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Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Greater Fool rules The Newsroom

HBO's The Newsroom presented a season finale this week entitled "The Greater Fool." This episode is so layered, and jammed with so many references, that it's surely worth watching repeatedly to catch everything. The gist of the plot: Will (Jeff Daniels) loses hope, Mackenzie (Emily Mortimer) tries and fails to cheer him up, Charlie (Sam Waterston) saves the day in more ways than one, Neal (Dev Patel) oversteps and makes things worse, the Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) / Don (Thomas Sadoski) / Maggie (Alison Pill) love triangle comes to a head in an unexpected way, and News Night finds its voice. So, basically, another fantastic episode, written amazingly, visually pleasing, and with wonderful acting that sells the piece.

As "The Greater Fool" begins, we learn Will is in the hospital and wanting to quit the program. Interspersed are flash forwards showing him in a tour de force tear down of RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) on the air. At first, I want to gripe that The Newsroom kills the suspense of the drama they're trying to build up. But upon reflection, every viewer tuning in knows that Will will get back on television. This in of itself ruins any suspense. So why treat the audience like they're dumb? Fans know Will will rally and this episode will show what it takes for him to do so, so there's no reason to pretend at anything else. The Newsroom knows its viewers are smart, and acts accordingly.

One of the awesome things about "The Greater Fool" is all of the callback to the first episode of the series. The Don Quixote comparison returns in a big way, Will finally realizes that Mackenzie was actually at his college speech, and the girl who asked the dumb question that day is hired as an intern. Nearly a year and a half after it began, there's a pleasing symmetry that ties this freshman run up in a neat bow.

Of course, there are some things left hanging. Can Will admit that he still loves Mackenzie, as we're pretty sure the voice mail says, when he's not high? Is someone really going to try to kill Will? These are questions left for season two, which I cannot wait for!

People who regularly tune in to The Newsroom often do it to be inspired. It paints a picture of what reality could be, if we're lucky. There are naysayers, of course. Charlie and company's effort to turn Leona (Jane Fonda) around to their way of thinking, breaking through her cynicism, speaks to that nicely. In "The Greater Fool," we get to see Leona begin to give her blessing through a combination of blackmail and canoodling. Are the methods worth the outcome? Absolutely. Good has beaten evil, and News Night 2.0 will be allowed to go on. Talk about inspiring!

I like that The Newsroom does not feel confined to play by all the rules of the traditional television love triangle. In any other show, Maggie would wake up to Jim's interest in the season finale, finally ditching Don, who is an inferior mate. But that's not the way it plays out in "The Greater Fool." Sure, there's the terrific Sex and the City scene, where Maggie and Jim find each other. But as Sloan (Olivia Munn) points out, Don is not a bad guy. And when he makes a grand romantic gesture, Maggie stays with him, as most girls would. Jim's decision to keep things going with Lisa (Kelen Coleman), whom he likes but doesn't love, much as we've seen in Don with Maggie, makes Jim no better than Don. Though Don chooses to commit himself to Maggie in a real way, perhaps making him just a little bit man than Jim. For now.

These are merely the highlights of "The Greater Fool." It would be easy to go on for page after page about this episode, the meaning of the title, all of the supporting characters, breaking down each action or word for meaning. The Newsroom is designed to be chock full of substance. But who has time to do that? And even if I did, aren't I just robbing you of the joy of figuring these things out? So in keeping with the show's theme of knowing your audience is smart, I'll leave it here for now. Feel free to comment on the article, or tweet me @JeromeWetzelTV and I'll be happy to discuss any element further.

The Newsroom, my favorite show of the summer, will return to HBO in 2013.

Article first posted on TheTVKing

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Episodes explodes

Showtime's Episodes completed their second season this week. Everything came to a head at Merc's (John Pankow) Man of the Year ceremony. The cheaters were exposed, someone got fired, and an estranged couple realized exactly how they felt about each other. It was like last season's car wreck, but bigger, more metaphorical, and affecting more people. Needless to say, Episodes deserves an as-yet-unordered third season.

Merc took on a greater importance in season two, especially in how the women in his life felt about him. Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins) grew more devoted, while Merc's wife, Jamie (Genevieve O'Reilly) became less, cheating on him with Matt (Matt LeBlanc). Merc's bosses took a similar tack as his wife, and the show set Merc up to lose everything except Carol, whom he ends up not appreciating enough to keep, either.

If Episodes continues, it is possible it will be without Merc. He no longer runs the network, and Carol has shut off relations, effectively blocking him out of all proceedings. But with the brilliance Pankow plays the break down in the season finale, how can the show stand to let him go? Surely, he can be roped back into the proceedings somehow, maybe begging Carol into taking him back, and mooching off of her? It would be well within the bounds of how the characters have been painted up to this point. Carol may get angry with him, but she always forgives, no matter how little he deserves it.

Jamie, on the other hand, seems to be done with her husband. The question is, though, will Matt want a serious relationship with her? Or will he get bored, as he does the other women in his life, cheating on her, too? The two of them have been a fun pairing in season two, but there doesn't appear to be a path forward for them. The chemistry just isn't right, and Matt's womanizing ways have got to take over. He can show growth as a character, but Episodes can't make him do a 180 over night.

Beverly (Tamsin Greig) and Sean (Stephen Mangan), on the other hand, have got to make it work. After nine episodes apart, it is gratifying to see Sean forgive her after she is elbowed in the face. They may be a bit bumbling, but there's always been a strong bond of love between them, and it's obvious that they should be together. Episodes didn't force the split, keeping true to the characters, but it also couldn't leave them apart much longer and still feel authentic. Thank goodness that particular drama is over.

Which sets up the show within a show, Pucks, to have a smooth beginning of season three. With Carol in charge instead of Merc, Bev and Sean should be able to make the show they want, which should prove more popular than the current, failing model, as they've already demonstrated how great they can be with the original British incarnation. So what problems might crop up? And could they have anything to do with Morning (Mircea Monroe), who, as understanding as she appears to be about Sean and Bev's reconciliation, didn't seem all that happy to be going home alone?

Episodes is a great series that wonderfully balances huge slapstick, like the fist fight in this season finale, with more subtle charm and humor. Its audience may not be huge, but the acting is fantastic, and the writing is entertaining. It deserves to continue. Hopefully, it will.

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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Doctor Who ducks the Spearhead From Space


Doctor Who - Spearhead From Space begins with our titular character exiled on Earth and in a hospital. At the same time, meteorites are falling, one of which contains an intelligence that can manufacture Autons, which it plans on using to take over the world. UNIT could really use the Doctor's help in dealing with the invasion, if only they knew where he was.

Spearhead From Space, the first serial of season seven, marks several important firsts. This is the first episode featuring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor, the Time Lords having forced the character's regeneration at the conclusion of the previous season. It is the first episode that Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), whom we'd seen before, is featured as a series regular. It introduces Dr. Liz Shaw (Caroline John) as the new companion. Additionally, the episode has a new title sequence, and marks the first time a Doctor Who serial was made in color. It was the first story aired outside of the series' normal Saturday night time slot.

With so much new, Spearhead from Space is as much a story about the Doctor as it is about the adventure the characters are undertaking. The concept of regeneration is a new one for Lethbridge-Stewart, who has a hard time believing this is the same Doctor he has worked with in the past, albeit in a different body. The process of the Doctor switching bodies is still relatively new to the series, and Lethbridge-Stewart serves as a nice vehicle for the audience to access the concept so vital to the mythology.

This serial also sets up the Doctor's next big arc. He is marooned on Earth at the whims of his fellow Time Lords. The Doctor isn't too pleased with the situation, but makes a deal with UNIT to make things more tenable. This is a character out of his element, which is always fun to explore. Pertwee seems to be the perfect actor to execute this particular plot.

It is interesting to me that a being of almost pure thought, who has escaped the bounds of a physical body, is still interested in controlling the rest of the world. Yes, the intelligence contains some powers that help it accomplish things it could not as a normal life form. But it seems so much less efficient to not have any limbs. And why is it so concerned with forcing others to its will? What does it need with Earth? Spearhead from Space is far from the only sci-fi story to ponder these questions, continuing one of the strangest themes in the genre.

