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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

NIKITA "Canceled" But Not Forgotten

Article first published as NIKITA "Canceled" But Not Forgotten on TheTVKing.

The CW's Nikita ended a four-season run last night with "Canceled." Everything that had been building for four years, especially over the last six episodes, comes to a head in the final showdown between Nikita (Maggie Q) and Amanda (Melinda Clarke). And it makes for a happy, satisfying ending.

Nikita really only got three seasons, though they were definitely full ones. However, the CW deserves credit for bringing back the show for the last six episodes and allowing a natural, fulfilling ending, something other networks should take note of. The story, always fast-paced, did feel a tad rushed in the sextet of installments, but everything that need to be resolved was, and now fans have a complete saga to fondly remember and relive, as desired.

As "Canceled" begins, Nikita grabs Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) and the two go on a rampage, killing all the puppet masters behind the big, shady, evil organization. Their partnership is central to the beginning of Nikita, so it's appropriate that it returns now, in the end, two women against the world. This is made even more moving by Ryan's (Noah Bean) sacrifice, losing his life so that they could even know there was a mission to go on.

It's a bit sad to see Nikita chose the brutal option. Alex is just taking a cue from the elder woman to whom she owes much, so the blame for the deaths falls squarely on Nikita. Nikita has always fought her violent nature, trying to build a better life for herself, so it's disappointing to see it come crashing down now, risking her relationships and her freedom for revenge killings, even though the story gives her justifiable reason to do so.

But then comes the twist. Nikita excels at making viewers think one thing, then turning it on its head later. We know that Nikita always finds another way that doesn't require murder, yet we buy that in this particular instance, she doesn't rise up. Which is why it's so cool to see that we're wrong and Nikita does have another plan, one that only involves everyone thinking she's killing people. Kudos to some great writing and the most brilliant surprise of the series.

Learning that Nikita has not gone off the rails makes the actions of her friends much more palatable. While Nikita and Alex are rampaging, Michael (Shane West) is working with the government to stop them. At least Birkhoff (Aaron Stanford) only cooperates reluctantly, siding with Nikita, but Michael is trying to talk her out of it. Thank goodness he's only playing a part, not actually turning his back on the woman he loves. Otherwise, there would not be time for a Michael / Nikita happy ending, a must.

In fact, all of the main players get a happy ending. Birkhoff open-sources his anti-government software and goes to Sonya (Lyndie Greenwood, sadly not part of the conclusion, but she hadn't had time to earn her way there, either). Alex continues her charity work with Sam (Devon Sawa), who is acting more like Owen every day, by her side. Michael and Nikita elope, and, rather than sit on the beach relaxing, continue to do good for those who need help, something far more fitting than retirement. Even Ryan gets a star and a quick vision by Nikita to remember him fondly by.

All of these are well-crafted finales that serve the characters appropriately. Some viewers may have wanted more sadness and death, as befitting the lifestyle the group lived, but the message of the show was always about finding peace and conquering ones' demons, both internal and external. What "Canceled" ultimately ends up being fits that spirit.

The one person who doesn't ride off into the sunset is Amanda, whom is locked away in a very secure facility. I suppose leaving Amanda alive is a bad idea, as she is likely to get back out at some point in the future and cause more trouble, as she has always managed to do. But Nikita and friends have disrupted all of Amanda's work, so it would be some time before that can happen. And I doubt we'll ever see a film, on big screen or small, depicting this because the way things are left is too perfect to mess with.

Before the doors close on Amanda for the final time, Nikita visits her. Well, actually Amanda visits Nikita, which is when Nikita springs the trap and captures her, but the point is, they get to have a one-on-one, heart-to-heart conversation. This is easily the most powerful scene in the episode, as Amanda and Nikita are two sides of the same coin and have learned much from each other. But for a few choices at key moments, either could have ended up in the other's shoes. It's a moment of realization and connection that will never be forgotten by the audience nor the characters, on that caps the show awesomely.

"Canceled" is a mostly triumphant, fantastic way to send off a pretty darn good series. In a way, I'm glad it went out before it grew stale. Sure, there could have been more stories to tell, but I feel like this would have been the way it ended, no matter how many seasons Nikita played out. And the story was structured in a way that it could be finished at this point. There's some definite talent involved to bring those pieces together so neatly, and it is much appreciated.

My sincere thanks to the cast and crew of Nikita. Best of luck in whatever comes next for you. As Birkhoff might fear, we'll be watching.

Monday, December 30, 2013

GROUND FLOOR "On Top"

Article first published as GROUND FLOOR "On Top" on TheTVKing.

Seven episodes into its freshman season, Ground Floor has become a series I look forward to watching. The cast doesn't have the chemistry of Cougar Town and the writing lacks the weird fun of Scrubs, but it still is a reliable draw from creator of all three, Bill Lawrence. There are constantly decent jokes, and I do enjoy the show's leads immensely.

At the heart of Ground Floor is the relationship between Brody (Skylar Astin) and Mr. Mansfield (John C. McGinely). Did you think I was going to say Brody and Jennifer (Briga Heelan)? Well, as much as Brody and Jennifer's pairing provides the structure, the best parts of each installment are usually those where Mansfield gives Brody advice. Every part of Brody's romantic life is observed and commented on by his boss, and through these talks, we see the development of Mansfield.

At first, it appeared that Mansfield might be a retread of Dr. Cox, McGinley's Scrubs character. But as layers are willingly revealed week after week, it becomes clear that isn't the case at all. While Cox was closed off, Mansfield is open. Cox hated being a mentor, and Mansfield lives for it. Cox would never admit to screw ups and emotions unless pushed, while Mansfield volunteers such things, thinking nothing of throwing an arm around an employee and sitting close on a couch. They are really two completely different people.

