Thursday, January 31, 2013

Trek Vs. Wars: A Conflict of Interest?

Article first published as Trek Vs. Wars: A Conflict of Interest? on Blogcritics.

The news came out recently that J.J. Abrams will be directing the next Star Wars film. Given the fact that he is already heading up the Star Trek franchise, the announcement sparked a negative emotional reaction in me. What if this becomes a conflict of interest?

J.J. Abrams is one of the most respected television producers around. Despite recent flops such as Undercovers and Alcatraz, he has a slew of great deeds to his name, including Lost, Alias, Felicity, and Fringe. Revolution has potential, even if it mostly remains untapped.

Thus, as a fan of J.J.'s work, I was excited to see him make the transition into film (as long as he doesn't leave television behind completely, which, so far, he hasn't). I was even more enthusiastic when he took over the Star Trek franchise, having been a big fan of the TV series and movies since childhood. I knew, based on his previous work,  J.J. could bring a level of complexity and excitement to the new reboot, and his casting would be impeccable.

Star Trek 2009 did almost everything I wanted it to. The new actors were almost all perfect matches for the original cast. The story honored everything that had come before it, but also began an entirely new, awesome adventure. While it did favor action a bit over message, the story was still pretty good. And while it is darker than most other Trek offerings, that trend had already become apparent for the franchise before the movie.

However, I do have some concerns now that J.J. has been will also be making the next Star Wars movie. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy the Star Wars movies. But I do think Star Wars is overrated, and I don't hold it up to same level of worship that many fans do. I have always believed that Star Trek has been far superior because of the depth of its stories; in my opinion, Star Wars movies have always been largely melodramatic, action-heavy fluff pieces.

If I have to be honest with myself, some of those complaints can also be made about the most recent Star Trek movie. It lacks the original's larger world-view of a better humanity, trading it off for lots of battles and effects, and even a love story for Spock and Uhura. It does stay pretty faithful to what had happened before in Star Trek, but it updates the whole thing into a modern blockbuster. On the other hand, it does extend the franchise reach to a new audience of potential fans. But, I worry that as it does so, future films might lose sight of what has always made Star Trek special.

The issue is, while Star Trek has always been good at wonderful special effects sequences, the series and movies have always been more about the its commentary on humanity and our society. In Star Trek's futuristic world, we have outgrown the petty squabbles of our present day, and have moved on to become an evolved and resilient race.

The 2009 movie satisfies with great character development, and because of the story it pursues, it doesn't necessarily need to go out of its way to emphasize the franchise's idealistic vision of humanity.  However, I would not like to see that integral part of that original vision diminish in favor of more action, adventure and special effects.

On the other hand, the Star Wars movies have always fit the standard blockbuster framework, so I'm sure that J.J. will do a great job with it. If nothing else, he will definitely put episodes I-III to shame. Of that, I am confident. But with both movie series under his direction, will the vision for the two series converge, making Star Wars and Star Trek feel too similar?

After all, 2009's Star Trek already began to lean towards that Star Wars formula. It was a lot of shoot-'em-up, and it had less complicated, more evil, villains. The pacing was faster than I'm used to from Star Trek, and it lacked much introspection.

I don't want Star Trek and Star Wars to be similar. I admit, I feel a certain superiority when arguing Trek's advanced plot points and messages. Were Star Wars to be that good, assuming J.J. could raise the quality of the new Star Wars to the middle ground that the 2009 Star Trek occupied, balanced between what the masses want and wonderful writing, it removes the advantage Trek has, and gives those smug Wars fans new fodder. If the opposite happens, and Star Trek is dumbed down to the level of Star Wars moving forward, continuing to push it away from its roots, the same thing will happen.

I am concerned that J.J. will, intentionally or not, keep nudging Star Trek from its original vision. Who's to say it won't go further once his time becomes divided between the two, with the worlds merging in his head?

They are both sci-fi adventures full of aliens. Even though one supposedly happened a long time ago in a galaxy far away, to paraphrase, it looks futuristic enough to be confused with our not-too-distant future to the untrained eye. It wouldn't be that hard to make a lot of the same choices when developing the projects, and end up with two very similar film series. I don't think he'll use the same actors or sets, but with the gleaming white new Enterprise reminding me of Star Wars spaceships, there could be a similar color scheme and visual component.

Maybe I'm being too hard on J.J. As I said, I am a fan of his work, and it's not like all of the television series he works on end up the same. He could find ways to differentiate the two, and take them in completely different directions. I am just concerned because of early signs of Star Trek's evolution, and because of his stated preferences, that it might happen in this case.

I also worry that his work on Wars will distract him from Trek. After all, Wars is bound to get more attention. Will that mean he won't give Trek 13 his full efforts, instead focusing on Wars 7? Also, J.J. is reportedly one of those people who favor Wars over Trek, which worries me.

Yes, it is possible to be a fan of both, but most people who are favor one over the other. I hope that J.J. keeps in mind the fundamental differences between both series, and doesn't make them interchangeable. The best way to do that is to deepen the next Star Trek story back to the levels of morality tale it once achieved. This spring, we'll find out if that has happened, as Star Trek Into Darkness is released. Based on what I've seen so far, I'm optimistic.

I guess what this argument boils down to is emotion. Both franchises evoke strong feelings from their fans, and since Star Wars already has the popularity, I want Star Trek to keep the quality superiority. It is a bit petty, to be sure, but I very much hope J.J. takes this into account, keeping in mind what has set the two series apart in the past, and maintaining that divide. Because he is a Wars devotee, I worry he doesn't have the same perspective on Star Trek that trekkies have, and thus won't protect the franchise with the same ferocity a real fan would.

To many, the premise of this entire column will seem ridiculous or trivial. But for those of us who have always kept a candle burning for Star Trek, please J.J., we beg of you: Keep Trek better. Its fate is in your hands.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Glee attends "Sadie Hawkins" dance

Article first published as TV Review: Glee - "Sadie Hawkins" on Blogcritics.

The latest installment of FOX's Glee is called "Sadie Hawkins." Tired of being single, and with her eye on a boy, Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) pushes for a Sadie Hawkins dance at the school. She gets it, but it doesn't solve her problem the way that she hoped it would.

With many of the fan favorite characters having graduated from McKinley last spring, sometimes Glee chooses to focus on the characters I consider the "B team." Tina is very much one of those characters, and unlike some, which flourish under the additional screen time, Tina has yet to do anything that improves my opinion of her. In fact, just the opposite.

Tina's crush in "Sadie Hawkins" is Blaine (Darren Criss). I know it's natural for young girls to fall for gay guys, not fully understanding relationships and sexuality yet. But Tina is introduced to Blaine as Kurt's (Chris Colfer) boyfriend. All of the time that she has known Blaine, there has never been any sign that he is even a tiny bit straight, nor interested in her. It's fine if she is attracted to him, or harbors a secret that she keeps to herself, but making a move on him is stupid and weird.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy Tina's "I Don't Know How to Love Him." She does have a pretty good voice, and I like that song. But that's the only part of her story in the this episode that I liked.

Which leaves me hoping that Tina does not go to New York and continue on the series next year. I don't mind if she pops in occasionally, as most of the alumni do, but to interweave her into the main saga longer than necessary would not benefit the show. Unless they improve her character, because I do think the actress could handle better.

Blaine, for his part, also has unrequited feelings. He is interested in Sam (Chord Overstreet). It's not hard to see why, and the two do have good chemistry. Unlike Tina, however, Blaine knows it's simply a fantasy that will never come true, and thus, keeps it to himself until Tina really needs to hear it. He's acting much more reasonable.

