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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Don't really want to move to Mockingbird Lane

Considering the cast and crew of NBC's Mockingbird Lane, created by Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies), I was super psyched for the series this fall. When it was held back, and decided that the "Pilot" would be aired as a stand alone Halloween special, without producing more episodes, disappointment set in. That is, until it actually aired. Then disappointment of a whole other kind appeared.

It's not that Mockingbird Lane is bad; it's just that the first episode doesn't live up to its potential. The set and effects (save for the werewolf in the opening sequence) are spectacular, and glimpsing the Golden Gate bridge behind the infamous house is a stroke of brilliance, providing a stark contrast every time it's seen. This links the show to the real world, even as it feels like fantasy. Lily's (Portia de Rossi, Arrested Development, Better Off Ted) introduction is even more cool, spiders flowing gracefully around her to make her garb.

But the rest of the episode is just too tame. Whereas The Munsters, the goofy sitcom Mockingbird Lane seeks to update, relies on gags and schlock, Mockingbird Lane treats itself like a serious drama. This doesn't work. Sure, these actors are capable of deepening the characters, and making this new show mean a lot more than the old one. But they don't get the chance, skipping over much of what should be an introduction-based episode, and jumping right into a boring story. Combining the comedy with the drama is what it needed here, and the mix is almost absent in this premiere, which skews more towards the drama side.

The crux of the first episode is how Eddie's (Mason Cook) parents are going to tell him that he is a werewolf, a monster, or Munster, like them. One would think that this is exactly what Mockingbird Lane should be doing, since it is taking an element of the classic series, and putting it into context people can relate to, providing a moral dilemma. Instead, the implications of what this means are glossed over, replaced with an empty "be yourself" type of mantra.

Herman (Jerry O'Connell, The Defenders, Crossing Jordan) is the only one of the Munsters that comes across as fully realized. He knows he is dying, but refuses to let Grandpa (Eddie Izzard, The Riches, United States of Tara) kill Eddie's new scout leader, Steve (Cheyenne Jackson, 30 Rock, Glee), to obtain him a new heart, thus saving his life. He also wrestles with what to do about Eddie. As a man who is made into a Munster by Grandpa, Herman straddles the two worlds, and is a compelling lead.

It's too bad this plot is cut short, though, when Steve accidentally dies. His death is funny, but there is definitely more that could have been milked from the situation, considering Herman's internal struggle is the best part of the episode. Once Steve is dead, not murdered, Herman doesn't mind taking his organ. Which kind of ruins what is built up til that point. How much darker and deeper would it go if Grandpa killed Steve, and then forced Herman to take the heart against his will? How would that affect family dynamics, as well as how Herman feels about himself? And why not let Steve stick around for a few episodes first, so the family can get to know him, and his death would mean more? After all, Jackson is terrific in the part.

Grandpa can be excused for being how he is, because it seems logical that he would think the way that he does. I just wish he was played more over the top, or commit to the scary, rather than doing neither at one hundred percent, either of which Izzard would shine in. Lily doesn't get much to do in the first episode, so it's hard to see where she fits in, though she is clearly torn between Herman's want for the family to be good, and Grandpa's longing to return to the traditional ways of feeding on humans freely. De Rossi has the chops to make this work, given screen time to do so, which she is not in the "Pilot."

The real problem is with the kids in the cast. Eddie is too flat, not up to the task of the real emotion his situation calls for. Marilyn (Charity Wakefield) is no better, though her fault lies in the writing. We know that she wants to stay with the family, even though Grandpa despises her for being born normal. This needs to be explored, especially in the opening of the series, but is pushed off for another day, if ever.

Should Mockingbird Lane be allowed to continue, there is plenty of potential here for a fantastic show. I just fear that the luck luster plot of the "Pilot" combined with the lack of faith the network has put into it has killed a bold experiment before it even begins.

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

It's Always Sunny plays out nightmares

This week, FX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which recently began its eighth season, celebrates Halloween with "The Maureen Ponderosa Wedding Massacre." Maureen (Catherine Reitman) is getting married, and Dennis (Glenn Howerton) crashes the ceremony to make sure that she goes through with it, so that he won't have to continue paying her alimony. The rest of the gang comes, too, some to support Dennis, others who want to ruin things so that he will stay miserable. But what they don't count on is encountering the McPoyle clan, who soon begin acting like a hoarde of zombies.

I am not a fan of the McPoyles. I love It's Always Sunny greatly, but sometimes it ventures into a territory a little too gross for me. This includes pretty much every instance in which the incestuous clan shows up. Thankfully, they've done only a few episodes in the past eight seasons, but as I believe I am in a minority opinion here, it's inevitable that they return.

This time, however, I feel like the McPoyles are used correctly. It's hard to watch them being sweaty and gross, but considering the point of "The Maureen Ponderosa Wedding Massacre" is to be creeppy and scary, it works well. Who wouldn't be terrified trapped at a wedding in the woods with a bunch of inbred hillbillies? No one would want to be eaten, or have sex with, any of this group.

And the fake-out blowjob bit between Liam (Jimmi Simpson) and Ryan (Nate Mooney) is funny.

As things go from bad to worse, told in a series of flashbacks at the police station, Dennis not only ends up fleeing after ill-advised sexual relations, but Dee (Kaitlin Olson) attacks Charlie (Charlie Day) and Mac (Rob McElhenney), and Frank (Danny DeVito) is sort of behind all the trouble. They all get away with their terrible actions, consequence free, as always, because they don't do anything illegal. But one has to admit that, even when they stay within the confines of the law, what they're doing isn't right. This will surely catch up with them some day, a la the Seinfeld finale, only hopefully better executed.

The Mac / Charlie / Dee sequence is my favorite part of the episode, especially when the truth behind Dee's attack is revealed. Mac and Charlie are pure bozos, and it's hard to believe how believable it is that they would wreck her car and think they could lie their way out of it. Priceless comedy gold!

The only thing that really rings hollow in "The Maureen Ponderosa Wedding Massacre" is why Liam is marrying Maureen in the first place. She has fixed the dead tooth and gotten new, big boobs, so she's way too attractive for the very gross Liam. Liam is definitely still in love with Ryan, so it makes little sense that he would want to marry her. And while I won't say that Maureen can do better, as she is still as weird as ever, and improving her look can't fix that, why would she want Liam? There is no chemistry and no reasonable explanation for the union. This would have been an easy fix if only Maureen had invited Dennis to the wedding, going through with the whole thing just to make him jealous, which he does become on his own, temporarily.

Overall, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia remains a great series. This is a serviceable episode with some fantastic moments, though perhaps overall falls a little short of some other installments. But week in and week out, It's Always Sunny makes me laugh, and any series that can do that is worth watching.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

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

The B in Apt 23 still deliciously untrustworthy

ABC's Don't Trust the B---- in Apt 23 returned for a second go-round last week with "A Reunion..." James (James Van Der Beek) is happy to once more blow off his former Dawson's Creek co-stars' request for a reunion show. That is, until June (Dreama Walker) tells him how much it will mean to millions of girls, and probably bring him new, young female fans. The problem is, as James soon finds out, Chloe (Krysten Ritter) is the one who has been sending the letters to manipulate her pal into giving her things, and James' cast mates want nothing to do with him. What is a washed up television actor to do?

It's a shame that more Dawson's Creek stars aren't available to appear in "A Reunion..." Busy Philipps (Cougar Town, returning on TBS in January) drops by to break the bad news to James about why he is hated, which is great, but as she says, she was only on the show for two seasons. There would be a little more weight to the story if we got to see Joshua Jackson or Michelle Williams or Katie Holmes, even just in a quick cut-scene.