McGinley is quite the talented actor. He really makes the little gags Mansfield gets work far more than they should. Each time he appears on screen, the eye is instantly drawn to him, and for good reason. Last week's episode found him singing and dancing in the empty office, and I don't know how the actor kept it together with the audience reacting as they did (assuming the show films in front of a live studio audience?). He really has something.

Brody benefits much from his lessons from Mansfield. Whether he agrees with his superior or not, and he doesn't always, there's a camaraderie and respect between them that belies their varying power statuses. Mansfield is someone Brody looks up to, and I think they are friends, too, though Mansfield would never admit it to the office.

Back to the more obvious central duo, Brody and Jennifer appear to be progressing nicely. I'm a little disappointed we haven't witnessed more of their development after the rocky start, with a bigger focus on shenanigans in the office than in their personal lives. I want to see them outside of work more, find out what kinds of things they are going through that result in them being stronger. They do have a palpable attraction, and I just want it to be explored more in-depth.

Which is kind of what is nice about this week's episode, "Woman on Top," in which we see strain between Brody and Jennifer and how they work through it. Mansfield unknowingly hires Brody's serious ex-girlfriend, Heather (Anna Camp, True Blood, The Help), and as cool as Jennifer tries to be, she gets jealous, especially when she sees how well Brody and Heather still get along and how much they have in common.

Brody and Jennifer do overcome the Heather obstacle, though. It messes them up, and they put in the work to get through it. That's what every strong union needs, to be tested and survive, in order to thrive. I'm not asking for constant drama on this magnitude, as that would be hokey and false, but to get more glimpses of these two in this manner would be welcome.

It is not at all unexpected that Heather leaves at the end of "Woman on Top." Camp is much too in-demand to stick around in a recurring part, and her desk position and attitude would necessitate she be constantly seen. So Mansfield sends her to run his Chicago branch, leaving the door open for repeat appearances, but not making her someone we have to see again.

Does Mansfield do this for Brody? He's been a supported of Brody and Jennifer, even when he resists them, so it makes sense he might do a behind-the-scenes move to help the couple. On the other hand, he's a shark in the business world, and Heather is the type of firm hand the Chicago branch needs. Perhaps it's just a win-win.

Heather's departure is too bad, in a way. Camp and Astin were two of the stars of the film Pitch Perfect, and "Woman on Top" is a nice reunion. Jennifer always has Harvard (Rory Scovel) lusting after her, so it could be interesting to toss in someone who might want to get back with Brody. Plus, it's just plain fun how fast Heather whips Threepeat (Rene Gube) into serving her.

Speaking of Pitch Perfect, a movie with a lot of singing, Astin and Camp have musical moments in this episode, and McGinley and others sang last week. It's cool that Ground Floor finds ways to work its actors' vocal talents into the series. I'm a fan of musicals in general, and while I don't think this will ever be one of those, I appreciate even small numbers done by talented performers. Between Ground Floor and Super Fun Night, it's nice to see this element emerging in the new fall sitcoms. More singing please!

The one thing Ground Floor has yet to figure out is how to effectively use all of its supporting players. Jennifer, Brody, and Mansfield are the real leads, and they are great. Harvard serves his purpose, and Threepeat is someone flexible enough to vary his role week to week, which is what is happening. But Derrick (James Earl) and Tori (Alexis Knapp, who was also in Pitch Perfect) don't really have a fit yet. I'm hoping that changes and Ground Floor moves more in an ensemble direction, as pretty much all the best comedies on TV have larger casts than just 3 or 4 characters.

Overall, Ground Floor has a charm that really resonates, and it is pretty funny. For a freshman show with only half a dozen episodes under its belt, it's doing quite well, and the pedigree involved is such that I expect it will mature nicely. I look forward to seeing where it grows from here.

Ground Floor airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on TBS.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

TV Review: ‘Doctor Who’ – ‘The Time of the Doctor’


D5Article first published as TV Review: ‘Doctor Who’ – ‘The Time of the Doctor’ on Blogcritics.

Anticipation was high for this week’s Doctor Who Christmas Special on BBC and BBC America, “The Time of the Doctor.” We knew it would be Matt Smith’s last appearance as the Eleventh Doctor. We knew it would be holiday-themed. We knew it would involve Trenzalore and many of the Doctor’s greatest enemies, including The Daleks, The Cyberman, The Angels, and The Silence. But we didn’t know how it would play out, or how The Doctor would die.

Like last year’s Christmas outing, “The Time of the Doctor” is not a fluff, stand-alone installment. Instead, it’s a huge adventure, a culmination of many things. We’d long heard that “silence must fall when the question is asked,” and the unanswered question is “Doctor who?” Now, those things come together, along with a dozen other minor plot threads, all culminating in The Doctor’s last battle.

Last spring’s “The Name of the Doctor” reveals what happens on Trenzalore: The Eleventh Doctor, the thirteenth and final incarnation because of the Tenth’s waste of a life and The War Doctor’s inclusion, will finally die in an epic battle, turning an entire planet into a graveyard. But like the fall anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor,” this history is not set in stone and can be changed. And so it is.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself. At the beginning, The Doctor (Matt Smith) travels to a busy planet that he is told is Gallifrey, though it clearly isn’t. There, all of his enemies have gathered, and the Papal Mainframe, led by old (though never seen before on screen) friend Tasha Lem (a terrific Orla Brady, Fringe, Jo). Gallifrey is present, trying to break through the cracks in space time, but only if The Doctor tells The Time Lords his name, confirming they have reached the proper universe.

