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Sunday, June 30, 2013

WILFRED Chock Full of "Sincerity"

Article first published as TV Review: 'Wilfred' Season Three, Episodes Three and Four, 'Suspicion' and 'Sincerity' on Blogcritics.

The newest episodes of FX’s Wilfred, which aired last night, are “Suspicion” and “Sincerity.” Not as deep as last week’s one-two punch of a season opener, these are still amusing installments that will satisfy the viewers who watch the show for its comedy, even if they may slightly disappoint those who are looking for the deeper meaning and trippy moments, which are in shorter supply this week.

W1The first, “Suspicion,” finds Ryan (Elijah Wood) trying to ‘be there’ for his sister, Kristen (Dorian Brown), so that he can be named guardian of her infant son. But, with Wilfred’s (Jason Gann) overly selfish and confusing help, Ryan runs off Kristen’s new love interest, Michael (Barry Watson, What About Brian, 7th Heaven), earning her ire.

The relationship between Ryan and Kristen is a complicated one. Kristen treats Ryan like he doesn’t have his act together and that she knows better than he, and yet, she makes poor decisions, too. Her attitude may be a bit more snobby, but the two have quite a bit in common, and it’s easy to identify them as siblings.

Thankfully, they are able to patch things up by the end of the half hour. This hasn’t always been the case, with their feuds in earlier episodes being arcs, rather than short spats. It’s nice to see that they now have enough understanding between them to be able to forgive and forget, showing growth on at least one of their parts.

Ryan is upset to learn that his father is involved in Kristen’s decision to choose a guardian, with Ryan believing that his dad sabotages Ryan’s chances at the position. Ryan’s father is someone frequently mentioned, but never seen, a figure that Ryan considers cruel, while Kristen defends. Who is correct? Likely, the truth is somewhere in the middle, but until we meet the character, we can’t be sure, even as Ryan demonizes him in “Suspicion.” One thing is certain, after waiting so long for him to show up, he is going to have to make an impact in his very first appearance.

I really like the Wilfred / Bear / Joffrey love triangle in this episode. It takes a trio of characters who seem innocent enough in real life – a dog, a stuffed animal, and a baby – and assigns them sinister and sinful characteristics. All of this may come from Wilfred (or from Ryan’s deranged mind if you think that’s what Wilfred is about), but things play out just realistic enough to make it work, and stil generate laughs at the utter ridiculousness of the scenario.

In episode four, “Sincerity,” Ryan takes Wilfred to obedience school when he learns his high school crush, Kim (Jenny Mollen, Crazy, Stupid, Love.), is the instructor. Kim takes an interest in Ryan, opening up the possibility of a relationship, but she is everything Wilfred hates in a dog owner, forcing Ryan to make a difficult choice.

W2Ryan will always chose Wilfred over anyone else. No matter how much trouble Wilfred causes his neighbor, the dog has been an invaluable companion to Ryan at a vulnerable time. As such, sex cannot come between them, and Ryan will stay loyal. The same cannot be said about Wilfred, proving that man is dog’s best friend, rather than the reverse, as is commonly quoted.

I love that “Sincerity” pokes fun at the mommy-style dog owners. I agree with Wilfred, that that style of behavior towards ones’ animals is stupid and should not happen. It’s not cute, it’s disturbing. Since Wilfred is a series about a dog, it’s always fun when the series reminds us of that, which is easy to forget since Wilfred is a man in a dog suit. Like the episode right before this one, “Sincerity” succeeds on that front.

Other than that, though, much of the A plot in this half hour falls flat. Kim is not a very interesting character, and she doesn’t have any chemistry with Ryan, making it hard to invest in them. Which is why when Ryan is lukewarm on her, not bending all that far to make her happy, it makes sense. She is clearly a one-time character, and it will be surprising if she returns.

However, she does have purpose. This is the installment where Ryan deals with his unresolved feelings about Amanda, his ex who is now in a nut house. Ryan has been holding some baggage, thinking he is not worthy of love, or capable of having a healthy, sustained union. It’s nice to see Wilfred console Ryan, and Ryan come to terms with himself, no longer believing some negative things.

Wilfred continues to delight in its third year, delivering consistently good programming, with great bits even in a comparatively mediocre episode like “Sincerity.” Wilfred airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

CROSSING LINES Of Typical Crime Dramas

Article first published as CROSSING LINES Of Typical Crime Dramas on TheTVKing.

NBC's newest summer series is Crossing Lines. Yet, the series is neither really NBC's, nor a part of the typical summer schedule. Produced for France and shot in Europe, Crossing Lines boasts an international cast and story that makes it feel much more ambitious than anything other broadcast networks are airing in the summer months.

It's also not a familiar crime procedural. Much of the two hour "Pilot" is given over to character development, and the serial killer the characters are after is secondary to the main plot. Sure, it's the driving force that pulls everyone to one place, but it's really no more than an excuse to put together this remarkable group of people.

When introducing the task force, a gang pulled from a number of different countries, each with their own specializations that will combine to form a whole squad not to be messed with, Crossing Lines goes into a little bit of a stereotype. It's like Ocean's Eleven or The Italian Job or other heist films. Thankfully, the show pulls back from fully committing to that conceit, not serving each character completely in the first hour, because that's such a cliche sequence at this point, it would feel old.

Instead, most of the focus is on former American cop Carl Hickman (William Fichtner, Entourage, Prison Break), who was run out of the force after suffering a terrible hand injury which causes him much pain and makes his skill set only apparent to a unique few. As we meet Carl, he appears to be wasting away working as a garbage collector. Yet, his tale is not exactly what one expects, with a couple of cool twists, especially at the end.

Second most prominent is Louis Daniel (Frenchman Marc Lavoine, The Good Thief), who puts the team together, convincing the International Criminal Court's Michael Dorn (Donald Sutherland, MASH, Dirty Sexy Money) that such a unit is needed. These are two wonderful actors, with complex interactions as intricate as the governmental body that they serve. There is definitely the feeling that Louis' job is on shaky ground, with his mission not firmly established, which adds a bit of drama to the proceedings.

The rest of the contingent isn't quite as compelling, but that may just be because they are supporting players who haven't yet gotten their dues. There's Italian Eva Vittoria (Gabriella Pession, Rossella), German Sebastian Berger (Tom Wlaschiha, Game of Thrones), French woman Anne-Marie San (Moon Dailly, Commissaire Magellan), and Irishman Tommy McConnel (Richard Flood, Three Wise Women). I hope Crossing Lines becomes a true ensemble piece, because as much as I like the leads, developing these other players further will make for a more compelling series, even if I like that the "Pilot" doesn't do so.

Crossing Lines has a sweeping, cinematic feel. Part of it could be because it hops from nation to nation across as Europe, with picaresque scenery and impressive production. But part of it is also the way the characters are written and performed. There's a depth not often present in procedurals, and there is definitely some back story to be explored that will surely come back around to enter into the main story. The fact that the show takes its time with such elements, not just bringing them in for a "special episode," is part of what sets it apart.

It also has some big surprises in store. In the first episode, a major character, who definitely feels like a part of the larger ensemble, dies. This tells us there are real stakes and danger, and that characters may not stick around permanently. A very exciting prospect for a show, and a genre-busting one, should it prove to be more than a one-time occurrence.

I am quite pleased with Crossing Lines, which I knew almost nothing about going in, and certainly did not expect much from when I read the series description. It's fresh, exciting, high quality entertainment on NBC at a time of year in which the Big Four typically give us drivel. And the more U.S. networks import the best of international programmings, the more we benefit. Other countries already consume our hits; let's make it a two-way street, opening up the doors to a lot more talent and ideas than we posses ourselves. The more great minds involved in making entertainment, the better.

Crossing Lines airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

VEEP Learns How "D.C." Works

Article first published as VEEP Learns How "D.C." Works on TheTVKing.

HBO's Veep ends its second year with "D.C." Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is ready to announce she won't run for re-election with the president in two years, and so lets her staff go. Then, learning the president is resigning, she asks them all back to gear up for her own run, only to have it fall apart as rumors spread around Washington and the president decides to campaign after all. Of course, none of that matters when the president comes to Selina and announces he's done, so she can try for the presidency.

