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Saturday, November 30, 2013

We "Wanted" More NIKITA, and We Got It

Article first published as We "Wanted" More NIKITA, and We Got It on TheTVKing.

The CW's Nikita has had a very exciting, albeit brief, run. It all culminates in these final six episodes, which kicked off this week in "Wanted." It's been one hundred days since Nikita (Maggie Q) was framed for killing President Kathleen Spencer (Michelle Nolden), and one hundred days since she abandoned her friends and went on the run. But they haven't forgotten about her, and when Nikita's efforts to sneak back into the U.S. are exposed, they rush to her aide.

For the titular character, the major arc of the show has always been about accepting others' help. She's a lone wolf, and that served her well for quite a while. Yet, somehow, by accident, she built a family that cares for her. It's because she's a hero who cares and inspires others. She just has trouble adjusting to those emotions being reflected back at her, especially when personal danger is afoot.

"Wanted" is an action-packed thrill ride that spends as much time exploring this aspect of Nikita as it does keeping us on the edge of our seats. Nikita's interactions with others go hand-in-hand to how she might be able to clear her name and save the day. She must rely on their help if she wants to get through this. They are one tool she has not been willing to use.

Will this change? It has to, right? I mean, Michael (Shane West) has every reason in the world to be upset, Nikita having left their engagement ring when she fled, and yet he comes to her aide. If he can forgive her and move past her abandonment, anyone can. And when Nikita sees that, hopefully it will allow her to open up a little more, since she truly does love Michael.

Nikita's arc in "Wanted," which finds her making contact with a reporter named Dale Gordon (Todd Grinnell, Desperate Housewives, Hollywoodland), who is building a name for himself on her story, feels quite familiar, like classic Nikita. She frequently encounters those who need her help and Dale is no different, as working with Nikita could lead to his dreams being realized. What's surprising is how it ends and how quickly it ends, telling viewers right away that these last installments will be fast-paced and surprising.

Along those lines, it seems easy enough to figure out FBI agent Matthew Graham (Alex Carter, CSI, Burn Notice), until a twist late in the hour changes perspective on him. He may end up still being a good guy, blackmailed by Amanda (Melinda Clarke) like so many others, but it doesn't change the fact that his actions in "Wanted" will be unforgivable. Yet, he's small potatoes and likely to remain that way because the ultimate bad guy has to be Amanda, a conflict that has been building for a long time.

The death of Gordon and the revelation of Graham as a villain immediately takes away the predictable arc for the finale. One can be forgiven for assuming the two of them, somewhat familiar faces to TV audiences, will be major players this year until, at the end of the episode, that's no longer the case. This leaves Nikita with no ground to stand on, and raises the stakes even more for the fugitive.

The one hope Nikita still has is that President Spencer is alive. Nikita doesn't know this yet, but if she can find the POTUS, obviously that will forever save her face and reputation, as well as allow her to stop being on the run.

One scene I particularly enjoyed because it highlighted the character of Nikita so well was when the local cops try to arrest her against federal orders. Two idiots think they can handle someone as notorious as Nikita, hoping to claim glory for themselves, and get taken down for their hubris. Even with guns pointed at her, Nikita easily handles the officers without hurting them. She's that cool.

"Wanted" makes time to give other characters story, too. Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) and Sonya (Lyndie Greenwood) have their own mission to take down Amanda by way of a human trafficking network. Birkhoff (Aaron Stanford) has a cool new plane with awesome tech. Ryan (Noah Bean) is hard at work on conspiracy theories that just may be proven true. And Owen (Devon Sawa) is still Sam, his evil alter ego, presumably in Amanda's employ. This means the last tales won't be confined just to Nikita herself.

That's fitting because Nikita, despite its singular title, has always been an ensemble series. To let an hour-long show grow and breathe over several American-broadcast-network-length seasons, there has to be more than just one person at the center. The only shows that make single-character premises work are formulaic procedurals, and that would not describe Nikita at all, thank goodness. Thus, while Nikita may be the most important person in the end, fans who love everyone else should be satisfied by "Wanted," too.

In all, "Wanted" makes a heck of a great season opener, actually feeling like the start of a miniseries (to its credit), and really builds anticipation for what is to come. Nikita airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on the CW.

Friday, November 29, 2013

COVERT AFFAIRS Fools the World

Article first published as COVERT AFFAIRS Fools the World on TheTVKing.

USA's Covert Affairs recently ended its fourth season. This year has been one of big change and high stakes, climaxing in a very important showdown. The finale, "Trompe Le Monde," which roughly translates as "fool the world," is a satisfying conclusion to that story, ending a major chapter for the series.

Annie (Piper Perabo) underwent much growth in seasons one through three, and she needed all of that development in order to be prepared for her ultimate mission in year four. Trapped in China, Annie is captured by Henry Wilcox (Gregory Itzin), who sells her to the Chinese in exchange for his own escape. But it isn't long before Annie breaks loose and heads after Henry, solo, with little support.

This is a huge test for Annie. In a foreign country with no easy exit route, she's cut off from not only her loved ones, but the help the CIA can usually provide. She does this for an extended period of time, letting the world think she is dead. Not many people have the emotional strength or the intellectual cunning to stay isolated and carry through a complex, long-running feat as Annie does.

The final scene between Annie and Henry is intense! Both the actors involved give amazing performances. They really do seem like great enemies, even as Henry doesn't really hate Annie, at least not fully. There's a real spark between them, not at all romantic in nature, but still a compelling chemistry. Very well done.

The China trip has taken its toll. Even as Annie shoots Henry dead, there is no look of relief or satisfaction on her face. She takes no pleasure in killing, even someone who deserves it as much as Henry. Instead, she appears exhausted, ready to rest. She's certainly earned a break, and after Auggie (Christopher Gorham), who never abandoned her, secures her passage, she sets off for home.

Which begs the question, what is next for Annie? By the end of "Trompe Le Monde," as every viewer knew would be the case, Annie makes it away from Asia, her goal accomplished. After such a trying journey, she can't possibly be expected to jump right back in at work, nor will she collapse into Auggie's arms, even if he did prove his love and worth. She needs time to recuperate.

Even after the healing takes effect, which will likely occur between seasons, one wonders what Annie might have to face. It's hard to imagine a more exciting, nail-biting arc than this one, and having gone so big, Covert Affairs has no choice but to reign it in a little. Perhaps there might be some lighter, fun installments to give everyone a chance to take a breath before launching into another epic tale?

Annie isn't the only one whose story is depressing in "Trompe Le Monde." One CIA leader, Braithwaite (Craig Eldridge), hangs himself in his office when he realizes he made a big mistake. While Covert Affairs does not shy away from action and death, it's still startling to see something happen in the government offices that is so tragic and depressing. Whether you cared about the character or not, and most won't, as even though he appeared in twelve episodes, he wasn't a big player, the sight of the dangling legs is still an effective picture.

In the short-term, there is much to be worked out at the CIA, besides removing bodies. Presumably Henry's misdeeds will now be brought to light, which should reset a few things, clearing the name of good people who didn't deserve to be punished. Arthur (Peter Gallagher) may have the opportunity to go back to work. Joan (Kari Matchett) has a baby to tend to, but also possibly an office to re-occupy. That is, if Calder (Hill Harper) steps back, which he seems willing to do, but politics could conspire against him.

It's likely Covert Affairs will work these machinations into the story, while still keeping the focus on Annie. This would be nice, as sometimes the supporting characters don't get enough story; Joan and Peter were barely in "Trompe Le Monde." If Annie can be involved in this game of musical chairs, it might be a fresh direction to go in, at least for a few episodes.

Covert Affairs will return to USA in 2014.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

FAMILY GUYS Brings to a Close the "Life of Brian"

Article first published as FAMILY GUYS Brings to a Close the "Life of Brian" on TheTVKing.

FOX's Family Guy is a little less stagnant than most animated comedies. Peter (Seth MacFarlane) has changed professions a couple of times, and that's stayed consistent in the continuity. Cleveland (Mike Henry) moved away and left the show. But never before, that I can think of, has a primetime animated series killed off one of its core family members.