D3This seems like a good thing, but it’s not because the return of The Time Lords to the universe would reignite The Time War, meaning a LOT of death would follow. Tasha wants to prevent this, even if it means killing The Doctor, which makes her a tad bit dangerous. The Doctor realizes the predicament, and decides to stay at the planet, not making a decision about his people or not, while his enemies attack.

I am a little disappointed that the battles on Trenzalore are not bigger. This is a place where many, many people bite the big one in a possible timeline, but it doesn’t seem that way in “The Time of the Doctor.” Much of the church is slaughtered, but we don’t see them so much as we see those who can overcome their Dalek programming. Perhaps all the budget for the special went into effects, rather than in hiring extras, but it still just doesn’t seem like the gargantuan war one would expect.

Other than that, the story is really good. Besides the aforementioned arcs, this episode also reveals how the Daleks come to remember The Doctor again, the origin of The Silence, and the ultimate fate of Handles, the Cyberman head that The Doctor befriends. It does an excellent job tying up all of the continuity bits, really feeling like a satisfying capper on The Eleventh’s run.

Perhaps the main mystery going in is, how will The Doctor regenerate again? He’s out of lives, but a new actor has already been cast, so surely this must play a part. It does, in a huge way, with Gallifrey gifting their savior twelve more regenerations.

One may wonder why Gallifrey would give The Doctor such a present, and knowing that he’s on the other side, why do they not come through? The Doctor has never been loved or admired by his countrymen, who consider him (with reason) a bit of an unhinged outlaw. Yet, he did save the entire race, so maybe there are some who trust him now. Maybe even enough to think The Doctor has a good reason for not bringing them back to the universe.

D1What I want to see now is a special or episode told entirely from Gallifrey’s point of view. This part of “The Time of the Doctor” doesn’t quite make sense, given what we’ve seen of The Time Lords previously. But it could under the right circumstances. It seems like too many leaps must be made to just take this for granted, so how about a story that fully explains things? Since Steven Moffat is good at tying up loose ends, this might be a possibility.

At the same time as “The Time of the Doctor” is a big tale, it’s also a deeply personal story. We see The Doctor as we’ve never seen him before – settled, and aging. This hour takes place over many hundreds of years, meaning that The Eleventh Doctor is an incarnation that lasts at least a third, maybe more than half, of The Doctor’s total existence thus far. He’s gone from being depressed to happy, serving himself and serving everyone else, and this brings his growth around again.

The Eleventh Doctor must have companions. He lies to Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) and sends her away multiple times, but he has Handles and the people of the planet to ground him. He is someone who can get into his own head too much, but with much here to care about and protect, he resists that urge. He can be dark and deadly, but on Trenzalore, he only kills when necessary. And he has always been the old man in the young body. Now we see what he looks like at the end of his natural life.

Somehow, all of this is communicated without needing to lay it out explicitly. The Doctor’s emotional journey shines through in fits and starts, but there’s enough to allow the viewer to connect the dots. The writing is so sharp, we even care about Handles, a bodiless head that should be thought of as a machine or monster. All of this is done effortlessly, proving Moffat’s talent to anyone who still doubted him.

Equally skilled is Smith. He gets to run the gamut of emotion and experience in his final installment. He plays old and young, he plays brave and desperate, he plays friend and betrayer, he plays hero and the man who has given up. This is a tour de force performance, the kind that makes a career. To get this kind of material for his last hour, and to execute it so well, is incredible.

D2The regeneration feels different. This can be chalked up to the fact that The Doctor is receiving a whole new set of regenerations, rather than just making one change. In the past, The Doctor hasn’t used regenerative energy as a weapon, and his face changes in one moment, with the viewer witnessing the morph. It’s kind of neat that they do it different this time.

The very end of “The Time of the Doctor” is the perfect tie back to the beginning of The Eleventh’s story. He gets to return to his young form and eat fish sticks and custard. Then, he hallucinates Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), the companion he most closely connected with. Even though Amy spent a scant few years with this Doctor, who ended up living centuries, she is the first and (practically) last face he sees. She occupies a very special place in his heart, and her cameo seems very appropriate. All while giving The Eleventh a meta send-off sure to resonate for both the character and the actor.

I do wish a few more familiar faces were present, too, but in the end, this is about The Doctor, not about anyone else. As with other incarnations of The Doctor, individuals have frequently come and gone from his life. Others were not necessary, and so not included.

Tasha Lem is a fascinating addition. She’s clearly very powerful and very long-lived. She has the strength to resist her own death after the Daleks kill her and take over her body. She does the right thing for the greater good, even if it hurts someone she loves. And she’s perfectly cast. I definitely want to see more of her again, whether she’s part-Dalek or not. Much, much more.

Clara is the official companion in “The Time of the Doctor,” and though her tenure with The Doctor has been short so far, she steps up here. I haven’t really connected with her yet, but in this special, she’s bold and selfless, coming back to The Doctor repeatedly, even when he doesn’t deserve her forgiveness. She understands something important is happening with him, and is there for him when he needs her. Her actions deserve respect.

I do wonder if next fall’s season will resume on the same day, with Clara trying to explain The Doctor’s new appearance (Peter Capaldi, The Thick Of It) to her family, who just keep trying to have a nice Christmas dinner. That could be interesting! Though it’s doubtful this will happen.

D4The only thing that left me feeling dissatisfied was the fact that The Doctor’s name still has not been revealed. There has been so much build up, fans want resolution. If not handled perfectly, it could very well ruin the series, though, and perhaps that’s why the show shies away from it now. The fanfare around the word is so great that it seems unfair not to let The Doctor speak it. Will Moffat redeem himself for this next year?

