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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Men at Work is "Plan B" for me

The latest episode of TBS's Men at Work is "Plan B." Neal (Adam Busch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) hooks Milo (Danny Masterson, That '70s Show) up with his hot friend, Hannah (Laura Prepon, Are You There Chelsea?). Milo likes Hannah, but as Neal keeps intruding on their dates, Milo begins to wonder if Hannah is Neal's Plan B, should things not work out with his current girlfriend, Amy (Meredith Hagner, As the World Turns). Milo is right, and Hannah, thrilled to see Neal's interest, makes a play for him, leaving Neal with a tough decision to make.

This is a story that has been done before about a bazillion times. Neal doesn't realize how good he has it in his relationship until he sees another choice. Then he thinks about what Amy means to him, and makes the right decision. Milo is merely present as a way to bring Hannah in, without any good character development for himself. Hannah, while played delightfully by a talented actress, is also simply a catalyst for Neal's story. This entire plot is Neal's. Busch handles it well, but it's nearly impossible to do a fresh take on such a been-done story, and Men at Work fails to make it seem current.

The B plot of "Plan B" is no better. Tyler (Michael Cassidy, Privileged) and Gibbs (James Lesure, Las Vegas) pretend to be a gay couple to join an expensive gym that offers two-for-one membership deals. This is merely an excuse by the writers to make these too masculine men act gay, and try to mine humor in that. Men at Work deserves a little bit of credit for not playing too much into stereotypes or getting crass in the story. But it's incredibly predictable, right up to when they figure out that the two-for-one deal did not specify that they had to be a couple to use it.

I originally watched the pilot of Men at Work, and decided it would not be a series worth my time reviewing. It seems like something completely unoriginal, just mixing up the ingredients of previous sitcoms in a slightly new way. The characters tended to be broad and unfocused, and the stories trite. The cast is decent, but not amazing enough to warrant regular viewings for a show that already feels like every week's episode is a reruns, even though they aren't.

"Plan B" doesn't do a lot to dispel those notions. It's better than the first episode, for sure, but there's still a lingering sense of nothing special. It's a diverting way to spend a half hour, but no jokes really stuck out as being memorable, and I am unlikely to dwell on any scenes after I've finished watching. It's not bad, per se, it's just not great, either. In today's world of a million programming choices, with enough gems to keep anyone busy, it's not worth it to continuing watching Men at Work.

Part of the problem is that other networks have recently tried a similar formula, about buddies at this stage of their lives, and done better. Man Up springs to mind, in spite of its cancellation. This comparison hurts any impression Men at Work seeks to make.

Most of these actors have been a part of better shows. One hopes they will be again soon. And Men at Work definitely makes me long for the arrival of Cougar Town so TBS can have a good comedy again, something it has not seen since ending My Boys.

If you choose to watch, Men at Work airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on TBS.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

"Something is Wrong" with Louie - NOT!

It's is very difficult to write a review about FX's Louie without it just sounding like several paragraphs of kissing Louis C.K.'s butt. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the show is absolutely freaking brilliant. It's hard to argue with any choice that Louis makes in terms of making the series, from the locations, to the low budget look and feel, to the genuine pathos pouring from the lead character. The entire thing is just dripping with originality and humor of a very high degree.

For another thing, nothing ever happens on Louie. There is no continuity. In fact, Louis C.K. has made a point of saying that he doesn't worry about such things, preferring instead to make each half hour the best story it can be, without worrying about connecting it to what has come before it. Normally, this is a weak point of a show, but for some reason, Louis makes it work so well that there cannot be anything bad said about it.

The only slightly distracting thing along these lines in the premiere is that Louie's ex-wife is shown to be African American, which doesn't quite gel with the pale daughters we've seen him have in other episodes. Then again, the actresses playing the daughters change, so it isn't a big concern. And they aren't in this episode, so they don't count in the plot.

Saying that nothing happens is also not a slam. In the third season premiere, "Something is Wrong," Louie has relationship issues, then buys and crashes a motorcycle, with his recovery tying back into the relationship. Viewers have never seen this girlfriend before and probably will not again, so there isn't suspense as to whether the two will remain a couple. Louie's car being crushed and (temporarily) replacing it with a motorcycle probably also only applies to "Something is Wrong." And these are only two very small plot points to make, not what is most interesting about the episode.

Instead, "Something is Wrong," like every episode of Louie, luxuriates in the awkward moments. The girl thinks that Louie is breaking up with her, and won't believe him when he denies it, so he sits quietly and listens to her have her crazy fit. Louie just wants that personal connection, and she is reading too much into every little thing. He takes it with grace and humility, not seeing a point in arguing with someone who is convinced that she is right. It makes for a wonderful scene, and one many viewers will find a connection to.

Of course, everyone slams Louie for his decision to buy the motorcycle, which he immediately wrecks. They echo the same argument Louie himself makes as he enters the shop, before being talked into the purchase by the very skillful salesman. Both sides of the argument about whether to own a motorcycle are valid, but once more, everyone acts like they're right, and Louie knows there's nothing to be gained by arguing. This passive behavior is just so... Louie.

Now, there are a couple of noticeable changes in "Something is Wrong" as compared to the first two seasons. It appears that Louie has an increased budget, smashing a car and showing stunt bikers riding down the street. This does give the half hour a slightly more surreal quality. Then again, other, more understated parts of Louie's life are also surreal, so it doesn't seem out of place.

Louie is back and as good as ever. Tune in Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on FX.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Charlie Sheen returns in Anger Management

FX just premiered Anger Management, a sitcom loosely based on the film of the same name. The show is about a therapist named Charlie (Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men) who specializes in treating people with anger issues. This is appropriate, because Charlie also suffers from a rage affliction. He is seeking help in dealing with his own emotions from fellow therapist / best friend with benefits, Kate (Selma Blair, Kath & Kim), while trying to be a better father to daughter Sam (Daniela Bobadilla, Awake).

For all the Charlie Sheen haters out there, Anger Management is not as bad as you think it might be. One has to admit, Sheen is a talented performer, or he would not have gotten all of the projects he has done over the years, or created such a fervent following. Two and a Half Men is an absolutely horrible series with little redeeming value, with or without Sheen. Anger Management is not. That's not to say that Anger Management is great, by any means. But it's much better than his previous job.

The main problem with Anger Management is that it lacks a feeling of freshness or edge. There is an old, familiar formula in place here, of divorced dad failing to be there enough for his daughter, and regretting the past wrongs against his ex. The therapy sessions make it a little bit different, but not enough to set the show apart from its peers. This would not be a surprising effort on a network channel, but for FX, known for creative, groundbreaking comedies, Anger Management does not live up to the brand.

There are number of things Anger Management does right. It is funny. Whether Charlie is selling Kate on sex, or helping his messed up patients, somehow managing to keep from being judgmental, or chatting with bartender Brett (Brett Butler, Grace Under Fire), or being tortured by ex-wife, Jennifer (Shawnee Smith, Becker), the stories are amusing. A tongue in cheek opening to the pilot, "Charlie Goes Back to Therapy," which is a slam on Two and a Half Men, also works very well.

Thus, Sheen deserves the credit for many of the positive of the series. There is a huge, talented supporting cast, which also includes Michael Arden, Barry Corbin (One Tree Hill), Derek Richardson (Men in Trees), Michael Boatman (The Good Wife, Spin City) and Noureen DeWulf (Hawthorne). The second episode features a wonderful guest turn by Kerri Kenney-Silver (Reno 911!). But all of these other people revolve around the main man. In this role, Sheen balances likable with an authentic personality, admitting flaws, but working to be a better person. It's exactly the right message the actor needs to send at this point in his career, and this vehicle is perfect for him in this regard.

So will Anger Management be a triumph? It's hard to say. The ratings for the premiere will likely be inflated because of Sheen's much anticipated return to television. But will fans of his previous work stick by a tamer series? FX has a few short weeks to decide whether to order 90 more episodes or cancel the show. My gut says it will be the former, and, as weird as it is to say this, it might actually deserve to live on past these initial ten. I expected to hate it. That is amused and charmed me, even if not overly so, is a win.

Catch Anger Management Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on FX.

