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Thursday, October 31, 2013

ONCE UPON A TIME Has "Good Form"

Article first published ONCE UPON A TIME Recap Season 3 Episode 5 Good Form on Seat42F.

LANA PARRILLA, JOSH DALLAS, GINNIFER GOODWIN, COLIN O'DONOGHUE (BACKGROUND), JENNIFER MORRISON
This week’s installment of ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME, “Good Form,” tells the backstory of Killian Jones, the man who will become Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue). Killian first visits Neverland as first mate to his brother on a military ship. But he finds the realm a dangerous place, and the reason he is sent there unsuitable for his moral code. Thus, he embarks on a life as a pirate.

Killian is portrayed as a hero, a noble man who loves his brother and is determined to stand up to a king who would poison his enemies. Is this a hobbling of a legendary villain? ONCE UPON A TIME frequently re-tells familiar stories in a different way, flipping things we believe on their heads. But Hook is introduced last season as a bad guy, so some may be confused by the about face.

But Hook, for as much of a scoundrel as he is, hasn’t really been seen doing anything evil. Yes, he takes Rumple’s wife, but she willingly goes with him. Then, Hook’s revenge mission against Rumple (Robert Carlyle) stems from making Rumple pay for her death. Thus, his misdeeds have been directed at one individual, not the world at large, and with some reason behind them.

Not to mention, Peter Pan (Robbie Kay) is definitely dark and evil in this version of Neverland, so wouldn’t it make sense that his nemesis be the opposite?

It is hard to make the switch mentally, though. We were told Hook was a bad guy, and he even plays to that belief from time to time, so it seems a little strange now. It’s almost as if the writers intended him to be bad, then loved his charm and chemistry with Emma (Jennifer Morrison) so much that they changed their minds. It makes the storytelling uneven, but will please Emma / Hook shippers.

It’s also a little odd how quick Hook’s brand new crew, who don’t have any history or loyalty to him, believes his story and are fine with becoming pirates, turning their backs on their lives. Do none of them have families at home they’re sad about not going back to? I know the storytelling is limited, but this ending rings a bit false.

In the present, Hook is even more heroic than in the past, tricking Charming (Josh Dallas) into being cured of the Nightshade. Hook says he does it for Emma, and he does earn quite the energetic kiss as a reward, however, that’s a lot of effort. More telling will be how Hook deals with learning Neal (Michael Raymond-James) is alive, and if he tells Emma the news or not.

Who does Emma want to be with? She feigns protest at Hook’s advances, but she definitely has feelings for him, at least in the sense of physical attraction, going by the kiss. Even though she loved Neal once, she does feel betrayed by him. Thinking he is dead might be enough to let Emma forgive Neal, but would that last? Neal had noble reasons to leave Emma behind, but will she understand when that is finally all explained? Or might she try out Hook, with whom she does not have a complicated history?

At the moment, Emma’s focus is on rescuing her son, Henry (Jared Gilmore), rather than hooking up, as it should be. She manages to get a message to Henry in “Good Form” to let him know that she’s coming for him. In this, we see the desperate mother doing everything she can to get to her kid.

Henry needs this encouragement. He is losing hope, turning into a Lost Boy. His transformation seems a little quick, but he is just a kid, and is under a lot of peer pressure. I sincerely hope Henry tossing the mirror aside is to protect his mother, and not because he is really falling under Pan’s influence.

In order to make this contact, Emma listens to Regina (Lana Parrilla) over Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin). This means Emma lets Regina get rough with a Lost Boy, taking his heart and controlling him, not exactly a “good guy” thing to do. The result is effective, and Emma is able to reassure Henry, but does it cost her a piece of her soul in the process?

Emma has said that she is the leader on this trip because, not only is Henry her son, but she isn’t sorted in the good or bad sides the other characters are. She can take Regina’s darkness and combine it with Snow’s light to find a solution, using the best of both worlds. The right side doesn’t always win out in Neverland, and they need the balance in order to succeed.

But is Snow right to be upset with Emma? After all, Snow has never failed to win in the end, usually without resorting to treachery. Plus, Snow has tried doing wrong and paid a heavy price for it, mentally and emotionally. She wishes to spare her daughter the same. One must keep in mind, though, that such a price may be worth it if it means the different between life and death for Henry, at least from Emma’s perspective.

I find it very interesting that Emma has taken to calling Henry “our son” in Regina’s presence. Is this a sign that Emma isn’t just allowing Regina to do her thing this one time? Might it be a signal that Emma is choosing the incorrect path overall? Or is she just coming to understand Regina better, seeing why Regina has done some of the things she has done? There’s something more here that will likely be explored in the coming weeks.

Charming also possibly screws up in “Good Form” when he chooses not to tell his family of his upending death, forcing Hook to trick him to save his life. Then, even after Hook manages this, Charming continues to lie, not wanting the girls to know what he covered up. I get that Charming is trying to do right, putting Henry’s welfare before his own, but he should still be honest. Clearly, both Charming and Henry can be saved at the same time. And by not telling Snow or Emma, Charming is hurting them, or it will hurt them if and when they find out. His decision is debatable, but I think he chose wrong.

At the end of “Good Form,” we see Neal in a cage hung next to another cage in a tree by Pan and his Lost Boys. Who is in the other cage? Has Rumple, who does not appear in this episode, been captured, too? Or is another player about to enter the game?

Honestly, I hope it’s the latter. I wouldn’t mind a little more fresh energy tossed in after watching the same characters slog through the jungle a few weeks in a row. ONCE UPON A TIME has not gotten boring, it remains good on a weekly basis, but it is in danger of doing so if it doesn’t start to move things along just a little bit. Introducing someone else to the mix could help with that.

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

"Isolation" Not Helping THE WALKING DEAD

Article first published as THE WALKING DEAD Recap Season 4 Episode 3 Isolation on Seat42F.

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Three episodes into the fourth season, AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD only continues to get more intense. The latest installment, “Isolation,” finds the prison population continuing to struggle with the illness that had taken hold, more and more people displaying symptoms. Separating the infected from the others isn’t helping, and the possibility of antibiotics is far away. Also, Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) wants Karen’s killer found.

It’s understandable that Tyreese desires justice, and no one wants to deny him that. This just isn’t the opportune time to investigate, with a major crisis going on. Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) try to explain that to him, but Tyreese is not in any position to hear, his mind extremely one-track at present.

We don’t know a lot about Tyreese yet. He’s portrayed as caring, compassionate, and non-violent, but something about Karen’s death makes him snap. He slugs Rick, which earns him a beating. Then, later in the hour, he hesitates to engage in battle with walkers, only to come out slaying in a massacre-like fashion. Does this man have anger issues he is trying very hard to control? Does he know he can be dangerous and deadly under the right circumstances, and fights against that nature? This is a new side of him.

Tyreese’s power could be quite useful. The group could use someone who can kill dozens of walkers while managing not to get bit themselves, a moment reminiscent of the comics. But if Tyreese resists the urge to act like this, he’s not really helping. And the question is, if he gives into the rage, might it unleash something he can’t control around people, as well as walkers?

Rick has the same rage-addiction, though perhaps is not as big or strong as Tyreese, and so poses less threat. Rick still has enough strength, though, to beat up Tyreese, who is not fighting back at full power, leaving Tyreese with a black eye. Rick would do worse if Daryl didn’t pull him off, not intending to stop wailing on Tyreese himself.

What about the apocalypse triggers such extreme reactions? Rick has been through a lot, sure, but he wasn’t particularly violent prior to everything going down. Now, he’s spent months acting like a farmer and trying to control himself, as well as set a good example for Carl (Chandler Riggs), which is working, at least for his son, Carl resisting the urge to unnecessarily kill walkers. Is Rick really still so on edge that he can snap again at a moment’s notice? Or does he just need to be careful not to fall back into familiar habits until they become unfamiliar, which may take a while longer?

“Isolation” finds way too many people getting sick. Pretty much all of the newbies, including Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Doctor S. (Sunkrish Bala), and Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) are ailing, and soon Glenn (Steven Yeun) comes down with it, too. Is this what will wipe out the heroes once and for all? Not walkers or a murderous governor, but a microscopic disease?

