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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Elementary, dear CBS

Grade: 71%

CBS is known for its crime procedurals. The newest has a twist, and that’s that it’s based on something old, yet still feels current. Called ELEMENTARY, the new show joins British television and Hollywood in the current trend of bringing Sherlock Holmes back to life on screen. This character may be a born-again fad, but each incarnation is different, and, good or bad, ELEMENTARY isn’t really like either of its brethren.

CBS’s incarnation stars Jonny Lee Miller (Eli Stone, Dexter) as the infamous detective. Miller’s Sherlock has recently come off of an obsession with drugs. He now lives in New York City, helping out his old friend on the police force, Captain Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn, Prime Suspect), who did a stint in Scotland Yard, with the difficult cases. Sherlock is slightly insane, but brilliant, able to put together complex puzzles from the smallest clues, and is an excellent judge of character. He may hate himself, but he also knows himself, which is why he is able to shake his drug habit.

Sherlock’s father isn’t so certain about this stability so he hires Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu, Kill Bill, Southland) to stay with Sherlock for six weeks. Watson is a former surgeon who is haunted by the demons of her past and isn’t too pleased with her current career. This sets the stage beautifully for her to stick with Sherlock, since she can actually seem to stand him, and provides a good balance for his maniacal ways.

One’s thoughts when seeing a female Watson immediately jump to romance between the central duo. ELEMENTARY has vowed not to go there, and in keeping with their word, there is no sexual chemistry between the pair in the “Pilot” episode. When Sherlock says sweet words to Watson during their first meeting, they do not feel natural, which is good, because they aren’t. For the rest of the first hour, lots is done to establish their relationship with one another, but there are no longing glances or innuendo. This is a professional arrangement, and Sherlock gives us plenty of reasons to dislike him, which Watson, in living and working with him, likely experiences doubly so.

It’s a little odd that ELEMENTARY chooses to be set in the Big Apple, rather than London. Is this done purely to set itself apart from previous incarnations, or just to appeal to American audiences? Whatever the reason, Sherlock himself has a distinctly British feel, and not just because of the accent, which influences the tone of everything around him. New York-flavor is lacking in the series, which makes the decision to switch cities a little puzzling, since it’s done only half-heartedly.

The worst thing ELEMENTARY has going for it, though, is its home on CBS. Sherlock is known to solve case after case, so it isn’t out of character to place him in a procedural. The issue here is that ELEMENTARY does bend to fit the identity of the network. This mean that, rather than the puzzling enigmas that Sherlock has to sort out, he is being given much more pedestrian murders that can be neatly wrapped up in an hour. It should be a natural fit, making a CBS drama around Sherlock Holmes, but it also waters down the character to a distasteful blandness.

Any flaw in Sherlock cannot be blamed on Miller. He has an edgy insanity that overflows with essence. He is a compelling actor, and has a definite perspective that works on the iconic character. He could easily take his Sherlock to new heights, if he is ever allowed to on this show, which he probably won’t be.

Quinn and Liu are much more flat, and almost have to be in the face of such a strong personality. Liu does the best she can with Watson’s back story, which has been developed a bit more than in most incarnations, really giving some heft as to why she is no longer a surgeon. She just lacks the second banana feeling that makes a good Watson work. It’s almost like the show did too good a job casting Watson, guaranteeing that she will be played more deep and serious than one might expect. And, to be honest, the pairing just isn’t the same when it’s not two guys.

So is ELEMENTARY worth watching? Yes, for now. Miller gives a performance that must be seen. If the stories become repetitive throughout the season, there is plenty of time to tune out later. For now, I just want to see what the main actor’s will and energy can do to a relatively mediocre attempt at the Sherlock Holmes tale. Who knows? If he is allowed a little freedom, it could turn into something magical.

ELEMENTARY premieres September 27th on CBS.

Last Resort a haven for TV

Grade: 98%

For a few years now, networks have searched for the next Lost, a television show popular and unique that will engage audiences in ways big and small. Nothing can ever truly replace Lost, and it’s going to take another groundbreaking, original series to reach those heights again. Recent attempts have fallen far short. In ABC’s new drama, LAST RESORT, we may finally have found something that comes close.

As the “Pilot” begins, Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher, Men of a Certain Age) is in command of the U.S. Navy submarine, Colorado. He receives orders to fire nuclear weapons at Pakistan on a secondary channel that is only supposed to be used if the primary communication system is taken out. Not seeing any problems with Plan A, Chaplin questions the order. The White House immediately relieves him of command and tells the first officer, Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman, Felicity), to obey the directive. When Kendal hesitates, another sub fires on the Colorado, nearly sinking it.

What an auspicious start for a series! There is already mystery, political intrigue, a band of heroes who must bring a crooked government to light, and some very exciting action sequences. These early scenes are done incredibly well, both visually, and in how the actors do their jobs.

The implications of the Colorado being struck are swiftly brought to light. The U.S. government blames Pakistan for striking the submarine and bombs the Middle Eastern country. What would have been the excuse for starting a war if the Colorado had just done what they had been told to do? Why do Americans need to get dragged into another conflict of this nature? Who is really behind the plan? Will Chaplin and crew be able to expose what’s happening to the naive public?

Viewers are treated to some of the going-ons in Washington, even if we don’t see the president. The Colorado has an experimental system on board, and the creator of this technology, Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser, No Ordinary Family), is not about to just sit by and let her work be lost. She immediately runs to her contact, Admiral Arthur Shepard (Bruce Davison, X-Men), to find out what has occurred. Shepard has his own reasons to be concerned, unaware until now that his daughter, Lieutenant Grace Shepard (Daisy Betts, Persons Unknown), is on the Colorado.

Adding this D.C. layer to the show is nice because we actually get to see what is being done outside the isolated world of the Colorado. While the crewmen on the sub are a large focus of the episode, they would not by privy to much that is happening between their leaders, which would make the mystery pretty obtuse. Through Sinclair, viewers can understand who is making a move, and perhaps even find out why.

Not that Sinclair gets many answers. She is shut down quickly, as is anyone else who might expose the government’s actions. Even crewmen’s families, like Kendal’s wife, Christine (Jessy Schram, Falling Skies), have official agents in their homes, watching their every move. Clearly, a lid is being kept on things, which does limit what anyone can do to help the stranded crew.

Thankfully, we live in 2012, so there’s a little invention called the Internet. Chaplin drags his sub to a nearby island. The military tries to bomb them again, and Chaplin shoots a missile at D.C. to show he means business. The missile is allowed to miss the capital once the bombers turn away from the island. But Chaplin isn’t done. He shoots a video laying out what he knows and posts it for all to see. Will anyone believe him? Does his cache of weapons protect him against further strikes, meaning he can do whatever he wants? How much will be allowed to upload online before the government decides taking Chaplin out is worth some collateral damage? And will his video be enough to stop a war, or just incite more violence?

What Chaplin wants to do is take over the island and start a new society, away from the United States politics that have brought them to this point. He fancies himself a founding father, but has a number of challenges to this goal. His crew have friends and family back home they’d like to see again. Locals already inhabit the island, and it is run by a thug named Julian Serrat (Sahr Ngaujah, The Signal). A SEAL team is present among the sub’s crew, and they may or may not have further orders from high command.

Braugher delivers a masterful performance. He is a man on the edge, pushed too far by the people he trusted. He is somewhat loyal to his crew, but he also has selfish motivations, and probably a messiah / dictator complex. The glint in his eyes could be something heroic, standing up for ideals and principals. Or it could just be insanity. This makes him unpredictable and dangerous, sometimes surprising (not necessarily in a good way) his own men.

Speedman is the everyman whom we are going to root for. Even when Chaplin goes off the hook, Kendal seems grounded enough to know what the right thing to do is. He will have to weigh the faith he has in his commanding officer with keeping everyone else below him safe. He balances out the leader, which should make for a tenuous, interesting dynamic.