Alas, Don't Trust the B---- is just starting what will hopefully be a many-year run. It's a little too early to bring in those types of cameos, especially considering the success that they have found post-DC. Which means, this plot may have just been done too early in the series' run to fully live up to its potential.

That being said, "A Reunion..." is pretty darn funny. James Van Der Beek is as excellent as he has been in every episode so far, and focusing on him is a good idea. We get a bit of Chloe being ridiculously mean and self-absorbed, shooting people with a tranq gun, and a bit of June being starry eyed and naive, and then the meat of the episode falls onto James' shoulders, with nary a peep from the other side characters, save some gold from Luther (Ray Ford). This is the winning formula the show should stick with.

The guest stars they do have are well used, too. Besides Busy, Frankie Muniz (Malcolm in the Middle) gets to do a JVDB-style version of himself when a reunion-obsessed James tries to force his way into a Malcolm special, and Mark-Paul Gosselaar is fantastic in setting James on the right course, though I do wish some mention had been made of Gosselaar's more recent TV effort, Franklin & Bash. Stars playing unflattering versions of themselves has become the new chic (see Showtime's Episodes), and when talented people are allowed to act in this manner, leaving their pride at the door, they can really shine, both because of the delightful results, and because it shows they are people who aren't afraid of being the butt of a joke, a wonderful quality.

Don't Trust the B---- in Apt 23 may still be trying to find its audience. But if any of the above sounds appealing to you, and it should, check out the show Tuesdays at 9:30 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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Acorn Media releases massive Poirot set


Agatha Christie is regarded as one of, if not the, best mystery writers of all time. Among her popular characters is Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective who solves cases in the early decades of the twentieth century. Keeping in the vein of Sherlock Holmes, Poirot has help, but it is he, himself, unraveling most of the crimes.

By 2013, David Suchet (The Way We Live Now), considered by many to be the definitive Poirot, will have filmed all of Christie's novels and short stories featuring this lead character. This is not a small feat, there being over thirty novels and more than fifty short stories in existence. His body of work is quite impressive.


For those who have not yet delved into this run, though, a good way to start is by checking out Acorn Media's new release, Agatha Christie's Poirot The Early Cases Collection. This thirteen disc set brings together all 45 mysteries comprising the first six series of the ITV series, which airs on PBS as part of Masterpiece Mystery in the states. The episodes have been remastered, and released on Blu-ray and DVD.

Among the cases included in this collection are: "The Adventures of Clapham Cook," the first in the series; "Four and Twenty Blackbirds," in which Poirot mixes cooking with crime solving; "The King of Clubs," where Poirot has only a playing card to go on; "Double Sin," in which Poirot comes to a decision about his career path; "The Mysterious Affair at Styles," featuring Poirot and Hastings' (Hugh Fraser) first case together; "Wasps' Next," where Hastings gets to use his love of photography to save the day; "The Mystery of the Spanish Chest," a dinner party that takes a tragic turn; "The ABC Muders," in which the culprit sends Poirot clues in letter form; "Yellow Iris," where Poirot revisits an unsolved case; "Murder of the Links," yet another vacation is interrupted when the infamous detective is asked to use his skills, this time in France; and "Dumb Witness," which brings premonition into the mix.

These are just a scant few of the many, many mysteries that Poirot is tasked with solving in these six series. Besides Hastings, the Watson to Poirot's Holmes, our lead is sometimes joined by Chief Inspector James Japp (Philip Jackson), a competent enough detective who is usually a step behind Poirot, and Miss Felicity Lemon (Pauline Moran), Poirot's nearly perfect secretary, who seems to also be brilliant, attractive, and fashionable. Sometimes these characters are placed in stories in which they didn't appear for the print versions, but they help humanize Poirot, and provide a cohesiveness to the series, each being a good addition to the overall recipe.

The bottom line here is, Poirot is a very well developed character, with a good supporting cast, which leads to many entertaining crimes being solved. Yes, it is a bit of a procedural, but the tales were developed in the days before it became a commonplace television genre. Written by one author, there is a singular vision and a detailed world in which the stories can play out. Liberties have been taken in these filmed versions, of course, most signficantly by mixing up the order, and moving some around in time by ten or twenty years. But the core of the character shines through, and Poirot proves higher quality than many of the CSI and NCISs made today that owe it dues.

Poirot The Early Cases Collection has no special features. This isn't so obvious when plowing through forty-seven hours of episodes, a huge amount by nearly any standard. Because Poirot is what it is, one likely won't miss the extras much, even if it would be interesting to get Suchet's take on what the series is, and what it means to him.

Is it necessary to buy Poirot on Blu-ray, rather than DVD? Honestly, not really. As someone who likes to get the best possible quality available, I am happy to have the Blu-ray version. But considering that these are 4:3 remastered versions with only 2.0 sound, there probably isn't a huge difference between the two. There aren't many special effects, although high definition should bring out the rich details in the costumes and settings, which are worth praising, better. That aside, te colors aren't particularly stunning, and there isn't anything I noticed that really screams for HD. The Blu-ray probably offers a bit clearer picture than the DVD, but that's about it. I do not have the DVD for comparison, but the impression I get it that Poirot can probably be enjoyed in either format almost equally.

Agatha Christie's Poirot The Early Cases Collection is available now from Acorn Media.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Check out my website, JeromeWetzel.com! Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Early Cases Collection on Blogcritics.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Happy Endings not just for dummies

Grade: 89%

ABC’s HAPPY ENDINGS returns this week with “Cazsh Dummy Spillionaires.” This being a sitcom, there aren’t a lot of huge, game-changing moments. But there are some really amusing moments, great one-liners, and plenty of laughs courtesy of one of the best comedy casts on television. I guess what I’m saying is, it’s funny. Very funny.

It will not be surprising to learn that Max (Adam Pally) and Penny’s (Casey Wilson) plot is the most outlandish of the three in the season premiere. Penny is hurt falling down a bunch of stairs, and Max takes advantage of her injuries to move in on the hot physical therapist. This goes as far as drugging her and putting off her doctor’s appointment, keeping her in a body cast longer than necessary.

Does this stray HAPPY ENDINGS away from realism? Yes, yes it does. Unlike Better Off Ted and Community, sitcoms that paint in broad strokes, and never try to pretend they are real, HAPPY ENDINGS has the illusion of reality because it’s just about a bunch of friends, bringing to mind shows like, well, Friends. But it straddles the line between being relatable and being hilarious. Somehow, it manages to stay a series that people believe, even after outrageous events occur. What’s more, it manages to not always be completely obvious that what is happening would never happen, until one stops to think about it.

This is a deft trick that few can pull off. Laughing at Penny falling down the stairs and ending up in a body cast is cartoonish. Yet, because of the way the “ahmahzing” cast sells it, it doesn’t take viewers out of the moment. Max relishing in the fact that he’s mocking the film Misery makes him seem harmless, even when what he’s doing is unthinkably horrible. And the pay off at the end makes it all worth it.

Similarly, Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) lies to Jane (Eliza Coupe), making her think that he is unemployed, spending his days at home, pursuing hobbies. The lengths to which he must go to convince her of this are crazy, and the fact that he doesn’t get caught sooner than he does (it doesn’t spoil anything to tell you that, as everyone knows she will, Jane finds out) is nothing short of ludicrous. But again, seeing Brad soaking wet in a suit, covered in bubbles, is enough to make you forget that HAPPY ENDINGS isn’t something that could occur if you just had the right group of friends.

I think the reason that the show can sell this is the authentic relationships and strong level of heart. Even when characters are being mean or lying to each other, viewers can totally tell that they love each other deeply. The actors have such fun in the roles, playing together, it’s impossible not to have fun watching them. They interact so well that they come across as real people, even when real people wouldn’t perform the actions that they do.

