Monday, September 30, 2013

DVD Review: ’2 Broke Girls – The Complete Second Season’

Article first published as DVD Review: ’2 Broke Girls – The Complete Second Season’ on Blogcritics.

2bgCBS’s hit series 2 Broke Girls has just been released in a three disc set. In it’s sophomore year, cash-strapped gals Max (Kat Dennings) and Carolina (Beth Behrs) make some progress on their cupcake business dream after getting an endorsement from Martha Stewart. This leads them to open their own storefront, though it’s a good thing they don’t give up their night jobs waitressing at the diner, because it isn’t long before they need them again.

This is an entrepreneurial tale of two ladies trying to claw their way up the ladder of success. Max has had a rough life, but has a real talent for baking. Caroline was rich, but fell from grace when her father was arrested for financial crimes. Working together, though, they stand a chance, pairing their strengths and offering much-needed emotional support.

Behrs and Dennings are great at the comic delivery. Every time Max opens her mouth, it feels like co-creator Whitney Cumming’s stand up coming out, delightfully delivered with Dennings’ charming lack of charm. Behrs is the queen of physical comedy, in the tradition of Lucille Ball and Laverne & Shirley. While the writing at times lacks cleverness or risk taking, none of the show’s faults can be pinned on its stars, working hard to find the laughs, and often succeeding, always with a terrific chemistry.

They aren’t alone in their efforts, as the second year really sees the supporting cast step up as a help to the main women. There’s: Sophie (Jennifer Coolidge), an independent, business-minded, sex-obsessed neighbor and frequent customer; Oleg (Jonathan Kite), Sophie’s love and the chef at the diner; Han (Matthew Moy), the diner owner who lets the girls push their cupcakes on his customers, usually with good humor; and Earl (Garrett Morris), the kind, flirtatious cash register worker, who is protective of the waitresses. Plus, somehow the girls find the resources to take care of Caroline’s horse, Chestnut, whom they build a barn for off of their apartment.

During The Complete Second Season, the diner is robbed, revealing true character, the ladies audition for the reality show Cupcake Wars, they get a credit card and overuse it, and Carolina begins dating Candy Andy (Ryan Hansen, Veronica Mars), the owner of a candy shop across from their cupcake shop. Then they meet some Amish boys on Rumspringa, develop a pot-based cupcake, vacation in a cabin in the woods, talk to a psychic, ride on a jet with 2 Chainz (himself), fight with a puppeteer (Andy Dick), try out temp work, beg Sophie and Caroline’s Aunt Charity (Missi Pyle) for money, worry about STDs, become extras in Law & Order: SVU, and clean both Oleg’s apartment and the diner.

Yes, that sounds like a lot, and not all of it is realistic for people in their position, especially flying with a famous rapper, being on TV, caring for the horse, and competing on a reality show. It’s these type of touches that makes some viewers and critics scoff and dismiss the series. Well, that and the absolutely filthy language and vagina jokes. Yet, there’s something magnetic about the humor, which is edgier than the typical broadcast network fare, and it is amusing in a cartoonish, classic-sitcom-style-updated-to-modern-sensibilities, kind of way.

There are quite a few extras, spread across all three discs. The deleted scenes are paired with the episodes they belong to, a move more shows ought to do. There are highlights from their PaleyFest 2013 panel, and I really enjoyed the half hour featurette “Max’s Homemade Cupcakes: Go Big or Go Broke!” in which the various actors are interviewed about the show and discuss character development. A gag reel and a light, fluff piece on Sophie are also included.

My biggest complaint about 2 Broke Girls – The Complete Second Season is actually the DVD menus. They look incredibly simple, like they were developed back in 2000, in the early days of the DVD. Some series have gotten too fancy with their releases, but 2 Broke Girls does the opposite, with apparently little effort put into a decent release. It doesn’t affect the content, but presentation matters, and this one sucks. I hope they improve it before next year’s set.

2 Broke Girls – The Complete Second Season is available now.

PARKS AND RECREATION Skips Over to "London"

Article first published as PARKS AND RECREATION Skips Over to "London" on TheTVKing.

For the season six premiere of NBC's Parks and Recreation, our favorite city employees hopped across the pond to "London" so that Leslie (Amy Poehler) could receive a civic award. It was a fun and funny trip, with some big opportunities, nice emotional moments, and a couple of major turning points. What a fantastic start to the year!

"London" begins with the quickie proposal and wedding of Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) to Diane Tammy Lewis (Lucy Lawless). Just kidding about that middle name, by the way, but when Diane calls herself that I literally yelled at the screen; awesome bit. Anyway, no sooner does Ron pop the question than they rush upstairs, coincidentally running into April (Aubrey Plaza) and Leslie on the way, whom they invite to be best man and maid of honor, respectively. A few minutes later, before the opening credits even begin, the ceremony is done and they retire to their individual homes to celebrate the reception separately, or so Ron orders.

This is a perfect wedding for Ron's character. He has such an easy relationship with Diane, who loves Ron for who he is and has similar sensibilities. She rolls with the punches when his friends get involved, though he keeps the whole thing in check and on course. It's a little hokey that the exact two people who should be invited to attend get to, but that's easy to overlook in such a perfect sequence.

Then, it's off to London, England. Leslie has been down on herself. She tries to win the voters over one by one to avoid being recalled from office, but despite working her rear end off, nothing seems to be helping, and leaving the country is used against her. Frustrated, and feeling out of her league next to her fellow winners (including a mostly-accent-less Heidi Klum), Leslie unloads, complaining about the residents of her fair town that do not appreciate her. The moment is, of course, webcast, and bumbling Jerry (Jim O'Heir) has even arranged a viewing party, so the blunder does not escape notice.

It's hard to blame Leslie for her outburst. Even though Ron advises her to be the adult and treat her represented public like her children, any one would get upset at what Leslie is going through. All she does is try to help the people she's been elected by, and no one notices, always dumping on her. It's not fair.

This makes me think Leslie will lose the recall election. Despite how far she has come and the fact that this will rob her of a major triumph, it seems to be in the cards that she has far more obstacles to overcome before she gets her happy ending. I have to believe it will all pay off in the end, but we're not at the end, with Parks and Recreation showing no sign of losing steam. So for now, more bad news.

Of course, with Chris (Rob Lowe) slated to be leaving the series in a few months, along with Anne (Rashida Jones), that does possibly leave a vacant city manager job open, and since it's not an elected position, Leslie could slide in and begin working without worry about what people think. I'm just saying...

Speaking of Anne, though, it's great that she and Chris, also beaten down by the lack of caring from the locals when announcing Anne's pregnancy, go to Leslie, knowing she will react with the enthusiasm they seek. This shows that Leslie is the source of support people need, if only they know to go to her.

And it's not like Leslie has given up completely on being her cheerful, helpful self. She still does things for those she cares about. She arranges the perfect (solo) honeymoon for Ron, finding the one place in Europe Ron will enjoy. That is a beautiful gift and a testament to not only their friendship, but the amazing person Leslie is.

One person does notice Leslie's efforts and that's April, the girl who wrote the latter to win Leslie the award. April is really growing up, and her show of faith in Leslie, as well as taking the time to cheer her up proves this. Perhaps with Anne leaving, April can reluctantly step into the position of Leslie's best friend?

Another sign of April's maturity is how she encourages Andy (Chris Pratt) to take a several-months-long job in London with an important man (Peter Serafinowicz, NTSF:SD:SUV). Besides providing a convenient reason for Andy to be gone while Pratt makes a film, it also shows a step forward in their relationship, considering grown up priorities and her putting his needs first. This is huge, and I think they'll weather things OK because they go into it with just the right attitude. Good for them!

The other subplot unfolding in "London" is that Tom (Aziz Ansari) finally figures out who the competition that is running him into the ground is: the father of Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz) and Mona-Lisa, who just so happens to be Anne's doctor. This man (played by Arrested Development's Henry Winkler) wants revenge for how Tom allegedly treats his children, but even exonerating himself from his friends' lies does Tom no good because their dad has now built a successful business he's not willing to give up.

I love the kooky family these three funny actors have built to plague Tom's life. I'm sad for Tom, of course, as he has as many troubles as Leslie in fighting for his goals, more than he deserves, but unlike her, there's real humor in the episodes that bring down Tom. For now, anyway. The longer this goes on, the sadder it gets. Though I'm still not rooting for Jean-Ralphio and family to stay away.

