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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Missing misses the mark

On this week's episode of ABC's Missing, "Ice Queen," the plane lands without Michael (Nick Eversman, Vampires Suck, The Runaways) on board. The CIA questions the woman who is on the plane, Sloane (Victoria Smurfit, Trial & Retribution), but she plays dumb. Giancarlo (Adriano Giannini, L'ombra del destino) gets Becca (Ashley Judd, Sisters, Heat, De-Lovely) out of CIA custody. However, before Becca can get information from the also-released Sloane, Mary (Aunjanue Ellis, The Mentalist, Ray) shows up, making herself a pawn in the game. Meanwhile, Michael is placed in seemingly comfortable surroundings.

Missing would like to be a cross between Alias, 24, and Taken, but it fails to reach those aspirations. The action is pretty exciting, and Judd excels at her performance, as always. The overall tone is enticing, and the pace is fast enough. In short, it's fairly enjoyable.

It is more than a simple spy show, or a basic kidnapping story. Given the format of series television, Missing can afford to toss in back story, mystery, and some twists. But it does it so clumsily that it fails to live up to its potential. The fault of Missing is not with the actors, who are all at least adequate, or the locale, which is usually beautiful, if CGI-enhanced. No, the real issue with Missing is the plot. There are so many plot holes and developments that just don't make sense. It becomes incredibly distracting for those trying to enjoy the story.

For one thing, why doesn't Becca just come out and tell Mary the truth? She wants to protect Mary and maintain their friendship, fine. Then confessing her past to Mary would not only spare Mary's feelings, other than a bit of betrayal for not having been told sooner, but would get Mary home safely and not force Becca to act like an "Ice Queen." Instead, by lying at first, Becca sets Mary up to keep digging until she is taken by Sloane, putting her in real danger. Not to mention, Becca asks Giancarlo to pose as her lover, but then doesn't give him the chance to until after Mary doesn't follow through with Becca's wishes. So Becca knows Mary well enough to know that she just won't go home? Then why even attempt that route?

The scene in "Ice Queen" where Becca and Sloane have their final confrontation is also weird. A sniper takes out Sloane to keep her from spilling the beans after Sloane tells Mary that the man who killed Becca's husband, Paul (Sean Bean, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones), has Michael. The sniper is in position long before he pulls the trigger. It's understandable that he doesn't shoot while Ashley Judd holds the diamonds over the water, but only if he then goes after the diamonds, which he doesn't do. It's unlikely this shooter can hear the girls, anyway, so why doesn't he kill Sloane sooner? The timing is strange.

Additionally, Dax (Cliff Curtis, Trauma) keeps telling Becca and Giancarlo that he will help. Yet, he seems perfectly willing to let the CIA send Becca home until Giancarlo breaks her free. Then he changes his mind and decides to intervene, though he claims total support for her. So which is it? Is Dax following CIA orders or assisting Becca? Because those two purposes do not run parallel.

Lastly, it doesn't make any sense for the Big Bad to be consulted about shooting Michael to warn versus harm in "Ice Queen." Clearly, the plan is already in place to have Oksana (Tereza Vorísková, Znamení kone) tell Michael that he will be injured if he attempts escape again as part of the plan to get Michael to trust her. It's a solid scheme, but it makes the early scene unnecessary and weird. If the scheme isn't developed until after the warning shot, which seems unlikely given the level of planning the villains show in Missing, then the logical thing to do when the Big Bad orders the next shot to hurt Michael would be to tell him this immediately.

In summary, Missing could be good if the writing gets smarter. Until then, it's popcorn fluff, with story continuity taking a back seat. Missing airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. In Columbus, ABC is found on channel 6 (antenna), 386 (satellite), or 1006 (high definition cable).

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Whitney's wedding less than perfect

NBC's Whitney brings its season (and, likely, the series) to an end with "Something Black, Something Blue." Whitney (Whitney Cummings) and Alex (Chris D'Elia) decide to go to City Hall to get married. But from an expired ID, to a broken finger, to being handed the paperwork for a divorce, things just keep going wrong. In the end, they decide that being together is enough, and they don't need a legally recognized union.

Perhaps due to a mediocre start, Whitney never took off with viewers. That's a shame, because it has become a pretty decent sitcom, and lots of shows take a few episodes to find their footing. Right from the beginning, there has been a special chemistry evident between Cummings and D'Elia, and the more the series has allowed that to flourish, the better it has gotten. As someone who watched every single episode, sticking with it from beginning to end, it is pretty darn enjoyable, overall, and it will be sad to see it go. If it goes. Which is likely. But there's still a (very small) chance...

As mentioned above, the heart of this sitcom is the relationship between Whitney and Alex. What they have isn't traditional, but in the modern age, it isn't completely unusual, either. The two have pledged to be together long-term, and they don't need marriage to do it. They are characters people can relate to, and laugh with, rather than at.

Funnily enough, they are not opposed to marriage. Whitney is, at first, because of her upbringing and issues. But by showcasing how much she trusts Alex in "Something Black, Something Blue," the series is able to demonstrate her lasting commitment, even without a ring. She is willing to get married if that's what he wants, but when it proves to be too much trouble, he doesn't want it anymore. This is fitting for the characters, if slightly disappointing for those wanting to see them take that plunge. Though, admittedly, the proposal should have been saved for a couple of seasons, and probably only happened because of the sense that the end was near.

The weaknesses of Whitney lie in the other characters. Had the show stuck to just the central couple, it may have proved more popular. Instead, likely to keep with an accepted formula, four other people are shoved into the stories. It's not that the actors are bad, but they don't quite fit the way that they are inserted.
Early on, none of them are interesting. By the middle of the season, each becomes better defined, and starts landing consistent laughs. By "Something Black, Something, Blue," though, they land somewhere in between the high and the low points.

The issue is that once the writers figure out what to do with the other four, and capture them wonderfully, there isn't a lot of wiggle room for situation comedy, based on who these people are. They are developed in a kind of narrow way. So forcing Neal (Maulik Pancholy) to suddenly be gay, and then to have Lily (Zoe Lister Jones) enjoy a kiss with Mark (Dan O'Brien), who is interested in Roxanne (Rhea Seehorn), seems desperate and gimmicky. It gets them out of the box that they are written into, but not in a way that feels natural. Had Neal and Lily taken their walk down the aisle, perhaps they would have been boring, but at least they would have stayed true to the characters presented.