And did we really need the village that The Doctor settles down in to be named Christmas, with a holiday theme? Just because this episode aired on December 25th, doesn’t mean that the connection to the date needs to be so blatant. On the other hand, it’s just the sort of weird place The Doctor would fall in love with, so this is a minor gripe, not a major one.

Throughout the war and the drama and all of the heavy stuff that makes up “The Time of the Doctor,” humor still shines through. Comedy is a vital element in Doctor Who, and it is present this week as much as in practically any other. From a drawn out nudity premise, to The Twelfth Doctor’s comments about the color of his kidneys, there are enough one-liners to make any viewer smile. This is appreciated in such an emotionally-draining special.

At the close, one is left with a supreme satisfaction. “The Time of the Doctor” gives us an emotionally fulfilling ending in a heck of a package. Until next time…

Saturday, December 28, 2013

ONCE UPON A TIME is "Going Home" Happy

Article first published as ONCE UPON A TIME Review Season 3 Episode 11 Going Home at Seat42F.

JOSH DALLAS, COLIN O'DONOGHUE, MICHAEL RAYMOND-JAMES, ROSE MCIVER
ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME is “Going Home” in the midseason finale. Pan (Robbie Kay) unleashes his curse on Storybrooke, which will wipe everyone’s memories and allow him to build a town full of people suffering at his hand. As the others race to stop him, it soon becomes clear that the magic required to defeat the villain will come with a very steep price, and the sacrifices must be made by those who, in the past, have seemed least likely to put others first.

It’s a surprise when Pan kills Felix (Parker Croft). It shouldn’t be, as we’ve seen that Regina (Lana Parrilla) had to murder her own father to enact the first curse. But for some reason, it comes as a minor shock, perhaps because Pan doesn’t telegraph it all. Nor does Pan seem to love Felix, which makes him feel like an unworthy sacrifice, but since Pan loves no one, I guess Felix is the closest person in the world to him. Which means Pan would rule the new Storybrooke completely alone. I wonder if he would cope with it better than Regina did? Probably.

Not that Pan gets the chance to find out. Rumple (Robert Carlyle) has a semi-complicated plan. They must get the black fairy’s wand (who is she and why haven’t we seen this character before?) to switch Henry (Jared Gilmore) and Pan back to their bodies, then Henry can bring the curse scroll to Regina to destroy. No one worries that Henry will suddenly be by evil Felix’s side when the swap occurs (thankfully, Felix is dead by that point, but they don’t know that), and not a single character asks Rumple ahead of time what the price may be, even as Rumple warns them about the cost (why not?).

The wand proves difficult to come by as Pan’s shadow guards it and hovers above where Neal (Michael Raymond-James) can use his coconut to nab it. Cue Tink (Rose McIver) believing in herself enough to reactive the pixie dust and fly up. It’s a simple solution that seems a little too easy, but it’s a story point that has to happen for Tink, so that’s excusable. Then Tink kills the shadow, which seems a little out of character, since up until now, we haven’t seen our heroes execute the bad guys, though Tink isn’t exactly the pure moral soul that Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) is.

Somehow, killing the shadow brings Blue (Keegan Connor Tracy) back from the dead. Does that mean others the shadow has murdered are alive again, too? Will there be any implications from this (probably not)? We have to have Blue remain in the show because she ties into everything and gets to give Tink back her more-than-earned wings. But I’m not completely clear on this plot point.

Then, Rumple uses the wand to make the body switch, putting the magic-blocking cuff on Pan. This proves ineffective, as after everyone leaves Rumple around with his father, Pan wakes up, declares he made the cuff and is thus immune to it, and slaps it on Rumple. Rumple is a very smart man, and while we know Pan is devious to be steps ahead, does Rumple really think it’s enough precaution just to put a cuff on Pan, with no other back up? No wonder Rumple gets his butt kicked.

However, right after that we get the most emotional scene in “Going Home.” With a frozen Bae, Belle (Emilie de Ravin), and others, including the entire main cast, looking on, Rumple has his shadow return the Dark One’s dagger to him and uses it to kill both himself and his father. It’s the ultimate act of redemption, a hero’s death, and everyone is affected by it, even Hook (Colin O’Donoghue). And thank goodness Rumple doesn’t cut off his arm, which is what his first though appears to be after being cuffed.

Many fans think that Rumple is not really dead, and that could be; he disappears in a puff of smoke. But if he is alive, does that mean his father, Pan, now reverted to the older form of Colin (Stephen Lord), is alive, too, to cause more trouble? And if somehow only Rumple survives, is he no longer the Dark One? And how will his friends and family see him differently, since he sacrificed himself for them? Whatever happens, whether Rumple is dead or alive, this teary scene should definitely have ripples later in the story.

With Pan gone, the only thing to do now is to stop the curse. Regina reveals that means everyone is “Going Home” to the Enchanted Forrest, with Storybrooke never having existed, including in Henry’s memories. See, Henry was born in the real world, so even though his parents both hail from fairy tale land, he can’t go back with them, nor remember Storybrooke at all. (So he’s an anchor baby? That doesn’t quite add up to me). Emma (Jennifer Morrison), being the Savior, is a loophole in the curse, so she can stay with Henry under the same restrictions (OK, this does make sense). Regina offers them nice, false memories of a happy life together to fill the gap.

This is almost as big a moment of redemption for Regina as Rumple’s scene is for him. She has to give up the thing she loves most – Henry – sacrificing her own happiness. However, she does it directly for her child, so one could argue a small bit of selfishness, too. Still, it’s awfully nice words that Regina says to Emma upon their departure, and it solidifies the change that ONCE UPON A TIME no longer has a villain in the main cast, no matter what Regina and Rumple call themselves in the end.

