous. Owen suddenly gets smart just by giving up alcohol for a few days, though he really has no motivation to do so, since everyone else continues to drink. Susan (Bang) gets a gun to hit her mother with. Someone needing a tow waits by their car all week. These occurrences aren't that funny to begin with, and pull the viewer out of the fantasy world the show presents.

Overall, Sullivan & Son has heart, but the concept could use some work, and the humor is uneven. A few tweaks and this could be a really fine show. Tipping the other way could ruin it. I'll watch for now and see which, if either, happens.

Sullivan & Son airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on TBS.

Check out my new website, JeromeWetzel.com.  If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Article first published on TheTVKing

This review is not Written By a Kid

Television is in the throes of a revolution. Many young consumers watch their shows online. And with a number of studios, as well as countless individuals, releasing programming online, the line between what is and is not television is blurred. I say this because this review is actually of a web series, which I believe can now be clumped into the same category as traditional television.

One of the best internet channels, a new invention by YouTube to get viewers regularly visiting, is Geek & Sundry, run by Felicia Day (The Guild, Eureka), which launched a new show this week called Written By a Kid. In the first episode, we meet a kid named Brett who tells a story to two men, the creators of the series, Will Bowles (The Underground) and Josh Flaum (also The Underground). This story is acted out by live people who inhabit a crudely animated world.

The tale told is a simple one. Called "Scary Smash," a monster kills a milkman (Dave Foley, The Kids in the Hall, NewsRadio). To save the town, the S.Q.U.A.T. team is called in. Led by a fun-loving commander (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly creator Joss Whedon), the force suffers numerous casualties until they finally subdue the threat.

Now, the story isn't completely driven by Brett. Those who have listened to children tell a story know that they can ramble, get distracted, or peter out. The back and forth format allows for seamless editing, so that it's not immediately obvious what questions the hosts are asking the kid. But for a child to remember which weapons he armed his hero with, and remember to use them all throughout a seven day battle, seems a little far fetched.

But even if the plot is a little guided, it is still enjoyable.This is partially due to the fantastic visuals, with scenery that looks like its been drawn by crayon, and partially a credit to the amazing cast put together to act out the words. This includes, besides Foley and Whedon, Felicia Day, Kate Micucci (Scrubs, Raising Hope), Rhett McLaughlin, and Charles "Link" Neal (Rhett & Link). There are probably other notables, but no complete credits are given.

The fact that famous, or infamous, people would agree to do Written By a Kid and not even get their name on screen is a testament to Day's network, as well as this incredibly creative, wonderfully made series. When something this fun is going on, of course people want to be involved! There is no telling what famous faces might pop up in future episodes.

Not to mention, Written By a Kid is genuinely funny. Whether it stems from the animators getting ahead of the narrator, having to change the color and look of the monster, or the cheesy performances by Foley and Whedon, it works. The adults behind this project are smart enough to know when to let the kid by unintentionally funny, and when he might need a little help by taking things more literally then they probably should were they interacting with him outside of the entertainment industry. Fantastic.

Written By a Kid is a must-see show, even if it might be hidden away slightly on the internet, and another fitting addition to the Geek & Sundry lineup. But that's why I link the title, so you can find it. New episodes will go up on Mondays, so make sure that you check them out!

Check out my new website, JeromeWetzel.com. If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Article first published on TheTVKing

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The L.A. Complex has a "Vacancy"

After a (thankfully) brief hiatus, The L.A. Complex returns for a second season with "Vacancy." This episode picks up right after season one ends, and while some of the characters begin new arcs, others have to deal with the fallout from the old ones. At least in L.A., things are never boring!

Nick (Joe Dinicol) gets an interview as a writer for Paul F. Tompkins' new series, even though Paul (himself) hates Nick. To overcome this bias and get on staff, Nick uses his chemistry with Sabrina (Georgina Reilly), who is also interviewing, and they are both hired. Then he returns home to Abby (Cassie Steele), whom he is now officially dating, and lies about working with anyone that he knows.