I have a feeling these back and forth types of situations go on all the time in Washington D.C. It's a city of wheeling and dealing, and one where betrayals happen frequently if someone things they can further their own career. With so many power-hungry, ambitious people in one place, there is bound to be lots of drama.

Veep makes these attitudes hilarious somehow. Even as Selina's staff scrambles to find a life raft off of her sinking ship, we root for them. Selina is a mess, as is very clear in almost every scene in which she appears. Because of this, one can understand and sympathize with those wanting to find a more stable environment where they won't constantly be putting out their fires.

Well, it's easy to pull for most of the staff, anyway. Dan (Reid Scott) jumps ship early and with gusto, even sharing a speech he writes for Selina with Chung (Randall Park, Larry Crowne). I don't know if it's because he doesn't have the history working for Selina, and so never seems as loyal as anyone else, or because he shows so few scruples in his interactions, but Dan is the most unforgiveable of the bunch. Unfortunately for him, this gaff either proves the others are rubbing off on him, or he is just as much of a mess as everyone else, and so belongs there.

It's interesting to see the parallels in "D.C" between Selina and Andrew (David Pasquesi, The Mob Doctor) and Amy (Anna Chlumsky) and Ed (Zach Woods, The Office). Amy hates seeing how Andrew affects Selina, and how they use one another. Ed and her aren't quite so passionate, but they do use each other, much as Selina and Andrew do. Perhaps Amy is emulating her boss more than she thinks.

The plot that doesn't really work for me this week is Gary (Tony Hale) being torn between Selina and his girlfriend, Dana (Jessica St. Clair, Best Friends Forever). It not only feels too much like Hale's character from Arrested Development, but also doesn't really fit the persona of Gary, whom we've only seen worship Selina. Perhaps it's believable that he would latch onto someone else, but we didn't see that evolution, and Dana's interest in Gary doesn't come across as realistic.

Overall, though, Veep really works in the most unexpected of ways. Louis-Dreyfus is a comic genius, surrounded by other heavy weights. Each nuance and tick lands, and even the most pathetic becomes funny in their capable hands. It may be the earnestness with which the cast plays, which also includes Matt Walsh, Timothy Simons, and Sufe Bradshaw, commits to every situation and moment, or the level of authenticity they bring to their selfish screw-ups, but there are usually several things to laugh out loud at each and every week.

This has only been helped more by bringing in Kent (Gary Cole) and Ben (Kevin Dunn) this season. Like when Parks and Recreation added Ben and Chris, having two established, talented actors expand the world of the show, as well as compliment the core group in their every scene, only makes the series better. I credit them both for season two being a marked improvement over season one.

I don't know what season three will look like, exactly. We may actually get to see Selina run for office, which will be cool, since Veep begins after she loses the first race. With the set up the series has provided, there are a myriad of directions and possibilities to explore, and each has their advantages.

Whatever the reason, Veep is doing very well, and I can't wait to see it come back next spring for a third go-round.

Few "Cha-Cha-Changes" For PERCEPTION

Article first published as PERCEPTION Season 2 Premiere Review on Seat42F.

Grade: 85%

TNT’s PERCEPTION picks up months after the previous season in this week’s sophomore premiere, “Ch-Ch-Changes.” Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack) is seemingly stable and healthy, having found a medication regime that works for him, and his life is moving on. Which is why he feels strong enough to assist the F.B.I. again when Kate (Rachael Leigh Cook) asks him for help.

In fact, Daniel is more confident and sure of himself than we’ve practically ever seen him. Daniel is a very intelligent person and knows it, but he is willing to push his ideas a lot further this year, especially when Kate’s almost-ex-husband and new boss, Donnie (Scott Wolf, V, Everwood), tries to manipulate the evidence of a court case.

I don’t buy that Donnie and Kate were ever a couple. Donnie’s personality is awful, and that’s immediately apparent. To think that Kate found redeeming qualities in this man for any length of time, let alone enough to marry him, is unthinkable based on her characters that have been established. Sure, Donnie brings some interesting conflict to the series, but the inconsistency in the back story ruins his presence. Why force the history?

The source of Daniel’s happiness comes from his secret relationship with Dr. Caroline Newsome (Kelly Rowan). Previously his psychiatrist and the same woman, sort of, Daniel hallucinates a long-term relationship with, Caroline isn’t completely comfortable with the time they are spending together and the “great” sex they are having. But Daniel doesn’t worry about that, delighting in just being happy and being with a woman that is real.

Or is she? It is not spoiling anything to say Caroline’s existence in Daniel’s company is immediately suspect. After all, PERCEPTION has established a pattern of what Daniel experiences not necessarily being real. And by keeping Caroline separate, away from the other people in Daniel’s life, there is no definitive proof that she exists one way or the other. “Ch-Ch-Changes” leaves viewers guessing for most of the hour, and I won’t say what the result is here.

I will say that, Caroline aside, it doesn’t take long for Daniel’s paranoid schizophrenia symptoms to rear their head. His hand shakes; he hallucinates a patient. Daniel will never be completely stable because that would ruin the conceit of PERCEPTION. It’s just a little sad, for those sympathetic with the character, to see he isn’t doing as well as he thinks he is.

Thankfully, Daniel still has friends, which will provide a support system no matter what might be going on inside of his mind. Kate is closest to him, of course, valuing Daniel’s rare talents. But we also have Lewicki (Arjay Smith), Daniel’s care giver, and Dean Haley (LeVar Burton), Daniel’s boss and old friend, who aren’t on screen nearly enough, but it’s always great when they are. With this layer of protection around Daniel, no matter how crazy he gets, he’ll still have those that look out for him and help him to maintain his life.

The ongoing plot concerning Daniel’s mental illness is an intriguing one. I love how the writers play with fan’s minds, and McCormack delivers a memorable, amazing performance in the role. I wish that this was what the series was actually about, because any time this arc takes center stage, the show gets really, really good.

Unfortunately, TNT doesn’t usually do serial, and the main meat of this episode, as well as all but one of the first season’s episodes, is about a specific case that Daniel works on. The self-contained story this week isn’t bad, and there are some triumphant moments for Daniel, but it just pales in comparison to how well done the other scenes are. PERCEPTION is an example of a wonderful idea mostly squandered.

PERCEPTION airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on TNT.

Friday, June 28, 2013

COPPER Is "Home, Sweet Home"

Article first published as COPPER Season 2 Premiere Review on Seat42F.

Grade: 90%

BBC America’s COPPER begins its second season this week with “Home, Sweet Home,” and it’s quickly clear, despite the pleasing episode title, that things are anything but serene in Five Points. Sex, drug use, waiting for execution, murder, and serious maiming are just a few of the things that occur in the first few scenes of the season. Which indicates that we’re in for another, even rockier ride than last year.

The villain causing much of the trouble is Buzzie Burke (Noah Danby, Defiance). Buzzie has been under the protection of community leaders, but now is causing too much trouble to be ignored. Detective Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) is reluctant to go after him in an official capacity, having been rebuffed in the past for doing so, but considering that Buzzie chooses Eva (Franka Potente) to hurt, someone Kevin is protective of, Kevin has no problem with taking Buzzie down.

What Buzzie does to Eva is graphic and disturbing, and when combined with his later actions in “Home, Sweet Home,” it seems we are dealing with a ruthless psychopath. The fact that he’s been allowed to live and do whatever he wants this long is unacceptable. He is a sign of a larger symptom, the semi-lawlessness of the neighborhood, and that has got to change.

Enter General Donovan (Donal Logue, Terriers). Donovan has been tasked with cleaning up the police department in the area and restoring order. His methods are confusing, beating an officer one moment, then offering him words of encouragement the next. He seems determined to make sure his men are doing their jobs and refrains from consuming much alcohol, but he is also not a paper pusher or pious or weak man. He has fortitude and determination, but his moral code remains somewhat shaded.