Glee already went down this path, having students lusting after others who don't share their sexual preference, in the early days of the show, when Kurt had a thing for Finn (Cory Monteith). It doesn't need revisited.

One could make the argument that these characters are in high school, and their recent actions are reminiscence of how teenagers actually behave. The problem is, Glee is not consistent with that behavior, so when a plot like this comes around, it feels uneven, and does not make for the best episode.

The best part of the entire "Sadie Hawkins" plot is that it returns Lauren Zizes (Ashley Fink) to the show! Her role is brief, and she should have already  graduated, I think. She also acts completely out of character from what we've seen of her before, and I don't buy that her man messed her up this much. It just doesn't feel like the woman that character had grown into when we last saw her, even if that's how her character was originally introduced. But I've missed Zizes (and Fink) so much that I am willing to overlook the writing flaws if they will only make her a recurring player again (or better yet, a series regular), and then effort can be spent on taking her back to her former glory.

Why is Sugar (Vanessa Lengies) in the Too Young to Be Bitter club? She can be annoying (to some, I actually like her), but she's hot, and looks trump personality in a high school setting. Someone would have wanted to go to the dance with her.

Marley (Melissa Benoist) decides to fully go after Jake (Jacob Artist) this week. I feel like their back and forth isn't progressing, but they're good together, and I Marley and the rest of the girls, including Unique (Alex Newell), sing quite an enjoyable "Tell Him." I hope this isn't one of those will-they-or-won't-they stories that is stretched out over three years, even though that's probably exactly what it is.

Meanwhile, Kitty (Becca Tobin) wants Jake, but after he resists her sexual proposition, settles for elder brother Puck (Mark Salling). This pairing can't possibly last, but for where both of these characters are right now, it makes sense for the plot. They will probably have lots of energetic sex. Let's just hope that history doesn't repeat itself and Puck knocks up another Cheerio.

The dance itself is kind of eh. We've seen so many dances on Glee, and I can't say that this one is special. The performances of "No Scrubs," "Locked Out of Heaven," and "I Only Have Eyes For You" are good, but not great, and aren't very memorable. Also, like in the past, the fact that the New Directions get to perform at their school dance, and the student body appreciates this, stretches believability way too far.

Sam is on a mission in "Sadie Hawkins" to prove that the Warblers cheated at the competition and get them disqualified. I'm confused. Didn't the New Directions get third place? Knocking the Warblers out would not automatically put them back in. I'm sure some plot contrivance will occur where the other group also can't compete, and the New Directions do get to continue, but why doesn't Sam realize that? What's his purpose? Just to get even with bullies? Also, steroids might help with the dance moves, but I can't imagine it's good for the voice, so why would the Warblers use these drugs?

In New York, Rachel (Lea Michele) has a tiff with Brody (Dean Geyer). Their argument is dumb, and Rachel is acting petty. I'm really not sure what the purpose of this scene is other than that Rachel asks Brody to move in, and because they wanted a moment that lasted longer than ten seconds, the writers tossed in a fight. Not the strongest bit of this episode, and that's saying something.

Kurt, however, has a wonderful story in "Sadie Hawkins." He is enticed by the Adams Apples, the NYADA version of glee club, and especially by their leader, Adam (Oliver Kieran-Jones, Episodes). But he is told that the are the losers of the school, and that he should stay away from them. Kurt decides not to listen to public opinion.

It's a great Glee story, true to the series in every sense. The New Directions are losers, too, when viewers are first introduced to them, and they become something great. The Adams Apples may look like a ragtag bunch, but their "Baby Got Back," presumably sung in Jonathan Coulton's style to make them seem more odd, is terrific. It's hard to believe that they are shunned by their peers, unless the style of music is just considered a lesser art form, but I'm sure Kurt will turn that around.

Kurt has always marched to the beat of his own drum, so it's really no surprise that he would ignore advice and join up with the Adams Apples, especially when there's a cute boy involved. Adam is a senior, so any romance will probably be temporary, tiding Kurt over until Blaine can get to the Big Apple next spring. I'm fine with that, as Kurt deserves a little happiness, and Adam should be a fitting placeholder.

Unfortunately, "Sadie Hawkins" is not a bright spot in the season. Zizes, Adam, and "Tell Him" don't make up for the school dance itself and other weak numbers. The plot gets hokey, and goes off the rails a bit. However, it's not a terrible installment, and if this is the weak point in season four, which I would argue that, so far, it is, it will still make for a fine season overall.

Glee airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Twenty Twelve lives on

Article first published as Twenty Twelve lives on at TheTVKing.

In the lead up to London's hosting of the 2012 Olympics, there was a British-made sitcom entitled Twenty Twelve. The two series filmed take us behind the scenes of the fictional committee tasked with planning and implementing the event, and the foibles and pitfalls they encounter in their less-than-competent work. It's a goofy, but not too slapstick, comedy that just happens to tie in to a real event. It's now available as a two disc DVD set.

My first impression of Twenty Twelve is that it's a lot like The Office. It's made in the mockumentary style, and features a number of employees who keep screwing up their jobs. A lot of what they do is have endless meetings, and the tasks are mundane, like programming traffic lights. Even the exciting stuff, like figuring out what to do with the buildings after the Olympics are over, are trivialized and made to seem unimportant based on the level of care taken to implement them.

The big difference between Twenty Twelve and The Office is that the latter featured a couple of decent workers putting up with an inane boss and some zany peers, while this series has a relatively well-put-together leader dealing with employees who don't measure up. It's a small reversal, but an important one, meaning that the issues are coming from all directions, and are plentiful. Also, the humor here is often at the expense of outsiders, the tone is a little more serious, and the scale is larger.

The cast is lead by Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), who plays Ian Fletcher. Ian is in charge, but while he is good at his job, and at putting out the various fires started, he does have a messy personal life, and that is what draws him into the muck. Luckily, he has a very good personal assistant, Sally (Olivia Colman, Peep Show). Unluckily, she's in love with him.

Bonneville plays the part with such sympathy, viewers will find themselves rooting for him to succeed, and will grow as frustrated as he does with the others who work in his department. This role really gives him a chance to stretch away from the drama, and while he is the "straight" man for many of the jokes, he definitely is the main pulse of the show, too, and the reason it works.

The rest of the ensemble is talented enough to make their characters seem completely real, and audiences should have little trouble relating these dolts to people that they have encountered in the world.  There's the insecure Kay Hope (Amelia Bullmore, Scott & Bailey), who tries to keep drawing attention to her goal of sustainability; ditzy Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes, Spaced) is the stereotype of a PR rep, pretty and clueless, thinking she can ride on her looks and personality alone; Graham Hitchens (Karl Theobald, Green Wing) has the job, but not the skills, of a tech and stats nerd; there's also Nick Jellet (Vincent Franklin, The Thick Of It).

In the thirteen episodes, problems that are faced include a lost bus, a shooting, how to design a religious center that will make everyone happy, a bizarre art installation, Roman remains found in the construction zone, and a sexual health campaign. It's bureaucracy taken to the extreme, and with satisfyingly humorous results. With the witty narration provided by David Tennant (Doctor Who),  most should find these episodes at least somewhat amusing, even if it fails to break new comedy ground.

My only real complaint is that the ending doesn't tie things up. No third series has been ordered, but the lack of resolution leaves me wanting a bit more, especially in regards to Ian's romantic choices. Should future episodes be added, it would resolve this.

The only extra is cast and crew interviews. These are interesting, but a little disappointing as the sole bonus.

Twenty Twelve is available now.

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Parenthood has its rewards

Article first published as Parenthood has its rewards on TheTVKing

The season finale of NBC's Parenthood, entitled "Because You're My Sister," was very busy. The Braverman clan is a large family, and it takes quite a bit of time to serve each family member in their story. Not every episode makes it around to everyone, but this one did better than most at serving a large number of the cast.