Family Guy broke that rule in this week's "Life of Brian." Stewie (MacFarlane) decides to destroy his time machine after yet another zany adventure with Brian (also MacFarlane) that screws up history. Then, Brian is promptly hit by a car and dies. With the machine destroyed, there is no way to bring him back and save his life. Thus, Brian is killed in a very permanent way.

OK, Family Guy has killed off people before. Stewie himself ended one week last spring dead. But in the following episode, he returned as if nothing happened. When Brian dies, it feels like the end.

It's strange to think of Brian being gone. He is so central to the story, and has a place both as Peter's buddy and Stewie's best friend. So many great Family Guy episodes are entirely dependent upon Brian, and after ten years, he's still many fans' favorite person on the show. While a dog's life is often finite in reality, in cartoons, where a baby stays a baby, a canine could live on forever. But sadly Brian will not.

"Life of Brian" handles the death with fewer jokes and a LOT more tears than normal. We see the Griffins all very sad, having a family hug. They hold a funeral, to which many neighbors and acquaintances show up. Gags are slipped into these proceedings, but they tend to be small and not distract too much from the tragedy. This is probably the most somber episode of Family Guy that will ever be made.

It's also extremely well written. Care is taken to plan for all arguments against killing Brian or why it has to be this way. Brian has a couple of scenes that really highlight who he is prior to his death. Everything feels well put together, with a defined emotional arc.

It isn't too long (about a month) before the Griffins decide to get a new dog. The series always walks that very thin line between treating Brian as a human or portraying him as a pet, and this serves the latter, while most of the half hour does the former. At the pet store, they meet Vinnie (Tony Sirico, The Sopranos), an Italian pussy hound who is 1/16th cat. All soon accept him as one of their own.

Except for Stewie, that is, which makes sense. Even while Brian bonded with the other family members, he and Stewie always shared a special relationship. In fact, Vinnie finds Stewie crying outside late in the episode, after everyone else has moved on, and there's a real moment between the two of them, Vinnie telling Stewie of his own loss of a close pal, grief being the one way they can connect. This honors Brian's memory as well as anyone can expect.

Will Vinnie and Stewie be besties in time? I don't know. It seems likely the writers will play with the two as a pair, just given the chemistries already established. But it is sure to be different, Vinnie and Brian having very disparate personalities. Thankfully, Brian and Stewie have that last little time travel mission early in the episode to send off Brian right. I don't know if Vinnie can ever take that spot as effectively.

Adding Vinnie will likely breathe new life into a stale show. Already, it's clear he's not a desperate attempt to save things, but rather, a natural way to grow the characters and the dynamics. He's got layers and is multi-faceted, which I'm sure we'll learn more about in subsequent episodes. I'm intrigued by him, as he fills a role that no one else has.

And if Family Guy bends over backwards to resurrect Brian, I won't complain too much. As long as they keep Vinnie around, as well.

Family Guy airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.

No "Dead Weight" in THE WALKING DEAD

Article first published as THE WALKING DEAD Review Season 4 Episode 7 Dead Weight on Seat42F.

The Walking Dead 04x07 15
“Dead Weight,” the lastest episode of AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD, once more changes all the rules. As it begins, Brian, a.k.a. the man formerly known as The Governor (David Morrissey), is accepted into a new camp. He tries to make a go of things as a contributor who does not seek power or control. But when it becomes apparent that the leadership of this group is unstable and Brian’s new family is threatened, he allows himself to once more be a survivor.

At first, it appears there could be peace and balance in this group. Brian just wants to make sure Lilly (Audrey Marie Anderson) and Meghan (Meyrick Murphy) are safe, and he’s fine with falling in line behind Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo) if Martinez can do the job. It’s not an ideal life, with a leaky trailer, but for now, Lilly is happy and Brian can stand it.

But Martinez asks for more. First, he takes Brian with him out on raids. Then he makes him part of his circle of advisors. Then he tells Brian they should share power. This makes sense to Martinez, who abandons The Governor when he lost focus and became a bit crazy, but who respects what The Governor built in Woodbury. Assuming that Brian has the talents of The Governor, but has found a way to get right in the head again, of course Martinez wants to make use of that skill set.

This is something that cannot stand for Brian, who whacks Martinez in the head with a golf club and feeds him to a pit of Walkers. There can definitely be some debate about why Brian does this. Is he just avoiding the power that he found so addictive and corrupting, and knows Martinez, who places emphasis on contribution, won’t leave him be? Does he give in to a fit of rage when he considers Martinez’s offer and thinks about what that might lead to? Or does Brian consider Martinez stupid and unworthy of leadership because he trusts someone who did not do right by the last settlement?

Either way, Martinez is dead, and that leaves a power vacuum. There are two obvious contenders to replace Martinez, not counting Brian, who doesn’t admit to the killing or immediately step forward. Pete (Enver Gjokaj, Dollhouse) is levelheaded and compassionate, refusing to rob another camp of their supplies. His brother, Mitch (Kirk Acevedo, Fringe), it a hothead, who thinks they should take what they can, anyone else be damned. Neither is a great pick.

Brian’s first solution to resolving this mess is, surprisingly, to run. He packs up Meghan, Lilly, her sister Tara (Alanna Masterson), and Tara’s new girlfriend, Alisha (Juliana Harkavy, Dolphin Tale), into a truck and tries to run. The way out is blocked by a mud trap full of Walkers, and so they are forced to turn around and go back.

I think Brian’s decision to flee is actually a testament to just how much he wants to be a different man. He could easily wrest control of these people himself and put down the threat, but instead, he decides to go away. He desperately wants to protect these women and not repeat Woodbury if he can avoid it.

Now, yes, Brian could try to escape harder. He might have found an alternate route or another opportunity. He does give up before the end of “Dead Weight,” so doesn’t have full commitment to this course of action. But part of this could be that the girls don’t support escaping, believing things safe. And part of it could also be that once Meghan is attacked by a Walker in the camp, Brian decides he cannot wait any longer to take action, and so chooses the quickest resolution.

This is a return of The Governor. He’s cold again, and murderous. He stabs Pete and puts him in a lake where The Governor can visit him, a la the fish tanks from Woodbury. The Governor threatens Mitch and gets him in line, his new attack dog, like Martinez used to be. And he starts thinking of ways to bring the group together to ensure their survival, knowing that a few trailers and some barbed wire just will not do. After all, he’s got some recent examples to prove this, seeing two other settlements slaughtered earlier in the installment.

Again, The Governor thinks of a swift way to meet this goal. Woodbury is destroyed, and so he sets his sights (or sight, since he has only on eye?) on the prison where Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the others live. This allows him to simultaneously work towards two goals. One, if he succeeds, he’ll have a new environment that has proven a safe haven over quite a period of time from the Walkers and other marauding gangs. Two, he will finally get his revenge on those that wronged him, which he clearly still craves, unable to resist pointing his gun at a distant Michonne (Danai Gurira).

Can he succeed? He’s very good at persuasion, so I have no doubt that he can talk his new “friends” into following him. Mitch, Tara, Alisha, and others in the new group have military training. They also have a tank. These are important tools to lay siege to an entrenched enemy, and it gives them a chance. Should things roughly follow the comic book (which actually found Woodbury residents attacking the prison, not these other people), The Governor will fail and all of his followers will die in the process, taking many of Rick’s people with them. This could be a heck of an action-packed, exciting finale.

The one thing to consider, though, is that The Governor does have two people he cares about and wants to protect. Is he willing to go in guns blazing with Lilly and Meghan’s lives on the line? Will he try to leave them somewhere safe, and sacrifice someone who could be a good soldier to watch over them? Or will his rage and the necessity of being in command override those protectionist instincts, and he’ll think about them again only after he has the prison?

“Dead Weight” is a great, solid episode, and definitely negating many of the musings I put forth in last week’s review. Somehow, the writers keep finding unexpected ways to take the story in that feel authentic to the characters and tell one heck of a tale. Whatever they have planned for next week, I’m sure it’ll be amazing.

THE WALKING DEAD completes its fall run next Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Got to be GETTING ON

Article first published as GETTING ON Review on Seat42F.