This might be just what Five Points needs. Donovan is encouraging of Corcoran, and misses being a copper himself, so he’s sympathetic to the job. Yet, his elbow rubbing with the high society folk make him somewhat suspicious. Sure, Corcoran is friends with Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), and that doesn’t reflect poorly on him, but there’s something about the way Donovan is actually part of that world that sits weirdly. However, we also see Donovan generously help out a working man, so perhaps he is exactly what he purports to be.

Unfortunately for Morehouse, though, he has someone under his roof that is definitely not on the up and up. Morehouse’s fiancĂ©, Elizabeth Haverford (Anastasia Griffith), may give him great and copious love making sessions, but she is much less forthcoming about her feelings and actions. She is nervously awaiting the axe, as the man she conspired with in the burnings in New York is captured in Detroit, and she fears that her part will be exposed. She likely hopes the wedding takes place first, so Morehouse will be motivated to protect, rather than shun, her.

Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan) awaits a more literal execution, sitting in jail, expecting to be sentenced to death. Maguire is a main character in season one, and he does some things that make viewers root for him before his downfall. Yet, Kevin’s feelings of betrayal at the hands of Maguire are also justified, so a legal punishment isn’t unwarranted. It’s hard to say what exactly Maguire’s plot will be this year, but given the end of “Home, Sweet Home,” he definitely won’t just be sitting in jail, and we may have reason to support him once more, as O’Brien (Dylan Taylor) covertly does.

I do think Eva is involved with what Maguire does while in prison. She is a very tough cookie, and not one to sit idly by and wait for others to take care of the threats against her. Knowing her life and her business are in jeopardy, she takes steps to secure both. With Buzzie out of the way, Eva’s operation grows, but I really think she is more concerned with self-preservation than becoming a major entrepreneur. Unlike most women of the time, she has the ability to handle herself in a way many men would not be able to. Amazing is an absolutely appropriate word to describe her character and strength.

Although Eva is independent, she doesn’t need to be alone. Corcoran may have cut off their intimate relations now that his wife, Ellen (Alex Paxton-Beesley), is found alive and returned home, but Corcoran isn’t happy with Ellen. Eva is a much better match, her passion and intelligence matching Corcoran’s own, whole Ellen is a somewhat pathetic woman. Corcoran can do better.

Elsewhere, Dr. Freeman (Ato Essandoh) is asked to take over a medical practice in the Five Points. He is reticent, having moved to the country for the sake of his wife, Sara (Tessa Thompson), who is just about the polar opposite of Eva. The patients need Freeman, and while it may be inconvenient for him to commute, and though he doesn’t reveal his decision this week, it’s likely he will accept the job, out of obligation to his profession, if for no other reason. It’s in keeping with the nobility Freeman has.

Despite Sara’s weaknesses, she has shown the gumption to survive and make it through ordeals. She still is haunted by the sight of her brothers’ deaths during the riots, but she agrees to go to work in the city, for Elizabeth, no less. And it looks like she may be good at it, leading to more than a temporary assignment. This provides a possible way for the Freemans to return to the old neighborhood, coming “Home, Sweet Home,” if you will.

I’ll admit, I liked season one, but didn’t love it. However, the season two premiere of COPPER is an exciting story providing movement and intrigue for a number of characters, and introducing at least one new one I’m eager to learn more about. It presents a totally different world than the modern one, with vastly diverging values and codes. The show does have heroes and villains, but sometimes both labels describe the same person, which is interesting. As such, I look forward to what may develop next.

COPPER airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on BBC America.

MAD MEN Makes Don "Care"

Article first published as MAD MEN Makes Don "Care" on TheTVKing.

AMC's Mad Men only has a single season left, so one should expect this week's season finale to have more than a few big changes and surprises. One would not be disappointed. In the episode, "In Care Of," there is some serious movement, including in some of the show's biggest arcs.

The thing most shocking is Don's (Jon Hamm) firing from the firm. Well, technically it's a forced indefinite leave of absence, but the intention is clear when the partners ask Don to go and Duck Phillips (Mark Moses) immediately shows up with his replacement. Don, the man who brought the firm most of its success for the past six seasons, is no longer employed by Sterling, Cooper, & Partners.

Is this a mistake or a betrayal? Well, despite all of the business that Don has earned the firm in the past, he has lately been costing them money. Lots of money. And given that Don is only getting worse and worse, from a professional stand point, they have to cut him lose or risk losing the company. It's a no-brainer, as hard as it might be personally for Roger (John Slattery), Cooper (Robert Morse), or Joan (Christina Hendricks) to vote Don out.

The reason for Don's change is because he just can't stand to lie any more. Don's entire life has been clouded in secrecy, and his real name isn't even Don. While a handful of individuals have found out bits and pieces about Don over the years, most of who he is and what goes on in his head is kept hidden. This might be why he is so good at advertising, because he is always selling a version of himself, and now that he's losing that ability, it spills over into other aspects of his life, too.

At the end of "In Care Of," Don takes his kids to visit the whore house where he grew up. Sally (Kiernan Shipka), in particular, is affected, seeing her dad for the first time as a real person. She cannot stand the lies her dad has told,  but seeing how he grew up, begins to feel sorry for him. This could be the beginning of a healing in their fractured relationship.

I don't know what Don will do next, but I think he is better off being true to himself. He could go back into advertising, running his own small firm where he is free to be who he wants to be and reinvent his career. This might be what he needs to find peace and break the cycle of drinking and cheating. A new Don could still be brilliant at his work, but without the baggage that comes with the old Don.

As part of his new start, Don may need to find a new wife. He tries to salvage things with Megan (Jessica Pare) when she walks out of their home, furious at having called off their plans to move to the West Coast. Now that he doesn't have his job, he could follow her, maybe with Sally in tow. But considering he doesn't fill Megan in on the extent of what he is going through in "In Care Of," it's hard to see how she might reconcile with him unless he confesses the depths of his pain and emotion.

Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) also is faced with reinventing himself. His wife, Trudy (Alison Brie), is done with him, and he is assigned to the West Coast office of Sterling, Cooper, & Partners under the leadership of Ted (Kevin Rahm). For Pete, this is the opposite of everything that he wants, but he doesn't realize that until it's too late. Trudy's "Well, now you know" is a great comment on where Pete is, and now perhaps he can seek out the life he wants going forward.

Pete has changed and grown over the last six years. He doesn't go after Bob (James Wolk) when Bob's secrets come out. He doesn't annoy and pester Trudy when he loses her. He accepts the transfer, humbled after losing his spot with Chevy in Detroit. Pete, someone who is very hard to like on Mad Men, may finally be on the path to redemption and happiness.

Meanwhile, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), someone most viewers like and root for over the years, is at her lowest point, completely at a loss over who she should be. Now done with her long-time boyfriend and abandoned by her married lover, Ted, Peggy is aimless. Her career goals are always her focus, but once she becomes like Don or others that she looks up to, she is where she doesn't want to be, having failed to cherry pick the best parts of her mentors, inheriting their bad traits, as well.

With Don, Pete, and Ted gone from the New York office, though, Peggy has the opportunity to flourish. Her distractions are removed and she can re-focus on what's important. This may be the time for her to step up and be the heart of the agency, landing the big accounts. It will be interesting to see how she turns out.

I really love the glimpse of family "In Care Of" gives us when Roger attends Thanksgiving at Joan's apartment with their son and Bob. I still can't decide if Bob is gay and just a good friend of Joan's, or if there's something romantic between them, but they've formed a bond that has allowed Joan to be healthy enough to permit Roger into his son's life. And Roger, seeing the depths of his mistakes with daughter Margaret (Elizabeth Rice), is ready for a do-over where he can be the right kind of father. This grouping may be unconventional as a unit, but is sweet, and is very beneficial for all of them to be involved in.

More minor characters don't get much story in "In Care Of," and that's OK. Mad Men services quite a few faces on occasion, but the core group is Peggy, Don, Pete, Roger, and Joan. Rizzo (Jay R. Ferguson) has a small part in the beginning, but that's it. However, as we move into the final year, time is limited. As much as fans enjoy all of the supporting players, as long as the series serves its main players well, I think the end will be satisfying.

