Sunday, March 31, 2013

Once Upon a Time Elicits Heroic Traits

Article first published as ONCE UPON A TIME Recap Season 2 Episode 18 Selfless, Brave and True on Seat42F.

Grade: 92%

ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME tells a story of redemption, as we learn that August (Eion Bailey) has what it takes to be “Selfless, Brave, and True.” He didn’t always, by the way. We see in flashback how he behaves in Asia, which leads to his return to wood form. But, in the end, he finds the hero inside of himself, and is rewarded for it.

While ONCE UPON A TIME has not tackled the Pinocchio story directly in its fairy tale world sequences, “Selfless, Brave, and True” is very much the same plot. We have a flawed man who seeks comfort and pleasure and the easy way out. He is willing to steal to help himself, even if others are hurt in the process. But when it really counts, when lives are on the line, he manages to sum up the courage to do the right thing.

Pinocchio learns this lesson once, when he was a boy. Now, as an adult, he must learn it all over again. When we first meet August in season one, he is already turning back into wood, thankfully a slow process. “Selfless, Brave, and True” shows us why, taking us to the fall of 2011 in the real world. And now, August must learn the same thing all over again.

This time, the stakes are much higher. Tamara (Sonequa Martin-Green) is on the hunt for magic. She is obviously willing to murder innocents to get it, as she does with The Dragon (Tzi Ma, 24, Rush Hour). She is now manipulating Neal (Michael Raymond-James) to gain access to Storybrooke, the place where magic exists. Since August is the only one that knows this, he decides to give up the chance at becoming a real person again with a potion she has in order to stay and warn the town. For his trouble, Tamara kills him.

It’s upsetting to see August die, even after the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy) restores him to the little boy he once was (Jakob Davies). Yes, the adult August has been corrupted, and becoming the boy Pinocchio again gives him a second chance. But he also loses who he is, the good with the bad, and his memories, which means he doesn’t get to tell anyone about Tamara. It’s a moving scene, seeing Marco (Tony Amendola) hold his boy in his arms. But it’s as much about loss as it is about rebirth.

We don’t know much about Tamara yet, other than that she is evil. But the existence of her character opens up a whole world of possibilities that haven’t been explored on the show before. Greg knows about magic because of his Storybrooke experience. Tamara somehow learns of it another way. And The Dragon either came from the fairy tale realm or also found out about it at some point. So magic has been connected to the real world long before Regina’s (Lana Parrilla) curse.

I do wonder if Greg will turn out to be a bad guy. He has legitimate beef against Regina, to be sure, even if she claims she let his father go a few days after young Owen left the town. This is probably a lie, but we don’t know for sure. However, thus far we haven’t seen anything to indicate that Greg knows of Tamara’s intentions. Did he make a deal with her, and is willing to be bad and help her steal magic in order to find his dad? Or is he so concentrated on his mission that he didn’t check the terms or the source of his help, and his values aren’t aligned with Tamara’s? After all, Greg has been in town for awhile, and surely has seen that not everyone there deserves punishment.

Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) punishes herself enough, and doesn’t need it from any outside sources. She finally does get out of bed in “Selfless, Brave, and True,” and encounters August in the forest. August believes he has done unforgiveable things, and Mary Margaret does her best to convince him that that is not so, and he should return to his father.

Seeing August is just what Mary Margaret needs. She is too close to the situation involving herself to be objective, but she has no problem letting August off the hook for his own sins. In the process, she realizes that she is in a similar situation, and can also seek redemption for what she has done. August helps Mary Margaret out of her funk, and she will now begin to put her life back together.

These parallel plots are well designed, especially because they are the culmination of a lot of story. Mary Margaret and August’s similar circumstances don’t come about all of the sudden in this single episode, but have long been built to, and now intertwine beautifully. The ONCE UPON A TIME writers are brilliant masterminds at making connections and having arcs fit together. This episode is a wonderful example of some of their best work in that arena.

I am still baffled by the chemistry among the Charming family. Henry (Jared Gilmore) seems to have adjusted to seeing Emma (Jennifer Morrison) as his mother and Mary Margaret and David (Josh Dallas) as his grandparents. But Emma is clearly uncomfortable around her own parents, and hasn’t figured out how to treat them yet, likely hindered by the fact that they appear to be roughly her own age. The way that Emma treats Mary Margaret in this episode, annoyed at her being in bed, in stark contrast to David’s nurturing approach, shows she hasn’t accepted them as family yet, at least not in the way they view family. I wonder if this will ever sort itself out, or if it will always feel awkward.

Lastly, it’s a little sad that August won’t have a chance with Emma. I feel like there is some real chemistry between the characters, and given their back story, coming over to the real world together, it’s sweet. But this does clear an obstacle towards getting Emma and Neal back together, which could happen next season, after he gets over the betrayal of Tamara.

ONCE UPON A TIME will be taking a few weeks off of fresh installments, but will air “enhanced” versions of recent episodes instead. It continues Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Raising Hope Continues to Raise the Bar

Article first published as Raising Hope Continues to Raise the Bar on TheTVKing.

FOX's Raising Hope completed its third season with a pair of new episodes last night, "Burt Mitzvah: The Musical" and "Mother's Day." Both are truly excellent examples of a consistently great series, and unable to choose between them, this review will cover elements of each.

In "Burt Mitzvah: The Musical," Burt's mother (Shirley Jones, The Partridge Family, The Music Man) tells her son that she's recently discovered she is Jewish, and by extension, so is he. She lays in a fitting Jewish mother guilt trip until Burt (Garret Dillahunt) agrees to have a Bar Mitzvah. However, Burt soon learns that his mom is lying, and his parents are trying to get even with all of their friends, whose children they have paid for gifts for all these years. They abscond with his money gifts, and, feeling like a disappointment for not having any celebration-worthy events of his own, he lets them.

Burt is a kind, good man. He has made some mistakes in his life, such as knocking up Virginia (Martha Plimpton) when they were only teenagers, but he takes care of his family, and has a big heart. It isn't fair that his mother and father treat him so poorly and look down on him so much, a theme also present in the second episode concerning others characters' parents. It's no wonder he tries so hard to please his parents now, but he shouldn't have to.

Burt's patience does have limits. He goes along with their scheme because of his love for them, but he also lets them know this will make them even, and not to try anything like this again. He understands and accepts his parents for who they are, but he won't be abused by them. They may still treat him like a child, but Burt is truly a man in every way that is important.

"Burt Mitzvah: The Musical" features three big musical numbers, which are definitely a high point of the series. The tunes are catchy and fun, with a host of upbeat extras dancing their way through. It all fits perfectly in tone with the series, and also adds something special that makes this episode more memorable than most. I love a musical done right, and my only complaint is that there should have been more than three songs, and that the episode should have ran an hour. I could definitely have used more.

Each member of the main cast gets to sing, including a big solo for Barney (Gregg Binkley), but the show is really stolen by Jimmy (Lucas Neff), who turns out to be quite the rocker. Add in Jones and Smash's Jason Kravits as a Rabbi, and the musical talent is quite impressive.

Part two of the season finale, "Mother's Day," finds Maw Maw's (Cloris Leachman) mother still alive at the rope old age of one hundred and four. Burt and Barney bring her back to the house, and Maw Maw and her mom resolve a grudge they've held against one another for seventy years.

I'm not a fan of Maw Maw, and while I like the idea of allowing Leachman to pull double duty in both roles, the humor in this subplot falls short. Leachman is a comic god, and being reduced to gross jokes and farts played for laughs seems beneath her. Yet, there is no arguing that she does such trivial junk with a talent and grace that should put to shame many modern day performers.

The ending, where Maw Maw's mother dies, but Maw Maw remembers the resolution, if little else, is incredibly sweet. I love that there is a peace between them, and that her mom hung around long enough for Maw Maw to make things right. It's a little bit disturbing, seeing what Maw Maw may turn into, but kudos for designing a story that deepens the character, even if the bits aren't particularly funny, in my opinion.