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"We Just Decide To" love The Newsroom

Newsroom Cast HBO

HBO's THE NEWSROOM premiered last night with "We Just Decide To." From creator Aaron Sorkin, it is the story of a newsman, his patriotic executive producer, and a bold staff who have decided to bring back the art of journalism. No more pandering, no more softballs. They intend to make ACN, the fictional network which airs the fictional show News Night, a reputable organization.

As THE NEWSROOM begins, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels, Dumb & Dumber, Pleasantville) sits on the stage at a college campus, in between a blowhard from each major political party. Seeing his ex-girlfriend, Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer, Lars and the Real Girl), watching disapprovingly from the audience, Will is spurred to speak his mind, declaring that America is not, in fact, the greatest country in the world. Plus, there are tear downs of liberals, conservatives, and Jay Leno that will resonate with a great many viewers.

It's an inspiring scene, just like the series itself. The haters will call THE NEWSROOM preachy and elitist. The believers will see it as a serving of hope that America can be as great as many Americans think, or claim to think, we are. The words the characters in THE NEWSROOM speak, and not just during Will's wonderfully rude rift, encourage optimism. If people like he and Mackenzie have their way, the news will be a bastion of true facts, informing the public into action, and forcing the powers that be to act rightly for the first time in a long time.

This is what Aaron Sorkin does best. THE NEWSROOM is definitely informed by his previous efforts. The theme song instantly calls to mind The West Wing, while Will's speech is similar to one in the pilot of Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip. Eager producers have the faith in their job that those that worked on Sports Night did. Sorkin takes all of these past efforts and rolls them together, delivering the message disillusioned and desperate people are looking for in the modern era.

As "We Just Decide To" gets underway, it becomes clear that the events of the first episode take place at a very specific date and time: April 20, 2010. Those current event buffs will recognize this as the date the BP Deep Water Horizon oil rig exploded and began spilling copious amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico because of lack of oversight and a screw up by Halliburton. This is a dark period of our history, and many think, with good reason, it has continued to be a tumultuous time these past two years since. Will THE NEWSROOM present an alternate reality, where the actions of this program change things for the better? Or will they struggle with other real events that we did, becoming discouraged as the fight refuses over and over again to turn in their favor?

Either way, THE NEWSROOM will connect with media savvy viewers and politic junkies. These events really happened, and people remember them. Thus, there is an instant avenue to relate to the characters. Seeing them behave the way we want people to, from Neal (Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire) exposing the true depth of the emergency, to Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill, The Pillars of the Earth, Milk) fingering the MMS inspector, to Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr., Pieces of April) refusing to publicly name his sources, these are the types of people we want with the power and knowledge to make a difference.

Of course, THE NEWSROOM is more than just a political and social statement, no matter how effective it is at that mission. It is also a television show. In this by itself, it soars just as high. Sorkin's dialogue is as sharp and witty as ever. The characters are well defined and complex. Romance invades in a variety of ways, but not in anything too predictable nor forced. Mortimer and Daniels have impeccable chemistry, and the younger performers all shine at one more or another in "We Just Decide To."

The best part, keeping on the story angle, is the plot twist of discovering that big boss Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) orchestrated the entire thing. He saw a spark in Will that reawakened something deep within himself. Thus, he hatched a scheme to remove the old staff that Will had grown comfortable with and taken for granted, and replaces them with people who will nurture the greatness within Will. Mackenzie is the main weapon, of course, but she brings with her a host of others who will continue this theme. It's a genius move on Charlie's part, and one worthy of the actor in the fantastic role.

Will others, meaning the people watching at home, be as moved as Will is? There are plenty of people who are as cynical as him, who have given up on the dream of a triumphant nation, discouraged by the bickering and selling out. Of course, Will has to crack and come around, or else there would be no show. He is already showing signs of enjoyment and finding a passion that has laid dormant. This is the ember that Mackenzie, Charlie, and the others will cultivate, and hopefully, will be mirrored in fans around the country.

There is another character present who is just as hard to persuade to change as Will. Don (Thomas Sadoski, Loser) is Will's producer who is about to jump ship as the episode starts. When the rest of the departing staff leaves for a two week vacation, Don stays. While he does fight against the tide in "We Just Decide To," he is willing to admit he is wrong, and is impressed by what he witnesses. Maggie's affection for him also hints that there might be a kernel of goodness within. Will he come around and decide to stay at News Night, taking a demotion to do so? Or is he a temporary character who will be an antagonist, forcing things to a head in the coming weeks? Only time will tell.

Critics are divided on THE NEWSROOM, and the public at large would probably be, too, should it be seen by the masses. But HBO's subscriber base should be the right target for a program such as this one, and it is a moving, well-made show. For that reason, being self aware of what it is and delivering itself to the people who would seek it, it deserves more praise than criticism. And if you're anything like me, this will probably become your new favorite weekly appointment, a beacon of light in a dark world, internal thoughts splayed out for all to see and enjoy.

Watch THE NEWSROOM Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Don't cry for the Veep

HBO's Veep rounded up its freshman run with "Tears." Flying to Ohio (where else?) to endorse a gubernatorial candidate, Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) learns that her poll numbers are bad. Suddenly, her endorsement is not needed, and in fact, Roger Furlong (Dan Bakkedahl, Community) threatens retribution if Selina does throw her weight behind him. Mike (Matt Walsh) gets the idea that Selina, overly emotional, could save face if she just shows a little emotion, so he manipulates her into crying during an interview. Suddenly, Furlong wants her by his side again. Then he doesn't. Then he does. The he vows vegeance.

Veep is, more than anything, a very smart comedy of errors. Louis-Dreyfus is her typical, brilliant, comedic self in this role, finally allowed to unleash her profanity amid her stumbles, unlike on her network series. No matter how hard Selina tries, nothing goes her way. She often reacts badly to these negative turns of events, but though she does some ugly things, she remains likeable because of Louis-Dreyfus' subtle depth of personality.

The actress, surely an Emmy nominee this year, is surrounded by an absolutely terrific supporting cast, whose characters are mostly as genuine, sympathetic, and bumbling as she is. Mike is an idiot, but he finally has a great idea, which then backfires. Selina orders Amy (Anna Chlumsky) to fix her poll numbers, which Amy takes completely in stride, even if she has no idea where to even begin with that request. This comes a week after Amy willingly takes the fall for her boss, without coming across as a weak-willed toady. Gary (Tony Hale) keeps Selina on task, such as letting her know that she only has four seconds with a hotel manager.

Then there's Dan (Reid Scott). Dan is not yet a fully accepted part of Selina's work family. He deals with Furlong through most of "Tears." At first, Dan supports Selina, but then is willing to betray her when his own reputation is threatened. Looking good at the end of the day, he is excited by his promotion, and issues a press release within seconds, only to see things come crashing down around him. He may seem smooth, but he's just as much a screw up as the rest. His personal agenda, though, makes him less trustworthy than the other, more earnest members of the group. Which is why he stands out, and is so essential to the show.

"Tears" is a wonderful showcase of so many great things about the series. There are fantastic lines, such as Mike talking of tweaking Selina's "tear nipple," and Selina scolding her people for putting her on stage while she is an emotional wreck. This is followed up by Selina' realization that the job is killing her mental state, and she soon loses the ability to cry, a set of circumstances that lets Louis-Dreyfus slay viewers. The wry writ, all around commitment to the characters and premise, and amusing weekly stories, which do not veer into too goofy a territory, make the entire package work beautifully.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what is so funny about Veep. There aren't many laugh out loud moments, but rather, a slow build up of fun elements that leave one with an overwhelming feeling of joy. The series did not grab me right away, but each episode drew me further into the story and the characters. Part schadenfreude, part wonder at the talent displayed, each half hour leaves one with an overall sense of entertainment. What more could you ask for in a television show? That's why season two, which will probably reveal the results of Furlong's wrath, should be much anticipated.

Seinfeld curse? What Seinfeld curse?