In the third story this week, HAPPY ENDINGS plays it a bit safer, going with a well-worn thread. Dave (Zachary Knighton) and Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) announce that they are in a casual relationship, sleeping together, but not committing to one another emotionally. This goes exactly how one would expect it to, with both dating other people, and seeing each other dating other people, and then getting jealous. It’s completely predictable, and it’s been done a million times.

Yet, like the rest of the episode, it works with these particular performers. It helps that Penny’s role in the triangle is kept subtle, not overdone, and played sweetly. It also helps that Dave and Alex totally cheese to the camera, providing contrast. But whatever the reason, it doesn’t completely feel like an old premise, even though there is no denying the entire time that it is.

HAPPY ENDINGS is back in its best form, maybe a little goofier than when we last saw it, but every bit as entertaining. New episodes air Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

Friday, October 26, 2012

House - "Born Again" (Season 9 Premiere Review)

So FOX's House returned this week for its ninth season. In the episode, "Born Again," little snippets are revealed about what happened between seasons, and there is some serious emotional depth. Sure, a few obstacles have to be overcome to return things to the status quo, but as usual, House manages to do so without leaning too far out of the realm of believability.

First, the tease. It's heartbreaking to watch Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) dying in that house on the beach. The beautiful scenery contrasting with his deathly pallor makes a real impact, and House's (Hugh Laurie) silent, stoic expression is perfect. Yes, maybe I would have liked to have seen House's reaction after Wilson breathes that last breath, but the scene is so artistic, teasing us without being explicit, and panning away before we become eerie voyeurs onto such a private moment, that one can't be upset. It is exactly how it should be done.

The "real" opening of "Born Again," after the tease, is brilliant. Having House just walk into his old office and pretend everything is the same is the right way to handle things, and letting his fellows shake their heads in disbelief is a great way to address the audience's own confusion. House has that swagger, that confidence, that lets him get away with more than most people. It's good to see that that hasn't disappeared in the time since we last saw him.

Of course, what we are all thinking is, "What is House doing there?" When last we see him, he is riding off into the sunset with Wilson, and then we see Wilson die in the opening. What come back now? It's pretty obvious that Wilson died months ago, so what prompts his return to the old halls?

The police business can't be brushed under the rug. It's not unpredictable that the patient of the week turns out to have some major pull and is able to get House a pardon, but after seeing how much softer and more attentive House is towards the POW, especially in contrast to the almost cold way that he stood all the way across the room from poor Wilson in the beginning, it works. Who wouldn't want to help that guy, especially after House saves his life?

And House being as nonchalant as ever, knowing he is going to get that pardon, but not telling a frantic Foreman (Omar Epps), who is doing his best to hold off the law, is just classic House. Managing to keep Foreman in the dark about House's role in even bringing the patient to the hospital, whom House must have met sometime after the opening tease, is quite an accomplishment. Thank goodness Foreman is so happy to have House back that he lets it go in the end without getting too upset.

Will House's softer side last? I can't imagine that it will, even with the episode title. One has to believe that he is playing the judge in the hospital to get off of the charges against him. But, at the same time, there are hints that he might also be trying to make up for how he treated Wilson. Did House really pull away from Wilson? Not holding his hand in the end almost seems cruel, but without knowing how he acted in the moments leading up to that bit, it's impossible to say for sure if he stayed a good friend 'til the end. This is a changed House, surely, as one cannot watch their best friend perish and remain the same. But how deep the change goes, or the true motivation behind it, dance, as always, in the glimmer of House's eye, rather than being revealed to the viewers.

Yes, "Born Again" may not even refer to House himself. It probably has more to do with the judge, who is struggling with his own religious beliefs. But even if House isn't sincere, seeing him humor this POTW in talks of god, and not just dismissing it as he may have done in the past when the judge gets too sentimental, is unarguably a change.

Quick side note, Stephen Fry (Bones, QI), who plays the judge in this episode, previously did a sketch comedy series with House star Hugh Laurie. So awesome to see them reunited, even if only for an hour!

It makes sense that Chase (Jesse Spencer) is no longer in the cast. He has a decent enough send off last season, and Spencer is starring in Chicago Fire now, anyway. But I am slightly disappointed that Dr. Adams (Odette Annable) didn't return, as I felt her character could have been explored a bit more fully. I guess a short run is the curse of many pretty girls on House.

That being said, it's cool that Taub (Peter Jacobson) and Park (Charlyne Yi) stayed. Their various reactions to seeing House, whom they believed to be dead until he suddenly walks in the door, is funny. Taub screaming like a girl and Park getting angry is wonderfully in line with their characters, and creates fantastic comedy in an emotionally heavy episode.

The poor replacement for House just doesn't stand a chance at keeping his job, right from the start. I really like the actor they have playing the new head of diagnostics, having seen him in other shows, even though I didn't expect him to join a series like House. Even though it would be hard for anyone to balance a character who is genius enough to be Park and Taub's boss, but is humble enough to agree to stay on with a demotion when House is offered the job back, I think this guy can handle it. I definitely sense his role will not just be milked for a laugh in the coming year.

That still leaves an opening in the cast. I think that House will probably just keep a team of three, but who will take Wilson's office? It's sweet that Foreman has left it empty all this time, and the scenes where each of the docs go in there are heart-wrenching. It's a loss felt on screen and off. But that's prime real estate in a busy facility. I don't know that I want Wilson's Chief of Oncology replacement, Dr. Jerry (Peter MacNicol, Numb3rs, 24), to move in, as I kind of am hoping that it will be a person that House can befriend, and I'm not sure Dr. Jerry is that person. But he could be an amusing side trip for awhile.

And finally we get to the final scene: Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) standing in the door of House's office. The camera cuts before either House or Cuddy say anything, but that brief bit is so ripe with the unspoken, it's going to drive viewers crazy for an entire week until the next installment! Does she know what House did for Wilson? She has to, right? Why else would she return? Will his selfless actions be enough to earn her forgiveness? What will she do if she learns that House killed Wilson, if he did indeed do so, which is hinted at in the conversation where Park accuses House of it, but is never confirmed? Would that change her mind, or make her see him as even more noble?

Rumor is that Edelstein has agreed to return full-time, even though it hasn't been confirmed by the network yet and her name is absent from this week's opening credits, but what will her role be? Foreman isn't going anywhere, and she can't just go to work on House's team. Could she take over Wilson's office, and in what capacity? Would the woman who became an administrator so young want to go back into endocrinology at this stage of her career? Or is she there simply as a love interest again?

Truly excellent start. Some may think that House has run out of stream after eight years and its almost cancellation last spring. But if future episodes hold up as well as "Born Again," we should all be grateful for the suspended sentence that both the series and the titular character have earned.

House airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.

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

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Welcome to Waterloo Road

The BBC's answer to the long running, popular Canadian teen drama Degrassi is Waterloo Road. Premiering in 2006, Waterloo Road quick gained a following, leading to six additional seasons, with more being in production. Having been seen on BBC America in the states, now Waterloo Road Series 1 is available on DVD for the first time from Acorn Media, collecting the initial eight episodes of the series on a two disc set.

Waterloo Road takes place at a fictional school in Rochdale, England, where students ages 11 to 18 attend. The building is not doing well, its students failing and getting into trouble, and its teachers well below the average. Jack Rimmer (Jason Merrells, Emmerdale) has recently assumed the role of headmaster after the previous man, who held the position for three decades, went crazy. It is up to Rimmer to set things right, improving conditions, attendance, and performance, if the school has any hope of staying open.

Jack is aided by a deputy headmaster, Andre Trenemen (Jamie Glover, Holby City), whom Jack recruits because he is highly educated, and Kim Campbell (Angela Griffin, Mount Pleasant), the pastoral care teacher. These three must do their best to turn things around before it's too late.