That being said, season two could still be good. Perhaps Lily and Mark might work as a couple, if they are given a chance. Neal could become a fun gay character, once the awkwardness of his out-of-nowhere coming out wears off. Roxanne is actually fine the way she is now. And, of course, more tales of Whitney and Alex will always be welcome.

The only bright spot to a cancellation, and I do mean only, is if Pancholy returns to 30 Rock, where he has been missed.

Whitney airs (aired?) on NBC.
 
If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Click here to catch up with streaming episodes of Whitney. Article first published as TV Review: Whitney - "Something Black, Something Blue" on Blogcritics.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Descendants hits Blu-ray

Now out on Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy from FOX is The Descendants. The film, directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt), is adapted from a book by Kaui Hart Hemmings. It tells the story of a family dealing with the tragedy of a mother's, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), accident. Husband Matt (George Clooney, Up in the Air, ER) soon learns that it's harder than it looks to take care of two daughters. His life is further complicated by a business deal involving his family's land, and learning that Elizabeth has been cheating on him. 

The Descendants is not a plot-heavy film, though there is a nice flow to it. Instead, it concentrates on exploring the emotions of those involved, and how people's actions can affect others. It is also about the dynamic of a particular family, and how it is shaped by circumstance.

This movie boasts a number of fantastic performances. Clooney is doing something a little different than usual, tackling an average schlub type of character rather than one who is exceedingly charming and handsome. Beau Bridges (Brothers & Sisters, Max Payne), as a relative of Matt's, is as close to a villain as the piece gets, something a little off of his best known parts, too. But no one is really black or white, and his motives are decent enough. Robert Forster has a tough position, playing Matt's father-in-law, but handles it expertly.

Rob Huebel (Childrens Hospital, I Love You, Man) and Mary Birdsong (Reno 911!) are known for their comedy, and do lighten things up a bit as Elizabeth's friends. Judy Greer (Arrested Development, Archer, 13 Going on 30), also known for being funny, tones it down to do some serious drama, which, it turns out, she is pretty good at! Matthew Lillard (Scooby-Doo, Scream) is also wonderful in a layered performance as Elizabeth's married lover.

Perhaps most surprising, though, are the young performers in The Descendants. Shailene Woodley, who plays elder daughter Alex, is best known for the cheesy Secret Life of the American Teenager on ABC Family. Anyone who has watched that series could be forgiven for expressing shock at her fantastic, nuanced, grown up performance in The Descendants. Lesser known Nick Krause (How to Eat Friend Worms) carries the double duty of heart and comedic relief with ease. Young Amara Miller is also wonderful, making it odd that she has no prior screen credits.

Another character in The Descendants is Hawaii itself. The beauty and majesty of the tropical environment are incredibly important to the feel of the film, which is why purchasing the Blu-ray version is recommended. With the breathtaking landscapes, one will want the rich detail of high definition to fully appreciate a world so different from much of America. The colors are lush and deep. The picture quality in this release is awesome.

Sound is vital, and The Descendants pays attention to that, too. There is a terrific score underlying the movie. Many of the scenes are filmed outside, but the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack only uses the ambient noises needed to enhance, not distract, from the piece. It is all mixed together expertly.

The Descendants was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning the one for Best Adapted Screenplay. It also won the Golden Globe for Best Picture - Drama. Additionally, Clooney took home a Golden Globe for his acting performance. These accolades are deserved. Whether one enjoys the film or not, it's easy to appreciate the artistry of what it is, and the masterful work Clooney and Payne have done. 

The Descendants is packed with bonus features, though, strangely, it lacks an audio commentary track. A trailer is present. The deleted scenes delightfully have title cards that explain a little bit about what viewers are about to see, and provide reasons for why they were cut. Too bad there are only two of them, one very brief.

To hear the extras tell it, two men are primarily responsible for the success of the film. "Everybody Loves George" has cast members, including Greer, Lillard, Huebel, and Birdsong, raving about George Clooney. They all say that he is a great, handsome, funny guy who deserves his good reputation. Boring? Not really, because there are interesting anecdotes mixed in, too. But everyone does tend to love Clooney for a reason, and fans will find the featurette a confirmation of this.

"Working With Alexander" has Woodley, Bridges, and others raving about how fantastic it is to work with Payne, who inspires enthusiasm, and is as nice and humble as Clooney. Apparently, Payne is clear with what he wants, and takes good care of his people. Sounds like a director for whom getting stars for his next film will not be a problem.

"The Real Descendants" tells the story of how Hawaiian land become privatized. It's a bit of a history lesson, but useful to understand some of the background on one of the subplots. These extra also touches on Hollywood's connection with the island state. "Hawaiian Style" speaks of some of the authentic details that contribute to the realism of the setting, including the feral chickens that roam the area after an early 1990s hurricane. Additionally, the cast and crew share their favorite native words.

Some of the extra titles are right on this nose. "Casting" is exactly what it sounds like. Casting people talk about how they found the people in this movie, including Lillard and Miller. "Working With Water" discusses just how hard it is to film scenes in boats and out on the ocean.

Believe it or not, there are even more features than this, including three music videos, a silent film, and a conversation with Payne and Clooney! So needless to say, there are a lot of special features in this set that will make sure you get your money's worth.

Buy The Descendants, available now as a Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy combo pack.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The Descendants on Blogcritics.

Mad Men deserves more than just "A Little Kiss"

After a hiatus of nearly a year and a half, AMC's Mad Men returns with "A Little Kiss." Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) begins to resent Roger (John Slattery), not believing Roger is pulling his weight at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Roger isn't concerned much, spending money to poke fun at another agency in the paper, which results in Joan (Christina Hendricks) fearing that her job is in jeopardy and the firm having to hire minorities on their already tight budget. Amid this, Megan (Jessica Paré) throws Don (Jon Hamm) a surprise birthday party, but does not get the reaction that she hopes for.

"A Little Kiss" is a little disappointing. Just a little. It's not that there's anything wrong with the episode. It's just that, after such a long absence, one expects a big, splashy return. That's not what this episode is. It does an adequate job catching viewers up with what is going on for the characters, and there are some amazing moments sprinkled in, but it is mostly a routine installment.

Megan gets her due, to say the least. Now promoted to series regular, she is central to multiple stories in "A Little Kiss." At work, she is a junior member of the creative team, no longer a simple secretary. Her position is shaky, being that she is obviously promoted because of her marriage to Don, but Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) seems to be warming up to her, slowly. If Megan can win Peggy over, she'll be fine. Megan contributes, proves she is up to the job, and willing to work for it. This should result in her acceptance, given time.