Veep will return to HBO next year.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Doctor Who lives to see the "Resurrection of the Daleks"

Season twenty-one, serial four of Doctor Who is Resurrection of the Daleks. Intended to be four half hour episodes, but aired as two full-hour installments because of the 1984 Olympics, the tale begins with The Doctor (Peter Davison), Tegan (Janet Fielding), and Turlough (Mark Strickson) dragged through a time corridor to London circa present day (present for when the episode aired). There, they encounter old enemies, the Daleks, who have come for their creator, Davros (Terry Molloy), hoping that he can save them from a deadly disease..

As the Doctor battles the Daleks, Davros isn't exactly looking forward to being rescued by his foe, wanting his revenge on the Doctor for having him cryogenically frozen these past ninety years, apparently a very boring experience. That's OK, though, as the Doctor isn't exactly eager to be the savior of this mad men, either.

The Daleks go after the Doctor, too, but with their own motivations. They plan on cloning him and his companions, then using the clones to assassinate the High Council of Time Lords. This is made easier by mind control technology, which is not full proof, but does make for some suspense, wondering who might not be acting on their own accord at any given time.

Things get even more complicated when Davros raises his own Dalek army, which has opposing orders to the Supreme Dalek's troops. Who is in command? Where do the loyalties of the Daleks lie? Does everyone wish the Doctor dead?

In the end, the showdown is spectacular and violet, more so than almost any other Doctor Who. And, SPOILER, one of the Doctor's companions, horrified by the destruction witnessed, decides to give up the game for good.

Resurrection of the Daleks balances multiple revenge stories. Getting even is a human instinct anyone can relate to, but when taken too far, is one of the ugliest sides mankind can exhibit. Revenge never ends well for anyone involved, as it can spur a person to ignore everything else in a single-minded blind rage, being just as self-destructive as he or she is successful at hurting the enemy. Seeing so much darkness in this episode is thrilling, but it's a good thing that Doctor Who doesn't go down this path too often. To do so would create a completely different show.

The need for revenge probably contributes mightily to why the Doctor loses a companion at the end of the story. Even one as enlightened as a Time Lord can succumb to such base instincts, and this is demonstrated in part by his rare use of a gun in the episode, a weapon that the Doctor generally avoids. It may not be pretty, but it's this fallibility that makes the character so well written.

The Daleks are being threatened by a deadly virus in this serial. Is genocide justifiable when exercised against a nefarious villain? Can one ever really feel good about slaying an entire species? The answer is no. Even as fans root against the Doctor's enemies, they need to remember the high cost of taking lives, especially a race created by a scientist out of unwilling beings. After all, the Daleks are self aware, and many are just following orders. Even if the only way to save lives is to slaughter them, there should be no joy taken in such an act.

Another interesting issue raised in Resurrection of the Daleks is that those who have had their minds controlled remember those forced activities. It's incredibly sad to see Stien (Rodney Bewes), in particular, who is not prepared to live with what he recalls doing. Even though its not his fault, he is party to some serious atrocities, and it is not in most people's nature to let themselves off the hook completely, even when they are not really at fault. This only adds to the tragedy of the hours.

On a side note, some have complained about the unexplained absence of Kamelion (Gerald Flood). As many viewers will be viewing Resurrection of the Daleks as a stand alone story, this will not make much difference. But for those who follow the show's continuity, the lapse is regrettable and certainly an error on the part of the creative team.

Resurrection of the Daleks Special Edition has one of the largest collections of Extras seen on a Doctor Who release yet! It probably goes without saying that the PDF materials and photo galleries are included. There are seven minutes of extended and deleted scenes. This time around, the audio commentary is provided by Molloy, writer Eric Saward, and Peter Wragg, a visual effects designer, moderated by Nicholas Pegg. A second commentary features Davison, Fielding, and Matthew Robinson, the director. Viewers are also given the option to watch the serial in two parts, as originally aired, or four.

Of featurettes, there are plenty. Thirty two minutes are devoted to actor interviews. Eight minutes of "Breakfast Time" with Janet Fielding and John Nathan-Turner are included. "On Location" runs for eighteen minutes. There are several others, but the crown jewel has to be the nearly hour long "Come in Number Five." In it, David Tennant, who plays the 10th Doctor, hosts a retrospective about Peter Davison, covering his time on Doctor Who, as well as why he left the series. It's a loving tribute from one doctor to another, and incredibly insightful.

After all of that, no effort should be needed to sell you on Doctor Who Resurrection of the Daleks Special Edition, which is available now as a two disc DVD set.

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 Resurrection of the Daleks Special Edition on Blogcritics.

What dark thoughts dwell Inside Men

Inside Men BBC America

BBC America presents the four part series INSIDE MEN. This limited run show tells the story of a robbery, with a concentration on the motivations and actions of three men who work on the inside.
For those who enjoy The Killing, Luther, or other intelligent crime dramas, but worry about the ending being drawn out or left unsolved, fear not. INSIDE MEN is only designed as a four part run, and no more will be made. The length of roughly two feature films, this design allows for a deeper exploration of characters than most movies, but is still short enough to satisfy the very impatient.

As the story begins in September, John (Steven Mackintosh, Luther) is held at gunpoint in the secure money depot he is manager of by a bunch of masked men. John leads the robbers to the loot, with security guard Chris (Ashley Walters, Outcasts) getting shot along the way. It seems like the villains get want they want, and poor John and Chris are left behind with the rest of the staff, most locked in the vault.

But that's not the entire story. As the first episode progresses, viewers flash back to January. Chris falls for a young woman named Dita (Leila Mimmack, Married Single Other) who swipes a bill from the facility, costing her the job. Chris and Dita begin running a con on another company, but Dita can only manage to keep the job for a little while, not long enough to solve their money problems or ambition.

Meanwhile, a money mover for the company named Marcus (Warren Brown, Luther) owes some people some dough. He helps Chris fence a few articles of clothing, and when that runs dry, comes up with a plan to fleece cash from their employer. It sounds like an achievable feat to Chris, and the two begin their plot.

Also running through the episode are scenes of John after the attack, presumably being moved with his wife (Nicola Walker, MI-5) and daughter to safety. John seems haunted by the events of the crime, and would not like to stick around town, especially considering that the bad guys know where he lives, having held his family hostage as the thievery went down.

I will not spoil the twist ending of the first hour, for those viewers who have not seen it yet. Suffice it to say, John, Chris, and Marcus are connected in many ways, and will soon be learning not only what the others are capable of, but how far they themselves are willing to go. Will the perpetrators be brought to justice? Or will they get away? Is that even important, in the end? INSIDE MEN is a character study piece, with relatable, realistic people in a situation that many have thought about, but few have dared to act on.

INSIDE MEN is intense and gripping. The acting, much of the cast veterans of the gritty British drama scene, are amazing, really selling the parts, but avoiding overacting. The story is interestingly plotted, and though it jumps around in time a bit, is relatively simply to follow. The pacing is good, too, unspooling the mystery slowly enough to dwell on pieces of it, rather than rushing it along, but fast enough to build excitement and tension. In short, INSIDE MEN will probably be another great entry into the genre.

It's a shame that INSIDE MEN only made four episodes, and does not intend to make more. After only a single hour, there is definitely enough draw to really hook viewers and make them fans. It's already clear that four installments will not be enough. And yet, it must be respected that the writer wants to tell a complete story. Maybe another cast could be put together for another series, in a kind of anthology?

INSIDE MEN airs Wednesdays at 10 PM ET on BBC America.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Doctor Who plants "The Seeds of Death"

One of the latest Doctor Who serials to get the Special Edition DVD treatment is the fifth serial of season six, "The Seeds of Death." Originally aired in six installments from January through March of 1969, "The Seeds of Death" is set only about a century into the future, at the end of the 21st century. On this Earth, transportation has become so simple due to the invention of the T-Mat, a teleporting device, that mankind has grown lazy, and stopped exploring space. This spells bad news when the T-Mat system goes down, stranding people on the moon.

The stranding is actually part of a larger problem, though. The Ice Warriors, a scary group of Martians led by the Ice Lords, have returned, and are planning on using the moon as a launching pad for a full-scale Earth invasion. The valiant moon crew try to hold off these baddies until help can arrive, but this is easier said than done, and there are grave consequences to the attack.