Even better is the plot involving the other women in the household. Hope (Baylie and Rylie Cregut) makes Sabrina (Shannon Woodward) a Mom necklace, which arouses jealousy in Virginia, who has helped raise Hope. Virginia is a grandmother, not a mother, to the toddler, and shouldn't feel left out. However, one can understand, now that Jimmy and Hope have moved out of the house, why she might be sad.

Thankfully, Sabrina not only makes things right with Virginia, but points out how she herself sees Virginia as a mother. Sabrina's own mother can't be reached (see my comments early in this article about parents), and Virginia treats Sabrina well. Virginia may not live in the same house as Sabrina and Hope, but she definitely has positive relationships with both, and that counts. Sabrina even gets Frank (Todd Giebenhain) and Shelley (Kate Micucci), the extended family that could very well be part of the main cast at some point, to help her make Virginia feel better.

Seeing how the Chance family gathers, full of love for one another, is heart-warming and moving. Not every family likes each other this much, and even if they screw up and get into trouble, they always support one another. That's why I like Raising Hope. It shows how a family should be.

Plus, it's super funny. From Barney and Burt walking through a gate where there is no fence, to singing pastrami sandwiches, to Virginia's tendency to get words wrong, there are so many fantastic little touches in these, and every, episode that keep the show amusing and round out the world. Make no mistake, Raising Hope isn't just a family, it's a fully flesh out, very specific universe in which these characters dwell. It's charm is rarely matched.

Raising Hope has been renewed for a fourth season and will return next fall on FOX.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Whitney Has Her "Cake, Cake, Cake" and Eats It, Too

Article first published as Whitney Has Her "Cake, Cake, Cake" and Eats It, Too on TheTVKing.

NBC's Whitney surprised many when it got picked up for a sixteen episode second season last spring. Now, sitting on the bubble again, hopefully it will defy the odds once more and get a third year's order. It has worked on correcting the initial flaws hard enough to deserve it.

I really like Whitney. At the end of season one, I was of the opinion that only the stuff between Whitney (Whitney Cummings) and her boyfriend, Alex (Chris D'Elia), worked, while their friends should go. With a bit of retooling, though, I've ended up liking the other three that were kept from the first season. Newcomer RJ (Tone Bell) has yet to establish himself as a valuable member of the ensemble, but that can be worked on, or he could be replaced, too. The series has found its groove, with a good balance between the comedy and emotion, and I think it has the legs to run awhile longer, at least four or five seasons, anyway.

In the season finale, "Cake, Cake, Cake," Roxanne (Rhea Seehorn) gets jealous when Mark (Dan O'Brien), who has been pursuing her for awhile, begins dating another girl. Mark is frustrated with waiting, and assumes Roxanne isn't ever going to come around. But after seeing her reaction, he ditches the date and kisses Roxanne.

As Whitney and Alex move to "fixed" status, which I'll get to in a minute, Whitney still needs the messed up characters. Roxanne and Mark can serve that purpose nicely. The problem in season one is that Roxanne and Mark seemed too stable. Now that they have been shown to be amusingly and majorly flawed, too, they fit in the show. I look forward to the possibility of seeing them work on a relationship, and the foibles that will come with such a plot, should the series get renewed.

Lily (Zoe Lister Jones) doesn't have a lot to do in "Cake, Cake, Cake," but instead gets her story in the penultimate episode, "Alex, Meet Lily," which also aired this week. She used to appear to have things together, but as she acknowledges why her relationships don't work, and vows to work on herself, she also, like her co-stars, steps into a role that will be interesting moving forward.

Now that these three have solidified their places in the larger scheme, Whitney becomes a true ensemble.

At the same time, Whitney realizes that Alex has fixed her. Despite her screwed up childhood, a long-term bond with Alex has left her happy and relatively well-adjusted. Yes, it's fun to see Whitney freak out and show off her damage. But it's also great for her to finally see that these things are in her past, and while everyone has problems, hers aren't so bad right now. If the show ends here, at least Whitney has managed to come around and achieve her happy ending.

Lest you think they are now destined to become a boring couple, Alex starts to crack owing to his parents split. Just as Whitney is healed, Alex needs help himself. It's an intriguing swap, and it also not only opens the door for other developments in the future, but makes them feel like a fully formed, two-sided couple, which is a wonderful step forward for the show.

Should the series get a third season, and I definitely hope they do, there is another plot I'd like to see pursued besides those already mentioned, and that is the story of Whitney's therapist, Dr. Price (Chelsea Handler). This is a woman that eats a cake with her hands in the park in "Cake, Cake, Cake," reveals that she sees Whitney as her best friend, and is cool with being in Whitney's life after treatment has stopped. Dr. Price is extremely damaged, and while Handler probably doesn't have time for a full-time sitcom role, a recurring place for her would lend nicely to the already established direction.

Whitney is done for the year, and now awaits news on whether it will return to NBC or not. If the answer is not, might I suggest TBS as an alternative home? It has worked for Cougar Town.

It Has Likely Ended for The Neighbors

Article first published as It Has Likely Ended for The Neighbors on TheTVKing.

The freshman season finale of ABC's wacky sitcom The Neighbors aired this week. Entitled "It Has Begun...," the episode takes the surprising tack of setting up a cliffhanger and plot for next season. Surprising, because the ratings have never been stellar, and the chances for renewal aren't good. Though, has upgraded The Neighbors from "A long shot" to "Could go either way," so I guess it has a chance.

The Neighbors seems destined to become a forgotten footnote in the annals of television history. It has an interesting concept, a middle-class New Jersey family moves into a suburb populated by aliens, and after becoming friends, help the extra-terrestrials adapt to our planet. But it's utter oddness, including the childlike behavior of the adults in the situation, the way all of the aliens always dress the same, and that they are named after sports stars, is enough to turn many off.

I actually find the series charming, in a way. All of the performers in the show completely sell the concept. It may not be an example of the highest, smartest comedy writing, but it's a feel-good series that feels authentic for what it is. The Weaver family, the humans at the center, have bonded with the Bird-Kersees, the main aliens, and it's become a tale of two different groups finding commonality and friendship against all odds.

"It Has Begun..." does what The Neighbors so often do: it sends Marty (Lenny Venito) and Debbie (Jami Gertz) Weaver off to do a thing, this time visit Atlantic City, with Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) and his wife, Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye) in toe. Marty finds out Larry can see through cards and beat the casino at its own games, so they have fun. Jackie laments that she never got a traditional wedding, so Debbie helps her throw an impromptu one.

There are plenty of funny moments, such as when Jackie thinks the Maid of Honor should be dressed as an actual maid, or when Larry asks Marty "How poor are you?" after Marty gets upset at losing $5,000. But it's really a tale of four friends, at its heart, who help each other with life's experiences, and learn from one another.

This season finale decides to get a little meta in its humor, which seems a natural adaptation, given the silly tone. Larry and Jackie acknowledge the formula the show works on out loud at the beginning, Debbie expresses the opinion that they have the kinks worked out on how they should interact, and all four express the hope to spend more seasons, er, years together. If only more people would watch, they just might have the chance...

But besides the kookiness, which is entertaining, "It Has Begun..." lends a level of heart to the proceedings. The adults have it, when they bond and express their friendship. Reggie (Tim Jo) has it when, faced with leaving Earth behind, he chooses Amber (Clara Mamet) over his girlfriend, and they finally kiss. And Dick (Ian Patrick) shows a little when questioning where his loyalties lie, as do Max (Max Charles) and Abby (Isabella Cramp) in hoping their aliens friends will stay.

That's why I like The Neighbors. Not necessarily because of the aliens, but because of the two families. The rest of the neighborhood has taken a back seat to the two main clans, and should everyone else have gone home in "It Has Begun...," I would not have been disappointed. In fact, it might have really worked, as Larry and Jackie would need to depend on the Weavers even more.

I think the reason the show doesn't do that is because the characters are currently isolated in their gated community. It's hard enough not to be found out, as careless as they are, but for it to be believable that Earthlings move into the area and don't notice the alien behavior is just stretching the show too far, further than it has already stretched. Also, for the aliens to be publicly exposed would send the show in a darker direction, and take away the specialness it currently has.

