Friday, May 31, 2013

The Curtain Closes on SMASH

Article first published as The Curtain Closes on SMASH on TheTVKing.

NBC's Smash is canceled too early, after a mere pair of seasons, presenting the two hour series finale "The Nominations" and "The Tonys" this week. In these installments, the casts of Hit List and Bombshell find out what awards they are nominated for, and what they win. Relationships are repaired, and everyone finds their purpose. It's a neatly tied up ending, perhaps a little too neatly.

Conscious of their impending demise, Smash seeks to leave everyone in a good place. This begins with the Tony Awards themselves. The honors are split between the two Broadway shows at the center of this series, and practically every major player wins a trophy. Jimmy (Jeremy Jordan) accepts a posthumous one for Kyle (Andy Mientus), Julia (Debra Messing) and Tom (Christian Borle) are honored for their writing, Derek (Jack Davenport) picks up a statue for choreography, Ivy (Megan Hilty) takes Best Actress, and Eileen (Anjelica Huston) is triumphant when Bombshell scores the big one.

Now, this means Karen (Katharine McPhee) loses for Best Actress, but at this point, that seems fine. She gets to be credited for the success of Hit List, and she seems happy enough, celebrating with everyone else. Besides, she ends up with Jimmy, who may serve some jail time for his past crimes, but is committed to her and a clean act, so she's doing just fine.

In fact, Karen and Jimmy aren't the only couple that find themselves in a happy place as the series concludes. Eileen reunites with a recently released Nick (Thorsten Kaye). Julia admits her long-held feelings for Michael Swift (Will Chase), ending her marriage once and for all with Frank (Brian d'Arcy James), whom she apparently no longer wants back (though what about Michael's family?). Derek finds humility and a conscience, without spoiling his character, allowing Ivy to see the good in him so that she can tell him about her pregnancy and they can be together. Tom even finds a spark with "straight" actor Patrick Dillon (Luke MacFarlane, Brothers & Sisters).

If all this sounds too good to be true, it's because it is. For a show that has thrived on excessive drama and the ups and downs of its stars, this is their dreams all come true, wrapped up in a tidy bow. No one stops in a bad place, with Derek even somewhat making up firing Ana (Krysta Rodriguez) to her. This is the best possible outcome for everyone.

Which is why it rings a little hollow. Don't get me wrong, I see what's going on, and I appreciate it. Had Smash been renewed for season three, there would have been disappointments and cliffhangers. Knowing they would not be coming back, the show tries to give fans what they want. After six or seven years on the air, this sort of outcome would feel earned and natural. With only two seasons under their belt, and everything falling apart just a short hour or two ago, this type of finish rings false.

There is a lot to praise in this final two hours. I love the opening "Under Pressure," which incorporates all of the major players, even if some only sing a little bit in it. I laugh when Leigh (Bernadette Peters) loses her Tony, which kind of feels like a win for Ivy, though she doesn't take home the statue either. I love Tom and Julia missing that they have won. I really enjoy the late addition of Patrick, and the redemption of Jimmy, as quick as both of those seem. The final song with Ivy and Karen singing together is just what the viewers need.

It's just, when all is said and done, this ending is too perfect. Even if Smash wants its characters to ride off into the sunset satisfied, they didn't need to go quite so far to do so. A few losses could have been balanced with romantic reconnections. Not everything has to be a personal and professional victory. A little tone down would have made for a better ending.

That being said, I really enjoyed both seasons of Smash, and am going to deeply miss it. There is nothing else like it on television. It's so much more realistic than Glee, and the drama and setting feel fresh and different than the gluttony of cop, lawyer, and doctor series. It's a shame something like this can't succeed, but I thank NBC and all involved for two wonderful years that I will definitely re-watch again in the future.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Teen Wolf Season Two Review

Article first published as DVD Review: Teen Wolf Season Two on BlogCritics.

MTV’s Teen Wolf Season Two, available now on DVD, is a three disc-set that features all twelve episodes of the series that aired last summer. This batch continues the story started in season one, and takes things to a new level, with new, more sinister dangers and fresh additions to the mythology.

Each series has its own way of approaching what werewolves are and how they work, but a generally accepted part of the conceit is that when a person is bitten by a werewolf, they turn into one. Teen Wolf challenges that notion this year as Jackson (Colton Haynes) gets bitten, but does not turn. How? Why? What does this mean?

I like that Teen Wolf makes this kind of bold move, surprising characters and viewers alike. The reasoning behind Jackson’s apparent immunity is not immediately apparent, and has everyone trying to figure out what’s going on. Jackson is affected, but not in the way we expect him to be. Among the various monster types, I’m not sure something like this has really been attempted before, so I praise such an original idea.

Jackson’s resistance presents a problem for Derek (Tyler Hoechlin), who is now an Alpha. He is supposed to be able to lead his pack and tell them what is going on, but this not something he knows anything about. Luckily, there are others that are more susceptible to what Derek offers, newcomer Isaac (Daniel Sharman, Immortals), for one, which means that Derek isn’t without followers. But Jackson does present a challenge to his position, both in theory and in what soon becomes a very real way.

Of course, Scott (Tyler Posey) can’t just fall in line behind Derek. He is the star of Teen Wolf, and isn’t one to cower in a shadow. Scott and Derek may work together sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that Scott will just accept Derek’s actions when he doesn’t agree with them, whether Scott is in his pack or not. This creates some fresh conflict between the two, which is quite interesting.

Posey, while not the strongest performer on television, is growing into the role. Others do a little better than the show’s lead, but his acting is improving as his goes, and he does present a character viewers will root for. Given more time, he will likely continue to get better as the show progresses.

This being an MTV show, most of which are geared towards a certain age bracket, there is also a focus on the romance. Scott continues to see Allison (Crystal Reed), in secret, of course, since she is part of a family of wolf hunters. This does feel very much like the classic Romeo and Juliet tale of the warring families, despite the fact that not all of Allison’s relations are evil, which makes their relationship exciting to the young folks, but also prevents stability. While not completely original, the actors fill the roles well, making for good television.

The other love at the center of this year’s story line is the one between Stiles (Dylan O’Brien) and Lydia (Holland Roden). Sadly, unlike with Scott and Allison, this attraction seems to be one-sided, with Lydia not interested in Stiles’ advances. But the mental breakdowns Lydia suffers and the secrets surrounding her provide plenty of fodder to keep viewers, and Stiles, engaged, even if they aren’t really a couple.

It would actually be quite difficult to give a full summary of this second season in a few hundred words. Teen Wolf packs an incredibly amount of story into each of these episodes, and boasts an ever-expanding cast. In season two, things really ramp up, with the pacing taking off, and the plot flowing along. I liked season one, but I think the second year is when the show really begins to demonstrate what it is about and what it can do. It’s definitely one of the best things to come out of MTV, a sort of cable version of The Vampire Diaries.

And, as one might expect, there is plenty of cliffhanger at the end of Teen Wolf Season Two. However, fear not. The popular series will return this summer with all new installments to continue the saga.

Teen Wolf Season Two has an adequate amount of special features, though skews anything technical or deep in favor of those targeted at their main viewership. There’s a “Shirtless Montage,” alternate Stiles takes, a gag reel, a reel featuring fight scenes, and an introduction to Derek’s pack. There are also audio commentaries on three episodes, a look at season three, and highlights from the series panel at Paleyfest. Nothing groundbreaking here, but enough.

Teen Wolf Season Two is available now.

True Blood The Complete Fifth Season

Article first published as DVD Review: True Blood The Complete Fifth Season on Blogcritics.

For lovers of HBO’s True Blood, eagerly anticipating the upcoming sixth season, a great way to pass the wait is to relive the most recent batch of episodes. With True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and download, catching up is easier than ever.

Season five, like many recent years of True Blood, is a season of disjointed stories. As the cast has expanded and grown, the tales have stopped lining up with each other so neatly. We have all of our core characters, and they are all served throughout the year. But they don’t necessarily come in contact with one another, nor will their challenges be connected, which is actually quite cool, allowing for a larger picture of the world.

A major arc in season five revolves around Vampire Authority. We are introduced to this group, supposedly the leaders of their species, but not surprisingly, there are fractures among them. Vampires are an unpredictable, dangerous, spirited group, and anytime a number of them come together, they are bound to bicker. Toss in a religious cult which seeks to control the authority, and you’ve got quite a mess.