This is expounded upon in dialogue, with Glenn lamenting the situation. He’s right that this sucks, something they can’t easily fight after all the struggles they’ve been through. Yet, it also makes sense, a bunch of people living in close quarters without the modern hygiene and disease prevention techniques they were used to prior to everything falling apart. It’s a really frustrating danger, with no clear solution.

Everyone deals with this in a different way. Beth (Emily Kinney) tells Maggie (Lauren Cohan) that they’re not allowed to be upset and worried. Hershel (Scott Wilson) risks his life getting herbs, then further endangers himself by personally delivering the folksy medicine to the patients. I can’t see any of these being a “right” or “wrong” approach. Yes, Hershel may be putting himself at an unnecessary risk when the group needs people to stay fit. But it also shows the depth of Hershel’s caring to be so unworried about himself. And Beth can’t be blamed for wanting to turn her feelings off, having suffered enough, but is she losing her humanity?

I love that THE WALKING DEAD poses questions like this without answering them. It depicts a great many different personalities, each of which has different thoughts and beliefs. We are allowed to observe and make our own judgments, with much open to debate. The strength of the series is in sparking those conversations and making their viewers think for themselves, rather than explicitly telling us what should happen. Even after a decision has been made by a character, we don’t know if it’s the right one, and it could come back up later on.

For instance, Rick determines that Carol (Melissa McBride) is the person who killed Karen. Carol freely admits this when questioned, then walks away without further comment. Without being told, fans know that Carol killed Karen to try to stop the illness from spreading, in the name of protecting everyone. Yet, Rick, as a lawman, might feel the need to punish Carol. Or at least tell Tyreese. And we don’t even know how Tyreese will react when he finds out, as he clearly holds Carol in high esteem earlier in this hour. Carol’s actions wills have consequences, but she might have been in the right, even if the disease still continued its rampage. Even if she is correct, can she be forgiven?

If Hershel’s natural remedy doesn’t pan out, the only hope is to get medication, which could possibly be found at a veterinary hospital fifty miles away. Daryl, Michonne (Danai Gurira), Tyreese, and Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) set off to retrieve the life-saving antibiotics, but run into a megaherd of walkers. They are forced to flee their vehicle, meaning it will take much longer for them to obtain the drugs and get home.

I feel like they might be too late, at this point. People are dying within a day or two, not lasting weeks. Fifty miles is a lot of ground to cover on foot. They may find an alternate mode of transportation, but not even having made it to the college yet, it looks like they still have a distance to travel.

Also, when did the walkers form such huge herds? Megaherds are something the comic deals with later in the story. This has to be a sign that the show will go there, too, eventually, if not right away. A megaherd is not something easily turned away, and we’ve seen what a much smaller group can do to the prison’s fences. This kind of threat is super deadly, and if it reaches the group’s stronghold, I don’t see how they could possibly defend against it. This may be why the prison must be abandoned.

Lastly, before leaving the car, the supply party hears a voice on the radio. This means other survivors are out there, nearby. That makes sense, given that the main characters have run into others before. But it also looks like they won’t be able to stay “Isolated” much longer, if others are actively seeking out survivors. Will this be another Woodbury situation, or might the new people offer assistance?

“Isolation” is a busy hour, with a lot of developments and implications for future events. It’s an excellent installment, full of exciting drama and moral quandaries. Let’s hope the show stays this good.

THE WALKING DEAD airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

DVD Review: ‘Line of Duty – Series 1′

Article first published as DVD Review: ‘Line of Duty – Series 1′ on Blogcritics.

LoDIf you like gritty cop dramas that exceed expectations and keep the twists coming, Line of Duty is for you. Initially broadcast on the BBC, and available on Hulu in the U.S., Series 1 has recently been released on DVD. The two-disc set from Acorn Media includes all five episodes of the critically acclaimed series, plus a couple of extras.

Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott (Martin Compston, Ice Cream Girls) is a hero. Though, not in the eyes of his department, which shuns him for refusing to participate in a coverup after an unarmed man is shot during a counter-terrorism raid gone wrong. But to the viewer, Arnott is a man to root for. Because of his troubles, Arnott is re-assigned to the anti-corruption unit headed by Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar, The Life and Adventures of Nick Nickleby).

Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates (Lennie James, Low Winter Sun) is the opposite of Arnott. Decorated by his employer and frequently praised for his success rate, Gates is actually quite corrupt, and soon becomes the subject of Arnott’s investigation. Gates pretends to be a family man, but keeps a mistress, businesswoman Jackie Laverty (Gina McKee, The Borgias), on the side. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of his misdeeds, which extend into his work life as well as home. However, he is surrounded by a loyal team who protects him, which makes Arnott’s mission a difficult one.

Obviously, Line of Duty sets up Gates and Arnott to come in conflict, and true, that is one of the most central and most enjoyable aspects of the show. These are veteran, top notch actors who handle their scenes with aplomb. I could watch the series even if that’s all it was, two interesting characters repeatedly squaring off against one another.

There is much more present than that. Episode after episode, more layers are added, and more corruption is exposed. Each insignificant plot point is blown up to mean something so much more, and every character has a secret. A minor traffic offense can lead to something far more scandalous. For over three-hundred minutes, you will be confined to the edge of your seat, racked with tension over what might happen next.

And I haven’t even mentioned Detective Constable Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure, Broadchurch), a woman brought onto Gates’ squad for gender balance, and whose story is better left to be experienced, rather than told about.

Besides the compelling narrative, one of the draws of Line of Duty is that it seeks to give new meaning to the word “gritty.” The violence comes hard and fast, frequently erupting in very disturbing scenes. Line of Duty is not for the squeamish or faint of heart, setting a new bar in its genre, and certainly going further than most would expect to see on a standard television program. Given the tone and the quality, though, it enhances, not detracts, from the overall production.

The special features are a bit sparse for my taste.There is a forty-seven minute set of interviews with various people who work on the show, and that’s great. There are also ten minutes of behind-the-scenes footage. But two is a low number, and it would be interesting to get some audio commentaries to highlight specific happenings.

Overall, though, Line of Duty is a gripping thriller that I definitely recommend checking out. Having been a fan of James for awhile now, it’s great to see him in this, and the rest of the cast is also talented. The writing is sharp, and the show mostly stays realistic, albeit with heightened events for entertainment’s sake. It’s a solid series that should impress.

Line of Duty – Series 1 is available now.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

CHILDRENS HOSPITAL "Going" Away Again

Article first published as CHILDRENS HOSPITAL "Going" Away Again on TheTVKing.

Cartoon Network's Adult Swim's Childrens Hospital brings their fifth season to a close this week with "Coming and Going." Feelings are in the air. Or rather, lack of feelings, as the cast splits into twosomes to deal with their issues. Owen (Rob Huebel) has never had an orgasm and has the urge to feel what that's like, so Lola (Erinn Hayes) reluctantly agrees to help. Glenn can't experience emotional feeling at all, so Blake (Rob Corddry) makes it his mission to fix Glenn. And Sy (Henry Winkler) tricks Chief (Megan Mullally) into going out with him in the hopes of sparking some romantic feelings from her, meaning they miss the war zone at the hospital, but their opera provides a beautiful soundtrack for the disaster.

Each episode of Childrens Hospital completely stands on its own, with almost no continuity from each week to the next, except in the vaguest of terms. For instance, in the fourth main plot this week, the one that doesn't fit into the theme mentioned above, Cat (Lake Bell) helps Valerie (Malin Akerman) give birth, even though we've never seen Valerie pregnant until now, and it's been well established in multiple installments that Valerie is actually Derrick Childrens (Jon Hamm), a man in disguise. Doesn't quite add up, does it?

Yet, that has never stopped the show from being funny. Instead of worring about continuity, it frees up the characters and writers to do whatever they find amusing in the moment. This has led to a lot of strange, stand-alone episodes, like the Shakespeare-esque entry a couple of weeks ago, yet never a shortage of laughs. Each episode is like a mini play or sketch put on by an extremely talented group. The ensemble is excellent across the board, and they only let in the best guest stars, which this week included Jack McBrayer and one of the show's writer/producers David Wain, who plays Rabbi Jewy McJewJew.