Not that The Neighbors can't handle deep emotion. The bit this week where the Commander arrives, the aliens gather to leave, Reggie chooses Amber, and the adults flee the wedding to rush home is moving and powerful. It may be the single best sequence the show has done.

But it thrives on the comedy. The ending cap where the Commander (played by Star Trek's George Takei) banters with his subordinate (played by Star Wars' Mark Hamill), and they rip on the actors' respective franchises, is very funny and most welcome. And learning that Jackie's alien name is Debbie may not make sense, but elicits a chuckle.

The only real complaint I have about "It Has Begun" is the plot hole of what the Commander is up to. He supposedly tries to reach out to Larry through toast messages, then tells Dick not to tell Larry he's coming, then is annoyed when he shows up and has to wait for Larry. Does he want Larry to know he's coming or not? And why does he bring an army if he's not going to force Larry to leave? I feel like an artificial layer of suspense is added on top of the tale they are trying to tell, and it ends up confusing things.

I will be disappointed if we don't find out what the Commander is trying to warn Larry of. This opens the door to an interesting new direction in a possible second season. For that reason, and because I want to see the actors playing aliens continue their brilliant work, I hope The Neighbors gets renewed.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Psych's 100th Clue

Article first published as Psych's 100th Clue on TheTVKing.

USA's Psych presents a special 100th episode tonight. Titled "100 Clues," the installment is a tribute to the cult-1980s comedy film, Clue. In that spirit, the hour has many references to the movie, and guest stars three Clue alumni: Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren.

The premise looks familiar: Shawn (James Roday) and Gus (Dulé Hill) attend a mysterious dinner party at a spooky mansion. Once there, they learn they have been invited by a rock star named Billy Lipps (Steve Valentine, I'm in the Band), whom they helped put away for murder, and whom has recently been released from prison. Their fellow diners include others who testified against Billy: his manager (Mull), a groupie (Warren), and a biographer (Lloyd). Billy doesn't seem to be holding a grudge, but soon bodies begin piling up.

As a huge fan of Clue, there are plenty of fun references. We get a singing telegram girl, running back and forth as a theory is unspooled, a funny bit about adding numbers, a secret room, and more. It's nice to see some of the actors return, even if they are in entirely different roles, and the house has the right look to pull off a tribute. Plus, it's a dark and stormy night, of course.

But it's not a full-on Clue remake. In fact, the tone feels more like classic Psych than the movie. Shawn is still center stage, Shawn and Gus have their familiar banter, and when Juliet (Maggie Lawson) and Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) arrive to investigate a missing person, it becomes yet another crime the team must solve. For those who have never seen the movie, they will not be at all lost.

Which is a bit of a shame. I was really hoping for more Clue stuff. Obviously, the entire cast couldn't return. Madeline Kahn, my favorite of the troupe, sadly passed away in 1999. Michael McKean is still recovering from an injury last spring. There hasn't been any mention I could find about why Eileen Brennan isn't present, though she doesn't have many credits as of late. And while the original plan was to build "100 Clues" around Tim Curry's previous Psych guest character, the actor was ultimately unavailable when it was time to film. Twice. But a bit more of the dialogue style and camera shots would have made for a more faithful tribute.

"100 Clues" also fails to deliver as an awesome Psych episode. Part of this is a structural necessity. "100 Clues," like Clue, has filmed three alternate endings. Fans will vote during the East and West cost airings tonight, and two separate finales will likely air. (The third, unfortunately, is reportedly being held for the DVD release.) Because of this, the story must play out so that any one of the five main suspects could be culpable right up until the end, making for a twisty, impossible-to-predict criminal.

I really like the conceit of the film because "Who done it?" is not the point of the tale; it's a series of comedy sketches with zany characters that works incredibly well. With a less talented cast (I'm sorry, but it's true) and a cohesive murder investigation part of the Psych formula, it doesn't quite come together as it should.

Also, although "100 Clues" opens with a case from five years ago, during the time the series was on the air, the opening bits don't relate to any previous Psych episodes, which would have made for a better way to celebrate 100 episodes of the show. Should we blame Curry for this, too?

That being said, I did greatly enjoy Mull, Lloyd, Warren, Saturday Night Live alum Garrett Morris as the butler. They all have some terrific one-liners and some interesting character choices. Morris, in particular, has some witty repartee with Gus involving stereotypes. Of the four, Lloyd is the least used, but a couple of Back to the Future references should satisfy his fans, too.

Besides the structure, the second reason "100 Clues" doesn't quite do it for me is because of the lack of a real emotional stake. I dig the Shawn-torn-between-Gus-and-Jules conceit, which is a recurring theme, but other than that, there isn't much to grab onto. Last season, Psych deepened its characters, committing Shawn to being in a real romantic relationship, depressing Gus, expanding Lassie, and putting Henry's life at risk. This year, much effort has been made to return to the light-hearted, frothy procedural, which feels a little hollow now that we've seen that the actors can dig deeper. I know it keeps the series delivering what some fans want, but for those who see the potential for something greater, it's a disappointment.

Even the opening credits of the episode, which have new graphics that are a throwback to the Clue board game, aren't Psych's most original, keeping the regular, short version of the theme song.

Will I continue to watch Psych through to the end, likely after next season? Of course. I've enjoyed it this long, and will probably continue to do so, on some level. But it's not as good as it can be, nor the best show on USA, and so even "100 Clues," what should be a major triumph, is only middling in terms of quality.

At least we still have the upcoming musical episode to hold out hope for.

Psych airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on USA.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"This Sorrowful Life" comes to an end on The Walking Dead

Grade: 96%

AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD pays tribute to “This Sorrowful Life” of Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) in the penultimate episode of the third season. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) tells Merle about his plan to hand over Michonne (Danai Gurira) to the Governor (David Morrissey), after which the Governor has promised to leave the rest of the group alone. Knowing Rick won’t have the stomach to go through with it, sending Michonne to be tortured and brutalized, Merle captures Michonne himself and sets out to the meeting.

Along the way, though, Merle has time for self-reflection. Some of this is surely caused by Michonne’s words in their wonderful scenes together, but some of it is spurred by Merle’s own doing. He knows that he has made mistakes, and he realizes he has become something bad. He regrets some of those actions, even if he doesn’t stop at the time to consider the consequences, both to others and to his own soul. Michonne tells Merle that the truly evil don’t feel guilty, and Merle’s remorse proves he is, or at least can be, a good guy.

Whether or not Merle is redeemable has long been debated by fans of THE WALKING DEAD. We know that, in the beginning, he and his brother, Daryl (Norman Reedus), intend to steal from the group. But seeing how Daryl has become not only a team player, but a valued friend and compatriot over three seasons offers hope that, given time, Merle can also play nice. Carol (Melissa McBride) certainly thinks this is a possibility, extending a second chance to him early in the episode.

The sad thing is, “This Sorrowful Life” proves that Merle not only has a heart, but is willing to sacrifice for others, and then doesn’t give him time to expound upon it. He lets Michonne go and tries to single-handedly remove as many of the Governor’s men from the game as he can. I don’t think Merle intends his mission to be a suicide one, but he is willing to take the chance and in the end, the Governor leaves Merle to become a Walker, which means we’ll never see the others forgive and welcome him as one of their own.

Rooker does a fantastic job in this installment, delivering what will be one of THE WALKING DEAD’s most unforgettable performances. At the start of the hour, Merle is still loathsome. But we see so much in his eyes, those soulful orbs that show us that he wants to do right by his brother and be cared for by others. We see that, under the right circumstances, he can be heroic. And we watch him go down with quite a fight, even if he doesn’t end up succeeding.

Rooker’s performance is matched by Reedus, whose character arrives at the battle site too late, and finds a Walker Merle that he must put down. Rooker’s eyes are, again, pivotal, and the scene between the two brothers is amazing. They can’t ever say what they want to say to one another, even if they ever could find the words, but dialogue isn’t necessary to convey the message. Merle’s deaths are tragedies, both of them.

I don’t think Merle does much damage to the Governor’s team. He takes a few men out, but by dying himself, Merle removes a valuable tool from the prison group, so it probably about evens out. Merle is worth several other man.