"London" serves just about every one of the central characters well, providing some really good humor and excellent character development. Parks and Recreation is maturing just as nicely as April is, and I'm enjoying watching these people become who they are meant to be, surely dreamers who will eventually see their wishes realized.

Parks and Recreation airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

NASHVILLE Falls to Pieces

Article first published as NASHVILLE Falls to Pieces on TheTVKing.

ABC's Nashville, the soapy drama set in the world of country music, came rocking back last night with "I Fall to Pieces." Two weeks after the events of last spring's cliffhanger finale, Rayna (Connie Britton) is still in a coma, Deacon (Charles Esten) is in jail after telling the police that he drove drunk, causing he and Rayna's crash, and Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) worries about how Rayna's failing health will overshadow her own album release. So, not much has changed, despite the huge event.

Actually, Juliette is not nearly as bad as she seems. If she's fooling anyone, it's herself. Yes, she milks Rayna's coma for all it's worth at her album release concert, which is a terribly selfish thing to do, and should tick fans off. But once Juliette actually visits Rayna in the hospital, the young star falls apart, rethinking her uncaring attitude. Rayna has made an impact on Juliette's life, and while Juliette can try to deny it all she wants, she's a better person for it. It's why she decides to arrange Deacon's bail, even if she has a bad history with addicts.

Deacon is actively self-destructive, lying about driving. He's in a very dark place prior to the car wreck, and he sees a way to remove himself from the world, at least for awhile. Perhaps there's also the thought going through his mind that he doesn't want to live if Rayna is dead, but more importantly he is punishing himself. He thinks he belongs behind bars and separate from everyone else.

In flashback, we see Deacon and Rayna's early relationship. Besides being an impressive visual, with both performers looking much younger, this gives us a chance to view them at both their best and their worst. It's easy to see how Deacon can blame himself for screwing things up, but it's also certain they work well as a couple. Maybe when all this is behind them, they can make a go of it, with Rayna able to forgive Deacon after seeing how low he's sunk and how bad he feels. That is, if Deacon can stay sober.

Deacon does have some help in that regard. Scarlett (Clare Bowen), having turned down Gunnar's (Sam Palladio) proposal, works on securing bail for Deacon, and decides to move in with her uncle. As much as Deacon attempts to run Scarlett off, I'm glad she sticks around anyway. It's a rough sacrifice for her to make, putting parts of her life on hold to help Deacon, but maybe she'll finally get through to him and help him heal. As long as this doesn't destroy her just-launching music career, it's a nice development, giving both family when they need it.

Gunnar hasn't given up on Scarlett, even if she did say no to marriage. They share a very nice moment, performing together once more, and he vows to work to win her back. When last season ended, they were not in a healthy place to move forward, and two weeks doesn't fix everything. But "I Fall to Pieces" hints that there will be a second chance for them, and maybe they won't end up split for so long like Deacon and Rayna.

Rayna's accident does bring her family together in a way they haven't been for some time. Tandy (Judith Hoag), Lamar (Powers Boothe), and Teddy (Eric Close) are actually able to be in the same room together! It won't last, especially as a new secret rears its ugly head, so it isn't as touching as it should be. But at least Rayna's loved ones are there for her in her time of need.

Lamar has actually been downgraded to recurring status this season. That's not a guarantee that he'll be sent away or locked up, but that does increase the likelihood that he won't remain as involved in his daughters' lives as he has previously. It's sad to see parents and children drift apart, but if Lamar really did what Tandy hears he's done, he doesn't deserve the girls in his life, anyway.

"I Fall to Pieces" remains just as full of everything that makes Nashville so deliciously compelling as it was in season one. It's a prime-time soap, to be sure, but it embraces that part of itself and is well-suited for the genre. I look forward to more tumultous romances, twists, and turns this year and for many more after.

Nashville airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

Another "Step" For ELEMENTARY

Article first published as Another "Step" For ELEMENTARY on TheTVKing.

The following review was posted before the episode aired, and so is mostly spoiler free, dealing with relationships and generalities, rather than details of the case. Enjoy!

The second season premiere of CBS's Elementary, airing tonight at 10 p.m. ET, is called "Step Nine." For those not familiar with the twelve-step program that Alcoholics Anonymous and other addiction treatment programs like to implement, the ninth step is to make amends. This makes sense, as Sherlock Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) flies across the pond to help out former colleague Gareth Lestrade (Sean Pertwee, who used to co-own a production company with Miller, Ewan McGregor, Jude Law, and Sadie Frost), intending to right past wrongs.

I call Lestrade a "colleague" because, as pointed out in "Step Nine," Sherlock doesn't have friends. That is, until he meets Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) last year. Before Watson, no one could see past Sherlock's abrasive attitude enough to care about him and help him out. This informs very much Sherlocks' relationship with both Lestrade and the authorities on the other side of the pond.

Sherlock feels guilty for Lestrade's down slide because he allowed Lestrade to take credit for Sherlock's work repeatedly. This suited Sherlock's purposes, as well as Lestrade's, but gave the latter a yearning for the spotlight that didn't serve him well when he no longer had anyone feeding him the answers. It's an interesting thing for Sherlock to regret, as one could argue it was a mutual relationship that wronged no one, but it also makes sense as a thing to make up for, as Sherlock does feel above everyone else, and that he had influence over the other man's actions.

While in London, Sherlock and Watson encounter Sherlock's brother, Mycroft (Rhys Ifans, The Amazing Spider-Man), who has moved into Sherlock's old flat, replacing the detective's possessions with his own. This riles up Sherlock, believing it to be a symptom of their longstanding rivalry. Yet, Watson sees something else in Mycroft, and works her way closer to him in order to gain greater insight into Sherlock.

This relationship is actually a two-way street because Mycroft quickly realizes that Watson has that special connection with Sherlock that no one else can ever have, similar to his own. These are two people who see a side of Sherlock that no one else does, and by combining what they know about him, they can form a fuller (yet still not complete) picture. This is definitely a couple of characters I want to see encounter one another again.

Mycroft has a secret that he isn't sure how to tell Sherlock. It's changed the way he feels about his brother, and spurs him to reach out. The way in which Mycroft does so is surprising, but feels right for someone who is kin to Sherlock. I'm hoping that Mycroft succeeds in beginning a new chapter with his brother, though given how Sherlock likes to keep things close to the vest, we won't likely know for sure if he's been successful for quite awhile.

That's what's disappointing about Elementary, though. There are rich characters and fascinating stories, but they are routinely pushed to the back burner for cases-of-the-week. Miller's talent is wasted in a standard procedural, and if it's not a sweeps-month episode, each installment tends to be numbingly boring, the same thing from week to week. The brilliant scenes are positively stunning, and everything else is drivel by comparison.

"Step Nine" is a good example of this. As excellent as the Mycroft and Lestrade bits are, much of the hour is given over to catching a singular criminal. This isn't strictly necessary; Elementary could have Sherlock just go over for a visit, or make sure that whatever he needed to do was dealt with quickly. They could even have made this a two-parter, leaving Sherlock in London long enough to have more interaction with the men from his past. Sadly, this is not to be.

And now, even though the opening of "Step Nine" is exciting and there are wonderful moments within, I wonder how long it will be before the next episode of the series deserving of praise airs. It likely won't be next week.

Elementary airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


Article first published as THE CRAZY ONES Review on Seat42F.

The Crazy Ones Pilot CBS
THE CRAZY ONES is the new CBS sitcom starring Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Given the caliber of talent on the project, as well as the fact that Williams tends to go big or go home, it seems like the project will either be absolutely terrible, or terribly terrific. After viewing the “Pilot,” I am leaning towards the latter.

Williams (Good Will Hunting, Night at the Museum) plays Simon Roberts, an advertising executive who runs his own firm along with his daughter, Sydney Roberts (Gellar, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). He is going off the rails, losing his edge, but still prone to jumping off a cliff without a net, taking the big risks that made him successful. She, on the other hand, is sensible, and often able to clean up her father’s messes, but soon sees that sometimes his method is the one that’s needed.

The characters kind of are THE CRAZY ONES compared to everyone else, but that doesn’t make this show just a zany version of Mad Men. Instead, the title refers to an old Apple commercial, in which brilliant minds are highlighted as having been considered crazy by their peers. Are Simon and Sydney creative and smart enough to be included in this group? Perhaps not, but it’s who they aspire to be, and influences their attitudes towards work and life, informing on their personalities.