Getting On HBO
HBO’s GETTING ON, premiering this week, is a very dark comedy. So dark you might not realize you’re supposed to be laughing until late in the episode. Based on the British series of the same name, and running only six episodes (at least for now), it follows the doctors and nurses in the elderly care wing of a hospital that’s having hard times. Their jobs suck, they are forced to do things they don’t like, and they are neither the brightest nor the most compassionate people in the industry, jaded and exhausted.

This actually gives it a feel of realism. We’re used to our doctors being beautiful and energetic and our nurses being sexy and sassy on the small screen. GETTING ON actually downplays the looks of its cast. Not that anyone on the series is ugly at all, but they come across as regular people, concerned with real things. This label applies to both the hospital’s staff and its patients, though the former get much more of the focus.

As the pilot, “Born On the Fourth of July,” begins, it’s Independence Day and Doctor Jenna James (Laurie Metcalf, The Big Bang Theory, Roseanne) is stuck running the wing again. She doesn’t consider this duty part of her “real” job, but it’s been three months since the department lost its overseer, and she’s frequently been forced to pull shifts here.

Also working the floor are Nurse Dawn (Alex Borstein, Family Guy), a by-the-book suck-up and coward, new staff member Nurse DiDi (Niecy Nash, Reno 911!), who is caring and has sense, and Beverly (Telma Hopkins, Family Matters), who does not get along well with Jenna at all. By the end of the day, this beleaguered crew of four will be down to three, though that is just as depressing as everything else going on.

Yet, as sad as the lives presented are, there is something humorous behind the events of “Born On the Fourth of July.” It may be misunderstandings, or debates over meaningless things, or the way you just know things are going to get worse before they get better, but there’s a constant flow of energy that will amuse.

I credit this to the performers. Sure, the writing has to be excellent to make this all come together right, but if the actresses were dropping the ball even a little, or not so darned talented at punching up small things in sly ways, it also wouldn’t flow. A look or a mannerism has as much to do with the humor of GETTING ON as a line of dialogue does.

Not that GETTING ON is terribly complex. One might read much into it and come up with an in-depth explanation, but the surface is enough because it’s a layered, nuanced surface. The characters are weird, but familiar. It’s very accessible, and while not everyone will laugh out loud while watching it, most people should find something to connect to.

There are some poop jokes at the very beginning, if you’re into that sort of thing, which I’m not. But thankfully, the rest of the comedy tends to skew a bit smarter, including the continuing use of the fecal situation for comic effect, which goes on for quite some time, but develops in more interesting ways than first expected.

Honestly, I find it hard to pinpoint exactly what the best elements of “Born On the Fourth of July” are. But I know I liked it, and I know I want to watch more. And I also smell some Emmy bait in a short-season dramedy sure to set itself apart from the competition and showcase the amazing skills of some wonderful ladies.

GETTING ON premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.

More DOCTOR WHO Fun With THE FIVE(ISH) DOCTORS REBOOT

Article first published as TV Review: 'The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot' on Blogcritics.

5DsAmid all the 50th anniversary Doctor Who hoopla this weekend, there was released a half-hour production that got much less attention than other most other events. It didn’t even make it on air in the United States. For any fans of the classic show, or the genre of comedy in general, The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot is must-see.

Written and directed by Peter Davison, The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot finds Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy anxiously awaiting news about whether they will be included in The Day of the Doctor. Months pass and the phone doesn’t ring. The BBC offices and Steven Moffat begin avoiding their calls.

These are sad, old men, past their prime, and wanted by no one, including their families. They are obsessed with their glory days, unable to let that defining role of Doctor Who go, and desperate for attention that doesn’t come.

This may sound depressing, but it’s not because the half hour is absolutely hysterical. It’s pretty apparent that this is a campy romp, not a biographical story. The actors are game to make fun of themselves in a public forum, and these parts really work because they cut close enough to home to be relatable. Like Matt LeBlanc in Episodes are James Van Der Beek in Don’t Trust The B—- in Apartment 23, the characters are almost parodies of themselves, not their actual personalities.

We know this because of how pathetic they become. No self-respecting men of notoriety would hold picket signs championing themselves, all alone, in front of a TV studio. Or bum a ride from John Barrowman, who forces them to listen to his singing. Or lock their wife and daughters into their house in order to relive old episodes. Or constantly remind everyone that they are in The Hobbit. Or steal Dalek costumes in the hope they can sneak on set and make it on screen. Or call one’s daughter, Georgia Moffett, in the hospital room where she is giving birth and ask a favor of her husband, David Tennant. It’s absurd, in the best of ways.

Other familiar faces, including Russell T. Davies, Paul McGann, Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman, Peter Jackson, Olivia Colman, and Ian McKellen gamely participate, each poking fun at themselves as much as at the old men. If you’re eagled-eyed, you might spy offspring of two of the older, departed Doctors, really making this a full tribute, with more of the cast returning than in the official episode. Each of these are wonderful scenes, a nod to all the Doctor Who fans watching. But the stars of the show was Davison, Baker, and McCoy, and they are spectacular to watch, even without the slew of terrific cameos.

In the end, the guys get their wish. I wouldn’t reveal the exact circumstances, but there is a sweet twist which proves once and for all that they were able to gain access to the set, and surely are not loathed by the production staff. This capper is necessary because, even though I enjoy watching them bumble and suffer, the tone is a light one, and no one wants to see these guys we love fail. It just wouldn’t be right.

Perhaps The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot is not an official part of the anniversary, and maybe it won’t be remembered as fondly as the actual special. But it’s not something I’m likely to forget, and by posting it on the BBC’s website, the network seems to give it their blessing. I definitely recommend checking it out here. (this link will only work for a limited time)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

2013 ‘Doctor Who’ Gift Guide

Article first published as 2013 ‘Doctor Who’ Gift Guide on Blogcritics.

With the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who here, you know there are plenty of great new products on the market, just in time for Christmas. This guide is meant to highlight some of the coolest things recently released, though is not a complete, exhaustive list.


D1Doctor Who: The Complete Series 1-7 Limited Edition Blu-ray Gift Set

This is very similar to last year’s gift set, in that it also includes art cards, a sonic screwdriver toy, and comic book, as well as every episode to date. Obviously, there are more episodes this year than last, so there are more discs in this set. But like the previous release, if you’ve missed any bit of Doctor Who since the 2005 reboot, this is recommended to catch you up.

The big advantage in this new release is that everything is in Blu-ray! Previously, the older seasons were only DVD quality, with the last couple of years in HD. Now, it’s all been remastered, from Christopher Eccleston’s run, including all of David Tennant’s time, and ending in the Matt Smith era. This is a definitive set, and it’s never looked better!

But as with last year’s recommendation, if you already own many of these episodes, you may want to look for individual seasons, rather than drop the large amount of cash on this huge box.


D2The Eleven Doctors Micro-Figure Set

While Doctor Who characters are available in full-size action figures, there’s something cute and charming about seeing them in miniature. This Character Building set (similar to LEGO) has all eleven of the titular men, with display basis and sonic screwdrivers (when applicable). If you don’t want to take them out of the box, they are displayed in a beautiful TARDIS case with clear plastic protecting them. But if you’re a big fan, why not pop them out and have an adventure on the play sets that are sold separately?

Some may already have purchased the eleven figure set prior to this holiday season, but this one is new. The TARDIS box is stone-colored, rather than blue, and several (though not all) of the Doctors have different outfits. It’s a little disappointing that only about a third of the figures have been redesigned, but  the new looks are pretty neat.


Titan Vinyl Tenth Doctor Set

There are twelve characters in the Series Two vinyl figure set. Vinyls are also mini-figures, but much more rounded than the Character Building style, allowing for more shaped detail. You can collect Daleks, a Sontaran, a Clockwork Robot, Cyber Leader, Davros, and more. These are pretty cool.

The drawback is that the vinyl figures are all in blind packaging. What this means is that you don’t know which one you’re going to get. At around $10 a pop, it’s quite disappointing to open a box and find one you already have. Sadly, there is no way to avoid this, with some figures much more common than others.


D3Doctor Who Ornaments

Last year, a yellow Dalek was released, and it was very nice. This year, though, we’ve been spoiled, with a number of different ornaments to choose form. You can get Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor and his Sonic Screwdriver. Or, if the monsters are more your thing, check out the Cyberman head, done in the modern style.