Mad Men will return next year for its seventh and last season on AMC.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

CBS Going UNDER THE DOME

Article first published as UNDER THE DOME Review on Seat42F.

Grade: 86%

CBS, perhaps in an attempt to combat the lame, reality and re-run heavy summer fare on the basic networks, has a new offering premiering this week. Titled UNDER THE DOME, this thirteen episode series, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, follows the residents of Chester’s Mill Maine when a transparent, sound-proof, impenetrable dome suddenly crashes down over their town.

UNDER THE DOME feels a lot like other summer programs in the past that haven’t lasted, such as the one where a handful of people were trapped in a town and were watched on cameras, or other Stephen King TV dramatizations, or even a little bit like cult-favorite Jericho. It has the sort-of post-apocalyptic, yet still small-scale and personal, feeling of a drama about people on the edge.

The cast, whom we are mostly introduced to in the first eight minutes, before the dome appears, are a broad spectrum of individuals, almost as if there was a checklist that had to be satisfied when putting together the ensemble. None of them are particularly original characters, even though there are some very good actors playing them, as they are without exception archetypes that have been seen on a variety of other shows.

Among those featured are: Barbie (Mike Vogel, Bates Motel, Pan Am), an ex-Army officer who comes to town and kills someone, then is trapped before he can escape; Big Jim (Dean Norris, Breaking Bad), the crooked councilman who wants to use the disaster to manipulate the town into his own personal kingdom; Angie (Britt Robertson, Life Unexpected), a waitress who dates a too-clingy boy; Junior (Alexander Koch), Big Jim’s mentally unbalanced son who has designs on Angie; Julia (Rachelle Lefevre, What About Brian), a journalist with a missing husband; Dodee (Jolene Purdy, Gigantic), a mouthy radio engineer; Duke (Jeff Fahey, Lost), the ineffective patsy cop; and Linda (Natalia Martinez, Detroit 1-8-7), a deputy whose fireman boyfriend is outside the dome.

Believe it or not, that is not a complete roster of the characters featured in the “Pilot.” UNDER THE DOME presents a sprawling cast with few connections between one another thus far, but surely more will be revealed as things unfold, as we’ve been taught it common for small towns. Unlike a series like Lost, these people aren’t banding together, but instead following their own motivations and activities.

As such, there isn’t a clear, cohesive story in episode one. Everyone has their own implications of the occurrence to deal with, and as no one even really knows what’s going on yet, there has been no concentrated effort to solve the mystery or find a way out of the disaster. A couple people have sort of started down that road, but have barely begun to investigate.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t some intriguing set-ups. A couple of theories are put forth, at least one character reveals to viewers that he actually does know what is happening, one on the roster above is dead by the end of the first hour, there are some clues that indicate a larger conspiracy, strange seizures appear other-worldly, and various family connections pop when one is not expecting.

There are also a few missteps in UNDER THE DOME. I feel like the dome actually coming down is unnecessarily brutal. A cow is split in half and slides down the wall, leaving a bloody streak. A plane smashes into the dome, and among the debris raining down is a severed limb. A truck rams the barrier and becomes almost as flat as a pancake. None of these are executed in impressive fashion, given the low special effects budget and broadcast network restrictions, so they aren’t particularly amazing. Instead, they come off as cheap gags designed to entice the viewer, but failing to do so because of their cheesy execution. It would be better if we got more dialogue scenes and less of these “shockers.”

If the focus stays on the characters, rather than gross gimmicks, UNDER THE DOME should provide satisfying summer entertainment, probably the best of the Big Four networks’ programming. There is some real talent present that can be better utilized than we’ve seen so far. But it’s not regular season-quality, and it does feel like an amateur effort compared to other projects. King may be able to write fantastic novels, but they seldom translate into groundbreaking shows or movies, and this one is not on the level of The Shining or the few other notable exceptions to that rule.

UNDER THE DOME premieres Monday, June 24th at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.



Wednesday, June 26, 2013

DEVIOUS MAIDS Not Desperate

Article first published as DEVIOUS MAIDS Not Desperate on TheTVKing.

Reading the description and seeing the artwork for Lifetime's new series (originally intended to air on ABC), Devious Maids, one may assume that it is basically a remake of creator Mark Cherry's previous venture, Desperate Housewives. After watching this week's "Pilot," there are some obvious similarities to point out, such as sudsy, over-the-top, humorous, dark drama, and the banding together of women who can relate to one another, but also face their own problems alone. The opening of the first episode concerns a women dying in an unpleasant way. Plus, it boasts a large contingent of characters in multiple households, with many plot lines, weaving together and occasionally connecting.

Yet, Devious Maids also feels different. The cast and setting and environment are different. There's an examination of class interaction, with both maids and the rich employers they work for featured. There are different personalities, and a more sinister tone. It is more than just Desperate Housewives: Latina Style.

The "Pilot" begins with the murder of a maid named Flora (Paula Garces, The Shield), who works for the Powells. Mrs. Powell (Rebecca Wisocky, The Mentalist) is a cold woman, and has discovered that Mr. Powell (Tom Irwin, Saving Grace) is sleeping with Flora. The viewers know right away the Powells are innocent, though, at least of personally committing the crime, having been dancing amid a crowd when the deed goes down. Mrs. Powell is content to let an innocent bartender, Eddie (Eddie Hassell, The Kids Are All Right), go down for the deed, rather than have her family's dirty laundry aired in public.

Mrs. Powell isn't the only member of the upper crust who is fine with stepping on the people she hires, unconcerned about their lives or feelings. Peri Westmore (Mariana Klaveno, True Blood) has no compassion for her maid, Rosie (Dania Ramirez, Heroes), whose child is still back in her homeland. In fact, Peri insults Rosie on television for "abandoning" her kid, than claims that she herself is a fantastic mother, taking credit for Rosie's work. And Taylor (Brianna Brown, General Hospital) thinks new hire Marisol (Ana Ortiz, Ugly Betty) just can't relate to her lifestyle enough to give her meaningful advice, though Marisol is obviously more than your typical house cleaner.

It's this type of class warfare that is both appealing to an audience, giving them a villain to root against and feel better about their own lives, and also starts to paint a simplistic picture. Rosie is a much more authentic, layered character than Peri or Mrs. Powell. However, what Devious Maids trades for complexity in certain characters is a funny style that proves quite entertaining.

Besides, not all of the bosses are terrible. Alejandro (Matt Cedeno, Days of Our Lives) might actually be able to help Carmen's (Roselyn Sanchez, Without a Trace) singing career if his assistant, Odessa (Melinda Page Hamilton, Mad Men), would get out of the way. Valentina (Edy Ganem, Livin' Loud) flirts with her boss's son, Remi (Drew Van Acker), who seems amenable.

But there's still a definite divide between the haves and the have-nots, and it doesn't just come from the upper crust. Valentina's mother, Zoila (Judy Reyes, Scrubs), does everything she can to stop Valentina from messing with Remi, basically saying that the two groups don't mix, and it won't end well. Is this bitterness learned from Zoila's mistakes, or is it because these people are just not compatible with one another, being from such vastly differently backgrounds?

Still, Carmen's motivation to become a rich and famous singer proves that not everyone is content to stay where they are, and with her boss being Latino himself, the divide is based more on income and careers than race. Thus, varying viewpoints and ideas are represented, and Devious Maids does a good job covering all of the bases.

I like that, as much as what separates the characters figures into their situations, that isn't all there is to the series. It's much more about the secrets and lies and intrigue. Marisol, in particular, is very interesting, raising all kinds of flags before her major secret is revealed at the end of the first hour.

The cast is pretty good, although the soap opera resumes of many (but not all) of the cast, including daytime legend Susan Lucci (All My Children), shows a little. Considering the network that the series airs on and those soapy elements, it will have to work hard to straddle the line between the higher primetime bar and the delicious, gossipy twists that make up its DNA, and can so easily become cheesy. The first episode does a pretty solid job of doing so, certainly the best thing I've seen on Lifetime, so I am cautiously optimistic about its future, assuming it maintains the quality it intended to put on network TV, even though it is now on a cable channel not known for acclaimed programming.