Williams is allowed to do what he does best, launching from manic bit to manic bit, swiftly rolling through his impression index. However, he isn’t doing it only to be silly. It’s a symptom of the insecurity he feels and the control he is losing. It actually exposes a layer of vulnerability that nicely shows through, and makes the character not only funny, but highly sympathetic.

We do feel Sydney’s frustration with her father, worrying he is losing his marbles or his touch almost as much as he is, but also putting on a brave face. She covers for him when she has to, speaks her mind in private when she can, and basically tries to roll with his punches, respecting who he is and what he has accomplished, while still supporting him in her own way. It’s a great complement to the other role.

Gellar and Williams have an unexpectedly natural chemistry. Their every line radiates a shared history, both loving and bumpy. They seem very familiar with one another, and while they are quite a bit different in temperament, there is still a family resemblance that bleeds through in the best, subtle ways.

Interestingly, THE CRAZY ONES feels more like a drama or cable half hour than your typical network sitcom. This may be the darker style, largely avoiding the slapstick except when it’s couched in deep feeling. There’s a serious undercurrent. Unfortunately, this may make it a little less accessible to some viewers, though this makes it a better series.

Williams and Gellar are buoyed by a strong supporting cast. James Wolk (Mad Men) stands out as Zach Cropper, a buddy to Simon, perhaps being similar to Simon in his heyday. Zach is smooth and magnetic, something needed in the world of advertising, charming most and actually backing that up with a good work ethic. Wolk is sure to become a fan-favorite here, the way he has in other efforts. There’s also Hamish Linklater (The Newsroom) as a grumpy guy who works closely with Sydney and Amanda Setton (The Mindy Project) as an enthusiastic, though perhaps not overly bright, assistant.

Were the “Pilot” left up to only this ensemble, I think I would have found it even more enjoyable than I did. Unfortunately, the story soon veers into wooing Kelly Clarkson (herself) for a McDonald’s commercial. This is where things falter, as Kelly does not come across as a likable individual and engages in odd activities that don’t quite match the other scenes. I’m not sure it’s Kelly fault, but her part of the half hour just doesn’t rise up to the rest of it, and isn’t in sync.

Of course, this is only a “Pilot.” If THE CRAZY ONES can build upon its positive elements, which are definitely plenty, it could end up being a serious contender on the fall schedule. Hopefully, that’s what will happen.

THE CRAZY ONES premieres Thursday, September 26th and 9 p.m. ET.

Blu-ray Review: ‘Doctor Who – The Complete Seventh Series’

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘Doctor Who – The Complete Seventh Series’ on Blogcritics.

DWSome like to buy new Doctor Who releases as soon as they come out, but for those who have bypassed the last few, releases the wait was well worth it. Brand new from the BBC is Doctor Who – The Complete Seventh Series, which includes not only the13-episode seventh series, but also two Christmas specials and a wealth of bonus features, some of them never seen before, in a four-disc set.

First up is “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.” The Doctor (Matt Smith) visits a woman named Madge (Claire Skinner, Outnumbered) who once helped him out. It’s 1941 and her husband has gone missing. Madge takes her children, Lily (Holly Earl, Casualty) and Cyril (Maurice Cole), to a relative’s house for Christmas, but soon they travel through a portal to a planet being destroyed by a mining company. It’s a fluff episode, just a good, old-fashioned, heart-warming holiday tale, sure to bring a smile to the viewers’ faces.

Then, we jump into series seven the final five episodes featuring Amy (Karen Gillian) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) as the Doctor’s companions. They have been traveling with him a long time, on and off for about a decade from their perspective, or three years in our minds. Each and every one of this quintet of adventures is incredibly special, made with care, knowing their end is near. They find “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” visit “A Town Called Mercy” in what appears to be the Old West, are forced to go to an old foe’s planet in “Asylum of the Daleks,” where they meet an odd souffle chef, and learn about “The Power of Three” in an epic story that unfolds over the course of a year and culminates in Amy and Rory making an important life decision.

Of course, the best of the batch is the last, “The Angels Take Manhattan.” Amy, Rory, the Doctor, and River Song (Alex Kingston) are pulled into New York City in the past by the Angels, those creepy living statues that can steal time from you. This is the moment where love must be proven, and values are assessed, ending with a very teary finale.

Next is “The Snowmen,” the first Doctor Who special that ditches the stand-alone format in favor of a bridge to the titular character’s arc this year. The Doctor is moping about in old England, watched over by his loyal pals Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her wife, Jenny (Catrin Stewart), and Strax (Dan Starkey). Strange snowmen, created by the Great Intelligence (Ian McKellan / Richard E. Grant), begin killing people, and the dead souffle chef we met with the Daleks returns as a totally different person. Is all of this enough to pull the Doctor out of his moping?

It turns out the answer is yes, and this kicks off the eight-episode second leg of the season. Starting with “The Bells of Saint John,” in which the Doctor is searching for the twice-dead girl, Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), the two soon find each other and set of on a number of adventures together. The Doctor and Clara see the remarkable “Rings of Akhaten,” go into a Russian submarine during the “Cold War” and find an Ice Warrior, “Hide” from ghosts stuck in time, “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS,” which does not care for Clara, help Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny (Catrin Stewart), and Strax (Dan Starkey) investigate “The Crimson Horror,” and find a “Nightmare in Silver,” a.k.a. the Cyberman, in an abandoned amusement park.

These episodes, on the whole, aren’t as good as the first half of series seven, but then, they are the beginning of something new, finding a dynamic between friends just forming their bond, rather than the reward at the end of a long time spent traveling together, so they don’t have the built-in weight and meaning. They serve to introduce the new companion, and that’s the goal here, not starting a new major arc. In this, they work.

The series ends with “The Name of the Doctor,” a mind-blowing showdown at the Doctor’s tomb, with all his pals in attendance, and a glimpse of every incarnation of our hero up ’til now. This is where we learn Clara’s secret, and meet a new version of the Doctor  who is not the Doctor (John Hurt). It’s not only a huge episode in of itself, it also beautifully sets up this fall’s 50th anniversary special.

In all, these are great episodes, well worthy of the Doctor Who series, with many memorable moments and people.

Of course, the Doctor Who set would not be complete without a ton of bonus features. There are behind-the-scenes bits for each and every episode, interviews with Smith and Coleman, full-length specials discussing the show, prequels to a number of installments, webisodes, and a few audio commentaries, which were not part of previous releases. There also fresh featurettes about Clara, the TARDIS, Rain Gods, Inforarium, and more. This is definitely a treasure trove.

As usual, the high definition presentation on the Blu-ray is everything you could ask for. Doctor Who has a number of different settings, so that are lots of opportunity to explore fantastical, special effects-heavy worlds, as well as varying color schemes. All of this comes across as rich and detailed. An at-times-stellar score mixes perfectly with the crisp dialogue, and there are never any complaints of static or graininess. Considering some of the spectacular visuals, Blu-ray is the recommended format to view it in. And yes, I realize if you regularly follow my Doctor Who reviews, this paragraph sounds awfully familiar, but what else is there to say? It looks awesome.

Doctor Who – The Complete Seventh Series is a truly excellent release, and is available now.

"First Days" of New MODERN FAMILY

Article first published as "First Days" of New MODERN FAMILY on TheTVKing.

ABC's Modern Family began its fifth season last night with a pair of fresh episodes, "Suddenly, Last Summer" and "First Days." The first took place in late June, the day gay marriage became legal in California, and also concerned parents trying to get time away from their kids. The second picked up months later, as the children went back to school, and various family members found new professional opportunities.

It's cool that Modern Family celebrates the recognition of legal gay marriage. The show has authentically shown a loving, committed homosexual couple, Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), for years. It feels very natural for Mitch and Cam to want to wed as soon as they can, since their union is not recognized by their state, and that they would both try to propose right away once they had the right to follow through on the promise.

That being said, "Suddenly, Last Summer" isn't just a commentary on social justice; it also stays true to the humorous content of the show, with Mitchell and Cam both ruining one another's surprises, wanting to be the first to ask. Even the emotional moment at the end of the show, when they both say "yes" at the same time without asking the question, is both heartfelt and amusing. A+ job on this plot. I can't wait to see the ceremony itself!