There are some connecting threads through most (not all) of the episodes. Season five finds the cast shipped off to Japan to work a hospital on an army base. This has been a recurring setting, and so informs the stories. It has made this season a little different overall from the first four, in terms that there have been new things that didn't necessarily lend themselves to the old set, but quality and tone have been maintained.

"Coming and Going" fully takes advantage of the place in a big way when, due to a series of unfortunate mishaps, the base is attacked by the American military. Yes, the base is made up of American military already, but somehow those outside of the base think that terrorists have taken over. It's kind of a loose premise, not at all believable, but one that works for the bits.

This means that each of the four main plots unfold as bombs explode around them. Maybe giving birth or having sex near a battle isn't completely unheard of for a TV drama, but who dares use such set ups for a comedy? Even as men go down, there isn't anything serious about the proceedings, with raising a flag being the way to stop the fighting, as bizarre as anything else.

It's also the small touches that make the episode. From Owen later admitting that he has had orgasms before, and was just confused by what the term 'orgasm' meant, to Glenn being killed, only to find out it was the hospital's previously never-seen "other Jewish doctor" who dies, despite it being obvious that Marino is the one going down, there are quirky, weird, unexpected touches all over the place. Valerie asks a little girl to deliver her baby, whom Cat immediately accepts as "Doctor Littlegirl." It's all as bizarre and wonderful as that.

What's impressive about this episode, over the rest of the fantastic weekly episodes, is, given a double-length running time of half an hour, there is not only time to run more stories simultaneously, but also they are all expertly interwoven. Normally, several of the cast sit out for many episodes per year so that a cohesive plot can emerge in less than fifteen minutes. Here, that is not the case, all of the principals present, and their stories are connected by synchronized occurrences and a great soundtrack.

In all, "Coming and Going" is an awesome example of a top-notch series. Childrens Hospital is gone for now, but hopefully a sixth season won't be too far away.

An AWKWARD "Surprise!"

Article first published as An AWKWARD "Surprise!" on TheTVKing.

MTV's Awkward. resumed its third season this week with "Surprise!" Tamara (Jillian Rose Reed) catches Jenna (Ashley Rickards) and Collin (Nolan Funk) making out, angrily telling Jenna to knock it off. Jenna knows that her friend is right, she should not be cheating on Matty (Beau Mirchoff). Matty's attempts to make Jenna's birthday special only make her feel worse, and he's not the only one with plans for the day.

I love MTV's Awkward. and have always been a big supporter of the series, telling many friends about it and swaying lots of people I know to give it a try. That being said, I am really hating the Jenna-Collin storyline. It would be one thing if Jenna was torn between two guys; that's happened on the show before legitimately. But cheating, as she does, is just wrong.

Jenna is the main character. We want to like her and root for her. When she goes this far off course, though, doing things most viewers will agree is wrong, it hurts her character. It's OK to have a crisis of faith and struggle to do the right thing. It's not OK to have Jenna knowingly carry on a wrong affair.

What "Surprise!" shows us is that Jenna and Collin's relationship is all about hormones. They can't keep their hands off one another long enough to have a talk. This isn't the basis of a healthy relationship, anyway, only the start of a hot tryst that will cool off as quickly as it is fired up. Knowing Collin isn't Jenna's true love, at least not without a lot of growth and change, makes Jenna's actions even more inexcusable.

Awkward. is a very authentic story of a teenage girl, and that's why I've always loved it. Yes, it's natural to think anyone in such a situation, all of the sudden having become popular and beloved because she has come out of her shell, could let it all go to her head and screw up big. That's probably why "Surprise!" takes us down this path, in keeping with what has come before it.

Yet, we also want our television leads to be heroic, even if only in small, common ways. Jenna having the sense to keep her hands off Collin, or to break things off with Matty first, are what we're looking for her to do, and as much as this other version does have lots of drama, a must for a series to stay interesting, it's the wrong kind of drama. It will take a lot for Jenna to come back from this.

Thankfully, her friends feel the same way in the little bits we've seen of them reacting to it. At the end of "Surprise!", everyone important now knows about the affair, so we'll probably see even more of this in the weeks to come. By allowing Tamara and the others to condemn Jenna, Awkward. may just provide itself a path through this dark stuff and onto better things. If nothing else, at least Jenna's behavior isn't glamorized or celebrated, so it's not like the writers are trying to convince us to think something we're opposed to.

Awkward. is still authentic and enjoyable. It's just really hard to watch Jenna act this way, making "Surprise!" squirm-worthy, too. It reminds me of why I can't watch the film Mean Girls because sometimes teenage girls just become completely terrible people for awhile. It's a phase many go through; I'd just hoped Jenna might be an exception.

Meanwhile, Ming (Jessica Lu) is undergoing a similar transformation, the power of being head of the Asian Mafia threatening to derail her being with Fred Wu (Kelly Sry). She doesn't really cross any lines, though, which I am most grateful for. Having two characters screw up royally right off the bat would not be a good way to start a run.

I must say I am still really, really enjoying Mr. Hart (Anthony Michael Hall). His crabby, witty lines definitely add some good humor to the proceedings. He's a terrific recurring addition to the cast.

Awkward. airs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on MTV.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"(Un)grateful" For GRIMM

Article first published as GRIMM Review Season 1 Episode 1 The Ungrateful Dead on Seat42F.

Grimm - Season 3
NBC’s GRIMM left us on a heck of a cliffhanger last spring, with Nick (David Giuntoli) captured and zombie-fied, and his friends surrounded by The Baron’s (Reg E. Cathey) minions. This week’s season three premiere, “The Ungrateful Dead,” picks up right where that hour left off. In fact, it picks up prior to where last year stopped, replaying the last several minutes, and then continuing on from there.

Sometimes, if a situation is particularly perilous, shows don’t mind reusing some footage again in the next episode, usually just a smidge to remind us of where things stand. “The Ungrateful Dead,” unfortunately, uses more than that. There may be a fine line in doing this, and GRIMM crosses it, making one glance at the clock a few times, wondering when we’ll get to the fresh stuff.

When we finally do, however, the episode picks up and takes off running. There’s a lot of action and a lot of development, all taking place on that same night. I complained in my season two finale review that the danger in GRIMM is usually too light, but that is not the case here, with Nick, especially, running the risk of lasting damage. Depending on how things shake out next week, there could be ramifications that matter for weeks or months.

There are a few hokey elements. The big, splashy, visually exciting sequence jut after Nick wakes up doesn’t hew too close to realism. However, overall, it definitely feels like the series is growing up, and taking all of the individual elements of the show with it.

Another thing I mentioned in my most recent review was that I wished the ensemble was beefed up and given more to do. That happens immediately in this installment. You’ll remember Nick is in a coma and destined to be a zombie of some sort when he awakes. This leaves everyone else to band together and try to save the day. They aren’t as effective as Nick himself would be, perhaps, but thankfully they are given the chance to try, which will only make fans’ affection for them grow.

This works best when they are doing something. At one point in the episode, Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch), and Rosalee (Bree Turner) take a second to regroup and discuss course of action. This is the worst part of “The Ungrateful Dead.” The conversation needs to be had, of course, but with the immediacy of events, it should take place on the run or in a speeding car, not the way it does. But that’s the only one scene that felt truly off and frustrating.

Captain Renard (Sasha Roiz) has a great, but brief, scene in which he lets a little of his beast out. This is something GRIMM has touched on in the past, but not really spent much time with. I feel like with the direction the plot is heading in, there will be more opportunity for Renard’s “wild side” to come to the front, and I look forward to it.

Wu (Reggie Lee) shines in “The Ungrateful Dead,” even in only a small part. It’s hard to figure out how to use his character sometimes, with him not being in the loop about the supernatural stuff. Here, we see him doing police work, in charge and tough. This is a glimpse of how he must be on the job all of the time that he’s off screen, and I like it. There are definitely ways to work with this and take him a step further.