LAST RESORT has a sprawling cast. Among those not mentioned in this review so far are Daniel Lissing (Crownies) as the leader of the SEALs, Camille De Pazzis (La vie est a nous) as a French NATO worker on the island, Robert Patrick (The Unit) as the sub’s Master Chief, and Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse) as a local bar owner. This makes for quite the large world to play in, and leaves the story a lot of directions to go.

It’s hard to find any fault at all with the first episode of LAST RESORT. It sets up a compelling plot, with lots of moving pieces, visually enticing settings, engrossing characters with some very different personalities that will clash terrifically, and many mysteries to explore. If the rest of the installments do as good a job as the first one in playing out this adventure, it should be the next must-see series.

LAST RESORT premieres Thursday, September 27th on ABC.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Scandal takes all hats off

Grade: 92%

ABC’s SCANDAL is back this week with “White Hats Off.” The episode title is a nod to the frequent reference the characters in the series make to ‘wearing the white hat,’ meaning, acting like a hero. But what does it mean to be a hero? Does one necessarily have to follow the law? What role does justice play in deciding the right thing to do, and does the end justify the means? These are just a few of the questions that SCANDAL explores weekly.

In season one, the overarching story was of Amanda Tanner’s accusations against President Grant (Tony Goldwyn). As season two begins, there are two major plots, which is fine, given the increased number of episodes in which they can play out. Grant still figures in prominently, as he prepares for re-election. His wife, Mellie (Bellamy Young), manages to get pregnant, as she’d hoped, and spin the baby into a way of controlling the campaign and the president’s policies. Grant doesn’t take too kindly to this, striking back in a public fashion, even while maintaining the illusion of a happy marriage.

Mellie is more prominent in “White Hats Off,” which speaks to further sparring between the First Couple. On one hand, it’s great to see just how manipulative and selfish she can be, Bellamy playing the villain nicely. But it also brings out the worst in Grant, turning him into a worthy opponent for his shrewish spouse. This makes for very entertaining television.

On the other hand, though, it’s sad that a couple has to fight so much, and it will certainly make the election hard to win, as they risk imploding at any moment. They should be teaming up to concentrate on defeating Grant’s opponent, and instead, they are engaged in an internal struggle for power. It’s hard to say who will come out on top, but it definitely will not be the American people.

The worst thing about seeing President Grant go down this path is that it tears him away from the great man he can become. When he is with Olivia (Kerry Washington), it is true he is cheating on Mellie, but he is also inspired to be a better leader, to live up to what Olivia believes him to be. This isn’t so with Mellie, who tears him down. He will fail professionally, as well as personally, if he doesn’t cut Mellie off. His campaign could take a hit from a divorce, but by not seeking one, he is risking a bigger meltdown.

While the arrangement is not made one hundred percent clear in “White Hats Off,” it appears that Olivia is back at work on Grant’s campaign. As much as being with her makes him better, it sort of does the opposite for her. If he were single, it probably wouldn’t, but the doubts she has about herself because of her feelings for him and the in appropriateness of it all cloud her judgment in other areas. She has lost a lot of that brazen confidence first glimpsed in season one, and breaking away may be her only shot to return to form.

It can’t be easy for Olivia to find the strength to do the right thing, with everything else going on. Stephen (Henry Ian Cusick) has gone on to find his happiness, which is what she encouraged, but it’s taken him away. Olivia is in the business of helping people, and Stephen is a prime example of what she can accomplish. Unfortunately, by helping Stephen to grow, Olivia cost herself a confidante and close friend. This leaves her more vulnerable to her new, negative shift.

The second major arc this year involves Quinn (Katie Lowes), who we learned last season is not really named Quinn. As “White Hats Off” opens, she is being tried for murder by David Rosen (Joshua Molina). If she can be trusted, and given her position as a main character and Olivia’s faith in her, she probably can be, she is innocent. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of questions about who she is and what happened to her.

Viewers get only a brief glimpse at the Quinn debacle in this premiere, but it is a rich taste. I won’t spoil who is involved for those who haven’t watched it yet, but suffice it to say, there is definitely a lot going on that we still need to know, and Quinn’s inclusion into the group does not come about by happenstance.

One does feel bad for Rosen. He is fighting hard for justice. Finding Quinn guilty might not be justice, but he doesn’t know that, and it’s not like Olivia is going to make it easy for him to lock Quinn up. Rosen just wants to solve a murder and put away the guilty party. And while Quinn may not have killed anyone (or maybe, as unlikely as it seems, the twist is that she did), she is guilty of other things, as is Olivia. Rosen wants to work with them because they can help him to do his job effectively. But listening to this group costs him a little bit of his soul each time, as even if they do right, they often do it while breaking the law.

SCANDAL worked last year because of the intricate, engaging mystery, the juicy plot twists, and the likeable cast of characters. All of these elements continue on par in season two, so fans should be satisfied with its return.

SCANDAL’s second season begins this Thursday on ABC.

What happens in Vegas might want to stay in Vegas

Grade: 71%

Las Vegas, 1960. This is the time and place that CBS’s new drama, VEGAS, is set in. Supposedly based on a true story, the series follows Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid, The Special Relationship), a rancher dissatisfied with what progress is doing to his land and herd, who is tasked by the Mayor (Michael O’Neill, The West Wing), his old army commanding officer, with stepping up as sheriff of the rapidly-growing casino city. It’s the formula for an exciting, historical fiction show that could be quite cool.

Lamb is a familiar character. Much like the central sheriff in this summer’s Longmire, he is gruff, a bit stuck in the past, but intelligent and fair. Quaid lends much gravitas to the show, having such a successful movie career prior to his job. That’s mainly what sets Lamb apart, since it’s not that fresh a take on the staple part. The way he looks into the murder, avoids working with men he doesn’t trust, and keeps a level head when the others scream that the up-to-no-good bikers did it (they didn’t) is the epitome of the classic Western hero.

Lamb has a crew to assist him. His brother, Jack (Jason O’Mara, Terra Nova), doesn’t really have any personality qualities of note in the “Pilot,” but seems loyal and smart enough. Ralph’s son, Dixon (Taylor Handley, Hidden Palms), is an idiot screw up who gets into far too much trouble for his own good. Lamb doesn’t want to give his son the power of the badge, but it’s a better option than letting Dixon run the ranch into the ground, allowing Lamb to keep an eye on him. And apparently, though we don’t see them, Lamb has enough competent employees to keep his ranch running without much guidance from him. Which makes one wonder why Lamb needs to spend so much effort and care on the ranch before he is tapped to become sheriff.

Lamb’s main obstacle in his new career is Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis, No Ordinary Family), a mobster recently arrived in Las Vegas, who plans on making a ton of money by whatever means necessary. Vincent is the stereotypical thug, not opposed to beating the crap out of people, but ready with a slimy smile to make a veiled threat or grease a palm. We see in the “Pilot” that Savino can have compassion as he apologizes to a faithful informant who is unfairly beaten, but it is probably only demonstrated to serve his own needs.

Rounding out the cast is A.D.A. Katherine O’Connell (Carrie-Anne Moss, Chuck). Her boss clashes with Lamb because he’s the type who would rather take bribes from gangsters like Savino than put any effort into dispensing actual justice. O’Connell disagrees, of course, probably without knowing the full extent of the corruption, though she usually bites her tongue to keep her job. She has a romantic interest in Lamb, a widower, so it’s pretty clear what side she will fall on with the inevitable confrontation arises.

The problem with VEGAS is that it brings together a totally predictable group of characters in a very familiar situation. What one may forget when star struck by the stellar cast, or while admiring the terrific sets and costumes, is that there isn’t anything new or original here; it’s the same old stuff that is on other shows in a different package. I admit, the presentation is of a higher quality than in most productions. But that’s just putting a fresh coat of paint on the same old wagon. The axle is still rusty.

Now, if VEGAS would fully embrace the history lesson, even with the dramatic license taken by Hollywood, I could get on board. Even as O’Connell and Lamb sway to the rote dance steps, or as Savino does exactly what we think he’s going to do, it would be interesting because there is a complete story to tell over several years, with growth and twists. It wouldn’t live up to the epics that HBO and AMC put out, but it would be something pretty novel for network television.