It's great that all of Mitchell's adult family members pitched in to help with the failed proposals, showing their support for their loved ones, but I was displeased with the running gag that baby Joe puked whenever gay marriage is mentioned. I suppose this could be taken two different ways, one of which is saying that those who are against extending civil rights to homosexuals are babies, but it just doesn't feel that way to me. This is probably a personal taste thing, though, so it's hard to criticize the show for it too harshly.

Also great in "Suddenly, Last Summer" is Jay (Ed O'Neill) seeking a break from Manny (Rico Rodriguez). The Jay story isn't so much about him wanting Manny to go away as it is Jay wanting to avoid a bunch of Columbian relations in his house, but he doesn't stop to think about Manny as he's pushing the boy towards the plane. This makes his sorrow when he misses Manny all the better, and delivers an emotional gut-check to the end of the episode.

Similarly, Claire (Julie Bowen) and Phil (Ty Burrell) try to schedule time away from their three children, working to synchronize schedules of the trio. I was particularly impressed with Phil, showing more willingness to manipulate his kids than usual, giving him another welcome layer. But the best part comes when the adults also try to ditch each other, proving everyone needs time alone no matter how much they love their family. They deserve the respite.

It's this realistic take on what a family is, with plenty of laughs that actually land tossed in, that makes Modern Family so successful, even after five seasons. In a year when every network is tossing family-based comedies on the air, this one remains the current standard to live up to, something the newbies are by and large failing to match. The timing and punchlines are consistent, and the actors, writers, directors, and the rest are extremely talented.

It's a shame the series skips ahead so far for "First Days," though not unexpected, as most broadcast series don't cover the summer months, when they are off the air. This means we don't see the results of the machinations and plans in the prior half hour, though that is frequently the case with Modern Family episodes, which tend to stand alone. This lack of many through arcs, though there are admittedly some, is the one glaring flaw in the show's makeup.

I liked "First Days" a lot less than "Suddenly, Last Summer." The reason is because Modern Family threw reality out the door for a gag in a couple of spots. Haley (Sarah Hyland) acts a complete fool when Mitchell's rich boss (Justin Kirk, Weeds) wants to whisk her away. This is not in character for Haley, whom we haven't seen caring about money or much older men before, and makes the viewer grimace as much as Mitchell does at the prospect.

Even worse is Cam's story, in which he is asked to take over an AP History course. Cam has no qualifications in History. In the real world, this means he can sub in the classroom, but not take over full-time. To portray a school as trying to hire someone who hasn't had educational training and gone through the long, complex process to become a teacher is offensive. There are exceptions to the typical teacher college track, but they are few and far between, and certainly do not apply in the circumstances depicted here. Ridiculous.

Now, Cam eventually accepting the gym teacher / coaching position, and the music instructor last year, is a little more believable, as they are not core subjects, but again, while he could possibly be hired on as a coach without a teaching license, physical education and music education are not jobs just anyone can do. It's a lot harder the most people would assume, and most states do require a specific license in those fields, as well as earning a Master's degree within the first decade of teaching.

My big problem with these stories is that they perpetuate a myth about teaching as a career. In an age where state governments can strip teachers of union rights and the media shows people talking about how teachers get "paid too much," no more bad images are needed. Teaching is a tough job with long hours and stringent higher education requirements that continue through one's entire career these days. Teachers get paid far less than the normal professional with a Master's degree, though a Master's is required most places to teach for more than a handful of years, and those who go into it work very hard for little material reward. Seeing this kind of thing on TV, trivializing the profession, hurts real, working individuals, and is a big pet peeve of mine.

Other than that, though, and I know that section is a big joy-suck, I enjoyed the episode. Phil and Gloria (Sofia Vergara) hanging out in the background of a commercial was amusing, Clarie's first day working for her dad went so wrong it felt right, and the kids starting school worked out well.

I also applaud Modern Family for finally updating their opening title sequence. They changed Mitch and Cam's section when Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) was recast two years ago, but the rest have remained the same since the first episode. Luke (Nolan Gould) and Alex (Ariel Winter), in particular, have changed in appearance over this past year, so it was definitely time.

Modern Family airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

Still "Love, Love, Love" GLEE?

Article first published as TV Review: 'Glee' - 'Love, Love, Love' on Blogcritics.

Glee kicks off its fifth season on FOX this week with part one of a two-hour Beatles tribute. Entitled “Love, Love, Love,” the story picks up in the spring, where last season left off, shortly before prom. Rachel (Lea Michele) attends her callback audition for Funny Girl, Blaine (Darren Criss) tries to lock down Kurt (Chris Colfer) once more, new love blooms for Artie (Kevin McHale) and Kitty (Becca Tobin), and McKinley High has a new principal.

I like the new crop of characters, added last year and now promoted to series regulars, a lot, but I’m kind of glad “Love, Love, Love” more serves the longer-running roles. Sometimes there are too many subplots going on in a single episode of Glee to really get a satisfying amount of screen time for any of them, but this week’s premiere keeps the focus on a few people, which works really well, especially as it serves some of the more popular parts.

The most anticipated cliffhanger this summer is finding out if Rachel gets to be on Broadway! In “Love, Love, Love,” we see her go for a chemistry reading with Funny Girl‘s leading man (Ioan Gruffudd, Ringer, Fantastic Four) and director (Peter Facinelli, Nurse Jackie, Twilight), but the two experienced Broadway vets certainly have doubts about her, and think Claire Danes might be a better choice.

Rachel’s lamentation of “Yesterday” is a moving number, though not completely earned. She’s been in the Big Apple less than a year. Some stars are born over night, and given the pacing of a TV show, she probably practically will be; she may even get this part. But it’s not like this is a make-it-or-break-it moment for her, so as much as I appreciate a nice melody, it’s a little overly dramatic. Admittedly, that’s in keeping with her character, just the part of her character that makes one sigh and shake their heads.

G2Luckily for Rachel, she has a second chance when the guys show up in the diner where she and Santana (Naya Rivera) now work, which just happens to allow singing from its waitresses. The staff belts out “A Hard Day’s Night,” and while the song would probably be more effective as a Santana-led number, it does the trick. We still don’t know if Rachel will get the job or not, but Glee fans are sold on her worthiness for it.

“Love, Love, Love” is kind a reboot for Glee in many ways. Although they choose not to move on to the next school year yet, many of the stories kind of reset themselves, and fresh beginnings emerge. Rachel’s job is one such development, as is Sue’s (Jane Lynch) triumphant return to McKinley, with merely a mention that Becky (Lauren Potter) confessed the gun was hers and got a one-month suspension, thus clearing Sue’s name.

One one hand, I like that Glee isn’t beholden to all the hanging threads from last year, which those unresolved things weighing it down and driving the fall plot. On the other, it would be nice if the series took the time to resolve bits instead of just moving past them, essentially abandoning a few of the stories. It just didn’t feel like last year’s tale was done, but season five is moving on anyway. I guess it might have been poor planning on arc structure, holding onto things longer than they should have, and then deciding enough was enough.

Sue’s promotion to principal is directly a result of her framing Figgins (Iqbal Theba) for a variety of unsavory activities in the workplace. This isn’t the first time Sue has assumed the position, and last time I wondered if it might be permanent to cut down on the swelling cast. This go-round feels just as temporary, though, with Figgins sticking around as janitor and vowing revenge. I actually look forward to the goofy war that might be waged between these two comic-relief characters.

Sue’s first act is to call Will (Matthew Morrison) and Roz (NeNe Leakes) into her office, demanding that they both take home national championships this year if they want to keep their jobs. Never mind that the year is almost over, and that the national title for cheerleading is handed out in February, a couple of months prior to this episode, and the New Directions shouldn’t even be eligible for Nationals. Oh, well.

It’s a little frustrating when Glee sacrifices authenticity for what they deem to be the most “fun” story. I like to see a new side of Sue, helping teachers and coaches make their clubs succeed instead of only caring about her own brood, but I just wish the writer’s room would make better use of Google. These facts aren’t that hard to check, and I’m sure the episodes could still play out in a similar manner given a little creativity.