Seeing that this is a Special Edition release, the Extras are plenty. There are two audio commentaries, one featuring Courtney and Shaw, and the other with script editor Terrance Dicks and producer Derrick Sherwin, as well as a Production Notes subtitle option. The typical photo gallery and PDF materials are joined by trailers for the serial.

Two featurettes give the fans what they are seeking. Eighteen minutes are spent discussing the challenges faced by converting the series to color. Another 22 minutes go behind the scenes with Pertwee, Dicks, Sherwin, Barry Letts, Robin Squire, and Christine Rawlins.

As usual, the picture and sound has been remastered. Also, as usual, it is far from perfect, but is a huge improvement over what has been available in the past, which is understandable, given the age and quality of film. In fact, this is the only serial shot entirely on film, rather than tape, and thus is the only classic Doctor Who story that even has a chance of a Blu-ray edition at some point. The way Doctor Who is consistently and lovingly restored is a testament to the importance of the series, and makes the extras icing on an already delicious cake.

Doctor Who - Spearhead from Space Special Edition is available now.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Check out my new website, JeromeWetzel.com! Article first published as DVD Review: Doctor Who - Spearhead From Space Special Edition on Blogcritics.

Sweet, sweet Revenge now on DVD

It is said that revenge is a dish best served cold. ABC's Revenge proved the opposite by delivering a steamy hot guilty pleasure drama. Beginning with a murder on a beach, much of the season flashed back and built up to the dastardly deed. With twist after twist, viewers were kept guessing as to what they really saw, and as the series eventually caught up and moved past that point, things only got juicier.

The protagonist of Revenge is Emily Thorne (Emily Van Camp, Brothers & Sisters), whose real name is Amanda Clarke. She has come to the Hamptons to get even with the people who ruined her father David's (James Tupper, Grey's Anatomy) life and reputation, leading to his death behind bars.

But, despite her plan and some help, her mission isn't as easy as she might expect. The matriarch of Emily's target family, Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe, The Last of the Mohicans), who was also David's lover, is not a dumb woman, nor a push over. Emily has met her match in Victoria. The dynamic of these two leading ladies is really what sells Revenge, neither one ever gaining the upper hand for long, and always with a threat of total destruction hanging over them.

Emily's path isn't clear, not being the only one who plays dangerous games among the wealthy residents. The real Emily Thorne (Margarita Levieva) is a bit mentally unhinged. A lad named Tyler (Ashton Holmes) gets mixed up with the Graysons, and people who are friends one day can quickly turn to enemies given the proper motivation. Not to mention, romantic feelings can spring up where least expected and drive people to act in unpredictable ways.

Is Revenge the best show on television? Certainly not. But that doesn't mean it's not worth watching. On a network known for delivery scandalizing drama like Desperate Housewives, GCB, Grey's Anatomy, and the like, Revenge holds its own, and fits beautifully into the network's existing identity. The stories may not be entirely believable, but fans won't care; because they are so thoroughly engrossed in what's coming next, they won't even notice.

The rest of the outstanding cast, who perfectly execute this hyper-real world, and many of whom are no stranger to the genre, includes Gabriel Mann (The Bourne Identity), Henry Czerny (The Tudors), Ashley Madekwe (Bedlam), Nick Wechsler (Roswell), Joshua Bowman (Holby City), Connor Paolo (Gossip Girl), and Christa B. Allen (Cake).

The only real complaint I have about Revenge is the episode titles. Each installment has a single word moniker, like "Grief," "Doubt," and "Suspicion." But these descriptors don't mean a thing in reference to the episode, as almost every title could apply to every single episode. This makes them meaningless and a bit annoying. Should that adjective or emotion have a special connection to that week's story, a la Wilfred, it would make sense, but they do not.

ABC has recently released a five disc set that includes not only all twenty-two episodes of last season's freshman run, but a slew of bonus features, too. There are deleted scenes, bloopers, and two music videos. Creator Mike Kelley and star VanCamp offer an audio commentary of the "Pilot." Featurettes include: "Nolan Ross Exposed," wherein Nolan (Mann) is grilled about his involvement; "Roadmap to Revenge," which discusses the various connections and plot twists in the series; "Haute Hamptons: Femme Fatale Fashion," which examines how the clothes make the characters; and "At Home in "The Hamptons," which has actress Davenport give a tour of the set.

That's enough to keep any fan busy as they anticipate the season two premiere on September 30th. Revenge The Complete First Season is available now.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Check out my new website, JeromeWetzel.com! Article first published as DVD Review: Revenge: The Complete First Season on Blogcritics.

"Desperate Times" for Burn Notice

USA's Burn Notice has had a heck of a summer. Finally dropping a mandatory case-of-the-week in each episode format, the show commits to an arc and sticks with it, allowing much more movement in the story of Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) than the first several seasons combined. This is gratifying, even when the onion, which we thought done, peels yet another layer into the conspiracy.

In "Desperate Times," the CIA finds Nate's (Seth Peterson) killer. Tom Card (John C. McGinley) agrees to let Michael take his team down to Panama to hunt the shooter, but only sends them with one agent as back up. Things go awry, of course, and it isn't long before Michael discovers that Card has set them all up to die. The only thing to do is let Card believe he succeeded, leaving the effort of taking down their latest foe for the next run of episodes, beginning in November.

It seems like the agent sent with Michael and company to Panama is only there so someone can be killed off. He gets a bit of development, which is nice, before biting the big one. But that doesn't mean we care about him all that much. This sort of low stakes game is why Burn Notice still ranks a little lower than other summer shows. However, with the recent loss of Nate, perhaps it is too soon to kill another important character. I just wish it hadn't been set up so obviously.

Other than that complaint, "Desperate Times" is fairly great. McGinley makes a terrific villain, even if viewers are growing weary of the deeper and deeper plots against Michael, wanting him to finally catch a lasting break. Maddie (Sharon Gless) gets to let out some of that raw emotion she does so well talking to Card about Nate, even as we know Card is playing her. And Jesse (Coby Bell) having to run around with no shoes is very amusing.

The action is good, too. Lately, Burn Notice has been splitting up the team, which does lend itself to more story and a larger world. But it's great to see the ensemble working together again, because they really do have an entertaining chemistry. Michael, Jesse, Fi (Gabrielle Anwar), and Sam (Bruce Campbell) have such different personalities, and when separated, sometimes that can be forgotten. Seeing them slip back into their familiar roles is comfortable.

Comfortable is what works for Burn Notice. Yes, we want some change and movement from week to week. However, the show is not going to abandon its roots and alienate those viewers who prefer the older style of predictable storytelling. Balancing this with the superior way things are being handled keeps the show from truly soaring, but it does allow improvement, and it was never bad to begin with. Burn Notice is fun entertainment, especially in the summer. And what's wrong with that?

Will Burn Notice continue the new trend of larger arc this winter? Will Michael stop Card, only to find another man behind him? Will something bad happen to Maddie before she can realize that Michael and his friends are still alive? And will Jesse get some new footwear? All of these questions are on hold for now. But I can't wait to find out!

Burn Notice returns in November to USA.

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

"High Noon" for Suits

USA's Suits ended its summer run on a high note; "High Noon," to be precise. The votes are in, and Daniel Hardman (David Costabile) is the new managing partner at the firm. Jessica (Gina Torres) appears to accept these events, while icily plotting her revenge. Louis (Rick Hoffman), at Hardman's urging, begins goading Harvey (Gabriel Macht), trying to force him into quitting. And Mike (Patrick J. Adams) doesn't deal very well with the death of his grandmother (Rebecca Schull).

The ten episodes of Suits this summer have been amazing, and "High Noon" is no exception. Seeing the game of politics and intrigue the characters play at a very high level is impressive, and while Hardman winning the battle is slightly surprising, what comes after is not expected at all. One might think that Suits would let Hardman stay in charge awhile. But the seeds were planted for a masterful conspiracy, and it takes Harvey, et al. very little time to bring the giant crashing down.