A huge part of the sweetness this week comes when Victor's (Xolo Mariduena) adoption is finalized. The entire family piles into a single courtroom, and many of them get to take turns telling Victor how glad they are that he is a part of their clan, and what they are willing to do for him. Every Parenthood season finale needs an organic group scene like this. We see Julia (Erika Christensen) struggle in previous episode with the decision to accept Victor, and it's great to see her affection grow towards him. But it's also wonderful when everyone else jumps on, and this finally makes Victor seem like one of the Bravermans and not just one of the Grahams.

Of course, the road to the courthouse isn't without incident. I'm not talking about Victor breaking the expensive bowl, because it almost seems like a test of Julia done on purpose. At minimum, it's an accident that scares Victor. It isn't until that moment that Victor knows he is fully welcome in their home. But by that time, the drama of doubt is over, as Julia has already made her decision, and she's not going to go back on it.

No, I'm talking about Sydney (Savannah Paige Rae) telling Victor that he isn't her brother. It's a natural thing for a kid to feel or say, acting out against change. However, that doesn't make it any less cruel. I feel like Victor understands that Sydney is just blowing off steam, because he's had enough practice at doing the same thing himself lately. He's also anxious to be part of the family after Julia accepts him, and so does what he needs to do to win Sydney over. It's gratifying when Sydney comes around, too, even if it doesn't take some big event to move her.

Part of what Parenthood does well is write authentically for the children, and actually give them something to do. Many series with kids running around ignore the youngsters, or use them only as comedic gags against the adults. Parenthood lets Sydney and Victor act their age, and have a bit of real story between them. Very cool.

Victor isn't the only new face joining the Bravermans. Crosby (Dax Shepard) and Jasmine (Joy Bryant) learn they will soon be having a new baby. As the youngest of the Braverman couples, and the most ready for a new addition, this is great news. It might be slightly unexpected, as it hasn't been addressed in the story that they are trying, but at the same time, it just feels like a natural part of life moving on.

The news of a baby makes Crosby take stock of his situation with his mother-in-law, Renee (Tina Lifford). It's not that Crosby is wrong in his argument with Renee, but it's more that he needs to just let his anger go. Renee does overstep with her grandson, but she's family, and Crosby understands that. Renee has done a lot for them, especially Crosby's son, Jabbar (Tyree Brown), so sometimes, one should overlook her faults. I don't know that she will be moving back in with them anytime soon, but it's nice to see peace, and I like what having Renee around does to Crosby, forcing him to mature, eventually anyway.

 A tragedy is averted in "Because You're My Sister" when we learn that Kristina (Monica Potter) has beat her cancer. She's not cured, but she is cancer free. Honestly, I feel like cancer is the go-to crisis in family dramas, and I never cared for the story. It's great to see Kristina healthy, if for no other reason than it puts this arc to rest. Hopefully, the illness with not come back.

Other good news in the episode comes for many other characters. Drew (Miles Heizer) gets into a great school, the first in his immediate family to attend college, even if it takes him far away from Amy (Skyler Day), who things are over with anyway. Amber (Mae Whitman) reunites with Ryan (Matt Lauria), something she is afraid of, with cause, but wants, and maybe he could make her happy.

Lastly, though, after all of this happiness, is the tear jerker story. Sarah (Lauren Graham) has to choose between Mark (Jason Ritter), who makes a play to win her back, and Hank (Ray Romano), who she is currently with. Sarah chooses Hank, who then promptly announces he's moving to Minnesota to be with his daughter.

This is rough, but there's little that could be done to make it better, and it all unfolds very naturally. Some argue that Sarah always chooses the wrong guy, but I think that she is right in picking Hank. After all, she has made several attempts with Mark, and they just don't seem to work for all that long. Hank cares about her, and he's good to her. There is no doubt in my mind that he could make her happy. The twist with his daughter only presents him as a better man. Plus, how much would Hank shake up the dynamics when the whole clan comes together?

So what should Sarah do now? Should she move with Hank to Minnesota? I really want her to, but only if the series follows her, and they find a way to come back at some point next season. I don't think that she can go back to Mark now, not after telling him she chose Hank. It will make him feel like second place, which will only implode their next relationship more quickly. Or she might find someone else, which is a little bit of a shame, given that she already has two amazing actors after her character. It would take someone really, really good to be worthy at this point.

The mostly feel-good plots of "Because You're My Sister" allow Parenthood to end on an uplifting note, even as some sadness is mixed in. All of it tugs at the heart perfectly, and it remains one of the best family dramas in recent memory. Hopefully this won't be a series finale, but if it does turn out to be so, at least the series finished well.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

The "Madness Ends" for American Horror Story: Asylum

Article first published as TV Review: American Horror Story: Asylum - "Madness Ends" on Blogcritics.

FX's American Horror Story: Aslyum brings its thirteen episode limited run to an end this week with "Madness Ends." With most of the main characters dead or out of Briarcliff, the primary setting, weeks ago, "Madness Ends" feels like an extended epilogue, combined with the previous installment or two. But it all ties together by the close.

My early complaints about the second series of American Horror Story stem from the lack of character development. While the first season has a family as its heart, people we care about, the second season tends to be more about disturbing visuals and events. There are characters, to be sure, but things are happening to them, rather than seeing them take control of their destiny.

This sorts itself out as the season goes on. Once we can get past the disgust of the place, and the extremely evil souls that flourish within, then we can begin to root for Lana (Sarah Paulson) and Kit (Evan Peters), the victims / heroes of the story. This mirrors their own journey, having to get used to the place, and then find their courage, before they can attempt to change their circumstances.

In last week's episode, which is also set mainly post-Briarcliff, Lana and Kit are not in good places. Kit's misfortune comes by circumstance, while Lana just makes bad choices, but it's not a good way to leave their characters. Thus, we definitely need "Madness Ends" to not only redeem the two, but tie up loose ends so that a semi-happy ending might be found.

First, Kit, since he's the slightly smaller of the two stories. Kit is a good, good man. He manages to forgive Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) for locking him up unfairly and treating him so cruelly. But, while for most, finding forgiveness in their heart would be enough, Kit goes a step further and rescues Jude, both from the asylum, and from herself.

It's an incredibly touching story, to see Kit and his children (Brady Allen and Sade Kimora Young) welcome Jude into their home, caring for her, and bringing her out of her shell, restoring her in all of her glory, maybe more glory than she's ever had before. It goes well above and beyond what is expected of people, and they do truly save her, allowing Jude to become kind and have a family, living out her last days in comfort. By the time Death (Frances Conroy) arrives for the last time, Jude is finally ready to go.

What a story of redemption! Jude is run through the gamut, beginning the season as a victim, getting a deep back story, and then being the most tortured soul on the program. She comes full circle as a doting grandmother figure, and Lange has got to be enjoying playing such a wonderful, fully realized character.

As for Kit himself, this great generosity of spirit must be what the aliens see in him. While some may complain about the extra-terrestrial subplot, and the lack of real explanation, I feel like they come to help us, meaning mankind, move into the next stage of evolution. They pick the best man they can find, and help him on his way. The good die young, and Kit is spent by age forty, so they take him somewhere for his reward. It's all a very spiritual and uplifting arc.

Now, onto Lana. Much of "Madness Ends" takes place nearly five decades after the rest of the story, with Lana as an old, well-respected journalist and writer, about to receive a Kennedy Center Honors ceremony. She builds the life that she wants, but she still doesn't seem quite happy, haunted by those dark days that she suffered, and the wrong decisions she made in the aftermath.