It’s not surprising that our favorite fangers fall into this mess. Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) are both smack in the middle of this, although their loyalties are shifting, and sometimes it’s hard to tell whose side they are on. While some viewers may have liked one of these two men more than the others throughout the run, allegiances may shift based on this season’s story. Matters are only complicated further when Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) gets involved.

Combined with the followers of Lilith (Jessica Clark), a return by fan-favorite Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare), and the fantastic newcomer Roman (Law & Order: SVU‘s Christopher Meloni), the vamps not only make up a huge portion of each installment, but is certainly one of the most fun arcs, with a twist ending and major consequences to be explored next year.

Not that every vampire is anxious to get involved in the civil strife among their kind. Tara (Rutina Wesley), recently turned, has a lot more to worry about than political allegiances. Luckily, she has Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten), her maker, there to assist. Pam may be reluctant to help Tara, but the dynamic between them is a true joy, and really adds something fresh to True Blood.

While Bill and Eric are off with their own kind, this leaves Sookie (Anna Paquin) to get into her own trouble, unmolested by her would-be suitors. Fans of True Blood have been divided by the addition of fairies to the story, but given that this is Sookie’s heritage, it makes sense to explore it. Considering her status as a magnet for danger and conflict, of course plenty of that is present as well, but without her vampire protectors this time. Though Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is around, since this concerns him, too.

Thankfully, the season provides some meaningful development to many of the supporting characters this year, too. Sam (Sam Trammell) tries to fend off those who would reveal the existence of all supernatural creatures to the public. Hoyt (Jim Parrack) dives into the bigger players’ circles. Andy (Chris Bauer) has more than one woman to contend with. Alcide (Joe Manganiello) deals with who will lead his wolf pack. Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) is haunted by his dead lover, Jesus (Kevin Alejandro). All of these people have story in the past, but they really get beefed up this year, making for a more rich, complex tale.

The exception to the praise-worthy list of threads is Terry’s (Todd Lowe) bits. Despite the inclusion of guest star Scott Foley, seeing Terry run out on Arlene (Carrie Preston) to battle a fire monster is very disappointing. The plot doesn’t unfold all that smoothly, and the character fails to come across as noble, as he should. However, one bad story out of all of the others listed above isn’t too shabby, and it’s still a pretty strong season overall.

As usual for an HBO release, True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season has quite a few extras that should make fans happy. Interviews with writers of the show give insight into each and every episode. Five audio commentaries allow the actors to weigh in, too. Episode six, arguably quite pivotal in the season, gets further exploration and discussion. “Authority Confessionals” allow us to get to know some of the new vampires, “True Blood Lines” details many of the characters’ connections, and “Enhanced Viewing” contains reminders of past and future events, as well as giving depth to the details. And there’s more.

True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season is available as a seven disc combo pack that gives buyers Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copies of every episode. In an age where media is in flux, it’s really cool that one purchase would be accessible across many platforms, and HBO should be lauded for putting out such sets, as they have also done for other series. It’s really quite a great idea.

True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season is available now.

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT Same "Double Crossers" As Always (Season 4 Episodes 6-10)

Article first published as ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT Same "Double Crossers" As Always (Season 4 Episodes 6-10) on TheTVKing.

Netflix has resurrected Arrested Development, seven years after its cancellation on FOX, and now, starting yesterday, presents fifteen brand new episodes. For ease of review purposes, I am breaking down my coverage into three articles covering five episodes each, with this article focusing on episodes 6-10.

The thing that strikes me about the first four of this grouping of five is how much they seem like "typical" Arrested Development episodes. Sure, each one still centers on a single character, technically, but these middle installments include a lot more of the rest of the cast than the earliest episodes do, with more scenes and plot where the featured actor doesn't appear. As such, it allows the multiple story lines to be served and continue.

It also brings back a lot of the family dynamics fans of the show are used to. Beginning in the sixth episode, "Double Crossers," George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) manipulates his children against one another, especially Gob (Will Arnett) and Michael (Jason Bateman), who may possible now be dating the same woman, again. This is classic Bluth shenanigans, and eventually the Bluth children talk and compare notes. While family togetherness is the stated purpose of the Bluth parents, they are happy to chuck it out the door to serve their own purposes, which usually works for a time on their children.

Which is not to say that the kids don't follow in the footsteps of their parents. George Sr. may need Michael's help with his business deal, but Michael is also making agreements in order to get his film made. Soon, many bargains are being struck between the various sides, each Bluth worried only about their own selfish needs, no one helping the others out. Which will likely lead to the failing of everyone, per usual.

Why can't the Bluths just support one another? Why do they have to back stab and bicker? It makes for great, entertaining television, but sometimes it becomes a little sad, even when viewers are laughing.

We also get a return of many more recurring players and subplots. The mysterious Mister F. theme comes back in episode nine, "Smashed," when Tobias works at Lucielle 2's (Liza Minnelli) rehab clinic with her brother (Tommy Tune). Steve Holt (Justin Grant Wade) resurfaces in episode seven, "Colony Collapse," wanting to reconnect with his dad, Gob. Also in the same episode, Gob is finally forced to figure out what to do about his relationship with Anne (Mae Whitman), turning to magic to escape, much to chagrin of her father, Pastor Veal (Alan Tudyk).

Add in the new arcs, which feature new players, and this all begins to come together in the cohesive tale we are accustomed to, with each Bluth's plot running through each other Bluth's plot. Edited differently, these four episodes could easily serve most of the main cast (or at least the ones featured in them) with connected stories and situations, rather than being so concerned with just one Bluth.

In fact, although Michael is not the lead of any of the five, he bickers with Gob in "Double Crossers" and "Colony Collapse," and goes on a double date with Lindsay (Portia di Rossi) in her installment, episode eight's "Red Hairing," which we then again see in Tobias's (David Cross) "Smashed." Then, Michael finishes up his Ron Howard (himself) / Rebel (Isla Fisher) confusion. So the stories are getting more expansive and inclusive.

Episode ten, "Queen B.," though, follows Lucielle (Jessica Walter) and feels like the beginning of the end. This installment seems to finish off the boat chase plot begun in season three's finale, go through Lucille's trial, and takes her all the way up to the Cinco de Cuatro night we've seen so much of. The various threads begin to really tie together, bringing things back around and paying off bits started earlier in season four. I cannot say for sure, but it seems like season four might have a clear beginning, middle, and end, and we're moving into the end now.

Knowing season four can't go on forever, I'm hesitant to rush through the final five. It has been so satisfying returning to these characters, and I don't wish to let them go. For every old story that somewhat concludes, like Anne's involvement with the family and Lucille's long-running feud Lucille 2, we get another continuation, like Gob and Steve Holt's unfinished business, as well as another story just starting, like George Sr. and Oscar's (also Tambor) personality switch, Lucille 2's disappearance, Lindsay's run for office in Love's (Terry Crews) place, and George Michael's (Michael Cera) continuing avoidance of Michael, which seems to be carefully planned. This so much rich material to mine, and it's being handled very well.

That being said, I look forward to learning the fate of some of the newbies that may be near the end of their run, and I'm anxious for Maeby (Alia Shawkat), George Michael, and Buster's (Tony Hale) turns in the pole position, as well a second outing for Gob. Time to watch more Arrested Development!

All fifteen episodes of season four are currently available for Netflix streaming video subscribers.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"A New Start" For ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (Season 4 Episodes 1-5)

Article first published as "A New Start" For ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (Season 4 Episodes 1-5) on TheTVKing.

Netflix has resurrected Arrested Development, seven years after its cancellation on FOX, and now, starting today, presents fifteen brand new episodes. For ease of review purposes, I am breaking down my coverage into three articles covering five episodes each.

This new Arrested Development brings back all the beloved characters from the sitcom, but because of scheduling difficulties, each installment focuses on one specific player. Other cast members come in and out often, but there is a single person who gets the most stuff, while others are barely seen at all.

First up is "Flight of the Phoenix" with Michael (Jason Bateman), arguably the central protagonist of the ensemble. When last we leave Michael, he is trying to escape his family, a smart move considering how much they have been dragging him down. But as we see in this premiere, he is not able to stay away, and thus is pulled into self-destruction's embrace even tighter, hitting near rock bottom when forced to move into his son, George Michael's (Michael Cera), dorm room, only to eventually be kicked out.