Adalind (Claire Coffee) remains apart, too, but that’s a necessity based on her arc. She is still dealing with things from last year. I won’t spoil what exactly happens with her in this premiere, but I can confirm that I think her exile is about to end, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she returns to the main fold within a week or two, hopefully in a big way.

Besides the characters, which GRIMM does well, the dialogue is outstanding. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the most obvious, great series to compare this one to, was funny as well as scary and emotional. GRIMM has always played with the humorous elements a little, too. In “The Ungrateful Dead,” there are more than half a dozen absolutely terrific one-liners and gags. For such a dark, serious episode, that’s a welcome addition, and I think the writers are really starting to enjoy using the silly parts of the characters.

Lastly, I have also complained about GRIMM being too procedural, but said that last spring’s final two installments were refreshingly serial. So is this premiere, and the next episode will be as well, with this particular tale not over by the end of the hour. I don’t know if this is an anomaly, as sometimes show stretch themselves a bit more at the beginning and end of a year, but I hope not because these have been among the best episodes so far.

“The Ungrateful Dead” is fantastic, addressing every weak point I had previously mentioned and raising itself up overall. It may not be the best show on television yet, but it’s broken into the top twenty, and it’s heading in the right direction.

GRIMM premieres Friday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.

Monday, October 28, 2013

THE CARRIES DIARIES "Win Some, Lose Some"

Article first published as THE CARRIES DIARIES "Win Some, Lose Some" on TheTVKing.

The CW's The Carrie Diaries, a prequel to Sex and the City sort of based on the book of the same name, returns for a second season tonight with "Win Some, Lose Some." It's summer, and Carrie (AnnaSophia Robb) is ensconced in a fabulous New York City apartment. Too bad her ex-boyfriend, Sebastian (Austin Butler), shows up and ruins her good times. Luckily, a true, life-long friend is just around the corner for Carrie.

In the first season, the connections drawn between this new show and SATC are few and far between, which could have made it harder to gain viewers. Though most SATC fans aren't watching the CW, anyway, with the network's main demographic having been born too late to enjoy the SATC craze. Either way, season two immediately sets about to make the parallels a little more obvious, tying the two together.

For one thing, Carrie's hair is now looking more familiar. And I'm burying the lead, because Samantha Jones (Lindsey Gort, 2 Guns) is on the scene! It takes awhile in "Win Some, Lose Some" for Samantha to show up, but once she does, she clocks plenty of screen time, with the promise of more in the near future. The official website does not currently list Samantha as a main character, but Wikipedia does, so I'm not sure how much she'll be included in The Carrie Diaries from now, but probably quite a bit.

It's very hard to make a prequel series (whether or not they call it that, it is considered such) because the performances of certain characters will inevitably be compared to those that came before them. Robb is not a lot like Sarah Jessica Parker, even though her locks now match somewhat, but I think Gort hews a little closer to Kim Cattrall. The mannerisms and the voice are a little off, but with her mouth closed, Gort looks a lot like her predecessor. Now, whether matching the look is a good thing, further inviting comparisons, when the personality is off, is debatable. I'm just reporting the facts.

"Win Some, Lose Some" does not really establish the needed chemistry between Carrie and Samantha. Their bonding feels a little false, and it's puzzling why Sam, as she's presented, would tag along with the kid. Her dialogue indicates Carrie is annoying her. Samantha actually seems kind of bored and lonely, which is the only explanation that makes sense for Samantha to follow Carrie around. Not the best start to an extremely important relationship.

That aside, though, "Win Some, Lose Some" is not a bad episode. It splits off the characters in pleasing pairings, and moves the story along. Plus, it's set during the summer, which is rare for a TV show to do. I wonder if The Carrie Diaries will stay in the warmer months for awhile, given that the sequel to the book is set in the summer? Let's hope so, because it feels novel and interesting.

Maggie (Katie Findlay) and Mouse (Ellen Wong) are at odds over Maggie sleeping with Sebastian last season, and apart from Carrie, we see how these two girls work out the tension between them. With Carrie destined to move on without her high school gal pals, one hopes that they can rely on each other, long after Carrie exits the picture. The season premiere finds a lot of strife in their friendship, but perhaps they can come to some sort of understanding eventually.

Elsewhere, there's a nice little story between Dorrit (Stefania Owen) and her father (Matt Letscher). Again, Carrie clearly is not involved in their lives down the road, based on SATC, so viewers will want to know these two have each other, even when Carrie moves on in the Big Apple.

It's kind of hard to appreciate some aspects of The Carrie Diaries, knowing so many of the characters must either die or having a falling out with the main girl before the end of the show's run. Perhaps it will seek to chart a new path, one in which Carrie's friends and family from her hometown keep in touch, but if this show sticks to the established plot, Carrie will move on without them. Thus, I appreciate that Carrie is on her own in this episode, even as I hope for happy-ish tie-ups of the supporting players, sans Carrie, at the end. Or in the middle, judging by the pacing thus far.

Donna LaDonna (Chloe Bridges) is the one person I wish for most to somehow forge something lasting with Carrie. However, after she does something nice for Walt (Brendan Dooling), The Carrie Diaries can't resist souring our image of her once more.  I love this character as much as I hate her, and it will be interesting to see how Donna turns out as an adult... if we get that far.

The Carrie Diaries is somewhat stuck in honoring what came before it, but for the parts of the episode that a viewer can forget SATC and just take this show on its own, it's enjoyable. Maybe waiting a few more years before making this production would have helped with that somewhat, but since the CW did not, I do appreciate what's being done, even if it's not quite rising up to the shadow it's living in.

The Carrie Diaries premieres tonight at 8 p.m. ET on the CW.

Invaded By VIKINGS

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Vikings - The Complete First Season' on Blogcritics.

V1The History Channel is not known for doing scripted fare, having barely aired any, so it was with hesitance I checked out its first drama series, Vikings, last spring. The show, which follows real-life legend Ragnar Lodbrok (Travis Fimmel, The Beast) and his family and friends, exaggerated for both effect and because the Vikings didn’t keep good records, so the actual events are somewhat disputed, is quite good. It has action and violence, sure, but also character development, questions of morality in a different time and place, and some really surprising twists. The Complete First Season was recently released on Blu-ray and DVD.


Ragnar himself is a hero, loyal to his friends, but with a bit of a selfish, caddish quality to him, disobeying the orders of his leader Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne, In Treatment). The Earl would like Ragnar to continue to sail west, as their people have done for awhile now, but Ragnar complains that the west has been stripped barren and would like to go east, into the unknown. Ragnar secretly commissions his eccentric pal Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard, Evil) to build a boat, gathers some followers, and heads east, anyway.

There are repercussions for Ragnar’s actions; he isn’t allowed to just go ahead and defy Earl Haraldson. Yet, Ragnar is also right, the kingdoms of England are ripe for looting, which we see when Ragnar lands in King Aelle’s (Ivan Kaye, The Borgias) territory. And so, an epic showdown is set for the two great men, Ragnar and Haraldson, which comes to a head even before the end of the season.

Vikings is very fast-paced. Besides the struggles with Haraldson and the battles with Aelle, we are also introduced to King Horik (Donal Logue), who rules over the various Earls, and Ragnar travels to the land of another Earl, as well as his people’s religious temples. This, in only nine episodes.

All of this travel means lots of settings, which makes the show feel very big. The landscapes, filmed in Ireland, are absolutely gorgeous and timeless, with the buildings detailed and perfectly fitting into the wilderness. Add to this elaborate costumes and Vikings is a visually amazing production.

Which is why I recommend going for the Blu-ray version. In the dark, rainy scenes, or the murky halls lit only by fire, you’re going to want that extra crispness to really see what’s going on. Plus, it allows you to be impressed with all of the work that went into fully realizing this world. Sound is not as vital, with the soundtrack appropriate, but not itself usually stand-out. However, it’s well mixed, and hearing dialogue amidst the cacophony of other noises is not difficult.