Is this the end of the line for this story? Hardman swears to return, and he probably will. But will that be the arc for the second half of the season, beginning in January, or merely a tease of a future story line, not yet planned or scripted? Costabile is a brilliant actor who did a terrific job in this role. Any chance to see him return would be most welcome, not least of all because it makes the central characters, whom viewers adore, step up their game and prove their worth.

Every hero must have a villain to vanquish. Suits understands this. But Suits, more than most stories, also understands that heroes are seldom always noble, and villains may have justifiable motivation. Harvey does some low down things in his quest for the win, and by the end of "High Noon," viewers may believe Jessica is capable of almost anything.

The odd man out is Louis. He turns his back on Jessica and Harvey, not without just cause. Though we still don't know for sure if he voted for Hardman or Jessica, it doesn't matter. Louis stood by Hardman, and relished the changing of the guard. While Hardman is gone from the firm, Louis must stay, at least for now. Will Harvey and Jessica be able to look past their anger and begin to treat Louis the way he deserves to be treated? Or will their coldness make him the next Hardman, the next great foe? Either scenario would be cool. Personally, I would like to see the writers put Louis in a clear antagonist position, and then make the viewers root for him against Harvey and Jessica. It's certainly possible.

The other major story in "High Noon" is Mike dealing with his grief. It is only with the help of a very patient Rachel (Meghan Markle) that he is sober and clean enough to show up for the funeral. Burying himself in his work, as Harvey allows Mike to do until he crosses a line, is not what Mike needs. Avoidance cannot replace feeling the loss. Rachel understands this, exposing a flaw in Harvey's character, and several for Mike.

Sadly, and a bit predictably, Mike screws things up. Not with Harvey, whom Mike shares some of the best moments of the series with in this episode, really reaching a level of friendship that belies their job titles. But it's Rachel whom Mike wrongs. On the brink of finally getting together, Mike thinks she rejects him and falls into bed with an old flame, setting the couple back quite a ways. In the classic "we were on a break" Friends style, Suits sets up this romantic dance to continue on for much longer. It's a shame, even if year two is a bit early to form any lasting romantic bond.

And what of Donna (Sarah Rafferty)? Hints were dropped at a possible love of Harvey, even if she swears she's not in love with him. I think these two will take much longer to get anywhere, if ever, a possibility shippers would be very disappointed in.

But the thing is, Suits hasn't jumped as much into the romantic arena the way other dramas have, and this is kind of a welcome change. It knows what it is, and how to do it supremely well. Add to that some of the wittiest dialogue on screen, and running jokes about can openers and balls, and it begs the question: Why mess with near perfection?

Suits will return to USA next January.

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

Glee The Complete Third Season now available


  FOX's Glee recently released The Complete Third Season on DVD and Blu-ray. This is the final year of high school for many of the original members of the New Directions, and they would like to go out with a bang. That means winning Nationals, setting themselves up to achieve their dreams, and for at least two students, a walk down the aisle.

Season three begins bumpy. Sugar Motta (Vanessa Lengies) tries to buy her way into the glee club, but given her lack of talent, she is rebuked by the existing members. But she soon finds friends when Mercedes (Amber Riley) and Santana (Naya Rivera), tired of losing the solos to Rachel (Lea Michelle), join forces with Sugar as the Troubletones. Now there are two rival glee clubs at the school, fighting for attention and competition awards.

Who do these girls get to coach their new singing group? Why, it's none other than former director of Vocal Adrenaline, Shelby Corcoran (Idina Menzel)! Shelby's return to Lima comes at a bad time for Quinn (Dianna Agron), who is really struggling with her own purpose. Suddenly, Quinn sees the chance to make Shelby look bad while getting her baby (adopted by the teacher) back. Unfortunately for Quinn, her accomplice in this matter, Puck (Mark Salling), decides a better alternative might just be to seduce Shelby into a relationship.

Toss in a renewed rivalry with the Warblers, led by the duplicitous Sebastian Smythe (Grant Gustin), new students, hockey bullies, the return of a few familiar faces, four winners from The Glee Project, a musical, and a couple of love triangles, and season three turns out to be a heck of a ride for Glee!

Of course, besides the fun and the singing, things do tend to take a more serious, nostalgic bend towards the end of the season. Graduation is looming. Rachel and Kurt (Chris Colfer) try to get into NYADA by impressing the legendary Carmen Tibideaux (Whoopi Goldberg), and both face failure. Finn (Cory Monteith), too, sees his dreams slipping away, and is faced with the reality of his father's secret past. This complicates the plan the three of them have to move to New York City, Finn and Rachel as husband and wife.

And there are also a couple of dark turns. Most memorably, Coach Beiste (Dot Jones) falls in love with an abuser. Glee has a lot of cheeriness in it, but it's hard to see things looking up when one's own husband is beating you. Jones turns in a masterful, award-worthy performance as a woman struggling with self-esteem and pride.

Other highlights of the year include Santana and Brittany (Heather Morris) fully out of the closet and together as a couple, a kinder, gentler, pregnant Sue (Jane Lynch), Burt (Mike O'Malley) saying a touching goodbye to Kurt, Ricky Martin as a Spanish teacher, Will (Matthew Morrison) being honored for his influence on the kids, a Michael Jackson and a Whitney Houston tribute, Helen Mirren providing an inner monologue for Becky Jackson (Lauren Potter), and two elections.

Of course, not everything flows smoothly. Glee, while frequently killing musical numbers, is very uneven in the writing. There will be fantastic episodes, like "Nationals," running close by horrible installments, like "Prom-A-Saurus." Sometimes the students lose their character, or seem to switch which grade level they're in. Parents who act like they've been at every event throughout the series just now show up on screen.

Season four will be a very transitional year for Glee, with a lot of fresh faces filling in the holes in the club, while splitting screen time with the alumni, especially Rachel, as they move into adult life. Will things improve, providing a different, but more stream-lined show? Or will added chaos finally cause the whole train to wreck in spectacular fashion? You'll have to tune in to find out.

In the meantime, besides twenty-two episodes, Glee The Complete Third Season has plenty of extras to keep fans busy. From extended and deleted scenes, to the popular Jukebox, to behind the scenes featurettes such as "Meet the Newbies," "Saying Goodbye," and "Ask Sue: World Domination Blog," this four disc set is filled with gleeful goodness.

Many will wonder if it's worth it to buy the Blu-ray release over the standard DVD. That depends, of course, on how much you care about quality. There are few special effects in Glee, so visually, high definition may seem unnecessary. But concerts look and sound better in an immersive experience, which argues for the Blu-ray. Glee in high def looks wonderful and has a crystal clear 5.1 DTS audio track. There isn't any spitting and popping, with each note landing flawlessly. The rich blacks in the performance scenes are stunning, and each bright light and glittering sequin stand out beautifully. So, yes, I recommend Blu-ray.

Glee The Complete Third Season is available now.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Check out my new website, JeromeWetzel.com! Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Glee The Complete Third Season on Blogcritics.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Romanticising Anger Management

After a great penultimate episode, in which Charlie's (Charlie Sheen) father, Martin (Martin Sheen), came to visit, the only thing certain about the FX Anger Management season finale was that it couldn't possibly be as good. But, as a series should in its finale, the focus was on the relationship between two of the characters, rather than a terrific guest star, making it actually pretty good.

Comparatively, that is. I'm not saying Anger Management is a wonderful show. It is much more watchable and enjoyable that Sheen's last sitcom, but it's hardly breaking any new barriers. The things it has going for it are a funny ensemble, humorous plots, and a fair level of heart. Charlie is a good guy, despite his screw ups, which is why "Charlie Gets Romantic" finds you rooting for someone you may have been booing off screen only a year ago. And, with such low expectations going in, it's nice to be pleasantly surprised, which is probably why I'm still watching.

In "Charlie Gets Romantic," Kate (Selma Blair) flips out when Charlie asks her to go to the movies after sex. Their physical relationship is supposed to be emotion-free, and she doesn't want Charlie screwing that up. Charlie, who realizes he does care about her, gently lets her see what no emotion between them is like, and is on board when Kate agrees to restore some feelings to the proceedings.