The Martians have a smart plan: infest Earth with a fungus that will make life unsuitable for humans, but ideal for the Martians. In this way, the Ice Warriors can force the natives out of the way without risking their own lives in combat. Taking control of Earth's weather system allows the Ice Warriors to make conditions great for the fungus, ensuring the best rate of growth possible, and a quick take over. It's a shrewd plan, and one that people are not prepared to defend themselves against.

Luckily, The Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Frazer Hines), and Zoe (Wendy Padbury) have found another way to bring help to the embattled moon base. Professor Daniel Eldred (Philip Ray, Z Cars, Little Big Time) runs a museum of rockets, and has maintained the technology necessary to leave the planet via means other than the T-Mat. The Doctor and his companions arrive on the moon, and it isn't long before they understand the scope of the problem.

Can the Doctor and his friends save the day? Or is Earth doomed? Does anyone who has ever seen a sci-fi series not know the answer to that question?

 The solution to stop the fungus, SPOILER, it can be killed by rain, is a little too simplistic for my taste. Even if the Martians control the weather, can they really hold off water falling from the sky forever, a natural part of the planet's process? And if they do, what kind of widespread, devastating effects might that have on the globe as a whole? Perhaps the Martians don't need such liquid to survive, and don't care about other life. Maybe the fungus will make permanent changes, and it won't matter if it's destroyed after a certain period of time. But the way that this conclusion is presented doesn't seem to hold up to scrutiny if one stops to analyze the larger implications.

The T-Mat seems to be pretty plainly borrowed from the American Doctor Who contemporary series, Star Trek, which began using the transporter in 1966, over two years before "The Seeds of Death" aired.

That being said, "The Seeds of Death" is a solid story. It's hard to go wrong when delivering a clear villain to root against. This is a typical hero tale, with the good guys fighting against evil. They suffer losses while doing so, but the major characters live to fight another day, and the enemy is repelled. The environmental overtones, which may not have been intended, but are present when viewed with modern sensibilities, as well as the distasteful caste system of Martian society, further separates "us" from "them," providing a serial as black and white as the film of the day.

So perhaps "The Seeds of Death" isn't as complex and deep as other Doctor Who adventures, but it's a fine mix of the usual sci-fi adventure ingredients. A lot can be said for entertaining popcorn entertainment, especially when it is presented with the quality of the Doctor Who brand.

"The Seeds of Death" was already released on DVD back in 2003. This edition, though, has remastered picture and sound, a welcome update. There are also a wealth of DVD extras, including an audio commentary with Hines, Padbury, script editor Terrance Dicks, and director Michael Ferguson. Present on the two disc set are the customary PDF materials and photo gallery.

Besides the standards, "The Seeds of Death" Special Edition contains a number of specialized featurettes. "Lords of the Red Planet" is a thirty minute special about the Martians, discussing various aspects of the fictional civilization, and how the characters were developed for Doctor Who. "Sssowing the Ssseedsss" is slightly shorter, and concentrates on the behind the scenes story of this particular serial. Director Ferguson presents a three minute "Monster Masterclass," and Peter Ware and Nicholas Briggs talk about recurring Who monsters for sixteen minutes.

Doctor Who "The Seeds of Death" Special Edition gets a recommendation from me. Check it out, as it is on sale now.

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

Futurama returns with "The Bots and the Bees" and "Farewell to Arms"

Futurama Season 7 Episode 1 The Bots and the Bees
Futurama TM and © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Comedy Central's FUTURAMA returned with two new episodes last night to kick off the season. Having been resurrected for a couple of years now, the show has gotten back into the groove that made it so great before being cancelled by FOX. Both episodes that aired last night are funny, somewhat ignoring of continuity, and have a heartfelt arc. So, they are classic FUTURAMA.

The first half hour is called "The Bots and the Bees." Bender (John Di Maggio) doesn't take a shine to the new soda machine, Bev (Wanda Sykes), very quickly. But after she kills his night with two slutbots, they end up fighting, which turns into lovemaking. Shortly thereafter, Bev gives birth to a son, whom Bender names Ben. While Bender tries to abandon the lad, as is completely in character for him, Bev does so first, leaving Bender to be a single parent.

Bender seems like he usually gets the least amount of emotional development of any of the major characters because he is so callous and self-centered. But "The Bots and the Bees" takes the rare side trip of exposing Bender's soul. The mechanics of how the baby is made and grows might not make much sense in reality, but the feelings and attachment feels authentic, and that's far more important. Bender sacrifices everything to be a good dad, even allowing Ben's memories of his father to be wiped so that Ben can fulfill his dream of being a bender.

It's sad that Ben will probably not return to the show again. In its infancy, FUTURAMA added new recurring characters frequently, and brought them back repeatedly. Since the re-launch, no one notable has joined the cast, making it seem like Ben is probably destined to be a one-shot player. This is too bad because there are plenty of stories that could still be mined from Bender's fatherly role, and it would be fun to see Ben interact with the other Planet Express employees' children. If the plan is, indeed, to abandon Ben as surely as Bev does in the episode, would the creative team please reconsider?

Even in the funniest FUTURAMA stories, the level of depth exposed in the characters raises the series a notch above most of its peers. Other animated shows might touch on the heart, but only FUTURAMA embraces it so completely, developing dynamic, fully realized characters. Yes, this episode is very funny, with lots of laughs, especially during Fry's (Billy West) B story, where he drinks so much Slurm that he turns bright green, so much so that he becomes a sort of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. But that isn't all there is to it. It's this combination of humor and emotion that makes FUTURAMA so great.

It must also be said that the opening of "The Bots and the Bees," with the Planetary Express symbol instantly bringing the crew back together, even when some of them are battling for their lives against a giant space spider, works beautifully. FUTURAMA likes to go big in season openings, and this one certainly brings the fans back in cleverly, delivering a great bit immediately.

The second half hour, "Farewell to Arms," is even better than the first. Fry finds some ancient Martian writings under New New York, which Amy (Lauren Tom) is asked to translate. She says that the world will end because of some solar flares. Electronics stop working, so mankind cannot flee the planet in their spaceships. However, near the writing there is a stone rocket ship that can save 30,000 people. A computerized selection process occurs, and certain people are chosen, a varied sampling from which to continue the human race. Upon arriving on Mars, the "survivors" discover that the prophecy actually foretells the destruction of the red planet, not Earth.

Yes, the 2012 story is an obvious target, and changing Mayan to Martian in 3012 in a thinly veiled parallel isn't exactly brilliant, nor does it feel original. Yet, "Farewell to Arms" works because FUTURAMA so fully commits to the conceit. It's almost a commentary on the craziness of the 2012, with several characters making comments about how silly prophecies are. In this, it works very well. While many outlets of pop culture have tackled the 2012 story in a number of ways, FUTURAMA has top writers who deliver a high quality episode.

Like "The Bots and the Bees," soul is at the center of "Farewell to Arms." This episode returns to the Fry and Lee relationship, which is routinely ignored for long stretches of time. Fry keeps making romantic gestures, but in keeping with his character, they always go wrong. Fry gives up his seat to Mars to save Leela, who is not one of the chosen, and then Mars is almost destroyed. It's so bad that Leela almost doesn't let Fry try to save her from Mars, which happens to pass extremely close to New New York, and when she finally does, they both end up with their arms torn off, hence the title of this installment.

Plus, Leela being grossed out about grabbing her own severed arm, which isn't bleeding and somehow must not hurt, is amusing in the context.

When will FUTURAMA just let Fry and Leela be a couple? The effort has been put in, and the DVD-released movies while the series was off-air took the time to make any relationship between them feel earned. "Farewell to Arms" reminds us of the love between them, which makes the episodes where this chemistry is absent seem a bit off. More follow up to this would be greatly appreciated.

FUTURAMA is funny about continuity, in that sometimes it is abandoned all together, while other times past events matter very much to the present. Let's hope Mars' new position, as a close moon to Earth, becomes permanent. After all, this heralds a fantastic Amy episode, as her parents live on Mars, should FUTURAMA pursue this path.