Unfortunately, from the “Pilot,” at least, it looks like any greatness will be tampered dull by making Lamb solve a case of the week. This is a CBS staple, a network built on its procedural crime dramas. True,  VEGAS will be in a league of its own in that genre, and should be really cool for people who like this type of series. But for those who don’t want the same story virtually every week, though, signs are not looking good for the long-term prospects of the show.

VEGAS premieres September 25th on CBS.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Modern Family grows a little bigger

Most of the season premiere of ABC's Modern Family, set the day after last spring's finale, centers around everyone worrying what Jay's (Ed O'Neill) reaction will be when he learns that Gloria (Sofia Vergara) is pregnant. She tells several other relations first, worried and upset that her husband won't be happy. While the resolution is easy to see coming from a mile away, O'Neill still plays it so well that you will soon forget the writing isn't original.

Why would a sitcom as brilliant as Modern Family re-use an old plot already found in a number of other sitcoms? The reason viewers can predict that Jay will be thrilled, rebelling against the life of leisure his friends tell him he has to look forward to in retirement, is because the exact same thing has happened in other shows. And yet, there are only so many ways to set up a reaction to such news, and by letting it play out in this particular fashion, "Bringing Up Baby" stays true to the characters that make the series so great.

This is the focus, but there is so much more in the episode. Modern Family really has perfected the ability to deal with authentic emotions in a comedy setting. Not only do we see Jay get near to tears when learning he will be a father again, but we also see Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) grope with the loss they feel at not getting their son. They have inappropriate reactions, of course, but they mostly keep it together for their daughter, Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons), and lean on each other exactly when they should.

Yet, "Bringing Up Baby" is also funny. It isn't a cheapening of the raw moments when Mitchell lets out a bit of anger at learning Gloria's news, but rather, it elicits a laugh. Claire (Julie Bowen) acting manic, but being wrong about Jay, is also amusing, as is Phil (Ty Burrell) once more going after Jay's approval, this time during a surprise fishing trip on his birthday. And Luke (Nolan Gould) purposely setting off Manny (Rico Rodriguez), then smirking at the grenade he blew up, isn't too mean-spirited to be humorous. It's friendly cousin rivalry.

It all wraps up nicely with a sweeping camera shot that stages a several-month time jump. It's the perfect way to get through the summer, which most shows have to deal with when the fall episodes begin, and it feels like a visual hug. What a great way to end the episode, leaving fans feeling good and sated with their finally returned weekly look at the Pritchett-Dunphy family! The throwbacks to earlier lines, including Phil's beard and Mitchell's cat-scratched face, are just the icing on the cake, and what earns this series repeated Emmys.

With a package put together so perfectly, why try to nitpick it apart anymore than that? Wonderful season premiere!

My only small caveat is, while I don't begrudge Stonestreet another Emmy win, why couldn't O'Neill take it this year? Is it because his best moments are more drama than comedy, and these actors are only up for comedy awards? Next year, Emmys, recognize the deserving patriarch.

Modern Family airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

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

Quickie reviews

I don't always have time to write full reviews of everything. Here are some quick thoughts (slightly expanded) that I posted on twitter @JeromeWetzelTV I think I might do posts like this occasionally from now on.

Private Practice - "Aftershock" : I really don't care that Pete (Tim Daly) has left Private Practice other than that it makes Violet (Amy Brennemen) annoying. Sigh. Charlotte (KaDee Strickland) and Cooper (Paul Adelstein) continue to rock. I love Addison (Kate Walsh), but I'm glad they're wrapping her story up. If she breaks up with Jake (Benjamin Bratt) when she does, though, I'll be ticked.

The Big Bang Theory - "The Date Night Variable" : The Big Bang Theory was very good, as usual. I'm glad the relationships are getting movement, especially Shamy, and poor Raj! Glad Stewart (Kevin Sussman) is a series regular now! Nice addition.

South Park - "Sarcastaball" : South Park was good, felt like the ref strike joke was an after thought, but great commentary on our over protection of kids.

The Neighbors - "Pilot" : The Neighbors had goofy charm in a few spots, but overall, was not very good. Like Coneheads, if they never assimilated. What I don't get most about The Neighbors is how the aliens lived in a neighborhood for 10 yrs without being discovered. They're not careful

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Castle weathers the storm

Grade: 86%

CASTLE begins season five much in the same way that season four ended. In fact, the action picks up the morning after last spring’s finale, which is probably why the premiere is titled “After the Storm,” a reference that could apply to the confrontation at the station going down, or the alter ego of the fictional Nikki Heat finally falling into bed with the man behind Derrick Storm.

“After the Storm” begins on a light note, Castle (Nathan Fillion) and Beckett (Stana Katic) almost being caught in bed together by the early return of Martha (Susan Sullivan) and Alexis (Molly C. Quinn). This scene nearly repeats soon after at Beckett’s apartment with Ryan (Seamus Dever). Beckett and Castle have a warm connection that begs to be handled in a fun way, and this episode delivers that.

What can be said about the new couple’s decision to sneak around, rather than let family and friends in on the fact that they finally hooked up? Is it immaturity, as Beckett (not unjustifiably) accuses Castle of? Or is it embarrassment, as they both ask the other? I don’t think it’s either. I think that Castle is sincere when he says he’d like to keep her for himself just a little while longer. Given Beckett’s lack of enthusiasm for public sharing, it’s not so surprising that she agrees.

Letting the leads of a series get together always carries a risk. After the disaster that was Moonlighting, dramas that are about more than sex have been a bit gun-shy in pulling the trigger. However, Chuck and Fringe did it just fine, and Bones hasn’t suffered any negative backlash. Perhaps these success stories are what finally prompted CASTLE, four years in, to try making the move themselves.

The important thing to maintain after getting those characters together is the chemistry. If sex changes the witty banter and tension between them, it can ruin the moment. Unless the relationship develops into something much deeper than before, which can keep things interesting. CASTLE has chosen the former option, allowing Beckett and Castle to trade their barbs as usual, which not only means they will be able to keep their secret from their loved ones for awhile, but also allows CASTLE to not change its formula very much. This is probably wise for now, though eventually, should the show continue more than another year or two (a very likely possibility), there will have to be some shift to here the romantic feelings become more than just playful.

Romantic affection isn’t the only type to be found in “After the Storm.” Esposito (Jon Huertas) and Beckett remain suspended from the force, leaving Ryan to try to work the case of who killed Beckett’s mother on his own. He quickly realizes that’s not going to fly, and recruits Beckett and Castle to help him out. When the three discover that Esposito has been chasing his own leads, they come together, despite lingering tension between Esposito and Ryan.

At first, CASTLE was a two person show about the titular male lead and his professional partner and inspiration, Detective Kate Beckett. As the years have gone on, though, Ryan and Esposito have slowly become more developed as characters. “After the Storm” features both on their own, showing off their cop skills, as well as revealing the deep loyalty they still feel towards Kate. This team mentality is not only inspiring, it will likely be the norm going forward, as it should be.

Gates (Penny Johnson Jerald) may not seem the fuzzy type, but she would like in on some of that love. She doesn’t say so explicitly, but she does get to give a peek at a side of herself we haven’t seen before, praising Beckett for her loyalty to Montgomery, and expressing hope that she may one day be seen in the same light. It’s a touching moment, more than a throw away, and at the time, Gates seems like she may deserve it. True, she’s tough, and refuses to let Beckett and Esposito cut their suspension short (providing an excuse to skip a few months to account for the summer before next week’s episode). But that doesn’t make her a bad guy.

Yep, status quo is not quite restored at the end of “After the Storm.” But it soon will be. It’s kind of a shame because this is the opportune time to shake things up. Beckett and Castle getting together is some movement, but the placement of Beckett’s mom’s case on the back burner once more is disappointing. It will probably be a series-long arc, but knowing that doesn’t make it any better. Ah, well. This is the curse of the procedural.