Does a friends with benefits situation work? Clearly not, according to Anger Management. If anyone could have this kind of thing and be successful at it, it would be these two characters. As they age, though, and realize just how much they like being around one another, they want something more, even if it's hard to admit it. This is completely understandable. Rather than set up a "will they, won't they?" situation, as most sitcoms do, this show presents a "they will in their own time" scenario, with a gradual progress that will probably take awhile longer.

Should Anger Management get it's back 90 pick up, and there aren't many reasons right now to suspect that they won't, that growth needs to continue. In ten episodes, there are some arcs for the characters. They start in one place, and they go somewhere else, even if it's not that far a journey. In the next 90 episodes, it might be tempting to set up a status quo and remain stagnant. This is not the way to go. Being given this many hours is a gift, and it should be used wisely to tell a complete tale. Hopefully, the team behind Anger Management realizes this.

My only real complaint about "Charlie Gets Romantic" is the lack of work many of the great supporting players got. Michael (Michael Boatman) and Brett (Brett Butler) receive nice moments, and since they were each only in half the episodes, it was good to see that. Jennifer (Shawnee Smith) also appears, hopefully lying the seeds for what could be a true, three-way romantic triangle with Charlie and Kate. But the therapy group (Noureen DeWulf, Michael Arden, Derek Richardson, and Barry Corbin), who deliver some of the best scenes in the series, are given hardly anything to do. They make it work, of course, but I would have liked to have seen more from them.

Anger Management ended up being a surprisingly good, not great, show. I look forward to its return soon. Assuming it gets picked up, which it probably will.

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

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bunheads takes a bow

ABC Family's Bunheads completes its summer run with "A Nutcracker in Paradise." While things were looking up for most of the characters going into the week, this episode ends in disaster. Michelle (Sutton Foster) not only manages to run off Fanny's (Kelly Bishop) beau, but also mace the entire dance company in the middle of a performance of The Nutcracker. Not even a stunt straight out of Dead Poets Society can save her job now!

By the way, are we expected to believe a bunch of teenage girls, especially ones obsessed with dance who have little time for films, are familiar with that movie?

Michelle and Fanny's relationship is the best part of the show. Despite everything that has happened, there is no way that these ladies are done with each other. There might need to be a cooling off period, for sure. But Fanny likes having Michelle around, no matter how grumpy she may act towards the younger woman. And Michelle likes having purpose in the small town, and seems drawn to the dance studio. While she resists settling down, considering returning to performance, this is where she belongs. It won't be easy, but they will make up.

Bunheads does something extremely interesting near the end of "A Nutcracker in Paradise." Hubbell (Alan Ruck) appears to Michelle in a dream, and they talk about her life, and ruminate on if she would have stayed had he not died. Hubbell tells her that this is where she belongs. Michelle resists. It's an inner war that she's been struggling with all season, and while viewers already knew this, it's cool to see it brought to life in such a way. Plus, any return of Ruck is welcome.

Each of the teen dancers featured on Bunheads have come into their own as the season unfolds. Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins) gets over her shyness and insecurity and lands herself a boyfriend. Ginny (Bailey Buntain) breaks out of her own comfort zone with her long-time steady, realizing that she needs to experience life and try dating other boys. And Melanie (Emma Dumont) accepts her friends for who they are, even as they move on with their interests in guys, which she doesn't seem to quite share yet. These are all normal teenage things.

But Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles) has the biggest journey. Frustrated with a terrible home life, she acts out in self-destructive ways. It isn't until Michelle sits her down and helps her get her head on straight that Sasha can return to her friends and the dancing she is so good at. Her life isn't solved now, and her problems won't get any easier. But she's in a good place as the season comes to an end.

It's understandable that Sasha stands up for Michelle in "A Nutcracker in Paradise," given how Michelle directly helps her, but why do the rest of the girls go along with it? Michelle has drifted into their scenes from time to time and solved a few problems. However, Bunheads has not shown her get too involved in the kids' lives, nor demonstrate a real passion for teaching them. Are they loyal to her because kids tend to be loyal to the adults that just happen to be around? Or should there have been more scenes with Michelle earning this kind of response? Or maybe they were all just following Sasha's lead? That is a debatable question, and the only semi-weak point in the episode.

Bunheads is charming, and with the music and dialogue, as well as the colorful townspeople and quirky jokes (like the unnamed 'ringer' in this episode), it really does feel like a somewhat continuation of Gilmore Girls. For this reason, it would be a crying shame to see it go away. A second half of the season has recently been picked up for winter, rumored to be about eight additional episodes. This isn't a terrible, but it's not a great sign, either, and the show probably needs more viewers if it's going to continue long-term. If you know a Gilmore Girls fan that isn't watching it, please let them know about Bunheads! I know it's on ABC Family, not a popular network among women past the age of eighteen, but they could expand the fan base enough to keep it running. It's very enjoyable, and it deserves to go on.

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

Friday, August 24, 2012

Falling Skies still not quite hitting the mark

The second season finale of TNT's Falling Skies, "A More Perfect Union," evoked strong emotion. Striking several important moments, excitement coursed through viewers' bodies, and left them strung out. The ups and downs and twists and turns of the season came to a head in a highly entertaining and explosive way, ending the year on a series of big notes. But it still fell a little short of expectations.

Falling Skies is a popcorn series, to be sure. It's the television equivalent of a summer blockbuster. There are lots of characters doing daring things, with special effects and battles. But there is also a lack of depth to many scenes that should carry such, and sometimes turn arounds and achievements don't feel earned. Breaking into the facility where the big gun was being built was way too easy. Someone should have noticed that.

Take, for example, the 2nd Mass stepping in front of the Charleston army's guns to protect the rebel Skitters. This seems awesome, until one stops and thinks about it. This group has been through a lot, mostly at the hands of the aliens. Tom (Noah Wyle) decides to trust them because his son Ben (Connor Jessup), who has been living and fighting with the rebels, does. This means it is understandable that Tom and his family and closest friends step up to offer protection. But why does the rest of their group? Has Tom really inspired such loyalty? We keep hearing people question his reliability after his time as a captor, and we never see him interact with more than the central core of the survivors. For everyone to support Tom in this move, more needed to be done and shown for this scene to pay off.

Falling Skies does a good job with its leads, selling the relationships in the Mason family, and those of Weaver (Will Patton), Anne (Moon Bloodgood), Pope (Colin Cunningham), Margaret (Sarah Sanguin Carter), and Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel). But practically no one else gets anything, and in a big picture series like this, there has got to be more for the supporting characters. In the showdown with the Fishhead, many of the rebels are captured, but only a handful are shown hanging and tortured, not even including Pope. Why put the blinders on? This is why when Dai (Peter Shinkoda) dies, someone who has been around since the beginning, but is barely seen, it has little impact. Ditto for Red Eye, the alien who should have been a much more central character before killing him off.

In "A More Perfect Union," and slightly before, there is another member of the group introduced. He is a former soldier who acts like a redneck. We learn his back story a bit, and all of the sudden he is deeply involved in the main plot. It comes out of nowhere, and it's so sudden I can't even remember his name when writing this review. But at least that's showing a bit of effort. It's past time to develop more characters like him.

Now, some of these considerations are budgetary, to be sure. TNT is already shelling out major cash for Falling Skies, and probably can't afford too large a cast, and certainly not one that includes a central alien. However, for this type of story to make sense, a larger world must be built, and keeping the number of characters who get any attention small is not the way to do it.

Another positive move Falling Skies makes is introducing the Charleston settlement. Bringing in Arthur Manchester (Terry O'Quinn, Lost) is a great move. It makes Tom question his morality and motivations, and appropriately deals with some real issues that would come up in a post-invasion world. But the constant switching of loyalties, and locking people up and freeing them, is confusing and unwarranted. Rather than pick a position for each character, the writing gets wishy-washy, and suddenly it seems like no one can make up their mind.