The goodbyes for everyone, who have time to gather and walk to the town line, even though Grumpy (Lee Arenberg) already told them the curse was coming from all sides in a panic-stricken tone, are heartfelt and sad. Emma is losing the family she always wanted, and even though she gets to keep Henry, it’s not enough. At least Snow, Charming, and the others will remember Emma, but it’s not a two way street. Neal pledges to find them again, and of course, someone must, or the series would cease to be what it is.

But it’s not Neal who shows up at Henry and Emma’s door in New York (why not Boston?) one year later. It’s Hook. Since Emma doesn’t remember him, and she’s not in love with him so his unwanted half-kiss does nothing to bring back her memories, he definitely has a hard task ahead. That’ll be for the back half of the season, though, so nothing to do now but wait for February.

“Going Home” has flashbacks, as most other episodes do, but instead of telling a complete tale, each scene follows a different character. All of them except the one where Snow gives Henry the fairy tale book give a little insight and are nice. My problem with the Henry one is where did the book come from and why does Henry see Mary Margaret as Snow immediately and how come he immediately leaves town to find Emma that very same month? It doesn’t take him any time at all to figure things out?

As you may be able to tell from my review, there are plenty of holes that can be poked in the plot of “Going Home.” Yet, while watching, it’s a highly enjoyable episode. ONCE UPON A TIME hits the emotional beats right, it just doesn’t always deliver the most cohesive story, with things not quite making sense. If only they would think through the scripts a bit more to eliminate some of those flaws, that would raise this show from a pretty good one to one of the best. It’s just not there yet, and after two and a half years of very slow improvement, it probably always will be B-level, never A.

I still like it a lot, though. There are great questions left to ponder over the break. Will Hook be in a better position to capture Emma’s heart if he’s the one that ultimately leads her back to her family, setting aside their false start? How will the Storybrooke residents adjust to being home? How long will there be two separate settings? Did the writers lie about the Storybrooke / Enchanted Forrest format (seems so, and that’s fine)? Can Emma please recover her memories quickly once reunited instead of another long adjustment period where she doesn’t believe what’s happening (though now that she’s had the love of Henry, she may not be so jaded)? And how does new-baddie the Wicked Witch (Rebecca Mader, Lost) and her land of Oz come into play?

ONCE UPON A TIME returns in a couple of months and will air without reruns through the spring.

Friday, December 27, 2013

MR. STINK A Bit Too Stinky

Article first published as MR. STINK A Bit Too Stinky on TheTVKing.

PBS aired the British holiday special Mr. Stink this week, based on a children's book. Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) plays Mr. Stink, a smelly homeless tramp who is ignored or scorned by the neighborhood, other than his adorable dog, Duchess. Then, one day, a young girl named Chloe (Nell Tiger Free), who feels neglected by her busy family and is bullied at school so she has not friends, takes an interest in him, and soon everyone in England knows Mr. Stink's name.

First, let me say that Bonneville is a terrific actor. I've seen him in a few roles, and he never fails to impress. Mr. Stink is quite a bit different that other recent parts, and he definitely shows some range in the almost unrecognizable costume. He is easily the best part of the production, even if the character is not written in a way to make him particularly memorable.

Part of my problem with the titular Stink is that it's hard to tell exactly what he is. For awhile, one suspects he might be Santa in disguise, looking for kind-hearted children. This is supported by the fact that he has magical powers, albeit the kind a boy would make up, as he can waft stench into a physical punch.

But then, late in Mr. Stink, the plot actually explains away his background. We learn that Mr. Stink is a wealthy duke who lost his wife and home in a fire. Unable to cope, he begins wandering from place to place, no longer caring enough to keep himself clean. I guess his dog's name is supposed to be the clue about this. This doesn't really add up, though, even though we see that Chloe can freshen his appearance by showing him love again, and doesn't gel with the magic stuff at all.

Chloe is a well-past-realistic level of kind. She doesn't shy away in the slightest from Mr. Stink, although we know from everyone else's reactions that his odor is extremely powerful. She even hugs him at one point, burying her face in his coat. There is no way that any kid could stand to be that close and really ignore the foulness so easily unless she has no sense of smell, which is not a mentioned characteristic in the movie.

Mr. Stink is a heartwarming tale, but of a predictable, mediocre variety. The story of a girl who shows compassion to someone everyone else ignores, and in the process, finds the love of her family is a nice one, but it's one we've heard many times before.

What doesn't quite fit is the popularity Mr. Stink gains on television, even meeting the Prime Minister. It seems like a completely different message than Chloe's bits are working towards, combining two separate threads that do not satisfactorily weave together.

Not to mention, most of the characters in Mr. Stink are flat and cartoonish, and not in a clever or authentic manner. Chloe's mum (Sheridan Smith, Mrs Biggs) is an ultra-conservative politician who will make as many empty promises as she must to win an election. Chloe's dad (Johnny Vegas, Ideal) is a whipped, washed-up musician who hides his lack of job and handles the cooking and cleaning for the household. Then, they both easily change in the end, somehow finding their former, decent personalities again that they'd moved far away from. I wonder how much of this comes from the simple source material, and is just not well-executed for an hour-long program.

I want to like Mr. Stink, I really do, because I feel like a grinch to tear down a family-friendly holiday special. But its wholly forgettable and isn't likely to get much replay in future Christmas seasons. Oh, well.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Rocks the Halls Once More

Article first published as SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Rocks the Halls Once More on TheTVKing.