But that doesn't mean Lana is a pushover, or ready to die. When her grown up son, Johnny (Dylan McDermott), comes to kill her, she is prepared. She talks him down, feigning love for her child, and then coldly shoots him, finishing the job she should have completed years ago.

I think some of old Lana's guilt definitely comes from letting her son live. Despite the lies that she tells Johnny, completely in character with the fibs in her work, she already knows who he is and what he has been doing. She knows that she should have gone through with the abortion, and that her attempts to give him a better life failed. What's more, she herself inadvertently sabotages Johnny's chance at happiness because she can't resist checking in on him as a child.

Lana may live, the triumphant hero in some eyes, but she will never be happy like Kit. I half expected her to turn the gun on herself after murdering her son, as while she has accepted some of her misery, I feel like this could be what pushes her over the edge. Or perhaps the days she spends with Kit's family aren't enough to crack that hard shell she builds up immediately after Briarcliff, and she is too far gone for this latest tragedy to affect her too severely.

The capstone, seeing Lana and Jude together at the beginning again, watching Johnny go to the places his parents were at and continue his father's work, and even finding out what happens to Cardinal Howard (Joseph Fiennes), also destroyed by guilt and Lana, all serve to really bind the story together in a fitting conclusion. Some things are regrettable, like what happens to the women that Kit initially loves, but, in the end, American Horror Story: Asylum tells a complete and gripping tale, one not likely to be soon forgotten.

My only slight complaint about the hour is that ending old Lana where she does, sitting on a couch near her son's body, feels slightly unfinished. This isn't fully erased for me by the flashback scene, and I wanted just a touch more there.

But other than that, "Madness Ends" is a fantastic episode in a really good miniseries.

I'd also like to mention, even though it didn't really fit in the flow of this review, that the parts of the story involving Lana's expose and her interview are extremely well done. The grainy camera style back then and the expert make-up in the now are both superb, and make "Madness Ends" one of my favorite episode of the year.

American Horror Story will return for a third season, with a new cast of characters, and returning performers including Lange, Paulson, and Peters, next fall on FX.

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White Collar goes into the "Family Business"

Article first published as White Collar Season 4 Episode 11 Review on Seat42F

Grade: 89%

USA’s WHITE COLLAR resumes this week with “Family Business.” When we last leave our heroes (back in September’s fall finale), Peter (Tim DeKay) and Neal (Matt Bomer) are beginning to rebuild their trust, and Neal finds out that the man he believes to be named Sam is actually Neal’s father, James (Treat Williams). Plus, there’s the little matter of bringing Ellen’s killer to justice, who Neal believes to be Dennis Flynn.

WHITE COLLAR flirts with larger arcs from time to time, but mostly sticks with a case-of-the-week format. I want to complain, because I hate procedurals on principal. Yet, WHITE COLLAR manages to pull off these cases with great skill, often integrating them into the larger story, which keeps them from being dull or feeling all the same. They’ve been successfully doing so for years now, and the most recent installment is no exception.

 For instance, in “Family Business,” Neal and Mozzie (Willie Garson) go undercover with the Flynn family. The duo fakes booze and special bottles for the booze to go into, with the clear understanding that the episode will end with the bad guys being arrested. This is totally in keeping with the expected formula. However, the fact that the Flynn family is very involved in Neal’s back story, and Neal is intent on pinning more than just counterfeiting on them, to Peter’s displeasure, the caper means something more than just going after a random criminal.

Now, don’t get me wrong; WHITE COLLAR knows how to make a con interesting. Even were the Flynn connection not present, I’d enjoying watching Neal and Mozzie work together, especially when getting drunk while concocting a fake whiskey. Their chemistry is highly enjoyable, and the writing for them is smart. I’m just saying, it means more when things go a little deeper.

The trust does seem to be mostly restored between Peter and Neal this week, which is a slight disappointment. Previous episodes develop a huge gap between them, their partnership badly wounded, which finally begins to heal a bit in the previous episode. This one takes place pretty much right after the last, but because of the months in between air times, the writers probably assume we’ve forgotten just how precarious the relationship is when last we see them. I have not, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

We can tell that Peter trusts Neal again because he lets Neal go undercover, even though Peter knows Neal is too close to be at the top of his game, and the agent doesn’t automatically call things off when Neal crosses a line. Yes, Peter is ticked off, as usual. But when Peter stopped trusting Neal, he kept a tighter leash. Seeing Peter give Neal a little more slack is a sign that things are normalizing between the pair. This is what I want, what all fans are hoping for, but it comes just a little too easily.

“Family Business” addresses the bond between Neal and James. Now that James’s secrets are out in the open, the two can begin to talk honestly, and decide if they want to have a relationship. James definitely does, but Neal isn’t so sure, not in small part because he feels conned by James since James let his son believe that he was Sam.

How James begins to make up for this, and what James reveals about the crime he is accused of, I will not spoil. Suffice it to say, this episode does have some flashbacks that satisfactorily keep James from being a total scumbag. There is a door left open that I would like to see Neal walk through that leads to a real father-son style relationship. If WHITE COLLAR chooses to go there or not, well, that remains to be seen. At least it hasn’t been shut down right out of the gate.

“Family Business” is a good way to come back, catching us up on the bigger arcs, giving some family drama and mythology to the major characters, and still delivering a fun con job that results in a bad guy being taken off the streets. That last bit isn’t a spoiler; it happens in just about every episode of the show. This is WHITE COLLAR in good form, the way it’s best enjoyed.

WHITE COLLAR airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on USA.

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Private Practices shuts its doors

Article first published as Private Practice shuts its doors on TheTVKing

ABC's Private Practice came to an end this week after six seasons on the air. Some of the plot arcs over the years were fantastic, others not so much. But there are some wonderful characters here, and some memorable stories, and thus, it's sad that it's over. Especially since it ran much shorter than the series it spun off from, Grey's Anatomy, still going strong nine seasons in.

The main character of Private Practice has always been Addison Forbes Montgomery (Kate Walsh). Viewers meet her in Grey's Anatomy, the cheater in a bad marriage, and we watch her pull herself together, mostly after moving away to sunny California. Addison searches for love, both romantic and as a parent, and this all finally comes together for her in "In Which We Say Goodbye."

I don't know that the show has really demonstrated that Jake (Benjamin Bratt) is a better match for Addison than anyone else. To keep the drama going up until the end, they have their rocky moments in the final season. Still, it's thrilling to see Addison get her happy wedding day, and as long as she believes that Jake is the man she is meant to be with, who are we to complain?

Besides, we know that Jake is a good man. We've seen how he treats his daughter (Emily Rios), and what he does to make sure that Addison can keep baby Henry, whom she wants more than anything. He is the type of guy that will sacrifice his own desires so that the ones he cares about get what they need. I don't know that Addison deserves someone quite so good, considering all of her faults, but it's gratifying to see her happy.

The big surprise in "In Which We Say Goodbye" comes when Sam (Taye Diggs) and Naomi (Audra McDonald) hook up, and then she gets pregnant. This, alone, would be enough, and yet, Private Practice takes it a step further. Months pass, Sam goes after Naomi, oblivious about the baby, and the episode ends with their second wedding, Naomi having returned to the practice and her friends.

Is this the ending the makes sense for the characters? After all, when last we saw Naomi, she was happily engaged. Sam is in a relationship with a wonderful woman, Stephanie (Justina Machado, Six Feet Under) throughout the past few installments. Why break up these pairings at the last minute?