At home, Megan's birthday party doesn't go so well. Many of the co-workers enjoy Megan's sexy song, "Zou Bisou Bisou," for Don, but Don is embarrassed by her. Setting aside just how stellar her gift is, one can see why, given the sexy moves Megan performs in front of others, but the moment is still a highlight of the episode. However, the fight between the couple does spill over into the work place, and makes things awkward, especially for her.

The thing is, Megan's relationship with Don is more important than her connection to her colleagues, and the former is on pretty solid ground. In stark contrast to Don's disastrous marriage to Betty (January Jones), Megan doesn't allow Don to get away with his behavior. Nor does she act like a little child. She does resort to some antics to get his attention, but it's to challenge him, rather than punish him. They work out the matter, rather than ignoring it. It's a healthy sign for their union.

Another healthy sign is just how happy Don seems. There is a rough patch in "A Little Kiss," but overall, he seems much more at peace than at any other time during the series. This can surely be credited to Megan, and thus, her presence is welcome. Their nuptials do seem a little fast, but she's proving to be a good match who can inspire Don to be his best self. Better still, he already told her his secrets between seasons, including that he is really Dick Whitman, so there is no dark cloud hanging over them.

Pete's marriage to Trudy (Alison Brie) in Mad Men, on the other hand, seems far less suitable. Pete is clearly unhappy no longer living in the city as of "A Little Kiss." He doesn't exactly cheer the advice of his buddy on the train, who suggests that Pete stay at work later, if he comes home at all, but it does appear that Peter considers the words. How long before Pete begins to act on them? And how long after that before Trudy leaves him?

Roger, too, isn't happy in his marriage. He ignores his wife, Jane (Peyton List), or tells her to shut up. It's not like Roger has ever been happy with anyone (except for Joan), but this is the bed that he made. If he doesn't want to stay married, then get a divorce. Having an unhappy home is not doing him any favors, and with everything else going on, Roger needs some sanctuary where he can feel at ease. At present, Roger is lacking that.

Pete's relationship with Roger is even more tenuous in "A Little Kiss." Pete wants to push Roger out, and makes a play for his office. Roger holds him off, for now, by bribing Harry (Rich Sommer) to switch with Pete instead. Not exactly what Pete wants, since the office isn't really the issue. But this struggle is far from over. And might Pete just be lashing out at Roger because he is unhappy at home?

The thing is, while Pete is right about Roger not bringing in a lot of new business, or really, any, Roger does have value. Clients love him. Potential clients love him. Roger has great people skills, and is fantastic at entertaining with alcohol and fun. This can be very important for a firm that needs all the business it can get, and is still growing. Not giving Roger his own secretary may make sense, but trying to oust him does not.

Is Cooper (Robert Morse) on his way out of Mad Men? He doesn't seem to have an office anymore, and he is treated a bit like a dolt. Not that Cooper seems to notice. He asks to be included in a status meeting in "A Little Kiss," right after it takes place without him. He's just through a glass wall at the time, so he could have noticed, if he were more alert. His mental acuity has definitely suffered, and it looks like he's merely a figurehead these days. But how long can they afford to keep him if he's not contributing?

Joan's position with Sterling Cooper Draper Price is definitely secure, despite her fears. Seeing the ad in the paper in "A Little Kiss," Joan is understandably worried. She may not want to show that in front of her annoying, controlling mother (Christine Estabrook, Desperate Housewives), but who can blame her? She has been away from the office for awhile, with her baby, and she wants to make sure that she has a place to come back to.

Thankfully, Lane (Jared Harris) lays her concerns to rest. No one can run an office as efficiently as Joan, and SCDP cannot wait to have her back. This is a load off not only the character's mind, but fans' as well. Mad Men would just not be the same without Joan at all.

Joan is not the only one shaken by the ad. It's a stupid prank by Roger, but Roger does not consider the consequences before acting. A crowd of African American job applicants show up. It's an unexpected twist, that reminds fans how brilliant the writing on Mad Men can be. All of the sudden, SCDP has a new challenge, and has inserted themselves squarely into the civil rights movement. They cannot send all these people away without hiring them. They would look like fools and bigots themselves. They will have to find money somewhere to provide jobs to at least a couple new diverse employees. Otherwise, their reputation could be ruined.

How will hiring African-Americans change the dynamic of the office? In modern society, of course, many, many offices are integrated without problem. However, in the world of Mad Men, advertising is a white male-dominated business. There is no ethnicity in their workplace. Each characters has a varying comfort level, with a number of them not having been exposed to many people different from themselves. It will make good drama to see who adapts, and who does not.

The final plot in "A Little Kiss" involves Lane finding a man's wallet in a taxi, and falling for the girl whose picture is in said wallet. While Lane is in a good marriage, for the most part, other than some money worries, he is considering straying. Thankfully, nothing comes of it, but not because Lane doesn't want it to. Where is Mad Men going with this character? He's been such a welcome addition to the cast, it would be sad to see him ruined.

"A Little Kiss" deserves at least a solid B+. As mentioned, it is a little uneventful for a long-anticipated season premiere. But as a standard episode, it succeeds, and moments such as Megan's dance, angry floor sex, and the joke ad situation even soar. And anyone else not miss Betty? Best of all, it's great to have the series back in our living rooms with all new stories, and that alone is worth a lot.

Watch Mad Men Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Please click here to catch up on Mad Men with streaming episodes and DVDs. Article first published as TV Review: Man Men - "A Little Kiss" on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Alcatraz finale asks more questions than it answers

FOX's Alcatraz brings season one to a close this week with "Tommy Madsen." The second of two new hours, "Tommy Madsen" finds the gang closing in on the elusive man thought to be pivotal to the main plot arc. But the closer they get, the more mysteries spring up. And Rebecca (Sarah Jones) finally catches up to Tommy, who happens to be her grandfather (David Hoflin), only to have him stab her.

Those expecting the answers to a few questions in the season finale of Alcatraz will be disappointed. Yes, a handful of clues are given as to who is behind the appearance of the '63s in 2012, as well as how they got here. But the purpose behind such an experiment is still completely unknown, as is the science responsible for the feat. A new character may shed a little light, as he appears in a hidden room that Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) finally unlocks with a trio of keys, but he does not get the chance to spill anything before the episode comes to a close.