Devious Maids airs Sundays 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

FRANKLIN & BASH "Alive" Again



Article first published as FRANKLIN & BASH "Alive" Again on TheTVKing.

TNT’s FRANKLIN & BASH is pretty much exactly what people mean when they talk about summer fluff television. Similar to the old USA shows, FRANKLIN & BASH follows two silly, fast-talking lawyers, Jared Franklin (Breckin Meyer) and Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), as they charmingly get into trouble, then show true compassion as they win emotionally-charged cases.

Season three kicks off this week with two new hours, “Coffee and Cream” and “Dead and Alive.” I can’t really say there is anything startling about the case-of-the-week in either. They are pretty typical of FRANKLIN & BASH installments, with the boys having to color outside the lines, but in the end, helping their clients. In the first, twin magicians want the guys to keep their secret while avoiding legal charges, and in the second, they must prove a man is still alive when a clerical error considers him dead.

These episodes are fun enough, and what fans of the show expect. They don’t stretch reality much further than other courtroom dramadies have done, and there are enough humorous moments to keep viewers entertained. A drop by Piers Morgan’s (guesting as himself) show seems slightly outrageous, but allows a nice introduction of a new character.

The problem is, the titular duo just don’t go far enough anymore. When the series first premiered, they seemed completely goofy, off in left field. As the show has gone on, their actions just aren’t shocking. Maybe we’ve grown used to their antics, or maybe the writers have just run out of ways to top themselves, but it’s more ‘business-as-usual’ than ‘wow!’ by now.

Luckily, while mostly procedural, there is a little bit more than that going on, and this third year may just be the one where everything changes. The most obvious development is the introduction of Rachel King (Heather Locklear) as the new boss. She immediately rebuilds the wall between Franklin and Bash’s offices, and cracks down harder on the rules than previous leadership.

The thing is, though, she isn’t that huge an adjustment. She lets Bash and Franklin do what they do, but just wants to keep better tabs on them. Maybe she’s evaluating the circumstances before taking much drastic action, or maybe she sees the benefit of their behavior. She is definitely a long-game player, which means her motivations won’t become clear for some time. Yet, her hindrance of the pair is more for show than making any real impact in the dynamic.

Lest anyone fear the eccentric head of the firm, Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell) is gone, worry not. He may hand over the reins to King, who is actually Hanna’s (Garcelle Beauvais) replacement in the cast, but he’s still present. He has just decided that he isn’t a firm enough hand for the guys, and so is letting someone else do the dirty work.

What’s interesting to me about Rachel’s arrival is how Damien (Reed Diamond) is affected. At first, he is upset that Uncle Stanton is letting someone else take over the business, but then Rachel helps Damien prepare for an eventual judgeship. Who is Stanton grooming? He’s moving around a lot of pieces, and it looks like only he and Rachel may know what’s going on for now.

Besides the professional developments, Bash also gets a serious love interest. We know he isn’t a womanizer, at least not completely, and is open to love. But it’s nice to see someone brought in via a natural development who can turn his head and whom Bash doesn’t immediately figure out. This gal is introduced as someone who can hold her own, strong, but with a sense of humor. They have a nice chemistry, and I really hope this goes somewhere.

Pindar (Kumail Nanjiani) and Carmen (Dana Davis) are still around, too. In fact, the former has a very important story in “Coffee and Cream” that affects the entire team, drastically changing one element of the show, which I won’t spoil. It’s both hilarious and heart breaking, going a little darker than the series has before, but forcing evolution in a way that feels right.

There are definitely signs in both “Coffee and Cream” and “Dead and Alive” that the series and its main players are growing and changing, even while the central plot remains predictable and rote. There are some strong characters here, and should the more serial arcs be pursued, there could really be some movement in the coming weeks, which would be welcome. Otherwise, it remains the television equivalent of the summer blockbuster: a nice way to pass the time, but neither filling nor deep.

Monday, June 24, 2013

HANNIBAL "Savoureux" Fine Dining

Article first published as HANNIBAL "Savoureux" Fine Dining on TheTVKing.

It's immediately apparent from the start that NBC's Hannibal isn't the typical network series. With artistic, sweeping visuals, courtesy of creator Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls), it is also very edgy with layered, compelling characters and neat twists. While the gruesome subject matter takes a little while to grow on some, the storytelling is top notch from episode one, and it's clear there is an amazing epic tale to be told, should the series get the seven seasons Fuller has in mind.

Season one ends this week with "Savoureux." All the evidence says that Will (Hugh Dancy) has killed Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl, The Killing), and even he believes it himself, though he can't remember it, assuming it is a natural extension of his psychosis. However, when additional clues point to Will having killed four others, two of which died before he started experiencing black outs, Will begins to suspect he's being set up.

A hallmark of a hero is one who continues to fight when all of the odds are against him, even when those closest to him have turned their backs on him. Will's friends all have different ideas about what exactly he has done and why or how he did it, but no one believes his paranoia, save himself and the man who framed him. With Will ending the year sitting in a jail cell, there is still much of his journey ahead of him.

We all know that Will will beat this rap and clear his name, but we don't know when or how this might happen. Stacking the odds so completely against him at this point is wonderful, and it leaves the show at a very good place for the second run. With Fuller not planning on reaching the events of the book Red Dragon until season four, Will still has two more years before he can expose who Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) really is.

I do worry that Hannibal won't get to play out the whole course. While critically respected, it's not hugely watched, much like Fuller's previous efforts, which didn't survive long. Hopefully, with word of mouth and binge viewing of repeats, it will gain a larger following by next year. Feeling very much like a dark, award-worthy, boundary-pushing cable show, even without the nudity and vulgarity, which for some reason aren't much missed, it deserves the chance.

The problem with already knowing the events of seasons four through six (which are set to adapt the three books these characters come from) is that most of the major players are not in any real peril. Will can't die in season two, nor can Jack; the central cast is safe. Yet, that doesn't take away at all from the enjoyment of the show because the characters are so well crafted, and we don't know how they are going to get to those points. If the show is smart, it will make some departures from the source material and rewrite the rules. But for now, it's completely great without having to make many changes, aside from switching genders on a couple of players.

As much as it might seem so right now, Will is not the center of Hannibal. That belongs to the titular character. However, it will take multiple seasons to get Hannibal into a position where he can carry the show himself. Currently, his inaccessibility to viewers, the way he hides most of himself from others, and because we don't see much of what he does, prevents him from being front and center. Yet, there are already signs that the show is well-structured enough to move that way eventually, which should be gratifying if it comes to pass.

In "Savoureux," we get to see the emotional side of Hannibal for pretty much the first time. He actually openly weeps in front of his psychiatrist, Dr. Bedelia De Maurier (Gillian Anderson, The X-Files). It could be a front, as we know Hannibal hides things from Bedelia and puts on a face for her, but it doesn't seem so. Hannibal cares about both Will and Abigail, so it's understandable he would grieve for losing the dynamic with the two of them that he has, especially if he plays a hand in destroying those relationships, which "Savoureux" strongly hints at, leaving just enough doubt to know for sure.

Is Hannibal more upset about Will or Abigail? He professes the latter, and that makes sense, since he sees her as someone to nurture and protect. Yet, he also admits in an earlier episode that Will is the first person in awhile he sees as a friend. This seems to indicate that his feelings extend to both, not just one or the other.

Of course, Abigail may not even be dead. Until the body is seen, a little blood and a severed ear don't prove anything conclusively. In fact, the absence of her cadaver seems to indicate the opposite.

I am extremely interested in Bedelia, whom we don't know much about. Dialogue in this finale seem to indicate that she knows that Hannibal is both a killer and a cannibal (the veal he serves her is likely young Abigail, if she's dead) and worries about his activities staying a secret, not wanting him to get caught. Yet, she refuses to have a personal relationship or dine at his house. Also, there's the still-untold story of a patient Hannibal refers to her attacking Bedelia. What exactly is the interplay between them? What is in their past? What are her secrets?