This is easier said than done, of course, as the drama oozes out of every door of the school. The teachers are a problem. English professor Tom Clarkson (Jason Done, The English Patient) is living with a fellow educator, fiance Lorna Dickey (Camilla Power, The Tournament), but his eyes have strayed towards Lorna's best friend, Izzie Redpath (Jill Halfpenny, EastEnders), the drama teacher. This kind of conflict negatively affects the job, of course, not allowing the teachers to have their heads in the game.

And boy, do the students need teachers that care! Izzie's own daughter, Chlo (Katie Griffiths, Hatfields & McCoys), has fallen for bad boy, Donte (Adam Thomas, Emmerdale), who doesn't understand that life is finite, and teenagers are not invincible. Lewis Seddon (Craig Fitzpatrick, The Visit) won't leave a teacher alone. Pregnant teenagers, a limo crash, students dying or in a coma, a homework scam, bullying inflated grades, and drugs are just some of the things that come up in the first eight episodes.

As you may guess, Waterloo Road is an over-dramatized version of reality. But like many shows that fall into that category, the issues dealt with are still realistic enough, even if one doesn't expect all of them to happen in a short time span at one school. The drama, romance, and danger all contribute to a heck of an entertaining soapy serial, one sure to keep viewers engaged, even if it is a bit over the top.

The question is, considering the number of entries worldwide in the high school drama series genre, how does Waterloo Road compare with its peers? Well, for the first season, at least, it lands somewhere in the middle of the pack. The characters are great, and the tension is kept high. The pacing might go a little faster than one would like, but there are definitely a lot of moving moments. Considering its success over the last few years, it is likely the series builds upon the solid foundation of series one, and improves as time goes on, though having only viewed this first batch, I cannot say that for certain. What I can say is, if you are into this sort of program, Waterloo Road is a worthy entry, and should not waste your time.

This two disc DVD set contains no bonus features.

Waterloo Road Series 1 is available now.

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Stephen Hawking shows us a Brave New World

Sir Stephen Hawking may be the most intelligent living mind mankind has. A groundbreaking theoretical physicist, he first came on my radar after reading his book, A Brief History of Time, which explains quantum physics, black holes, and what makes up the universe to the lay person in an easily understandable, highly readable way. He is not only able to comprehend what the vast majority, if not all, of us can't, but he can also communicate this to everyone else without using his natural voice, having to speak through a computer because of a debilitating disease. Our time's Einstein, this makes him an amazing man, as well as a great scientist.

Lately, the British Doctor Hawking has taken his work to the television, translating his talent for relating to others flawlessly to a new medium, hosting a variety of specials to engage the minds of the populace, expanding what we know and how well we know it. Into the Universe With Stephen Hawking explored the cosmos, while last year, Hawking sought to disprove the existence of god using science. Now, a five part documentary called Brave New World is available on DVD in the United States from Acorn Media.

Brave New World turns the focus away from the universe around us, and looks at people themselves. We have come a very long way with our technological breakthroughs thus far, since living in caves and using simple rock tools, and Hawking examines what we might achieve tomorrow, given our current trends. He looks at what has already been done, and expounds on it in a logical way. Can we cure cancer? How will the cars of the future drive, or the cities of the future be built? What kind of power does an atom hold, and can we harness it for our benefit? These are just a few of the many questions addressed in Brave New World.

The format of the DVD is simple, broken down into five parts: "Machines, "Health," "Technology," "Environment," and "Biology." Sure, there is some overlap between the areas, but basically each of the five hours concentrates on one arena, and Hawking does his very best to give us a peek at what may be coming next in each of those fields. To say the least, the results are fascinating!

Hawking is not left to do this alone, joined by a number of experts on the various topics that he covers. From David Attenborough, the naturalist and frequent narrator of BBC nature specials, to Richard Dawkins, who knows a thing or two about evolutionary biology, to Robert Winston, a man who works with reproductive medicine, to Kathy Sykes, a renowned physicist, Hawkins has some of the leading minds of this generation, further giving weight to the theories covered. Biographies of some presenters are included on disc two as an extra.

Stephen Hawking Brave New World also comes with a sixteen page viewer's guide. This gives outlines of some of the technology discussed in the series, and provides a nice companion to the DVDs for quick reference of certain concepts.

For those interested in research and the next advances of the human race, Brave New World should prove an invaluable resource, opening up doors to new thoughts and ideas. If you are not naturally inclined to ponder such things, give Brave New World a try anyway, and confronted with the genius mind of Stephen Hawking, you may just find yourself getting excited, in spite of your reservations.

Stephen Hawking Brave New World is available now on DVD.

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

The League scores a touchdown with the Complete Season Three

FX's The League now has its Complete Season Three out on Blu-ray and DVD.  If you have missed this fantasy football-based comedy, with the all-around amazing cast, up 'til now, it's time to start watching, as it has become one of the most original, funniest shows on television. Season three is a great entry point, and after watching every installment on this two disc set, you'll probably be motivated enough to go seek out the other seasons.

As season three begins, Ruxin (Nick Kroll) is still rubbing his victory from last year in everyone's face, being more insufferable than usual. The others plot to pick the draft order behind his back, giving them an unfair advantage, and hoping to allow them to knock Ruxin down a few pegs this year. This sort of back fires, as once that bond of trust is broken, even if Ruxin doesn't figure it out for a long time, the others begin not trusting each other, too, making for a trade-less, frustrating fantasy football league.

In The League, though, Shiva Bowl Champion is not the only title. There is still unfinished business to attend to concerning last year's loser, the Sacko prize winner, Andre (Paul Scheer). For that, the boys turn to former member Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas) and his friend Dirty Randy (Seth Rogen), who help them humiliate Andre with the ultimate prank.

All of this unfair backstabbing may sound mean, but it's not. The heart of The League is a group of friends who care about one another. Sure, they give each other a hard time, as friends do, and sometimes they go a little too far. But their shared love of football, and the good times they have picking their fantasy team and watching the games, are why they stick together. The characters do not have to express their emotions to feel the affection between them, as we see during a near-tragedy at the end of the season.

They do, however, have to be really, really funny, and The Complete Season Three showcases this in many fantastic ways. Whether Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi) is "cheating" on his wife, Jenny (Katie Aselton), the sole female member of the group, with an ESPN analyst, or Ruxin is growing unhappy about his attractive au pair (Brie Larson, United States of Tara), whom Pete (Mark Duplass) has his eye on, there are lots of humorous moments. Toss in Taco (Jonathan Lajoie), who is basically a walking joke, especially when inventing an analog social network called "My-face," and you have the recipe for something pretty cool.

Among the best installments of this season are:
  • "The Lockout" In which Ruxin is screwed over figuratively, and Andre is screwed over literally (sort of).
  • "Bobbum Man" Kevin is afraid of Pete's made-up creature, the Bobbum Man.
  • "Carmenjello" Kevin and Jenny search for the perfect paint color, but a defective can means awkward explanations to daughter Ellie (Alina Foley).
  • "Thanksgiving" Ruxin's dad (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park) and Andre's sister (Sarah Silverman, The Sarah Silverman Program) join the gang for a turkey with a very interesting and unique stuffing.
  • "The Light of Genesis" Ruxin joins a cult that could help him win in fantasy football, while Kevin is worried his Krav Maga teacher (Eliza Dushku, Dollhouse) is attracted to him.
  • "The Funeral" Every arc from this season comes to a head with the Shiva and the Sacko on the line.
The League The Complete Season Three is fully packed with bonus features. The best thing is that ten of the year's thirteen episodes are extended on the DVD, providing quite a few more laughs than as aired. There is also a gag reel, deleted scenes, and two featurettes, "Alt Nation" and "Taco Tones." For a thirteen episode comedy, this turns out to be quite a bit.