Similarly, Lucy's (Parminder Nagra) romance with Emerson is brought into the open, and his deep feelings, which keep him faithful for fifty years, are mentioned. But there is not any background given as to how Emerson built and funded the task force investigating Alcatraz, nor the circumstances around Lucy coming back. Or why Lucy is wanted dead by the bad guys, more so than the rest of the team. Sure, guesses can be hazarded, but confirmation is nice, too.

A major development in "Tommy Madsen" is that Emerson and company discover that the '63s are popping up all across the country, not just in San Francisco. Why only in the U.S.? Well, that isn't explained. This sets the stage for a broader story, and perhaps even a less procedural plot, going forward. This is welcome, as the case of the week focus, prevalent through much of this season, drags the story down. New cases should be integrated, not stand alone. Thankfully, as time goes on, each individual begins to play into a larger whole, making the entire thing more cohesive. And now the scale of this series has just blown up a to be much, much larger.

Oh, and Rebecca dies.

Rebecca can't be dead. She is too important to Alcatraz, and while main characters can sometimes be killed off, this one cannot, at least, not yet. The question is not, what happens now that she's dead, but instead, how can they bring her back to life? The Alcatraz docs have been shown doing some pretty crazy medicine. Surely there is a solution to this problem related to the '63s. Or Walter Bishop could lend them a hand.

Which means that Alcatraz needs a second season. Currently on the bubble, it isn't fair to the fans who have invested thirteen hours of their lives if none of the major questions get a satisfying answer. Clearly, the vision the writers have for this series is only just getting started, and there would be no good way to bring things to a close in a single season. So give them another couple years to really lay out their plan, and then judge them as to whether it works or not. The early signs are good, and getting better every week, much like the first season of Fringe, a show of which some of the Alcatraz creative team are alumni. Allow them a second chance to prove themselves. Please.

Alcatraz also stars the fantastic Jorge Garcia, and airs on FOX.

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Smash does not deserve the haters

NBC's Smash faces "The Coup" this week, as Derek (Jack Davenport) has a musical number developed without the input or knowledge of Tom (Christian Borle) and Julia (Debra Messing). He isn't the only one facing loyalty issues, though. Ellis (Jaime Cepero) is only too happy to jump Tom's ship and go work for Eileen (Anjelica Huston). Also, Eileen's daughter, Katie (Grace Gummer, yes, Meryl Streep's daughter), comes to visit, and scolds her father, Jerry (Michael Cristofer), for how he is treating Eileen. Not to mention, Ivy (Megan Hilty) is totally jilted when she learns that Derek's new number stars Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee) as Marilyn. 

Smash has been getting a lot of flack lately from critics. They complain that the drama feels forced and the musical numbers aren't good enough. This seems odd, given the quality of the show. Glee still gets praise, and it is far campier, with less consistent characters. Perhaps that's the problem. Trained by two years of Glee to expect fluff, Smash presents more realistic situations, fewer spontaneous songs (though there are some), and lots of original music that has to be good. It is.

And if one still isn't happy, take heart there will be a new show runner when the recently renewed Smash returns for season two next year.

That doesn't mean Smash is without any problems. For instance, the kid playing Leo (Emory Cohen) is just not up to the task. Perhaps that is why the writers have Julia overact in the courtroom in "The Coup." Playing opposite of Cohen, Messing tends to run circles around him, so they lower her to his level. Or she is just an upset, concerned parent, and that could excuse a bit of an emotional outburst, too.

The Ivy vs. Karen plot has been pivotal to Smash up to this point, but it now appears to be over. Karen shoots herself in the foot with Tom and Julia by being sneaky with Derek, and Ivy is out because Eileen feels a star is needed if Marilyn's production is going to continue.

Eileen is probably right. As talented as Ivy (and Karen, for that matter) is, she isn't the audience bait that a famous person would be. One might think that Marilyn Monroe is the draw, and there's something to be said for the bold step of choosing a newcomer to capture Marilyn's early persona. That might still happen. But for selling the show to investors, having a big name attached will go a long way to making things easier, and ease is a desirable concept, with all of the other problems being faced. Along those line, Uma Thurman will soon be joining the cast.

The only thing really not working in "The Coup" is Ellis. He is a shifty, despicable character, but that it not the problem. Every show needs a villain, and Ellis fills that role nicely on Smash. What is hard to believe is that Eileen is not hip to his antics. Maybe Ellis lied and told her that Tom was cool with the job switch. But without seeing that, it feels wrong for Eileen to poach him. The characters are wise enough that they should be noticing his too-obvious behavior, and he should be cut out completely. Also, Cepero has absolutely no chemistry with the woman playing Ellis's girlfriend.

Overall, the story in "The Coup" feels authentic. Derek's background with Tom, the details of which slip out this week, explains their animosity. Derek's lack of people skills justify the mistake of going behind Tom and Julia's backs. His idea isn't horrible, he just presents it the wrong way. Gossip does spread like wildfire. Ivy's friends would cheer her up with song and dance, though a few annoyed looks from other bowlers should have been included, and a slip on the slick lane would have been nice.

But a show bound for Broadway never has an easy road. These are things that need to be shown for Smash to work, and hopefully the angry voices will quiet time in time. Watch Smash Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Castle delivers a good "47 Seconds"

Castle delivers a good "47 Seconds," but what about the other forty-two minutes of the episode?

ABC's Castle tackles a bomb explosion this week in "47 Seconds." While the feds handle the main investigation, the NYPD is allowed to help. Beckett (Stana Katic) and company soon pinpoint a suspect (Tim Guinee, The Good Wife), whom the FBI arrests. But they have the wrong man. Trying to reconstruct the story of the forty-seven seconds leading up to the bomb going off proves difficult. Luckily, Beckett has Castle (Nathan Fillion), king of stories, to help her figure it out. Which he does.

The case of the week in "47 Seconds" is timely and interesting. The Occupy Wall Street movement is at the center of things, as the bomb explodes at one of that group's protests, killing five people. Castle plays with a handful of stereotypes at this rally, including a couple of people who are opposed to the cause. While touting a political message isn't the purpose of the episode, there, surprisingly, isn't a lot of sympathy shown to the protestors. Only to the victims of a crime.