This cannot end well on either count for Nick. If Abby finds out Nick lied about Sabrina, their relationship is over before it starts. Yes, Abby may have dumped Nick anyway, since Nick slept with Sabrina so recently before her. But lying does not improve the situation, and will only make her madder. Similarly, being in close quarters might reignite things with Sabrina enough for her to forgive Nick for his theft of her jokes. If she acts on it and Nick rejects her because of Abby, she will go ballistic, and one or both of them will have to leave the show. Most likely, both women will find out what Nick did soon enough. There is just no way to foresee a happy ending here

Abby is finally learning the game. Auditioning before a religion-themed series star and creator named Donald (Alan Thicke, Growing Pains), she quickly realizes that she has screwed up with her wardrobe, which she probably didn't have time to change. So she lays into Donald instead, claiming piety and passion for the project. It's a fake-it-'til-you-make-it moment, and one where Abby shines. Though, admittedly, if she's a good enough actress to fool Donald here, doesn't that make her good enough for his show?

Sadly, Eddie (Ennis Esmer), who usually seems like a good guy in The L.A. Complex, acting as not just their landlord, but also their mentor and friend, comes off as cruel in "Vacancy." It's one thing to demand that Abby pay extra rent to live with Nick, an understandable rule. It's another to not make his cleaning gig offer clear to Abby, who works six hours when Eddie is only willing to pay for two. Maybe the slight isn't intentional, but Eddie comes across as a total jerk in the way he talks to her. Is the lesson that you can't trust anyone in L.A.? Or is Eddie just having a bad day? He didn't look like that was the case...

Connor (Jonathan Patrick Moore) probably won't have a show much longer if he keeps on the path he's heading down. Drunk in the middle of the day, jumping off balconies into the pool, his behavior is reckless. There is a hint of salvation as he enters into a real relationship with Raquel (the fabulous Jewel Staite). Having her to care about might calm him down, especially when she gets around to telling him that she's pregnant with his(?) child. Maybe Connor will invest in these two people, and being back at the apartments, he will find himself again. Or maybe he will keep getting worse, and Raquel will be left heartbroken, as well as knocked up.

There is a "Vacancy" at the complex that Connor can use, now that Alicia (Chelan Simmons) has hit the road. She says goodbye at the beginning of the episode, and isn't seen again for the entire hour. She remains a main character, so whether The L.A. Complex will follow her on the road or bring her home soon is the only mystery here.

There are also two new characters, a young homeless woman named Beth (Dayle McLeod) and her little brother Simon (Michael Levinson), whom she is caring for. Viewers are introduced to the pair in "Vacancy," but there hasn't been enough development to really understand who they are and what they are about yet. Might Simon land an acting gig, paying just enough to get them into the complex?

Finally, the real emotional heft of the hour comes with Tariq (Benjamin Charles Watson) and Kaldrick (Andra Fuller). Tariq is hurt and unwilling to forgive Kaldrick, especially if Kaldrick won't go public with their relationship. Kaldrick is willing to do anything for Tariq to make up for beating him except tell people that he's gay, as it would effectively end his career, though that's the only thing Tariq wants. So what we get is two heartsick men that cannot maintain the connection they so desperately desire. To cope, Tariq heads home and Kaldrick slits his wrists.

Will Kaldrick die? Or will he come out of this a new man, understanding that he must be true to himself. We know Tariq, a main character, won't really be leaving The L.A. Complex. Either of those outcomes for Kaldrick will allow Tariq to stay. The question is, will Tariq be happy or grieving next week?

Don't miss the summer's guilty pleasure Canadian drama, The L.A. Complex, airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on the CW.

Check out my new website, JeromeWetzel.com. If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Article first published on TheTVKing

Saturday, July 21, 2012

True Blood is far from "Hopeless"

So, so much is going on in this season of HBO's True Blood! Six hours into the season, "Hopeless" is jam packed full of plots, with each of the main characters facing something big. Without further ado, let's get to it!

Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare) is back in a big way! Briefly captured by the Authority, thanks to Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), Russell quickly turns the tables on Authority leader Roman (Christopher Meloni), giving him the final death.

What will Russell do with his new found power? Will he and the vampire movement known as the Sanguinuistas attempt to conquer mankind? Will the majority of the vampires fall in line behind him, since Russell murdered their leader? Or will most of them fight back, intent on keeping Roman's policies of peaceful co-existence in place?

Bill is kind of an unknown here. Fans would like to believe he is a kind, good vampire, given his past relationship with Sookie (Anna Paquin). But the fact of the matter is, Bill acts like a total patsy to Roman, and it's not the first time he's carried a banner to save his own skin. Yes, he would likely interfere if Russell threatens Sookie, but considering that she can hold her own against him, might Bill support Russell in other ways?