This is wonderful development for Michael, both in keeping with the personality already established, and because it demonstrates just how much like the rest of the family he is. Michael has striven very hard to set himself apart and seem "normal," but that just isn't how life shakes out for him, and even after George Michael finally grows a bit of a spine and in a roundabout way asks Michael to leave, Michael still doesn't get the hint.

Michael seems better when episode four, "The B. Team," picks up his tale, but it has to be denial, rather than success, driving the change. Intent on becoming a movie producer, working with Ron Howard (the narrator of Arrested Development playing himself here) to put together a picture about the Bluth family, specifically Michael's relationship with George Michael. Hopefully, through this experience, Michael will finally see that he is just as bad a father as his dad is, albeit in different ways, and Ron Howard's interest will serve as a wake-up call to him, leading to understanding and lasting development.

I absolutely adore "The B. Team" because of all of the meta references in it. Besides Howard, we see Brian Grazer (himself), and their offices at Imagine Entertainment. Whether or not the picture gets made, which I feel it will, and that the flashback scenes with Kristen Wiig, Seth Rogen, and others playing the familiar characters are probably from this project, this is a clever, tongue-in-cheek extension of some of the self-referential jokes the series already does. I only wish Bryce Dallas Howard would play Ron Howard's daughter in Arrested Development, rather than Isla Fisher (Confessions of a Shopaholic) filling the role.

It's not just done for meta purposes, though, firmly ensconcing the bigger story with these bits. Through a few plot twists, Maeby's (Alia Shawkat) producer career ends up being connected, and former Bluth secretary Kitty (Judy Greer) now works there, using the job for some unknown scheme to bring down the family. And other recurring roles, such as Warden Gentles (James Lipton), Andy and Rocky Richter (Andy Richter), and Carl Weathers (Carl Weathers) figure in, as well.

In fact, that's how much of Arrested Development seems to be playing out. Season four, like the first three before it, brilliantly weaves new characters and gags into everything that has come before it, with many faces and bits returning when least expected. The list of guest stars in these first five half-hours is quite long, though each is used effectively to further the plot, rather than being distracting or plain stunt casting. I think this sort of talent effectively helps fill the gaps of the missing main players.

Episodes three and five, "Indian Takers" and "A New Start," unfold concurrently, with the former following Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) and the latter focusing on Tobias (David Cross). Each have many of the same settings and scenes, but "A New Start" does not repeat "Indian Takers," instead giving new glimpses of the bigger picture.

I think Lindsay and Tobias are meant for each other. Sure, they end up with two other lovers in these episodes (The Office's Chris Diamantopoulus and comedian Maria Bamford), but they way that they keep crossing paths and end up in the same spots proves they're connected. Perhaps they aren't sexually attracted to one another, but there's a reason they are in each other's lives, and it's kind of sweet, if a bit sad, to see how hopeless they are to escape each other, much as they might try.

These two installments aren't the only ones that cross, with a couple of focal points, the aftermath of Lucille's (Jessica Walter) arrest in the season three finale and a family meeting to discuss stimulus money, bringing everyone back together. While it's sometimes hard to pinpoint the exact timeline of the narrative, each episode tells a cohesive story, and also serves the season's arcs as a whole. Putting this together has to be a difficult feat, and I'm impressed with how well it's being done, assuming it will all wrap up neatly in the end.

The weak point of these first five is episode two, "Borderline Personalities." This is about a scheme George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) hatches with Oscar (also Tambor) being his unwilling accomplice, but despite the wonderful additions of John Slattery (Mad Men), Karen Maruyama (Pulp Fiction), and Mary Lynn Rajskub (24), as well as the genius dual performance given by Tambor, I just couldn't get into the setting or story.

I think part of the accessibility problem is my general disinterest with anything set in the desert or with that harsh southwestern color scheme, so perhaps this is a personal opinion that will not be shared by other fans. However, even though I do consider it the worst of the five, I still think it is pretty darn funny.

Ten more episodes remain to check out, and they are sure to evoke as many laughs as the ostrich, an inability to recognize faces, subtle references, a secret ballot, a Google unnamed tech company car, and so much more have already gotten. I like that Netflix has them all out at once because I don't have to wait, but it's sad to think they'll be burned through in a few days and then it'll be over again. Thankfully, the first five installments prove that Arrested Development has lost nothing during the very long hiatus, and remains one of TV's smartest, most original, most complex comedies. I'm so glad it's back!

Arrested Development season four is available in its entirety on Netflix now.


Article first published as ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT Season 4 Premiere Review on Seat42F.

Grade: 100%

Today is a glorious day for fans of high-quality comedy series, as Netflix revives ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. Canceled by FOX after just three short seasons, it now returns today with fifteen brand-new episodes, released all at once through the company’s streaming service.

It is immediately apparent from the start of the premiere, “Flight of the Phoenix,” that this is the same show that fans love and miss. Ron Howard’s narration remains, as does a tweaked version of the theme song, the entire cast, and a host of recurring bits and characters. In the first episode, we get such classic gags as the Peanuts sad walk and a revisit to Michael’s turn as a lawyer in an Elementary school play, and see familiar guests  like Barry Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler), Lucille 2 (Liza Minnelli), and Sally Sitwell (Christine Taylor).

Not that ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT is going to rest on its laurels and just give us the same story again. There are fresh jokes that are set up to be recurring, such as Michael’s (Jason Bateman) prayer pose and his enrollment in the University of Phoenix. Which means that, going forward, the series should continue to build upon itself as it always has, keeping what works, and enriching the tapestry further.

The character development continues, too. When last the series aired, Michael had been spiraling dowwardn. He is originally introduced as the character that has it all together, but over the course of the episodes, slowly loses it, proving he is just as screwed up as the rest of his family. Now, he has reached a very low point, and is at his worst, a logical step forward based on the past.

“Flight of the Phoenix,” flashbacks aside, covers two main time periods, six months apart. In the first, Michael is living in his son, George Michael’s (Michael Cera), dorm room. In the second, lest anyone hope that he improves himself in the interim, as the ending of the episode seems to hint might happen, we see Michael willing to sleep with Lucille 2 for money. So no matter what happens to Michael in Phoenix, which has yet to be revealed, it won’t be a happy ending for him.

Other elements have also advanced. It’s really cool to see the neighborhood around the model house finally get built, especially because that is still only the beginning of the company and the family’s problems. The Bluths will never be successful in business, and one will always wonder how they’ve stayed afloat this long. But their foibles are hilarious, and a lot of why we tune in.

We don’t learn a lot about where the rest of the characters are in “Flight of the Phoenix,” set years after the season three finale, but with enough connecting threads to jump back in on without feeling like we’ve missed anything. This is because of scheduling conflicts. During the many years between seasons three and four, most of the cast moved on professionally and obtained other work. In order to put together these fifteen half hours, accommodations have been made so that different characters will appear in different installments.

This surprisingly doesn’t feel too jarring. Some members of the Bluth clan have always been featured more than others at times, owing to the large group and limited story-telling time. While Gob (Will Arnett), George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), Lucille (Jessica Walter), and Buster (Tony Hale) all are briefly seen in the first episode, their stories will be told in other half hours, which is fine. Michael is the main character, if such a strong ensemble series has a main character, and putting him first feels very natural.

One assumes that the later time period we see Michael in will be where this fourth season will come together, reuniting the Bluths for their big (hopefully not permanent) ending. We’ll probably get this part of the puzzle in small pieces, doled out a little bit in each installment.

The one major element that has changed is that Lucille and George Sr. are no longer played by Tambor and Walter in long-ago flashbacks. To be fair, this always stretched the believability a little bit, and the new actors, Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live) and Seth Rogen (50/50, Knocked Up), are experienced and wonderful at recreating the parts. While many, myself included, are a little reticent to see someone else tackle such familiar characters, it is so well done that there should be no complaints.

In all, Netflix has done a fantastic job in resurrecting ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, with key players both behind and in front of the camera right where they should be. I predict this will be considered a great success by fans of the show, and will likely spark at least discussion of continuation of the story after this. Now, I need to get back to my TiVo and watch more.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

NASHVILLE Alive and Well

Article first published as NASHVILLE Alive and Well on TheTVKing.

If anyone in the television industry still thinks that Hayden Panettiere, the cheerleader from Heroes, can't hold her own against Tami Taylor herself, Connie Britton, that person need only watch "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive," the first season finale of ABC's Nashville, to have their mind forever changed.