That's the thing about the Private Practice finale. It gives the perfect resolution for each character, one that will pull the heart strings of the viewer, even if it doesn't quite fit with where the plot was going. The emphasis is placed on giving us the sappy. I don't know if that's the goal of every show as it goes off the air, but because of the way this show has played out, it works here.

Other stories are more mundane, but still sweet. Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) probably has the least to do, but we see things are going well with her and James (Matt Long, Mad Men), and that's enough. Cooper (Paul Adelstein), Charlotte (KaDee Strickland), Mason (Griffin Gluck), and the triplets find their balance as a terrific family. I loved this most of all, Cooper and Charlotte being my favorite people on the show. Sheldon (Brian Benben) gets to be with the woman he loves, even though she is dying.

Sheldon's plot is the only one I complain a bit about in this group. I know that there is no way to avoid his love interest kicking the bucket, and thus, he will be sad, while the others are smiling. But this would have been OK if he had returned to his job, months later, and we could see him laughing with everyone else in that final scene. Instead, he is the sole one missing, and it casts a slight pallor, knowing that where he is cannot be nearly as joyous at the practice.

Is this woman even who Sheldon is meant to be with? He has a tendency to jump into a relationship full force, and it is easily conceivable that she is just the latest in the line. "In Which We Say Goodbye" would have us believe otherwise, that she is Sheldon's soul mate, but like Jake with Addison, we don't really see what sets her apart from the other women Sheldon has loved. Thus, I'm a little bit depressed that he leaves everything else that is good in his world to care for her. He should have kept his job, and with it, the network of support at work.

Finally, we get to Violet (Amy Brenneman). She goes stag to the wedding, a sign that she is moving on from Pete and finding herself, something the character has always struggled with. This is a fitting ending for her, as Violet's plots have always been more about self-discovery and triumph, rather than depending on a love interest, the way other characters have. We get to see her doing well, probably temporarily, until the next tragedy comes along, but at least she'll have this moment in time.

It's a little too on the nose that Violet's second book about "joy" is called Private Practice. Are we supposed to think that everything we've seen over the last six years came from her book? I wouldn't think so, considering the early days were so Addison-driven. I enjoyed the characters debating whether it was a good title or not, but it does take one out of the story a bit in that moment, sacrificing the believable world the characters inhabit for a joke.

Violet also treats a patient (Sarah Ramos, Parenthood) in the finale that doesn't want to leave her. Series creator Shonda Rhimes has stated that the patient's words are her message to the fans. So Shonda doesn't want the show to be canceled, but realizes it's for the best? I'm not sure I quite understand. However, it's her show, so she can say whatever she wants. I just thank her for making it.

That's kind of my overall impression of Private Practice at this moment. I didn't always agree with the direction, and sometimes it frustrated the hell out of me. But it was definitely Shonda's vision, and at the end of the day, she knows how to jerk a tear, or help an actor develop a fully realized person. As I watched the last hour, I couldn't help but thinking, despite my periodic disappointments, it was a pretty darn good show, overall, and I wasn't ready for it to end.

At least it went out with a great last season. Private Practice will be missed.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mistfits still up to no good in season two

Article first published as Misfits still up to no good in season two on TheTVKing

The second season of the British series Misfits is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from the BBC. All five of the main characters from season one return, the same as ever, but their world is changing. They are approaching the end of their community service, and taking stock of what the powers mean to them and how they can be used in their lives. They aren't the only ones around with powers, though, and as the world begins to find out about people like them, it becomes harder to maintain control over what they want and who they are.

Misfits is a fantastic show. It's about characters that look and act like regular people, and who live in a low-income area. They aren't middle class, by any means, which already makes the series feel different and unique. While there have been many shows about people with superhuman powers, these characters aren't heroes, either, further setting itself apart.

This is a gritty, realistic look at a familiar world turned on its head. Good does not always win the day, and people don't always do the right thing. Great power may come with great responsibility, but that doesn't mean that there will be capes and tights and rescuing damsels in distress. Even those who have developed beyond the average person in the evolutionary scale still have lives to lead, and everything doesn't get put on hold, nor come easily, just because they can do something extraordinary.

Plus, the writing and the acting are just so sharp, it really is hard to give a feel of the tone and makeup of the show in a written review. You must watch it to get a feel for what it is doing.

The characters grow deeper and develop in season two. Simon (Iwan Rheon) is the most dynamic, coming out of his shy boy shell, and finding love for the first time. He alone maintains a moral compass, and while he isn't infallible, he is the rock that the others can lean on. He becomes their equal this year, no longer just the weird kid they tolerate, and his nobility allows him to be a leader, and to begin to be seen as such by his peers, even if his potential is not yet fully realized.

There are plenty of opportunities for romance for all of the main players. Alisha (Antonia Thomas) moves beyond her games with Curtis (Nathan Stewart-James) to find something real. Curtis, too, moves onto someone better for him, discovering Nikki (Ruth Negga), who sort of joins their little band. The long-anticipated (by Nathan) hook up between Kelly (Lauren Socha) and Nathan (Robert Sheehan) goes about as expected, but even Nathan finds himself maturing a bit by the end of the year.

Besides the personal stuff, which is great, there are bigger arcs going on this year, which also challenge the turpitude of the cast. First, there's a mysterious man in a mask, who ends up holding quite a few surprises for our protagonists, as well as hints at some of what will come. Then, they encounter a handful of others with powers, some good, some bad, with mixed results. Their secrets are exposed, and they go public in a very big way. Finally, a man who desires to be worshiped like Jesus Christ becomes their most dangerous foe yet.

The year ends with major self-evaluations for everyone, and a shake up that may or may not result in them each getting different powers for the next year. The ending is a little ambiguous, but there is definitely potential for some fresh new direction next season.

This two disc set, which contains seven exciting episodes, also has a trio of featurettes that enrich the viewing experience. We get to go behind the scenes, hear about how the show is made, and some bonus scenes are included. None of these are too short, and fill out the set nicely.

Misfits Season 2 is well worth your time. Check it out.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Follow The Following

Article first published as The Following Series Premiere Review on Seat42F.

Grade: 97%

FOX is known for high-octane action dramas that are also about good storytelling. In THE FOLLOWING, premiering this Monday at 9 p.m. ET, not only does it follow in this proud traditional, but it uses a well-known group of actors and a seasoned creator, Kevin Williamson (Scream, Dawson’s Creek, The Vampire Diaries), to deliver one of the best network series in the genre to date.

As the story opens, after a suitably intense first scene, we meet agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon, Mystic River, Apollo 13), an alcoholic, washed-up fed who once captured a notorious serial killer named Joe Carroll (James Purefoy, Rome, Resident Evil). Joe is on the loose, and with some new agents by his side (X-Men’s Shawn Ashmore, not to be confused with twin Aaron, and Law & Order’s Annie Parisse), Ryan has to track down Joe all over again.

While the hunt is on, THE FOLLOWING takes time to show us some of the previous events in a series of flashbacks. We are introduced to Sarah (Maggie Grace, Lost, Taken), the victim Ryan saved from Joe’s killing spree, and Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea, Justified, The Other Guys), Joe’s wife, whom Ryan previously had a sexual relationship with, during the first go-round with Joe. Ryan checks in on them both in the present day, concerned, and hoping that they can lead him to Joe.

Other than that, it’s hard to tell you much. FOX would like me not to spoil the various plot twists that make up the hour, and after thoroughly enjoying the story, I agree that everyone should watch the episode for themselves. It’s a thrilling ride, with plenty of the unexpected happening, and it would be pretty rude to give you a heads up about those things.

This also makes it hard to talk about the series going forward, or what it will be. The story is significantly different at the end from what it appears to be at the beginning. so I can’t write about the premise very much without spoiling. So I won’t.