Coming back to host another Christmas outing, the Jimmy Fallon-led installment of Saturday Night Live this past weekend is the best of the fall run. In fact, the whole show is on a bit of an upswing, at the good end of the cycle for a series that ebbs and flows over the years. Buoyed by a plethora of wonderful cameos, and joined by musical guest Justin Timberlake, who appeared in plenty of bits, as well, Fallon shows us what SNL should be.

It begins right off the bat with an opening that brings back Timberlake in a rapping (this time, wrapping) costume, with Jimmy and Aidy Bryant joining him. This isn't the only recurring sketch in the episode (Barry Gibbs himself shows up for Jimmy and Justin's "Barry Gibbs Talk Show"), and it's definitely a crowd pleaser.

There is some debate as to whether Saturday Night Live should rest on its laurels, reusing the same roles over and over again. However, the most memorable characters in the series have been ones who have returned many times. It's hard to come up with an hour and a half of new material every week, and as long as the performers and writers can do something new with the material, as they do for both of those follow ups this week, why not let them continue? They usually just build upon the past as a starting block, anyway.

A well-used surprise guest spot is always effective. Besides Gibbs, Paul McCartney pops in for the monologue, and Mayor Bloomberg and Madonna appear. I'm disappointed Chris Rock, seen in the closing, stays off stage, but overall, these are some big names that are not wasted, and that's appreciated.

Fallon is a veteran of SNL, which means he already knows what he's doing coming in (yes, losing it on stage counts as knowing what he's doing, as he did it back in the day, too). Hosts are not created equal, and sometimes it's hard to predict how a new one will act during the show. Going with Fallon, there's a known quantity that works, especially in the impressions department, and the episode plays to his strengths.

Timberlake has been a very frequent guest, and has hosted with success in his own right before. Combined with the already-wonderful chemistry he has with Fallon, he's a strong addition. From playing a Gibbs brother, to his spot-on mocking of Jimmy himself in the all-around funny Celebrity Family Feud bit, which has several hilarious moments, Timberlake adds much to the proceedings.

One of the most memorable sketches of the night, though, barely involves Jimmy or any other person who is not a regular cast member. The girls in the cast, including Bryant, Cecily Strong, Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Nasim Pedrad, and Noel Wells, make a music video about having sex in their childhood bedroom. The tune is catchy, the lyrics are smart, and these women can carry a tune. It reminds me both of the highly successful Digital Shorts SNL used to have and the strong female ensemble during the time of Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and Tina Fey. Might we poised for a second coming?

There actually was not a single dud in the whole installment. A couple of scenes were weaker than others, but still would have been great on any other week, when the bar wasn't set quite so high. After a couple of years of much mediocrity, it's great to see SNL get things together again, whether it lasts through the winter and spring or not.

Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. ET, returning in mid-January to NBC.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I Still LOVE LUCY

Article first published as I Still LOVE LUCY on TheTVKing.

Recently, in honor of the holiday season, CBS colorized and re-aired a pair of classic I Love Lucy episodes from the 1950s. A beloved comedy from the era when sitcoms still felt like hammy stage shows, in a good way, it brings a smile and wave of nostalgia for those who originally watched the series, as well as the generations after who enjoyed reruns on Nick at Nite. Lucy is an enduring series, and it seems like a good time to dust it off.

For some reason, around Christmas, it's OK to watch old stuff more than during the rest of the year. Usually, channels are bringing us fresh new content. But in mid-December, the beloved movies and specials wrap around us like a warm blanket. Perhaps because it's the time of the year we reflect on our lives and spend more time with family; it just seems right to do so with television as well.

The episodes presented are "The I Love Lucy Christmas Show" and "Lucy's Italian Movie." In the first, Lucy (Lucille Ball), Ricky (Desi Arnaz), Fred (William Frawley), and Ethel (Vivian Vance) prepare Christmas for Little Ricky (Keith Thibodeaux). They put up a tree and lay out presents, only to find they aren't the only Santas afoot. In the second, Lucy goes to work at an Italian vineyard while on vacation in Italy, hoping to prepare for a movie role, but costing herself the opportunity with her crazy antics.

A description of the story does not do either installment justice. I Love Lucy is hilarious not because of the situations, but because of the wonderful comedic talent of Ball and her co-stars. Both episodes are from 1956 and stand up very well, reminding us why we hold the program so dear. The Christmas special is a showcase of how the four leads play so well together, while the second entry features Lucy herself doing the wonderful physical material she is known for.

I'm mixed about the colorization of the episodes. It's done in a period style, so it doesn't look modern, but it also doesn't look quite real. Lucy's hair, especially, does not resemble any actual redhead I've ever seen, However, there is a segment of potential viewers who would not give black and white a chance, so if the update brings in new fans, I'm all for it. It's not distracting, and while there are a few mishaps (the multi-colored Christmas lights all glow white), for the most part, it's a pretty good presentation, better than previous attempts.

If we're lucky, this won't be a one-time experiment. CBS is the "old people network," so perhaps it makes sense that a trend for bringing back beloved favorites from the past would start there, but it by no means has the monopoly on a library worthy of rooting through. Others should follow in their footsteps.

A DVD has already been released of not only these two installments, but a third as well, also colorized, so if you missed the broadcast, there's still time to get in on the spirit everyone else is feeling. I found the experience very rewarding, and recommend it to all.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ending Far From AWKWARD.

Article first published as Ending Far From AWKWARD. on TheTVKing.

MTV's Awkward. has easily been, hands down, the best series the network has ever produced. This week, the third season ends with "Who I Want to Be," which also marks the last episode helmed by creator Lauren Iungerich. The hour-long installment, double the length of the typical episode (as was last week's penultimate), fittingly brings central character Jenna (Ashley Rickards), and others, full circle. It could easily have served as a series finale - though Awkward. will continue on with a new showrunner next year.