What might be missed in Merle’s last stand is that one of those he kills is Ben (Tyler Chase), a member of Tyreese’s (Chad L. Coleman) contingent. Ben isn’t a huge character, nor is he one fans will particularly care about seeing die. However, because of Ben’s connection to several other, slightly more significant, characters, his demise could most definitely play a role in motivation and manipulation in the finale.

Back at the prison, it’s nice to finally see Rick be the leader he needs to be. This entire season has been about him figuring out what kind of person the group needs to follow. He begins, with his speech at the end of season two, trying out dictatorship. But in “This Sorrowful Life,” he chooses democracy. He can’t sacrifice Michonne because she’s one of the people he serves. He gets a chance to tell everyone else that in a very moving moment.

Rick has needed to step up for a long time. He’s tried, sure, but with all of the emotional turmoil he has suffered, he hasn’t achieved the status. This has now changed, and should he survive the coming battle (an almost certainty), he will be a different man yet again in season four, one finally prepared to make his group into what they need to be, and what they should be.

I hope that Michonne can forgive Rick and know that he cares about her and couldn’t go through with handing her over. She has every reason to feel betrayed, after Merle kidnaps her and she learns that Rick has been considering handing her over. However, she is also an understanding and compassionate woman, and surely knows that while Rick struggles with the decision, he isn’t the type to sentence her to a fate worse than death. And if he did consider the act, it was only to protect his people.

Lastly, Glenn (Steven Yeun) secures Hershel’s (Scott Wilson) blessing to marry Maggie (Lauren Cohan), and finds his bride-to-be a ring, on the hand of a Walker, no less. I wish we would have gotten a little speech from Hershel, which would be totally in keeping with his character, but the proud papa’s smile is enough.

It’s not clear if Glenn officially proposes, just sticking the ring in her palm, or if they already consider themselves spouses without a proposal. Maggie is wearing the ring shortly after this scene, signifying their commitment to one another. Glenn says they may not have a wedding, given the circumstances, and I doubt there will be time for one in what little is left of this season. But do they actually need to say “I do” in this post-apocalyptic world? Isn’t it enough that they are together and intend to stay that way?

We unfortunately didn’t get any of Woodbury this week, and rather than being part one of a two part showdown, this is a sort-of stand-alone episode. “This Sorrowful Life” is a brilliant piece of television, and an excellent installment of the series. However, I don’t see how everything else can possibly be resolved in forty-two minutes. Are we heading for the mother of all cliffhangers?

THE WALKING DEAD will complete its third season next Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

Coincidentally, next Sunday is Easter Sunday, a celebration of Jesus’s rising from the dead, which some have begun to say makes him a zombie. Will we see a long-haired, sandal-clad Walker in the finale? One can only hope so.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Glee is a satisfying "Guilty Pleasure"

 Article first published as TV Review: Glee - "Guilty Pleasures" on Blogcritics.

FOX's Glee explores "Guilty Pleasures" this week. We all have things that we are somewhat ashamed of liking. But because this applies to everyone, you should not feel embarrassed. And as the New Directions learn, if you are willing to share that hidden interest, you may just realize that others around you have the same love.

This is a feel-good story, to be sure, but also an incredibly cheesy one. If there's one complaint I have about Glee overall is that every student in the club seems to know every song that ever comes up. This is incredibly unrealistic, but unfortunately also somewhat necessary to keep the story moving forward. It's an element very apparent this week, as their songs are supposed to be more obscure, though they pick some awfully popular "obscure" pierces.

However, setting that aside, "Guilty Pleasures" is a fun episode with some nice character moments and a lot of fun musical numbers. There may be songs you don't want to admit to enjoying, but they are enjoyed for a reason.

It all starts with Sam (Chord Overstreet) and Blaine (Darren Criss). They decide to give the club a project, since Will (Matthew Morrison) is taking the week off. Again. They pull out the guilty pleasure card, and it allows them to get some unspoken things out in the open.

After watching Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) harbor an unrequited crush for Blaine for months, we now see Blaine hold Sam in the same regard. Thankfully, Blaine is far less creepy than Tina, and Sam and Blaine's friendship feels more natural than Blaine and Tina's. I don't know if the writers think they misfired with the Tina/Blaine story and decided to try it again with Sam, but for whatever reason it came about, I like seeing the two guys together.

At first, Blaine hems and haws, avoiding talking about his feelings towards Sam. But Sam coaxes them out into the open, letting Blaine know this changes nothing between them. It's a message many high school guys should hear, that its OK to find another man's attention flattering without risking your masculinity, and that there is still a path to friendship there.

As much as the Sam/Blaine thing works as a story, it also helps with Glee's continued themes of tolerance. Gay bullying has never been more of a problem, but as society begins shifting away from this prejudice, it's nice to see such a positive portrayal of homosexual teens on television, not new for Glee, but in using Sam, someone who is very straight, rather than a girl or another gay man, it feels fresh. For this alone, "Guilty Pleasures" is a valuable episode, even as it manages to also be entertaining.

Plus, Blaine and Sam bring us "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," a beautifully staged and performed retro number by the whole glee club. I wish the same treatment would have been given to "Copacabana," or better yet, see the story told in the song acted out. But both are good numbers as they are. And Blaine's "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" also works.

While the boys work out their friendship, the girls rediscover the Spice Girls. I don't know that today's high schools are really familiar with the British girl group from quite awhile ago, but those of us older viewers certainly appreciate a dusting off of "Wannabe." Any chance we can get a full Spice Girls episode at some point?

The Spice Girls segment also allows Kitty (Becca Tobin) to prove she is a member of the group and can play nice. She's been a bit of an outsider, but has been trying to fit in. Cooperating with Unique (Alex Newell), Marley (Melissa Benoist), Brittany (Heather Morris), and Tina allows her to walk the walk, and hopefully puts her in a better place in the ensemble going forward. Every series needs an antagonist, of course, but redemption is also a satisfying tale.

Lastly at McKinley, Jake (Jacob Artist) gets major flak from the girls when he wants to sing a Chris Brown song, given Chris's treatment of women. His eventual choice of Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative" gets a little bit better reception, perhaps because the memory of Bobby has started to fade, but Marley is still mad at him for doing it.

Jake argues that we need to separate art from the artist, which is a tough call to make, and one hotly debated in society. Can we appreciate a good song by a bad man? Some people have in the past, and will likely do so again, while others rail against such behavior. There isn't an easy answer, as Jake learns, and I wish Glee would devote more time to the question. But at least they've raised it here.

In New York, Santana (Naya Rivera), Kurt (Chris Colfer), and Rachel (Lea Michele) bond as roommates after the truth about Brody (Dean Geyer) comes out. I do wonder when and how Santana moves back in, after she storms out in the previous episode. However, Santana is feisty and has a temper and it's not surprising she's back, even if the show skips showing us the resolution.

I really dig the chemistry between these three. Santana can be herself a lot easier in a small group, and gets to show her softer side more often. The three of them bond with arm pillows and movies, and I can't wait to see what happens with them next. It's kind of like the zany sitcom spin-off someone would suggest when viewing an earlier season, fully realized and integrated into the series.

It's a shame that their "Mama Mia" is shared with the high school group as the episode's closing number. Since it's the only piece the New Yorkers get in "Guilty Pleasures," it would have been great for them to really have a showcase, even if the end result is hard to complain about.

It's also too bad that Rachel lets Brody off the hook, to an extent. She says they're done, but she's nicer to him than she should be, and I feel like this leaves the door open for a return of their pairing, albeit in secret from Rachel's roommates, down the road. If she wants to be on the right path, she should ditch him altogether, but I guess everyone makes mistakes.

Speaking of mistakes, the Rachel / Brody duet of "Creep" is the one musical misstep in "Guilty Pleasures." It's certainly a different tone than the other songs, and I found it somewhat boring and out of sync with the rest of the hour.

Glee is going into re-run mode for the next two weeks, but will return Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX to finish out their fourth season.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Not the Community it used to be

Article first published as Not the Community it used to be on

This week's installment of NBC's Community, "Economics of Marine Biology," encapsulate perfectly what is wrong with this fourth year of the series. The A plot, where the Dean (Jim Rash) asks the study group, which ends up being just Annie (Alison Brie), to help him land a rich, lazy whale (The Inbetweeners' Zack Pearlman) as a student, is actually quite a small part of the story. This is bad. Let me tell you why.