Then, before the power struggle in Charleston can be sorted out, Tom and Weaver decide they need to leave. Seriously? Here is a well-supplied haven, and they're going back on the road? At least tell me the civilians are staying behind! Tom has Matt (Maxim Knight) and a baby on the way to think about, and he's just intent on fighting more? The end of "A More Perfect Union" doesn't make sense.

Not to mention, Hal (Drew Roy) is asleep and won't wake up, but rather than being wracked with worry about him, Tom is continuing his other activities. Priorities do shift under circumstances like these, but to not show Tom as the concerned father is a big mistake. Especially when he handles leaving Matt behind from the mission so well earlier.

Of course, then there's the capper, where a new alien shows up and smiles at them. Could this be why the Fishhead was building a gun aimed at the sky? To keep this new guy away? So many questions, and such a cool way to leave things!

The problem with Falling Skies is that it aspires to something great, and has the potential to reach that height, but only succeeds about fifty percent of the time, at best. Part of the problem is a rushed pacing when it doesn't need to be rushed, and a meandering one at other times. Another problem is the way the characters are written, so ill-defined. But overall, it still manages to be a very enjoyable show that I look forward to watching each week. Imagine what it could be if it got its act together!

Falling Skies has been renewed and will return to TNT next year.

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

Pick a side for The Inbetweeners

MTV premiered The Inbetweeners this week. It used to be anything on this network could be written off. The fact that The Inbetweeners is a remake of a British series, a la Skins, would count even further against it. However, surprise surprise, The Inbetweeners is good. Very good.

There are a lot of shows you can compare The Inbetweeners to. Some have said The Wonder Years, but I prefer the more modern references, like calling it a series version of Superbad or the guy (and loser-class) bend on Awkward. I might even see it as an American Pie prequel. All of these are excellent projects, and The Inbetweeners does not quite deserve to be in a league with them. Yet. But it does come a lot closer than one might expect it to.

I cannot speak as to whether it is like the original version or not. Like most Americans, I have not seen the popular foreign show, though I'd like to, so this review takes the episode purely on its own merits.

As the "Pilot" of The Inbetweeners begins, Will (Joey Pollari, Profile of a Killer) moves to town. He has recently transferred from a private school, and doesn't quite fit in with the less-civilized peons in the public educational system. Not that he's snobby about it. The Vice Principal (Brett Gelman, Eagleheart, Go On) thrusts Will into an already existing clique of boys who aren't very popular, but like most young men, talk a big game, think about sex constantly, sneak alcohol, and get into trouble when they aren't kept occupied. It isn't long before they begin to rub off on Will, welcoming him into their group.

Jay (Zack Pearlman, The Virginity Hit) is the polarizing character, the Jonah Hill-type who acts like he has had a lot of sexual conquests. His friends likely don't believe him, and viewers definitely won't, but there is still something charming about him. Everyone knows someone like Jay. We understand that his outsize personality is meant to cover up insecurities, and he is genuinely funny, so we forgive him, even when, as he does in the "Pilot," he exposes his friend's boner in the cafeteria.

Simon (Bubba Lewis, Flags of Our Fathers) is the more romantic type, stuck on one girl, Carly (Alex Frnka, Unanswered Prayers), a close friend since they were young. In the "Pilot," Simon drinks a bit too much and makes a play for her. This ends horribly, and provides the only scene in which the "Pilot" goes too far into gross out territory. Hopefully, this type of sequence will not be repeated.

And then there's Neil (Mark L. Young, Big Love, Sex Drive). He is the least featured in the first episode, so we'll have to wait to find out who he is.

The reason The Inbetweeners works is, like Awkward., it is highly relatable and realistic. These characters are still young enough that they don't have to have it all together. Those teens going through the same things will be able to identify with someone in the cast, while TV viewers who are well past that age may like the show for nostalgia's sake. These boys have not been Hollywood-ized, made unrecognizable from the average teen. Instead, The Inbetweeners lets them be themselves, pimples and all.

Plus, the show is funny. The writing is tight, the dialogue is smart, but not so much so that it takes viewers out of the moment. The setting is perfect, and the pacing is great. A bunch of positive elements all combine to make it a series well worth watching.

Catch The Inbetweeners Mondays at 10:30 p.m. ET on MTV.

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

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Copper shines

Grade: 82%

I am of two minds about BBC America’s first original series, COPPER, which premieres tonight. On one hand, there are tons of great British shows that we don’t get to watch in the States, so it seems a shame that, rather than adding more fresh British programming, of which the station is relatively light on, BBC America is getting into making their own shows. On the other hand, it is a well-made, engrossing period drama that should be highly enjoyable.

COPPER follows Detective Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones, World Without End), a righteous man looking for information on his missing wife and daughter while patrolling the streets of New York City in 1864. Living among the lower class, and friendly with minorities, Corcoran realizes that the upper crust may just be uglier than the filth under their feet. Corcoran follows the path of justice, and while his methods may be brutal, torturing a man not yet proven guilty, or coldly killing thieves in the act, he cares only about the strength of character of the men he encounters.

The contrast between the slums where Corcoran often works and the pristine mansions the city’s millionaires inhabit is stark. This is even more apparent among the prostitutes, whom we see in both settings. For the first part of episode one, it seems like COPPER is destined to be dark and dank. But when Corcoran is summoned to the other world, there is a parallel drawn that is interesting, if not completely unexpected. COPPER will show viewers how both halves live, and what kind of people those lives make.

Now, yes, this may be a bit of class warfare. But all of the rich people aren’t bad. And besides, in these rough economic times, a little class warfare may appeal to many viewers in the States, who are tired of the well-to-do getting away with screwing the little people. As much as things change, they also stay the same, and in this, COPPER comes across as a timely series, still relevant to the modern world.

Some may be shocked by the raw reality of COPPER. The upper echelons of the police force are corrupt and use their position to leverage money from those they are supposed to be protecting. No one thinks anything of cops gunning down a gang of bank robbers, leaving their dead bodies decaying in the street. A child pleasures grownups for money. These are more often the subject of dramatic films, not cable television, at least not from non-premium networks. COPPER delves into this world fully, and doesn’t shy away from how disturbing it can be.

There is also a theme of race relations. Some of the whites in New York, especially Irish immigrants, still a few rungs down the ladder themselves, are terrified that the newly freed slaves with come north and take their jobs. Again, COPPER is drawing a parallel to blue collar workers who worry the same of modern Mexicans. To combat this fear, rather than argue or fight the prejudices, blacks are moving away from those neighborhoods most hostile to them. History will show that it takes another century for things to truly begin to right themselves, and the minority to get a fair shake. But in COPPER’s day and age, fear exerts heavy influence, just as it is today.

One such African American, afraid to stay where he is, is Doctor Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh, Blood Diamond). Last name that hits a little too on the nose aside, Freeman is a CSI genius, doing the type of investigative work on bodies that seems far ahead of his time, but would be right at home in this decade. Freeman can tell the type of weapon used based on the bruise, and examines semen samples. I’m not quite sure if this is historically accurate, if these types of investigations were done then, or if there were any black men educated enough to conduct them in 1864, but it does help keep the cast more balanced, racially. Plus, Matthew makes for a sympathetic character, torn between the need to do his duty, driven by a strong sense of justice like Corcoran is, or giving in to the worries of his wife, Sara (Tessa Thompson, Veronica Mars), who would rather they follow their ilk, not unjustifiably.

The rest of the very talented cast includes Anastasia Griffith (Once Upon a Time, Royal Pains), Kevin Ryan (Laredo), Franka Potente (The Bourne Identity), Kyle Schmid (Being Human), Dylan Taylor (Defying Gravity), Tanya Fisher (The Defenders, Life On Mars), David Keeley (Friends and Heroes), Ron White (not the comedian) and Kiara Glasco. They each bring a high level of talent, immersing themselves and the viewers in the world. Perfectly cast, this is especially impressive in Glasco, given how young the actress is, and how she holds her own among the others.