In the end, though, it is not politics that prove the motivating factor, but greed. Not the Wall Street banker greed, but a similar vein in someone from a much lower tax bracket. A news reporter (Christine Woods, Perfect Couples, FlashForward) plots in order to be a news anchor. She helps set up the situation, and makes sure that she is in a position to cover it. Handling this exclusive will certainly get her attention. But by trying to create the news herself, she screws up royally, and will end up in jail instead of in front of a camera.

The real draw of "47 Seconds," though, is Castle deciding to finally tell Beckett about his feelings. He has previously done so, but thinking that she has forgotten, he steels himself to repeat the declaration. Before he can, Beckett lets slip during an interrogation that she remembers everything perfectly about the day Castle confessed to her. It's not a direct confirmation that she heard him, but he is smart enough to take it as such, and assumes her ploy is a rejection. So he keeps his mouth shut.

The whole thing is getting pretty frustrating. Castle ignores this arc for weeks, even months, at a time, only to drop back in on it without much forward movement. Castle is wrong about Beckett not caring, of course, though she has other reasons for being hesitant to get involved with him. What the two should do, what any two reasonable adults in a similar situation would do, is to talk through these issues, and figure out where they stand. Instead, the series continues to play with viewers' emotions, and deliver almost no satisfaction.

This is starting to hurt Castle. Many series have played this game in the past, but with the successful conquering of the "will they, won't they" tension problem in numerous examples, such as Bones and Chuck, fans are becoming less patient. The chemistry between the leads is great, but it needs to start going somewhere. Four seasons in, it's time for Castle to make a move. If not, it may be defined as a typical crime procedural, and it will start to shed people who tune in for something more. Not that the show has ever invested heavily in anything beyond that narrow genre, but still...

There are also a few scenes this week showing how Castle is a good son to Martha (Susan Sullivan) and father to Alexis. (Molly C. Quinn). His relationships with these women are much better done than his dynamic with Beckett, and they provide a contrast that does not do the central pairing any favors. By showing how Castle can have loving, stable people in his life, it makes his lack of such a relationship with Beckett even more of a problem.

Castle airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

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The Luck has run out

"Episode 9" is this week's episode of HBO's Luck. Michael (Michael Gambon, Harry Potter) sends a hit man after Ace (Dustin Hoffman). This worries Ace more than usual, because his grandson, Brent (Jake Hoffman, Dustin's actual son) is in town. Thankfully, Gus (Dennis Farina) is able to dispatch with the killer, allowing them to enjoy the Derby. Ace's, er, Gus's horse wins, but as it does, Michael looks on, plotting his next move.

This is a bittersweet victory. Ace stays safe, and manages to keep Brent from harm, too. Ace's plans for the horse track are on course, he has cut business ties with Michael, and his steed, whom he cares dearly about, wins a major race. But the threat of Michael, sinisterly sneering down, literally, does dampen the mood. As does the discovery of Israel's (Patrick J. Adams, Suits) body in the ocean.

Ace feels responsible for Israel's death, but is he really? Ace does send Israel to Michael, but is not intending or expecting bloodshed to result. Ace clearly doesn't think Michael will harm Israel, at least not badly. Israel is a simply a business go-between. The tragedy of his murder upsets Ace. Michael is a bad man, Ace knows that, but apparently Ace hopes that Michael's business side will control his temper. Not so.

"Episode 9," the season one finale, is billed on HBO's website as the series finale of Luck, although one episode of season two was filmed before production shut down permanently, due to on-set animal deaths. As to whether that single episode will ever see the light of day, well, that's still up in the air. As a season finale, "Episode 9" serves it's purpose quite well. As a series finale, it leaves much to be desired.

The battle of wills between Michael and Ace is just getting started in "Episode 9," which makes it a shame that there will be no more to the story. These are two titanic actors, who can both perform circles around most people in the industry. Pitting them against each other in this story makes their struggle seem larger than life, as their characters are. The disappointment at their conflict going unresolved is heavy.

Worse, it's hard to know who would have won, and at what cost. Michael might have the upper hand, as it stands, because he is ruthless and willing to go further than Ace. Ace is soft, whether because of love or prison, and seeks peace in his life, not war. There is little doubt that Ace could defeat Michael, because of the threat Hoffman allows to simmer in the role, but at what cost? Would he have to sacrifice the soul he is cultivating?

At the crux of this question is, what kind of man was Ace before his stint in jail? Would a slip into darkness be a return for him? Or was he always more of a caring, loyal individual, as he is now, but is he turning dark because of Michael's betrayal? This isn't answered in Luck.

Ace's win in the horse race means that Walter (Nick Nolte) loses. He takes it well, and why not? Second place isn't horrible. Victory only draws more attention to the horse, whom a snotty young man is trying to take from him. Plus, Walter respects Escalante (John Ortiz). They both work towards the same goals, and Walter isn't bitter enough to deny a fellow trainer, whom is an honorable man, his due congratulations.

Walter would be more upset if he knew the truth about his jockey, Ronnie (Gary Stevens). Ronnie is the real loser. Walter gives him back his spot because Ronnie cleans up his act. But viewers see that Ronnie is back off the wagon almost immediately, snorting coke. Did Ronnie's impaired condition have anything to do with the loss? Either way, Ronnie is heading for a big melt down, which will not be good for anyone.

Really, Walter's mount should have gone to Rosie (Kerry Condon, Rome). She works very hard to shape that horse into a victor, and then loses her position due to inexperience. Rosie does get to ride in an earlier race on Derby Day, though. Which might be what she actually deserves, considering she is still young and relatively new in the industry. And she wins that handily. Still, there is some regret that she doesn't ride for Walter, even if the two remain on good terms.

Rosie's win is lucky for the Foray Stables. Marcus (Kevin Dunn), Lonnie (Ian Hart), Renzo (Ritchie Coster), and Jerry (Jason Gedrick) have a heck of a year, buying a winning horse, and betting smartly. A couple of them even find a possibility of love. Chance is on their side, and they all end the year in better shape than they started. Which is gratifying, as each of them have shown that, despite flaws, they are good men at heart, who deserve a happy life. Their luck may not always hold out, but it certainly does through "Episode 9."

Sadly, Escalante's luck isn't so good in "Episode 9." He wins two races, to be sure, but Jo (Jill Hennessy) loses their baby. Escalante is a little scary as the series begins, his thick accent not helping matters any. But as the weeks pass, he is revealed to be a man who cares deeply about his job and those that get past his walls. Jo's pregnancy affects him a lot, and as he stands by her through the loss, he will surely take it to heart. It shows the strong fiber this man is made of. He may be the best character, and that's saying something.