There is also a lot of personal and family exploration. Ragnar is married to a warrior named (Katheryn Winnick, Bones), with whom he squabbles, but loves deeply. They have two children, Bjorn (Nathan O’Toole, The Borgias) and Gyda (Ruby O’Leary), the latter of which is a gentle soul, and the former wants to take after his parents. Ragnar also has a brother, Rollo (Clive Standen, Camelot), who sticks by his sibling, but also may not be entirely satisfied in a subservient role. Further complicating matters, Rollo is in love with Earl Haraldson’s wife, Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig, Glee).

Perhaps the most interesting part in the show is that of Athelstan (George Blagden). A priest Ragnar captures on a raid, Athelstan becomes part of Ragnar’s family as a slave who begins to question his own faith. Athelstan is the window into this strange world; will he be able to make a life among the savages?

The acting isn’t bad. At times it gets a little flat and cheesy, and there is never a consistent accent for the Vikings themselves, even sometimes among the same character. Yet, for the most part, I found it a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing world. Vikings isn’t a completely realistic take on things, anyway, with supernatural elements, mostly involving The Seer (John Kavanagh, The Tudors), and this allows a little leeway in the believability of the players, too.

The three-disc set has the sort of special features you might expect for a series television Blu-ray. There are deleted scenes and commentaries on some of the episodes, of course. Every episode offers an extended version, but don’t seem to be much longer than the aired versions. There are also a few featurettes. My favorite is “Birth of the Vikings,”  a 20-minute look at the making of the show. It includes interviews with many of the key people in the production, and a discussion on how the show came together.

Vikings: The Complete First Season is available now.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Blu-ray Review: 'The Heat'

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'The Heat' on Blogcritics.

HeatThe Heat was recently released on Blu-ray and DVD. The comedy-action movie is the story of a stuck up FBI agent named Ashburn (Sandra Bullock, Gravity) forced to partner with a rough Boston police officer named Mullins (Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids) to take down a drug kingpin. In one another they find friendship while learning something about themselves.

The Heat is a typical buddy cop movie for much of the running time. This time, the cops are women, meant to be novel take on the genre. True, there have not been dozens of female buddy-cop movies, however, the plot is pretty standard fare, so novel, it’s not.

The main draw of The Heat is the casting of  Bullock and McCarthy. They don’t seem a natural pairing, so of course one expects it to be entertaining when the two are thrust together. They are both terrific actresses, and have created two mostly well-defined, layered characters, but the material drags them down.

They are surrounded by a great comedic supporting cast. Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie) plays a fellow agent with a crush on Ashburn. Dan Bakkedahl (Legit) is a creepy albino DEA officer, and his partner is played by Saturday Night Live‘s Taran Killam. MADtv‘s Michael McDonald is a villain, and Back to the Future‘s Tom Wilson is Mullins’ boss. The cast also includes Tony Hale (Arrested Development) and Kaitlin Olson (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). But none of these comedy stars manages to really contribute much of anything major to the movie.

We are introduced to Mullins’ family, constantly bickering and ripping on one another. Jane Curtin (3rd Rock from the Sun), Michael Rapaport (Prison Break), Nate Corddry (Harry’s Law), Joey McIntyre (Boston Public), Michael Tucci (Diagnosis Murder), Bill Burr (Breaking Bad), and the comedy duo Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo (Ronna & Beverly) make up the loud-mouthed clan, who frequently improvise. They could easily fill out their own spin-off movie, a la The Klumps, only they’d probably be quite a bit funnier, which, to be fair, isn’t saying much.

Now, with Mullins’ family and a semi-clever twist at the end, The Heat isn’t a complete waste of time. Plus, there are some really nice scenes between McCarthy and Bullock. Overall, though, the film left me feeling a bit empty.

Director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) also co-created Freaks and Geeks, and directed episodes of a ton of great TV shows, including The Office, Arrested Development, and Nurse Jackie. With his record and a great cast, you might think The Heat would be at least amusing.

There are a ton of special features on this release, including additional footage. There are deleted, extended, and alternate scenes. There are also a number of 10-minute segments of themed deleted scenes and bloopers with introductions by Feig. Which means if you do like the film and want more, you can spend hours pouring though the unused footage. Plus, we do get to hear about how the movie was made, and multiple audio commentaries, including one by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys, are included.

There is not a strong argument for going Blu-ray over DVD on this one. I always love watching things in the best quality available, of course, but there aren’t really any dark scenes, special effects, or detailed audio bits that beg for high def. Your experience would probably not be much negatively impacted by going with standard definition. Of course, even if nothing really pops in the visual or auditory, clarity is always appreciated, and the Blu-ray is an extremely clear presentation.

The Heat is available now.

Chapter Closed On A YOUNG DOCTOR'S NOTEBOOK

Article first published as Chapter Closed On A YOUNG DOCTOR'S NOTEBOOK on TheTVKing.

The British series A Young Doctor's Notebook, which has been airing on Ovation in the States, came to a close last night with the fourth episode of season one (a second season has been ordered). While short in length, it's been quite a journey for the Young Doctor (Daniel Radcliffe), from eager graduate, topping his class, to hardened, drug-addicted general practitioner in the cold wilderness. But this is nothing compared to what we learn about the Older Doctor (Jon Hamm).

It turns out, A Young Doctor's Notebook plays out in the Older Doctor's head. This explains the cartoonish style and exaggerated happenings and people. The Younger Doctor's life is not portrayed as reality, but rather the hallucinations of the Older Doctor, suffering withdrawal from morphine addiction. Unlike FX's Wilfred, the answer to the mysterious center is presented sooner, rather than later.

This changes the perception of the entire piece. At first, it seems a goofy comedy, easy to laugh at the Younger Doctor's antics, whether it be in botched medical procedures or fumbling around in general. But now, knowing this is in the Older Doctor's diseased mind, it becomes a sad, melancholy drama, one from which there is no easy escape. The laughs cover pain. As the Doctor gets tossed behind bars in the 1930s, we see not only the beginning of his downfall in the 1910s, but how he sees himself, which is not so positive.

The surreal quality of A Young Doctor's Notebook is thoroughly intriguing and enjoyable. Even when one is rendered uncomfortable by events, the series remains something that can't be looked away from. The brilliant performances by Hamm, Radcliffe, and others ground a story that could so easily be silly or ridiculous in serious emotion, while still hitting the notes of a humorous play, and it's very impressive.

In the final half hour, the Young Doctor travels to the aid of a woman who has been bashed in the skull. An Even Younger Doctor (Joshua McGuire, The Hour) assists, and this is when we see how much our Young Doctor has changed. Almost wordlessly, the Young Doctor euthanizes the injured girl, knowing there is no cure, a realization that is slow to dawn on the Even Younger Doctor, then eats ham. We can see a pattern about to be repeated, a bad cycle that will be very difficult to escape from.

The Young Doctor even fantasizes about having his license stripped, half seriously wondering how many patients he would have to let die (never kill) to escape the hell of his job. The Older Doctor finds out, unfortunately, just how low he can sink. It's a message that can sort of be communicated, since they interact in the story, but the Older Doctor holds back somewhat, perhaps knowing he can't change the course of his life. So, so sad; a bitter, inescapable destiny.

While the focus is on the Doctors, as it should be, the series would not work nearly as well without the talented work of the supporting cast. Adam Godley, Rosie Cavaliero, and Vicki Pepperdine do extraordinary work, and they should not be forgotten about. The way they lend themselves to small, supporting roles is not exactly an easy feat, balancing between being entertaining but not distracting. Each have specific moments that can be praised, and the overall effect owes a lot of credit to the trio.

The same can be said for the crew that builds the sets and costumes, and lights the scenes, as well as scores the piece. There is a tone here, reinforced by every aspect or the visual and audio presentation.  A lot more is going on than just actors delivering lines, and it's the combination of everything that really lets this succeed in the best possible way.

I don't know when we'll get a second season of A Young Doctor's Notebook, and with our eyes opened, it certainly won't be as funny and light as the first. Yet, even as depressing as it may be, I really want to see more of these characters and this world. They have left a lasting impression not to be soon forgotten, as much for the high quality of the production, as for the compelling story itself.

NBC Sinks Fangs Into DRACULA

Dracula - Season 1
Article first published as  DRACULA Review on Seat42F.