Visually enjoyable, well written, and intriguing, COPPER creates a world that lives up to the standards of BBC America. Again, I would definitely like to see more shows that were made in Britain make it onto the networks’ schedule, but if they’re going to do their own series, at least it’s as good as COPPER, which fits the expected tone and quality standards of the other things that they air.

Watch COPPER Sundays 10 p.m. ET on BBC America.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Boss is "Louder Than Words"

Grade: 87%

Starz’s BOSS returns for a second season with “Louder Than Words.” What words is this title referencing? Each episode title of season one was a single word. Perhaps this title is supposed to represent something more? Something bigger?

If so, I wouldn’t say that’s exactly accurate. “Louder Than Words” continues the story of Tom Kane (Kelsey Grammer), picking up soon after it left off. While there are some important differences, mostly concerning power vacuums that must be filled, I would not say that this season two begins in a dramatically different way than season one played out. It maintains the same quality and suspense, pleasing the fans who are already addicted to the heady drama.

Or, as many season one titles do, it could refer to a specific moment within the episode that stands out. In this case, the climatic finale when (SPOILER!) someone decides it is time to take action to bring Tom down, shots ringing out at an important event, the groundbreaking ceremony for the O’Hare project. Tom escapes unharmed, but might his wife, Meredith (Connie Nielsen), have been hit?

Who shot at Tom? The obvious answer is Darius (Rotimi Akinosho). After all, Darius is angry that Tom put his own daughter, Darius’s girlfriend, Emma (Hannah Ware), behind bars. Darius is also shown looking at a gun. There is motive, opportunity, and foreshadowing of such an event. Which is probably why it wasn’t him, because this answer is too obvious.

Interestingly, “Louder Than Words” ends with a shot of Mayor Rutledge (Anthony Mockus Sr.) watching events on the news. This could be a very important clue. Earlier in “Louder Than Words,” Meredith made sure that the news was turned on for her father. Might she be trying to take out Tom, and got caught in the crossfire herself? Or Tom figured out the move and circumvented it? It is unlikely Tom is trying to send Rutledge a message, as Rutledge is in no position to do anything, and Tom’s visits to his father-in-law appear to be done with fondness. But Meredith has reason to believe that Rutledge might feel wronged by Tom, so this could be her way of delivering her dad his revenge. Though if it is, she failed.

Another suspect is Alderman Ross (James Vincent Meredith), who has dropped out of public life. After learning that his wife cheated on him, then punching Tom out in public, Ross has fallen from grace. Rather than persevere, he skips council meetings and hides from sight. The one scene Ross gets in “Louder Than Words” is supremely creepy, and shows a man on the edge. He is certainly capable or heinous acts.

There is also motive for Ross, or one of the other council members. Tom is trying to push through a legislative bill that is very divisive. Ross would not want this bill to pass, even if it seems like he cares about nothing. Or another Alderman could be trying to stop the bill, taking matters into their own hands, since the men previously pulling the strings in the chamber all seem to be suddenly gone.

The only certainty about the shooting is that there is a mystery, and one that might take awhile to play out.

Will Tom be shaken by the near miss on his life? It’s hard to say. He is already facing imminent death, so it seems unlikely that being shot at would bother him that much more. He knows that these are his final days, and does what he can to leave a great legacy, pushing pet projects through, rather than being content to wait around and let them play out, as he has in the past. He may only redouble his efforts, lending even more urgency to his mission.

Unfortunately, Tom is running out of time. Dr. Harris (Karen Aldridge) tells him the disease is progressing rapidly. Mona Fredericks (Sanaa Lathan) is assuming Ross’s mantle and gunning for him. Debra (Jennifer Mudge) is still alive and could expose Tom’s attempt to strangle her. Zajac (Jeff Hephner) is getting restless about the lack of support from Tom. Cullen (Francis Guinan) still holds a grudge, as evidenced by his treatment of Zajac. Kitty (Kathleen Robertson), a jaded employee, may agree to conspire with the persistent newsman Sam Miller (Troy Garity), to expose Tom’s dark secrets. Add these threats to the list of likely shooters, and Tom’s enemy list is long, indeed.

However, as Meredith tells Zajac in season one, do not underestimate Tom Kane. The challenges to his position are numerous and frequent, and yet Tom continues to stay on top. As season one ended, it looked certain he would crumble, but he still stands. No matter how many angles they come at him, he weathers it all.

The question is, how long can Tom continue to do so, given his declining health? His hallucinations of Ezra (Martin Donovan) and continuing bumbling speech patterns betray his weakness. For now, Meredith is the only one alive in the inner circle that knows about Tom’s illness, having finally gotten it out of Emma. But it won’t stay buried forever. Whether Tom does himself in, or his foes finally find that chink in his armor, he will come tumbling down. This is not underestimation; this is reality. The draw of BOSS is watching to see just how long it takes for that day to arrive.

BOSS airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.

Political Animals need not be caged

The season finale of USA's limited series event, Political Animals, aired this week. The title of the episode is "Resignation Day." But to whom does this refer? Is it Elaine's (Sigourney Weaver) last day as Secretary of State, having promised President Garcetti (Adrian Pasdar) that she would step down? Or will Douglas (James Wolk) be the one quitting, having leaked sensitive information that will make him untrustworthy, and thus unemployable, in his chosen field? Or perhaps Susan (Carla Gugino) will be forced to leave the paper, having crossed more than one line in the pursuit of a story?

Thankfully, although a second season had yet to be ordered, none of these come to pass, so all of the characters can stay around and relevant. A shocking tragedy resets everyone's priorities, ending several arcs succinctly, and kicking off a couple of new possibilities for the future. Should another go-round be ordered, there is plenty more story to ell, and given the tease at the end, with Elaine smiling at Bud's (CiarĂ¡n Hinds) insistence she run for president herself, the writers already have some ideas mapped out.

Let's back up a second. As Political Animals' freshman run plays out, Elaine considers taking on Garcetti, worried he isn't sticking to his guns the way he should be. But Garcetti comes 'round when Elaine calls him on the carpet, and ends up offering her the Vice President position in his challenge for a second term. However, before she can make the decision about whether to accept, Garcetti is seemingly killed in a plane crash, and sleazy V.P. Fred Collier (Dylan Baker) is put in charge instead, necessitating Elaine's own run, rather than leave a cad like Collier in power.

Had Garcetti survived, and as his body had not been found yet, he still could be alive, Elaine would surely have stood by him. Political Animals has done a good job making politics neither black nor white, and at the end of the day, Garcetti was the man Elaine hoped he would be. Yet, Collier is much more a villain, providing a delicious antagonist for season two, which points to Garcetti most likely being deceased. After all, the more drama a series can muster up, the better, right? Though a last minute reveal of finding Garcetti alive after Elaine and Collier battle it out, while stretching reality to the breaking point, could be even juicier.

Thankfully, Political Animals does not thrive on unnecessary drama, delivering a good story without venturing too far into that television trope of forcing antagonism. Yes, Douglas does cheat on Anne (Brittany Ishibashi) with Susan, but that's the only real misstep I can find in this first batch of episodes. There is upheaval and scandal, to be sure, but it almost always stops before going too far, keeping true to the characters, as they have been established.

One moment from "Resignation Day" really stands out, and crystallizes something this show does very well. Susan tells Douglas that, despite cheating on his fiance and betraying his mother, he is still a good guy. And somehow, as hard as it is to accept on paper, she's right! Not only that, but after writing Bud off as a womanizer who can't keep his mouth shut, Political Animals goes out of its way to prove he also loves his (ex-, for now) wife, and has willingly sacrificed himself for her career. This is the mark of a compelling character, who, likes the others on this show, lives in the fuzzy gray world of reality, rather than being shelved as either hero or villain. Very cool.

Another sweet point in "Resignation Day" is when Elaine tells Susan the truth of the whole power struggle. The friendship between these women is a real highlight of Political Animals, and what keeps the political world from coming across as too slimy. Providing a relationship both hang on tight to amidst the turmoil givens each a strong foundation they can stand on, and provides viewers with ways to root for them. Who needs mean girls when nice works so much better?