Overall, CASTLE returns with charm and humor intact, wonderful guest stars like Jack Coleman (Heroes, The Office), Geoff Pierson (Dexter, 24), and Tahmoh Penikett (Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica), and a thrilling, action-packed piece of mystery for it’s newest hour. For a case-of-the-week crime show, that’s about all a fan can ask for.

Please renew the lease on The L.A. Complex

The L.A. Complex, a Canadian series that airs on the CW in the states, finished off its second batch of episodes with "Don't Say Goodbye," the second consecutive hour of the series aired that night. Given its horrible ratings in the U.S., it may be that the network was just trying to burn off the episodes they had left. But "Don't Say Goodbye" ended with little resolution, and hopefully the popularity it has up north will be enough to garner it a third season. And hopefully it will continue to have a home to air on here.

In "Don't Say Goodbye," Kaldrick King (Andra Fuller) finally has peace. Yes, his father (Eugene Clark) is dead, and he has lost his best friend, Rook (William Stewart). But he also gets closure with Tariq (Benjamin Charles Watson) after apologizing, has a loving boyfriend in Christopher (Jarod Jospeh), has just recorded a great album, and is ready to come out of the closet, finally comfortable with who he is. It's been a dynamic, engrossing journey for the rapper, and he comes through the ordeal better and stronger than ever!

But Rook makes a huge mistake in shooting Infinite Jest (Stephan James). Kaldrick is mad at Infinite, but manages to keep his temper, and tells Rook not to go after him. Rook thinks it's the only way he can make up for his betrayal of Kaldrick. As good a place a Kaldrick is in, he will surely get pulled into this murder mess. After all, Kaldrick has enough motive to be a suspect in the killing. It's hard to guess how this will play out, but given the talent oozing off of Fuller, it should be very good.

Nick (Joe Dinicol) suffers his own loss when Sabrina (Georgina Reilly) won't let him follow her to New Orleans, where she has landed a great gig. It's a shame, given how wonderful the chemistry is between the pair, that it has to end. But I guess that's how L.A. works. One has to go where the jobs are, and while Sabrina is traveling to something, if Nick were to leave town, it would damage his career, perhaps irreparably. So Nick will stay, and hopefully his star will continue to rise, as it has been slowly doing.

Sabrina isn't the only one out of the cast should a third season be commissioned. After Dean Pirelli (Louis Ferreira, SGU Stargate Universe) takes Simon (Michael Levison) to the Yukon, Beth (Dayle McLeod) decides to follow so that she can be with her brother. Beth was never in L.A. to be famous, simply serving as a manager to Simon. Simon was the one who was going to be the actor. So there really isn't anything left for her here except Cam (Kristopher Turner), and family trumps boyfriend.

I admit, I'm not really sad to see Simon and Beth go. They were kind of annoying. The only reason it's regrettable that they're leaving is because Cam will be upset, and I like Cam. Why isn't he a main character yet?

Beth, Simon, and Sabrina, the latter of which will be deeply missed, are the latest to leave L.A., but they weren't the first to do so in The L.A. Complex. Alicia (Chelan Simmons), a main character in the short first season, briefly resurfaces by phone to lend her support to Nick in "Don't Say Goodbye." It's nice to know that she's still on tour, and seems to be doing well. But her absence has been felt. Is this brief a scene a reminder of who she is so that she can return to the series next year? That would be wonderful!

Like Alicia, Abby (Cassie Steele) is happy. Her joy stems from getting quickly married in Las Vegas. At the end of "Don't Say Goodbye," Abby, too, is seen leaving L.A., flying to Germany to be with her new husband, Gray (Steve Byers, Alphas). It all happens much too fast. Although they decide against the annulment, this relationship is moving too quickly to survive long. It will flame bright, and then burn out. After all, Abby is far too young to give up her dreams of being an actress and settle down. She would just grow resentful of him, and that's not a recipe for a satisfying marriage. With luck, she will be back in the City of Angels by the start of the third season, should one be ordered.

Neither Connor (Jonathan Patrick Moore) nor Raquel (Jewel Staite) have healed from their various wounds yet. Will they ever? Even when things look up, more things go wrong. Raquel has a great movie trailer finished, but her love interest is arrested for a crime she committed. Connor is trapped in a cult. They just can't catch a break!

It's interesting that the two more experienced characters in the cast, the people who have been in L.A. the longest and worked the most, are so scarred. Is this what Hollywood does to a person? Is there any hope for either of them to find peace? Are Nick, Abby, and the others destined to end up the same way if they stay?

The L.A. Complex is soapy, but in the best possible way. It's a very interesting, entertaining story of young people in a city that it full of glitz and disappointment. It seems realistic enough, and most of the cast is fantastic (especially Staite, Dinicol, and Fuller), which keeps fans engaged week after week. The ending montage in this finale is very memorable. The show would even be worth watching during the regular season, not just the summer, where it might find a few more eyeballs tuning in. Wherever the CW decides to put it, all I care about is that it is brought back. We need more chapters in this story.

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

2 Broke Girls not exactly a hiding a stash

CBS's 2 Broke Girls kicks off year two with "And the Hidden Stash." Caroline's (Beth Behrs) family possessions are up for auction. Her father, Martin (Steven Weber, Wilfred, Wings), insists that she attend the event and buy back her horse riding trophy. Max (Kat Dennings) assumes ulterior motives, convincing Caroline that there might be money inside the base of the cup. But in the end, it is only a message of perseverance that Martin is trying to get across.

The "twist" in "And the Hidden Stash" is seen coming from a mile away. It's one thing to speculate that Martin may have a trick up his sleeve. It's quite another for the girls to buy into it whole-heartedly, even figuring out how much money might fit in there, and getting upset when they're wrong. This is all guess work. There is never any guarantee. It's frustrating that they can't tamper their excitement for something they cooked up in their own heads.

Just as bad is how they openly discuss hidden caches of money in the prison visiting room. Guards are present, listening to their every word! Martin is in jail for stealing money. If an employee hears Martin talking to his daughter about secret stashes, and Max isn't subtle about the conversation, that will get reported. It just defies realism.

2 Broke Girls starts as a charming tale of two down-on-their-luck waitresses who are going to work their way into a cupcake empire. If the story had continued on that path, it would have been a very cool show. Instead, it has devolved into status quo, with the amount of money saved barely going up from week to week, and their station not improving at all. No one expects Max and Caroline to have left the diner behind by the start of season two, but there should be progress, and none is apparent.

It's not that the show isn't funny. The ensemble cast, which includes Matthew Moy, Jonathan Kite, Garrett Morris, and Jennifer Collidge, knows how to deliver a joke. The two leads can be very humorous, and it's not hard to root for them. Their bit bidding against Hamish McDonough (Robert Michael Morris, Running Wilde) is great, as is the rip on their sitcom competition, Zooey Deschanel! But it's this insistence on sticking with the world the way it starts, and the sacrifice of realism for the cheap gag (see the start of this review) that is frustrating. There is so much potential here that is being squandered.

Will it improve? It kind of has to. If it were to maintain what it is now, it would be stale and not worth watching by the middle of this year. Right now, it's risking losing those viewers drawn in by the initial promises. Although the rote scripts might appeal to a larger base, and are mildly entertaining, it hurts the quality in way that it soon would be nearly impossible to recover from. Please fix this show. The crucial ingredients are already present, they just need to be allowed to rise.

2 Broke Girls airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.

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

New Girl no longer new but still funny

FOX's New Girl presented the first two episodes of its sophomore season last night. In the first, "Re-launch," Jess (Zooey Deschanel) loses her job. She spirals into depression, and even though she tries to bounce back by being a Shot Girl for Schmidt's (Max Greenfield) penis cast removal party, it just isn't enough. Which is why, in the second installment, "Katie," she is on the prowl for sex, which she finds easily enough.