G3Another big moment that doesn’t feel quite real afterwards, but is so great while watching one doesn’t realize it at the time, is Blaine’s proposal to Kurt. Making up with an energetic “Got to Get You Into My Life,” being just boyfriends again isn’t enough for Blaine. So he recruits all the rival glee clubs in the area in the fantastic “Help!” number, including Dalton Rumba’s (Michael Hitchcock) deaf students, Vocal Adrenaline sans any familiar faces, and a remorseful Warblers club led by Trent (Dominic Barnes) and Sebastian (Grant Gustin), to do (what else?) “All You Need Is Love” for Kurt. It’s a big, splashy proposal that delights as a visual and auditory treat, times two, but doesn’t really fit in at all with Glee‘s established world and character rivalries.

My one complaint about the finely executed “All You Need Is Love” scene, besides the premise of it, is that Mercedes (Amber Riley) is present but doesn’t have a single line of dialogue. Recently dropped from the full-time cast, it does make sense to bring Riley back for such an important moment, but it’s cruel to waste her as set dressing. This will only be made up for if she sticks around to talk some sense into Kurt and Blaine in the second half, next week.

It’s way too early for Blaine and Kurt to get engaged. Kurt says yes because how can he not when confronted with the massive, showy, dream proposal? But his conversation with his father (Mike O’Malley) on the way there proves he isn’t fully committed to this. Why must all the teenagers at McKinley try to get married the second they leave the halls of high school, or even before? Can’t they just enjoy their youth and being with those they care about, without rushing towards commitment?

I understand Blaine’s desire to do this. He feels he has lost Kurt and wants to solidify his hold on him. However, it’s a sign of immaturity. Where is Will’s scene trying to talk Blaine into waiting, or at least offering sound advice? Some of the students are hesitant, but this arc really begged more exploration and characters’ self-reflection before the big moment. I hope we get some after the fact, rethinking what has been promised.

Two original cast members of Glee that the show has never, ever found a good use for, though god love ‘em for trying over and over again, are Artie and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz). They just do not resonate the way others have, yet somehow remain in the show (after somehow being demoted to juniors in season three). “Love, Love, Love” tries valiantly to serve both of them, but despite signs that Artie, especially, is going nowhere, it’s long past time to let them go, especially when better players such as Mercedes and Brittany (Heather Morris) have already been given the boot.

G1Artie’s new romance is with Kitty. This makes for an entertaining trip to the fair and a group rendition of “Drive My Car,” which immediately devolves into a secret fling when Kitty’s new rival, who emerges from nowhere, Bree (Erinn Westbrook), disapproves. Then we get a sad, but terrific, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” before a confrontation from Tina pushes Kitty to make the relationship public.

This is actually one of Artie’s better episodes. McHale gets to show a range of emotions, but the character is still too much of a pushover to be sympathetic. What Artie tries to make look like understanding for Kitty’s reputation ends up casting him as a schmuck. Perhaps many kids in his position would do the same, willing to keep his fling a secret in order to continuously get some sugar from a beautiful girl, but Glee is about not being ashamed and standing up for yourself, so this doesn’t fit the message of the series.

Kitty’s growth into a fully developed person, not just a Cheerio mean-girl, is welcome, and has been going on for awhile. However, her quick flip-flopping between whether she’s OK with people finding out about her and the boy in the wheelchair rings false. She goes from thinking hiding things is a great idea to being fully supportive of a public pairing in no time at all. And what exactly does she see in Artie, besides, admittedly, a great singing voice? It doesn’t gel.

Tina, for her part, is shown to be bitter and nasty after last year’s events. Her attacking Kitty seems noble at first, protecting a friend, but is quickly unmasked as jealousy and pettiness, doing her character no favors in the likability column. Which is why it’s weird that Blaine, Sam (Chord Overstreet), Jake (Jacob Artist), and Ryder (Blake Jenner) try so hard to cheer her up. Blaine has an inexplicable friendship with Tina, but the rest don’t owe her anything. And the result of this little subplot is that Tina is going to the prom with Sam? Poor Sam, is all I can say.

Now, the boys’ way to make Tina is enjoyable, staging a classic Beatles presentation of “I Saw Her Standing There.” Marley (Melissa Benoist) sort of steals this scene, making a perfect screaming, crying fan girl with big glasses dancing near the stage. It’s a really fun piece of music, well performed.

And that’s why “Love, Love, Love” works. For all its many flaws in character development and authenticity, these songs rock. Glee does as much justice as one would expect from the show with these classic numbers, and even when the story doesn’t quite work with them, viewers are likely to forget that in the moment and just enjoy themselves. It’s why the Beatles are so enduring to this day, and I’m glad Glee is spending a second hour with them next week, which can only benefit the show.

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

SOUTH PARK: "Let Gov" In

Article first published as South Park: "Let Gov" In on TheTVKing.

Comedy Central's South Park is an enduring cultural touchstone. While it is not the longest-running animated series for adults on television, it does hold second place, beginning it's seventeenth season last night with "Let Go, Let Gov." The advantage South Park has over its older peer, The Simpsons, though, is instead of getting stale midway through its run, South Park still continues to deliver biting satire and social commentary, making it relevant and funny to this day.

"Let Go, Let Gov" hits a few items recently in the news. The most obvious involves the NSA, whom Cartman (Trey Parker) becomes concerned is listening in on his phone calls and reading his twitter and email. Of course, the NSA doesn't care about a little boy in Colorado, and that's part of the message that shines through. But they are shown paying attention to a lot of other trivial things, so it still lambasts them.

Whether or not people care that the NSA is monitoring us has been a one-sided debate. There are plenty of us that really don't mind, having nothing to hide, but those people don't tend to speak up because it's not important to them. Then there are others who see it as a stripping of freedoms and privacy. Cartman is the face of this side of the argument, stereotyping the worst of that segment, painting an image many may not be pleased with.

Considering that Cartman has no terrorist connections, why does it matter to him so much that he sneaks into the NSA to spill their secrets, a slightly more subtle reference to recent whistle blowers like Bradley Manning? He claims it's because he doesn't want the government in his personal business. This is a valid point, but only if he doesn't shove his business in everyone's face already.

Cartman is part of the constantly-connected community, talking on speaker phone in public places and tweeting his everything he does or thinks. He even takes it a step further and installs the new social media app "Shitter" in his head so his every thought will be broadcast on the internet. When one puts all that out there, it's hard to feel sympathy for that person's complaints that people are paying attention to it, even if it's not the people he wants to pay attention, whether it be the NSA or Kyle (Matt Stone), neither of which are actually trying to spy on him.

Now, not everyone who has complained about the NSA does what Cartman does, and there are nuances to the matter. However, I love that South Park plays on these things in a very funny way, making for a great season premiere.

The 'B' plot is even more amusing in "Let Go, Let Gov," when Butters (Stone again), hearing the government is watching over him, confuses them with God. Soon, he's recruiting a flock to follow his beliefs, too, out evangelizing the Jehovah's Witnesses, and bringing everyone to the DMV for confession.

It's hilarious that a little boy's misunderstanding spawns an entire religion, though not much more ridiculous than some actual religions' origins. That's part of what South Park is going after, never shy about attacking the devout for legitimate reasons. But the other part is a really clever comparison of what religion and our current system of government post-9/11, which I hadn't thought about before, but seems obvious now.

It's this intelligence that makes South Park so persistent, constantly providing new perspectives that make one smile and nod. It doesn't matter if a particular episode doesn't work, or the material quickly becomes dated, because there's another brilliant, up-to-date offering just around the corner. I don't know how long it'll last, but I hope there's no end in sight.

Also, kudos to the updated title sequence, that looks 3D even on a 2D set. It was time for a dramatic change, which the series does every so often, and the new version is pretty cool.

The one odd thing about "Let Go, Let Gov" is that Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live) provides the voice of Alec Baldwin, the spokesperson for Shitter, a fitting app name for both the actor's infamous rants and the next step in social media. Hader does the impression weakly in true South Park style, the voice obviously the comedian's, even though he is skilled at such craft, more so than is displayed here. It's just weird to hear a new person lending their vocal talents, as the show has always been made up of such a limited cast. It's something I could definitely get used to, just jarring at first.

South Park airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

REVOLUTION Still Same Old, Same Old

Article first published as REVOLUTION Still Same Old, Same Old on TheTVKing.

NBC's Revolution begins its second season tonight with "Born in the U.S.A." It's been six months since the bombs decimated Atlanta and Philadelphia, and the survivors of the Tower have spread out. Some are settled in a small town, others have taken off to find missing relations, and still others are out on their own, heading down a self-destructive path.