Panettiere's Juliette, a young country music superstar, prepares for the CMAs, in which she hopes to beat Britton's Rayna James, a legend in her own time, for a prestigious award. But Juliette's night is sidelined when her drug addict mother, Jolene (Sylvia Jeffries, Eastbound & Down), is found dead of an overdose, her sober companion Dante (Jay Hernandez) murdered by a gun beside her. Juliette tries to go on, but soon finds herself bogged down with grief.

Panettiere's performance is extremely impressive. The way she captures Juliette, who is not herself naturally a nice person, with all of the layers of her emotions, is extraordinary. Juliette has wished for Jolene to be dead, but also loves the mother who has made her life so complicated. This isn't a story just anyone can relate to, with most people having better dynamics with their parents, but it's easy to see just how talented Panettiere is when capturing all of Juliette's conflicting feelings.

This continues past the CMAs, to Jolene's funeral, and then a tribute performance at the Bluebird. We see Juliette honor her mother, and be angry at her. We also see Juliette get support from the people she clashes with, Rayna, Deacon (Charles Esten), and her former manager Bucky (David Alford). It's a time for Juliette to reconsider her life and her values, and she comes out stronger than ever.

Which means, unlike in Nashville's freshman year, she may be ready for a serious, mature relationship. The most likely candidate to begin this journey with her is Avery (Jonathan Jackson), who has undergone his own trials this season, only to emerge from the other side a better developed person. They both deserve love, are good people, and have worked to improve themselves. I hope this happens for them.

Oh, and Juliette wins the award, which should matter next season, even if it doesn't right now.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, things completely fall apart between Rayna and Deacon. The pair may have destiny on their side, but a host of tribulations have kept them separated from some time, and it's past mistakes that haunt them now. Deacon learns that Rayna has lied to him about the parentage of their daughter, Maddie (Lennon Stella), and falls off the wagon in a severe way.

If there is ever a sympathetic reason to give up thirteen years of sobriety to return to one's bad habits it is learning that the woman who you consider the love of your life has a daughter by you that she has claimed to be another man's for a very long time. Still, it's very depressing to see Deacon, a beloved character who has been doing so well, sink to such depths.

Rayna is going to have to distance herself from Deacon. She has two daughters to worry about, and they can't be around someone so unstable. In fact, the ending of "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" finds Rayna flipping Deacon's truck as they fight, crashing. This is clearly not a healthy relationship and has to end until Deacon pulls himself back together.

Despite the recent death of Dante and Jolene, it's unlikely either Rayna or Deacon did not survive the wreck. They are too central to Nashville, and the series would not be the same without them. But it should serve as a wake-up call for their behavior.

In the meantime, with Deacon so messed up, Teddy (Eric Close) won't have any trouble keeping Maddie. There is a reason Rayna chose him to be Maddie's father, and Teddy loves Maddie. He won't do anything to jeopardize the girl, and will be there for her at this time when she needs him. It's not fair for Maddie to only blame Rayna for the lie, but Teddy is a good influence in Maddie's life and should remain so.

That is, as long as he beats Rayna's father, Lamar (Powers Boothe) at his political game. Lamar crosses a major line by taking legal action against Teddy, something that could disrupt his granddaughters' lives and ruin the just-repaired relationship between Lamar and Rayna. It's a stupid move for someone who wants to keep his family, and even if Lamar wins his baseball stadium, he still loses.

The proceedings seem to hang on Lamar's other daughter, Tandy (Judith Hoag), who has every reason to turn against Lamar after he promotes someone else over her. Tandy has had her share of problems with Rayna, but her immediate anger is at Lamar. So Teddy should have the upper hand, at least for now.

In other relationship news, "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" finds Gunnar (Sam Palladio) proposing to Scarlett (Clare Bowen). We don't see Scarlett's answer, but it's unlikely she'll say yes, or if she does, she won't go through with the nuptials. Scarlett and Gunnar's problems are too complicated to fix with a ring, and their careers are in drastically different places, Gunnar willing to give his up for her, which is the makings of resentment and more issues. They may very well end up together, but Nashville is a drama, and there's plenty of drama to milk out of both characters before allowing them to settle down.

Lastly, there's Will Lexington (Chris Carmack, The O.C.), the late addition to the cast. Will is trying to cover up his homosexuality because that could hurt him in his desire to be a country music star. Despite his only recently joining, we've learned enough about him to care, and although he isn't always on his best behavior, he doesn't deserve to be ruined. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, a plot that seems quite timely to the current social climate.

Nashville has proven itself to be a fine, compelling series, and this finale may be one of the best hours the show has delivered yet. I'm glad that it will be getting a second season beginning next fall on ABC.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Save Me From SAVE ME

Article first published as Save Me From SAVE ME on TheTVKing.

It's easy to see why NBC would choose to burn off new sitcom Save Me after the typical broadcast season has come to an end. It's a meandering story without a clear direction or well-defined characters. It can't exactly make up its mind what it's about or what the rules of the tale are. As such, it comes across as being a big mess in the first two installments, "The Book of Beth" and "Take It Back," which aired last night.

The premise seems to revolve around Beth Harper (Anne Heche, Men in Trees, Hung), an angry, alcoholic housewife who chokes on a sandwich and finds god. As she begins hearing voices telling her things she shouldn't know, she decides that she's a prophet, and attempts to go on the straight and narrow, repairing her relationships with her family and friends.

I always enjoy Heche, but Beth is not a good character. Her about-face is immediate in the "The Book of Beth," and there's no exploration as to how she gets the way she is prior to that. The others in her life seem like solid, likeable people, which would make sense if Beth is a lovable gal. However, it sounds like she's been nasty for awhile, so why is anyone still hanging around Beth at all?

Beth's husband, Tom (Michael Landes, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), is ready to ask for a divorce as Save Me begins, but stops short when Beth transforms back into the woman he loved. This causes Tom's mistress, Carly (Alexandra Breckenridge, American Horror Story), to go crazy, coming to Tom's house and screaming at Beth. That is, until Carly is struck by lightening, which may or may not be Beth's fault.

I don't understand why Tom leaves one unpleasant woman for another. Carly's irrational behavior can't come out of nowhere. I also don't understand why Tom is cheating, because every other aspect about him seems to portrays him as a model father and neighbor who would never do such a thing. And how can Beth overlook that behavior so easily, justifiable or not?

It's this kind of inconsistency that ruins Save Me. The dynamics between the various players are off. We don't understand Beth or her powers. (Is she just supposed to help her friend's husband get blowjobs? Is that what god wants?) Without any understanding of the purpose of the show or any inkling of where the story could go, there isn't anything to latch onto and get invested in.

The cast, which also includes Madison Davenport (Shameless), Heather Burns (Bored to Death), Joy Osmanski (The Loop), Stephen Schneider (Best Friends Forever), and Diedrich Bader (Outsourced), though only the females are main characters, is very good. Many of them have been in better projects, and so it's obvious the talent isn't lacking. Were the writing to improve, this is a very solid ensemble and a wonderful show could be built around them. But it doesn't seem like this is to be.

Save Me airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC for now, but likely not for long.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Goodnight, Sweet GRIMM" Review

Article first published as "Goodnight, Sweet GRIMM" Review on TheTVKing.

NBC's Grimm has teetered back and forth between serial and procedural, introducing us to a wide variety of creatures through its formulaic police elements, but also continuing some larger arcs over the course of a season or longer. In the sophomore season finale this week, "Goodnight, Sweet Grimm," all pretense of the case-of-the-week is thankfully dropped in favor of more complex story.

A frequent stumbling block series face on network television these days is a resistance to serial storytelling. Some shows, the smart ones, start out playing the game, delivering mostly stand-alone episodes, keeping themselves on the air until they gain enough of an audience to do what they want. The problem with that tactic is, more discerning viewers may give up if they don't see any sign that the story will get better, as I did initially with Grimm in the first year.

Luckily, others did not judge the show quite so quickly, and now building a loyal following, Grimm finally gets to show us what it can do. The penultimate episode before "Goodnight, Sweet Grimm" begins the tale of Eric Renard (James Frain, The Cape, True Blood) coming to town with a voodoo Wesen in tow who can make zombies. It's all part of an elaborate trap to capture Nick (David Giuntoli), which continues in this latest installment.