New Girl could be tackling the political issue of school budget cuts, something plaguing the country right now, as there are tons of teachers like Jess right now who can't find teaching jobs (this reviewer included). Yet, as a comedy, the circumstances surrounding Jess losing her job are mentioned, and moved past quickly. The writers aren't out to make any political statements, and Schmidt's angry mutter of "Obama" is too much of a bit to be taken seriously. New Girl sticks to what it does well: laughs. It doesn't force anything more, a wise decision, as tackling this large issue would not work well with the show's tone.

This is also why the series can be forgiven for falling in to the TV trope of seeing unemployment as an opportunity to re-invent oneself. Most of us in the lead characters' economic class, battling student loans and high gas prices, would have to be out looking for a job the day after being fired. Jess is allowed to luxuriate in her grief, and yet, because of the execution of the actress and the story, it works.

Poor Jess. She is pretty, to be sure, but she is not a sexual creature. She'd like to be, but she doesn't really know how. Part of the charm of New Girl is that it will take a very special man to find the things that she does a turn on in the bedroom. It's why the premise of a girl living with three men who don't want to jump her bones comes across as realistic instead of phony. They can care about her without wanting to get into her pants all of the time. Jess is an acquired taste, quirky in the extreme. Which makes for a very funny, novel series, especially because there aren't a lot of lead female characters on TV who embrace a lack of wooing power.

Yet, in "Katie," boys are falling in line to get her number. The beautiful looks always trumps until Jess opens her mouth to make it awkward. One suitor, Bearclaw (Josh Gad, Book of Mormon) is weird in his own right, though not in a way that fits Jess. Instead, she ends up with Sam (David Walton, Bent, Perfect Couples), a man who thinks that she is Katie, a girl he has been chatting with online. Even after Jess confesses the truth, he still wants to be with her! That's a good man, right there, able to see Jess's inner character, even after she screws up. Or the sex is (somehow) just that mind blowing.

Of course, Sam won't be around forever. We see Nick's (Jake Johnson) tender side emerge once more as he seeks to cheer Jess up. They may not be ready to be together yet, but it's they'll get there eventually. They both might go through a few other partners on the way, but make no mistake about it; Jess and Nick will hook up.

Schmidt is also feeling a little down. He tries very hard to talk a big game in "Re-launch," throwing his danger-themed party. But, despite the large pool of eligible ladies, he doesn't find a girl to sleep with. In fact, he barely notices there are any gals at the party save one: Cece (Hannah Simone). Schmidt is done with his player days (if they ever really existed), and while he still tries to pretend machismo, his heart is spoken for. This is a character we can all really relate to, and his pain breaks our hearts.

That's not to say that he deserves Cece back, though. Yes, he will make up for dumping her someday. But for now, although Cece is starting to forgive him, he hurt her too deeply for a quick reconnection. So she'll date Robby (Nelson Franklin, Traffic Light) for awhile instead. We haven't seen why Cece would want to be with Robby, who, at first glance, appears ill-suited to her. But I'm sure New Girl will get to that. Or just make the character a one-time guest star.

In these two episodes, besides the excellent shipper stuff, New Girl also includes a lot of humorous side plots. Some really work, like Winston (Lamorne Morris) getting weird with fruity drinks and, strangely enough, but only because of the ending, Nick talking to a homeless man (Justified's Raymond J. Barry) he believes to be a future version of himself. Others, like Parker Posey (Louie, A Mighty Wind) as a sad, washed-up Shot Girl, don't. But overall, the show returns strong, mixing the humor and heart that it captures so expertly.

New Girl airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET.

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Treme knocks and rocks

96%

HBO’s TREME returns this week, more than a year after the last season finale, taking us back to the music district of New Orleans, this time beginning twenty-five months after the flood. It’s a city that is starting to look rebuilt, but still has a long way to go. Some of its residents continue to live in FEMA trailers that are making them sick, while greedy contractors restore only the fronts of homes. The police clash with musicians, not allowing them to play for a funeral.

TREME is about a lot and nothing, all at the same time. Most episodes, including the season three premiere, “Knock With Me – Rock With Me,” don’t have a ton of plot. A few things will happen, but most don’t matter all that much on a large scale. On the other hand, it beautifully paints vivid pictures of specific individuals, and through them, we get a larger impression of the community. It’s case-study history set near the present time, and is done extremely well. Which is why it doesn’t matter if not a lot happens; we keep tuning back in to it.

Let’s start with a positive. Chief Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) has his groove back thanks to his son, Delmond’s (Rob Brown), new album. It’s a completely new style of melody that clearly comes from an area steeped in musical history. It isn’t universally adored, but it gets some praise from those who understand what an innovation it is. Lambreaux doesn’t really care about any of that. He just loves hearing his people’s songs on the radio. He is full of a happiness we don’t often see in him, and that’s heartening after two years of suffering. In this case, the individual is more important than the masses. What TREME fan cares if the record does well or not after seeing Lambreaux brag to his co-workers?

Davis (Steve Zahn) is also in a good place. He’s making things happen, starting concerts, recruiting legends, and he gets to play whatever he wants on the radio. He may not have as much time as he’d like for girlfriend Annie (Lucia Micarelli), but she seems to understand, busy with her own debuts. Are they the new power couple, that will become infamous in their city? Or will the pressures of being pulled in so many different directions split them up? The latter is what we’d expect, but in this first episode, at least, it seems the former is more likely. They are the faces and voices of new New Orleans.

These tales of promise are needed, considering the other, troubling things going on around them. Not everyone has bounced back as solidly as these people have. The world at large seems to have forgotten about New Orleans. This is made crystal clear when Davis leads a tour of great music sites, almost none of which actually exist anymore. Even a park has its gates locked, unable to be fixed up twenty-five months after the destruction. No one is in there working on it. It’s been given up on, like so many other places and people.

This kind of treatment of New Orleans is why some of its residents have moved on. Janette (Kim Dickens) sells her home down south, fully committing to her life in New York. She is doing very well in the Big Apple, so it seems like a logical decision to make. But as she falls into bed with Jacques (Ntare Fuma Mbaho Mwine) and happily reunites with Davis, one begins to wonder just how weak the siren call of her hometown has actually gotten. She has a good life elsewhere. But there’s no place like home.

Sometimes home has changed, though, and one can never go back to the way things were. The police certainly have something to say about that, arresting a couple of horn players for trying to honor their fallen comrade with a traditional street memorial. This is something that would have been unthinkable a short time ago, especially in the Treme district. They have all the power, and there’s little the musicians can do besides shame them.

Yet, shame can be a powerful motivator, especially when public favor turns against the cops, and it isn’t long before this particular tradition is restored.

Batiste (Wendell Pierce) would once have been a part of the protest. Instead, he holds his tongue, but not his finger, which leads to a totally wasted (for his reputation) arrest. After the smoke clears on that, viewers are left with a different Batiste than we’re used to seeing. He has matured. He has other considerations besides his pride. And as much as it might upset him that he is not quite what he wants to be, or not recognized for his accomplishments, he also understands the wisdom in keeping his mouth shut.

Is this growth for him, or, once again, a microcosm of the larger landscape, with residents returning to their lives, not able to keep fighting if they want to have a relatively peaceful existence?

There are a lot of characters in TREME, and this episode manages to check in with just about all of them. Many of the ones I haven’t mentioned are no less important than the ones I have. Yet, like the series, it’s daunting to try to tell the whole story, so I’ll let representatives stand for everyone else. Suffice it to say, the show is still in top form, and as compelling as ever.

TREME returns to HBO this Sunday.

Farhampton not far off for How I Met Your Mother

How I Met Your Mother began its eighth season premiere on CBS last night with "Farhampton." Much of the action was set in Farhampton, the place where Ted (Josh Radnor) will finally meet the titular mother. In fact, "Farhampton" brings viewers right up to the point where Ted is about to encounter her, and then stops just short of that fateful moment.