Check out The League The Complete Season Three, available now, and watch brand new season four episodes Thursday nights at 10:30 p.m. ET on FX.

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It's Always Sunny in the seventh season

FX has recently released It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia The Complete Season 7 on DVD and Blu-ray. Included in the two disc set are all thirteen episodes of last fall's run, as well as a few special features.

Like a demented Seinfeld, where the characters live with little class and care even less about one another than in the popular network sitcom, It's Always Sunny has been amusing for years, and continues to deliver the same high quality as it ages. Season seven is fantastic, slightly playing off of pop culture, like when they visit the real Jersey Shore, but more often than not, just trying to outdo one another in ways that end up with no one winning, and with familiar recurring characters and callbacks to past seasons.

It's hard to pick favorite episodes from this stellar lineup, as they are all so good,  so here's what is included in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia The Complete Season 7:
  • "Frank's Pretty Woman" Frank (Danny DeVito) is dating a crack-addicted prostitute. The gang worries this will make them become known as the "gross group" (too late), but are too lazy to put any real effort into making her over. Charlie (Charlie Day) tries to help Frank con a new gal, finding that easier than fixing the current one. Oh, and Mac (Rob McElhenney) has gained fifty pounds recently, but is in denial about it. (That's no fat suit; McElhenney is dedicated to the role!)
  • "The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore" None of that glamorous reality show crap, the real Jersey Shore is kind of a crap hole, as the gang finds out when they nostalgically travel there as they did when they were kids. Charlie, alone, has the night of his life.
  • "Frank Reynolds' Little Beauties" Frank becomes involved in little girl beauty pageants. The more he tries to not to act child molest-y, the creepier he gets. The rest decide to use try to use his position to coach their way to victory.
  • "Sweet Dee Gets Audited" Dee (Kaitlin Olson) finally reveals the real reason she served as a surrogate last year, and the boys try to turn the bar into a democracy until dirty, dirty politics ruin the system.
  • "Frank's Brother" Told in flashback, we get the tale of Frank and his brother, Gino (Jon Polito), running a bar in the 1960's and '70's, and fighting over the lovely Shadynasty (Naturi Naughton).
  • "The Storm of the Century" With serious wind and rain on the way, Dee tries to get the Y2K bunker she stocked back in shape, as it isn't really useable. The guys go out in search of supplies, but Dennis (Glenn Howerton) is more concerned with luring women back to the hideaway than preparing for the worst.
  • "Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games" The foursome are bored, so they revive an old game they invented, not remembering the reason that they haven't played it in so long. Practically self-contained, letting the cast just play off each other as they do best, personalities clashing and yet complementing all at the same time, this installment is a true gem.
  • "The Anti-Social Network" Promoting one's pub on facebook is a good idea. Stalking people who offend you online, not such a good idea.
  • "The Gang Gets Trapped" Indiana Jones searched out treasures in a remote cave. The gang looks for valuables in someone's house, and aren't too happy when the family arrives home early.
  • "How Mac Got Fat" Mac sits in a confessional and lets the priest in on the secret of his huge weight gain, without taking any personal responsibility himself, of course.
  • "Thunder Gun Express" The President is in town, which means major traffic jams. This isn't welcome, as the gang would like to see a movie. Soon, they are all scrambling any way they can to make it across town by showtime, every man for himself!
  • "The High School Reunion" In the two part finale, each member of the group tries to rewrite their past by making new identities at their high school reunion. When the popular kids refuse to let this happen, our favorite losers declare war.
This last hour shows just how little these characters refuse to change, being the same as they were as teenagers, and for people who like entertaining television, this is a good thing. No matter what they are doing, and who they screw over, the laughs keep coming, whether from hilarity or disbelief. How they are acting is really working for them, as a show, and hopefully they will continue to do it for a long time to come.

Special features include a blooper reel, commentary on certain episodes, and Artemis (Artemis Pebdani) giving a tour of the city. I wish there was a bit more, but It's Always Sunny is merely a cable sitcom, and the jokes stand well enough on their own. Seven seasons in, those who wants to know what goes on behind the scenes already do. I guess it makes sense for the bonus features to begin to dry up at this point, even though previous sets were much richer in this regard.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia The Complete Season 7 is on sale now. And check out new season eight episodes, currently airing Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

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

Monday, October 22, 2012

Nikita "3.0"

Grade: 86%

The CW’s NIKITA returns tonight with “3.0.” It’s been a few months. Ryan (Noah Bean, newly promoted to series regular) now leads Division, with Nikita (Maggie Q) and her friends serving as his senior staff. Sanctioned by the President of the United States herself (Michelle Nolden), they must stay under the radar while they round up the “Dirty Thirty,” agents who have gone rogue since Percy was taken down.

Hopefully, “3.0” won’t be the new format of the series. It feels very much like a case of the week, with a stand-alone mission. Yes, there are thirty of these agents out there that must be caught, but watching thirty separate weeks of this will grow boring. NIKITA works because it’s a serial, not a procedural, and the sooner they return to that format, the better.

Of course, perhaps it’s necessary to take a little break and reintroduce the characters, revealing what their relationships are like now. Ryan and Nikita clash because she still wants to control her own destiny and make her own decisions, as she did for so long on the run, while Ryan needs to establish firm authority in front of the rest of the staff. Birkhoff (Aaron Stanford) isn’t sure what to do with his new promotion, abandoning his desk to take over his inferiors’ and personally run ops. Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) can’t go undercover, but using her reputation as Alexandra can open other doors for them.

Other than that, they’re pretty much the same people. They have to fit into a new box, and that’s difficult, but because they still get to use many of their talents, namely, spy work, they will figure it out.

As long as Ryan doesn’t crave too much power, that is. After all, it doesn’t seem like, based on his back story, that Percy began evil. Ryan is throwing himself into Division obsessively, dealing with the president, sleeping in his office. Might the temptation to hang onto what he’s building end up being too much for him when the job is done and it’s time to take apart the group? And by keeping Division covert during his tenure, will he have the means to use it to his own will? Or will the staff, whom now have their eyes open to what is really going on, and more importantly, Nikita, the show’s moral compass, be able to keep him on the straight and narrow?

Not appearing in “3.0,” we are still reminded that Amanda (Melinda Clarke) is out there somewhere, trying to recruit others to her cause, and with a decrypted black box. With Percy gone and Gogol crippled, Amanda is the last great villain for Nikita and company. NIKITA needs a bad guy, and I would not be surprised if this “Dirty Thirty” is just filler until Amanda gets some power back under her. Unfortunately, Amanda has never posed quite the threat that Percy did. Is that going to change?

NIKITA remains a highly exciting, action-packed series. The events of “3.0” are as much of an adrenaline rush as ever, even if the stakes seem a little lower. For this reason, it is still definitely worth tuning it. It will find its long-arc legs again soon enough, hopefully.

The series also takes time this week for a little romance. I won’t go into details, so as not to spoil the hour for anyone, but Michael (Shane West) has a plan that has nothing to do with guns and Division. What his plan entails, or the result of it is, well, you’ll see. The shippers should definitely tune in to this one.

I like NIKITA because it reminds me of ALIAS, a superior spy show that I miss. ALIAS’ fault, if there was one, that it was too bogged down in the Rambaldi mythology, or so some (not me) accused, rather than just being a spy thriller. NIKITA doesn’t have that trouble, always skating around going too deep. But other than that, it has taken the best parts of ALIAS and built them in their own way. ALIAS took down their secret-government-operation-that-unbeknownest-to-the-employees-wasn’t-actually-working-for-the-government in mid-season two. NIKITA went the more traditional route and waited ‘til the season finale. Still the same great idea, though NIKITA went with the route that saved them on budget, keeping the same sets.