First things first: the power is back off. Turns out, it only stayed on for a few minutes. Why? Well, no one knows, or at least no one viewers are familiar with knows. There are hints that this is still an ongoing thread, though, and I look forward both to further exploration of the topic, and movement on the getting-it-back-on front. This central storyline often takes a backseat to personal issues, but it's really what drives some of the most exciting episodes, and should be paid more attention to.

The most likely to be involved in this arc is Aaron (Zak Orth). Though he has moved into a house with a woman (Jessica Collins, Rubicon) and teaches elementary school, he still worries about what is going on in the world at large, and is curious about strange behavior by fireflies and other insects. He's got to be the one to figure things out, or at least spur the others to go somewhere they can find more information.

I have to admit, "Born in the U.S.A." really upset me by killing off Aaron. He ranks at the top of the list of favorite characters, and it would be a shame to lose him so early in what could be a long run. I was furious at the show and ready to rail against it had there not been that final scene of him opening his eyes again. Without it, this review would likely be colored by strong emotion and be much less positive.

Aaron dies when the small town where he, Miles (Billy Burke), and  Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) are living are attacked by raiders. This is an interesting turn and definitely one that people in their situation would have to deal with, but I can't help comparing Revolution to The Walking Dead here. The town is surrounded by a wall, like Woodbury, though it keeps out living humans, not zombies. And the leader of the raiders (Matt Ross, Big Love) does have shades of The Governor in the way he runs his camp and the falsely pleasant demeanor he tries to exude.

Unfortunately, while we know fans of good TV like this sort of development based on The Walking Dead's ratings, Revolution is much more poorly written than that show, meaning it suffers when it invites comparison. I'd rather they try to differentiate themselves more. It may be that this similarity was not purposefully conceived, but now that it's obviously happened, it's best to abandon it quickly and move on.

Miles is still playing the hero in "Born in the U.S.A." He tries to leave the town, but comes back when he rightly fears they will be attacked, leading to he and the sheriff getting captured. I guess this means the sheriff is probably expendable and will die soon. Miles could end up getting his job, and then he'd have a real reason to stay, even though that would be out of character for him. Though it wouldn't be the first time Revolution let someone veer out of character, and Miles always walks a thin line between believability and stereotype.

The gripping drama of this setting goes to Rachel who is deeply damaged by the events at the Tower. She is haunted and feels guilty, looking like a hollow shell of a person. Mitchell handles this beautifully, really making us understand her pain. Sure, she'll have to come out of it sooner rather than later, but I'm in no hurry to see that happen if only because I like that Mitchell has meaty material to mine, as the scripts aren't always worthy of her.

Rachel is staying with her father (Stephen Collins, 7th Heaven) during her time of healing. It's nice that she gets to go home to a caring parent who can take care of her, as that seems like just what she needs in her sorry state, even if he doesn't seem to be really helping much. Of course, I like Collins and I like this part, especially because it expands what we know of Rachel, so he joining the cast as a new main character is a welcome development.

Rachel's dad talks about how she has always gone for the wrong guys until she met her now-deceased husband, Ben (Tim Guinee). I can definitely see some truth in that, coming through in the way Mitchell plays Rachel. However, her dad is totally wrong that Miles is one of those "wrong" guys. Miles certainly has been selfish and careless from time to time, but bringing Rachel home at a critical junction should have earned him points, and defending the town ought to, too. And Rachel isn't exactly a perfect girl, either, making her share of mistakes. Really, Miles is a great combination of the bad boy and the noble man, at least in the episodes that serve him well, so perhaps he's the right mix for Rachel to end up with, even if he is her brother-in-law, since that seems to be where Revolution is heading.

In season one, Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) is initially painted as the main character. This is unfortunate, because while she works OK as a member an ensemble, her role isn't strong enough to hold the show. Considering this, I was hoping she'd stay with the group for awhile and not get played up. No such luck.

In "Born in the U.S.A.," Charlie strikes out on her own in search of Monroe (David Lyons). We don't know why she does this because the episode doesn't tell us explicitly, so we must assume it's holdover anger from last year. Maybe she still wants revenge for her brother's death? And her father's? She certainly doesn't want to be Monroe's friend, aiming an arrow at him. But it's hard to find anything compelling about her story. Plus, she was settled for a couple of months in the town with the others before she went hunting, so it would be nice if Revolution explained why she decided to depart when she did, what is so urgent about her quest.

In fact, we only get a couple of small glimpses at the intervening six months. This is fine, letting the story reset itself, and there's always the possibility of seeing more down the road.

Before Charlie has the chance to kill Monroe, he is nabbed by some bad guys. I'm much more interested in his story than Charlie's. His nation fallen, Monroe is hiding in New Las Vegas, getting into fights for money, gambling away his earnings, and generally acting like he doesn't care about his life. This makes sense, given the circumstances, and while we don't know why he is kidnapped specifically, there are plenty who'd like to get their hands on Monroe after everything he's done. Yes, we'll have to deal with Charlie intruding in the arc, but this still should be pretty interesting over the next few weeks.

One group that may want Monroe is the United States government. Sailing in from Cuba, rebuilding the White House, the unseen President wants to be back in charge. I assume this is the same President from when the power went out, so his term is long expired and he failed to hold the country together, which doesn't give me a lot of confidence that people will fall in line for him. But he could either publicly hang Monroe as a traitor to score some points, or use him to make Monroe's former subjects fall in line. Either way, the government seems the most likely organization with the ability to catch Monroe.

That being said, though the government is the most obvious choice, it could also be someone with a personal vendetta, like Charlie. There's got to be plenty of those out there. What I'm saying is, take my theory with a grain of salt, though it seems reasonable to me.

The reason we know the government is on the move, besides a brief, unexplained glimpse of activity at the White House, is that a representative sails to shore near Tom (Giancarlo Esposito) and Jason (JD Pardo), who are looking in Atlanta refugee camps for the missing Julia (Kim Raver). The pair haven't decided whether to approach the boat yet, but they likely will be involved in whatever is going on here.

Now, this could pull them away from their current mission. They can't exactly keep asking about Julia if the government is rounding folks up and moving them or assigning them some task. However, in this post-apocalyptic world, it makes sense few would have time to indulge in such hopeless pursuits as looking for someone who quite likely will not be found.

It must be said that the balance between Tom and Jason has definitely shifted, and that is to be appreciated. Both have been through a lot, and it has shaped them in different ways. Though they're not at odds as much as they once were, there is still thick tension between them. I wonder how long they can remain a pair alone.

I like the approach Revolution has of tying their characters into the larger arcs, approaching the big issues from the small scale. There's many things the show does wrong, including being cheesy and under developing its stories and players, but this is not one of them. It is far more interesting to have Tom and Jason, two familiar, main characters, get caught up in something and experience it from their viewpoint than to introduce a bunch of new people or take the situation broadly in an army vs. army scenario.

"Born in the U.S.A." has some good beginnings and a few really nice scenes for the a couple of the most excellent actors in the cast to show some range. It does still suffer some of the flaws of season one, being predictable and inconsistent, but for now I think it's worth keeping tabs on, as it still could eventually reach its potential, evident by several elements already present, and that would make for an amazing show.

Revolution airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.


Article first published as MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Review on Seat42F.

Marvels Agents Of Shield ABC
Probably this fall’s most anticipated new show, as well as the one with the longest title, MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered tonight on ABC. This spin-off of the popular Marvel movies, which include Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, Captain America, The Avengers, and their sequels, picks up right where the films leave off, giving us a look inside the most secretive, powerful government institution on the planet.

Many are familiar with S.H.I.E.L.D. because of the appearances of operatives in the films, most notably Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, The New Adventures of Old Christine), who tragically dies mid-way through The Avengers, just before the Battle of New York. But you may not know exactly what they do, or even what the acronym stands for. It’s Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division, by the way, which means, as one character quips in tonight’s “Pilot,” someone really wanted the initials to spell out S.H.I.E.L.D. They protect the Earth from aliens, super powered people, gods, and the like.

AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. is not going to give us a typical view of the organization, though, as it centers on a select task force put together by Agent Coulson, who is not in fact, as most believed, dead. This group is Coulson’s baby, a gang of unique individuals who don’t always play well with others, but are the best at what they do.