And that's the end for Luck, sadly. It is an excellent show, and delivered a great season, full of complex, interesting characters in a fully developed world. But circumstances can't always be controlled, and the show did not have the best luck in that regard. Thank you to all involved for creating such a memorable run.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter. Article first published as TV Review: Luck - "Episode 9" on Blogcritics.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Blu-ray Review: The BBC High Definition Natural History Collection

Coming to Blu-ray this Tuesday, March 27th, is The BBC High Definition Natural History Collection. The set includes the full, six-disc Special Edition of the amazing documentary series Planet Earth. The collection includes single discs of Galapagos and Ganges, as well as the two-disc Wild China. It's 10 discs total, with a lot of nature packed in. It was previously released as an eight-disc set, but has been re-released, now that the Special Edition of Planet Earth is available.

This is not to be confused with the non-HD BBC Natural History Collection, also coming out on Tuesday. That set also includes the Planet Earth Special Edition, but not on Blu-ray. The other features are different as well.

The highlight of The BBC High Definition Natural History Collection is, of course, Planet Earth. This award-winning, highly popular, 11-part series has surely paid for many future productions, and inspired tons of follow up. If you do not yet own Planet Earth on Blu-ray, that alone is motive enough to purchase this collection.

Each episode of Planet Earth examines a specific biome, except the first one, "Pole to Pole," which mostly sets things up. Mountains, caves, plains, deserts, frozen tundra, jungles, forests, fresh water, and the oceans are explored in rich detail, really giving viewers a look at their world as never before, with a focus on the animals the dwell in each.

Planet Earth spends 50 minutes in each episode, then there is an additional 10-minute featurette subtitled "Planet Earth Diaries," which looks at the challenges in making such a series.

First broadcast in the UK during 2006, Discovery Channel carried a version in the U.S. in 2007 with Sigourney Weaver (Avatar) narrating in place of famed naturalist David Attenborough. For the DVD, of course, Attenborough is in full force, displaying much more gravitas than Weaver ever managed. It's fine to use an actor, but sometimes utilizing an expert in the field is just a much better fit. Planet Earth is one of those cases.

Planet Earth features many "firsts" that no other series had managed to do before that. Bactrian camels are seen eating snow, a piranha feeding frenzy is caught in action, canine hunts are captured from the air, and there is even a glimpse of the extremely rare oceanic whitetip shark. These should easily be enough motive for any nature lover to own this set. It is also the first such series filmed in HD.

Some of the features in the Special Edition of Planet Earth can be found in earlier versions of the DVD sets, while others are only available in recent releases. Any version labeled "Special Edition" should have all of these.

Audio commentary is included for "Pole to Pole," "Mountains, "Caves," "Great Plains," and "Shallow Seas," each with a different person doing the talking. A featurette called "Great Planet Earth Moments" is exactly what the title implies. Disc five boasts "Planet Earth: The Future," which is a three part series about conservation. Each part is an hour, and discusses how to save the environments depicted in Planet Earth. Sure, the concept is a little preachy. But after having just witnessed the wonders this rock has to offer, who is going to complain about efforts to preserve such amazing things? It's the perfect time to argue the message, with the ideal audience already in place.

The final disc has three new specials. "Snow Leopard: Beyond the Myth" delves into this particular strain of feline with gusto. "Secrets of the Maya Underworld" spills the beans on some lesser known items about the ancient civilization. "Elephant Nomads of the Namib Desert" looks at a culture that may not dwell in buildings, but is pretty advanced for the animal kingdom. There is also a sneak peek of Frozen Planet, a series currently airing on Discovery Channel in the U.S.

Galapagos looks at the Galapagos Islands. Once called The Enchanted Islands, the Galapagos happen to be located right where four different ocean currents collide. Some of the islands are sinking, some are rising. New animals are being created, while others are going extinct. Full of active volcanoes, lava fields, sandy beaches, and cacti-filled deserts, the Galapagos is a rare and unique setting in which to film a special.

Galapagos looks at a large selection of animal life. In fact, the islands take their name from the tortoises that are abundant there. Also making their home in this island chain are swimming iguanas, diving boobies, surfing seal lions, and dancing albatrosses. The wild life is entertaining and fascinating, giving viewers a peek at a lush, full world that few will get a chance to visit.

Filmed mostly in high definition, Galapagos also incorporates satellite images to cover every aspect of the land, air, and sea. The narration is provided by Tilda Swinton.

Wild China, narrated by Bernard Hill, is five hours of exploration in this previously isolated country. Traveling into one of the oldest civilizations on the planet, Wild China spends some time on the native people, while also looking at the various environments that make up the area. From the Himalaya Mountains, to the Tibetan plateau, through waterfalls in forests, tropical islands, and sub-Arctic temperatures, there is quite a varying makeup of China's natural wonders.

Because of the huge differences between climates, there is a vast array of animals, too. It's interesting to see how each species is suited to their best habitat, and how some of them interact with the people who have encroached upon their homes. The Chinese have been around for a very long time, and a number of the residents have found harmony with their natural surroundings, a concept foreign to many Americans.
Special features for Wild China include a 'Making Of' and subtitles, which are available in Traditional Mandarin.

Ganges also touches the Himalayas, and then goes west from there. This river is one of the world's most important, running through India, and providing life for countless animals and people. Many Indians consider it sacred, and it's no wonder, given the vital role it plays for life in this country.

The Ganges is teeming with animals, from tigers, to wild elephants, to peacocks, to monkeys, to river dolphins, to crocodiles. It winds through small villages and large cities. It meets swamps and plains. Not especially repeating the other features in this collection, a whole other range of varied life is present here, too.

The narration is performed by Sudha Bhuchar. It can be listened to in English, Hindi, or Bengali, which is neat, though the latter two will be no more than a novelty for the vast majority of American buyers. There are deleted scenes, and a Behind the Scenes extra.

It is impossible to give a short critique of the picture and sound quality that will encompass this set in full. Many different cameras were used, mostly high definition ones, but even within that subset, picture clarity varies. Sometimes bands of color are on the screen. Sometimes blacks are not as rich as they might be. The same holds true for sound, where it is often presented in a nice, surround format, while in other places, it's only stereo.