I would be remiss if I didn't praise the fantastic Ellen Burstyn, who plays Elaine's mother, Margaret. Whether making her daughter consider what her decisions do to the family, or confronting Anne and T.J. (Sebastian Stan) about their demons without judgment while struggling with her own, she is a powerful force on the series, and one that drives along a number of stories that could stall out without her assistance. She is doing some seriously brilliant work here.

Then there's the scene where Barry (Roger Bart) comes to make up with Elaine, his priorities put in order by what happens to Garcetti. These kind of pathos help the show thrive, and thrive it does. The cast has been signed for multiple seasons. Let's hope Political Animals gets that chance.

First posted on TheTVKing

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Futurama returns to The Matrix

Normally, I like the more emotional episodes of Comedy Central's Futurama better than the comedy-centered ones, though both have their merits. This week's entry, "Near-Death Wish," kind of balanced things out nicely, even if it stretched the believability of the universe a bit. There was some true character exploration, and throw backs to previous episodes, as well as good movie references.

Obviously, the title of the episode is a play off of the movie Death Wish, though instead of a vigilante seeking revenge, Fry (Billy West) just connects with some old relatives who may soon pass away. You see, Fry is desperate for approval from his great-great...-nephew, the Professor (also West), but the Professor isn't that interested in being a good family member. Discovering the Professor's parents are still alive, Fry finds them living in a virtual world, and builds the family connection he has longed for. This also exposes the Professor's past, and allows him to finally make peace with his mom and dad.

"Near-Death Wish" makes the Fry family connections make sense a little more. We know that the Professor is crazy, and now we see him in his early days, before he got locked up in the mental institution. (Yes, now we need a episode to figure out how he got from a 25 year lock up to working for Mom.) And with the personality that the Professor has, unable to relate even to the people who lovingly raised him, it's no wonder he has no strong connection to Fry, despite their shared DNA.

My only beef here is that the Professor is so often portrayed as close to death, himself, and to have his parents show up definitely pushes what can be accepted as reality, even in this cartoon world. The likely explanation is that the Matrix-esque Near-Death Star must be able to keep old people alive. And I wish we had seen the referenced Floyd and Bender (John DiMaggio) sequence a couple of weeks ago, like when the Nibbler plot seeds were planted early.

"Near-Death Star," besides that obvious Star Wars reference, also makes allusions to Star Trek, and goes on an extended tirade about The Matrix itself. But the best references are those to past Futurama episodes. The Near-Death Star was visited by the characters awhile ago, and even has the same robot guard arm. We get to see Fry playing his holophone again. Hermes (Phil LaMarr) and Zoidberg (also West) seem to have become friends, a toss back to earlier this season.

Also, the clout Fry gets after winning the Clippie Award is just plain hilarious, and who can pass up a guest star turn by Estelle Harris?

The gags, references, and a sweet ending on a farm all contribute to make "Near-Death Wish" a memorable Futurama episode. Watch new installments Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

Interview with Lake Bell

You may know Lake Bell from her starring role as Cat Black on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim series, CHILDRENS HOSPITAL. You may also know her from the recently canceled HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA, as a columnist in The Hollywood Reporter writing about cars, or her stint as a model, or from the short film she wrote and directed, WORST ENEMY. In short, she’s a busy woman, with a lot of talent, and varied interests.

Recently, I got to speak with Lake, who directed the season premiere of CHILDRENS HOSPITAL, “The Boy with the Pancakes Tattoo,” as well as tonight’s episode, “Staff Dance.” Here are the highlights of that conversation.

I asked Lake what the biggest difference was between acting and directing. She responded that the main difference is that you’re directing. All kidding aside, she likes the experience of running the ship and working in a new genre, her previous directing experience being drama-centric. It helps, she says, because of the “absurdist mania” that comes from working with her favorite people in the world.

That’s right. Lake loves her co-stars. While that may be no surprise, given the sheer amount of fun that radiates from the program, she did say directing was a serious gig. Often, the air on the set of CHILDRENS HOSPITAL is to joke around and have a good time. But with only two days per episode to shoot, and filming two episodes back to back, someone has to take charge and make sure that they don’t goof around too much. Lake takes that responsibility very seriously, and she said the others couldn’t have been more supportive of her efforts, not giving her any trouble or hazing.

In fact, Lake was recruited to direct CHILDRENS HOSPITAL after the guys in charge, Rob Corddry, David Wain, and Jonathan Stern, saw her short film. WORST ENEMY having earned praise and positive attention at Sundance and elsewhere, they were far from the only ones to take notice. But having Lake on staff as an actor, anyway, they had the unique opportunity to convince her to direct not one, but two episodes. And they didn’t just ask once, making sure that she knew it was a serious offer.

Lake describes her time directing as being “in heaven.” She totally dove into the position, sitting out a number of episodes as an actor (her choice) so that she could prep, execute, and polish the stories in post-production. Tasked with some serious, action-heavy, huge tales to tell, she worked her butt off to make sure she did a good job. If the season premiere is any indication, her hard work has really paid off.

I asked Lake if she would rather concentrate on acting or directing going forward, and she said ideally, she’d like to split her time. She has been so busy lately that she has been unable to accept any new acting jobs. In a perfect world, that won’t be the case forever. For now, though, she is content to go with the flow, and tackle what comes her way.

Her schedule cleared up a little bit for these new challenges because of the cancellation of HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA, another series that she starred concurrently with CHILDRENS HOSPITAL. Lake says she understands that cancellation is not personal, and that television is a business. While she misses the people she worked with, and the HBO show holds a special place in her heart because she met her future husband, artist Scott Campbell, on set, she thinks that things happen for a reason. She tremendously enjoyed the work, but now she’s open to participate in jobs she couldn’t have done otherwise. It’s a wise attitude to take, and one that should serve her well in the business, long-term.

I wanted to know which role Lake would most like to reprise. Given the range of characters Lake has played, from these recent roles, to a guest spot on NEW GIRL last year, to being a series regular on BOSTON LEGAL, to the films she has appeared in, like IT’S COMPLICATED and A GOOD OLD FASHIONED ORGY, there is a wide range of characters to choose from. Lake’s answer was quick and sure: Lucy from NO STRINGS ATTACHED, who she describes as being “bizarrely comfortable” to play. The reason she chooses Lucy is because of Liz Meriweather’s fantastic writing.

The call flew by. Thanks to Lake Bell for taking the time to talk with me. Her second directed episode of CHILDRENS HOSPITAL, “Staff Dance,” airs tonight (August 16th) at midnight.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Major Crimes is just The Closer "Reloaded"

TNT's new drama series, MAJOR CRIMES, picks up right where The Closer left off without missing a beat. Airing immediately after the series finale of The Closer, "Reloaded," the first episode of the new show, follows most of the same characters, including Fritz (Jon Tenney) in a small part, in most of the same settings. It is essentially the same show.


Well, without Kyra Sedgwick's Brenda, of course. She isn't the only main character gone, but she is the one leaving the biggest hole, stepping down in a semi-forced retirement as head of Major Crimes. Gone is her personality, which seemed to fill the halls. Gone are her methods of rough and tumble interrogation. And by the end of "Reloaded," gone, too, is her candy draw, a symbolic cleaning out of the office now occupied by another woman.


Replacing Brenda is Sharon Ryder (Mary McDonnell), who already has a presence in the office, but steps into the larger role. Sharon wants to play things a little closer to the vest, go by the rules more often, and favors the more sensible deal-making strategy over dramatically closing the case. It's an adjustment, to be sure, but it's one that makes sense to modern sensibilities and economic realities. Brenda had outgrown the position, and she wasn't what was needed anymore. Sharon is the perfect replacement, moving things forward, continuing the growth of the Major Crimes division.


But even though Brenda is gone, it is eerie how much stays the same. Virtually the entire staff sticks around, and gets more to do as a result of Brenda's absence. Whereas Brenda ran roughshod over her department, even though she was quite fond of her underlings, Sharon has a more laid back approach that gives each officer more opportunity to step up and carve their own niche. Brenda was the lone burning star during her reign; now each detective has the chance to stand out in their own ways.