While Hannibal cries, showing humanity, Jack (Laurence Fishburne) turns cold, eschewing it. The signs are there previously in the way that Jack pushes Will to keep working, despite the negative affects that work is having on him, and acts very coldly towards Abigail when he believes her to be a killer. We know Hannibal is the villain and Jack is a hero, but Hannibal is painting the opposite pictures of both. It will be delicious to see how that reverses down the road.

I feel most sorry for Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas). She blames herself for not fighting Jack harder on protecting Will and keeping him safe. She worries more about healing Will than what he has done. While she may be right, there likely isn't much more she could have done for Will, anyway, so hopefully those are emotions she can come to terms with and move past.

Also, if I may plead for one change from the books, please make Alana Will's eventual wife! Their chemistry is fantastic, and I want so badly to see them together. We know Will is married in Red Dragon, so how about get them together in the next year or two? If nothing else, it saves the budget of hiring another main character.

The ending of this episode is perfect, with Hannibal striding through the halls to majestic music and seeing Will in his cell, evoking images from other adaptations of the story, where Hannibal is usually the one behind bars. What a great way to tie this to its fore bearers, and yet, also serve the characters as they have been created here!

"Savoureux" is a masterful pause point, with praise-worthy performances from Dhavernas, Anderson, Fishburne, Mikkelsen, and, as always, Dancy. Some things are concluded, and other plot threads are just getting started. The batch of guest stars in season one is stellar, and it's hard to imagine next year's group will be as good, but one can hope, as excellent talent is definitely drawn to this project. I can't wait to see where Fuller takes us next!

Hannibal will return to NBC sometime in 2014.
Article first published as WILFRED Season 3 Premiere Review on Seat42F.

Grade: 92%

FX’s WILFRED is a series about a man figuring out who he is. Sure, there’s a guy in a dog suit that speaks to the protagonist, but as strange as the premise and stories sometimes are, the real heart of the show is finding yourself. It’s much more about how one gets to who one is than the end result. In the season three premiere tonight, “Uncertainty,” that’s what Ryan (Elijah Wood) attempts to do.

Each installment of WILFRED focuses on another part of Ryan’s psyche he must delve into and deal with. For a mentally healthy person, it’s rarely a bad idea to reflect and examine one’s own mind. For someone as unstable as Ryan, it’s a necessity. Only by figuring out who he is and forcing himself to mature and accept the world can he become a whole, happy person.

“Uncertainty” is actually an issue many completely sane people have trouble wrapping their heads around. After all, we are driven to know things for certain, and people tend to try to make connections or conclusions, even if there isn’t an easy one to be found. Ryan’s “Uncertainty” comes about concerning the existence of Wilfred (Jason Gann), the man in the dog suit, whom everyone else sees as a normal dog.

At the end of season two, Ryan finds a picture he drew as a child that somehow features a cameo of Wilfred. A photograph proves Wilfred was always in the picture, not added later. Is Wilfred only in Ryan’s mind? Is Wilfred an immortal magical creature? These are just two of the possibilities pondered in this season premiere. The answer isn’t revealed, nor does one expect it to. That will come at the series’ end, if at all.

Now, this half hour does not mess with one’s mind nearly as much as last year’s opener, in which reality wasn’t even clear to the viewer. Instead, it’s a more subtle, but just as interesting, quandary as Ryan digs into Wilfred’s past. Toss in The Office’s Angela Kinsey, Gaan delightfully pulling double duty on screen, and some hilarious historical tragedy gags (yes, you read that right), and it’s a very solid, very good season premiere.

I wish WILFRED chose only to air one episode tonight. Unlike most modern series, WILFRED is not one that should be consumed in a binge fashion. Each installment gives viewers something to ruminate on, both about the show, and about themselves. “Uncertainty” is such a terrific episode, I’d like time to digest it. So I recommend TiVo-ing the second half hour that will air this evening, “Comfort,” and watching it a day or two after you see the premiere.

That being said, I watched them back to back, and still found much to enjoy about both. In “Comfort,” Ryan looks for a place he can feel safe and secure. It’s not with Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) and Drew (Chris Klein), who worry about him and try to set him straight. It’s not with Wilfred, obviously. So when a mailman (Zachary Knighton, Happy Endings) wants to hang out, Ryan accepts.

It’s a bad decision, to be sure, and not just because dogs like Wilfred and postmen are natural enemies, as this particular mail carrier is the opposite of a good influence. However, the fact that Ryan separates himself from a bad situation, and refuses to allow himself to have his decisions made for him, does show some growth. Ryan has become more assertive over the past couple of years, and this shows in “Comfort.”

Luckily, Ryan’s friends do want what’s best for him, and can back up when rebuffed. I very much enjoy the dynamic between Ryan and Jenna, especially now that it seems there will never be anything romantic between them, since she is happily married. It’s a little strange for a television show to not try putting its leads together, but she’s a good friend, and that’s what Ryan needs on his journey to self-fulfillment.

WILFRED is not my favorite show on television, but it’s a unique one that I never miss. It’s dark drama, intermixed with a touch of comedy, but not in an obvious way, makes for a compelling half hour, and there’s always much more going on than is visible on the surface. “Uncertainty” and “Comfort” are excellent examples of WILFRED’s quality and style, indicating that season three will be at least as good as the first two.

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

Sunday, June 23, 2013

BODY OF PROOF Examined One Last Time

Article first published as DVD Review: 'Body of Proof - The Complete Third Season' on Blogcritics.

BPThe final season of ABC’s Body of Proof  begins on a sad note, with Dr. Megan Hunt (Dana Delany) just getting back to work after three months off, a break taken following the death of her professional partner, Peter (Nicholas Bishop). To make matter worse, her daughter, Lacey (Mary Mouser), is kidnapped, and a bomb is hidden in a dead body. So Megan’s return is not exactly something to celebrate.

It’s kind of nice, though, to start with a case that will match the current tone of the series. With both Bud (John Carroll Lynch) and Sam (Sonja Sohn) gone from the cast, too, there is a sense of loss and emptiness anyway. By going down such a dramatic, depressing path, it allows the show to match the sadness felt by fans, rather than just trying to pretend that nothing has happened and move on.

Unfortunately, the replacements for those missing characters seem a bit too contrived. I like Mark Valley (Harry’s Law, Boston Legal), but his character of Tommy Sullivan, the new police detective that works with the Medical Examiner’s office, has a past with Megan. Yes, he is more magnetic than Peter, but the two men are far too similar, making every feel like replaceable archetypes. Why must TV shows force past connections? Why not allow new relationships to bloom on their own? Why does Tommy so neatly fill the role that Peter did? There’s both a sense of continuity, and one of overreach, right from the start of the run.

There are some things this third season of Body of Proof does correctly. It allows Megan to delve deeper into her father’s suicide, uncovering a cover up, and find closure. In fact, her story overall ends on a very hopeful note. The ensemble is still intact, with delicious friction between Megan and Kate (Jeri Ryan), and comic relief provided by Ethan (Geoffrey Arend) and Curtis (Windell Middlebrooks). Each member of the cast gets some nice bits of their own this year.

The final thirteen episodes are teeming with fantastic guest and recurring stars. Among those featured in The Complete Third Series are Henry Ian Cusick (Lost), Alan Dale (also Lost), Luke Perry, Joanna Cassidy, Richard Burgi (Desperate Housewives), Lorraine Toussaint (Saving Grace), Marissa Ramirez (Blue Bloods), Annie Wersching (24), Christopher McDonald (Harry’s Law), and Sharon Lawrence (NYPD Blue).

Of course, bringing in that kind of roster, especially while struggling to stay on the air, does seem a bit gimmicky. And the biggest issue with the show, that it concentrates too much on the case of the week, rather than the soapy drama between the characters, which is the bread and butter of most ABC series, is not overcome. But as far as procedurals go, this one is better than many.

Now that it’s canceled, Body of Proof will be missed, most especially because Dana Delany deserves to be on screen. She is a wonderful actress who can draw an audience, a fact proven in the multiple shows she has starred in. At least we have The Complete Third Season on DVD to rewatch and enjoy, as these are pretty solid installments, especially the series finale. Hopefully, she’ll be back before you know it.