However, in handing out an overall rating on picture and sound quality, The BBC High Definition Natural History Collection ranks high. Buying it on Blu-ray is a must, because that's where the clearest presentation can be found. Not every scene will be perfect, but many will leave viewers stunned with the amount of visual and auditory detail captured. The makers of these films are experts, and have learned how to best satisfy the masses. This is a stunning set that should definitely be experienced.

The BBC High Definition Natural History Collection, is on sale this Tuesday, March 27th. To buy this and other DVDs in Columbus, check out the various Best Buys in the area, or go to amazon.com.
 
If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The BBC High Definition Natural History Collection on Blogcritics.

Doctor Who unites first three doctors in latest DVD release

The Three Doctors is a classic Doctor Who story, bringing together the first three actors to portray the infamous Time Lord in one serial. It was originally broadcast in 1972 and 1973 as the opener of Season Ten, and is the last time William Hartnell ever played the Doctor. Now, this four-part adventure has been given the Special Edition treatment, in a two-disc set packed with extras.

In The Three Doctors, the planet of the Time Lords is attacked. Desperate to save their home, the Time Lords allow the Doctor (Jon Pertwee), in his third incarnation, to break the First Law and summon his two previous versions. The First Doctor (Hartnell) is stuck in a time eddy, but is able to communicate via viewscreen. The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) comes at once to aid his fellow.

While the Doctors help UNIT HQ, which is attacked by some sort of odd-looking creatures, the First Doctor realizes that a nearby black hole is a portal to a whole different universe. The Doctors, along with their friends Jo Grant (Katy Manning), Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), Sergeant Benton (John Levene), and newcomer Dr. Tyler (Rex Robinson) go into the black hole, and arrive in an antimatter universe.

In this alternate world lives a powerful Time Lord known as Omega (Stephen Thorne), who created the supernova from which the other Time Lords draw the power for their civilization. When Omega did this, his colleagues assumed he had been killed, but really, he has been trapped in the antimatter universe ever sense. However, instead of simply asking for help now, Omega lets years of bitterness and building insanity rule him, trapping the Doctors.

Thankfully, the Doctors find a solution. It's not a nice one for Omega, as the only way he can gain the freedom he craves is through death. The Doctors give him that release, and go back to their homes, with the First and Second Doctors returning to the time in which they belong. The Third Doctor is rewarded for his efforts by the Time Lords, who restore his knowledge and the TARDIS.

There isn't always a happy ending. Omega is too far gone to save. Doctor Who doesn't shy away from the tough choices, or tone things down when the situation turns grim. This story is about a soul who was wronged, though not through any conscious decision by anyone else. Circumstances prove Omega's downfall, not betrayal, but once a mind has gone, it's nearly impossible to get it back. There isn't a true villain in this tale, but simply, a man who buckles in the face of tragedy.

Any glimpse of the society from which the Doctor comes is welcome. The titular character is generally so mysterious, and information about him is doled out in tiny portions. The Three Doctors, being an adventure with other Time Lords, reveals a lot, which is surely something fans that will gobble up eagerly.

The Three Doctors remains legendary because of the use of all three series stars up til that point. Hartnell was sadly ill when the filming was done, and thus, his turn had to be regulated to pre-recorded bits. It is the last time he ever played the character, making it all the more iconic. What a treat to capture these three men together in one story! Thank goodness it was done before Hartnell's passing.

Originally released on DVD in 2003, The Three Doctors has never been short on bonus features. The prior version has a commentary by actors Manning and Courtney, along with producer Barry Letts. There are also interviews with Troughton, Pertwee, Courtney, and many others. The PanoptiCon '93 panel is included, as is a retrospective on the first ten years of Doctor Who and an introduction to Pertwee's car. Plus, the standard photo gallery.

But the Special Edition has even more! There is a new "Making Of" featuring Manning and Throne, among others. A 14-minute defense of Doctor Who aimed at its haters is fun, though probably not directed at anyone who would buy this DVD. Then again, maybe the purpose is to arm fans with a logical argument, so perhaps it's fitting.

There is a look at the Who girls in the 1970s, and how the culture influenced their characters. A trailer for this season when it repeated in 1981 is present, as well as a trailer from 1972 for the first part of the serial. There are the PDF materials that Who fans have come to expect. Best of all, picture and sound has been remastered again, making this the clearest version of the story available.

In short, The Three Doctors is worth a re-buy, if one already has the previous release. The better quality of the recording and the additional bonuses assure that. If one doesn't own the story already, then now is the perfect time to correct that.

Doctor Who: The Three Doctors (Special Edition) is 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 - The Three Doctors (Special Edition) on Blogcritics.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Archer engages in a 'Space Race'

In the two-part season three finale of FX's Archer, the ISIS team is asked to travel into space. Told by Commander Drake (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad) that a mutiny has taken place on board a space station, the field agents and Malory (Jessica Walter) attempt to subdue the bad guys. Which kind of back fires when they learn that Drake is real the villain, planning to take them all to start a colony on Mars, with Lana (Aisha Tyler) slated to make the babies for the new settlement.

Sometimes the show has to stretch things a bit to keep the entire cast together. After all, the field agents all have their roles on this mission, but why Malory comes along is kind of a mystery. She's a little old to be popping out children. Archer's (H. Jon Benjamin) plot to sneak Pam (Amber Nash) on board for sex works, but wouldn't it make even more sense for Drake's plan if he insisted that Pam and Cheryl (Judy Greer) come for some reason, so there are more women available?

That aside, the two part "Space Race" is fantastically funny, as usual. When Archer delays saving the day to have a quickie with Pam, or Cyril (Chris Parnell) discharges his weapon wildly, or Ray (Adam Reed) ends up back in his wheelchair, or Lana runs down the hall with stickers on her boobs, laughs abound. Not to mention, an extended Animal Farm gag that seemingly comes out of nowhere, and avoiding a Star Wars trash room bit. In terms of humor, this episode works very well.

"Space Race" is an original situation for Archer. The spy series has gone many places and done many things. Eventually, they may run out of scenarios to put the characters in. But space is not one that they have done before, and it provides so many curiosities, such as zero gravity, that the series takes two full episodes to explore it. Other spy genre adventures have left the planet, so it's not completely coming out of nowhere, but Archer's take seemed fresh enough.