FUTURAMA airs new episodes Wednesdays at 10 PM ET on Comedy Central.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Borgias make "The Confession"

 Showtime's The Borgias concluded its second season last week with "The Confession." Rodrigo (Jeremy Irons) mourns the death of son, Juan (David Oakes), coming not long after losing a younger son, and is disturbed that his other children don't seem nearly as upset about the murder as he is. When Rodrigo vows to find the killer, Cesare (Fran├žois Arnaud) realizes he must come clean, admitting to Rodrigo that he offed his brother, and asking for Juan's military command. While Rodrigo flounders with this revelation, Cesare goes a step furthering, taking control of the family and ordering that the wedding of his sister, Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger), proceed, despite his family's grief and objections.

It's hard to single out "The Confession" as a single episode, and judge its story this way. After all, The Borgias is an extremely serial show, with plots continuing for weeks of years, not ending in an hour. "The Confession" is a great finale, bringing to a head many threads, but does not present its own tale, separate from any other installment. Which is not a bad thing, by any means.

"The Confession" will be remembered as the time when Cesare takes control of the Borgia family. In season one, Cesare is a relatively dutiful and obedient son to Rodrigo. But as his frustration with his lot in life grows, doomed to be a cardinal, while watching brother Juan get the military glory Cesare longs for, Cesare strikes out more and more on his own. Taking out Juan is the last straw.

Cesare claims to have killed Juan to protect the family. This claim isn't to be dismissed out of hand. Juan is acting in a disgraceful manner, including lying about an incident where he beat a hasty retreat. Juan's anger makes him unpredictable. His irrational wrath, including hanging the father of Lucrezia's son, makes him dangerous. While Cesare may have some selfish reasons for acting, as well, it will assuredly be a good thing to get Juan out of the way.

The question is, is Cesare growing too big for his britches? He has the audacity to ask his father for Juan's post at the same time that he is confessing to fratricide. He demands a wedding when everyone, including his mother, Vanozza (Joanne Whalley), is against such a celebration in a time of tragedy. These behaviors are reckless, designed only to assert authority. If Cesare continues down this path, he may become as dangerous as Juan, thus negating the good deed that he has done.

Lucrezia isn't sad to see Juan go, given his murder of her lover. While Cesare's lack of sadness comes from a not-quite-fully-just place, Lucrezia only wants what is fair, and to protect her family. In this, she ends "The Confession" in a good, considerably happy state.

Jeremy Irons is a masterful performer, and "The Confession" showcases his talent more than any other episode of The Borgias yet. Deeply sorrowful, and blaming himself for Cesare's devious actions, Rodrigo spends much of this season finale in a state of shock. He cannot believe the ruin that has been brought upon his family, through his own fault, he believes. His machinations have not always been with good intentions, but in this pivotal moment, Rodrigo seems devout, and laid out before God's judgment. Irons handles each nuance and scene with such precision, keeping a lid on insanity, but allowing strong depths of emotion to well up in his emotive face, that his acting is a masterpiece of film. This happens not once, but throughout the hour. This is what a true star does!

Then the twist ending. Della Rovere (Colm Feore), plotting all season to end Rodrigo's reign, sees the chance to make his move. His protege, a young man willing to sacrifice himself to take out the pope, poisons Rodrigo, who collapses on the floor. Unlike the martyr, Rodrigo only takes one small sip, and it isn't clear if he survives or not. After all, Della Rovere lives through the same event last season, and the youth ingests the vile brew several times before taking his fatal gulp. Has Della Rovere succeeded?

The Borgias would not be the same without Rodrigo. Cesare, Lucrezia, and the others are interesting characters, and it would still be fun to watch them weekly, but without the head of the family, the show would suffer a serious directional blow. Irons proves his worth yet again this week, and certainly makes audiences unwilling to lose him. Eventually, his day will come, but it seems a little too early to do so now. Especially when Della Rovere hides in the shadows, depriving the pope of a genuine confrontation.

The Borgias has been renewed for a third season, and will return to Showtime next year.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Fly Away" from The Big C

In this week's season three finale of Showtime's The Big C, the plot is all about getting away from the routine life so that one can finds oneself. Sometimes it takes stepping back to get a clear perspective, and that is the message of "Fly Away." The main cast has literally flown away to Puerto Rico for a much-needed vacation, where they blow the dust off and confront issues that have been brewing, as well as decide what direction to take their lives in next.

Paul (Oliver Platt) is deeply saddened by the death of Joy (Susan Sarandon), and takes comfort in talking to her fans about how he feels. Paul's growth as a public speaker, using his near death experience to inspire others, is a great turn of events for him, giving purpose to a sometimes meandering character. Paul is still struggling to come into his own until Joy passes on. This gives him the extra boost to really make it in the arena, and he is poised to take over her empire.

At the same time that his new career is taking off, though, his personal life is suffering. He has found out about Cathy's (Laura Linney) secret identity, Alexis, where she pretends that her husband died of a heart attack. This shakes him to the core, and seems awfully hypocritical after Cathy blew a movie deal for them because she didn't want to see "herself" die on screen. Maybe the Alexis charade helps Cathy to cope, but it does the opposite for Paul, driving a wedge between them. Which is probably why he goes up a hotel room with another woman, pretending to be "Brian," a man whose wife has died of cancer, both to even the score, and to see what it's like to do what Cathy has been doing.

It's hard to argue that Paul and Cathy have a healthy marriage, with stories like this. They are under a great deal of stress, of course, but is that really an excuse? Instead of leaning on each other for support, they seek it elsewhere. Now, it is reasonable to assume that they are in no position to support each other, given their various tribulations. But still, if they are going to work as a couple past the next year or so, there has to be a huge change in the way they relate to each other. Learn to trust and work together more, rather than continue this unhealthy path.

Adam (Gabriel Basso), while not heavily featured in "Fly Away," is figuring out how to relate to God. It's not surprising that he turns to a higher power. After all, his parents are a bit too preoccupied with their own stuff to really pay as much attention to him as they should. Not only does Adam have to deal with the worries about his parents' health, he also has to handle the stress of a fractured marriage. This is a lot for any kid to take. At least religion is (a little) less self-destructive than some other comforts he might turn to.

Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe) spends this entire season getting in touch with her African roots, wanting to change her name and wardrobe. But it only takes one conversation in a foreign land to help her to realize that it's not necessary to be so forceful in celebrating one's culture. Andrea should embrace all of who she is, and not just focus on one thing. This is a natural part of maturation for any young adult, and it's been nice to watch Andrea go through it, especially because her character is so confident that one often forgets she isn't fully developed yet.

Sean's (John Benjamin Hickey) story this year is all about the sex. He is a gay phone sex worker, then he is part of a doomed thruple. But in "Fly Away," his libido takes him away from his sister during a scuba diving expedition, and Cathy is lost. Sean shows some real anger and guilt in this episode, and that will surely continue into season four, sending him on a path where he shows more concern for his only sister, rather than just chasing tail. This is also a little bit of maturation, proving it's never too late to grow up.

Cathy herself has the most divisive story. Lost while diving, she ends up on a fishing boat with a man named Angel (Michael Ray Escamilla). Finding a strange sort of serenity on Angel's boat that she doesn't get from her tumultuous family, Cathy envisions a life with Angel that is less stressful. Considering that she recently gets news that her tumors are growing again, and she could soon be dead, this lifestyle greatly appeals to her. Why waste what little time you have left in a negative, poisonous situation? And so she rides off into the sunset with Angel (not in a romantic way; he's happily married), not returning to her family, or letting them know she's even alive.

This is a very, very selfish act. Of all the things that Cathy has done, this is the most cruel. The others will hear Sean's story and believe that she drowned in the ocean. What kind of memory does that leave them with? How will they find closure? Not to mention, what will it do to Sean's sometimes fragile mental state? Perhaps it is kinder to take herself out of the equation and let them move on, but the way in which Cathy does so leaves a very bad taste in one's mouth.

And yet, might this be the right path for her? Each of us only get one life, and it's easy to see why she wants an escape from her current reality. It's a vacation, to be sure, and not a permanent change. She will miss her loved ones, and want to return home. Of course, going home after doing this to them will be difficult, and make things even more rocky than they already are. Drama is sure to follow in spades. Which makes for a bad life, but great television.