Community inhabits a very specific world, namely, Greendale Community College. Greendale has long been a major part of the heart of the show. Only at a place such as this could the wacky, zany adventures that consume our characters happen. It doesn't exactly kowtow to the laws of physics or reality, and its many strange students and teachers, each with their own quirks, make up the ecosystem.

The part of "Economics of Marine Biology" that deals with the whale is about preserving Greendale. The Dean is willing to take away Magnitude's (Luke Youngblood) catch phrase in order to get the new student, and it is because of that that he and Annie realize their mistake and tell the kid he is welcome, but they are not changing for him.

However, this is only one of four stories taking place in the episode, and is pushed into a small segment of the running time. Why not fully commit to this? Why not examine many of the different elements that make Greendale Greendale, instead of just Magnitude? There is a ripe opportunity here to take a nostalgic look at the school and ponder the makeup of the series, which is totally squandered on an amusing, small bit, rather than living up to its full potential.

It's also ridiculous that the new guy decides to attend Greendale. He is already committed before they put him in his place, and then putting him in his place is the reason he attends? This doesn't make sense. Many things in Community don't make sense, so again, there's a way to turn this into something cool, but instead it feels like a predictable, pat ending made even worse if we never see the character again. Which we probably won't.

During this entire thing, Abed (Danny Pudi) splits off to form a fraternity to fight the Dean. This is more evidence of how Abed is losing his touch and going off of the deep end. Normally, either Abed would suck his friends into his scheme, or whatever he is doing will tie into the other stories. Neither of these things happen, reducing Abed's plotline to a couple of sight gags that don't mean anything or go anywhere.

Both of these are examples of Community going off the rails. To be as weird as Community chooses to be, it has to maintain an extremely high level of quality writing and acting. I feel like the performers are doing the best they can with the material they are given, but with stories going off the rails or missing their stops, this year is suffering, which is especially apparent in an episode like this.

One reason I defend the acting is because Joel McHale continues to kill in the role of Jeff this season. The way Jeff ends up hanging out with Pierce (Chevy Chase) in "Economics of Marine Biology" is stretching things a bit much, and the ending is incredibly rote and boring, but the stuff in the middle is genius. McHale really embraces the new depth his character has, and plays the emotional moments with sheer brilliance. When Jeff actually defends Pierce in front of his peers, I admit to welling up just a bit. McHale is definitely this season's MVP thus far.

Lastly, Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) and Troy (Donald Glover) take a Physical Education Education class. It's an OK story, with Shirley's natural disciplinary abilities helping her to soar, whereas Troy, always the athlete but never the coach, flops. A montage where Shirley coaches Troy coaching Kevin (Ken Jeong) works. However, this doesn't fit into the episode, and should have been saved for another time, thus allowing more of the Greendale plot, which desperately needs more.

In all, there are some nice elements that just fail to add up, making this one of the season's weaker installments. After a couple of weeks that gave me hope, "Economics of Marine Biology" brings the series back to the ground, and exposes the fatal flaws plaguing it. Also, after seven episodes, we have yet to have a truly memorable, special week, and past seasons have delivered far more often than that. Halfway through what will likely be the final year, my pessimism about the fate of beloved Community is back.

Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

Girls still not getting it "Together"

Article first published as Girls still not getting it "Together" on TheTVKing.

As HBO's second season of Girls comes to an end in "Together," there are some resolutions, but there is also more mess. Which is par for the course. The girls at the center of this show are very flawed, but authentic, portraits of young women these days, who may not have been as prepared for the real world as they'd hoped, and, as the title of the show suggests, still straddle the line between child and adult.

Some have criticized this series from the beginning, and some who loved the first season have turned on it in the second year. I don't fall into either of those categories. It makes me uncomfortable to watch some of the plots Girls delivers, especially those that focus on Hannah (Lean Dunham) because I just want to shake her and make her make the smart decision, but I think it has kept the specific, unique voice is started with, and is inarguably unlike anything else on television.

Hannah is mostly a train wreck by the end of this season. Her OCD is coming back in spades, she breaks a Q-tip off in her ear, she has lost at least three friends, and she isn't going to meet the deadline for her ebook, which means she will be sued for the advance payment she already spent. Her physical appearance, and I'm talking about presentation, not weight, is sloppy. She can be pretty, and not that she has to be all the time, yay for feminism, but her utter lack of pride in putting herself together, even at the times when she should, says something about her that is not pleasant. Some of these things, just the OCD, really, aren't exactly in Hannah's control. But the rest are avoidable if she would just mature.

Hannah, more than anyone else in the show, is a kid, and is really having trouble with growing up. She fights it at every turn, almost as if she thinks she has to be immature in order to hang onto something. Her parents (Peter Scolari and Becky Ann Baker) haven't helped that much, being enablers. Finally, though, by "Together," they are cutting her off and forcing her to deal with things on her own.

I do think Hannah has the ability to get her life on track. She is definitely smart and talented, even if she frequently squanders both. It's going to be so much harder for her now, since she has burned some bridges and proven herself unreliable, but she still could succeed if she wants to. However, I feel like her immaturity is kind of an addiction, and she will probably have to bottom out, which she hasn't done yet, before she can get better.

At least Hannah has Adam (Adam Driver). No matter what Adam may have said, his relationship with Natalia (Shiri Appleby, Life Unexpected) is a rebound. She does help him to grow as a person, and round off a few of the weirder edges of him that need softening. He still very much holds a torch for Hannah, though. Will his support be what she needs, or will he just be the latest to aid in her selfish ways, which will ultimately destroy her when he, too, steps back, like her parents did?

Adam's relationship with Hannah is not the same kind of enabling that her parents do. He really does focus on building her up, something the older pair seem to have forgotten, though who can blame them, after everything that Hannah has done? He loves her for who she is. The question is, will that be good for her, or reinforce the bad choices?

Jessa (Jemima Kirke), MIA in the finale, may not return to help Hannah out anytime soon. As much as Jessa dislikes her father's roaming ways, she has certainly inherited the lifestyle. When things get tough, she disappears, as unreliable as he is. It's sad, but like Hannah, Jessa is a snapshot of who her parents made her into at this point, and has yet to find her own way. I'm not saying that she will necessarily be a better person when she does, but maybe it will help somewhat, at least she will own it.

Marnie (Allison Williams) also falls right back into old habits, reconnecting with Charlie (Christopher Abbott) in "Together." Marnie has been directionless ever since their breakup, while Charlie has sold an app and gotten filthy rich. Yet, they both go right back to their old dynamic when given the chance. They like to think they have changed and are now ready for each other, but are they? Does Marnie drag Charlie down, and that's why he struggled while with her previously? Maybe the benefits of this relationship are one-sided, though I guess season three will tell us for sure.

Ray (Alex Karpovsky) actually seems to be doing the best at the end of the half hour. He may have lost Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), but that's OK, because she is just a little bit too controlling for him. He is better when he pursues things on his own. Shoshanna is wrong that he is without purpose; Ray just has his own way of doing things. It sucks a bit he gets into his thirties without committing to a passion or career yet. However, many do, and I think Ray has a good head on his shoulders, a way to pay the bills for now, and still has time to figure himself out, which isn't helped by being around Shoshanna, who tries to do the figuring for him.

That isn't a slam on Shoshanna. There are plenty of men who would benefit from having a girl like her in their lives, and of the girls on Girls, she is the one who is soaring. She makes the smart decision, knowing Ray is just not the one for her, and also realizing that this isn't the time in her life to be tied down to someone like him. Shoshanna, surprisingly, who may seem the youngest at the series start, is the one who is also becoming older and wiser at a quicker pace than the others.

Girls sadly has been slipping in the ratings. Luckily, a third season has already been ordered. But unless people tune back in, year three could be its last. Considering the perspective it takes, which no one else does, that would be a shame.