The creators have said before that meeting the mother may not be the end of the show. But the last few seasons have started to tease this moment, the day of Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Barney's (Neil Patrick Harris) wedding. It certainly feels like the end, now that so much time has been spent building towards it. The creators are keeping the show's biggest reveal so secret, they won't even admit whether the legs we saw belong to an already-cast actress or a stand-in. It's simultaneously nice to know that we're getting closer to the big day, but frustrating that a timeline has not been firmly established.

When will this day actually happen? November sweeps? February sweeps? May sweeps (if the series is renewed for a ninth year)? All I can say is, it will almost surely be during one of those sweeps periods. And it will probably happen very quickly, with little build up in the prior episodes, so as to surprise the fans as much as can be, given the flash forwards.

Before Barney and Robin get married, though, they first have to lose their current significant others. The tipping point for Barney's beau comes in "Farhampton" when Quinn (Becki Newton) learns that he has neglected to mention that he used to date Robin. This is a betrayal of her trust, and while Barney manages to prevent her from leaving him on the spot, it definitely seems like their nearly perfect bond has been broken. It's unfortunate, considering the awesome chemistry Newton and Harris have, but this probably is a big part of what will lead to their impending dissolution.

Robin, like Barney, is very happy with someone else. In her case, he's little more than arm candy (Michael Trucco, Battlestar Galactica, Fairly Legal), which could be why it won't work in the long-term. But before she can even get tired of the new guy, Barney drops a bombshell when he gives Robin the key to a storage space where he has stored all of their memories. It hits Robin hard, and while she thought that she was over Barney, it's clear that she really isn't. The fact that Barney has this space at all proves he feels the same way. Thus, the seeds are planted for a sweet reconciliation.

Meanwhile, Ted and Victoria's (Ashley Williams) plan to run away together hits a snag when they find it difficult to leave a note for Klaus (Thomas Lennon, Night at the Museum, Reno 911!). If it's this much trouble, is it even worth it to leave a note? And what is it with people sneaking off and just leaving a piece of paper? I know this is a sitcom, but it's gotten to be a ridiculous pattern. Please tell me that real people don't really do this? Surely, most weddings actually happen, and even those that don't usually get more than a quick scribble, right? A face to face conversation is the minimum owed to the jilted party.

To make matters even more unbelievable, Klaus, too, writes a note and flees. He tells Ted that it is because Victoria is almost perfect for him, but not quite, and that everyone meets that person that they are meant to be with eventually. This makes for a great story, but it's simply not true. There will be issues in every relationship, and plenty of people never do find the exact right person. I hate to bring a dose of cynical reality into the mix, but this just isn't how it works.

That's the problem with How I Met Your Mother. At times, it ventures too far into cartoon territory, leaving the real world behind. This is acceptable for some series, but in a show that seems to be set in the actual world, it makes some elements ring a bit hollow. That was fine when the series was still very funny, but it's not anymore. I like the growth into deeper, dramatic territory, as it has more fully fleshed out the characters, but the world around them didn't shift in tandem, which is why this is only a good show nowadays, not a great one as it once was.

And then there's Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel), who are barely necessary in this particular episode, but hang around the entire time anyway. The water haze special effect is kind of lame, and I'd rather see them sit out most of a week than be wasted in this manner.


Recent episodes of How I Met Your Mother have gotten so much better than the middle period of the series. In a perfect world, it will nail the elusive perfectly balanced dramedy tone before the end. Even in an imperfect reality, though, it has a shot at doing so. Watch How I Met Your Mother Mondays at 8 p.m. ET.

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Modern Family third outing on Blu-ray

ABC's Modern Family is one of the most lauded sitcoms on television. Awards are showered on them, and the adults win praises like Emmys. There is a reason for this. It's a very funny take on a family show, with the twist that said family has been updated for the current era. Three generations don't live under the same roof, but they do interact frequently, and the outcomes of those interactions are often hilarious.

The Complete Third Season is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. It is a great year, beginning with a trip to a ranch for the entire clan, and ending with a dash to Mexico for a few of them. Important life events occur. Haley (Sarah Hyland) tries to get into college. Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) pursue the adoption of a second child. Manny (Rico Rodriguez) and Gloria (Sofia Vergara) finally finish their collection of one hundred lucky pennies.

But Modern Family isn't defined by such large arcs. It exists in the touching moments. Whether Jay (Ed O'Neill) is grudgingly granting the approval Phil (Ty Burrell) so desperately seeks, or Jay is having a moment with granddaughter Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons), or Jay is secretly sabotaging Manny and Gloria's penny project so that they can keep the tradition that makes them so happy going... I guess what I'm saying is, Jay is a fantastic character, wonderfully playing the grump patriarch who cares very deeply about those around him.

It isn't just Jay that gets it right. Hyland and Ariel Winter, who plays Alex, have terrific chemistry as sisters who bicker, but still love each other. Claire (Julie Bowen) is a very strong character when she is around her brother, Mitchell, and the two turn back into children. Phil and son Luke (Nolan Gould) have bonding moments that are pure gold, sharing lots of interests. It's these details, the perfectly illustrated relationships, as well as the incredibly strong, without exception, cast that makes Modern Family the gem it truly is.

Season three features a number of memorable installments. "Door to Door" finds Claire beginning her petition for a new stop sign. In "Treehouse," Cam believes he has made a woman (Leslie Mann) fall in love with him. "After the Fire" mixes up who the various family members spend time with, providing for some new, interesting combinations. "Punkin Chunkin" dredges up the past, and Cam's the amount of truth in Cam's tales is brought into question. The family tries to throw together an impromptu holiday celebration in "Express Christmas." "Aunt Mommy" verges on disturbing when Claire considers being a surrogate for Jay and Mitchell. "Virgin Territory" exposes a number of secrets, and Luke and Manny feud with Lily as only kids can. in "Disneyland," the clan visits the famous theme park. "Tableau Vivant" features a hilarious family portrait, and Phil tries to fire Mitchell. In "Baby on Board," Haley and Gloria both face big, new challenges.

Thankfully, Modern Family The Complete Third Season has plenty of special features. There are deleted and alternate scenes, of course, and a gag reel. Featurettes cover the trips to Wyoming and Disneyland. Ed O'Neill getting his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is covered. Ty Burrell allows the camera to follow him around the set. There are also extras about the Christmas episode, learning to drive, and the adventures of the kids on the series.

Do you have to buy a sitcom like Modern Family on Blu-ray? Well, no. It's not like there are big special effects or anything. But it is my preference to watch even a series like this in the best possible quality picture and sound as to be as fully immersed in the experience as possible. There really isn't any better argument than that for checking out Blu-ray, rather than plain DVD.

As a fan of the series, this is a great set, delivering every thing I would want from it.Modern Family The Complete Third Series is available now.

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

Monday, September 24, 2012

Parks and Recreation goes to Washington

Grade: 86%

NBC’s PARKS AND RECREATION picks up its fifth season months later with “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington.” Ben (Adam Scott) has been working in Washington D.C. with April (Aubrey Plaza) as his assistant. Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Andy (Chris Pratt) go for a visit. April and Andy’s reunion is so intense it should not be shown on camera. But Leslie finds the city she dreamed about less than satisfactory when faced with real politics and the realization that Pawnee, Indiana (one of several Pawness in the country), the place she has poured her heart and soul into, just doesn’t register to these people.

It’s disheartening to see Leslie so upset. She can be a bit cartoonish, to be sure, so it’s kind of interesting to see how such a person deals with reality. Not well, it turns out. Leslie is a very strong person, but in this unfamiliar landscape, missing Ben, who barely has time for her visit, she’s a bit more emotionally vulnerable than normal. Which could by why she snaps at several senators (Barbara Boxer, Olympia Snowe, and John McCain, playing themselves).

What will it take to restore Leslie’s spirit? Well, that’s already well on its way. She may not be able to affect Washington, but there’s still plenty she can do back home in Pawnee, and that’s what matters to her. She finds purpose again.

But there will still be a lingering sadness until Ben gets his tushy back to her, which has to happen sooner, rather than later. The only thing that remains to be seen is how it happens.