The Big C has not yet been renewed for a fourth season, but it needs to be. It took a little time to find its stride, but the series really knows what it is now. Each season is also about a different stage of grief, of which there are seven, so the story isn't even quite half over yet. It would be a service to the fans to let the entire thing play out the way it is intended to be. Sure, season four's depression might be dark and hard to get through, but there are better things coming, and that inspiring message of hope should be enough to keep viewers coming back. Please give The Big C the chance to do this.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Wilfred makes "Progress"

FX's Wilfred returns next Thursday to officially begin its second season. It's odd, then, that a brand new "preview" episode aired last night. Entitled "Progress," this latest installment finds Ryan (Elijah Wood) in a mental hospital, where he has been getting better under the care of Dr. Eddy (Robin Williams) while waiting for Wilfred (Jason Gann) to recover from his car accident. Ryan is shaken when Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) brings Wilfred to visit, and Ryan still sees Wilfred as a man in a dog suit, believing that his treatment isn't working. It takes no time at all for Ryan to get caught up in Wilfred's mental games, which disrupts his own path to healing.

There are signs that Ryan isn't mentally stable before Wilfred arrives, though. While in the hospital, Ryan has strange dreams where he is sitting at a conference table with some odd people named Amanda (Allison Mack, Smallville), Kevin (Rob Riggle, NTSF:SD:SUV), and Jeremy (Steven Weber, Wings, Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip), among others. What is going on? Why does Ryan keep dreaming them?

This experience of being a patient seems real enough for Ryan. In fact, it seems a lot like the reality he's been living in. The dreams are kind of new, but the rest of it is natural progress for the characters, considering four months have passed. Jenna has realized she is not pregnant and dumped her boyfriend. Ryan is working on the issues he knows that he has. Wilfred is his same manipulative, sneaky, morality challenged self.

And then, everything shatters. Ryan suddenly sees, in a meta moment, that he is being treated by the Robin Williams character from Good Will Hunting. An orderly (Brian Baumgartner, The Office) helps Ryan escape, only to reveal that he's actually Wilfred, and Bear is driving the getaway car! This makes the mental hospital world fall apart for Ryan as he tries to wake up.

Or does it? Maybe Ryan is in this mental hospital, and by not taking the pills that Dr. Eddy gives him, he loses his grip on what is real and what is not. This is certainly a possibility, and one supported by the notion that Ryan is completely crazy. Though, even before the pills are taken, it seems a given that Ryan is not at the hospital during the events of season one, so not everything can be explained away in this manner. Probably. Who knows? Wilfred is a truly odd show that defies clear definition. Which is what makes it so intriguing.

Ryan does "wake up," we assume, in the conference room with Amanda, Kevin, Jeremy, and the others. He's serving as a lawyer for them as they work on curing cancer. Is this any more realistic than the mental hospital illusion? Maybe Ryan's sister, unseen in this episode, got him this gig in the medical field. But that seems unlikely, given the way that Wilfred leaves things between the siblings at the end of season one. Thus, because of the events of "Progress," there will continue to be a nagging doubt about whether what is shown is real at any given time.

Ryan then goes home to confront the basement. At the end of season one, Ryan discovers a coat closet where he believes a basement door should be. His house certainly looks like it has a basement. Ryan busts through the wall of the closet, and low and behold, stairs to a basement! But the question is, did someone board up the stairs to trick him? Did Ryan himself do it in one of his weird states and just not remember? Is busting through the wall a sign of "Progress," or is it Ryan backsliding? These are questions not answered in "Progress," nor will they likely be with any certainty in season two.

Wilfred is a unique show that makes viewers think. The fact that it is well acted and funny are just frosting on the cake. Not to mention, the quality of guest stars that appear, in this episode alone, should entice you to tune in. If you are missing out on this weird television experience, it's time to correct that. Watch Wilfred Thursdays at 10 PM ET on FX.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Don't need no Baby Daddy

ABC Family tries really hard on its sitcoms. The latest, Baby Daddy, which premiered last night, should be good. After all, it's basically a serialized Three Men and a Baby, which I re-watched recently and am happy to report still holds up. Unfortunately, the writing is nowhere near the level of the classic film, and the acting is (probably purposefully) cheesy, and thus, Baby Daddy falls flat.

In the pilot, Ben (Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Kyle XY) is very surprised when an infant girl named Emma is left on his stoop. Viewers may be even more surprised at the timing, considering that the baby wasn't there moments before, and somehow, it worked out just right. Ben assumes the baby is his based on the note left behind, though no DNA test has been run. Being told by his family that he can't possibly raise the child, Ben considers putting her up for adoption. Even stranger, the mother apparently has the same thought, finds a family to adopt Emma, and dropping off the paperwork less than 24 hours after dropping off the baby. So why did she bring Emma to Ben in the first place if an adoption was already set up?

It's this kind of weak plot, with incredibly unrealistic developments that just don't make sense that kills Baby Daddy. Bilodeau is a fine performer, but try as he might, he just can't sell material this bad. It seems the basic plot points of the episode were outlined, and then, the writers not sure how to connect the dots, just did anyway, not worrying about making sense of the transitions. Perhaps after the "Pilot," this will improve. But in the first episode at least, the story is horrible.

Ben will have some help with his child. His big brother, Danny (Derek Theler), just moved in, and Ben is already living with his best friend, Tucker (Tahj Mowry, Kim Possible). It's a small apartment, but none of the guys seem to mind the baby, nor do Danny and Tucker ever weigh in on Ben's decision much, even though it will affect their lives as much as his. In fact, the guys go so far as to rush out the door when a dirty diaper appears, the last one being the one stuck with the baby. It's zany, and not in a good way.

There is also a love interest, of course. Former neighbor and fat girl, Riley (Chelsea Kane, Fish Hooks, Jonas), just happens to reenter the guys' lives at this time. Her involvement is tenuous, at best. But she has long harbored a crush on Ben, so that provides motivation for her to keep coming back, despite her horrible plotted introduction. It looks like Danny might have a thing for Riley, too, setting up a love triangle. It's not any fault of Kane's, but the character seems superfluous at this point, it being much more fun to see the guys try to deal with the child on their own.

As bad as the writing is, the acting is surprisingly acceptable. Yeah, the cast hams it up, as surely they were told to, but they also show some nice moments of sincerity. The best scene is when Danny, Riley, and Tucker hang out in the hall, leaving Ben to realize that he can handle taking care of Emma on his own. This is sweet, and makes perfect sense, the friends hanging out just outside of the apartment in case Ben really does need them. Theler, in particular, really captures the nuance of the moment, and Kane is charming in this and the scene before it. More stuff like this, and Baby Daddy might have something here.

In short, Baby Daddy delivered a pretty terrible "Pilot," but with hints of potential, should the kinks be worked out. While it's hard to be optimistic, other series have bounced back from rocky starts, and now that the basic elements of what the series will be are all in alignment, perhaps it can go somewhere. For the sake of those involved, I certainly hope it works out. We'll see.

Baby Daddy airs Wednesdays at 8:30 PM ET on ABC Family.

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Falling Skies - "Worlds Apart; Shall We Gather at the River"

Falling Skies Recap

TNT's FALLING SKIES has returned! Those who watched the alien invasion drama last summer may have forgotten how things ended, so first, a quick refresher. The 2nd Mass attacked the aliens, resulting in serious consequences and quite a few deaths. On the way home, Tom (Noah Wyle) was invited aboard the alien ship by the alien-controlled Karen (Jessy Schram), leaving his family and friends behind.

FALLING SKIES' two hour premiere picks up three months later. Tom is still missing, but it soon found during an attack, after being accidentally shot by his middle son, Ben (Connor Jessup). Rejoining the group, who are happy to see him, and, strangely, barely ask any questions, viewers see a little bit about what has been going on with Tom via flashbacks.

It must be said that flashbacks have been done to death, and aren't really necessary unless they add something vital to the story. The events in Tom's life that unfold in the first hour, "Worlds Apart," do not qualify as vital. Sure, there is a very small look at what Tom goes through as a prisoner and the circumstances of his release. But there are also unnecessary scenes where Tom teams up with a young girl for a bit, before she takes off on him that seem designed to be filler.