Awkward. begins with a letter. Jenna's mother, Lacey (Nikki Deloach), anonymously sends her daughter a list of things to change about herself. The author is the mystery of season one, and Jenna is quite effected by the words. When it comes out that Lacey is responsible, it almost ruins Jenna's parents' marriage, and fractures the relationship between mother and daughter.

The story has moved past that, but it's appropriate to bring it up again now. Jenna has undergone quite a few changes this year, going through a phase where she cheated on her boyfriend and fell out with her besties. In "Who I Want to Be," she has mostly succeeded in rebuilding what she destroyed and is trying to figure out the type of person she should be going forward. This letter is part of her growth, a catalyst really, and she considers it along with her answer, as she should.

Lacey finds Jenna reading the letter and the two have a moving heart-to-heart. They've suffered tribulations together and come out the other side stronger than ever, both individually and as a pair. It's a reflective scene which really tells us who the women are, how far they've come and what they mean to one another. Both actresses do a terrific job with this emotional stuff, and many viewers will likely be moved to tears by the result. I dare say this may be my favorite moment of the year, if not the show as a whole.

Jenna's introspection comes because of an assignment from Mr. Hart (Anthony Michael Hall). Although the teacher seems grumpy and abrasive, if not downright cruel, at the start, there's something really cool about the way he and Jenna connect, and how he pushes Jenna to do her best work. She has talent in the field of writing, and he knows how to manipulate her to bring out the best. That, combined with the experiences Jenna has had, allow her to figure out both what to put and how to act. I hope this dynamic continues, as Jenna still could take things much further.

A lot of Awkward. has concerned Jenna and boys, which is expected for a story about a teenage girl. First she was with Matty (Beau Mirchoff), then Jake (Brett Davern), then back with Matty, then Collin (Nolan Funk), the latter being a physical attraction only. And part of "Who I Want to Be" does find Jenna pining over Matty, who she has not gotten over. She wants him to ask her to prom and he doesn't.

But that's not all Jenna is. Some girls may pin themselves to a guy, however, there is more to Jenna. She gets to tell Collin off in a triumphant moment. She tells Matty the door is still open for him, but she also knows she's survive, even thrive, if he never comes back to her. Then, even better, she dances by herself at the prom, happy and confident, not needing anyone else. This doesn't mean she's lonely; in fact, she's never been more solid with her loved ones. It just shows that she's a full individual who has accepted herself and is ready to move on to the next chapter of her life, whatever that may be.

Jenna isn't the only one who's blossomed. Ming (Jessica Lu) has found her confidence and her place. Tamara (Jillian Rose Reed) and Jake have bliss. Lacey regrets mistakes she's made because she's learned not to make them again. Matty is able to heal and enjoy himself with Bailey (McKaley Miller), a worthy date. Even Sadie (Molly Tarlov) has to smile, in love with a boy named Austin (Shane Harper), who gets her in a way no one else ever has.

"Who I Want to Be" is mostly about Jenna, though, as it should be. She's the heart of the show and the reason why we tune in. There's only been one brief period I didn't like her and had trouble relating (during this year's destructive phase), but the finale of this season makes that other stuff worth it. A person is not created already fully-formed, and over three glorious seasons, we've witnessed the evolution of Jenna. Beautiful.

Awkward. will return for a fourth season sometime in 2014 on MTV.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER Doesn't Act Like "Bass Player Wanted"

Article first published as HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER Doesn't Act Like "Bass Player Wanted" on TheTVKing.

Despite some early reticence, I have to admit that CBS's How I Met Your Mother has had a pretty great final fall run. Two weeks ago "The Rehearsal Dinner" was super sweet, and this week's "Bass Player Wanted," which serves as the mid-season finale, brings things together nicely. There are complaints to be had (such as Marshall taking half a season to join the others), but overall, it's been an enjoyable, heart-warming, and occasionally funny batch of installments.

My biggest complaint is that we haven't had enough of The Mother (Cristin Milioti). After being added to the central cast and making an instant impression, we've seen her only briefly and sporadically. She is well-used when she appears, but she's missing for long stretches of time and that's disappointing because she is such a likable, interesting character.

In "Bass Player Wanted," The Mother meets Marshall (Jason Segel) when she picks him up on the side of the road. They have wonderful chemistry right off the back, quickly able to joke with and relate to one another. It's very similar to The Mother's meeting with Lily (Alyson Hannigan), and it's very easy to see how she will fit in the group because of this.

Picking The Mother was a very difficult task for the production. She not only had to be a good actress, but they had to craft a character that would enjoy hanging out with the others, not bring too much of her own baggage, but still be a well-rounded person who isn't a loner. Somehow, the exact right mix of this has been found in Milioti's role.

"Bass Player Wanted" introduces us to Darren (Andrew Rannells, The New Normal, Girls), The Mother's 'friend' who has taken over her band. The Mother mentions knowing him for a few years, so presumably he will have to be in the upcoming spin-off, How I Met Your Dad. But, since he's definitely not a pal, having him be a main player would be difficult, and that actor is in-demand, so he may not be free for a recurring part. It will be interesting to see if or how this plays out.

We also learn that The Mother has been in a band for years. This will also have to be an element in How I Met Your Dad. How much of the series might include her singing? We know Milioti has a great voice (she's been praised for her Broadway work), and knowing this gives us an interesting taste of the new project.