Eric is more principled, even standing up to Roman with his life in the balance, wanting to stay neutral in the battle. This is not a position that he will be able to maintain. Russell has a beef with Eric. Eric might be spared if he would support Russell's mission, but that probably won't happen. And Eric isn't exactly eager to jump on the other side, either. Eric, more than Bill, is going to stand up for what he cares about. The question is, what does Eric care about?

It's a shame that Roman is staked so soon. He is a really a cool character, reaching a zenith last week when murdering the elder member of the Authority that looked like a child. He is deliciously evil, and his strong religious compass makes him someone to contend with. Meloni really seemed to be enjoying himself, and giving a fantastic performance. Then, it's all over much too soon.

Alcide (Joe Manganiello) and Sookie are gone before Russell does the deed, keeping them in the dark about the latest developments, as much as ever. They seemed only to touch on this story, each with their own paths to walk this season. But their involvement in the vampire civil strife in "Hopeless" is fantastic if for no other reason than to see Eric glamor Alcide into being disgusted by Sookie, though Sookie breaks that spell pretty quickly!

Alcide's new purpose in life is to bring order to a pack of werewolves. While not seeking leadership, he isn't going to sit by and watch the new pack master destroy the lives of others. It demonstrates a real sense of character. Alcide may want to be a lone wolf, but he is also going to be a protector when he sees injustice and tyranny. This is a good way to go with his character, even if it keeps him apart from Sookie.

Of course, if True Blood is going to follow the far-inferior book series, which it generally does in extremely broad strokes, the battle for a new pack master will introduce Quinn, Sookie's next boyfriend, a large weretiger. Is True Blood ready to add yet another suitor to her incredibly full dance card?

Quinn might have to wait awhile because Sookie has bigger fish to fry. After a hilarious scene where Sookie bashes men with Arlene (Carrie Preston) and Holly (Lauren Bowles), she runs into Jason (Ryan Kwanten), who alerts her to a fairy situation. The fairies are also fighting amongst themselves, as some of the ones more sympathetic to humans are hiding out at a night club, away from their malevolent peers. Once more, Sookie is drawn into a battle that only fleetingly concerns her. She is such a busy body and danger magnet!

Jason's involvement is a little more personal. He wants to know the truth about his parents' death. It took True Blood five seasons to get to it, but it seems time to finally delve into the Stackhouses' past, uncovering their secret connections to the supernatural world before the supes came out. It's about time! We can't be expected to believe that Sookie hasn't been around things greater than most people all her life!

All supes are in serious danger of being exposed. While only vampires have gone public thus far, someone knows about shifters and the others, as Sam (Sam Trammell) finds out the hard way when he and Luna (Janina Gavankar) are shot. This time, it's Sam and Andy (Chris Bauer) looking for justice, as a third major conflict rages on in "Hopeless."

Hoyt (Jim Parrack) somehow gets involved with Sam's attackers, who recognize him and "save" him from a vampire who is about to kill him, which is kind of what Hoyt is going for. Because Hoyt is in such a weakened state, physically and emotionally, and suffering damage at the hands of a supernatural, when Jessica dumped him, it seems a likely possibility that he might actually join this no-good gang. Or maybe he will continue to defend Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) in whatever way he can. Either possibility places him smack dab in the middle of something violent.

It is supremely awesome that characters like Hoyt and Andy are getting this kind of development! While the more central characters like Sookie, Bill, and Eric are great, True Blood has many talented supporting players. Letting them carry their own major plots, and not just small side stories, is a brilliant way to rejuvenate the series and keep it interesting as it begins aging. Moves like this could keep the show on for many more years.

Speaking of minor people getting increased roles, Terry (Todd Lowe) breaks things off with Arlene to protect her and the kids. His plight seems "Hopeless," haunted by a fire spirit who is intent on killing him for a very dark deed done in Iraq. This is depressing, as Terry and Arlene are True Blood's happiest couple til now. But hopefully Terry can defeat the creature and return home. Though, right now, it's hard to see how that can be accomplished, especially when he doesn't ask for help from the characters we've seen deal with powerful magic villains before. Macho man might get himself killed.

Then there's Tara (Rutina Wesley), whose concerns are more internal. It's funny to see Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) treat her progeny like crap. It's even better to see Jessica and Tara bond. They could really help each other out, given what they have in common. Too bad Tara plays with Hoyt in the bathroom, leading to a spectacular barroom brawl between the gals. Any chance the ladies can patch things up? I'd like to see more cooperation and less bickering! And a trio of united, bad-ass vampire chicks, Pam included, would be virtually unstoppable.