What THE FOLLOWING does well is set up an intense situation. As publicly released materials on the show’s official website have already revealed, the show will deal a lot with what would happen if serial killers in many different areas formed a network, rallying around a central figure. It takes an element of society that it already dangerous, and heightens the threat, with a support network helping the bad guys complete their evil missions. This is exactly what is happening.

There is also the Battlestar Galactica element of the enemy hiding among us. On that sci-fi show, the villains are Cylons, robots that look like humans, live as humans, and may not even know they aren’t humans. In THE FOLLOWING, serial killers masquerade as normal people, and like in BG, they could be anybody. This makes for a high-stakes guessing game sure to engage viewers.

Of course, we have the flawed hero in Ryan, a familiar enough trope at this point. Bacon brings something fresh to the table, though, as the latest in a string of well-respected, highly talented film stars that are transitioning to the small screen for the great roles offered. Bacon takes Ryan, and immediately sets up someone fans will get behind and root for, even as we wish we could help him through the internal and external traumas he is dealing with, forgiving him his slipups because of what he has endured.

There is a simmering tension in the air, as THE FOLLOWING makes us wonder what a person is capable of. We get both sides of the spectrum, hero and villain, both intelligent and capable, and both ripe for exploring humanity through the prism of. Obviously, Joe’s actions are heinous, but the show seeks to get into his head a bit. At the same time, Ryan has clearly taken almost all he can possibly take, but, somehow, he has to find a way to overcome his failings and be the man the public need him to be to protect them.

Ryan is starting a step behind, Joe, of course, not knowing the game is already afoot. But the chemistry between these leads is great, and surely the upper hand will go back and forth between them repeatedly over the run of the program.

What makes THE FOLLOWING even better than the typical series are the literary and artistic references. Edgar Allen Poe plays a huge role in influence, with a thumping heart beat even accompanying one scene in a brilliant way. Joe thinks that there is a beauty in the murders he commits, and while THE FOLLOWING will not glamorize or agree with Joe, we see the elements in his act that he attributes to the more noble pursuits.

In short, THE FOLLOWING works on many levels, and is extremely well put together in every category. It takes what FOX did with Prison Break and 24, testosterone-fueled dramas, and pumps it up with some braininess that elevates the game. This is a fascinating story with plenty of mystery and suspense. It should become a much-watch for many very quickly.

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Doctor Who finds Shada

Article first published as DVD Review: Doctor Who - Shada on Blogcritics.

This month's Doctor Who DVD from the BBC is Shada. Originally intended to be the season 17 finale, only about half of Shada was ever filmed, owing to a strike, and it remains the only unaired Doctor Who serial. Now, for the first time on DVD, Shada sees the light of day.

This release is a three-disc set. The first disc contains the six episodes that make up Shada. Because these episodes were never completed, in 1992, long after he'd given up his title as the Doctor (he was #4), Tom Baker filmed new footage, explaining the parts of the story never actually shot back in the 1970s when Shada was to have aired. The original footage and new bits were spliced together, and the result was released on VHS. Now BBC Home Video has released Shada for the first time on DVD.

Shada is an interesting serial. It is written by Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), and begins at Cambridge. The Doctor and Ramona (Lalla Ward) answer, quite a bit late, a message sent out by Professor Chronotis (Denis Carey), a retired Time Lord near the end of his life. Unfortunately, Skagra (Christopher Neame) has also come, seeking the location of the Time Lord prison planet Shada, where there is an inmate that can help him take over the galaxy.

The story told in Shada is a bit similar to other tales. There's a villain, the Doctor and his friends, which this time include Chris Parsons (Daniel Hill) and Clare Keightley (Victoria Burgoyne) from the university, investigate. They are captured, escape or are rescued, and fight off Skagra before his plans can be fully realized.

There are some great whimsical moments. Chronotis himself is a pleasant and amusing chap, who often gets verb tenses mixed up, and who has his priorities a bit skewed. His memory isn't all that reliable anymore, and his rooms at Cambridge, where he has lived for three hundred years, are a traveling TARDIS itself. Plus, any serial with K-9 (David Brierly) makes one smile.

I think the pacing, though, is hampered by the incompleteness of the filming. Many of the action sequences, including the showdown at the end, are among the missing scenes. Baker is great at recapturing the character again in the 1990s, but it's disappointing not to have these bits, and it keeps the flow from ever taking off. More footage is missing in later episodes than in earlier installments, which makes getting through the serial a little laborious.

There is a second version of Shada included in this set. In 2003, a radio play edition was released, with Paul McGann, the Eighth Doctor, taking over the lead, and mostly recasting the other parts, save Lalla Ward's Romona. This has been set to animation, and makes for a more cohesive story. The only unfortunate part about this is that it is Flash, and must be played on a computer, rather than a DVD player.

The extras are plentiful, possibly more than in any other release. There are PDF materials, photo galleries, and production notes, of course, but also tons of featurettes including a discussion about why Shada was not completed, a look at the strike and its impact, and a visit to the shooting locations.

A full length, 90-minute documentary entitled More Than 30 Years in the TARDIS, originally released in 1993, is included. There's a remembrance of series star Nicholas Courtney, only slightly weird because he isn't part of this story. Verity Lambert, the first producer of Doctor Who, is interviewed. Plus, there are also Doctor Who Stories and Those Deadly Divas, with a couple of extras that focus on the ladies of the show.

I definitely recommend this collection. Granted, it's not the best presented or looking serial of the series, but it is a rare view of something begun, but not finished. The sheer amount of bonuses included make up for any shortcomings of the episodes themselves, and for any Doctor Who, the opportunity to see a previously missing piece of the puzzle should prove too tempting too resist.

Doctor Who - Shada is available now on DVD.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Being Human Series Four scares up disc release

Article first published as Being Human Series Four scares up disc release on TheTVKing.

The British series Being Human, not to be confused with the American remake that airs on SyFy, had a very dark fourth series last year. As the season begins, Nina (Sinead Keenan) and Mitchell (Aidan Turner) are dead, leaving an unraveling George (Russell Tovey) and Annie (Lenora Crichlow) to care for George and Nina's baby, Eve, as well as stop any forces that may seek to harm what's left of their small band.

Unfortunately, since the baby is the first known to be born of two werewolves, there is an evil gang of vampires that would definitely like to get their hands on her, fearing a prophecy that says the baby will wipe out all of the blood suckers from the face of the Earth. Griffin (Alex Jennings, Whitechapel, The Queen), the new head vampire, isn't about to take any chances, so he orders a death sentence.

The season is full of revenge plays and all-out war. There are a variety of new characters tossed into the mix. There are good guys, like the Vampire Recorder, Regus (Mark Williams, the Harry Potter films), and there are bad guys, like Cutler (Andrew Gower, Monroe), a vampire far more suited to the modern world than Griffin, and thus, more dangerous. There are also those who we aren't sure which side they are on, including the mysterious Mr. Rook (Steven Robertson), who is just getting started in his own tale when the series ends. We go deep into a vampire nest, and venture into a dystopian future. In the end, grave sacrifices must be made to save others, and the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance.

Besides the larger story arcs, Being Human undergoes a transition in its basic premise. At the start, the idea is to see how a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost could live together. With Mitchell dead, that leaves a hole in their threesome. This defeats the purpose a little bit, and it's not an imbalance that will be preserved.

So we meet the newest central cast member, Hal (Damien Molony), a vampire who has also been living as part of a very similar trio. However, his werewolf pal is now dying of old age, so it seems an appropriate time for him to transition into a new group. Hal is not the only possibility of who might become a new housemate, with others introduced as candidates, too, and the make up of the group does undergo a transition in series four.