Now that Leslie is no longer in the Park Department, actual responsibilities fall to Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman). Chris (Rob Lowe) tasks him with continuing Leslie’s annual thank you barbeque for the staff. Ron sees this as an opportunity to teach the folks what a real barbeque is supposed to be about (the meat, hilariously named Tom), and ends up ruining the entire event. Though, later, with Chris scolding him as only Chris can for the disappointing outcome, Ron makes it up to his team.

One wonders how the Parks Department ran before Leslie arrived on the scene. Ron clearly has his figurehead position in the town, but with the unofficial leader who got things done having moved on, Ron has to step up and actually be in charge. This is not his comfort zone, as he doesn’t like dealing with people. It takes Chris to make Ron realize that the barbeque has a purpose, and isn’t just a frivolous afternoon. Ron can be a softie, but it’s not his default position. There will be a big adjustment here.

It is odd that Leslie and April have not been replaced yet, or that the Parks Department hasn’t fallen apart completely. Arguably the only two employees who do much, what’s going on now that they’re absent? In this episode, “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington,” that is glossed over. Surely it will be a major plot point in future installments, though.

It looks like PARKS AND RECREATION is finally wrapping up the Anne (Rashida Jones) / Tom (Aziz Ansari) romance this week, thankfully. While both deserve to find love, it just doesn’t feel right to see them together. They fake it throughout the half hour, because if they don’t, Tom loses $1000 to Donna (Retta). But it is only an act. Now that that’s over with, it’s time for them to both to move on and find someone more appropriate. Is the casting call out yet? If not, get on it please!

Overall, “Ms. Knope Goes to Washington” is a fun, solid entry, but a tad disappointing as a season premiere. It puts events back to normal, but it fails to make any serious movement on the lingering questions (Will Ben and Leslie stay together? What is the new level of achievement in the Park Department?). A few famous faces doesn’t replace these fundamental issues. I’ve come to expect a bit more from the series, but if it hadn’t been a premiere, I probably would be relatively satisfied, so it feels as little unfair to complain much.

PARKS AND RECREATION returns this Thursday to NBC.

Absolutely Fabulous completes collection again

For those who bought the Absolutely Fabulous: Absolutely Everything DVD set last year, you might have been disappointed to learn that, while the descriptor was true at the time, there have since been more entries into the series, so you no longer have Absolutely Everything. With the recent release of the single disc DVD Absolutely Fabulous 20th Anniversary Specials, there is now an opportunity to correct that.

Absolutely Fabulous 20th Anniversary Specials is exactly what the title suggests. This DVD contains December's "Identity," January's "Job," and July's "Olympics." That's right, all three of the new episodes made this past year. Also present is "Ab Fab Does Sport Relief," a non-official episode presented last March. The sole special feature is "Behind the Scenes at Sport Relief."

Edina (Jennifer Saunders), Patsy (Joanna Lumley), and Saffron (Julia Sawalha) were first introduced in 1992. After five series and several specials, it appeared that their story might have been done. But after a seven year absence, it was time to bring them back out again.

"Identity" begins with Edina picking Saffy up from a two year stint in prison, an accidental circumstance that finally earns Saffy a bit of Patsy's respect. Life behind bars has not been kind, and Edina soon discovers that bringing Saffy home means getting involved in drug deals and deep debt (not Saffy's). Saffy's crazy friend Sarah (Naoko Mori), who may or may not have gotten better, in terms of mental health, also comes to visit, complicating matters. It's up to Edina and Patsy to get Saffy (and themselves) out of her mess, which they do with the style and humor fans have come to expect. Despite it's Christmas air-time, the holiday is absent from this special.

"Job" finds Saffy accusing Edina of not having done a hard day's work in a very long time, despite her PR job. She's not entirely wrong, as the episode is quick to point out. Edina and Patsy decide the solution to that is to impress Saffy with arranging a singing performance of her favorite actress, Jeanne Durand, at Royal Albert Hall. If only Durand could actually sing... Luckily, Bubble (Jane Horrocks) is nearby. Packed with celebrity cameos, "Job" may the least engaging, but the more ambitious, of the trio of new adventures.

Finally, "Olympics" sees London hosting the 2012 sporting event. Edina decides she should be hospitable, opening her doors to a Hollywood star, Michael Douglas, to come visit and attend the games. That might go OK, if Edina and her family, Saffy, Bubble, and Mother (June Whitfield) weren't still occupying the premises. And if other guests didn't arrive uninvited. And if Michael Douglas bothered to show up himself. And if Edina knew when the Olympics actually were.

There are a few nice surprises for long time fans of the show, but mostly the Absolutely Fabulous 20th Anniversary Specials just continue the zany, hilarious story of a bunch of kooky, beloved characters who don't know how to age gracefully. Are they as good as the original runs? Well, I'll leave that up for viewers to decide, as critics have been divided. But they are extremely entertaining half hours, and it's great to see the AbFab crew back in action!

Absolutely Fabulous doesn't seem as edgy as it once did. It sticks to the tone and heart it has always had, which is a bit more acceptable in today's society. But the nostalgia factor is high, especially as many of the supporting characters pop in for another appearance alongside the leads. It's a heartwarming revisit to a familiar world, and it does so while maintaining just about everything that made it so popular in the first place.

Their next stop? Theaters everywhere, as a feature film is in development. But until that time, go ahead and pick up the Absolutely Fabulous 20th Anniversary Specials if you'd like to complete your collection.

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

Awkward. puts the right shoe on the wrong foot

MTV's Awkward. completes its sophomore season with two important decisions for Jenna (Ashley Rickards) in "The Other Shoe." The first, which guy she should be with, is one that is sure to be debated by fans and revisited by the writers in later seasons. The second, whether she should go to Europe, or stay home with that guy that she picked, has a much more clear cut answer. Despite how romantic it might be to stay, she should definitely go.

Alas, Jenna is a teenage girl completely smitten, so of course she chooses the boy over the trip. It is an understandable choice for a girl in her position, even though those with age and wisdom will deeply regret her missing such an amazing opportunity. At this point in Jenna's life, that love is more important.

It's not like Matty (Beau Mirchoff) gives her much reason to go. Yes, he does tell her that she should take the trip, and says he is supportive. But what I think that Jenna is looking for to be able to comfortably leave is a declaration of strong feelings about being missed. That would be out of character for Matty, and when he doesn't exhibit such a display, one can see Jenna's doubt begin to creep in about the state of their pairing if she were to leave for six weeks. This likely influences her decision.

The brilliance of Awkward. is in the development of the characters, both from the writing and the acting. This whole situation is presented so clearly and realistically. Jenna and Matty act like teenagers. That may seem a simple formula to make a series work, but looking across the wide spectrum of teens represented on TV, it quickly becomes apparent that few shows truly "get" this age group of humans, so unique in their motivations and feelings. Series creater Lauren Iungerich is the terrific exception.

Look at where Jenna is in "The Other Shoe." At the beginning of the series, she is a shy dork who really wants to be noticed. Now, two seasons later, she has grown so darn much. Having the guy of her dreams, and being presented with a free trip to Europe, well, this is the kind of conundrum that most only dream of. Many people would happily take one or the other. To have the choice of both at once, talk about First World Problems! And good for Jenna, who is a good person who deserves happiness.

Interestingly, the Big Secret of season two (who comments on Jenna's blog) is resolved with much less weight than it's counterpart from season (the letter). While Clark (Joseph Haro) has been around for awhile, he's not been a big, noticeable player. Hopefully, he will be more so, going forward, as another friend for Jenna to lean on.

The reveal that Ricky Schwartz (Matthew Fahey) is making out with Clark in the closet is arguably a bigger twist then the blog commenter. At first, it goes against what we know about Ricky, given his ill treatment of the many ladies he has supposedly been with. But there are a couple of easily explainable reasons he might be in that (wonderfully literal and figurative at the same time) closet. One, touched on in the episode, is that he is just such a horndog that he will make out with anyone. Or, perhaps he bounces between girls because he just isn't finding what he wants, and Clark can help him with that. Either possibility is intriguing, and hopefully his character will be fleshed out a bit more next year, too.