Girls will return next year to HBO.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Big Bang Theory finds a secret in the closet

In the latest installment of CBS's The Big Bang Theory, titled "The Closet Reconfiguration," Sheldon (Jim Parsons) organizes the extremely messy walk-in closet of Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) and Howard (Simon Helberg). Within the  clutter, Sheldon finds a letter Howard received from his father (who abandoned Howard as a child) on his eighteenth birthday. Not knowing how to file it, Sheldon opens and reads it, to Howard's dismay.

I normally don't like Howard-centric episodes. The whole astronaut plot wears pretty thin, and kind of drags the series down by the end of his tenure in space. However, in delving into the deep, emotional back story of Howard, not only do we learn something very important about who his character is, but it gives Helberg a chance to show off his considerable acting chops.

It's a tour de force for Helberg. He plays a man who isn't sure if he wants to know what his father would say. From burning the letter, to getting angry at his friends when they all find out what is in it, we see him go through several stages of feeling, all of them raw and personal. The capping scene, where each of Howard's friends gives him a possible recount of what his father sent, is intense and so, so moving. Helberg reacts to it all magnificently.

The Big Bang Theory doesn't usually go this deep. It has romantic arcs, sure, but taking Howard into his most painful memory, and making him question something so primal about his makeup is awesome. Some shows might save this until a final season. By doing "The Closet Reconfiguration" now, though, it gives them the chance to return here and mine this side of Howard a few more times, which I greatly look forward to.

I don't think any of Howard's friends will be the ones encouraging a revisit of this. At first, it starts off as a bit of gossip for them, and Sheldon, despite his weak protestations, is more than happy to oblige, as he always loves disseminating information in every form, whether it be academic or secrets about those closest to him. But then, they see how much this affects Howard, and they come together to support him. They make fun of Howard a lot, but he is a valued member of their circle, and they comfort him when he needs it the most.

It's kind of strange that we don't find out exactly what is in the letter. Were I Howard, I would want to know. Heck, I doubt I would have left the thing sitting in a closet for so long. However, for his character, and the approach he takes to the story, it makes total sense, so there's nothing to complain about. It's a unique personality, strongly developed over the last few years, and consistent with what we know about him. Howard avoids this kind of thing, that which will hit him deeply, at almost all costs, trying to live above that level where he can be hurt or hurt others.

Sheldon is used mostly for comic relief in "The Closet Reconfiguration." When the story is focused on him, Sheldon can be serious, many times too serious. But when the tale shifts away, Sheldon tends to get goofier. Does he do it to try to bring attention back to himself? Or is he just an inconsistent character? I don't think either is quite true. I'm just not sure Sheldon has a good read on social interactions (that's an understatement!) and these funny moments are his way of trying to process and deal.

I like this episode not just for the amazing Howard story, which is probably his best episode yet, but also because everyone gets to do a little bit. Sometimes some of the cast kind of sits out a week, and are only seen, not really contributing. This time, all seven (Stuart does not appear at all, but he's the most minor of the main cast) have at least one moment or joke that works for them. It's a very well written installment.

The Big Bang Theory has hit a new vein here, and it's one ripe with possibilities. Hopefully, they will revisit them. The Big Bang Theory airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.

Friday, March 22, 2013

At the beginning of Once Upon a Time

Article first published as ONCE UPON A TIME Recap Season 2 Episode 17 Welcome to Storybrooke on Seat42F.

Grade: 97%

ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME takes us back to the beginning this week with “Welcome to Storybrooke.” As Regina (Lana Parrilla) plots to force Henry (Jared Gilmore) to love her by magic, a spell that requires Regina to kill Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) in the process, we see the earliest days of Regina’s curse, when she first brings her world into ours, and the issues that arise when two strangers visit the town.

After last week, it’s easy to think that Regina’s path to redemption is closed, and she will be completely taken over by evil. But unlike her departed mother, Cora, Regina still has her heart in her chest, and as long as it’s there, there is always a chance that she can allow it to rule her again. Not a big chance, mind you, but a chance, and we see this in the parallel stories taking place in the past and the present.

In both time frames, Regina is desperate and angry. In the past, she is mad because even though those she hates aren’t happy, neither is she. They are oblivious to their situation, and so not suffering as she’d like them to be. Everything in town is boring and the same every day, and she isn’t hailed as the ruler she will assume she will be, even in the job as mayor. In the present, Regina’s problems stem from Snow’s murder of her mom, and the fact that she has lost her son to his birth mother.

Each time, a boy is the one who saves her. Henry convinces her not to kill Snow in the present after she finds him with dynamite at the well. Blowing up the well would harm him, not end magic, and she is willing to stop her curse if it keeps Henry from being injured, as she truly does love the boy she raised as her son. In the past, she stops short of forcing a lad named Owen (Benjamin Stockham, 1600 Penn) to stay with her when she sees the pain it will cause him, showing tenderness again.

But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.

“Welcome to Storybrooke” starts with a father, Kurt (John Pyper-Ferguson, Caprica, Alphas), and his son, Owen, camping in the woods in 1983. Regina’s curse roils through the forest, and the pair are left in a destroyed campsite, their truck crushed. They wander into the town that has appeared out of thin air, and encounter Regina, who is taken with Owen when he offers her a bit of kindness. She decides this will fill the gap in her life, so she tries to force them to stay. She ends up letting Owen go when she sees he won’t love her, but she has Sheriff Graham (Jamie Dornan) arrest and keep Kurt.

Even in this kindness, letting Owen go instead of locking him up as a prisoner, she still lets the darkness creep in. Only someone evil would keep a kid’s father in jail for no reason, especially knowing Owen’s mother is dead. All of these years, presumably, she’s had Kurt stashed away somewhere, leaving Owen on his own. No amount of redemption in small acts will make up for what she has done in his eyes.

And now, Owen has returned in the present, grown up and going by the name Gregory Mendell, the mysterious stranger that has been in Storybrooke recently. He manages to re-enter the town, even though it appears hidden from the road, and while he doesn’t seem evil, he is certainly back for revenge and to find his dad, whom I hope is still alive.

It’s interesting how the real world and the magic world deal with their problems differently. Gregory is making videos of magic to take back to the public, one can assume, and expose the town. Regina and Snow’s family are prepared to kill one another. There is definitely a different level of danger presented, and one way is much more permanent and harsh than another.

Which just goes to reinforce ONCE UPON A TIME’s theme that magic has its cost. Only Henry sees this, of all the characters that recognize the differences between the two worlds, and begs the adults to get rid of magic, rather than resort to execution. Regina is unwilling to do so because she can’t stand to lose her power, which would leave her defenseless and unable to influence others. I’m not sure the good guys have the ability to take away magic altogether, but neither do they seem all that enthusiastic to try, since magic has been part of their way of life for so long.

Snow is suffering quite mightily over her recent use of magic to kill Cora. She sits and stares out the window, unable to live with what she has done. She even goes to Regina and asks that Regina kill her. Regina considers it, but after ripping out Snow’s heart, she sees the blackness growing within and decides it’s better to let Snow suffer, slowly ruining herself, and so Regina puts the heart back.

One wonders if Regina’s heart looks like the polar opposite of Snow’s, black with a hint of red trying to take hold, or the red ember struggling not to die out amid the black smoke. Is there any hope for Regina? Or is Regina right that once the black infects the organ, the situation is hopeless? Maybe Regina has to believe that, rather than face the truth that her soul is lost.

I don’t think that Snow will lose herself completely. The black is a small part of her, and while it’s horrible that she experiences this, she has no intention of acting in a similar manner again. She’s so desperate to be rid of her darkness that she approaches Rumple (Robert Carlyle), of all people, for help, asking him how he lives with his own misdeeds.

Rumple’s response, tell yourself that you did the right thing until you believe it, isn’t the right one for Snow. After all, following this advice has only led Rumple to make the same mistakes over and over again. Snow needs to remember this time and how this feels, so the next time she is not tempted to repeat the mistake again. By doing that, knowing that she isn’t a bad person and won’t do evil things, then she may be able to begin to live with herself.