Will NIKITA learn the lessons of its predecessor and keep re-writing the formula every couple of years? Will they manage to build another villain who matters as much or is as dangerous as Percy was? These are the questions facing the writers that must be figured out during the course of season three. “3.0” does not hold those answers. If NIKITA is going to rise, now is the time to show us. Otherwise, it could turn into a shell of its former self, and quickly become not worth watching. From the season premiere, it’s hard to tell which way it might go. But the characters are well developed enough, I’ll learn towards optimism.

NIKITA airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on the CW.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

American Horror Story checks into an Asylum

Grade: 94%

Some who have heard the premise of AMERICAN HORROR STORY ASYLUM might be surprised when the story begins in present day. Leo (Maroon 5′s Adam Levine) and Teresa (Jenna Dewan-Tatum, The Playboy Club) are a fear-addicted couple on their honey moon, intent on having sex in the scariest of places. Their travels bring them to Briarcliff, a former mental hospital. While there, something attacks Leo, making their good times turn to bad.

This glimpse into the present day, while one hell of an opening scene, is not just that. Some scary movies may have a stand-alone tease before getting to the main story, but the fact that Leo and Teresa are visited later in the episode, “Welcome to Briarcliff,” points to a different agenda. Like season one, time is fluid, and what has happened influences what will happen and vice versa. The two are not main characters, but it is very likely we will see them again.

Thus, AMERICAN HORROR STORY ASLYUM establishes right off the bat that it is going to be as good and complex as the first season. The actors are fantastic, the setting is rich and detailed (and even more creepy), and the story is just as interwoven with itself as ever. Little tidbits are teased out, with many things remaining a mystery. The characters are written in such a way that feel authentic, and yet, remain unpredictable. Viewers cannot possibly see where this is going from one episode alone, but the first installment is so tantalizing, they should want to keep coming back.

The main plot, as advertised, happens in 1964, when Briarcliff is still a functioning facility. The institution is run by Monsignor Timothy O’Hara (Joseph Fiennes, Camelot, FlashForward). His favorite nun, Sister Jude (Jessica Lange, American Horror Story), is quick to judge and likes to whip people, considering sin a horrible thing, but not hypocritically above engaging in it herself. She has plans for Briarcliff, and O’Hara has plans for her. She just wishes that they included sex.

Jude is definitely the most interesting, right out of the gate. Played with a strange accent that doesn’t quite define itself, she has an iron fist, and even her compassionate acts come across as trying to force what her narrow mind thinks of as god’s will, rather than to help people. She wants to cleanse the place, making it her own. It would not be surprising if she gets her way, at least for a time, but it won’t help the patients interned there any more than playing the same cheery song on loop, which she insists happen in the common room, does now.

Jude is challenged by Dr. Arden (James Cromwell, The Artist, Six Feet Under), a man of science. Or so he says. His “advanced” techniques include removing brains from still living patients, and he doesn’t use anesthetic because it messes with his tests. As cruel as Jude can be, and make no mistake about it, Jude is cruel, Arden, with whom she clashes, does not present a better option.

And then there’s poor Sister Eunice (Lily Rabe, also AHS), who is torn between Jude and Arden. A pathetic soul, she may just turn out to be a hero of the piece. At least, that’s my initial guess. Or she may remain too weak to do anything of note.

There’s also another doctor played by Zachary Quinto, the lone main character billed who does not appear in the season premiere. I wonder what role he’ll play in this dynamic?

The hospital’s entire world is threatened by a reporter named Lana (Sarah Paulson, AHS again), who wants to know what is really going on in Briarcliff. Jude tries to shut her out, but Lana is determined, which leads her into serious trouble. Unfortunately for her, Jude is not at all above resorting to blackmail to protect her work, and Lana, being a homosexual in 1964, is ripe for the picking.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY ASLYUM deals with bigotry in an interesting way. Jude, the only obvious hater from the start, is, of course, a detestable character. But it’s interesting there is both a lesbian (Paulson and Clea DuVall, Carnivale) and a interracial couple in this episode, given the time period. It’s not that this sort of thing didn’t exist back then, it’s just that both are living as openly as can be expected, given the societal norms, and both are part of this story, which has only a limited view of the world. Credit Murphy and Falchuk for their continued themes of inclusion in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

The black and white pairing are Kit (Evan Peters, AHS) and Alma (Britne Oldford, Skins). When Alma is found dead, skinned alive, Kit is assumed to be the serial killer behind it, and it placed in Briarcliff. Yet, Kit thinks he was abducted by aliens that night, an occurrence backed up when Dr. Arden examines him. So it Kit real, or crazy? And is Dr. Arden’s involvement in the story imagined, or does it actually happen? My instincts tell me that Kit is not the killer, because that was Peters’ character’s secret in the first season. And having aliens actually be a part of this story doesn’t seem likely. But you never know.

It’s this blurring of reality that is bound to make AMERICAN HORROR STORY ASYLUM great. In a mental hospital, who’s to say what is real or not? It is a place stocked with crazies (including Lizzie Brochere, R.I.S. Police scientifique, and Chloe Sevigny, Big Love), and depending on the perspective of the scene, things might be seen that don’t really happen. Add to that, visual fantasies and an actual monster, and this is a very strange, terrifying place.

Let’s be honest. What viewers really want to get out of this series is a good scare in a vivid world. Like season one, maybe even more so, the latest installment delivers this in spades, and with a large, talented cast that will provide plenty of tangents to keep the plot moving at an acceptable intensity. If you liked the first season, season two should not disappoint.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

Check out Emily Owens

Don't let the goofy poster fool you. The CW's new drama Emily Owens M.D. is good. It's very good. In fact, it's so good, that it feels like it belongs on another network. No offense to the CW, as I do enjoy much of their programming, but it's target viewing audience skews young, and Emily Owens could easily be enjoyed by people of all ages.

I understand why it's on the CW. The concept is that a hospital is just like high school, with the various cliques filling in various departments, and peers treating one another just as meanly as teenagers. This is definitely a pitch that belongs on this network, and would feel right at home among their other shows.

But the fact of the matter is, this idea plays very little into what Emily Owens M.D. actually is, and it would not be surprising if it's pushed to the back burner or abandoned as the series plays out. Instead, we get a Grey's Anatomy style series, with a main narrator, story for all of the doctors closest around her, and a focus on their interactions and relationships. Patients pass through quick enough to avoid being a procedural, and instead, it is a mature series, overall.

It also helps that Emily Owens M.D. stars Mamie Gummer (Off the Map) in the title role. Gummer channels her mother, Meryl Streep, beautifully in so many scenes. She is clearly a very good, very experienced actress who could be doing roles far more demanding than this. By bringing her serious gravitas, incredibly impressive to see in one so young, she raises the level of the entire project. Can you imagine if Meryl Street had starred in a medical drama a couple of decades ago? That's what you're getting in Emily Owens M.D.

If this seems to clash with what I laid out as the main idea of the series, that's because it does. Gummer's internal monologue is sometimes great, but at other times, usually when she feels awkward, it becomes out of place. Scenes at the high school across from the hospital aren't great. Emily should be confident and brave, like Gummer. The opposite of most shows, I think the character will have to grow into the actress.

And the thing is, the rest of the cast is also really good. Justin Hartley plays Will, Emily's best friend whom she has an unrequited crush on. But he does so while proving that he can do better than running around in a hood and tights, as he formerly did on Smallville. Emily's new pal Tyra (Kelly McCreary, White Collar), who happens to be the chief's (Harry Lennix, Dollhouse) closeted lesbian daughter, is a complex character of the type that you might see on a network series. And even the villain, Cassandra (Aja Naomi King) already has depth after only one episode! This is done with making Emily look foolish in a moment where she actually deserves to look foolish.