Tara isn't the only one whose story didn't stop at death. Jesus (Kevin Alejandro) is appearing to Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) and Ruby (Alfre Woodard), mouth bound shut. Or, at least, his head appears. It's hard to fathom exactly what is going on, not knowing how Jesus can even still be involved in the show. But he's such a popular character, it's little wonder the series is trying to keep him around. Will he survive past this plot, either brought back to life or in some other form, or is this an epilogue for his character?

In fact, if I were to have one complaint about True Blood, it's that the show is forgetting how to let characters go. Sure, new people are introduced and then dispatched with, but most of the original cast are still around, and the number of integral people that stays keep growing. The show might do with a little trimming, making the stakes a little higher, and events seem a little more dangerous. A couple of deaths could be a blessing.

Believe it or not, I could even go into yet more subplots and great moments from this episode, despite the already lengthy recap. It's hard to spend much time analyzing any one element when so much is happening. Then again, it keeps the show exciting, and "Hopeless" is another in a string of excellent episodes. I won't complain too much about the difficulty in reviewing True Blood if they keep the quality this high.

Watch True Blood Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

Check out my new website, JeromeWetzel.com.  If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here for all of my True Blood reviews. Click here to buy books and DVDs from the True Blood series. Article first published at TheTVKing

Friday, July 20, 2012

Please "Live Free" Breaking Bad!

Grade: 88%

AMC’s BREAKING BAD moves into its final season this week with “Live Free or Die.” After the usual cryptic opening set in the near future, the premiere does not set up a new story. Instead, the events of the hour deal with the aftermath of last year’s finale. With Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) recently killed, everyone tries to process that news, and figure out their next step.

Gus may be dead, but Walt (Bryan Cranston) and the others aren’t out of the woods yet. Remember that video camera that followed Walt around the lab? So does he. But before he can get his hands on the footage, Hank (Dean Norris) and the police take Gus’s laptop as evidence. Locked up in a very secure evidence room, it seems there is no way that Walt’s nefarious activities won’t come out. Mike (Jonathan Banks) advises they all run.

Walter White has come a long way on his journey to becoming a kingpin. In earlier seasons, the former chemistry teacher would have panicked, or perhaps not known what to do. And Walt will do something, because he has no intention of uprooting this life he has built himself, or fleeing from anyone. While Mike doesn’t even consider any other option, Walt remains calm, and quickly devises a plan.

Actually, it’s Jesse (Aaron Paul) who suggests the genesis of the scheme. Again, another character who has shown a lot of growth. Jesse used to be an idiot junkie. But after learning much about chemistry and attitude from Walt and Mike, he is able to keep a clear enough head to remember that magnets can destroy computers, and that might be something that they can use.

So after Jesse convinces Mike not to kill Walt, the three of them embark on the crazy mission of driving a giant junkyard magnet right up to the wall of police headquarters and cranking it all the way up. This is effective, and while their ride is sacrificed, they do make a clean get away. They are safe, for now.

Is there anyway that the magnet can be traced back to them in the upcoming investigation? Many, many criminals surely have things in the evidence room that they would like destroyed, and surely there are multiple laptops, even if Gus’s is the only one shown. But while the magnet may be nondescript, it shouldn’t take the police long to find the one junkyard in town that has a new one. After that, it is anyone’s guess how the employees at said junkyard will react to an interrogation.

Long before that happens, though, there might be a more immediate problem. The alliance between Mike, Jesse, and Walt is temporary. Who will fill the power vacuum left by Gus? One of them, or someone else? If it is someone else, they might stick together a little while longer. If it’s one of the trio, someone will have to end up dead, because these are some very strong personalities that just won’t become subservient.

It won’t be Jesse. Jesse is a follower. He naively trusts both Mike and Walt, and that will likely be his undoing, sadly. He may suggest a course of action, but he believes in them, is willing to stick his neck out for them, and is happy to take orders, rather than give them. Walt has already used this against Jesse, manipulating him by poisoning a child. Should Jesse realize this, the tide may change. But until that happens, Jesse is blind to his friend’s machinations, which means that he is putting his faith in someone that he shouldn’t.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Mike has developed a bit of loyalty towards Jesse. While Mike wants to shoot Walt immediately, he stands down when Jesse gets in the middle. It could also very well be that Mike only participates in the magnet plan to protect Jesse. Their mentor-mentee relationship was formed as another way to control Jesse, but if Mike’s affection for the lad wasn’t real, why would he go along with this?