Between Hal and the return of Tom (Michael Socha), now upgraded to main character, there is an infusion of new blood into the main cast. Annie and George need the extra help to fulfill their own destinies, and, without giving too much away, the end of series four sets up yet another shake up for series five, which should air later this year. Annie, especially, gets to shine in series four, so I look forward to seeing who will step up in the next run of episodes to match her.

Series four has been released on DVD and Blu-ray in a three disc set. All episodes are present, and it is ripe with extras, including a trailer, prequels, sequels, and deleted scenes. We are taken behind the scenes in a featurette, and interviewers with the people who make the show are included. It's quite a bit for a short-format series, and definitely much better than some other recent British releases

Being Human Series Four is available now.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Take a walk down Ripper Street

Article first posted as Ripper Street Series Premiere Review on Seat42F

Grade: 88%

BBC America continues to make original series, a fact that may irk those of us wishing they would carry more actual British programming, since they have so few shows delivering fresh episodes on a regular basis. The sad problem is, though, and this divides my opinion, they make good shows. First there was Copper, and now, beginning this week, is RIPPER STREET.

RIPPER STREET has a lot of similarities to Copper. Half of the main characters are policemen. The tale takes place long ago, at the end of the nineteenth century in this latest effort. There are prostitutes. The characters don’t have the luxury of sticking to peaceful moral codes, having to break the rules in the name of their duties. Both look at the early days of forensic science, using new techniques to solve crimes.

Also, like Copper, the sets and costumes are look terrific.

There are differences, too, of course. Copper is set a little bit later, in America. RIPPER STREET is less gritty, mostly staying away from the lowest class of citizen, unlike the class-divided Copper. There is quite a bit of nudity, at least in the screener I had access to. There’s porn, too, in its earliest incarnation, making RIPPER STREET more risque than Copper. The cops actually work in an office, rather than just roaming the streets.

RIPPER STREET stars Matthew Macfadyen (MI-5, Frost/Nixon) as Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, a detective who worked the murders of Jack the Ripper, and eventually gave up the hunt for the serial killer. Like many heroes on television today, he is wounded both physically and mentally. He suffered a terrible tragedy we know nothing about, which has made things very uncomfortable with his now-distant wife, Emily (Amanda Hale, The Crimson Petal and the White). He also has some extensive scarring on his shoulder.

It’s too bad that Reid seems so familiar. He is interesting enough, I guess, but he also comes across as the same as many other characters. He isn’t fresh or original enough to really stand out on his own.

The saving grace is Macfadyen. Even with a rather trite character, he performs the part well enough to keep viewers engaged. He does a fine job balancing the line between nobility and doing what he needs to do, even when that goes against orders. His face is more expressive than most of his peers, and he’s a large part of why RIPPER STREET works.

His partner is Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn, Game of Thrones, Soldier Soldier). Drake is the typical bad egg who has clung onto a good guy, and hopes to remake himself in his mentor’s image. Reid doesn’t treat Drake poorly, but Drake seems to feel a bit bad about using his fists so much, rather than his brain, and aspires to be like Reid. Again, it’s the actor who raises this character over the expectations, since his back story isn’t particularly unique.

Drake’s counter part is Rose Erskine (Charlene McKenna, Raw). Plenty of programs like RIPPER STREET, which are crime-based, wouldn’t take the time to balance out the cast between the genders. Rose is the answer to that, a prostitute that would like to raise her station in life. Unlike some similar characters in other shows, I believe that she can do it, given opportunity.

Then there are the true scoundrels. Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg, The Ex List) and Long Susan (MyAnna Buring, White Heat, Twilight) are on the run from whatever got them into trouble across the pond in the U.S. Susan runs the whore house where Rose works, while Homer befriends Reid, perhaps to protect himself, as much as because he might like the man. Interestingly, Homer is the scientist of the group, making him invaluable to his police friend.

Homer and Susan fight amongst each other as much as they fight others. They are people of deep passions and stubborn attitudes. They will create much of the conflict that should drive RIPPER STREET going forward, and straddle the line between likable and not enough that their actions can be unpredictable at times.

This will definitely be a show that solves cases, but they’ve also set up enough with the various characters to provide plenty of larger arcs and human-driven scenes. It may look like an old-timey CSI, complete with make-shift case boards, but there’s also something a bit more intelligent going on, too.

Plus, tying things to the Jack the Ripper case lend it that bit of history and legend that should draw in an audience, at least to sample the series.

In summary, the premise is slightly dull and done-before, however, the individual elements, each of which is well handled, combine to raise it above what it should be. I’m not saying that it’s my favorite new show, by any means, but it’s certainly one worth tuning into on a regular basis.

RIPPER STREET premieres Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

Want to read some of my fiction? It's on my website,! Also, for the latest updates and article links, as well as commentary on episodes I don't fully review, please follow me on Twitter! 

On the Fringe no more

Article first published as On the Fringe no more on TheTVKing.

I have been a fan of FOX's Fringe since day one. I liked the first season, and then grew to love the show as it deepened, building a rich, complex world, and making bold moves, constantly resetting themselves.

And then came season five. Yes, the concept of jumping into a future where the Observers have taken over the world, virtually enslaving the entire human race, is supremely cool. But, somehow, our team found a way to get around in this world. Observers can jump to any place in seconds, but they couldn't find those deemed most dangerous to them, even though the rebels just hung out in their old lab. Episodes became boring, as our central gang searched for piece after piece of Walter's (John Noble) forgotten plan, and barely made any progress. And many beloved recurring characters were entirely absent.

I'm not saying the whole year was terrible; there were some great moments. But overall, it lacked something that had worked very well these past few years, and I began to watch with my eye on the end, just waiting for things to pick up as the finale approached, making it all worth it.

Sadly, I can't say that the two hour "Liberty; An Enemy of Fate" redeemed the series. Again, there were great moments. Emotionally, the episode really worked because it served a few characters, and touched on elements of the past, using nostalgia to make it seem better than it was. Old cases the team investigated are used to attack the Observers. We get to see Olivia (Anna Torv) with powers again. We see Faxulivia (also Torv) and Lincoln Lee (Seth Gabel), and that they have a happy family. September / Donald (Michael Cerveris) calls upon his old friend, December (Eugene Lipinski), to assist. Broyles (Lance Reddick) gets his shining moment to face down Captain Windmark (Michael Kopsa), just as Nina (Blair Brown) previously did. Michael bests Windmark with seemingly no effort. Walter says goodbye to his cow, and calls Astrid (Jasika Nicole) by her real name. Peter and Olivia get their daughter back. And, best of all, Peter (Joshua Jackson) has his best father/son moment to date with Walter, and even says "I love you, Dad."

Sadly, though, that is the surface stuff. There are so, so, so many plot holes and bits that don't make sense, that as much as I loved all of the things I just listed, the finale rings a bit hollow. If the Observers could jump to the alternate universe any time, why haven't they taken over that place, too? Where are the alternate universe Observers? Why do the Observers not try to capture and question Fauxlivia and Lincoln? Why not interrogate Broyles immediately about the whereabouts of the team, instead of wasting time by trying to follow him first? Why do the main characters take so long to abandon the lab, having discussions and watching videos, when they know that Windmark will soon be closing in? Why don't any of the many, many soldiers they pass while trying to catch a train recognize them? Why don't they park the van at the shipping lane sideways to provide cover from gun fire? Why don't they worry about bullets being fired under the trucks? Why don't September and Michael go through the shipping lane more quickly? How come the Observers don't appear and sabotage the equipment, rather than fighting man to man, thus defeating the good guys?