What sucks about the Ricky thing is that Sadie (Molly Tarlov) does not need any more scarring. True, she is not a nice person, so it's hard to root for her. But finding out a guy she genuinely likes bats for the other team, or is at least open to it, is going to hurt her deeply, which will only make her more mean. Like most bullies, Sadie's anger comes from a place of pain. Season two hasn't been as sympathetic to her as the first year, but I still want to see her grow into a decent person by the end of Awkward. This kind of thing is a major step back on that journey. Although, without adversity, the prize wouldn't be earned.

At first, it's very hard to believe that Jake (Brett Davern) and Tamara (Jillian Rose Reed) find each other in "The Other Shoe." Their pairing is spoken of as a possibility earlier, and then quickly dismissed. But the natural way that it unfolds, and the emotional state of both characters, makes it feel right. For now. I don't see it lasting, but they could definitely be good for each other in the short term, as they are sweethearts who have been burned by the less considerate. Yay for them!

Ming (Jessica Lu) is often shoved to the background, but her character has steadily gained a little more traction in season two. Having her moment with crush Fred Wu (Kelly Sry) at the party acknowledges that she is part of core cast, and hopefully there will be even more for her next season.

Lastly, the scene where Valerie (Desi Lydic) gathers Jenna, Kevin (Mike Faiola), and Lacey (Nikki Deloach) in her office is priceless! Valerie seems to be mostly present as comic relief, but there should be no complaint about that when she is used to such beautiful effect. It's a small bit of the episode, but a memorable one, thanks in no small part to Lydic's formidable comedy chops. She has taken a character who could easily slip into an annoying superfluous part of Awkward. and made her a frequent delight and valuable member of the ensemble. Bravo!

Awkward. has been renewed for a third season and will return next year to MTV.

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

The "Secrets" come out on Wilfred

The season finale of FX's Wilfred has many big events. Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) and Drew (Chris Klein) get married. Ryan (Elijah Wood) is accused of being a mole within his former company, and selling trade secrets. Amanda (Allison Mack) is exposed as being completely insane. And Wilfred (Jason Gann) finds himself in a drawing that Ryan made as a child.

The last is the secret with the biggest impact, at least as big a finale as last year's disappearing basement. The implications of such a find, a drawing Ryan doesn't even remember making, but finds proof that he did, as well as the age of it, are enormous. Was there a Wilfred before this Wilfred? Is Wilfred an imaginary friend of Ryan's from childhood that has re-emerged and is projected onto the neighbor's dog? Or is Ryan completely insane?

Wilfred has always danced around the idea of insanity, without fully committing to it. Ryan's mother (Mary Steenburgen) is most definitely mentally unstable, as we've seen during visits to her hospital. Ryan hallucinates, too, as viewers witnessed in season's two "preview" episode. Does "Secrets" reveal once and for all that Ryan is on the same path that his mother took? Is there no hope for him?

Amanda appears a way out for Ryan. Someone who can make him happy, and maybe even negate the need for the man in a dog suit that Ryan sees as Wilfred. But when we learn she is off her rocker, there's kind of an "Oh, right" about it, seeing how Ryan could be drawn to someone like him, albeit a bit more of a criminal. Plus, if one stops and thinks, the signs about her mental state were present right from her very first appearance.

It's not like the others around Ryan are perfect. Jenna admits to using him, knowing of his feelings for her, but stringing him along to help her out. Kristen (Dorian Brown) shoves her child off on James (Eugene Byrd), the guy that comes to accuse Ryan of embezzling. These are not the actions of the best people. Perhaps if Ryan could break away from this group, he might stand a better chance of healing.

Jenna was always a possible way for Ryan to lead a "normal" life, but "Secrets" burns that bridge, or at least soaks it in kerosene, when she marries Drew. Now she is no longer an option for Ryan. Would she have even accepted the real Ryan, anyway, or been able to help him? Who knows, but it's quite surprising that the writers take the character out of play as a love interest. At least for now.

How interesting would an arc be where Ryan spends several months living with his mother in the hospital? Not only would we get more of Steenburgen, always a treat, but progress could be made on Ryan's condition, and there would be invaluable insights into his psyche as he is treated. Maybe Amanda could be there, too. This story doesn't have to ditch the titular dog, but rather, allow Ryan to better understand why he sees Wilfred, and of what value that might be.

Who knows what direction Wilfred will take if it gets a third season? This oddball dramedy is full of surprises, and could end up being about anything. Given the brilliant acting and the completely original writing, I hope we get the chance to find out.

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

Doctor Who exacts Vengeance on Varos

The latest Doctor Who Special Edition DVD is Vengeance on Varos. Part of the 22nd season, this two-part serial originally aired in January 1985. The Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) travel to the planet Varos in search of a rare ore they need to properly run the TARDIS. There, they encounter the evil Sil (Nabil Shaban), who is trying to extort the planet for the mineral, not afraid to hurt or kill those who get in his way.

Vengeance on Varos has some very funny parts. In the beginning, when the Doctor is having trouble fixing the TARDIS, his exchange with Peri demonstrates why Doctor Who is so beloved. But mostly, it is a serious tale of darkness and manipulation.

Political machinations and corruption are nothing new. Yet, they remain a basis for many a story, including a number of television shows that have aired this year. Vengeance on Varos is a great example of how this genre can be done correctly, even if the villain is so evil as to be a bit cartoonish at times.

This serial also touches on execution and punishment as entertainment. On the beleaguered Varos, where the population is starving, a rebel leader named Jondar (Jason Connery, Robin of Sherwood is tortured, and this process is broadcast on television. Violence can distract from problems and diffuse tensions, which could be part of why the masses haven't risen up. But it also is a horrendous thing to have as a part of life, something viewers complained about after this episode aired.

There are scenes in Vengeance on Varos featuring two natives named Arak (Stephen Yardley, Howards' Way) and Etta (Sheila Reid, Benidorm). They are memorable because they are the embodiment of the public, and have grown bored with watching the torture. This not only puts a face on those suffering, but it also reveals a desensitization which is almost as disturbing as what Sil is doing.

Etta and Arak are also cool because they never enter into the main story directly, nor interact with the principal characters. There aren't many shows that would present such an isolated, disconnected plot from the whole, and the uniqueness of this device makes the serial all the better for its inclusion.

The only plot hole that seems obvious is why, when Peri's transformation is interrupted, is she restored to her normal self? Shouldn't she be partially turned into something else? The mechanics of this particular machine aren't very clear, and what is shown doesn't really make sense.

Vengeance on Varos is a great example of what could be a rote Doctor Who adventure with enough charm and originality added to it to make it something special. This is what the show does at its best, and it makes for a very enjoyable couple of hours.

Because this is a special edition, the list of rich extras is quite long. The audio commentary provides the uncommon treat of including Baker, Bryant, and Shaban, the three stars of the serial. There are extended and deleted scenes, outtakes, a photo gallery, trailers, and PDF materials. Fans can also listen to an isolated music score in the original mono sound, or in 5.1 surround. Production notes can optionally come up as subtitles.

"The Idiot's Lantern" examines how the narrative of Doctor Who interacts with the medium of television. "Nice or Nasty?" is a thirty minute making of, and there's an additional four minute featurette looking behind the scenes. A BBC News blurb covering Colin Baker's casting as the Doctor is present, as is a thirteen minute look at the Sixth Doctor and a five minute interview with Baker.

As if all of that isn't enough, there's a Saturday Superstore segment featuring Baker, Bryant, and someone else (the packaging says it's a surprise guest, so I won't spoil it). "French & Saunders" is a comedy sketch done on the set of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who Vengeance on Varos Special Edition is a prime release featuring a terrific serial and tons of icing on the cake for Doctor Who fans. It is available on DVD now.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Check out my website, JeromeWetzel.com! Article first published as DVD Review Doctor Who Vegeance on Varos Special Edition on Blogcritics.