This is bad timing for Nick, who has just reunited with Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch). The two haven't even worked out a nice balance between their romantic life and Nick's Grimm activities, with Juliette tagging along on the zombie hunt and almost screwing things up. They need to even out their relationship before being tested, and Nick's kidnapping may throw things off enough to cause the couple some serious problems.

I don't know that they should fix things. When Juliette loses her memory, fans root for her to get it back so that she can be with Nick. But her initial handling of being in on the secret has not inspired much confidence in her. She could end up doing more harm than good on the team. Maybe it's time to cut her lose, opening Nick up for other loves and other stories.

Nick's group is forming nicely, with Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), Hank (Russell Hornsby), and Rosalee (Bree Turner) often providing backup. What's more, Grimm is finally getting around to giving them some subplot. More of that would be welcome, as a true ensemble series, even if Nick is the center, is always more interesting. Grimm has already been compared extensively to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and developing the gang further is a good lesson to take from their forebearer.

At some point, others will have to be added to the ranks, too. If the series can budget more main characters, I would petition for Bud (Danny Bruno), Nick's "sidekick," who is around not quite enough for my taste, to get the upgrade. I also think Dr. Harper (Sharon Sachs) could make a good addition, and she could probably handle the truth about the Wesen better than most, facing dead bodies on a daily basis and being used to weird or gruesome stuff.

Captain Renard (Sasha Roiz) flirts at the fringe, and may get a chance to prove himself when he'll soon have to choose between helping Eric or Nick. Renard doesn't care much for Eric, but Eric is offering a chance for the Captain to rejoin the royal family, which has to be tempting. I think Captain Renard will do the right thing, but if the series shows him waffling a bit, that could be more interesting, even for those who want him on the right side.

I wonder how Adalind's (Claire Coffee) pregnancy might play into Renard's feelings. Adalind's tale has been one long separate from the rest of the cast, and is unfolding very slowly. When Renard enters into the picture, it should not only speed things along, but lend more meaning to what is happening. Colliding arcs could change everything, in a good way, so it should definitely happen sooner, rather than later.

Sgt. Wu (Reggie Lee) is the last main character who isn't in on the whole supernatural world that exists around them. As much as I enjoy his presence, I'm in no hurry for him to join the ranks of the Grimm. He not only provides comic relief, but there's something really fun about keeping him in the dark that has not nearly gotten old yet.

One thing I would definitely like to see is a major death on Grimm. Not that I'm trying to eliminate anyone from the cast, but I feel like it's needed to raise the stakes. One of the main characters in Portland should be murdered in some terrible way. This would infuse the story with more oomph and danger, as it still often feels like fluff, and the peril is usually quite light.

Grimm is well on its way to being a beloved show, and now boasts way higher quality writing than it starts with. With a few tweaks, it could soon raise itself up to one of those series that is anticipated weekly. For now, it's nice to see it coming along, and I look forward to what the season three premiere will bring.

Grimm will return to NBC next fall.

Friday, May 24, 2013

THE BIG C "The Finale" Review

Article first published as THE BIG C "The Finale" Review on TheTVKing.

Showtime's The Big C came to an understated end this week in "The Finale." Rather than make a big showy production, the final hour is about Cathy's (Laura Linney) last days, and the way that her loved ones say goodbye to her. Each of the main characters get a touching scene with Cathy, and the hour ends when she passes on.

I do kind of wish we'd gotten to see her funeral. Yes, Cathy's ending, speaking to her therapist (Kathy Najimy) about her story, taking Angel's hand (Michael Ray Escamilla), swimming in the pool with Marlene (Phyllis Somerville) and her dog, is sweet and appropriate, matching tone and closing that The Big C has been building to. It's nice enough that I won't complain about other deceased characters not appearing there, which I had hoped for going in. But I'd like to know what the effect of her actual death had on her loved ones, not just how they prepared themselves for her going.

Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe) can leave town with no regrets. She is willing to give up her fashion design internship to stay and watch Cathy die, but Cathy convinces her not to. By Cathy passing away so soon after that conversation, Andrea will get to attend the funeral and go to New York City, presumably. It's a happy ending for her.

Adam (Gabriel Basso) may be relieved. He works so hard to earn his high school diploma before Cathy's death, and barely succeeds. Now that everything he has devoted himself to these past few months is over, he can finally take a moment to relax. He is a good son who does everything he can to let Cathy die with no regrets, and deserves a reprieve.

Paul (Oliver Platt) also needs a break so he can heal and move on. His marriage to Cathy never does explicitly repair itself, regrettably, but his sticking by her until the end, taking care of her, visiting her, is his way of trying to make up for the mistakes he has made. He does right by her, and can grieve properly, conscience clear.

Sean (John Benjamin Hickey) also has much to be proud of. When his character is introduced on The Big C, he needs help. Taking care of Cathy, instead of she taking care of him, has let Sean grow as a person and become self-sufficient. He will miss his sister, to be sure, but he also has the skills to live in a house now, and be a productive member of society. Giving away his kidney, especially to someone so despicable as the recipient is, is a responsible, adult decision which shows how far he has come.

And Cathy gets closure with her dad (Brian Dennehy). He has not been an important part of The Big C, but in Cathy's final days, she gets to make peace with him, something important to helping her move on. I don't think this comes out of nowhere, having heard Cathy and Sean discuss their upbringing before, and it does feel right, even if he is a new character. It's part of life for parents and children to squabble, but to have that time together, to make amends, is priceless.

Cathy spends much of "The Finale" preparing to die, so that she will go out on a good note. She plans her funeral, talks to religious representatives (one of the best scenes in the episode), considers assisted suicide, and even tries to will herself to go out on her own terms. The fact that she's still alive, four months after she expects to die, and has to be kicked out of hospice, shows just how strong a person Cathy is. Yet, she can't control death, as she is forced to accept.

Cathy's last decision is her final words. She chooses "lucky me" because it is the perfect way to sum up her life. We don't know for sure if those are her last words, though they might be, since we don't see what she says after eating the homemade strawberry pie, and that seems a likely phrase. But those are her final words to each of the people she loves. None of them are there when she passes, which I'm sure she is grateful for. Instead, she gets to send them off right, leaving them with the memory of her she wants them to have, smiling and saying "lucky me."

I think we should all say "lucky me" for getting to watch The Big C. It is an original story, one many can relate to, but also forging its own path, avoiding the stereotypes such a tale usually engages in. It's charming, funny, depressing, and inspiring all at once. "The Finale" might not be what one would expect, but it should leave fans feeling proper closure. So to all involved, I say "lucky me" for getting to watch your fine series. Thank you.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Little MOTIVE to Watch

Article first published as MOTIVE Review on Seat42F.

Grade: 84%

ABC’s newest drama, premiering tonight, is MOTIVE. Detective Angie Flynn (Kristin Lehman, The Killing) is a tough single mother and homicide detective with a killer instinct, so to speak. She, more than anyone else in her department, is concerned with the MOTIVE of the murderer, which helps her catch the perp when others cannot.

MOTIVE follows a simple formula. We see the victim of the crime. The police investigate said crime, as they do in any hour-long procedural, and the viewer gets to see what happens during the violent act via flashback, doled out in bits and pieces throughout the installment. What makes it slightly different from its peers, the hook if you will, is that there is a focus on why a bad guy does a thing, rather than just how they are caught.

Angie, our hero, is a lot like other leads in other crime dramas. She has an almost super-human level of perception and intelligence, able to spot small things and remember details, which allows her to complete the investigation. For instance, in the “Pilot,” it’s an offhand comment from a teenager she encounters that leads her to figure out the real villain, even though the evidence is pointing to someone else.

The problem with this formula is that it makes the rest of the department look inferior at their jobs, and it relies on coincidence to save the day. What if she had not talked to a certain person, or that person had not remarked on that topic of that one crucial piece of information? Sure, we can accept that a great detective, who is always paying attention, will eventually find that one puzzle piece, but it’s the type of stretch that frequently only comes up on TV dramas.

The success of this series will largely rest on Lehman’s shoulders, and she seems to be up to the task. Despite being in the same genre, MOTIVE is quite a departure from her previous job on The Killing, and the role she plays is a drastically different one. She does handle the part with ease, feeling comfortable in Angie’s skin, and realistically crafting the character into her own. She adequately joins the ranks other main characters in a similar job on other crime dramas.