Coulson is around a lot in the movies, but it’s not until this “Pilot” that we really get a look at his personality for an extended period of time. Being near death has changed him a bit, re-focusing his purpose with laser sharp precision and a determination not to take any lives her doesn’t have to. It’s with that attitude that he puts the group together, and he strongly influences both mission and tactics.

How is Coulson alive? Well, Coulson has a tale he tells, though Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, How I Met Your Mother) and Dr. Streiten (Ron Glass, Firefly) seem to know something else. But since they aren’t main characters, it may be awhile before we find out the whole story. That’s OK; we can wait.

Coulson’s group is made up of five young agents. There’s Grant Ward (Brett Dalton, Killing Lincoln), the by-the-book pretty boy, Skye (Chloe Bennet, Nashville), the super-smart, justice-crusading, independent reporter newly recruited by S.H.E.I.L.D., Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen, Mulan, ER), the washed-up soldier tasked with “driving the bus,” but capable of so much more, and Fitz (Iain De Caestecker, The Fades) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge, Delicacy), the brilliant, creative techies.

What’s cool about these characters is they are all just so bursting with personality. Creator Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse) has perfected putting together a group of clashing dynamics by this point, bringing together a bunch of very different people, much as he did in The Avengers film, but with more time to delve into them. Each of these five has serious back story to explore, secrets to uncover, and various opportunities for growth and potential. They are fantastic ingredients for a very satisfying epic series.

Plus, Whedon’s witty dialogue and clever twists are obvious in the “Pilot,” too, from a switcheroo involving truth serum, to hiding in a shadowy corner, to telling a suspect things can go down one of two ways, Whedon takes the familiar and predictable, then turns them on their heads. It’s a delight to follow his writing.

Whedon does recruit a couple of familiar faces from his past shows to appear in this episode, and likely will bring in more down the road. There’s Ron Glass, whom I’m mentioned, working in Agent Hill’s base as Dr. Streiten, and J. August Richards (Angel) plays the “case-of-the-week,” Mike Peterson, a man who gains super powers but doesn’t know how to control them. Populating this universe with such people will only make the show more enjoyable, and Whedon has quite a roster to draw from.

Now, I did say case-of-the-week, as there are definitely procedural elements built into AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., and I frequently complain such formulaic shows. However, Mike’s circumstances take a back seat to the formation of the central cast, and his case also kicks off a larger arc involving a project known as Centipede. As such, while stand-alone stories will probably be mixed in, it’s equally likely that there will be a bigger purpose to the show, which is expected on such a series and appreciated.

AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. plays homage to the movies without relying on them. The Centipede project brings in the science theater-goers have already been introduced to, Coulson’s car, Lola, returns, and action figures connect the properties. But knowing about these things going in is not necessary, and I doubt very much anyone just watching the show will be lost.

Taken on its own, the “Pilot” is enjoyable. It can’t be taken on its own, though. There is too much structuring for further plot and serialized scenes leading to more to see this as a stand-alone installment. As the beginning of the journey, it sparkles, and there really isn’t anything to complain about. It’s well-paced, looks great for a TV budget, and has clearly been thought out carefully. It lives up to the hype.

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER "Coming Back" In the End

Article first published as HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER "Coming Back" In the End on TheTVKing.

CBS's How I Met Your Mother started as a fantastic, hilarious comedy, then devolved into dumb repetition, before bouncing somewhat back by adding a thick emotional layer over the handful of laughs. With the show's ninth and final season upon us, all designated to take place over a single weekend, it seems a big risk that could go either way. Given the track record, despite the past few year's decent delivery, confidence is not high such a move can be pulled off.

However, with last night's two installments, "The Locket" and "Coming Back," it's sure off to a great start.

These episodes are not exactly designed as a two-parter, but don't really stand-alone, either. As the long tale begins to wind up, it seems How I Met Your Mother gets more meandering and less linear, which is actually perfectly fine. We know Ted (Josh Radnor) is at the place where he meets The Mother (Cristin Milioti); the end is in sight. Now, tone is more important than definition.

Thank goodness How I Met Your Mother doesn't make us wait the entire year in order to see Ted and The Mother together. Having them this close, already in the same place, it would be annoying to have them continuously narrowly miss one another. Yet, we also know they can't actually meet until the end of the weekend, most likely the series finale. The show solves this frustration by giving us a glimpse of the two of them one year later in "Coming Back."

Their first scene is positively electric. For anyone who wondered what kind of girl would finally satisfy Ted and still be likable to the viewer, The Mother is it. Perfect casting and writing come together and suddenly the whole effort seems worth it. One small moment glimpsed, and Ted and The Mother seem like they've been destined to be together their entire life. Knowing this, and getting the reward of witnessing it, makes the waiting not hurt so much.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though, because that is the at the end of the hour. First, Lily (Alyson Hannigan) meets The Mother. One thing I've wondered is how this stranger will fit in with the so-well-established gang that makes up the principal cast. The show solves this, too, by first having her meet and befriend Lily. They aren't quite perfectly matched as pals, but they are good enough, The Mother managing to calm Lily down, giving her a valuable skill set to be included in the cast.

Lily needs calmed for two reasons. One, Ted has played her so he can get to Farhampton alone. This is a tricky bit of twist that feels totally in character with Ted, since Lily assumes Ted will try giving Robin (Cobie Smulders) "The Locket," which could reawaken old feelings. We do get a glimpse of Ted crazily flying to L.A. to find it, but don't actually see if he did or not. Hopefully, this will be covered in a later episode, perhaps with return guest appearances by Sarah Chalke and Jason Jones. But it's likely Ted has it.

What may be slightly confusing is that Ted doesn't given Robin "The Locket" yet, instead presenting her with a picture of their group from season one (the one at the end of the show's theme song). Why does Ted need to ditch Lily if that's all he's giving Robin? Logic says he has "The Locket" and has not made up his mind, possibly intending to give it to Robin, then thinking better of it. His "of course"s are not sincere, and there's more to this coming. I'm glad it's being held for now, though, as we need something hanging over the next few weeks, and this does that well.

The second reason for Lily's distress is that she misses her family, but we'll get to that story in a minute.

Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin's thread starts out less than equal to those of Lily and Ted, beginning with an unnecessary incest scare in Ranjit's (Marshall Manesh) limo in "The Locket." I mean, Ranjit isn't unnecessary, but finding out that the bride and groom share a cousin is. However, it's made up for when Barney drops the "wait for it" from the word "legendary," culminating an arc nine years in the making for him.

Thankfully, "Coming Back" gives the pair something better, having to deal with James' (Wayne Brady) divorce. See, there's a Stinson curse, which we amusingly see cast on Brady and Harris in period-ish costumes back in 1807 Russia, and James' marriage is the only thing that makes Barney believe in lasting love. Robin doesn't want Barney to find out about the split, afraid he may break off their own ceremony, but when a drunk Lily does spill the beans, Barney remains calm, telling Robin she is now why he believes, and doesn't need anyone else.

While Robin and Barney have always possessed a strong chemistry, it isn't until last year, continued in these two episodes, that we see what really makes them work as a couple. They have changed one another in a very profound way, and the depth of their love is incredibly touching. "Coming Back" proves once and for all that this wedding should happen, which makes the anticipation of the impending nuptials all the sweeter.

Finally, we have Marshall (Jason Segel) running into all sorts of obstacles trying to get back to New York before Lily finds out he has been offered a judgeship, wanting to tell her himself. Most of his problems involve a fellow traveler (Sherri Shepherd, 30 Rock). This subplot is the one that works least of all, despite Shepherd being funny, because it wraps up too easily, sort of ruining the rivalry that has been building for an hour. Marshall puts his faith in the woman and she comes through for him, contrary to everything we've seen from her up to this point. It would have been preferable for Marshall to find a different mode of transportation and run into her again along the way. But honestly, as disappointing as the climax is, it doesn't detract too much from the overall enjoyment of the episodes, which are mostly quite good.

Other highlights of "The Locket" and "Coming Back" include: a wonderful turn by Roger Bart (Revenge) as a desk clerk; Ted saying to The Mother "Hey Beautiful," which is the name of the show's theme song; The Mother's cookies' moniker being Lily's catchphrase; and Barney's anniversary gift for James. All of these combine to make the first two episodes special, promising more goodness to come over the rest of the season. These little things are part of what made the show so good in the first place, and it's nice to see them well served now.