Not everyone takes these changes very well. After all, they got used to Brenda, and had become quite fond of her. The same will happen to Sharon in time. But as someone already established as an antagonist, it will take her awhile to win the people over.


Most challenging for Sharon will be Provenza (G. W. Bailey). Strong willed and fiercely loyal, of course he challenges Sharon right off the bat. He blames her for running off someone he cares deeply for, and perhaps he thinks that he can get her to leave, opening up the door for Brenda to return. What Provenza has trouble seeing is that Brenda is never coming back. Once that knowledge sinks in, he will begin to come around.


In "Reloaded," Sharon immediately establishes that she has what it takes to put up with the flack she is getting, and begin to turn the negative opinions of her around in her own, non-aggressive way. At one point, Flynn (Andy Denison) berates his new boss for screwing everything up. Rather than get upset or argue with him, Sharon takes his words and uses them to break the case. Flynn has to be impressed with her, as viewers surely are, to see how composed she can be, and that she doesn't let the personal matters distract her. Sharon understands the situation, and she is determined to work through it.


In an effort to give Sharon a home life, as Brenda's was an important part of the show, MAJOR CRIMES quickly introduces a teenage boy for her to take in. Actually, it's the same teenage boy from the finale of The Closer, Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin), who will be a main character in this series. Given that Sharon already had been established in the universe, it makes sense to bring in someone new for her, rather than try to force a family that simply didn't exist before. Also, using Rusty lends a continuity between the two shows that will be welcome for fans.


McDonnell is no Sedgwick, but that's a good thing. If Sharon were too similar to Brenda, it would invoke comparisons, which would be enough to kill any show following as popular a series as The Closer was. However, MAJOR CRIMES takes a different tact, letting things bloom naturally, the characters blowing off steam and grieving before eventually moving on with their lives, as anyone would in the same situation. It's a worthy follow-up.


Now, that's not to say things are all a bed of roses. There are still a number of issues with MAJOR CRIMES. The biggest is the same disease that afflicted its parent show. MAJOR CRIMES, like The Closer, is largely a formulaic procedural. This means that, while some larger arcs may appear, there will never be that much introduced to rock the boat, episodes will almost always end with a return to status quo, and the majority of screen time is taken up by the case of the week, which will not impact upon any other week's case. These elements automatically knock the score down, lending a shallowness to the show that is unfortunate, especially given how fantastic most of these actors are.


That being said, as far as procedurals go, MAJOR CRIMES, like The Closer, appears to be pretty strong for the genre. It's writing is relatively tight, and the first story was suitably compelling. The guest actor playing the dad of the perp lacked a bit in the believability department, but it's hard to find fault with the rest of the crime, if you're into that sort of show.


In short, MAJOR CRIMES should adequately fill that gap left in the souls of fans by the departure of The Closer. Continuing a successful franchise is a smart move for TNT, and it seems like much care and thought went into making sure it was done right. These efforts show, and will likely maintain plenty of viewers in the coming years.


MAJOR CRIMES airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Grimm bares its "Bad Teeth"

Grade 84%

NBC became the first out of the gate with a fall show last night, brining back GRIMM for a second season. Yes, it’ll be weeks before any other networks throw their hats into the ring, almost a month until the first big wave of premieres, and one has to wonder if this experiment will work. Then again, with an odd show like GRIMM, it’s worth trying something bold.

GRIMM began season one as a police procedural that happened to have supernatural elements tossed in. Boring and sticking to formula, it delivered the kind of fare that clutters the airwaves. Then, late in the season, a remarkable thing happened. It became all about the mythology, some weeks not even having cases, and it tied together early events and characters from the beginning of the season, raising the whole endeavor up a notch. This may doom it to cult status, but it makes the series worth watching.

Season one ended on a cliffhanger, and season two’s first episode, “Bad Teeth,” picks up right where it left off. A little before, in fact, as viewers relive the climatic fight scene between Nick (David Giuntoli) and Kimura (Brian Tee, Crash), only this time from the perspective of Kelly Burkhardt (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Law & Order: Criminal Intent), who is skulking around the fringe. Viewers already know how this showdown ends, with Kelly subduing Kimura and revealing to Nick that she’s his long-thought-dead mother.

This changes the dynamics of the show immediately. Nick digests the information that she’s alive quickly enough, and seems to be glad to have her back, even if he’s a little annoyed she stayed away all these years. Of course, himself keeping secrets from his own loved ones to protect them, Nick can’t be too judgmental. He seems to accept her explanations at face value, and looks to already be counting on her help on a regular basis.

Kelly likely has other ideas. It’s incredibly difficult to trust her. It isn’t just that she hates Nick’s lovable friends, Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) and Rosalee (Bree Turner, promoted to series regular), who happen to be Wesen, or fairy tale-esque creatures. It’s the way that she guards herself and averts her eyes. There is just something sinister about her and the way she carries herself, and she definitely has ulterior motives for showing up now, not just coming for a family reunion. Nick trusts her too much, telling her about the coins and the key, relics that can be very powerful, and she is likely to abscond with something valuable, hurting Nick.

Nick doesn’t need to be hurt anymore. He’s has a very rough go of things, with conspiracies he doesn’t know about yet closing in around him. One involves his girlfriend, Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch) who is in a coma, rapidly losing her memories, a final revenge act by Adalind (Claire Coffee) before she fled. But while Monroe and Rosalee work on behalf of a cure for Juliette, so, too, does Adalind’s mother, Catherine (Jessica Tuck, True Blood), at the behest of Captain Renard (Sasha Roiz).

Why does Renard want to keep Nick around and under his command? The mysteries surrounding Nick’s boss have been varied and confusing. Season one teases his involvement in larger plots, including the “families” we keep hearing about. But we’ve yet to see what motivates him, or what his plans are. It’s nice that they don’t involve hurting Nick, and he hasn’t really done anything against Nick, anyway. But are his intentions benevolent or is he just using Nick? It’s time for a little more revelation on this front.

There are also new characters introduced in the very busy “Bad Teeth.” James Frain (The Cape, True Blood, The Tudors) is up to no good, as only he can be. A Mauvais Dentes creature (Eddie Davenport) is trying to kill Nick. Kimura may be dead before episode’s end, but Nick has no shortage of foes left to face.

Which is why it’s hard to rate “Bad Teeth” as an episode. As much as last spring’s finale only felt like half a story, with no closure of any kind, so, too, does this episode feel very transitional. It ends on another cliffhanger, Nick’s life in mortal peril. Is this the way GRIMM is going to be now? Never finishing a story, just continuing bits and pieces of larger arcs? I won’t necessarily complain too loudly if this is the case, but it would be nice to have a little more movement on the mysteries.

Lastly, there’s Hank (Russell Hornsby), who is losing it mentally. Having seen Monroe as a Wesen, and getting other clues about the supernatural world, Hank thinks he is going insane. Nick doesn’t confirm anything to “protect” his friend. But the time for protection is over. Hank might be able to handle the situation if Nick fills him in. Right now, he’s just on edge, and on the path to do something reckless, screwing up his life. Shooting at a creaking door is not something a stable person does. Nick has to tell him the truth before it’s too late.

At first, it looks like Hank and Juliette are being let in on the secret, but for a series like GRIMM, that would be too many main characters clued in too quickly. These matters must be stretched out to build tension. Juliette is forgetting what she knows, so she’s basically being reset. Which leaves room for Hank to be the newest member of Nick’s gang.

GRIMM is walking a delicate tight rope here. It reached a level of enjoyability late last season that was amazing. But the messy events of the finale and premiere aren’t quite at the level of slightly earlier episodes, even if they contain some fantastic action sequences. The mythology is building, setting itself up for comparison to king of this world, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But while GRIMM is trying to instill humor now, as well as drama, it doesn’t quite live up to that level of quality, with the writing being a little less snappy. This series will either grow into itself and be something great and memorable, like Buffy, or fall apart, like Heroes, and be nothing but shattered dreams.

Which will it be? Tune in Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC to find out.