Because Angie is so front-and-center, the rest of the cast kind of takes a back seat to her. They are around to support her, but any major breakthrough must come from Angie, not them, to preserve why she is the one we should root for the most. MOTIVE is definitely not a true ensemble piece, with the world revolving around Angie and only Angie.

No one else really stands out as super memorable in the “Pilot,” but we are introduced to a number of others, including plenty of familiar types. There’s: Dr. Betty Rogers (Lauren Holly, NCIS), the super flirty medical examiner; Detective Oscar Vega (Louis Ferreira, Stargate Universe), Angie’s doubting partner who seems to care about her at least as much as a friend would; Staff Sergeant Boyd Bloom (Roger Cross, 24, Continuum), the hard-nosed boss who stays in the office; and Brian Lucas (Brendan Penny, The A-Team), the fresh-faced, na├»ve, enthusiastic youngster on the squad.

Over time, we will probably get to know all of these people, and every once in awhile, the spotlight will shine a little on them. For now, they are a capable group of characters, if easily interchangeable, to fill in the space around Angie a bit, without drawing attention away from her. Which means, for this type of show, they are doing their job correctly.

Of course, in keeping with the current trend, Angie isn’t just a dedicated cop. She’s also a single mother with an unruly, but good at heart, teenage son named Manny (Cameron Bright, Twilight). Sex and speeding tickets are the issues between them right off the bat, and Angie handles those situations with a kind-hearted nature that reveals her affection for her child, but also that she’s not a pushover. This also results in the most entertaining moments of the “Pilot,” especially when Angie asks Manny’s girlfriend about her boobs.

All in all, MOTIVE is an enjoyable way to kill an hour, and it’s well made enough that fans of murder-based procedurals will enjoy it. It seems like the type of series one could grab an episode every now and then, and you won’t have to watch every week to keep up on the story. This also means there isn’t a lot of depth, and the formula will likely stay pretty rote, so it could get boring pretty quick. There is definitely an audience out there for MOTIVE, as the ratings for shows such as NCIS and Castle prove, and because it’s on during the summer, provides a nice respite from reruns. But for the discerning viewer that wants a compelling narrative, you can probably skip this one.

MOTIVE premieres tonight at 10 p.m. EST on ABC.


Article first published as THE GOODWIN GAMES Review on Seat42F.

Grade: 92%

FOX’s new comedy THE GOODWIN GAMES premieres tonight at 8:30 P.M. EST. The “Pilot” finds three grown up, estranged siblings returning to their hometown upon learning of their father’s death. After the funeral, they learn he secretly has more than twenty million dollars tucked away, and, rather than split it among them, has set up an elaborate series of contests to determine with child should inherit the fortune.

THE GOODWIN GAMES was originally ordered as part of FOX’s lineup for the television season that is just ending, but has now been reduced to a seven-episode order intended to be burnt off this summer. Even being programmed with reruns of popular comedies, the show doesn’t stand much chance of a future.

But don’t let that scare you aware. It has a great cast and a fun concept, one that should hook in viewers, even if it failed to find support at the network. It’s charming, and it’s time-jumping story will remind sitcom fans of How I Met Your Mother, which isn’t coincidence, since this show is from the same producers. As such, it retains some of the tone and jokes that make How I Met Your Mother so entertaining.

In THE GOODWIN GAMES, we are introduced to: Henry (Scott Foley, Scandal, True Blood), whom is a successful surgeon; Chloe (Becki Newton, Ugly Betty, How I Met Your Mother), a highly intelligent aspiring actress; and Jimmy (T.J. Miller, How to Train Your Dragon, Cloverfield), a screw-up freshly out of prison (again), and indebted to some very bad people. Each have their eccentricities and good and bad qualities. They are all easy to root for, even when bickering, because there is familial affection present in their rivalry.

It’s no wonder they’re a little weird, given their upbringing by single father Benjamin (the great Beau Bridges). He always pitted them against each other, making them jump through hoops for treats and his approval. Viewers get a chance to see just how Benjamin treats them as kids, which informs quite a bit about who they are today, and it’s apparent just where their relationships go wrong.

Now, it’s clear almost right off the bat that the main goal Benjamin has is to bring the three back together as a family, one that is very sympathetic, and likely to happen, based on early interaction. It would not be surprising if, in the end, should an end ever be shown, that he’s not rich. After all, the house they return to isn’t super ornate, though it is quite nice, and maybe the fourth man who plays the game in the first episode and is gifted one million dollars is a decoy to motivate them into participating. This would make sense, given the premise. But, if the money is real, surely they will share it in the end.

However, as in How I Met Your Mother, knowing how things will turn out, generally speaking, doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the show. The draw is the journey, how the characters will get from Point A to Point B. Their interactions with each other, buoyed by excellent casting choices and great chemistry, are what makes THE GOODWIN GAMES worth watching, and the scenes where all three siblings are together are easily the best moments of the “Pilot.”

The only small complaint I have about THE GOODWIN GAMES is that Chloe, Henry, and Jimmy get along to well too quickly. Sure, mid-episode they argue so much that they can’t finish a single game of Trivial Pursuit. But by the end of the half hour, they seem to have found some common ground and begin to rebuild things between them. In order for Benjamin’s scheme to take up some time and continue for awhile, a little more conflict and a slower warm-up would be appropriate.

Had it been known that THE GOODWIN GAMES would only get seven installments, it’s likely the story would stay confined to this premise. However, designed to run much longer, each of the trio also has their own subplot, too. Chloe is ex-best friends with the lawyer Benjamin tasks with handling his children, April Cho (Melissa Tang, Beginners). Henry, soon after arriving in town, runs into his ex-girlfriend, Lucinda Hobbes (Kat Foster, Weeds, Royal Pains), who is now a minister, and whom Henry still has feelings for. Jimmy has a young daughter, Piper (Kaitlyn Maher, America’s Got Talent), who he tries to do right by, and who is wise enough at her young age to encourage Jimmy to stay on the straight and narrow. These characters are fun, and they do add depth to the proceedings, but while they would work great for a longer-running show, seem extraneous to a limited series.

There’s always a chance THE GOODWIN GAMES could find an audience and continue, slim as that might be. Because I’m a big fan of Foley and Newton’s work, and these are interesting, funny roles for them to play, I really hope that this happens, and will definitely be watching as many episodes as FOX will air, having loved the “Pilot.” But if THE GOODWIN GAMES would fail, as it is expected to, at least I’m confident that the cast won’t be unemployed for long.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

DOCTOR WHO "The Name of the Doctor" Review

Article first published as TV Review: Doctor Who - "The Name of the Doctor" on Blogcritics.

Overall, the back half of Doctor Who series seven wasn't nearly as strong as the first half. One might chalk this up to adjustmenting to new characters, including a fresh companion. But I think it's more than that. The stakes and the fun just aren't quite there.

However, the series seven finale, "The Name of the Doctor," is the exception. It doesn't have a lot of signature Doctor Who whimsy, but it does have some top notch acting by Matt Smith (the Doctor), the involvement of the always lovely River Song (Alex Kingston), amazing special effects, and a deep dive into some very heavy Doctor Who mythology.

The primary mystery of the past nine episodes has been how Clara (Jenna Louise-Coleman) can exist. Dubbed "The Impossible Girl," the Doctor has seen her die multiple times in multiple places. Now, we know how this happens, as Clara jumps headlong into the Doctor's scar, a singularity that rips her apart and delivers her to many points within the Doctor's life.

The concept of the scar, which exists in the Doctor's tomb, at the place where he finally dies, is an interesting one. He talks about tearing the universe apart by his travels, and yet it doesn't seem to have harmed the universe all that much. Yet, it provides a vulnerability that the Great Intelligence (Richard E. Grant) is able to exploit, ruining everything good that the Doctor has done in his travels.

I am a little confused as to how the Great Intelligence stays aware enough, after entering the scar, to carry out his mission, and yet Clara, in the two encounters we witness her with the Doctor this series, seems to not know what is going on. Perhaps she is confused, or isn't prepared to handle the time stream the way the Great Intelligence is. Or maybe Clara is just a very good actress. Either way, though it doesn't quite seem to add up exactly right, it's an intriguing idea with which to explain her story. 