NBC’s DRACULA, premiering this week paired with Grimm, is surprisingly good! It has not been taken to the modern day (although the 1890s is modern by Dracula-legend standards), does not have anyone solving crimes, allows most characters to speak with non-American accents, and is set in London, England. I never thought one of the Big Four networks would deliver something like this.

DRACULA does differ quite a bit from the novel of the same name. In this version, Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, The Tudors) is awoken from his slumber nearly 500 years after the death of his wife. He is intent on stopping the Order of the Dragon, a secretive group that murdered his beloved, and are still around today. Since they are oil barons, poised to control the energy industry of the coming century, Dracula seeks to circumvent them with another power source.

Which is not to say that Dracula is fang-less, far from confined to the business world, which is conducted in parties, not boardrooms. We see him skulking the streets and rooftops, preying on those with the blood he needs to survive and dueling with vampire hunters who seek to kill him. While DRACULA is not gory, there is a creepiness about him and the show, and Meyers makes the character radiate threat.

The weird thing about the way the titular character is portrayed is that he is frequently forced to fake an American accent to keep up the persona of Alexander Grayson, the colonial entrepreneur he is pretending to be. Meyers’ lilt seems strange and off. One might say that the character is faking the accent, too, so this is OK, but he’s supposed to be faking it well, and he doesn’t. The scenes in which Meyers switches back to a European timbre are better.

Stylistically, DRACULA is interesting. It maintains some of the best elements of the character, especially the danger, but puts it in a new setting, and not a lazy one a bunch of other shows already share. Many of the variations with the source material seem well thought-out and make sense to the tale being told. The sets and costumes look pretty cool, though may not be accurate, and there’s kind of a steam-punk feel to the technology Dracula is playing with.

The major characters from the novel are present in DRACULA, but most have departed a bit from their origins. Renfield (Nonso Anozie, Game of Thrones) is still the vampire’s manservant, but he is also a former slave, and there is no sign of him snacking on insects. Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann, The River) remains an intelligent, educated man, but is willing to compromise his principals for the greater good. Mina (Jessica De Gouw, Arrow) and Lucy (Katie McGrath, Merlin) are very pretty, but are not as weak.

The one person that hews closest to the novel is Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Mr Selfridge). A dedicated reporter and boyfriend of Mina, Jonathan wants to know what Dracula is up to, but is mostly in the dark. He’s earnest and smart, and while he does come across as a little gullible at the start, he will likely rise above it, though perhaps not in a way that will pose a threat to Dracula.

The question is, will Harker be the hero of DRACULA? If not him, who? Van Helsing isn’t acting too noble in the first episode. Instead, if anything, the program seeks to make Dracula sympathetic. Immediately, viewers will begin to root against the vampire king’s enemies, hoping that he can gain some kind of revenge against them. Except, any scene where Dracula isn’t directly working on this mission doesn’t paint him in a good light, either. Is DRACULA actually daring to live in the grey, murky middle, with each player having their strengths and faults, but none clearly in the right or wrong? Because that would be amazing.

To accomplish that, the villains must be given layers, too. This wouldn’t be so hard. Yes, they are guilty of ruining Dracula’s life, once upon a time, or rather, their forbearers were. But Dracula is an undead creature of the night that deserves to be punished, right? With none of the Order of the Dragon among the main cast, I don’t know how much time might be spent developing them, or if they are merely a distraction until other roles can be grown into serious contenders.

One character that is not in the book, as far as I recall, but is part of the main cast, is Lady Jane (Victoria Smurfit, Trial & Retribution). She is fascinated with Dracula, and quickly puts the moves on him, despite being married herself. If Dracula isn’t going to feed on Lucy or Mina yet, he needs a replacement to seduce, and Lady Jane fits the bill. I’m just not sure where they are going with her.

DRACULA has its flaws. Some of the dialogue is cheesy, the direction isn’t clear, the Order of the Dragon is a very nebulous challenge, the first scene between Dracula and Van Helsing reads extremely staged, and the style and setting isn’t likely to appeal to an NBC audience. However, it’s more intelligent than much of the network’s fare, and hopefully the horror element will draw Grimm’s fans to it, allowing it time to show us what it can do. DRACULA could be really good. It isn’t quite yet, but it could be, and because of the risks it takes, it’s worth giving a chance to.

DRACULA premieres this Friday at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

2 BROKE GIRLS Cash In on "Cronuts" Fad

Article first published as 2 BROKE GIRLS Cash In on "Cronuts" Fad on TheTVKing.

CBS's 2 Broke Girls is not the highest-brow comedy out there, but it has a certain kind of everyman charm to it. With Kat Denning's mastery of delivering witty dialogue and Beth Behr's amazing physical humor, it's an enjoyable half hour, even when it falls a little short in the originality category. It's rare an episode is particularly special, which means it's hard to figure out which weeks should be reviewed. Having already missed covering the season premiere, I guess the most recent is as good as any.

In keeping with the mass appeal style, it's no surprise that 2 Broke Girls takes advantage of fads, albeit a few months late, given production lag time and summer hiatus. This week's installment, "And the Cronuts," finds Max (Denning) and Caroline (Beth) losing customers to the cronut craze in New York City. They try to figure out exactly what makes the sweet so popular and apply it to their own business.

This begins with them trying to sell cronuts bought on the black market out of their cupcake window, then do a bait-and-switch, unloading cupcakes. As one might expect, the ploy fails, and it's back to the drawing board. Luckily, a new idea combining fries and frosting falls right into their laps, and they're right back in business! Never mind that me and my friends have been dipping french fries in Frostys forever, and this concept is quite similar.

The girls have friends, too. The supporting characters on the show add a few one-liners, but little else. Sophie (Jennifer Coolidge) predictably will eat anything, cronut, cupcake, or cakefry. Oleg (Jonathan Kite) continues to pine over her. Han (Matthew Moy) is trying out a new fad, and everyone else blows him off. Earl (Garrett Morris) is supportive and present.

It's all a little cheesy, but it comes together, only to pretty much reset itself for the following episode. "And the Cronuts" feels like 2 Broke Girls is working off an established formula, filling in the blanks of a set pattern. The series has about five of these standards they rotate through, and rarely do they have an installment that breaks the mold. There is growth and development, but it's very slow, taking months to actually go anywhere. And most the time, threads are started, then quickly dropped without followup, such as Sophie's toe-dip into bisexuality likes is this week.

 The storytelling is lazy (the girls arrive at the bakery door just in time to learn they're sold out) and crass (both gay and black jokes are used with little effect, and a male prostitute somehow misunderstands them enough to almost whip out his junk). But overall, it's a pretty typical episode, not really any better or worse than the rest, which is the usual way this show goes.

Then again, that's not why people watch the 2 Broke Girls. It's all about the chemistry between the two lead actresses, and that is fully intact in "And the Cronuts." Max gets loud and angry, then down on herself. Caroline is overly enthusiastic and willing to go big on any idea. Things rarely pan out for them, but the affection between them is appreciated and real. Behrs and Dennings are obviously having fun, and so by extension, we do, too.

2 Broke Girls airs Mondays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Just Pass Through RAVENSWOOD

Article first published as RAVENSWOOD Review on Seat42F.

NICOLE GALE ANDERSON, TYLER BLACKBURN
This week, ABC Family spins off its popular Pretty Little Liars with RAVENSWOOD. Set in a town with the same name as the show, Caleb Rivers (Tyler Blackburn) from PLL finds his face on a tombstone, as well as that of new friend Miranda Collins (Nicole Gale Anderson, Beauty and the Beast). This convinces him to stick around, at least long enough to get to the bottom of the mystery. That won’t be as easy and as quick as he might hope.

While PLL is a dark mystery teen drama grounded in reality, RAVENSWOOD is a dark mystery teen drama with supernatural elements, combining the elements that made PLL so popular and adding in the kind of stuff that has been hot in the young adult genre for awhile now. Teens like to be scared, and whether RAVENSWOOD just brings in ghosts or goes heavier, that’s definitely the goal.