How I Met Your Mother's final season airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.

Friday, September 27, 2013

DEXTER's Last Murder

Article first published as DEXTER's Last Murder on TheTVKing.

It's always sad when a beloved, long-running television series comes to an end. This is the case in Showtime's Dexter, with this week's episode, season eight's twelfth, "Remember the Monsters?," serving as the last episode ever. In it, we see the final chapter of the story of the serial killer with a moral compass. Sadly, the last thing to be killed is fans' hopes for an amazing conclusion.

Dexter is about a psychopath with no emotion. In the final year, the titular character (Michael C. Hall) finds feelings for his family and friends, to his great surprise. It's been a slow build to this triumphant moment, the point where his lack of empathy has been cured and he can actually love and miss and grieve and have compassion. What a fantastic note to go out on!

Except, Dexter doesn't enjoy these things. It may be because he finds his heart just in time to have it broken, as Oliver Saxon (Darri Ingolfsson), the Big Bad of this year, murders Dexter's sister, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter). Faced with losing her, Dexter rethinks what he wants out of life, and decides the best thing he can do is end it.

Dexter's death is seen coming from a mile away. He begins acting erratically, killing Oliver in police custody, turning off Debra's machines and stealing her from the hospital. He's always been so careful and so sneaky. To act irrationally, out in the open, is a turn for him, and that's why it telegraphs the sad climax.

The fact that nobody notices Dexter's behavior is "Remember the Monsters?"'s first mistake. I don't expect Quinn (Desmond Harrington), who has just lost the woman he loves, or Angel (David Zayas), rationalizing the behavior of a friend in pain, to pick up on Dexter's coldness in the video of him slaying Saxon, barely putting up a tiny bit of effort to make it seem like self defense. But surely someone notices his actions of killing Debra, stealing the body, and sailing out to sea in the middle of a hurricane.

Mistake number two comes when Dexter undoes the sacrifice. As much as I hate to see Dexter commit suicide after dumping his sister's body, deciding that Harrison (Jadon Wells) and Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski) are better off without him, there is a way to understand Dexter's twisted reasoning. It doesn't quite gel with what the show has been building towards, but people do weird things when they're upset, and while this installment doesn't really spend much time on Dexter blaming himself for Deb's death, it is mentioned.

Then we get a glimpse of him working as a lumberjack. There is no explanation as to how Dexter escaped his wrecked boat in the middle of the storm, nor do we find out anything about his new life, such as if his dark passenger and Harry (James Remar) have returned and he has gone back to killing. A look in his eye says that might very well be the case, but it's left ambiguous.

What is the point of that final scene? To let viewers know that Dexter is alive? If so, why doesn't he show remorse for abandoning his son? Or something that proves he has stopped caring? Are we expected to believe all of the emotional stuff earlier in the hour was an act? It really doesn't make sense.

Not to mention, there is no closure for Quinn, whom is told by Deb she loves him just before she dies, no wrap up of the Masuka (C.S. Lee) and his daughter (Dora Madison Burge) arc, no revelation about Dexter's secret life by Miami Metro, not even of a glimpse of how Harrison might take the news when Hannah breaks it to him. There's just no ending to speak of for most of the show's players.

Now, there are a couple of wonderful bits in the finale. I love Dexter beating his instincts at the end of the penultimate episode, and how that carries into the last one. I love the flashbacks of Dexter and Deb shortly after Harrison's birth. I love seeing Hannah outwit Elway (Sean Patrick Flanery) and escape. I love that both Eric Ladin (The Killing) and Amy Pietz (Caroline in the City) guest star. I love seeing Matthews (Geoff Pierson) not act like a total jerk.

But those things aren't enough to make up for a terrible handling of the main character. I totally agree that a show runner has the right to end their series the way they'd like to, without worrying what fans will think. On the other hand, I do think it should be fitting for what has come before it, and "Remember the Monsters?" is not. In the end, Dexter's finale is one of the worst series finales in recent memory. If that's not sad enough to make a serial killer cry, I don't know what is.

Viewers Are HOSTAGES To Popcorn Political Thriller

Hostages CBS drama starring Dylan McDermott and Toni Collette
Article first published as HOSTAGES Review on Seat42F.

HOSTAGES is CBS’s attempt at a drama that is a departure from the procedural, a much appreciated move. It concerns the assassination of the President of the United States, a political thriller with many moving parts and a slew of characters with dark secrets and selfish motivations. Unfortunately, built like an action movie, it falls short of its goal.

The first mistake HOSTAGES makes is starting with a tense scene, then jumping back twelve hours. As I have stated in other reviews, which is evidence that this happens far too often, this storytelling technique is done to death and should be used sparingly. It may be a quick hook, but it’s an unnecessary and unwelcome one.

Another glaring issue I have with that first scene, besides the fact it exists, is that one of the show’s leads, Dylan McDermott (American Horror Story), is incredibly obvious behind a ski mask that sports way-too-big holes. I don’t care what developments happen later in the hour to “explain” why this is OK; what it obvious from the get-go is that this show will choreograph its moves well ahead of itself, and seeing the stars’ faces is more important than logic.

These are two major complaints before the story even begins. Not a good sign, and this trend continues throughout the first installment. We learn “hidden” bits about each of the central family, but they are all easy to see coming before they are officially revealed. Music takes scenes from dramatic to overly so. The action cuts in a certain false way. A main character makes a face on television that she really shouldn’t, and should be noticed by far more people than it is intended to be.

I assume that HOSTAGES wants to be the next House of Cards or Homeland, but despite some terrific actors, it lacks the script, director, and editor to reach those heights. By playing out exactly to formula for a film in this genre, it distracts us from the good moments tucked within the larger cheese.

Things progress in a standard way. We are introduced to Dr. Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette, United States of Tara), who will soon perform surgery on the President (James Naughton, Gossip Girl). Her husband, Brian (Tate Donovan, Damages), is pretty much a caricature of a certain type of spouse, weak-willed and trying to posture to make up for it. Her kids, Morgan (Quinn Shephard, Unaccompanied Minors) and Jake (Mateus Ward, Sports Show with Norm Macdonald), seem like they are pretty well behaved, overall, as far as teenagers go, but also have a shady side.

In the real world, Brian, Morgan, and Jake probably wouldn’t have these vulnerabilities, but they need them here so that they can be manipulated. By extension, so is the viewer. If Ellen’s family were perfect, those who want to pull her strings wouldn’t have the leverage they need. Because the characters are artificially layered in terrible ways, Ellen can be controlled.

Now, HOSTAGES does seek to show Ellen can stand up for herself and will not go along with what she is supposed to do. This should anger the hostage takers who hold Ellen and her clan captive. After which, the bad guys should do horrible things to Ellen’s family. Except, that doesn’t seem to be what this show is about.

The main gang that takes Ellen is led by Agent Duncan Carlisle (McDermott). After the opening, the first time we see Carlisle, he is doing his job brilliantly, catching something everyone else misses. Since he is such a fine, upstanding FBI guy, we know he can’t possibly seem as bad as he first appears to be. The “Pilot” doesn’t get into why Carlisle does what he does to Ellen, but there is obviously more we’re meant to wonder about him, and we certainly won’t believe that he’s evil. Is he being forced to play a part, too? This is the thing that might save Ellen’s family.

Carlisle is joined by Archer Petit (Billy Brown, Dexter), Maria Gonzales (Sandrine Holt, House of Cards), and Kramer Daly (Rhys Coiro, Entourage). The latter makes the mistake of being nice to one of their hostages, which Carlisle dresses him down for, but not in a cruel way. So these are good guys?

By involving the FBI and people that don’t harm innocents, HOSTAGES wants to make viewers wonder at the real motivations behind the plot. Maybe the FBI must take out this president, as some think they did with prior ones, in the name of protecting the country. Maybe their loved ones are in danger, too. Whatever the reason, though, there’s supposed to actually be a sympathetic cause behind their actions.

I’m not saying HOSTAGES shouldn’t go for the onion-format, constantly peeling new layers. It’s just that what unfolds on screen isn’t of the quality one would expect it to be given the premise. Going just by the production, one would think Carlisle and crew were run-of-the-mill villains, which is why it doesn’t seem right that they aren’t. It’s this disjointedness that ruins this show for me.

HOSTAGES airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.