In "The Name of the Doctor," we see Clara running through the timelines of previous doctors, mostly those who graced the television screen in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. The production team does a pretty solid job of matching her to the film styles, not just in clothing, but in overall appearance. It's still obviously computer-enhanced, but those very cool sequences are such a treat for long-time fans, to see those familiar faces again!

The other slightly weak spot in the story is that the Great Intelligence kidnaps only Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny (Catrin Stewart), and Strax (Dan Starkey) to lure the Doctor to his grave at Trenzalore. The Doctor has had many friends over the years, and the Great Intelligence has been waiting for a very long time to strike against him. Surely, others would have been targeted save these three, who all live in the same time and place? I enjoy seeing them again, and it's heartbreaking to watch Jenny and Strax die, even if it's not permanent. But it does feel a little convenient, even if one can make the argument that the Doctor spends a lot of time with them in the recent past.

River's involvement is also convenient, but in a very different way that feels more authentic. She is the Doctor's wife, so she is strongly tied to him. We see a chapter of her story here that we haven't glimpsed before, a woman lonely after the long absence of her spouse. This is a reflection of her, rather than her physical presence, but it still serves the purpose. She gives us some very emotional stuff, which is quite welcome, and does save the writers from having to reveal "The Name of the Doctor" yet, though it still feels like that will be coming.

Also, the scenes between River and Clara, who clearly don't know much about one another, are funny, even if it makes the Doctor look a bit like a lousy cheater.

The end of "The Name of the Doctor" is quite a cliffhanger! Inside the depth of the Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor and Clara encounter the Doctor that isn't the Doctor (John Hurt, Merlin, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). This is the very dark persona who turns his back on everything the Doctor stands for. What is he?

Presumably, he is the version that the TV show skipped. When Doctor Who reboots in 2005, we are introduced to Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor. But what if Eccleston is the 10th? What if another version committed genocide against the Daleks and fought in the war? The smart money is that Hurt is this real, forgotten about Ninth Doctor.

Which would make Smith the Twelfth Doctor. Since the Doctor can only regenerate twelve times, Smith could be the penultimate actor, chronologically in the story, to bear the name. Going back and using Hurt as the Ninth, perhaps even in next year's eighth series, could forestall the end of Doctor Who. But the finish line definitely feels near.

Whatever way the series decides to go, we'll find out in November who Hurt's incarnation is, a lot about the iconic character himself, and which version will be continuing in 2014. How exciting!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"The Woman" on ELEMENTARY is No "Heroine"

Article first published as "The Woman" on ELEMENTARY is No "Heroine" on TheTVKing.

CBS's Elementary is one of those shows that I often dread watching, because, like most crime procedurals, most weeks concentrate on a single case that is solved by the end of the hour. Despite that, when the series is good, it's very good, and this year's three-part season finale, which ended with "The Woman" and "Heroine" this week, are two of the best hours of television I've seen lately.

Sherlock (Johnny Lee Miller) finds the love of his life, Irene Adler (Natalie Dormer, Game of Thrones, The Tudors), is still alive, not dead as he had thought. Taking himself off the case, Sherlock intends to stay with Irene and make sure she's OK, trusting Watson (Lucy Liu), Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn), and Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill) to catch the villain responsible for Irene's abduction two years ago, Moriarty.

This is quite a turn for the character, seeing Sherlock able to walk away from the case. It's a testament to just how deep his feelings for Irene go. Clearly, this is the one person in the world that makes Sherlock change his game, and seeing the extremely talented Miller play the nuance and complexity of such a situation, so different from typical Sherlock, is fascinating.

But that is nothing compared to what happens when Sherlock finds out that Irene is Moriarty, his love and his foe one in the same.

Elementary has twisted much of the familiar Sherlock Holmes mythology in interesting ways; Ms. Hudson is a transsexual and Watson is an Asian woman. But to make Irene and Moriarty, two incredibly influential people in Sherlock's life, the same person is the boldest move yet. In lesser hands, with a series that doesn't write the tale so well, and isn't performed with the utmost care by amazing players, this would be campy and cheap. In Elementary, with Miller and Dormer involved, it's as impressive as it is daring.

Love and hate are two emotions very closely related. We've seen the story of a hero and villain who are best friends torn asunder many times. But I can't recall a dynamic in fiction as intense as this one, with Moriarty returning Sherlock's feelings, but also driven by motivation he doesn't understand. It helps that she is a genius, capable of tricking and manipulating Sherlock, and their interactions are charged in a very visceral way.

How this will change the game going forward is anyone's guess. Surely, this isn't the last we've seen of Moriarty, and when her path crosses with Sherlock's again, it will throw him into disarray. He is able to put the law ahead of emotion, and helps Irene get caught. But the romance between them doesn't seem to be over, either, and she will likely terrorize him again.

Part of the reason Sherlock is able to stop Irene / Moriarty is because she underestimates Watson. Liu's version of Watson is a memorable one, and much sharper than some may give her credit at first glance. Moriarty probably won't make the same mistake again. But the fact that Watson can play such a key role in "The Woman" and "Heroine," during a tale in which one would think she would take a step out of focus, is telling to Watson's overall importance in the series.

The fascination of three brilliant minds going at each other is wonderful storytelling. In this encounter, Sherlock is sort of off of his game, with only Moriarty knowing the score ahead of time, and Watson is the x factor. But the next time, they should be ready for each other, or Sherlock will be as ready as he can be, and it should be a true match of wits, with the stakes likely upped even more.

However, until then, we're probably sentenced to go back to boring procedural episodes, setting aside amazing backstory and awesome performances in favor of solving a few murders. Yawn.

Elementary has been renewed and will return to CBS next fall.

Monday, May 20, 2013

GREY'S ANATOMY Finale Not Quite a "Perfect Storm"

Article first published as GREY'S ANATOMY Finale Not Quite a "Perfect Storm" on TheTVKing.

ABC's Greys Anatomy likes to show the ups and downs of the doctors who work at Seattle Grace Seattle Grace Mercy West Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, their loves and their losses. In the penultimate episode of season nine, the focus is the positive, and delivers a heartwarming story. In the season finale which aired this week, "Perfect Storm," things get much more depressing.

It's understandable that Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) still aren't seeing eye to eye. Arizona goes something very traumatic with the plane crash and losing a leg. There is no way for Callie to grasp this experience, try as she might. The chasm between them is just too wide.

Yet, Arizona's tryst with Lauren (Hilarie Burton, White Collar) feels like it comes out of nowhere. Sure, one can see how these bad feelings may still be boiling under Arizona's surface, as much as she pretends everything is OK. That doesn't excuse, however, cheating on your wife. Callie cut off Arizona's leg, but for good reason, and has done everything possible since then to make up for it.

Grey's Anatomy does a pretty decent job of avoiding villainizing either woman in the marriage, making viewers see both sides of the issue. The problem is, we also care very deeply for them, and to watch their marriage fall apart sucks. They have already overcome so much, and to see it fall apart so completely in "Perfect Storm" is not fun. Even if they work hard next year to repair things, it could easily feel like a retread of this season, where their marriage flounders. This is not an arc to look forward to, no matter how well written and performed it might end up being.

 Owen (Kevin McKidd) and Cristina (Sandra Oh) have a situation both similar and completely different than Callie and Arizona. They've come through a lot together, but there's a big divide in their pairing, Owen wanting a kid, and Cristina strongly wanting to avoid becoming a mother. As of "Perfect Storm," it seems like they may no longer be able to ignore this, and it's time to split. I hate to see them apart, but their rift is no one's fault, and they should try to move on and be happy. At least they don't seem resentful of one another, making a break up a little easier than some on the show have been.

Also a bit disappointing is April (Sarah Drew) running back to Jackson's (Jesse Williams) arms. They have their shot, and it really does feel like she, at least, moves on in season nine. Her relationship with Matthew (Justin Bruening) looks to be something good in her life, and something she values. She's just going to toss that away now, after that wonderful, corny proposal last week? That doesn't seem like April.

The final complaint I have is the drama surrounding Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) giving birth. With Lexie dead, Meredith is once more the only Grey in Grey's Anatomy. She's also the beloved star of the series, even though it is truly an ensemble show, and it would be awfully hard to accept she could be killed off without warning. Thus, all of the bad things that happen to her feel forced and false, and the fact that everything ends up being fine makes it even worse, worrying for nothing.