With a solid cast, which also includes Michael Rady (The Mentalist) as a superior and real love interest for Emily and Necar Zadegan (24) as a gruff boss, and well developed characters, it's up to the writing to sell it. If the patients in the first episode are indication, challenging Emily and the other characters, and teaching them lessons, this will work out, too.

There isn't much to complain about in the "Pilot" of Emily Owens M.D. It's a great hour of television, highly enjoyable and engaging. Gummer is meant to be a star, and while this may not be the absolute best showcase for her to shine in, being a standard medical drama, it's a not a bad package, and she is definitely going to make the best of it.

 Emily Owens M.D. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on the CW.

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

"Homecoming" to Suburgatory

No, the title of ABC's Suburgatory season premiere does not refer to some lame high school football game or dance, as it almost always does when gracing an episode moniker of a television show. Instead, it means that Tessa (Jane Levy) returns to Chatwin from Manhattan, a place that is no longer home, as much as she might long for it to be.

In the episode "Homecoming," Tessa struggles to figure out who she is. She has learned a bit about her mother during the summer, such as her musical ability, and inherited her coat. It's understandable that any kid would want to know where she came from, and despite Tessa not showing many signs of longing for a maternal figure before late last season, it does feel natural that it's time for her to explore this side of herself. As a teenager, she is coming into her own. To do that, she must examine her past.

As hard as it has to be for Tessa, at least she gets some excitement and happiness out of looking back at the woman who made her. George (Jeremy Sisto), on the other hand, likely has no desire to remember the girl that left him and broke his heart. You wouldn't know that by watching him this week, though. He acts like a real father, supporting Tessa, and even offering her a bit of good memory of her mother when Tessa most needs it.

Tessa and George can be a little immature, but they both care deeply about each other. This journey that Tessa is on is a journey for the both of them, and they are likely to become more developed people because of it. George will heal an old wound somewhat, and Tessa will get more insight into who she is. For a sitcom, this is a pretty impressive feat, and to have the courage to tackle it as early as the start of season two is astounding, in a good way.

Suburgatory actually returns with more heart all around, even where you might least expect it. Dalia (Carly Chaikin) doesn't properly know how to express her sadness at losing her nanny, Carmen (Bunnie Rivera), but in a moment of vulnerability with Tessa, it's clear that she does have feelings. Behind that blank expression and the mean 'tude, there is a real person there. It's moments like these that give Dalia depth, and make her worth having on the show.

Sheila (Ana Gasteyer) and Fred Shea (Chris Parnell) are also not good at expressing how they feel about daughter Lisa (Allie Grant), even if they don't have the same trouble with their son. But when confronted by Lisa, it opens up something else inside of them. This isn't just about blackmail; it's also about seeing their daughter in a new light, and making her feel like a wanted part of the family.

Is this Suburgatory's message about how the suburban life works? So much is a facade, but the same love swells below the surface as one would find anywhere else. Even when they act cartoonish, the characters are actual layered people. What a wonderful message for "Homecoming" to impress upon the viewers. And Tessa singing her mom's song, which happens to be the series theme song, is icing on the emotional cake.

Oh, and the show is funny. Did I forget to mention that? The Sheas do a dance in cat suits, Dalia hangs out with her pet kangaroo, and Noah (Alan Tudyk) checks his baby at the country club like a coat! Ridiculous? Sure. But if you've read the rest of my review, hopefully you see that you'd be foolish to write this show off just for this stuff, which comes across as pretty darn amusing in context.

Suburgatory airs Wednesdays at 9:30 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

Friday, October 19, 2012

Rockin' some more Covert Affairs

USA's Covert Affairs returns this week with "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" after a mercifully brief hiatus. Merciful because of the heck of a cliffhanger, with Annie (Piper Perabo) trapped in Russia, having just murdered Lena (Sarah Clarke). As season two picks up, it takes very little time for Annie to be caught and tossed into an underground secret prison.

Annie's torture scenes are light, this being basic cable, sticking mainly to psychological discomfort. I think that USA does a pretty fair job of making the threat seem real, though, even while shying away from gratuitous violence. Perabo's handling of an Annie on the edge, slowly losing her sanity over a period of weeks, changing into a much more hardened person, is extremely well played, and nuanced. There is a point where one wonders if she will ever escape, even while knowing at the same she will.

And then Eyal (Oded Fehr), with some remote help from Auggie (Christopher Gorham), comes to the rescue! It's a smart move, illustrating the realities of the CIA not being able to actually get to Annie, but bringing back a beloved recurring character who has a reason to want to protect our protagonist. His jailbreak of her comes a little too easy, and the two taking a sweet moment in the street right outside the building doesn't seem all that smart, but overall, it works, making for very intelligent storytelling.

Annie is Annie, though, and she can never do things the easy way. She gives away her passport to help someone else, making Eyal's job of getting her home all that much harder. Many men might give up from frustration, and it's telling that Eyal doesn't, hinting at some stronger connection that could easily turn into a full blown romance in the near future. Instead, he sticks by her, and through a series of action packed scenes, they finally manage to escape.

Why does Annie throw away such a helpful item to save another? No one would have blamed her if she had just gotten on the train with Eyal, and maybe they would have been able to do so before the military swarmed the station. Yet, this is what makes Annie a Hero with a capital H, setting her above everyone else. No matter what the circumstances, she is the best.

It's interesting that Covert Affairs makes the actual twist that gets Eyal and Annie out of the country blackmail, rather than guns blazing. A lot of "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" is running around, but in the end, it's brains, not brawn, that saves the day. This episode, more than any before it, proves just how smart and tough Annie is, taking her to the extremes in both arenas.

My only complaint with this part of the episode is, how come Annie's main captor (Goran Kostic, Grease Monkeys) shows up wherever she flees? He can only be so many places at once. Maybe he's just that good, but to guess correctly where Annie is going to go next over and over again? Come on! Why not have someone else catch her and hold her until he gets there. His omnipotence is completely unnecessary.

Back at Langley, the others are going crazy, not being able to reach Annie. While it is debatable whether a single operative would be worth so much hand wringing and planning sessions, there is no denying that Auggie, Joan (Kari Matchett), and even Arthur (Peter Gallagher) are taking her absence hard. They feel like they've lost a friend, and they all handle things differently. Arthur sticks to procedure, Auggie discretely, and without permission, goes through back channels to a foreign connection, and Joan pops pills.

It's a little sad to see Joan go down this path. Covert Affairs is a drama, and the characters are all going to go through challenges in their personal and professional lives. But she seems like such a strong female role model, and to see her reduced to something like this sucks. Of course, she'll kick the habit, showing her inner strength. Of anyone they could have given this plot to, however, it's too bad that it's Joan.

One thing that is said, and really sinks in, is that operatives cannot possibly understand what it means to be disavowed and on their own until it really happens. This is somewhat belied by Auggie's actions and Eyal's rescue attempt. But Arthur sticks to the rules and sits on his hands, not being able to come up with a "feasible" option, and if Annie's friends didn't have such fierce loyalty, they would have to let her go, too. Any normal operative, that's would have occurred. This is something way too close to happening in "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide," heightening the tension.

In summary, this mid-season premiere is a fantastic installment, with lots of danger, intrigue, and scary moments. It takes the characters to the brink of utter disaster, and almost makes one forget that, because it is a USA show, there's going to be a happy ending. Great acting, superb writing.

Covert Affairs airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on USA.

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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Touch now touching on DVD

FOX presented a very strange show last year called Touch, the complete first season of which is now available on  DVD. It is mostly a procedural, with each episode finding Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland, 24) following clues left by his autistic son, Jake (David Mazouz, Amish Grace), who doesn't talk, to help someone in need. But it is also an anthology series, with several plots going on around the world every week, oftentimes connected to one another in unexpected ways. And it is also a mystery, as we don't know why Jake sees the numbers, or who may be trying to stop him from seeing the numbers.