My favorite, though, is a handcrafted orb that bears the likeness of all eleven of the Doctors. There’s something to be said for being able to look at the whole line up (thus far), and I appreciate the design.



TARDIS Night Light

For anyone that likes night lights, this one comes highly recommended. The TARDIS lights up from within, perhaps even giving a little peace of mind to children who worry the monsters from the show might visit them in their sleep. At least with this light, the Doctor is watching over them.


D5Doctor Who Clothing

There are quite a few clothing items, several featuring a TARDIS design (such as an apron and a dress), but the best, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, is the TARDIS Hoodie. It’s a comfortable design, and you won’t be embarrassed to be seen by your friends in one as you might in say, an adult size one-piece pajama set with hood (though I’m sure it’s quite warm and snug, and perfectly fine to wear when no one else is around).

A Dalek beanie hat is great if you’re looking for a smaller ite. I dare you not to intone “Exterminate!” while wearing one!

Other highlights include an exploding TARDIS pencil skirt (the Van Gough style), All Doctors Tee, which features just the silhouettes of the eleven, and knee-high TARDIS socks.


D4Dalek Mr. Potato Head

This officially license Mr. Potato Head variant is a real “Extermi-tator” (I stole the pun from the press materials). It’s the familiar spud you expect with a base, helmet, and components to make it one of Doctor Who‘s most terrifying villains. You can choose to go authentic Dalek or add cartoonish eyes for an amusing effect. Like most character-designed Mr. Potato Heads, it doesn’t come with lots of interchangeable pieces, but it is pretty cool to see.


There are quite a few other items this year, as well, including TARDIS slippers, a TARDIS snow globe, a Cyberman bust and more! If you can’t find something in any price range and style for the Who fan you’re buying for, you’re just not looking. It’s a fantastic line up.

DOCTOR WHO Celebrates "The Day of the Doctor"

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

This Saturday, simulcast in dozens of countries, the BBC’s Doctor Who celebrated 50 years with a special, extra-long episode, “The Day of the Doctor” (also screened at movie theaters around North America in 3D Monday night). The 90-minute feature follows three Doctor incarnations, all on their own missions until circumstances find them meeting and teaming up to stop, not just a couple of immediate alien threats in different time periods, but also a pair of tragic genocides that haunt the titular character to this day.

DW2As “The Day of the Doctor” starts, we are introduced (or re-introduced) to the three Doctors. The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) is fending off the advances of his would-be wife, Queen Elizabeth I (Joanna Page, Gavin & Stacey). The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) is called to London by UNIT to investigate destruction in a secret gallery. And The War Doctor (John Hurt, Merlin, Alien) is facing the moment he will destroy both his greatest enemy, the Daleks, and his own people, the Time Lords, during the war at Gallifrey.

While all of these unfold, it gets a little frustrating. Last spring’s season finale left us waiting for a major event, and instead, we get what appear to be stand-alone tales, especially where the Tenth Doctor is concerned, whose plot seems very fluffy, rather than epic, at the start.

But then it all comes together. The Zygons are attacking Earth in both 1562 and in 2013. They must be stopped. While it would not actually take all three Doctors, plus Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), the current Doctor’s companion (neither The Tenth nor the War Doctor are traveling with companions at the time of the story), it’s OK that they are pulled together because it provides a nice bit of fun interaction, which then becomes a lot of zany criss-crossing between the eras and locations.

However, The War Doctor brings a much more serious, and at the same time, more personal decision into the mix. Should he massacre two races of people to save the universe? While he wrestles with the decision, he allows himself to be distracted, then seeks counsel from those who live with his choice.

The War Doctor is a new version of the character, only recently introduced, who is quite interesting. In the online prequel to this episode, we see the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) trying to stay out of the war, but realizing he can avoid it no longer. The Doctor is a very peaceful being who only uses violence when necessary and never kills anyone. Though we are told throughout the past eight years that The Doctor did something very, very bad when pushed to the brink, it’s hard to imagine under which circumstances he would do this. “The Day of the Doctor” gives us a small glimpse of what leads up to it, and a longer look at how he wrestles with the decision.

DW3Despite how bad The Doctor feels, haunted by that day, both The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors agree that it was the only choice to make, and are willing to help him make it again, all placing their hands on the button. It’s one thing to have a guy we are just introduced to kill all the innocents; it’s quite another to have two long-running, beloved characters do the same, which lends serious gravity to the situation.

In true Doctor Who fashion, a solution is found, and all thirteen of the Doctors incarnations thus far, including one who will not take over the TARDIS until the Christmas special this year, combine forces and manage to save Gallifrey. This removes one of the worst things The Doctor has ever done, though he still (sort-of) kills all the Daleks, who, to be fair, are evil.

Most of The Doctors are shown through archival footage, well edited into the new film. This sparks musings of what Doctor Who could do in the future, perhaps editing more of the older actors into fresh material as the technology continues to improve, further making it seem like one big adventure of a single character. The Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi), or Thirteenth if we’re counting The War Doctor now, only gets an extreme closeup, providing no clues to what he or his TARDIS will be like when he leads the show next year.

Is it right to reset history in this manner? Presumably, none of The Doctors will remember these events, and so the more recent ones will still have that painful memory that shaped them into something a bit different from the earlier generations. Plus, now we have future story set up for other Doctors to discover: Gallifrey still exists and can be brought back. Gallifrey should be kinder to the outcast this time around, now that The Doctor has saved everyone on the planet.

So, although this takes away something that has made the role very, very interesting, it’s also a bit of a relief that The Doctor doesn’t wipe out his own race. His genius and compassion remain intact, keeping the character very consistent over the past fifty (or twelve hundred, depending on how you count) years already established.

DW1Besides unlocking a major mystery, “The Day of the Doctor” is also notable for bringing back familiar faces in great ways. Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), the daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, is still running the show at UNIT, and gets involved in the case. Honestly, I’d like to see a return to more UNIT stories and an increased presence from Kate, as it really serves to tie the current Doctor Who back to the older run.

The machine that The War Doctor uses appears to him in the form of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), a former companion of The Ninth and Tenth Doctors. On one hand, it’s sad that she’s only an illusion, with no interaction with The Tenth Doctor. On the other, the character has had a nice send off already, and it would be a shame to force her into the episode if she doesn’t belong. By portraying her in this way, fans get to see her again, but it doesn’t take away from Rose’s own arc.

Queen Elizabeth I’s guest spot, the first for this actress, answers a very slow burn question mentioned a handful of times over several years about her connection to our hero. This is the kind of Easter-egg-resolution that should tickle those who pay close attention to continuity.

Finally, viewers get a glimpse of The Doctor in his retirement. The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), appropriately aged as the actor playing him is, approaches The Eleventh Doctor in the gallery, revealing he is living peacefully at the end of his life and “revisiting” a few of his favorite faces. This is a brilliant, moving scene, informing on the character, but also providing one of those rare interactions between two incarnations, welcoming back a respected veteran of the part. It’s a real treat that this sequence is included.

In the end, “The Day of the Doctor” provides a satisfying adventure incorporating elements and Doctors both old and new, really delivering something new, exciting, fun, and special to honor five decades on the air. There are enough smile-worthy moments and amusing lines to please just about every fan, and delving into a crucial turning point in The Doctor’s existence, not seen before, gives the installment weight that the Zygon invasion by itself would have lacked.

Doctor Who next airs on Christmas Day, completing The Eleventh Doctor’s tenure.

An Adventure in Space and Time

Article first published as TV Review: 'An Adventure in Space and Time' on Blogcritics.

stAs part of Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary celebration, which was in full swing last week, BBC America aired a made-for-TV movie called An Adventure in Space and Time. This two-hour film takes us back to the early days at the BBC, when Doctor Who was first being made, and gives us a piece of that story, with a focus on the show’s first titular star, William Hartnell (David Bradley, Harry Potter, Broadchurch), and producer Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine, Call the Midwife).