Maybe it will take Mike and Jesse to bring Walt down, should the true depth of Walt’s dark soul ever be exposed. Walt has everything that he needs, but after each accomplishment, he only gets more over confident, and desires more power and money. This cannot go on forever. Look at Gus, a true power player, who is eventually stricken down. The play BREAKING BAD presents is a tragedy if ever there was one, and Walt will not, can not, end up on top.

Elsewhere, Ted (Christopher Cousins) wakes out of his coma. This sends Saul (Bob Odenkirk) and Skyler (Anna Gunn) into a panic, as just before Ted was injured, he was ready to expose their money laundering. Only a lucky fall saved them then.

Skyler rushes to the hospital to confront Ted, and see what must be done now. Given how disturbed Skyler was by Ted’s accident in the first place, as well as her horror at what Walt has become in killing Gus, it is unlikely she would sign off on any plan that would cause Ted further harm, no matter what the consequences to herself. Thank goodness Ted is now compliant, thinking his life is in danger if he doesn’t keep his mouth shut. Which means that Skyler shouldn’t have to follow her husband’s descent to protect her family.

What is more surprising is how Walt reacts to learning about the Ted situation. Previously, Saul and Skyler kept this issue from Walt. Saul tells Walt the story, and after a bit of anger, where Walt is clearly threatening Saul, Walt returns home, hugs his wife, and tells Skyler that she is forgiven. This is arrogant and creepy, something that plays well on Skyler’s face. What has Walt become? Does she even recognize who her husband is these days? And can she ever love a man like this?

BREAKING BAD is a masterful character study. With only fifteen episodes left, there is a real sense that some things will soon be coming to a head. Each character is going to have to figure out what they want, and what they are capable of doing to get it. There has to be betrayal, because many of these goals will run counter to each other. If the writing continues to be as good as it consistently has been for the past four years, viewers are in for one heck of a finale!

BREAKING BAD’s final season airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.

You can't cage these Political Animals

Grade: 86%

USA decided to take a risk with its new show, POLITICAL ANIMALS. The network has actually taken several risks in the last few years, each progressively braver than the one before it. There’s nothing wrong with how the network made its name, with a number of similar shows, each using the trademark formula. Still, it’s nice to see something new, and this show resembles its peers not at all.

POLITICAL ANIMALS is easily the biggest departure from USA’s tried and true formula yet, and it’s a big success, at least creatively. The writing is very smart, the acting is fantastic, and the scope is much broader than the average basic cable drama. The “Pilot,” which aired last night, is a superb story, wonderfully setting up each character, as well as telling a tale or two or three.

Created by Greg Berlanti (Brothers & Sisters, Everwood), many will immediately assume he is a fan of Hilary Clinton. That’s because the central character of POLITICAL ANIMALS, Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver, Alien, Avatar), is a former first lady of the popular, two-term 42nd president, who, after losing a presidential race to a charismatic newcomer (Adrian Pasdar, Heroes, The Lying Game), accepts the position of Secretary of State. Elaine is bold, principled, and suddenly more popular than ever, hugely successful as the nation’s top diplomat.

But as the “Pilot” unfolds, it is clear that Hilary may just have been a starting point. There are definite differences. Some are cosmetic, such as the fact that Elaine has twin sons instead of a daughter, while others, including divorcing her husband, Bud (Ciaran Hinds, Rome, Munich), are perhaps wishful thinking. But what it really boils down to is that Hilary is a public figure, and none of us will ever know what goes inside of her head. Ellen is a television character, who will do things to keep the show interesting, such as sleeping with her ex-spouse. Not only that, but Elaine must be fully fleshed out, filling in those details missing from the general consciousness about Hilary. As such, a lot of creative license is taken, and the character will quickly stand apart from her inspiration.

A number of things happen in the “Pilot.” Firstly, the family celebrates the engagement of Elaine’s son, who happens to also be her chief of staff, Douglas (James Wolk, Happy Endings, You Again), to Anne Ogami (Brittany Ishibashi, Ghostfacers, Eagle Eye). It looks like the perfect pairing, and they do seem to get along pretty well, despite the family tensions. But Anne is secretly bulimic. Is this condition a result of the pressures of marrying into such a powerful family? What kind of girl chooses this kind of life? These are questions only barely begun to be explored.