This three-disc set has five bonus features, including an amusing gag reel. Other offerings include featurettes on the look of the production, the importance of props, a set tour, and the visual effects that make Los Angeles look like Philadelphia. It’s an appropriate amount of extras for the size of the release, and while none are super memorable, they do fit with what is presented.

Body of Proof The Complete Third Season is available now.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

BURN NOTICE Better In SEASON SIX

Article first published as DVD Review: 'Burn Notice Season Six' on Blogcritics.

BNBurn Notice, USA’s steps up its game in leaps and bounds in Season Six, elevating above the standard case-of-the-week, old-school-USA, fluff summer show. It is now available on DVD.

From the two-parter in which the central team is trapped in a foreign country to losing a major recurring character, to seeing a main player sit in jail for quite awhile, the series comes across with a new energy.

Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan), the center of Burn Notice, grows as a character a lot. We see him run the gamut of emotion in Season Six, from pure, unadulterated fury, proving he is capable of scorching the earth, to deep, soul-wrenching grief, to fiery love, to being helpless. Michael is put to the test in a variety of ways, and it finally gets him out of the pattern he has been stuck in.

The most shocking and jarring development for Michael is probably when his brother, Nate (Seth Peterson), is killed. In the past, the series has avoided removing any of the important players, but despite Nate’s recurring status, he is a vital member of Michael’s family. It’s an unexpected, gutsy move, and one that provides much motivation for Michael moving forward.

We also see the evolution of Michael’s relationship with Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar). It’s a challenge to show it   on screen, especially as she serves time in prison, but there is a strong, passionate bond between them that transcends that. Michael doesn’t open up much, not even to the audience, but Fiona owns his heart. Which leads to him by season’s end to one the most difficult decisions of his life.

With Michael going on revenge missions and getting involved in government work, Sam (Bruce Campbell) and Jesse (Coby Bell) are forced to step up and pick up the slack, while making sure he stays on the proper path. Sam has known Michael a very long time, and it’s gratifying to really see that pay off when Sam sticks by him during the tough times. Jesse enters the game much later, of course, not even being an original cast member, but is now completely intertwined and invaluable to the ensemble.

As usual, Michael’s mother, Maddie (Sharon Gless), is somewhat wasted. Don’t get me wrong, she has some absolutely brilliant moments to play this year in saving lives and losing a son. However, Gless is a masterful actress who really breathes something special into this role. As such, in the episodes where Maddie barely appears fans miss her soulful presence. She is essential to Michael’s humanity, maybe even more so than Fiona, and Gless deserves some serious pay off in the end.

Among the supporting players populating the show, a handful really deserve recognition for their work in Burn Notice Season Six. Jere Burns (Justified, Bates Motel) plays Michael’s greatest foe to date, Anson Fuller, a man who is as crafty as he is ruthless. Meanwhile, Lauren Stamile (Community, Grey’s Anatomy) hits the other end of the spectrum as Agent Pearce, a member of the FBI Michael learns to like and trust. Sadly, both complete their runs during Season Six, but for awhile, they expand the world of Burn Notice in new and incredibly interesting ways, becoming much more memorable than previous guest stars. Also, Sonja Sohn’s (Body of Proof) Agent Riley, while more familiar and less fresh, is still an entertaining addition.

Now, Burn Notice is not counted among the best shows on television, nor even on USA, and Season Six has some mediocre installments. But this is the year where it becomes a show worth telling others about and viewers can actually get invested in the tale, rather than just flip it on randomly some week. If the final season is as good as this one, or even builds upon it a bit, it will be a worthwhile and satisfying pay off.

The extras on Burn Notice Season Six are a little light. We get audio commentary only on a single episode, the standard deleted scenes and gag reel, and a single featurette, “Matt Nix Gets Burned. The latter is six minutes of behind-the-scenes talk about the creator of the show as the Season Six finale is being filmed. It’s an attempt at a humorous mockumentary in the style of Burn Notice, and it somewhat succeeds, though it lacks continuity, which for a short, shouldn’t be difficult to achieve.

If you are a fan of Burn Notice, Season Six is the best one yet, and especially if you have drifted away from the show, I do recommend checking it out. It could be better, but it’s a couple of steps above what has come before it, and regular viewers should be very satisfied.

FUTURAMA "Fling" With Comedy Central Almost Over

Article first published as FUTURAMA "Fling" With Comedy Central Almost Over on TheTVKing.

Futurama, which Comedy Central resurrected years after its cancellation by FOX, is near the end again. Last night, the first two episodes of the back half of season seven, which will be the show's last, aired. Like much of the cable run, they were very mediocre, occasionally funny, and still bitter sweet, with the ending in sight by fans, though not the players.

The first half, "2-D Blacktop," is part Fast and Furious parody, part adventure in two dimensions. Not liking the car racing flicks, the first part of the episode, where Professor Farnsworth (voiced by Billy West) soups up the Planet Express ship and joins a drag racing gang, feels kind of flat. Yes, we see Farnsworth behaving in an amusing way, but it's not the type of story that really fits his role, nor does it tie into much that we've seen from him before.

Worse, there is a supporting character tossed into "2-D Blacktop" who complains about being emotionally abused by her father, who apparently didn't say certain things to her. This is a recurring plot throughout the half hour, culminating in her seemingly getting a call from her dad that makes it all right. It's not funny, doesn't fit, and makes little sense in the scheme. We'll probably never see the character again, thankfully, but she is pointless here.

Then the Planet Express ship crashes and Farnsworth, Fry (also West), Leela (Katey Sagal), and Bender (John DiMaggio) are transported into a literally flat universe. Ironic, considering that that's the part of the episode that jumps up and gets interesting. I wish more time was spent in this realm, as playing with the physics and rules of the new universe is enjoyable and part of what Futurama does in its best days - geeky humor.

"2-D Blacktop" would have been redeemable has the new Planet Express ship stuck around past the end of the thirty minutes, but inexplicably it has disappeared by the next episode. Why?

Part two is entitled "Fry and Leela's Big Fling." The characters mentioned in the episode's moniker take a romantic vacation where they encounter Leela's penny-pinching ex. Many long-time fans of the show love to see the pair together, and wish the relationship would be handled with more care and consistency during the rebirth. Granted, it's not much different than in the original episodes, but that's kind of the point, since the filler movies, released after the cancellation, mature and grew this into something beautiful that has since been squandered.

Unfortunately, it's not handled super well in "Fry and Leela's Big Fling," either. At first, the pair are sneaking around, trying not to show their co-workers that they are intimate. Then, they don't care. Once on the trip itself, they seem completely stable and comfortable together, then things get awkward and tense, and it's not just the interloper that causes this, and then they go back to being solid again. It's like the entire inconsistency of the past couple of years is condensed and replayed in a half hour.

The fact that their vacation spot ends up being in an ape-run planet's zoo, with primates surreptitiously watching them make love, is absolutely perfect! I adore the Planet of the Apes take-off, a return of old characters, and tying Fry and Leela's story into several other characters' scenes. It's well crafted in such a way where one can admire the storytelling, and there are some gags that land. I especially admire the revelation that Leela and her ex are manipulated into running into one another.

The only thing that doesn't make sense are that the monkeys have old-style cameras. There are cell phones mixed in as well, but as much as the future portrayed in the show mimics today's world, having cameras there is just dumb and doesn't belong.

What's most disappointing is that nothing will likely pay-off. Animated shows take awhile to make, and going into this batch of installments, no one knew it was ending. Futurama sets itself apart from others of its ilk because the characters can actually be dynamic and there is continuity. As such, it deserves a true bookend, not just a handful of typical entries. Lackluster these past couple of years as it may be, it'll still be sad to see it go without the ending it deserves. Maybe some more films can be made?

Futurama airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.

Friday, June 21, 2013

NURSE JACKIE Bares its "Soul"

Article first published as NURSE JACKIE Bares its "Soul" on TheTVKing.