"Worlds Apart" is frustrating because it does not live up to the potential of the series. There are some very cool special effects, and character drama that profiles the new dynamics of the group, including Ben and his older brother Hal (Drew Roy) struggling for power. But Tom's bits slow things down from these more intriguing stories, resulting in a lackluster installment.

Besides the family reunion when Tom reconnects with his three sons, we also get to see just how much Anne (Moon Bloodgood) has missed Tom. This is all well and good, as the chemistry between the two is nice. Instead of consummating these mutual feelings, however, there is only a hug. Yes, FALLING SKIES is family friendly, and the Tom / Anne relationship will be a slowly built one, as many television couples are put through to draw out the arc. But why not be bold and go for the hook up now instead of unnecessarily delaying the story? They're adults, and people act a little more impulsively in such stressful times.

Those complaints aside, the second hour of the FALLING SKIES season premiere, "Shall We Gather at the River," is much more exciting. The 2nd Mass has to move, worried that they will soon be attacked (again) by the aliens. Tom is concerned that he might be under the aliens' influence, a fear echoed by Pope (Colin Cunningham), so Tom removes himself from the game. Ben also gets to demonstrate his new value to the group in front of his father by conducting a solo scouting mission no one else can accomplish, using the physical prowess the aliens gave him.

"Shall We Gather at the River" is full of exploration of characters and how they relate to each other, which is where FALLING SKIES is strongest. This is possible because we've gotten to know who the characters are, so now there can be some experimentation with who they might grow to be. Some of the dialogue may be a bit cheesy, but the acting all around is quite good, especially Jessup as Ben, a feat that belies his age. There are new people taking power, with Tom missing and Weaver (Will Patton) seemingly grown soft, and some new romantic connections might be forming. This provides a shake up moving into the sophomore year.

Sadly, in between seasons, some characters have been lost. Anne has a cabinet of pictures, and she and Tom briefly discuss the fates of a couple of comrades. Rick (Daniyah Ysrayl), in particular, is a question mark, as he shows loyalty to the aliens before disappearing, making his motivations and mission unknowable, but he is certain to be seen again. There are also a couple of new faces to replace those lost, most notably Jamil Dexter (Brandon Jay McLaren, The Killing), who is quite possibly forming a bit of a love connection with Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel).

Another strong point in "Shall We Gather at the River," which is actually started in "Worlds Apart," is that FALLING SKIES finally gives a face to the enemy. For most of season one, fans get only glimpses of the skitters and other aliens. In the season two premiere, one skitter individual, whom I'll nickname Scar because of his disfigured face, stands out as a true antagonist. Scar is watching Tom closely, and has a hand in nearly every problem that befalls the 2nd Mass in these two hours. Having a face to root against kind of energizes the series, and puts the stakes a little higher, providing identity to the enemy, and a target for mankind's hatred.

Speaking of high stakes, it is clear now that the aliens, or at least Scar, have a plan for the 2nd Mass. Do the aliens hope that this particular group of people will agree to the sanctuary arrangement that they propose, as a kind of reverse District 9? Why is Tom singled out as a focus for their attention? What is up with the shape-shifting parasite? So many questions, and each one just leads to new mysteries, pointing to a level of importance that the main group holds in the minds of their conquerors. If this plot thread continues to be followed, it may become clear exactly what the aliens are doing on Earth, and why they act they way they do, sooner rather than later.

Overall, there are flaws with FALLING SKIES¸ but its still better than much of the summer fare being offered. Tune in Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on TNT to see what happens next!

Nurse Jackie can "Handle Your Scandal"

Showtime's Nurse Jackie has had a rough year. Jackie (Edie Falco ) is going through a divorce which might cost her custody of her kids, all while struggling to stay sober after a too-brief stint in rehab. But things go from bad to worse in "Handle Your Scandal," the fourth season finale, as Jackie finally has the showdown with Dr. Cruz (Bobby Cannavale) that has been brewing.

Dr. Cruz is cruel. Wonderfully balanced between total jerk and compassionate person by Cannavale, Cruz spends most of the year teetering a very fine line. But as the season wraps up, he shows just how vindictive he can be by firing Eddie (Paul Schulze), Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith), and ultimately, Jackie. It's one thing to run the hospital like a business. It's another to take out one's personal disappointments in the office. What Cruz does has just as much to do with his son's screw ups as his own power trips. Because of this, let us hope that Cruz does not return next season, at least not the version of him shown in "Handle Your Scandal."

That being said, it's been great to have a villain like Cruz around. It's tested Jackie in ways that she never has been before, made all the more difficult by her new-found lack of substance abuse to cope with it. Jackie learns to play things cool and hold her tongue, until she cannot take it anymore. And by that point, everyone, both characters and viewers, are one Jackie's side. Her cursing match is earned because of her restraint, and means all the more when it finally does occur.

In fact, Jackie has been pretty heroic all season. She has always been likable, but it's not until she begins cleaning up her messes, acting responsible, and letting people in that she becomes someone to be admired. Allowing Zoey (Merritt Wever) to become a friend and roommate, standing by Akalitus and Eddie, fighting for her kids and sobriety, Jackie is a whole different person. This growth may be too quick, pointing towards a possible backslide, but it is thrilling in the moment.

Everyone always follows Jackie's lead. Now that she participates in the social environment, instead of hiding from it, this is even more true than before. By the time that she leaves the hospital, taking it with more grace than many in her position would, the entire staff roots for her. They clap, and refuse to stop when Cruz yells his head off. They stage a candlelight vigil. Jackie has found her place, and somehow, she must get it back.

Will Jackie, Akalitus, and Eddie return next season? Well, the first two simply have to. Eddie is fun, but expendable. However the series would not be the same without Jackie or Akalitus. Obviously, the former isn't going anywhere, but the latter is vital, too. Will they come back because Cruz eats crow and gets himself in order, chalking up his really bad behavior to a reaction against the now departed Charlie (Jake Cannavale)? Even this might not be enough to redeem the administrator.

Finally, Jackie gets to play the good mom. Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) may mostly be in the right in leaving Jackie, but he's handling the divorce extremely poorly. While he should be sympathetic, he comes across as a bully, instead. It's an interesting choice to demonize him at this point, even though he sort of has to be to best serve the titular character. Still, it would be nice to see if he has the kind of moments that Jackie and Grace (Ruby Jerins) share in "Handle Your Scandal," rather than only being portrayed as taking he low road.

In other stories of romance, Zoey seems destined to get back together with Lenny (Lenny Jacobson). One can see why she decides that she must strike out on her own before settling down. But now that she's had just a taste of life without Lenny, it is clear how deep the affection between the pair is. Zoey might get to show another side of herself if she has to grovel to get him back, but that's totally appropriate in this situation.

Speaking of other sides, Cooper (Peter Facinelli) really steps up to the plate when O'Hara (Eve Best) needs someone. He is still the familiar Cooper, and will probably screw up again, revealing O'Hara's baby daddy. But for now, he is being a caring individual, nurturing what could be a real friendship with his fellow doctor.

It's these supporting characters that really raise Nurse Jackie up to the very high level it is at. Falco is absolutely fantastic, but surrounding her with the rest, which also includes Stephen Wallem as Thor, is why Nurse Jackie is the best half hour show on Showtime. Everyone is just so good at the parts they are playing, and their chemistry is spot on in every single relationship. Enough good things cannot be said about Nurse Jackie, and "Handle Your Scandal" really plays this all out to the Nth degree, banking on the show's many strengths. I can't wait to see what season five has in store!

Nurse Jackie will return to Showtime next year.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"She Did" it Girls

HBO's Girls has gotten a lot of attention this season, some positive, some not so much. As the freshman run draws to a close with "She Did," it's hard to see where the attacks come from. Jealousy? Insecurity? Lack of a frame of reference? Yes, the characters may not be completely likeable, but what a bold, fresh, realistic perspective! Girls may very well be the voice of a generation, and I don't make that claim lightly.

Maybe there are those that dislike the series because they are trying to compare it to other television. This is folly, as the writing and direction of Girls is not like anything else. Trying to pigeon-hole it, or compare it to non-exist peers shows a lack of understanding of what the show is going for. It isn't trying to be another series. It is, like the characters, true to itself, even if no one else understands.