Everything about the setting is designed to be overtly creepy, with lots of muted and washed out colors, graveyards and overgrown woods. Miranda’s Uncle Raymond (Steven Cabral, Roommate), whom Miranda and Caleb stay with, runs a funeral home, and looks as ghoulish as the bodies he takes care of as he skulks around. His household is maintained by Carla Grunwald (Meg Foster, briefly the Cagney or Cagney & Lacey), who speaks in a strangely quiet voice, purposefully intended to evoke shivers. And, of course, the building has no shower, making for a terrifying tub scene that will please young girls.

Except, it’s not really terrifying. The stakes appear to be low, with early frights being just that – frights. No actual peril or harm happens, even though there is opportunity for such. And throughout the first episode, this repeats many times, little bits of intense drama that add up to nothing.

Now, this is a show for teens, and ABC Family isn’t into lots of murder and gore. But these half-hearted, overly transparent attempts at horror are tame and lame. Given the ending of the episode, it doesn’t look like the network has ordered a series that has to hold back, so it’s a little puzzling why so much of the installment does so.

Speaking of the ending, of which I will spoil nothing, it’s huge and exciting, but not earned. There is too big a contrivance to set up the finale, and the stakes are not well enough established. It seems designed only to titillate viewers who might be considering not watching a second episode, rather than the direction the pilot should have gone in. I could see an episode later in the season ending this way in a satisfying manner, but the first episode jumps the gun in doing this now.

Backing up a bit, RAVENSWOOD seeks to establish a group of main characters to appeal to viewers, trying to cover the bases in putting together a typical ensemble. Caleb is well-known from the mothership, and Miranda’s description in materials as an “unconventional beauty” might be apt, but is definitely an archetype. The other main kids are also more a familiar role in this kind of group than a fully-thought out character, connected, often falsely, into an ensemble.

There’s Remy Beaumont (Britne Oldford, American Horror Story: Asylum), a newsman’s daughter who just happens to have the information Caleb and Miranda need to figure things out, or access to get said information. Her mother is also somehow connected to the larger arcs. Remy is dating Luke Matheson (Brett Dier, The L.A. Complex), whose father is dead. Remy’s father, and much of the town, suspects that Luke’s mother murdered him. Luke also has a sister, Olivia (Merritt Patterson), who is being unseated as the popular girl because of these events.

In RAVENSWOOD, as in many series of this type, the parents can be obstacles from time to time, but the action is centered on what the kids do, and they don’t confide the important stuff to the adults. Instead, they try to handle everything themselves and act grown up, which is far from unique to this series, but is a bit annoying from a believability factor. Especially when the mothers and fathers are actually part of the overall mystery.

RAVENSWOOD is a lot like other shows, in general, with few truly original things springing to mind from the pilot. Toss Sleepy Hollow, Pretty Little Liars, The Secret Circle, The Vampire Diaries, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and others into a blender, and this is what comes out. Unfortunately, it’s so watered down by the familiar that it fails to really stand on its own.

Which will probably not stop the target audience from loving the heck out of it and following it as vehemently as they do PLL. I expect this show will do very well. I just won’t be watching it.

RAVENSWOOD premieres this Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC Family.

ONCE UPON A TIME Not a "Nasty Habit" to Watch

Article first published as ONCE UPON A TIME Recap Season 3 Episode 4 Nasty Habits on Seat42F.

ROSE MCIVER, JENNIFER MORRISON, JOSH DALLAS
This week’s installment of ONCE UPON A TIME is called “Nasty Habits.” The gang on the island continues to search for Henry (Jared Gilmore), but also realizes that they need to figure out an exit strategy before rushing in. Meanwhile, we see a little more of Rumple (Robert Carlyle) and Bae’s (Dylan Schmid) history with Peter Pan (Robbie Kay), while in the present, Neal and Rumple are reunited.

Here, we learn just a smidgen of the childhood connection that Pan and Rumple share. The series had better show some of the stuff Rumple mentions in “Nasty Habits.” Surely their shared origin story is important? Maybe it’s being saved for down the road, to tie the beginning of Pan to the end? That would make sense.

The timeline of ONCE UPON A TIME isn’t always clear. In “Nasty Habits,” Bae is caught by the Pied Piper (wonderfully tied into the Pan mythology), then taken home by Rumple. This must happen before Bae falls through the magic portal, which takes him to the Darlings, and then eventually to Neverland. So did Pan purposely get Bae at the Darling household?

One thing that makes “Nasty Habits” difficult to digest is that Schmid is so obviously older than in past appearances, in which he plays Bae after these events. I understand that child actors age, and telling a non-linear story means these kind of inconsistencies must be overlooked. However, given the huge growth spurt, I wish some special effects had been used to try to even things out. It’s really disconcerting to try to line these events up with the physical age of the actor being so off.

That aside, it’s a really neat story about Rumple and Bae back in the day. We see yet another crack in the wall of their relationship, which will soon collapse. We see Rumple make wrong decisions to run off his son again. Perhaps we’ve already seen enough that this backstory is unnecessary, yet it’s a timely reminder since it matches so well with the present day thread.

It’s very frustrating that adult Bae, now known as Neal (Michael Raymond-James), doesn’t believe Rumple in his nobility. For one thing, during their first encounter, Rumple doesn’t believe Neal is real and reveals his true mission, which is to sacrifice himself for Henry. Neal seems to accept that, but doesn’t think Rumple will maintain that opinion once he gets home to Belle (Emilie de Ravine). Can’t Rumple just point out that he already left Belle to come to Neverland and rescue Henry, thus proving which would win out?

The sad truth is, and I think Rumple realizes that Neal can never trust Rumple, no matter what Rumple says. Neal has been too hurt by his father, betrayed on multiple occasions by his dad’s “Nasty Habits.” Viewers can see that Rumple has changed. We’ve seen his growth and his journey. Neal, on the other hand, hasn’t been around for any of the development, and only has his memories to go on. Those experiences have taught him not to trust Rumple. From Neal’s perspective, he does the right thing.

The one flaw in this is that Neal sets off into the jungle with Henry, leaving Rumple frozen by a spell. We know Neal wants to be a good dad and protect Henry. Leaving Rumple behind is not Henry’s best chance of making it out of Neverland. Is Neal so screwed up by Rumple that he can’t bury their animosity in the name of protecting his son? There would be time to deal with getting away from Rumple later, but Neal needs Rumple now.

Is Neal right about Rumple? The hallucination of Belle finds a less cooperative Rumple after his most recent falling out with his son. Is Neal turning his back on Rumple enough of a reason to make Rumple want to live again? Rumple is willing to die for Henry mainly to honor Neal’s memory. Since Rumple now knows Neal is alive, he will want to repair their bond, which means he may be motivated to put his death on hold. Of course, should Rumple allow Henry to die, it will destroy any hope of a reunion, ever, though Rumple may ignore that, hoping he can still win the long game.

Of course, Pan does retake Henry. The sad thing is, Henry is asleep the whole time he is with Rumple and Neal, and so doesn’t even know he was rescued, however briefly. This is important in Pan’s game of breaking down Henry’s hope and becoming the guy Henry relies on, but it’s also regrettable because that love Henry’s father and grandfather have for him are his biggest defensive weapons, and he misses an opportunity to rearm himself. Instead, Pan begins to win. For now.

The only question I have here is, why does the sleeping spell last longer on Henry than it does on the Lost Boys? Does Pan use his magic to revive his followers?

Oh, and if Henry is the Truest Believer, as we’ve seen him be and as Pan thinks he is, why does Henry give up on his family so easily? Henry isn’t perfect, of course, and no one is saying he wouldn’t eventually be swayed. It just seems a little too quick and a little too neat for Pan to gain this foothold this quickly.

There is some really great stuff in “Nasty Habits” in which Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) laments that she doesn’t know how to be a mother to Emma (Jennifer Morrison). This is interesting because thus far the focus has just been on how they can relate to one another. Now we see some practical implications of the lost years between parent and child, as Snow never got to figure out the things a mom discovers while raising a kid. In this, Snow is still a newbie.