This has been a tough year for the titular character on Showtime's Nurse Jackie. Jackie (Edie Falco) has struggled to put her life back together while going through a divorce and trying to hang onto her sobriety. Her personal and professional pressures have not made such trials easy, but she has managed to make it through and celebrates one year of being clean in the season finale, "Soul."

I didn't think Jackie could ever turn over a new leaf. She was closed off and withdrawn, a sneaky liar who used people, where the series began. Now, she's so much better a person. She is far from perfect, of course, but even when her relationship with cop Frank (Adam Ferrara, Rescue Me) suffers its slings and arrows, it isn't because she treats him poorly, as has been the case previously.

Watching Jackie read last rights to the patient-of-the-week, Wally (John Cullum, Northern Exposure), and how she reacts after, is nothing new, and yet it seems so. She has always had a soft spot for those under her care, but now it's different because it seems genuine. To the outside, it always was. To the viewers and Jackie herself, this is new.

It's awesome to see her come around. It's been a very slow journey, which is good, because it has allowed time for very natural character development. It's why Falco deserves all of the praise she gets for the role, and it's why you celebrate with Jackie when she does well.

That's why the end of this episode is so disappointing. Every thing that is working for Jackie, with daughter Grace (Ruby Jerins) even showing up to her ceremony, despite their issues, feels unearned when Jackie swallows a pill.

Why does she do it? Yes, addicts backslide, but Jackie seems to be doing so well prior to this! Wally's death is depressing, but she makes up with Frank. I don't understand how she can throw everything away as she does. It will come out; these things always do. So now it's just an unpleasant waiting game.

Sadly, Jackie's support system isn't as strong as it used to be. Zoey (Merritt Wever) tries to be a good pal, but also is maturing herself, setting her own path outside of anyone else, especially when it comes to her relationship with Dr. Prentiss (Morris Chestnut), which is kept a secret. Eddie (Paul Schulze) also makes effort, but isn't capable of just being a friend all the time when Jackie moves on with Frank or when he is accused of doing things he isn't by Jackie's daughter. And O'Hara (Eve Best) is almost completely MIA this year after moving to London, and she won't be coming back, as Best has regrettably resigned from the series.

This means that no one is really in a great position to notice Jackie's problems. With her life more fractured and divided than even before, and giving up custody of her children, she can slip through the cracks.

Jackie isn't the only one that matters on Nurse Jackie, which boasts one of the most outstanding ensembles around. Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith) has dealt with memory issues in a very moving story that turned out OK, to fan's relief. In "Soul," Thor (Stephen Wallem) makes a connection with Wally and pays tribute to him. And Cooper's (Peter Facinelli) elicit behavior with Dr. Roman (Betty Gilpin, Ghost Town) bites them all in the butt when it means the hospital can't fire her without risking a lawsuit.

I'm not upset that Roman is sticking around. She's a horrible person who cannot be trusted, but she's made Cooper grow a spine and creates some delicious drama in the dynamics of the cast. Every show needs someone who can stir the pot, and Roman does so in a way no one really has yet on Nurse Jackie. Many of the problem people have been in authority, but by bringing in someone lower on the totem pole, whose power is ill-gotten and far from absolute, the story takes an interesting turn.

In the end, season five has continued a wonderful tale with fantastic characters. This is a series I greatly look forward to watching every week, and miss whenever it's gone. Thankfully, Nurse Jackie will return for a sixth outing next year.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Who Are You, Really" TRUE BLOOD?

Article first published as TRUE BLOOD Season 6 Premiere Review on Seat42F.

Grade: 93%

HBO’s TRUE BLOOD season six premiere, “Who Are You, Really?” takes place on the night that season five ends. It would be extremely difficult to do a time jump, as the series has before, given the dire circumstances major characters are left in, so it’s gratifying to continue the story right where it leaves off.

I like TRUE BLOOD a lot, but I tend to think of it as a soapy, fun guilty pleasure, rather than high quality entertainment. I wouldn’t say “Who Are You, Really?” changes that stance completely, but it is certainly a very good hour of television. Either the series has improved in its return, or my opinion of it went down during its absence without my realizing it. But the point is, this is a fantastic installment.

The reasons I can point to for this praise are both smart writing for well-defined characters, which leads to oh-so-many quotable lines tonight, and a deepening of the mythology. Yes, this series has always been serial, with long-reaching arcs. However, often seasons are mostly self-contained, with one or two or three bigger stories starting and ending within the year. As season six begins, we’re continuing the tale of the Vampire Authority, the shortage of a blood supply, fairy babies, a werewolf leadership change, shifter secrets being spilled, and the mystery of Sookie’s (Anna Paquin) parents’ murder, so there’s definitely more of a feeling of cohesiveness now.

Because of this, certain spoilers must be revealed in the review. However, I do pledge to make them as slight as possible, and to speak in vague terms when I can, saving the surprises for the viewing of the event.

The big shocker last year is Bill’s (Stephen Moyer) death and rebirth. This new Bill, “Billith,” as Pam (Krisitin Bauer van Straten) so cleverly dubs him, is a complete unknown, presumably devoted to a religion and planning on carrying out goals related to such beliefs. The problem is, it’s a very old system, and no one is quite sure exactly what that means.

It’s a positive sign that Bill doesn’t slaughter Sookie, Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), Nora (Lucy Griffiths), Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), Pam, Tara (Rutina Wesley), and Jason (Ryan Kwanten) as they flee the scene. However, he then reveals some darker nature, intentionally or not, as he calls his progeny to his side. And he certainly no longer aches for Sookie. So his continued benevolence is not guaranteed.

Unfortunately, Jessica is not in a good place to stand up to Bill, so if he is up to no good, she is susceptible to landing on the wrong side of the battle. She feels a very close bond with Bill, he being her maker, and after being rejected last season by Jason, she realizes she doesn’t have anyone. Enter Bill, who could (we don’t know yet if he will or not) take advantage of the vulnerable vampire.

There is also movement on Jason’s front, with his visions continuing. I don’t really want to go into that further, but there are definitely threats on multiple fronts in this season of TRUE BLOOD.

As well as familiar players, the new, annual Big Bad is likely to be Creighton Burrell (Arliss Howard). I say this not because of anything he does in “Who Are You, Really?” but rather because the character explicitly states “I am not the Big Bad.” That’s a sure sign that he actually is, no? It’s this wonderful, tongue-in-cheek, self-referential humor that gives TRUE BLOOD such a watchable quality.

On another front, “Who Are You, Really?” sees the death of a main character early in the episode. It’s someone whose fate is kind of revealed in the season five finale, but given the series’ penchant for keeping characters around, one is never really sure a person is dead in the moment of their passing. Now, in this new hour, it looks like we have a killing that will stick.

I applaud TRUE BLOOD for resolving the cliffhanger this way. Too often, the person has ended up safe, with no permanent repercussions. I’m not exactly thrilled by how this death affects a second character, who I predict will have the “lame” story this year, sadly, but at least there’s movement and development.

We get a bit of Alcide (Joe Manganiello) and his new pack, too. Alcide is originally caught up in very Sookie-centric stories, but after last year and this premiere, it appears he is definitely worthy of his own arcs, independent of the rest of the cast. This decision is a good one because Alcide is such a vibrant, rich character to work with, bringing elements to the show that no one else does, and providing complementary story. Cool.

Lastly, we get to see a very raw Andy (Chris Bauer) dealing with four babies, and the tough but sweet Arlene (Carrie Preston) assist, with a dab of help from Terry (Todd Lowe). There are times these people have been pushed into the background, but recent developments mean they stay relevant for now. The path Andy in particular is going down is ripe with some light-hearted disaster, which should keep TRUE BLOOD true to itself, even if the vampire side of things goes really dark.

“Who Are You, Really?” has a few surprises, excellent set up, memorable dialogue, and contributing mythology that combine to make it a top notch return. We’ll miss creator Alan Ball, to be sure, but the premiere proves that the series has not suffered in quality without him, and may even find new life in the realm of the undead.

TRUE BLOOD airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.