Rumple’s anger and feelings that he does not need to help Snow and her family, only doing so out of reluctant obligation and in the hopes that it will settle their score, sucks. He has a family again now, being connected to them through Henry. Family is what can help Rumple save himself. He needs to stop fighting it or acting like he doesn’t know how to be part of the group. It’s the only way he will be able to keep his son and his love in his life.

I absolutely adore the part of “Welcome to Storybrooke” when Emma (Jennifer Morrison) scolds Neal (Michael Raymond-James) for not realizing that Henry takes his backpack with him to the bathroom. Her accusation of “He’s your son!” gives us a glimpse of what parts of Neal Henry has inherited, and the scene is sort of a callback to the Neal / Emma flashback episode, when we see them as con artists. Fantastic!

“Welcome to Storybrooke” is a terrific tale that fills in some important holes in the past, shows us Storybrooke at a time we’ve never seen it before, answers some major questions that have been posed this season, and provides a showcase for the immense talents of Lana Parrilla, which is always welcome. Plus, even though his role is small, it’s terrific to see Sheriff Graham again. It’s a great, memorable installment!

ONCE UPON A TIME airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ripper Street slashes its way onto Blu-ray

Article first published as Ripper Street slashes its way onto Blu-ray on TheTVKing.

Setting aside my annoyance that BBC America is now spending money on original programming instead of bringing us more than a handful of British shows at a time, and that annoyance is great, their new series, Ripper Street, sort of an old-timey CSI, now out on Blu-ray and DVD, is pretty good. 

Ripper Street is the second such effort the network has made, following closely on the heels of Copper. On the surface, both shows seem pretty similar. They both follow cops more than a century ago, breaking rules because their moral codes are different than our modern ones, and dipping their toes into the early days of forensic science. And they have wonderful looking period costumes and sets.

But Ripper Street is a little different. It isn't as concerned with class separations, and it ventures into more risque territory, with porn being a topic of the very first episode, and tossing in a bit of nudity. Ripper Street is also more structured, with the cops working out of an office, making it look a little more like our current idea of a police drama.

Thankfully, there is more to the series than just a case-of-the-week format. There are longer arcs that take awhile to play out. There are character-driven stories the provide opportunity for the cast to show off their talents. And the whole thing feels slightly steeped in history, given the connection of the story to Jack the Ripper.

Matthew Macfadyen (MI-5, Frost/Nixon) is the lead, Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, who investigated Jack's killing spree, but was unable to bring the perpetrator to justice. Because of this, he has been mentally scarred, which is outwardly reflected by physical wounds, most notably on his shoulder. His daughter is dead, a mystery that slowly plays out, and it's left him on ill terms with his wife, Emily (Amanda Hale, The Crimson Petal and the White), who is throwing herself into helping others as an attempt to help herself.

Macfadyen does well enough in the role, which isn't particularly interesting, mostly due to the fact that his character is like so many others already in television. It really takes him time to try to distinguish the part from other anti-hero cops and come into his own. Yet, there's something about Macfadyen that is inherently engaging, with an especially expressive face, and despite the shortcomings of Reid on paper, the actor makes it work.

Reid is joined on the job by Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn, Game of Thrones), a bad man looking for redemption who has chosen Reid as his role model. Drake has a soft side, and is trying not to use his fists so much on the job. Like Macfadyen, Flynn has talent, and manages to make Drake more interesting than a lesser performer would be able to.

Of course, every good guy needs a bad seed to work against and so Ripper Street provides us Long Susan (MyAnna Buring, White Heat) and Homer Jackson (Adam Rothberg, The Ex List), who have fled from the United States to Britain. A bickering pair, they also manage to be somewhat likeable, even if they frequently don't do the right thing. As Ripper Street begins, Susan runs a whorehouse, where Jackson also stays. Jackson gets chummy with Reid, hoping a friendship will keep the law off of their backs. This works because Jackson has a great mind for science, and so his help is quite beneficial to Reid.

Lest the cast seem too male-dominated, we also have Rose Erskine (Charlene McKenna, Raw), a prostitute working for Long Susan whom Jackson has an interest in, much to Susan's chagrin, since Rose is one of her top earners.

Can Reid figure out who killed his daughter? Will the real Jack the Ripper be caught? Can Rose leave the life of sleeping with men for money? Is Jackson a bad man? These are questions that span the entire eight episode season, and some may or may not be answered by the finale, which is built up to nicely.

Given that this two disc Blu-ray only contains eight installments, there are quite a few bonus features. There are character profiles, "inside looks," a tour of the neighborhood of White Chapel, where the story takes place, and a look back at the Jack the Ripper case using modern forensics. These are all appropriate, and nicely compliment the series.

I do recommend checking out the show in high definition Blu-ray if you can. The level of detail is amazing, with much care going into the production value. There are a lot of dark scenes, and this release captures the shadows and depths that the picture should have. The sound track isn't particularly groundbreaking, but the mix is well done, blending background music with sound effects. The dialogue comes through clearly, too. 

Ripper Street is available now.

The Walking Dead hunts its "Prey"

Article first published as THE WALKING DEAD Recap Season 3 Episode 14 Prey on Seat42F.

Grade: 93%

This week’s installment of AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD, “Prey,” is by and large a Woodbury-centric episode, even when it leaves the confines of the town. Andrea (Laurie Holden) is warned by Milton (Dallas Roberts) that the Governor (David Morrissey) plans on killing the prison group, no matter if they do as he has asked or not. And what he has asked for is Michonne (Danai Gurari), so he can torture her. It’s enough to make Andrea sick, and she flees town.

Setting off without a gun, with only a small knife for protection, in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by Walkers is insane. It is a measure of just how terrible a place Woodbury has become, now that Andrea sees the type of man the Governor really is in full light, that she attempts such a thing. Most stable people would not flee relative safety, but when that safety comes at a very high price, one that Andrea cannot live with, she makes her escape.

If anyone can survive with only a knife, it’s Andrea. After all, she only has to make it to the prison, so it’s not like she’ll be out wandering around for weeks. However, the Governor doesn’t make that easy for her, knowing that Andrea will warn her friends about his plans, thus spoiling them, and so he sets out after her.

I do think it’s a little thin that the Governor is able to so easily track Andrea down several times. Seeing her in the field is happenstance; I get that. But why doesn’t he pursue her on foot into the trees? And why doesn’t Andrea pick a different point to leave the trees at, instead of going straight through them, as she must for the Governor to be waiting on the other side? How does the Governor know which building Andrea goes into? Does she have to approach the prison from that exact spot, the one the Governor tracks her to? Why doesn’t she circle around? Why doesn’t Andrea take the Governor’s truck, or sabotage it, after dodging him in the building? Why does the Governor go after her alone, when taking Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo) and others will better assure Andrea can be found and stopped?

Some of this can be explained because the Governor and Andrea are both very smart, and they do what makes sense. After the building encounter, one of the creepiest scenes ever for THE WALKING DEAD, she may even be forgiven for thinking that the Governor is dead, and thus not needing to vary her path. But when the hunt is taken altogether, it does play a bit into bad horror movie conventions, where the villain has an uncanny ability to track his intended victim, no matter what happens.

“Prey” is the episode where we see the depth of the Governor’s insanity. He sets up a torture chamber in Woodbury, and stalks Andrea with a single-minded ruthlessness. The fact that he whistles while doing so and scrapes the shovel, alerting Andrea to his presence, is not only silly, because it allows her to avoid him, but cruel, intended to strike fear into her heart (and succeeding). Only a true psychopath, without any empathy for anyone else would act like this. He is a monster, plain and simple.

Andrea is one of the toughest characters on THE WALKING DEAD, and definitely someone who survives. Her play of letting loose the Walkers on the Governor is brilliant, bold, and brave. But I worry about her, now that the Governor has her. THE WALKING DEAD television series verges quite a bit away from its comic book roots, and so no one is safe. While I desperately hope that Andrea survives the season, for once she will not be able to do so alone, as she has become helpless. It’s a strange situation to see her in, but one that really ups the ante.