Other son, Thomas James, or TJ (Sebastian Stan, Gossip Girl, Kings), is a homosexual with a drug problem. Having previously attempted suicide, he is not well suited to this particular family, finding the spotlight painful and grating. He is still loved, at least by his mother, but that isn’t enough to keep him in line. What kind of trouble will he cause her and the others?

In fact, TJ sets up the other major thread of POLITICAL ANIMALS. In the “Pilot,” Elaine is being followed around by a reporter named Susan Berg (Carla Gugino, Watchmen, Californication, Entourage) who made her name by exposing Bud’s cheating ways, and is now using the story of TJ’s screw up to blackmail her way into an interview. Of course, this being TV, Susan’s life is just as messed up, as her boyfriend / boss betrays her in more ways than one, and she begins to feel Elaine’s pain.

There is a very nice parallel between Elaine and Susan. They are similar types of women, to paraphrase the episodes, bitches who don’t like being called bitches. They are driven, intelligent, sexy, and get what they want through hard work and tenacity. Sometimes they may be shamed by others, but there is a lot to be admired in both women. And by the end of the “Pilot,” they begin to see that in each other, too.

In the first episode, amid all of this other stuff, there is also a hostage crisis in Iran, a great example of how POLITICAL ANIMALS mixes the big picture and the intimate family moments. This is a winning formula, showing how the people in charge cope with everything thrust upon them, a look that most people don’t generally get into their lives. Sure, the episodes will be trumped up for dramatic effect, but they also feel fairly real because the series gets the details right.

There are lots of things going on, but none of it feels rushed, especially in the hands of a terrific cast. These include supporting actors like Ellen Burstyn (Big Love, The Exorcist) as Elaine’s drunken mother, Dylan Baker (Damages, The Good Wife) as the Vice President, and Roger Bart (Desperate Housewives, The Producers) as the president’s chief of staff. All of this combines to make a fantastic show.

This is definitely a can’t-miss series of the summer, and presented as a limited run, it won’t be a major time commitment to check it out. POLITICAL ANIMALS airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on USA.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clang on DVD

There is a character from the old serials known as Charlie Chan, The Amazing Chan. In 1972, Hanna Barbera transitioned Charlie to their animated realm in the one season, sixteen episode series The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan. Together with his ten children, whom Mr. Chan is raising as a single father, the Chan Clan solves mysteries.

The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan will definitely be compared to Scooby-Doo. After all, there are kids in a van, with a dog, solving mysteries. Some of the music used in this series is a play off of Scooby-Doo music. Scooby himself even makes a cameo in the first episode, likely as a homage to the show's roots.

On the other hand, there are also a number of differences. For one, including Mr. Chan produces a different dynamic. Mr. Chan, a very patient and loving father, usually knows who the culprit is early on in the episode, and the kids, trying to help, trip him up and get in his way, before finally helping solve the case. Because of Chan's knowledge, there is more of a focus on the how of the crime and the method of catching the criminal, rather than the identity of the villain. The Chan kids play in a band in each episode, adding a musical element. Also, the dog looks like a cat, and the van can magically transform into other vehicles.

The van's appearance changes are "explained" away by the "science" of the smart member of the family, who supposedly built the thing. But there is a flash, and the hunk of metal is drastically altered, so there really is no real explanation here.

Like Scooby-Doo, chase scenes, schemes, and costume changes defy any sense of reality. But the point of The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan is not to present a realistic look at a family of crime solvers; it's to entertain children. In that, it does a fine job, giving enough characters for any kid to relate to, as well as being genuinely amusing, in a juvenile sensibility. "Wham-bam, we're in a jam!" may be corny for adults to hear over and over, but surely the younger viewers will repeat it incessantly. It is a show I wouldn't mind letting my future children watch, and expect they would enjoy it quite a bit.

Since I mentioned the multitude of characters, it must be said that The Amazing Chan and Chan Clan does a fantastic job of balancing all of the various family members. Each has a clearly defined personality trait, whether it is being a leader, master of disguise, feminist tomboy, overeager youngster, or genius. In this way, by picking one trait to latch onto for each kid, they all get to participate, and become handy from time to time. Often, the show splits the kids into groups, making them easier to keep track of. Combined with simple plots and no real danger, it works.