And the biggest question, if Michael prevents the Observers from becoming who they are in the first place, they never send scouts back, and September never grows protective of Michael, so the Observers don't have any reason to be stopped from becoming evil, so they still invade, which creates Michael again... It's all destined to happen in a loop. Telling us the universe allows such a paradox, with the only penalty to be to delete Walter from the timeline in 2015, is pretty ridiculous, and feels like a total cop out.

In short, I don't want to forget everything about the finale or the final season, but for reason, it just does not live up to the brilliance of seasons two through four. I don't know why more notice wasn't taken with the details of the story, as it has been in the past. Maybe the delicious concept they chose for the last adventure just painted the writers into a corner. Whatever the reason, Fringe will forever remain a solid and memorable show over all, with a disappointing ending.

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New Trend: Parents Playing Parents?

Article first published as New Trend: Parents Playing Parents? on Blogcritics.

Acting is a craft honed with many years of practice and a large degree of talent. But talent alone may not be enough if the actors have to work with other performers with whom they just do not have chemistry. One of the greatest challenges in casting a series is picking people who have the right fit with one another, who can make it seem like their relationships go back way further than the show's timeline.

Hollywood seems to have a new solution to that problem. Why fake a relationship, when you can use one that already exists?

In HBO's Enlightened, which just began its second season, the main character of Amy is played by Laura Dern. Amy's mother is played by Diane Ladd. What may not be obvious to those who haven't bothered googling the two women is that Ladd is Dern's actual mother. They don't look a lot alike, but considering that Ladd is the person who raised Dern, it's no surprise that they can pull off a great dynamic on screen.

Their characters are antagonistic towards each other in the series, and this isn't too far-fetched to believe. Dern once sued her mother for emancipation so that she could do a movie to which her mother objected. Clearly, the two have a rocky back story, and have some real life material to draw upon for their mother-daughter roles, and this isn't the first time they've played opposite one another.

Maybe they've worked past those differences; everyone grows up. Everyone spats with their parents; not everyone sues for emancipation, but not knowing the family, I couldn't say what what motivate such an action, or how it was received. Those of us on the outside can only guess at Dern and Ladd's actual relationship.

That isn't really the point, though. The point is, these two women, both terrific actors in their own right, have found a way to use their relationship in their careers. Being on set together gives them an opportunity to spend time together. It also gives them a very authentic feel for their characters.

I wonders how much of their real relationship goes into the parts? Do they work better if they keep the characters purely on a fictional plane, or do they have no trouble pulling things from reality, in order to make the scene even more realistic? This is personal choice, of course, and there is not formula that will work for everyone.

Thinking about how it would be to work with my parents, I feel like it risks quite a bit of unprofessionalism while filming. I mean, I can't see my parents willing to set aside the fact that they are my parents, even if they are happy to help and work together. It would definitely make for a different dynamic once the cameras stop rolling, and with Dern having some creative control over the series, does that cause any tension between them?

I guess what I'm trying to say is, whether this will work or not depends on the individuals, how they feel about one another, and what the established hierarchy is in the project. It's not a choice everyone can make, even if both parent and child happen to be in the same industry. But it works for others outside of acting, too, such as when a kid takes over a retiring parent's business, and spends years training to prepare for that day, so it's about time that this is tried in the world of television.

Dern and Ladd are not alone in this arrangement. Recently, after guesting once last summer, Martin Sheen has joined the cast of FX's Anger Management, which also just began a second season. He plays Martin, the father of real-life son Charlie's character, also called Charlie. Keeping the same names blurs the lines even more. Is this a play for ratings, or did the pair really just decide they wanted to work together? 

Not so long ago, Charlie (the actor, not the character) had a huge public meltdown, which few could have missed. Martin got involved then, too. This will only fuel rumors about why Martin is now on set, and what might be going on. It could also potentially be disruptive to the filming process down the line, so it seems like a tenuous pairing, especially on a television show committed to cranking out 90 episodes over the next two years, making for a high stress, very busy environment.

Then again, maybe it's not a problem. As I said before, we can't know for certain what their relationship is, and as long as their bosses trust that whatever happens will not interrupt the production process, and it works for the network, good for them. I am certainly enjoying both casting choices so far.

There are all sorts of implications if this should become a full-blown trend. Will it be one that works, making for better television and films. Or are these two pairings just anomalies, a footnote in the history books? Could one or both of them flame out miserably because adults don't always work well with their parents? Or will it lead to them having even better relationships and more respect for one another? These four could be a bell weather if others are considering the move.

Or I could be making something out of nothing.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Archer doesn't even know what "Fugue and Riffs" means

Grade: 91%


FX’s ARCHER is finally back this week with “Fugue and Riffs.” Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) has not been seen since his mother’s wedding, having run off, traumatized. But he soon surfaces down by the shore, living with a wife and kids, and running a greasy restaurant…

I can’t discuss the opening of “Fugue and Riffs” without spoiling something incredibly special, so I am just going to ask right now that you watch the episode and then come back to this article, because I just have to reveal the twist: The episode opens with Archer thinking his name is Bob, and he owns a place called Bob’s Burgers.

That’s right. Archer is living in the world of the FOX cartoon Bob’s Burgers, in which the titular character is also voiced by H. Jon Benjamin. All of the touches of Bob’s Burgers are there, including Jimmy Pesto’s across the street, Mort’s funeral parlor next door, the children and their goofy clothes, and even John Roberts voicing Bob’s wife, Linda. The only major changes are the animation style, which stays with what ARCHER viewers are accustomed to, and that Bob is the kids’ step-dad, having only lived there for two months.

I cannot express how awesome this mash-up is. It’s always been a little weird to switch back and forth between the two programs (both excellent and hilarious) and hear that same, distinctive Benjamin voice. I only wish that the conceit had been kept up, and maybe we would find out that, somehow, Archer had long been sneaking off to this secret family of his. Of course, that wouldn’t really work, plot-wise, and I’m grateful that this has been allowed to happen under any circumstances. Still, it’s quite a tease…

This isn’t the first time that ARCHER has referenced things, tongue in cheek, outside of the series itself. Jeffrey Tambor, who plays Jessica Walter’s husband on Arrested Development (new episodes coming to Netflix in May), has guest starred in four ARCHER episodes, so far, as a love interest for Walter’s character. It’s a bit meta, but meta is incredibly in right now, and has yet to grow stale.

The rest of “Fugue and Riffs” isn’t nearly as good. How can it be? There are plenty of signature ARCHER elements, a KGB attack (that starts in the burger joint), fun banter between Archer and Lana (Aisha Tyler), uncomfortable moments with Malory (Jessica Walter), some terrific Pam (Amber Nash) / Cheryl (Judy Greer) hang time, and tons of great one-liners and visual gags. Even the ending of the episode, discovering that Barry (Dave Willis), still up in his space station, is behind all of the trouble this week, is so unexpected and fun.

It feels wrong to complain about the rest of the episode because, if the opening hadn’t been so big, it would have been a typical ARCHER outing, and not at all a let down. The issue is, when an episode chooses such an explosive first few minutes, there has to be follow through, and there just isn’t here. Maybe the Bob’s Burgers stuff should have been worked into the finale of the episode, rather than the beginning. Maybe it just needed to start a larger story. Whatever the reason, it makes this episode slightly uneven.

Luckily, I’m sure that won’t be the case in the coming weeks. As I said, most of the episode is perfectly in keeping with the rest of the series, and ARCHER remains one of the best half hours on television. Its witty humor, smart writing, and delightful cast chemistry combine to make something really special. “Fugue and Riffs” has proven that these elements remain intact, after we get over the distraction of a brilliant initial sequence.

ARCHER airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

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Article first posted on Seat42F