At the center of the series is Hannah (Lena Dunham). She still expects her dreams of being a professional writer to come true. She just doesn't put that much effort into making them happen, whines quite a bit, and is pretty selfish. Yet, as the type of person that everyone knows, narcissistic but not malicious, she is an identifiable character, and one not represented very well on television. Until now.

In "She Did," Hannah gets the chance to complete one of her goals: have a serious relationship. Adam (Adam Driver) is willing to fully commit to her, even wanting to move in. Hannah just doesn't take him seriously, and ends up insulting him, which may spell the end of their time together. Is it because she is scared, as she claims in a raw confrontation in the street? Or does she not know what she wants? Maybe Adam is the type of guy she thinks she should desire or deserves, but isn't sure that she is ready to be with him. Is she trying to live her life as if from a script?

This is kind of the conundrum of everyone in Girls. Marnie (Allison Williams) has a great guy in Charlie (Christopher Abbott), whom she doesn't appreciate until he's gone. Then she could get him back, but she still resists, ending up making out with someone unexpected (Saturday Night Live's Bobby Moynihan). One would like to think that she appreciates her hookup's personality, but really, she's probably just drunk and desperate. We'll see if it lasts past a single evening.

The oddest plot in the finale is when Jessa (Jemima Kirke) throws a surprise wedding for herself and the creepy guy (Chris O'Dowd) who wanted to have a threesome with Jessa and Marnie. Jessa didn't even like him then, but her bizarre vows are actually sweet. Perhaps they do make a good pairing, as out of nowhere as the union seems to come from. Of course, with Jessa, no traditional courtship would ever be in the cards, which might make this one more acceptable.

Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) would like to loose her virginity, and weirdly does so with Ray (Alex Karpovsky). It almost seems like this happens because these are the two major characters with the least development, and the only ones who aren't paired up before now. And yet, there is something really nice between them. Both deserve more screen time, and maybe as a couple, they will get it.

Shoshanna's frustrated statement, "Everyone's a dumb whore," rings kind of true on the surface. But the girls are more than that. Someone who is over the age of thirty might have a hard time understanding what is going on in Girls. Yet, those of us who were in college in the previous decade see an authenticity that is surprising for television. Every flaw and stupid action of young gals that are not yet mature enough to qualify as women are laid out, without shame. It's a brave series with interesting writing. And no matter what these girls do, there is an allure about them that keeps people tuning in week after week.

Nope, not everyone gets them. That's the way they like it. One day they will be normal, contributing members of society. But for now, they are still just Girls.

Girls will return for a second season on HBO.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Return to Dallas


 One of the most anticipated events of the summer is TNT's revival of the classic prime time soap drama, Dallas. Just over two decades since the fourteen season drama bowed off the air, it returns, a continuation to the original. This is not a reboot or a remake, but rather, continues the story started years ago, adding a new generation into an old rivalry, and it does not disappoint.

As the first episode, "Changing of the Guard," begins, J.R. (Larry Hagman) is suffering from a deep depression, unresponsive to visitors. Brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy), happy in his own life with wife Ann (Brenda Strong, Desperate Housewives), and facing a terminal illness, regrets their fraternal tension, hoping that their sons will not continue the horrible tradition.

But Bobby's hopes are not destined to come true. J.R.'s son, John Ross (Josh Henderson, huh, Desperate Housewives), is secretly drilling for oil on the family's property of Southfork, and finds it! A wrench is thrown into his plans to make the family rich in this business when Bobby announces his intention to sell Southfork, planning on giving the profits to his own son, Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe, would you believe it, Desperate Housewives), who seeks to develop clean energy. The battle is on, with twists and turns that soon reawaken J.R.'s ornery spirit.

There is something somewhat fitting that J.R. sits dormant until this new opportunity to tangle emerges. Even those not familiar with the original series have heard about how ruthless this character can be. Without an enemy to fight, he becomes unneeded in the world, and shuts down. But now that Bobby is poking the dragon, so to speak, J.R. comes back to life. Upon learning that John Ross intends to cross him, too, J.R. really digs in. Watch out!

Of course, in a series such as Dallas, there is never just one thing going one. As fun as the feuds are, there also has to be romantic tension. John Ross is furious when he learns that his gal, Elena (Jordana Brewster, Desper...er, Chuck), is only with John Ross because she received a breakup e-mail from Christopher years ago. Neither Christopher nor John Ross sent the e-mail, so who did? And does it even matter anymore, as Christopher almost immediately weds Rebecca Sutter (Julie Gonzalo, Eli Stone, Veronica Mars), who has a secret of her own?

Rounding out this gang is original cast member Linda Gray, who plays J.R.'s ex-wife, and John Ross's mother, Sue Ellen. Sue Ellen is preparing to run for governor, but her connections with the family may prove a little more tumultuous than is generally considered good for a campaign.

Having not been a viewer of the original, I cannot say if these new installments live up to their predecessors. This Dallas, though, is a guilty pleasure. It's an entertaining ride, with more twists than a lasso. It doesn't feel dated, even though the old timers still figure prominently into the plot, nor does it come across as a teeny bopper's delight, despite the new blood. There is a nice balance stricken, and this is certainly a series I will be tuning into weekly for the foreseeable future.

Watch Dallas Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Behind Washington: Behind Closed Doors

Now available from Acorn Media is the award winning miniseries, Washington: Behind Closed Doors. This six part story, spread across three discs, is the fictional tale of President Richard Monckton (Jason Robards, The Civil War, Magnolia), a paranoid and arrogant man, secretly plotting against many. Set mainly in the 1970s, Monckton comes under the influence of Frank Flaherty (Robert Vaughn, Coronation Street, Hustle), who isolates the president from his staff, and manipulates him to serve his purposes. All this, while the administration balances a Southeast Asian war and antiwar protests at home.

Wait, you say. This doesn't sound fictional? It seems to be the story of President Richard Nixon, the man who divided a country with his machinations, and engaged in covert games with those around him? That might just be because Washington: Behind Closed Doors is based on a novel by a former Nixon adviser, intended to somewhat tell a true story.

Even for those of us who didn't live through the Nixon era, this is a tale worth paying attention to. In an era where government is royally screwed up, Washington: Behind Closed Doors will spark the cynical side of viewers, imagining the worst of the man who run our country. This isn't any better or worse than the way things currently are, but shows another ineffective government at another point in history. It also reminds us that history can repeat itself, and power corrupts.

Washington: Behind Closed Doors is filled with fantastic performances. Besides Vaughn and Robards, there's Cliff Robertson (Spider-Man) as CIA director Bill Martin, who would like Monckton's ear, but instead finds a president intent on settling vendettas, rather than making America the country it should be. Andy Griffith does his take on Lyndon B. Johnson, who is almost as villainous as Monckton, in an entirely different way.

The actors that get the short end of the shaft in this miniseries are the women. Robbed of any juicy parts, or even a coherent love story, Stefanie Powers (Doctors, Hart to Hart) and Lois Nettleton (In the Heat of the Night) do the best that they can with flimsy material. They could probably hold their own against the boys, if given the chance. Sadly, they are not.

But romance aside, which isn't really needed in a piece like this, anyway, Washington: Behind Closed Doors is a stellar story of intrigue, betrayal, and deception. A highly entertaining political thriller, this will bring older viewers back to an important moment in this nation's history, and entice those who aren't so familiar to learn more.

Will America ever learn its lesson? Only time will tell. But this show will definitely spark some musings and introspection. For that reason, hopefully many of those involved in the current bickering will check it out and reconsider what they are doing with their lives.

In case you happen to be one of those who isn't well versed in the time period, an eight page booklet is included in this DVD set. It outlines reality, from Indochina conflict, to the peace movement in the U.S., to the Watergate scandal. It's sort of a cliff notes version of history, and one that provides appropriate context.

The only other bonus feature included is a set of brief biographies on a number of political figures of the time. These are nice, but one wishes there was more. Where are the interviews and commentary from the producers and stars, discussing how it felt to be part of such an important, renowned series? Ah, well. Maybe in the next edition.

At around 600 minutes in length, and given the high quality of the program and plot, there is plenty to recommend about this DVD set. Check out Washington: Behind Closed Doors, on sale now.

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