Does one wish The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan were a little more original? Of course. Plenty of kids shows can also be innovate and fresh, and this one isn't, not even in its own time. But that doesn't necessarily make it terrible, and if you're a fan who has grown tired of Scooby-Doo, this may be just enough twist to hook you in.

The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan deserves some credit for its treatment of race. Keye Luke (Gremlins, Kung Fu), who was one of Chan's sons in some live action versions, is the first Asian-American person to play the Chinese-American character. And while many of the kids' voices were re-dubbed when their accents proved too thick, they are kids growing up in an environment where they would lose, or begin to lose, their accents, so it feels natural. And there really aren't too many racist stereotypes and jokes, showing a very positive view of people who look a little different than most of the cartoon characters at the time.

Besides Luke, the voice cast includes Oscar Winner Jodie Foster (The Silence of the Lambs, Contact), Lennie Weinrib (Voltron), Brian Tochi (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Janet Waldon (The Jetsons), Lisa Gerritsen (Phyllis), Robert Ito (Quincy M.E.), and Don Messick (Tiny Toon Adventures, Scooby-Doo), among others. So it is a talented bunch of people.

Check out The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan The Complete Series, on sale now.

Check out my new website, JeromeWetzel.com. If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Review first published on TheTVKing.com

Monday, July 16, 2012

Doctor Who vows Death to the Daleks

Death to the Daleks, the third serial in the eleventh season of Doctor Who, finally comes to DVD! In this four part story, the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) crash on the planet Exxilon, which just happens to be a battle site. Here, humans and Daleks fight over a rare mineral that cures a deadly space plague.

But the humans and Daleks are not the only beings on Exxilon. There is also a savage native race, which practices sacrifice in their worship of a living city. This isn't good news for Sarah, who is soon captured by them. Seeing a heroine about to be killed in service to gods is nothing new, but Sarah Jane Smith is a brave, bold, woman, and playing the damsel in distress doesn't suit her for very long.

Faced with this common enemy, as neither the humans nor Daleks are allies with the natives, the two enemies are able to band together. This is a strange turn of events, given the animosity and contrary goals between the two, and, predictably, it doesn't last long, especially once the Dalek's true mission is revealed. But for awhile, the two species find some common ground, a first for the Daleks and anyone else on Doctor Who!

Besides the obvious dangers, there are plenty of secrets on Exxilon, such as why does such a backwards race live so near to a very advanced city? What made them the way that they are? Who built the city, one of the 700 Wonders of the Universe? What is its purpose? Also, why do devices, such as the TARDIS and the Dalek's weapons, lose power here? All of these are answered, in time, and provide a driving narrative thread for the serial, running below the more immediate threats.

Death to the Daleks is not unique in featuring a super smart computer who is in control. This is a common science fiction theme that has been done over and over. But Doctor Who handles this in an interesting way, making the computer mind tale subservient to other power struggles for much of the serial. In this way, there are multiple stories being balanced and it doesn't feel like a cheap copy of other works.

The theme of working with one's enemy is also one that pops up a lot in various fiction and dramatic television. But for the Daleks, a seemingly emotionless cyborg race, to be willing to work with people, whom they consider vastly inferior, is a surprise. The Daleks are intelligent, so the story does make sense. But the Doctor is right not to trust them as the Daleks have no reason to make a permanent peace, nor help mankind very much.

For a series that has run as long as Doctor Who does, there are bound to be weaker entries that seem more derivative. Death to the Daleks is one such serial. However, even the worst Doctor Who, and this is not the worst, are better than a lot of what's out there. Death to the Daleks, in spite of its weaknesses, is an entertaining couple of hours, worth checking out for Who fans. Plus, there are some neat design elements when viewing the creatures and structures that actually belong on Exxilon.

As per usual, Doctor Who Death to the Daleks comes with a number of special features. Photo galleries and PDF materials join some of the first Dalek footage from 1965 and a trailer on the DVD set.

Toby Hadoke once again moderates a panel for the audio commentary, which includes Julian Fox, who plays a Marine Lieutenant in the human group of this serial, director Michel E. Briant, Dalek operator Cy Town, special sounds maestro Dick Mills, and assistant floor manager Richard Leyland. Many of these same people participate in the making of featurette, "Behind the City of the Exxilons."

Check out Doctor Who: Death to Daleks, on sale now.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here for every Doctor Who review I've ever written. Article first published as DVD Review: Doctor Who: Death to the Daleks on Blogcritics.