An Adventure in Space and Time is an important tale. Not only does it reveal the origins of a legendary series which is one of the longest-running shows ever, but it also represents a bold, brave era for the network. It was the BBC’s first real attempt at science fiction. Lambert was the youngest producer there, and the only female producer at the time. Because of this, it deserves better.

I won’t say I didn’t enjoy An Adventure in Space and Time. It was actually pretty good. I thought the acting was terrific, and I was excited to learn new things about this show and era. It was well-paced and the production looked good.

But it felt like a TV movie, rather than an epic film. Much of the story was told in small vignettes, stand-alone occurrences, rather than a cohesive tale. Either Verity or Hartnell could rate their own full movie, but instead, each part is cut down so that there’s room for them both here. I felt like both were under served in this way, without much exploration as to what Verity herself did to help the show along. Hartnell’s plot is bit more complete, with a clear beginning, middle, and end, but still, I would have liked a few more details, including a slower descent at the end, and the cheesiness of starting at the end then flashing back should not have been allowed.

Bradley and Raine could pull off more complex versions of the roles, I’m sure. They both manage to get a lot into their parts, conveying beyond what’s on the page. We see Hartnell’s rise and fall, and what it costs him. We see Verity coming into her own. Were they given more time, or if this were made into a miniseries, rather than confined to two hours, these actors could have absolutely risen to an award-bait level.

They are joined by Sacha Dhawan (Outsourced, Chuggington) as director Waris Hussein. Waris is another part that feels like it didn’t get is due. While playing a smaller role in the history, and thus confined to only a portion of the movie, Dhawan makes an impact. Sadly, he is not developed much beyond filling a vital, but small, position.

Other than those three, most of the rest of the cast are merely on the sidelines, with only a couple that sort of stand out a bit. Brian Cox’s (Bob Servant Independent, Deadwood) Sydney Newman is overblown and cartoonish, in a good way, fitting for someone of his temperament in his position. Claudia Grant seems to capture Carole Ann Ford perfectly. Lesley Manville, Jeff Rawle, Jemma Powell, and Jamie Glover all play parts that should matter, but are largely forgettable, likely more because of a lack of focus from the script than the performers themselves.

I do think An Adventure in Space and Time is worth watching; as I said, I enjoyed it. I just mourn for the potential that hasn’t been reached, especially when there is never a more opportune time for a project such as this.

GLEE is "Movin' Out" to the City

Article first published as TV Review: 'Glee' - 'Movin' Out' on Blogcritics.

FOX’s Glee finally gets around to the music of Billy Joel in this week’s episode “Movin’ Out.” With graduation looming, several of the students consider their futures and start planning for what they’re going to do after high school. A couple even travel to New York to pursue their dreams, giving fans a hint at who might soon be joining the Big Apple contingent.

G3The whole thing starts off as Sue (Jane Lynch) sets up a career fair in the hallway, which Will (Matthew Morrison) is appalled to find out doesn’t include any representation for a career in the arts. Sue replies that that’s not a realistic field to go into, and Will argues that he wants his students to dream. In the end, because one of Will’s students helps out Sue’s favorite girl, Becky (Lauren Potter), Sue relents.

In my opinion, promoting a career as a performer is a terrible message to send to kids, on par with pop song lyrics about not letting anyone ever tell you that you’re less than perfect. I know this makes me sound like a grumpy old man (I’m 30 years old), but it simply is not realistic to hang all one’s hopes on a very slim chance. Encouraging kids to pursue their passions as adults is wonderful, but urging all those who desire to make a living in the arts to give it a shot is stupid and irresponsible. Sue isn’t being cruel, she’s telling the kids what someone needs to tell them if Will keeps filling their heads with this junk.

In fact, this all culminates in Will leading the school, including many non-glee club kids, inexplicably, in “You May Be Right.” As much as I love this number, and it is very entertaining, the message is a slap in the face that Sue doesn’t deserve. Will is crazy if he thinks he is doing his job as a teacher in serving the students this stuff.

The story that softens Sue, though it shouldn’t really be related, is when Artie (Kevin McHale) helps Becky check out colleges. Becky has Down syndrome, and so Sue wants her to stay at McKinley and continue working as an assistant. In this way, Sue is offering Becky a safe life where Sue can watch over her beloved pupil. Artie shows Becky that she has some college options, with programs specially designed to serve her, while singing a decent enough rendition of “Honesty.”

G1At first, Sue, fights back against Artie, as she is wont to do. But I credit her for having the wisdom to back off, and she even supports Becky when the kid wants to try leaving her comfort zone. Sue is often the villain of Glee, and that’s a fun role to cast her in. However, the part is best when it’s layered and viewers get the glimpse the motivations behind Sue’s actions. In this, “Movin’ Out” succeeds beautifully in a touching tale.

The other McKinley plot this week involves the battle for Marley’s (Melissa Benoist) affections. Ryder (Blake Jenner) has begun dating the girl, playing the part of “An Innocent Man” (his version is passable, nothing special), however, Marley is torn, not ready to commit to Ryder. Jake (Jacob Artist) continues to beg Marley to take him back, but when scorned, instead tells of her off with (a better than Ryder’s song) “My Life.”

Look, this love triangle has already been done. We don’t need it again. Marley isn’t into Ryder, and even if he is the right guy for her, she isn’t ready to grow up and see it yet. He’s only going to get hurt if they insist on continuing. And Jake reacts like a hothead teen, proving he’s not mature enough for her, either. However, these reactions are very authentic for the age group, so I’m not really complaining too strongly, even when this arc gets a little boring.

As I’ve said before, the New York segments of the episodes are almost always better, and “Movin’ Out” is no different. Sam (Chord Overstreet) and Blaine (Darren Criss) are sent off to the city with a really great rendition of “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song).” They are warmly welcomed into Rachel (Lea Michele), Kurt (Chris Colfer), and Santana’s (Naya Rivera) apartment, and then go out to try to get into a good school.

Sam’s college interview is pretty much a joke. He is not at all prepared, and lets the interviewer know he cares more about being in NYC and the boy to girl ratio than the school itself. I don’t know what Sam hoped to accomplish with this, but it’s a ridiculous failure.

G2Rachel urges him to really think about what he wants, though, and Sam admits to dreaming of being a model. Rachel uses a connection she’s made to get Sam a meeting with Bichette (Tyra Banks, America’s Next Top Model), an agent who is willing to help him if he loses a few pounds. Reluctant to comply, the roomies cheer Sam up with “Just the Way You Are,” giving him questionable advice.

I get that Sam shouldn’t starve himself, but sometimes there are sacrifices to be made for certain industries. If one wants to be a model, one must almost always get used to eating super healthy; that comes with the territory. I’m sorry, I don’t know how Sam’s friends telling him that he’s great as is helps, even if, for the most part, they’re right. But Sam as a model is much more believable than Sam in college, and it could keep him in the cast if the Ohio setting is dropped, so that’s cool.

During “Movin’ Out,” Rachel suddenly seems to develop a bit of a crush on Sam. This comes out of nowhere, since she’s known him for years and there’s never been anything between them. Is this a purely physical attraction, realized when she suddenly sees him in a new light? Because Rachel seems like the type of girl that needs a guy with substance, and as much as I like the character of Sam, he is not intelligent enough to keep up with her. Rachel and Finn were a strange enough pairing for awhile. This would be even more of a stretch, though her being with Finn does at least set some sort of precedent.

Blaine is in New York to audition for NYADA. Despite a terrific “Piano Man” at the restaurant where the roommates work (including Rachel again, who should not have time for such a thing at this point), he gets nervous and starts to consider other options. Kurt talks his boyfriend back from the ledge and convinces Blaine that he’s good enough.

I’m divided on this. Of course Kurt thinks that Blaine can succeed, and to be honest, aside from Rachel, Blaine is the only one in the cast I truly believe has the chops to make it as a performer. Yet, Blaine’s decision to look into other careers is a sound one, and doesn’t necessarily close him off to opportunities in the arts. Thus, he should thank Kurt for his advice, but go with his gut.

Glee really cheats the audience by not showing us Blaine’s audition. Yes, he sings in “Movin’ Out,” but if Blaine should get into NYADA, which seems the route the series will go, we’ve just been robbed of a monumental step on his path. It’s not enough to just tell us he tried out after making Rachel and Kurt’s own attempts so pivotal. Can we get a flashback in the near future to correct this grievous error?