The premise of Touch is that there is a connectedness to the world that can be explained with mathematics. Jake can see this, while almost everyone else cannot. Somehow, it isn't really explained how, these patterns track the movements of people. Jake wants Martin to help preserve the patterns, tying together two pieces of string that may have become disconnected. What happens if he doesn't? Will the entire tapestry fall apart? That seems unlikely. More probable is that Martin can use the pattern to make others' lives better, and that's what Jake wants.

This can all be very confusing, and understandably so. What starts off as a highly intriguing "Pilot," full of magic and wonder, soon settles into a head spinning series. Viewers may want more of the answers, but instead, all we get are small pieces to a puzzle we don't have a finished picture of to guide us. If creator Tim Kring can be trusted, a risk to be sure after the disappointing Heroes, there should be some major payoffs down the road. But for now, little is explained. We just know that life is great, and coincidences are supposedly predetermined, if you know how to see them.

While Jake and Martin are the central characters, a few others play a role in their lives. In season, Jake is placed in a home under the care of social worker Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Undercovers, Doctor Who). She slowly starts to see what Martin sees, and is torn between her superiors, who appear to have a hand in preventing anyone from following these numbers, and wanting to help Martin help people. There is also professor Arthur DeWitt (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon, Brothers & Sisters), who has worked with children like Jake before, and offers his assistance to Martin.

What is going on among these four is definitely the meat of Touch, and the most engaging of the many elements. While other tales may be neat and inspiring, they don't mean as much, since we don't know the characters. Whenever one of them enters into Martin's direct arc, it gives a greater weight to the plot, while those less obviously connected seem less important. Touch is still struggling to find the balance of these elements throughout this freshman run.

In the season finale, the two part "Gyre," the game changes significantly, providing a tangent that should move season two in bigger directions, giving more attention to the mythology and the larger arcs. I won't go into much detail, because I hope you might check out these episodes and see how it plays out for yourself, but "Gyre" opens the door for a notably different second season. Should the series whole-heartedly go with this turn, Touch might become one of the best shows on television. For now, it's just an interesting curiosity, which may or may not pay off down the road.

Whether this happens or not, Touch isn't quite like anything else on television, which when combined with a truly terrific cast, makes it worth watching. The eleven episodes of season one are clearly just an appetizer for what is planned, and if there is a plan, I look forward to a delicious multi-course meal in the coming years.

On this three disc DVD set, there are a handful of special features. The "Pilot" is presented in an extended version, and some deleted scenes are included. Two featurettes, "Touch the World" and "Fate's Equation," get into the mechanics of the series a bit, but do not really provide more understanding than what is contained in the episodes. Like the show, they are interesting, but murky in their significance.

Touch The Complete First Season is available now on DVD.

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Walking Dead plants the "Seed" for another stellar season

AMC's The Walking Dead, one of cable television's most popular shows, deservedly so, returned for a third season this week to record-breaking numbers. The premiere, "Seed," picks up months after last season ends, the little band of survivors having made it through a tough winter, scrounging for supplies and avoiding the walker herd that is still circling. But light might be at the end of the tunnel when they come across an abandoned prison they decide to make their new home.

These characters have changed since we last saw them. Whereas before, they semi-panicked and scattered when faced with walkers, now they have a military-like precision in taking the undead out, and a unified escape plan for when more are coming. True, they aren't fighting nearly as many at once as they did on Hershel's farm, but they also seem more confident, tougher. They have become a group of fighters at last.

This can only help them to survive in the dangerous world. There is no way they would be able to make inroads to the prison, clearing the undead from a couple of sections, if they did not have the earlier practice. They may not always be working as one, but they are much better prepared than previously. This makes for a thrilling show to watch, and provides several adrenaline-fueling, action-packed sequences, including having to battle walkers in riot gear!

But as they become killing machines, how will that affect their humanity? Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is detached, keeping emotional distance from everyone, including his own wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), even while he makes it the group's mission to find a safe place for her to give birth. Their marriage is on the rocks, with Rick seemingly wanting little to do with her, even while focused on helping her. Is this what it takes to be a leader strong enough to keep the group alive? Or are their martial problems deeper than that?

Unfortunately, "Seed" picks up with Rick and Lori's spat already in progress, so we don't know the extent or cause of it for sure yet. At the end of last season, Lori is upset at Rick for killing Shane, and Rick has seemingly gotten over Lori sleeping with Shane when they justifiably believed that Rick was dead. But now it's Rick, not Lori, doing the pushing away. Is it because the baby is close, and Rick realizes that it could very well be Shane's kid? Or is there something else going on?

Rick isn't the only one who has changed. Carl (Chandler Riggs) is part of the advance team, taking out zombies as they move into a new house. After killing Walker Shane, Rick's son is leaving childhood behind, acting like a contributing adult member of the group. No one even follows him as they move through the house, with Carl left alone to take out a walker, which he does with ease. It's cool that he is no longer a liability, but I can't help but feel some innocence has been lost, and that's regrettable, even if it is necessary for survival. Though his little crush on Beth (Emily Kinney), and the way in which handles it, is cute and childlike, proving he hasn't completely turned. Also, the fact that Rick doesn't let Carl help clear the prison, where there are likely to be far more walkers than in a small house, is telling.

Others have softened rather than hardened. The flirting between Carol (Melissa McBride) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) has grown more open, with them possibly being involved sexually. Everyone needs a little solace in this tough time, and it's nice that they've found each other. It doesn't seem to prevent Daryl from being as effective as ever with the crossbow, and Carol has become a decent shot, so their happiness isn't hurting anyone else. Good for them!

We see a similar thing with Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Michonne (Danai Gurira), albeit without the sex. Both were alone, and they have found each other. Michonne is refusing to abandon Andrea, even as she becomes a sick burden. It's this loyalty and sticking together quality in the face of so much danger that inspires hope for the characters' continued survival, and optimism about the perseverance of the human race after this terrible epidemic.

One has to wonder if the prison will turn out to be the safe haven that they've hoped for. Already in "Seed," the group has found more walkers than they expected inside, had to cut off Hershel's (Scott Wilson) leg to possibly stop a walker bite from turning him, and encountered live people who are probably prisoners. None of these plots has time to be fully explored in "Seed," so it's uncertain what each will lead to. But for now, it certainly appears that, while the prison defenses may keep a herd at bay (at least for awhile), it is just as deadly, if not more so, inside than out.

Now, those who have read the comics might think that they already know what each of these threads has in store. In the book (SPOILER ALERT!), most of the prisoners turn out be relatively harmless, though one is murderous. The prison is a safe haven until the Governor attacks. Cutting off a limb works, though it is Dale, not Hershel, whom this happens to. And Lori gives birth to a perfectly healthy baby girl.

But I would caution that this may not be the case. The Walking Dead TV series has already strayed many times. Obviously, Dale being dead already is one of those things, Daryl isn't even in the books (as of issue 96, as far as I've read, though he is supposedly going to be added), and Carol tries to start a threesome with Rick and Lori, something that probably won't be necessary given her connection to Daryl. So anything could really happen. Maybe Lori is right, and she will have a stillborn child who will infect her and eat her alive. Maybe Hershel won't survive. The show takes place in a world filled with threats, and the writers have thrown enough surprises and twists in to teach us not to take anything for granted.

It's hard to make any huge generalizations about season three so far, just from "Seed." But it looks like the characters are tougher, ready to fight, and they are relatively stable for the time being. Plus, this premiere has a TON of walker slaughter, a favorite among many fans. So it's a satisfying return for a fantastic series.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC. Talking Dead, a talk show hosted by The Nerdist himself, Chris Hardwick, about the series, which is kind of neat, airs at 11 p.m. ET on AMC.

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