However, Meredith's complications do give both Ross (Gaius Charles) and Bailey (Chandra Wilson) a chance to step up. Ross is the lagging member of the intern pack, and even though Meredith has to guide him through the surgery, the fact that he plays a huge role in saving her life will serve him well moving forward. And Bailey is on her way back to operating even before this, but having her come in and rescue Meredith means a lot, allows Meredith and Derek (Patrick Dempsey) to continue the Grey's tradition of baby naming, and is a triumphant return for the good surgeon.

Too bad Bailey hasn't yet apologized to Webber (James Pickens Jr.) for treating him so poorly. As Ben (Jason George) assures her, Webber knows Bailey, and surely doesn't hold her behavior lately against her. But if Webber dies here, before Bailey has the chance to express her regret, it could be heartbreaking for Bailey. Given Grey's history, Webber could go either way, surviving or dying. I really hope, as much as death can pump up the show when done right, it's the former.

Also, let me add, having Ben back these past couple of episodes has been great. He feels like a natural part of the cast. It's time to bring him home and make him a more permanent fixture on the show. He can continue his medical training at this hospital, not somewhere else.

"Perfect Storm" does give us some things to look forward to in season ten. Alex (Justin Chambers) may finally have found a true love in Jo (Camilla Luddington), as long as she sticks around, as she definitely needs to. He has had such bad luck in love, and Jo is someone who offers a stable option for him, someone who isn't likely to flee or dump him after they commit to one another. Luddington is not yet signed full-time for next season, but that's a move the show should make.

I did like "Perfect Storm," and even the parts that made me uncomfortable or annoyed were extremely well done. Nine seasons in, the quality is consistently fantastic, proving the team behind the series not only knows what they are doing right, but how to keep it going without allowing anything to grow stale. The growth in the characters has been amazing, and I definitely look forward to next year.

I just wish the episode wasn't quite so depressing in the specific ways that it was. It's more satisfying when the disaster is caused by an unavoidable outside source, no matter how many times it happens, rather than imploding character flaws. There's something else to blame for a plane crash, shoot out, or illness, rather than a couple just collapsing in on themselves. This path, unlike the crises, is more realistic, but it makes it harder to root for certain personalities, and Grey's is all about the people; I want to root for them.

Grey's Anatomy will return next fall on ABC.

SCANDAL Puts Its "White Hats Back On"

Article first published as SCANDAL Puts Its "White Hats Back On" on TheTVKing.

ABC's Scandal begins season two last fall with "White Hats Off" and ends it this week with "White Hats Back On." In between, we get a dark, twisted game of manipulation, struggles for power, torture, murder, and intrigue. The characters go to places lower than they consider possible before, and do things they will live to regret. It's a hell of a ride.

It's nice to see the "White Hats Back On" for Olivia (Kerry Washington) and crew. They've done enough, suffered more than their share. They need to refocus on a mission of helping people and making the world better, not participating in the kind of stuff they've been doing. Not if they want to hold their heads high and be proud of their work. Olivia's literal donning of a white hat late in the episode symbolizes this shift.

Olivia's turning point is motivated by selfish reasons. Going into the hour, she believes she can finally be with Fitz (Tony Goldwyn), coming up with a plan that will allow him to both stay in the White House and have her on his arm. It's smart, it's fairly simple, and it should be possible to enact it.

However, Cyrus (Jeff Perry) sabotages everything, not by ruining the plan directly but by poisoning the romance between Olivia and Fitz. Both have secrets to hide: Fitz murders Verna (Debra Mooney) and Olivia sleeps with Jake (Scott Foley). They, as a couple, could get past these latest setbacks when Cyrus tells each the hidden truth. But Olivia decides their relationship shouldn't be so hard, and calls it off.

Stepping back from the mess she's been embroiled in all season, stemming from the Defiance election rigging scandal, helps Olivia better live with herself. I do think she's sincere when she talks about how she's been bringing her team down, and wants to improve their situation. However, she wouldn't have the courage to do this just for their sake. It takes an epiphany, brought on by continued manipulation and rule-breaking, to change her mind.

The one person who may have a problem with Olivia's about-face is Harrison (Columbus Short). In her absence, he has often had to step up to fill the void. He isn't necessarily the de facto leader, and hasn't really served as replacement. But it's likely he thinks he has, based on the ego we've seen from him, and he may bristle against going back to being second banana.

Olivia's decision comes not a moment too soon for Quinn (Katie Lowes). The delight she takes in torturing Billy (Matt Letscher) is disturbing. Huck (Guillermo Diaz) is very worried about Quinn, but still dealing with his own failings and struggles, is not in a very good position to lend her a hand. Thus, Olivia coming back into the fold, concentrating on her own people, whom she has mostly stood apart from this season, could be just what Quinn needs. Maybe Olivia can salvage Quinn's soul, restore Huck, and do what she has done for her team before.

Which isn't to say that Scandal is now going to be "White Hate Backs On" all the time. That isn't the way this series works, and before this season finale comes to an end, a new problem rears its head: Olivia's affair with Fitz is outed. This takes her, and those connected with her, right back into the muck, and should provide an interesting conflict to begin season three on.

Who is responsible for outing Olivia? It's doubtful that Cyrus is behind it. He is so stressed with the White House politics that he has a heart attack, surprising only in that it doesn't happen before now. Cyrus fights to stop Olivia and Fitz's coupling, and telling the press about them will only drag the issue out, hurting Fitz's chances of  re-election. So he's likely innocent of this.

It could be James (Dan Bucatinsky), Cyrus's "better" half. The concern in James's eyes when he comes to Cyrus in the hospital bed is genuine, but he also still asks about Fitz's marriage, furthering his career as a reporter. James and Cyrus's marriage is rocky and fraught with complications, but there is love in there, which is why it's my favorite element of the series, tied with Cyrus and Olivia's friendship.

It would not be above James to hurt Cyrus's career for the sake of his own, as a journalist, but considering we don't see James finding out above Olivia yet, the exposure will probably come as a shock to him, too, throwing more flame to the fire fight in his union. Cyrus doesn't keep James in the loop, and James is just as likely to tell Cyrus before the rest of the press, to rub his snooping abilities in his husband's face, which is something that doesn't happen. It's probably not James.

Jake, who could be jealous of Olivia and Fitz, most likely isn't responsible, tossed in a pit and left to rot. I hope Olivia learns about Jake's fate, maybe through Huck, even though Huck wants to get away from that world, and saves him. With Fitz and Olivia on the outs, Olivia could use a new, steady love interested, and Jake has that potential.

It could be Mellie (Bellamy Young). Earlier in "White Hates Back On," Fitz makes it clear their marriage is over. This is before Olivia sends him right back to Mellie's arms. Mellie can be self-destructive, and thinking everything is ruined, she may have taken the nuclear option and leaked Olivia's name. Though that would work against her own professional goals, so while she is a serious possibility, I wouldn't rank her at the top of the list.

David Rosen (Joshua Malina) is also a suspect. He plays Olivia and the group to get back into his old position, with even more power. In doing so, it proves he is susceptible to the same game playing everyone else in the cast engages in, even though it's something he despises in them before. This could be a parting shot as David leaves the group, looking for some justice against Olivia. Though, David doesn't seem super vindictive, and may still harbor feelings for one of the gang, Abby (Darby Stanchfield), so like Mellie, while it could be him, he isn't my first choice.

No, the most likely culprit is Rowan (Joe Morton, Eureka). He is introduced recently, has tendrils in many places, is behind the locking up of Jake, and is shown to be plotting against Olivia. At first, it seems his scheme could be to kill her, as someone tries to shoot Olivia this week. However, now that we know, because of the shocking ending, that Rowan is Olivia's father, it is likely his techniques against her would be less lethal.

What is Rowan's goal? Why is he after Olivia? What does he want her to do? Would outing her help him accomplish this? There is still so much mystery surrounding who Rowan is and what his mission is that Scandal could go in any number of directions from here. This is a rich vein to tap.

Or it could be someone else, someone we may not even have met. Maybe it's a secret service agent with a beef against the president, or who considers themselves well versed in morality. Maybe it's a political rival. Maybe it's an old foe. Who knows?

This is a wonderful, exciting season finale, concluding some arcs, but also leaving the door wide open for any number of new stories. Scandal doesn't operate on a week-by-week basis, and in keeping with its serial nature, much is not wrapped up. Life goes on, and the past will continue to haunt the present.

Scandal, thankfully, has been renewed and will return to ABC next fall.