I like “Movin’ Out” because it has a lot of mostly enjoyable versions of great songs. It also uses characters effectively in decent stories. It has enough flaws to not set it apart from the pack as one of the greatest episodes, but there are also elements that keep it out of the group of poor ones, ranking it somewhere just slightly a bit above average, in my estimation.

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

ATLANTIS Better Off Lost

Article first published as ATLANTIS Review on Seat42F.

Atlantis BBC One
BBC America will soon begin airing the British series ATLANTIS. Similar to Merlin and other fantasy shows, the story is about a young man who is searching for his lost father and ends up in the mysteries land of Atlantis, which is apparently where he’s from. It’s an hour-long drama full of magic, mythical creatures, mystery, and possibly some time travel.

The man’s name is Jason (Jack Donnelly, House of Anubis), and he is in the present day at the start. A trip down in a submarine that breaks apart sends him to the titular city somehow. Jason doesn’t know anything about his origins until The Oracle (Juliet Stevenson, White Heat) tells him. He is confused and curious, but also a hero, and so acts heroically, adapting to his surroundings and immediately willing to risk his life for the new friends he makes, roommates Pythagoras (Robert Emms, War Horse) and Hercules (Mark Addy, Game of Thrones).

Atlantis is ruled by King Minos (Alexander Siddig, Star Trek: Deep Space 9), a cruel man who Jason is told not to reveal himself to. Every year, Minos has his subjects draw markers and an unlucky handful are sacrificed to the dreaded Minotaur. One of Jason’s new pals is chosen, and that’s where the story of the pilot, “The Earth Bull,” takes off. Oh, and of course Minos has a daughter, Ariadne (Aiysha Hart, Honour), who is smitten with Jason.

What this means is a lot of the initial installment is set up, then things move really fast and there’s still time to stick in a story-of-the-week. Viewers will not be worried that serious harm will befall Jason because it doesn’t seem like the type of show to take such a huge chance, so the stakes are relatively low, making the danger muted, and not too scary for kids.

My first impression of ATLANTIS is that it’s cheesy. Like its peer Merlin, it takes familiar character names and twists the story for “modern sensibilities.” But it’s all fluff, nothing heavy or complex, with characters easy to pigeonhole. Hercules is grumpy, but we know he’s a good guy. Minos doesn’t seem so bad at times, but he’s definitely the villain. I really wish Jason was a bit dark, but he’s not, the epitome of the good guy, and even with his father’s disappearance, pretty boring.. It’s all very obvious.

Now, this kind of thing has worked well for the BBC before, so it’s understandable why they would want to do it again, and indeed, a second series has already been ordered, ahead of its U.S. airing. That’s because there is a sense of adventure and whimsy, something audiences can connect to, and I think hearing some of the names of legendary literature may even give the premise a false sense of gravitas. Sadly, the depth of story does not rise up to such a level.

One thing that is confusing about “The Earth Bull” is whether Jason has traveled in time and/or space. The technology in Atlantis is definitely that of ancient times, but The Oracle and the Minotaur make it seem other-worldly, not just in our past. And Jason tells Pythagoras he will be well remembered, but given the unrealistic elements, this civilization could very well be somewhere else, and this may not be the famous Pythagoras, despite his love of tinkering with triangles, since that Pythagoras didn’t live in Atlantis. So I guess we’re supposed to assume this is past Earth, and Atlantis and its magic co-exist with ancient Greece?

I suspect I’m overthinking this. ATLANTIS is clearly meant to be just an action-adventure show, not concerned with being historically accurate or telling a ‘real’ tale. It exists in its own separate universe, with rules that will become clear as the show plays out. It’s not highbrow or intellectual, but it is mildly entertaining and comfortable.

The special effects are pretty decent, at least as good as Merlin or Primeval, though not cinema-quality. That’s important, since there are creatures as well as people interacting. I assume the CGI will continue to get better with each subsequent year.

ATLANTIS premieres Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Love" REVOLUTION, Finally

Article first published as "Love" REVOLUTION, Finally on TheTVKing.

NBC's Revolution is finally finding its legs in the second season, which paused with the mid-season finale "Everyone Says I Love You" last night. In the installment, there are many people missing, and some doubting their sanity when they see things they don't expect to see. It's not much of an episode for closure, but it does further a number of arcs in a satisfying manner.

Aaron (Zak Orth) is front and center at present, suddenly having the power to heal even more wounds, and not just for himself, which he discovers when Cynthia's (Jessica Collins, Rubicon) knife wound disappears. But it's not actually Aaron doing any of this. The nanotech that saturates the world recognizes Aaron as the man who woke him up and is bending to his will, as well as appearing to him (and only him) in the form of a childhood friend.

Revolution has barely begun to scratch the surface of what the nanotech means for the characters or the planet. It definitely doesn't understand human emotions, letting Cynthia die again later in the episode, after Aaron has been screaming at it to go away. Yet, they understand preservation, killing Dr. Horn (Zeljko Ivanek, Damages) and the other Patriots who threaten Aaron. Have they already outgrown the human they've been helping now, and what drives them? These are interesting questions that the show will hopefully delve into down the line.

This series must strike a balance between character development and mythology, something the entire first season struggled with (not to mention plot holes and bad acting from the younger cast members, which seems to have mostly fixed itself over the summer break). There are plenty of viewers who are watching to unlock the mystery of this dystopian America and find out what political faction can seize control, but there are others who just want to see what will happen to the people they've become attached to.

"Everyone Says I Love You" mainly serves the characters, letting Miles (Billy Burke) fess up to long-hidden feelings for Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) after a very revealing flashback, Rachel tells her daughter, Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos), just how much she is loved, and Rachel is worried about her MIA dad (Stephen Collins, 7th Heaven). Yet, this also ties into the larger arc. For instance, Miles is looking for Aaron to heal him from an infection. But will the nanos abandoning Aaron mean that Miles is out of luck?

I feel like this is a good way to handle things. Rather than keeping the elements separate, the series is starting to really weave an interconnected story and use all of its very talented adult cast appropriately, allowing them more layers and history. Thus, it's improved markedly.

Monroe (David Lyons) is one who has benefited from this shift. Once a pretty flat villain, he's now a broken man, having lost his nation, and is only getting by because of the hope that he might find his long-lost son. Miles is the key to the boy's location, tying Monroe and Miles together once more, and along the way Monroe has to do some things to protect our heroes, something we don't expect from him prior to this. Very interesting, and dynamic.

And, of course, Revolution is still going to try to shock fans with the Big Reveal from time to time. Among the many happenstances in "Everyone Says I Love You," the most surprising may be when Tom (Giancarlo Esposito) finds Julia (Kim Raver) alive and remarried. This not only throws Tom for a total loop, making his grief a waste of time, but also destroys the reason behind the mission he is on. There's no telling how he may proceed now, especially because it seems Julia isn't willing to just come home with Tom and their son, Jason (JD Pardo), but also asks that Tom abandon his quest.

Practically everything Revolution has done in its sophomore year has been a step up over the freshman run. If it continues this in the second half of the season, it just may crack into must-see, recommended TV. It's certainly got some great elements!

Revolution will return soon to NBC.

TV Review: ‘The League’ – ‘Baby Geoffrey Jesus’ and ‘The 8 Defensive Points of Hanukkah’

Article first published as TV Review: ‘The League’ – ‘Baby Geoffrey Jesus’ and ‘The 8 Defensive Points of Hanukkah’ on Blogcritics.

FXX’s The League ended season five with a two-part episode this week. In the first, “Baby Geoffrey Jesus,” Ruxin (Nick Kroll) is upset when his young son, Geoffrey, is chosen to play the part of Jesus in his Catholic school play, insisting that Geoffrey practice Judaism like his father sort of does. This battle continues in “The 8 Defensive Points of Hanukkah” as Ruxin tries to bring the holiday into his home and vanquish Christmas.

There are other subplots happening in these two episodes, as The League is about an ensemble cast, but Ruxin is certainly a fan favorite, in that viewers love to hate him, so it’s kind of fun to let him be front and center in the final hour of the year. He earns many a laugh, as usual.