As Charming (Josh Dallas) tries to comfort Snow, a startling turn sends him reeling. Snow admits to understanding Emma’s pain over losing Neal (they don’t know he’s alive) because she couldn’t go on without Charming. It is plain during Charming and Hook’s (Colin O’Donoghue) earlier conversation about Charming’s slowly-happening-death that Charming assumes Snow will be fine. Now, he looks at her differently. One has to wonder if this will shake Charming and make him play his hand in another way. He isn’t going to want to leave Snow lost; that would go against his hero grain.

With all of this wonderful character development, “Nasty Habits” is definitely a great installment. The game Pan is playing doesn’t really move forward, and the good guys are stalled in their progress, yet it’s how they face these setbacks and troubles that prove who they really are. It’s a wonderful episode for many players.

Next week: the origin of Captain Hook!

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

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Infected" By THE WALKING DEAD

Article first published as THE WALKING DEAD Recap Season 4 Episode 2 Infected on Seat42F.

The Walking Dead 4x02 3
The people who make AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD have promised an intense fall run. This week’s episode, only the second in this batch, lives up to that promise. “Infected” finds a disease spreading through the prison, resulting in a high body count. This also makes Rick (Andrew Lincoln) re-evaluate his new peaceful lifestyle.

As season four begins, Rick has stepped away from a leadership role and put away his gun, making his son, Carl (Chandler Riggs) do the same. This makes sense for his character, having sacrificed and lost a lot. He sees his son Carl going down a dark, violent path, and doesn’t want that for his family. Rick leads by example, putting his job as a father ahead of his commitment to the group.

Daryl (Norman Reedus) tells Rick he deserves the break, and leaves the door open for his return to power. Carl, too, thinks Rick can take the top spot back any time he wants it, but doesn’t begrudge his father the decision, and obeys as a good son would. I do think this development has been beneficial for Rick and Carl, even if it is only temporary, as we’ve seen Carl soften again.

“Infected” forces Rick to shift back, though. Suddenly, there are walker attacks within the walls of the prison. He may be able to ignore what’s going on outside of the gate, playing the farmer, but he can’t turn his back on something happening right here. He has to protect himself and Carl, and that means not being the pacifist any longer. This is why Rick and Carl rearm at the end of the hour, and why we see Rick step back into an active part in the larger group.

Carol (Melissa McBride) faces the same thing in deciding whether to teach the children at the prison how to defend themselves. She does so without informing their parents, which will surely be polarizing when they find out. Yet, she has a good point, that she’s worried the parents will not agree to the instruction, and when anyone can be attacked at any time, regardless of age, even the young children must be able to wield a knife.

“Infection” illustrates exactly why Carol is in the right, as Patrick (Vincent Martella) eats and turns much of Cellblock D over night (they must be really heavy sleepers, huh?). About a third of the prison group dies in this outbreak, and children and adults are equally vulnerable.

One of the victims is the father of Mika (Kyla Kenedy) and Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino). Carol at first offers to end their dad for them, but when one volunteers, Carol is disappointed when she won’t go through with it, calling the girl weak. This is more controversial than the knife lessons themselves, especially as Carol will now be acting mother to the sisters.

On one hand, it makes one squirm to see Carol coming down hard on a little girl who can’t bring herself to stick a knife in her beloved father’s head. This is something no child should ever have to do, and even though we see Carl shoot his mom last season, and it’s not something just anyone could do, and Carl is messed up by the event. On the other hand, Carol is right, hesitating could mean the different between life and death. If Carol wasn’t there to finish the task, the girls could be dead.

This is the world in which THE WALKING DEAD takes place. It’s a whole new kind of morality, with values shifting to be realistic to the times. Children do not get the luxury of being kids, forced to emotionally grow up very fast, whether they are ready to or not. This will produce some psychopaths, like Carl was on the way to becoming before Rick pulled him back, and some tough heroes, who are prepared to do what’s necessary to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, like Rick is. The line between hero and psycho is disturbingly thin, and being a parent is harder than ever.

Is this why THE WALKING DEAD scores the huge viewership it does? Because, even though it makes us uncomfortable at times, it also shows us something no other series is willing to? It’s a gritty reality in a terrible world, pushing humans into situations many alive today will thankfully never experience. It’s gripping storytelling at its best.

The question is, what will the effects of the “Infection” be? With people dying left and right, and a zombie horde pushing down the fences (thanks in part to someone feeding them rats), there is danger on all sides. Not to mention, the Governor is still lurking out there somewhere. The prison seems like a stable, secure place last week, but this episode reveals it is just a fragile as any other environment. It may soon be time to move on.

Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) will probably be ready to leave the cells behind. His love, Karen (Melissa Ponzio), is one of those that falls ill, and then is burned. We don’t see whether she is a walker before being turned to ash, but one assumes so. If not, this could open the door to even more questions about how far one should go to pre-emptively protect the population. Also, I suspect Tyreese’s sister may be to blame, which could definitely strain the sibling bond.

Lastly, Michonne (Danai Gurira) gets nervous around baby Judith, not wanting to touch her, and wincing at her cries. THE WALKING DEAD isn’t big about showing flashbacks, so we may never know for sure the total reason why Michonne wants to avoid infants, especially as she gets along fine with older children like Carl. Yet, I like that the series lets us make our own assumptions, rather than spelling everything out. It may just be enough to know that there’s something there, and to watch her become less damaged.

“Infection” is a scary, intense episode, with some very questionable moments, which is good thing. When a show gives you intelligent plots and characters, who are layered with actions that may be disagreeable, but make sense, it provides plenty of fodder to debate afterward. It’s the modern-day equivalent of a water-cooler show, made to the highest storytelling specifications.

THE WALKING DEAD airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

Happy BIRTHDAY BOYS!

Article first published as Happy BIRTHDAY BOYS! at TheTVKing.com

IFC's new sketch comedy series is The Birthday Boys. The titular troop is made up of seven guys, Jefferson Dutton, David Ferguson, Mike Hanford, Tim Kalpakis, Matt Kowalick, Mike Mitchell, and Chris VanArtsdalen, several of whom have worked on the network's Comedy Bang! Bang!, but none are familiar faces nor household names. With producer Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad), who also appears on screen, each half-hour episode presents several bits.

The Birthday Boys feels fresh. That's hard to do for a sketch comedy series. Saturday Night Live has been on so long that it often feels stale, and aside from an occasional, narrow-subject piece like Portlandia, most of the shows in this genre are short-lived and don't reach wide ranges of viewers. Yet, there's something here that is clever and original, at least in this week's pilot, entitled "Paychecks!"

The main recurring sketch in "Paychecks!" is a play on the origin of Apple computers and other tech, with a focus on building the garage they worked in over the technology itself. It's an unexpected spin that works very well, committed to in a much longer segment than I would have assumed it would earn, but never losing steam. Why do all computer geniuses of that era seem to work in a place normally reserved for parking cars? It's funny.

A second bit, which pops up a couple of times, involves a Christian take on pranks, frying eggs instead of smashing them on houses, and leaving flaming birthday candles on a delicious cake on a neighbor's doorstep. Perhaps this is a little mean against the religious, and admittedly such a group is an easy target, but the style, which is reminiscent of Jackass, is really cool.

A third scene, bizarre in nature, follows a remote controlled car that can take them to a fantasy land, but must use regular roads. The visuals of the toy on a highway admid actual vehicles is hilarious, making the sort-of-thin, Mr. Rogers-esque premise, more than it could be.

There's also a hostage stand-off that takes a typical situation, and skews it in a brilliant way.

That's why The Birthday Boys works, the same reason so much other comedy does: is taps into something familiar, and forces a new perspective. The formula is simple enough, but oh so hard to execute in a consistently pleasing manner. "Paychecks!" does so, and while it's far too early to see if the troupe has staying power, early signs are good. Plus, it's unpolished enough to be different than most of its peers, in a good way.

None of the players themselves particularly stand out in this episode. One assumes that will change as more and more episodes unfold. However, it's also not necessary, the concepts working on their own, without the need for star power to push them along. Yes, Odenkirk is famous enough, but he definitely takes a backseat to the seven guys, used in an effective way, but not in one that distracts from the material.

In short, I like The Birthday Boys, and you should show up to the party, too, Fridays at 10:30 p.m. ET on IFC.