As the series has been doing from time to time for awhile now, "Space Race" sneaks in some emotional depth for the titular character. Just as everyone is about to go home, recurring thorn-in-the-side Barry (Dave Willis) shows up and begins taunting Archer into a fight. Now, normally Archer would give Barry just that, and in this case, it would put everyone's safety at risk. As Cheryl already does earlier in this story, opening the door for Drake so that she can be Queen of Mars. But instead of falling for the taunts, Archer sucks it up and acts mature. It's a pivotal moment for the character, and it shows a little bit of growth without sacrificing who Archer is. It is moments like these that really set this show above its peers.

Also, Pam has become the most transformative character on Archer. She started as a walking, crass fat joke, and was used mainly for gross effect. Now, she has become a strong, empowered woman, who can not only take care of herself, but is a good comrade to have in dangerous or questionable situations. She even comes off as sexy at times, almost completely erasing her original image. Pam is, in a word, awesome.

"Space Race" is a great capper to a terrific season. Though, it could have been done without the vomit jokes.

Archer has been renewed for a fourth season. It will return next year to FX.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

'Daddy Daughter Time' for Up All Night

This week's Up All Night episode title, "Daddy Daughter Time," does not refer to Chris (Will Arnett) spending time with baby Amy, which happens most weeks. In fact, Chris begins working at the show, instead of being home during the day. He is horrible at first, but with a little coaching from Reagan (Christina Applegate), he improves markedly. Unfortunately, his popularity on screen and behind the scenes annoys Reagan, who feels as if her work space has been invaded.

"Daddy Daughter Time" actually refers to Ava's (Maya Rudolph) father, Marty (Henry Winkler, Childrens Hospital, Royal Pains), who comes to visit with his Asian wife and their children. This is much to Ava's dismay, as she is looking for some one-on-one time with Marty.

Who would have guessed that the mixed race daytime TV host would have a hippy Jewish father who writes children's books about African American youths? If that sounds like a weirdly amusing improv sketch, that's OK, because Winkler and Rudolph are veterans of comedy. Their chemistry is easy and realistic, and seconds after Winkler's first appearance on screen, any lingering questions about paternity go right out the window.

The story itself isn't particularly original. After all, how many kids, even after they grow up, feel neglected when one of their parents starts a new family? However, Ava handles the situation with less narcissism than she does many other things, and seeing the two performers together makes up for any staleness.

Chris coming to work with Regan also smacks of it's-been-done-a-million-times-before syndrome. This is a common cliché for sitcoms, though in the past it's mostly involved a stay-at-home wife going to their husband's place of employment. And maybe that's the point. In this gender reversing series, perhaps Up All Night just wanted to show that it can work the other way, too.

The problem is, using these worn out plots doesn't help Up All Night set itself apart as a series that should be watched. Fans can tune in sporadically, whenever they have time, and don't miss much. What's more, each episode does little to carve out its own niche identity, and "Daddy Daughter Time" is no exception to that rule. So what's left is a show that's enjoyable, because of the awesome trio of performers at the center, but has no hook to keep viewers coming back week after week. Somehow, enough still do.

Up All Night is a serviceable, but far from brilliant, sitcom. The actors deserve better. Sadly, a second season looks like a very real possibility, keeping the cast stuck in this world a bit longer. Though if the writing gets a little smarter, the producers ditch Missy (Jennifer Hall), and Jason Lee comes back full-time, there could be something great here. Oh, and more of Sharon Osbourne (The Talk, America's Got Talent) as a rival of Ava's wouldn't hurt, either.

If you are so inclined, catch Up All Night Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

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Not exactly 'Smitten' with Bent

This week, NBC's Bent finally premiered with two episodes, "Pilot" and "Smitten." In "Pilot," Alex Meyers (Amanda Peet, Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip, 2012) reluctantly hires Pete Riggins (David Walton, Perfect Couples, 100 Questions) and his crew to renovate her kitchen. They flirt, but he's a player, and she's got a boyfriend, Ben (Matt Letscher, Eli Stone, Brothers & Sisters), whom she forgets to mention, and isn't sleeping with. In "Smitten," Alex and Pete's dance continues, and Ben still isn't getting lucky. Though Pete is, just not with Alex.

For the curious who missed these episodes, the "Pilot" of Bent is free on Amazon right now, and "Smitten" is available for a small fee. Watch it, then come back and read this article.

Looking at the stars listed in the paragraph above, a pattern begins to emerge. Bent is full of terrific actors who have been in excellent television shows that were canceled before their time. Bent is not one of those excellent shows, and its imminent cancellation, which seems a very likely possibility, especially given the show's April premiere date, will not be mourned the way others have been.

The actors are great, and many of the names should be familiar. Besides the three listed above, Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development) plays Peter's washed-up-actor dad, JB Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm, a former writer for Saturday Night Live) is Pete's gossipy friend, Clem, Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights) is Pete's taken-advantage-of-apprentice, and Joey King (Ramona & Beezus) is Alex's daughter. Additionally, Pasha D. Lychnikoff (Deadwood) and Margo Harshman (Even Stevens) round out the cast.

But the problem with Bent is that there isn't much material for the performers to work with. The whole concept is that Pete is redoing Alex's kitchen? How long can that be stretched out? What happens when the work is done? Does he redo her whole house? Unless Pete and Alex are a couple by that time, there isn't much of a reason to merge their social circles. And if they are a couple, where does the tension go, as their interplay is the only real plot arc developed thus far?

Also, Harshman's character is called Screwsie. Whether that's because she likes to have lots of sex, or because she unscrews the top off many a bottle of cheap wine, the cutesy nickname is way too on the nose. Seriously, a grown woman goes by the name Screwsie? Does she want to be labeled an easy, alcoholic, slut?

Along the same lines, in the "Pilot" Tambor's character says that he's "Bent, not broken." If you need to explain the title of your series, the show needs a new title.

There are some hints of goodness. The bond that Pete forms with Alex's daughter, Frankie, is sweet. That is clearly his 'in' with her mother. If one can win over the kid, one can get the mother, and Pete has done that already. But since it's happened right off the bat, there isn't a lot of room to develop this further, and this relationship is not enough to carry the series on its own.

This cast would be great in a better written show. The chemistry is wonderful, when they get to use it. Perhaps that's what should be done. Keep them all together, but write totally new characters. Or figure out a different direction for Bent, quickly. Otherwise, it's destined to be yet another failed project for this very talented group of people who just can't find the right show.

Bent airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC. In Columbus, NBC is analog channel 4, satellite 382, and high def cable 1004.

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