Andrea’s best shot is with Milton, but his days are numbered, too, and I really expect him not to survive the last two hours of the season. He has gone against the Governor, warning Andrea and quite possibly setting fire to the Governor’s captured Walkers. The fact that he knew the Governor before he was the Governor has given Milton a pass thus far. But as the Governor moves further and further away from being a person, losing his connection to humanity, this won’t save Milton anymore. Just when the doctor grows a spine, he is liable to get it ripped out.

Milton could still let Andrea go before being killed himself, though. Yes, the Governor will be keeping an eye on Milton, as the trust is definitely lost between the two men. However, the Governor can’t watch Milton at all times, so there could be a window of opportunity. If he manages to save Andrea, it will redeem Milton for being complicit in the Governor’s previous activities. First, though, Milton must learn that Andrea is being held captive.

Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) and his sister, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green, The Good Wife), are the unknown factor. They are also beginning to see the true nature of Woodbury, after going out to the Walker pits, and hearing the Governor lie about Andrea. Tyreese plays it cool, acting like he’s on the team, but I feel like at this point he is only doing so to save his skin. I’m not sure if he’ll make a break for it, maybe with Andrea, or if he’s so scared of the outside world that he intends to stay and keep faking it. Tyreese does not trust the Governor, though, so he is not a happy citizen. And he’s a good man who seems like he will stand up for what is right when the chips are down.

THE WALKING DEAD does a fantastic job at character development, and the past three episodes in a row have shown that. When the series focuses on a small number of people per episode, allowing the scenes to dwell on them, lingering on their thoughts and motivations, we get a picture of the person. It’s how, in just a short amount of screen time, we already know Tyreese. This really works for the show, and they should mostly stick to this formula, other than when it’s time for the big action episodes, such as season finales.

The weak spots in the Governor’s hunting bring this episode down a little in my estimation, compared to other entries. But it’s still far better than most other series on television, and I think that “Prey” wonderfully sets up a two hour finale, which will sadly be split over the next two weeks. THE WALKING DEAD airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"Feud" disrupts Glee

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

Glee takes off the gloves this week and focuses on the "Feud" between Will (Matthew Morrison) and Finn (Cory Monteith). Will wants to forgive Finn for kissing Emma (Jayma Mays), but finds himself unable to do so, making the atmosphere of the glee club toxic. The students challenge their two directors to sing out the tension.

It's a solid idea, I guess, to have Will and Finn battle it out musically. That's the kind of show Glee is, using music to express and solve everything, so it makes sense. But it does feel awkward, and despite using two great songs for their sing-off, "Bye Bye Bye" and "I Want It That Way," the plot never quite gets to be cohesive. The mashup doesn't gel right, especially the cut scenes of Finn and Will physically fighting, and neither does the story.

In the end, though, I'm glad "Feud" doesn't solve the problem between these two men. Finn did something that can't be forgiven in a week or two. Eventually, it would be nice to be done with this dumb side trip of an arc and have the two back to being pals, but for now, it feels completely authentic that Will can't bring himself to let Finn off the hook. The heated words between them are raw and real.

So what's Finn to do? He can't stay at McKinley. Marley (Melissa Benoist) suggest he go get a teaching degree. The surprising thing is this clearly hasn't occurred to Finn, since it's such a "duh!" suggestion, but he appears to be considering it. Of course, that would keep him away from the show's action for four years, so I doubt the writers will really commit to it. But from a character stand point, it would be a good decision.

Which begs the question, what will season five look like? Presumably, some of it will take place at McKinley the very next year, as Glee has done a fine job of setting up a new crop this season, which I'll get to in a minute. But we'll want more characters to make their way to New York (at least Blaine (Darren Criss)), which limits who can stay in the show. It's been fun to see lots of the old favorites this year from time to time, but it might be necessary to slim the cast down a bit.

Another idea could be to time jump the series. This way, Finn could be done with his degree, and others could move into other roles as well. Finn is a primary, important character to the show. Unless they're ready to let him go, which would make sense on their current path, at least for a few years, he needs to find some entirely new story that somehow connects to this, which will be difficult. If he doesn't, it's likely going to feel awkward to keep him in focus.

Back to the glee kids, it does feel manufactured that Ryder (Blake Jenner) now has a feud with Unique (Alex Newell) all of the sudden. It springs out of nowhere, as does Ryder's chat with the girl on the computer (which is definitely someone we know, right?). The results of this plot, including the mystery of who Ryder is chatting with and a heartwarming scene in the choir room among the five newbies is great, but it's a little weird getting there.

Ryder's real beef is with Jake (Jacob Artist) and Marley, whom he has wronged. It's a testament to Jake that he can be the bigger man and give Ryder a second chance, especially when it's totally unfair of Marley to put Jake in that situation, trust or not. This is nice, to see that the guys' friendship may not be over.

But why does Unique get involved? I'm not exactly complaining; I love the character. It just feels a bit forced. As does Kitty's (Becca Tobin) last minute inclusion, even though, again, I really like the chemistry and camaraderie of these five, and hope it sticks.

Unique and Ryder's sing-off is a mashup of "The Bitch Is Back" and "Dress You Up." It's well sung, but not especially memorable, like most of the music in this episode.

If there's one complaint I have about "Feud," which has a decent story, is that the musical performances are lackluster. From the opening, "How to Be a Heartbreaker," to the closer, "Closer," nothing really stands out. Unfortunately.

The sing-off that comes closest to making an impression is the annual Sue (Jane Lynch) song. This year, she channels Nicki Minaj with "Super Bass," drowning out Blaine's attempt of "I Still Believe." This would be great if Sue didn't feel so out of place in the role. Maybe it's because she doesn't fully commit to the dance moves, which I definitely believe Lynch can handle. While showy, the number still falls flat.

They sing this piece as part of Sue's attempt to blackmail Blaine back onto the Cheerios. I kind of like this twist because we haven't gotten much of the Cheerios lately, and it gives Blaine something to do besides pine over Kurt (Chris Colfer). He makes a fine cheerleader, and making the story go a little deeper, that he has a goal of destroying Sue, is at least fun adjacent. I look forward to seeing the two clash.

When Sue calls Blaine "Clark Kent" it occurs to me that Criss needs to play Superman in some form. He has the look, both for the hero and the mild-mannered performer. This is a role that must happen for him at some point.

In New York, Santana (Naya Rivera) creates her own "Feud" with Brody (Dean Geyer) in the name of protecting Rachel (Lea Michele). Rachel's pregnancy scare is, thankfully, a false alarm, but that doesn't satisfy Santana, who doesn't like what Rachel is becoming and blames Brody for the transformation.

I don't know if Santana is entirely right. I mean, Brody is definitely a bad dude, and all love for him has been lost with the confirmation that he is a male prostitute. But I think Rachel's problems go deeper than that. Having lost Finn and trying to fit into a world that doesn't completely connect with her high school persona, she is attempting to figure out who she is in the Big Apple. Santana is right, what Rachel is doing isn't working, but it's more about her than the guy she is seeing.

Santana ends up confronting Brody at NYADA when she bursts in and performs "Cold Hearted." It's weird that the dancers fall in line behind this girl they don't know, but that's Glee and I can forgive that. What's harder to forgive is that we finally get a Santana performance, and it's this mediocre. Sad.

For her trouble, Santana is kicked out of the apartment by Rachel and Kurt. I get that they feel she has invaded their school and threatens their place in it, and Santana forces her way into the apartment in the first place. However, I really like having her there, and the three of them together makes for an interesting dynamic. Once Santana is proven right, Kurt and Rachel need to beg her forgiveness and shower her with thanks, bringing her back home.

Santana's plot doesn't quite end there, though, when she lures Brody to a hotel room and gives Finn the chance to beat on him. This is a more adult plot than Glee usually treads down, but considering the circumstances, I like it. It's very satisfying to see Finn sock the slime ball in the face, and it's very Santana to set up the pins and walk away triumphantly as they fall down behind her. Hopefully, there will be no legal ramifications, as Brody has every right to have the pair arrested for this.

So, in summary, loving Santana in New York, enjoying the new batch of kiddos at McKinley, but the songs are weak this week, and some of the writing really stretches believability. In all, a middling episode, kicked slightly into the good end of the spectrum by the hotel room scene.

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