Ruxin isn’t exactly a faithfully practicing Jew, but he does tend to think differently of himself than others do, and gets very upset when people question those characteristics he claims to have. He uses Judaism to get his way more than actually honoring the faith. This is obvious when his rabbi calls him out on his ill behavior towards his friends, and also when he manipulates his brother-in-law, Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas), into converting.

L3Ruxin’s intention is not to help Rafi bed Ruxin’s sister (Lizzy Caplan, Masters of Sex), which he unintentionally does, but rather, to have Rafi influence Ruxin’s son, Geoffrey (Adam Karchmer), since Geoffrey looks up to Rafi. Ruxin has to go through Rafi because he stands no chance in talking Geoffrey’s mother, Sofia (Nadine Velazquez) into anything, and she wants their child to be Christian.

Ruxin and Sofia have a very strange relationship, and for the longest time I wondered what she gets out of the deal. She’s hot, so that’s Ruxin’s reason for wanting to be with her, but Ruxin, while making a comfortable living, isn’t rich, he’s pretty much a total jerk, and she actually seems to care about him. Maybe she likes getting her way, though, and knows she can with Ruxin, who is vulnerable to the power of her charms.

As usual, Ruxin’s plot fails, though he does get a happy moment when he is able to pass off the Sacko Ruxin trophy to Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi). The League must toss Ruxin some victories periodically, and his inappropriate dance backed up by a gospel choir in a church is one of his more memorable gloats. It’s moments like these, horribly offensive, and yet terribly funny, that make The League so enjoyable to watch.

While Kevin loses the fantasy football league, thanks to his wife, Jenny’s (Katie Aselton), advice, Jenny wins it all after listening to Kevin. Honestly, who wins and loses isn’t super important, and five years in, it’s hard to keep much weight on that outcome, which is probably why the story point is dropped late in the hour and not the center of the full two episodes. I have to hand it to The League, though; having Kevin and Jenny take home the trophies the way they do is clever and fresh, making this season finale have impact.

Kevin and Jenny do have some martial strife in “Baby Geoffrey Jesus” when Jenny asks her ex-boyfriend, Ben (Ryan Hansen, Party Down), for help with her lineup. Kevin takes this worse than he would learning Jenny has cheated in him, and temporarily crashes with Pete (Mark Duplass) while he pouts. I find it very funny that Kevin lets such a betrayal affect him so deeply, but I also am not surprised, based on the characters, and am glad this is resolved in “The 8 Defensive Points of Hanukkah,” thus leaving the couple intact once more. They seem so good together, overall.

L2In the last subplot that really counts, Andre (Paul Scheer) stupidly partners with his rival (Parks and Recreation‘s Aziz Ansari) without reading the contract, which results in Andre being sent overseas. At least, that’s what would have happened if Taco (Jonathan Lajoie) and Rafi didn’t accidentally crush the guy’s hand, saving Andre’s job and home. So he has a happy ending, too.

I actually am disappointed by the quick save here. The League walks a delicate balance between allowing their characters to grow but not losing the amazing cast dynamic. In doing so, it is usually conservative in big changes. Yes, only a year ago Andre was facing major upheaval, which took several episodes to work out. But I still would have liked to have seen this go further. After all, there is always a many-months-long break in the action, so Andre could easily just be returning home when the next season begins. And it wouldn’t ruin the show like a Kevin / Jenny divorce would.

Along those lines, it would also be really cool if we had a spring run some time, with installments that weren’t beholden to fantasy football. Much of the regular season has nothing to do with the game, and I’d like some more of that.Maybe six episodes would be appropriate? Though this seems unlikely to happen.

Other than the one minor complaint, both “Baby Geoffrey Jesus” and “The 8 Defensive Points of Hanukkah” are great episodes. The show remains as hilarious as ever, not having lost anything with age, and still finding new ways to go with its story. Andre running a long con on Kevin is fantastic, and so are just about all the other small moments within.  I look forward to whatever they cook up next.

The League has already been renewed will return to FXX for a sixth go-round next fall.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

THE WALKING DEAD TV Viewer "Bait"

Article first published as THE WALKING DEAD Recap Season 4 Episode 6 Live Bait on Seat42F.

The Walking Dead 4x06 2
AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD hits the pause button on most of its main cast this week in “Live Bait,” instead backtracking to catch us up on what The Governor (David Morrissey) has been doing. The hour, which features several new characters, and is very loosely based on events from the novel Rise of the Governor (though that story predates The Governor running Woodbury, while this episode definitely does not), also does not bring us all the way up to the present. Which means we can expect more Governor goodness next week.

If any character were to get two consecutive episodes on their own, totally apart from everyone else, The Governor is the absolute best choice for this role. He is complex, and Morrissey chews up every scene he’s in, making him terrific to watch. Plus, this is somebody who plays a main role in the show and has sat out the past five episodes, so he needs some serious screen time to make up for his absence.

I’m glad that THE WALKING DEAD chooses to separate The Governor’s tale, rather than integrating it into other episodes. For one thing, “Live Bait” appears to cover some of the time between seasons, a period in which we didn’t see any other person’s plot, as the prison group skipped a long period of time. For another, it’s a stand-alone journey, more effective to be shown by itself and all at once, rather than broken into pieces stuck in multiple installments. THE WALKING DEAD is brave to make such a bold move, and it should pay off.

“Live Bait” picks up shortly after The Governor massacres his people. He is quickly abandoned by Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo) and Shumpert (Travis Love), who see his instability when The Governor won’t even move as a Walker approaches. And whom can blame them? Someone so reckless in this world will be a liability, not a help, and The Governor is both dangerous and unpredictable.

After wandering around on his own for awhile, The Governor encounters a family holed up in an apartment and introduces himself as ‘Brian,’ fibbing about his past. Dad Don (Danny Vinson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is ailing and being cared for by his two adult daughters, Tara (Alanna Masterson, First Day), a lesbian cop, sort of, and Lily (Audrey Marie Anderson, The Unit), a single mother. The Governor plans to stay only for a short time, but lingers as he sees a lot of his own deceased child, Penny, in Lily’s girl, Megan (Meyrick Murphy, Jingle Belle).

The connection The Governor makes with Megan is a very important one for this man. Here is someone barely hanging onto life who shuns everyone, but a little girl can get through to him. Penny represents the part of The Governor that was human and good. Megan brings this back to the forefront. This version of the Governor, even as only a surrogate father, is sweet and protective, putting his life on the line for others, as he does when restocking Don’s oxygen.

And we get to see vulnerability. As The Governor stares at, then burns, a picture of his family, leaving the past behind him, he is also embracing a new group. A chess game with Megan references The Governor’s past, but it also makes him less threatening in how he interacts with the child, and how she sees him, an eyepatched-king. This is moving, emotional stuff, and Morrissey slays it as effectively as his character handles Walkers.

I guess it’s time for The Governor to change. As a villain, he went about as far as he could, brutalizing those who did not deserve it and murdering his own people. Sure, he could have gone out in a blaze of glory, trying to take as many of Rick’s people with him as he could in the process, as he did in the comics, but this is a far more compelling direction to take. Now we have someone who, maybe doesn’t seek to make up for past wrongs, but, is ready to move on. After everything he has done, can he?

With Megan, Lily, and Tara, he can. They don’t know his history, and so only see him as the guy who has helped the family stay safe. Tara even engages in a sexual relationship with him. One can’t blame these women for falling under The Governor’s charms, especially when they have no evidence telling them anything different, as plenty of people who did see him for who he was followed him, too.

But, this being THE WALKING DEAD, The Governor doesn’t just get to sail off into the sunset with a happy ending. Instead, after having to put down the Walker version of Don, The Governor and the girls set out to find a new home, are attacked by Walkers, and end up encountering Martinez.

This casts the scene of The Governor standing outside the prison, glimpsed last week, in a new light. Assuming he can convince Martinez to keep his mouth shut, something that seems likely based on the preview for next week’s episode and their past, The Governor may be there to ask Rick for help in protecting his new family, rather than to kill everyone. Or, should tragedy befall The Governor’s new group, I guess it’s conceivable that he renews his vendetta.

I hope it’s the former. Revenge is possible, perhaps, but how cool would it be to see The Governor join the group in some capacity? Or at least try to. Obviously, this would not be easy, but given the right set of circumstances, it may be possible, and it would certainly alter the dynamics in a major way. At least until he or Michonne makes a misstep and one of them tries to kill the other.

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

Absolutely "Lovely" ONCE UPON A TIME

Article first published as ONCE UPON A TIME Recap Season 3 Episode 8 Think Lovely Thoughts on Seat42F.

COLIN O'DONOGHUE, MICHAEL RAYMOND-JAMES, ROBERT CARLYLE, JENNIFER MORRISON
This week’s ONCE UPON A TIME encourages viewers to “Think Lovely Thoughts,” even as the characters on screen struggle to do so. Peter Pan (Robbie Kay) brings Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) to his endgame as Henry’s family rushes to save him. Interspersed with this, we learn Rumple’s (Robert Carlyle) connection to Neverland’s baddie, giving us a glimpse at the Dark One’s childhood.

As much back story as ONCE UPON A TIME routinely presents, it’s rare that we get an extended look at one of the characters in their youth, unless it relates to another character’s adult life (such as Snow in Regina’s flashbacks or Bae and Cora in Rumple’s). Yet, “Think Lovely Thoughts” takes us back to when Rumple was a wee lad (played by Wyatt Oleff), probably the earliest moment, chronologically speaking, the show has done so far.

It seems that being a bad dad runs in Rumple’s family. Not only did he choose magic over Bae, and Bae grew up to be Neal (Michael Raymond-James), who unintentionally left his own son, but Rumple’s father, Colin (Stephen Lord, Shamless), chose his own selfish pursuits over Rumple. Who can blame Colin for being a scoundrel, because, after all, his own father sold him to a blacksmith, and so he had no role model to look up to?

Well, most people, it turns out, as Colin has no regrets about his misdeeds, which is the key difference between a good person and a bad person. In fact (SPOILER ALERT!) Colin is actually Peter Pan, magically restored to youth so that he can stay in Neverland, and who is now willing to sacrifice the life of his great grandson in order to maintain this existence. Talk about a terrible family tree!

“Think Lovely Thoughts” actually puts Rumple in a positive light. Despite his father’s emotional abuse, Rumple had two (literal) spinster aunts (Stargate franchise actresses Lindsay Collins and Glynis Davies) who tried to teach him right from wrong. That’s probably why, unlike Colin, Rumple regrets the screw-ups he makes as a father, and spends his life trying to correct them. The cycle has been broken, whether Neal is ready to admit that or not.

It’s natural that the others are skeptical of Rumple’s nobility, given some of the things he has done in the past. Neal makes Rumple hand over Pandora’s Box, not trusting Rumple to do right by Henry, only to come around by the end of the hour after Rumple proves himself. This could definitely be the start of a new chapter for the men in the family.

That is, if things can work out. As “Think Lovely Thoughts” ends, Rumple is trapped in Pandora’s Box and Henry is dead, and while I doubt very much that either issue is permanent, there is a long way to go to fix the mess ONCE UPON A TIME leaves our cast in.

Henry’s actions, resulting in his death, are born of naivety. Pan lies to Henry, and even after Neal, Emma (Jennifer Morrison), and Regina (Lana Parrilla) join their voices to try to convince Henry of this, Henry doesn’t believe them. Perhaps it’s because he’s from a family of heroes, and just wants to live up to the reputation. Or it could be because Henry knows these three, his parents, would lie to protect their son, and so may not be trusted in this situation. Whatever reason, he makes the wrong choice, tricked by a devilish imp into losing his heart, and thus, his life.

Seeing Regina, Emma, and Neal come together is touching, and that’s why I’m not worried about Henry. Regina and Emma have great magical power, and will stop at nothing to protect their boy. Neal is determined and strong. If they remain united, and we have every reason to believe that they would, they will succeed… eventually.

The weird part about “Think Lovely Thoughts” is why the “Save Henry” group, finally united after many episodes of fragmentation, splits up in this episode. Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) and Tink (Rose McIver) I kind of understand because someone needs to protect Wendy (Freya Tingley) and keep an eye on the Lost Boys, but surely Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming’s (Josh Dallas) hunt for a cure can wait. Charming’s life is in no immediate danger, and if Rumple traps Pan in the box, as intended, there’ll be plenty of time to finish this later. Why would they set off on their own without knowing that their grandson is safe?
 
Honestly, that’s the only problem I have with this episode. The special effects, especially the hourglass in Skull Island and the creepy shadow (voiced by rocker Marilyn Manson), are fantastic. Lord is perfect as both Rumple’s dad and the earlier version of Pan, with just enough foreshadowing to make the twist ending conceivable, but not enough that it’s obvious from the start. Rumple’s back story is well thought out, and his relationship with Pan makes sense now. And, as stated above, I love the bits with Henry’s parents.

There are still three hours to go in this fall run. Even if ONCE UPON A TIME spends an hour back in Storybrooke, tying up loose ends and setting up the spring story, that leaves two more installments to complete the Neverland tale. I’ve loved this larger-scale adventure with a finite, approaching ending, and look forward to how it will all wrap up.

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

HELLO LADIES, and Goodbye

Article first published as HELLO LADIES, and Goodbye on TheTVKing.

HBO's Hello Ladies aired "The Drive" this Sunday, marking the eighth and final episode of the season. Stuart (Stephen Merchant) drags his friends all over town chasing Kimberly (Heather Hahn, The Beauty Inside), a hot model he wants to get with, his pals' patience soon wearing thin. In the end, they all drift away and Stuart gets the girl. But is that what he really wants?

I wasn't immediately enamored with Hello Ladies when it premiered, despite its fantastic title sequence. Although it has some Merchant hallmarks, proving just how much the star and creator has contributed to his partnerships with Ricky Gervais, it doesn't strike me as very funny, and I have trouble connecting with anyone in the show. However, the more I watch, I realize it is the sad parts of the episodes that resonate, not the humorous parts, and by investing in the emotion, the series got better and better.

Stuart is not a likeable guy. He's selfish, shallow, conceited, and fake. But why? It's because he's long been a loser and has no confidence in himself. His bravado is a coping mechanism, an attitude he tosses up to try to be someone he's not, thinking it improves how others sees him. It doesn't work, but one can understand why he would try.

The longer Stuart holds onto this, the more distant his friends become. In "The Drive," Wade (Nate Torrence) wants to stop by his soon-to-be ex-wife's party. Stuart dismisses this idea, and actually lays into Wade, so Wade goes home instead. Why can't Stuart be a good chum? Why doesn't he support Wade the way that Wade supports him? It can't possibly be long before Wade stops taking Stuart's crap, as he does late in this episode, and decides he's better off without Stuart.

Stuart does right by Jessica (Christine Woods), though. Not only does he leave Kimberly naked and willing in the ocean and doesn't brag about it, but Stuart also refrains from telling Jessica what a douche her sort-of-boyfriend Glenn (Sean Wing) is, knowing it will only hurt her more. Jessica doesn't need further pain, already smarting over the loss of her big acting break. Stuart offers the comfort Jessica seeks and deserves, thus redeeming himself a bit at the last minute.

Jessica is similar to Stuart in many ways, including being self-involved, and yet, she's not a terrible person. We see throughout Hello Ladies that she runs her mouth and makes mistakes, but she is kind to those who matter, such as Wade. Maybe Jessica knows a mostly effective method to balance confidence and caring, and while she's not perfect, Stuart should take some notes.

There is barely a hint of anything romantic between Jessica and Stuart in the entire season. Even when Stuart comes to her aide, he doesn't treat her as anything but a buddy. They have a very brother-sister chemistry, and this is a refreshing and different thing for a television show to do. I really appreciate what the actors have brought to the parts and how they play their roles, both incredible performers.

I don't know if there will be a second season of Hello Ladies, and I'm not even sure there should be because Stuart would have to backslide, erasing the progress he finally makes in "The Drive." Yet, I did really end up liking this season, and I'm glad HBO aired it.