More important than The Mother, though, is how the central quintet of characters come together, even though this half hour sees them at odds.. Marshall finally arrives for the wedding, but Lily is very angry because he took the judgeship behind her back, dashing her professional dreams. Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) gets ticked off at Ted (Josh Radnor) upon learning of Ted's plan to move to Chicago. Lily is angry at Robin (Cobie Smulders) for siding with Marshall, even though Robin is only doing so because she doesn't want Lily to move away. Also, Robin thinks Lily is stealing her thunder.

Halfway through the series' final season, things are kind of falling apart for our protagonists. They have kept some secrets from one another, and not always put their friends first. "Bass Player Wanted" is the sweet moment when they all come together and work through those differences. It probably won't be completely smooth sailing for the rest of the season, but as the time of the wedding moves closer, these five need to stick together, and this is a good way to get to that.

There are some nice little bits in this episode, too. Linus (Robert Belushi, son of Jim) continues to get plenty of screen time, becoming a fun recurring part. The humor 'rule of three' is satisfied as a third bottle of extremely expensive scotch is broken. The Mother buys Ted a drink, and even though they don't meet, it's a cool start to their relationship, knowing as the viewers do that they will be together. And ending the episode with the fourth slap, cliffhanger-style, is appreciated.

How I Met Your Mother will return to conclude its run soon on CBS.

Friday, December 20, 2013

ALMOST HUMAN Fighting An "Arrhythmia"

Article first published as ALMOST HUMAN Fighting An "Arrhythmia" on TheTVKing.

Only six episodes into the first year, FOX's Almost Human takes their winter break after this week's "Arrhythmia." A thriving black market sells ailing people artificial organs under the table, then extorts more money from the patients in order to keep the transplant working. Kennex (Karl Urban) and Dorian (Michael Ealy) are joined in their investigation of the enterprise by another DRN (also Ealy) who no longer works in law enforcement after a tragic incident.

After a sextet of installments, I'm a bit disappointed in Almost Human. The first started out with such promise, setting up some long, serial arcs that could be explored in a very intriguing story. The next five, though, have been mostly stand-alone procedurals, with the lead characters solving cases-of-the-week, with virtually no movement beyond that central plot.

For some reason, networks like procedurals. As someone who watches a lot of TV, I find them boring and dumb and quickly grow bored. But there is an (unfortunately large) segment of the viewing populace who craves the no-thinking, fluff entertainment, which is why the airwaves are clogged with the stuff. Fans of that genre have plenty of choices, so why force something clever and fresh to conform to the old standards?

It's very likely Almost Human won't remain in this format forever. Fringe, Dollhouse, and others have played the game at the start, delivering half a dozen or so rote episodes before kicking off exciting stories. Apparently, the hope is that the initial batch will hook in some of those lazy or very casual viewers, even after the series grows into something must-see. I don't know that that theory works all that well, but that's what we're stuck with for now, muddling through mediocre junk until the writers are given the freedom to get to the good stuff.

Make no mistake about it, I think Almost Human is going to have plenty of good stuff. The bits in the pilot that are sure to be revisited are interesting, the futuristic setting is cool, we've been introduced to much new technology that will definitely come into play again, and the characters are well developed. The cast, which includes Lili Taylor, Minka Kelly, Michael Irby, and Mackenzie Crook, are quite good. The raw ingredients for a great science fiction series are present, if only it would be allowed to rise in the oven to what it's supposed to be.

Take this recent episode, "Arrhythmia," for instance. The relationship between Kennex and Dorian, the best element so far, is usually only explored in small chunks to better serve the pacing of the episodes. But here, we get a more extended view of Dorian and his model of android. By bringing in another DRN, we get to compare and contrast Dorian to his brethren. Dorian is also shown to be a developed individual, different than this other robot, and capable of making compassionate decisions. It's a really good Dorian story, and Ealy does an admirable job in the dual role.

The parts of the installment that deal with the organs are intriguing, too. There are real issues raised, and some of these are not resolved by the end of the hour. Almost Human could spend much time re-examining and debating whether it's right or not to resell these organs, and what sort of regulation should be in place. Yes, that's not going to be the bones of a long-term arc, but it could be something brought up again on multiple occasions.

More of this is what I'm looking for. We get that there is still crime in the future and that cop shows sell. However, exploring the implications of technological advancement, a blurring of lines in what life is, and questions of morality is way neater in a TV program. Ditch the standard fare and deliver a series that geeks will find worth watching, and they'll be something to praise. At the moment, Almost Human is a very good procedural, enjoyable even, but that's all that it is. It's time for the next step in the series' evolution.

Almost Human will return in a few weeks on FOX.

MASTERS OF SEX "Manhigh" : Season Finale Review

Article first published as MASTERS OF SEX "Manhigh" : Season Finale Review on TheTVKing.

Showtime's excellent Masters of Sex completed its freshman run this week with "Manhigh." Bill Masters (Michael Sheen) prepares to present his findings of the past year of study to the hospital at large. Anticipation among the staff is high, and everyone eagerly packs the auditorium to hear Masters speak. But without Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) by his side, Masters overreaches and finds himself facing steep consequences.

Masters needs Virginia as much as any great partnership only works with both partners. He's brilliant, but bad at handling people. Virginia is smart, too, but her interpersonal skills are what balances him out so well. Masters would never have gotten as far as he did in his work without her to smooth his rough edges and communicate with their participants, calming anxieties. Now, her absence costs him dearly.

Masters realizes Virginia's importance, as evidenced by his inclusion of Virginia's name on the work product. He doesn't have to, with Virginia now working for Dr. DePaul (Julianne Nicholson) instead of him, but he does it out of appreciation for all that she has done. He isn't arrogant enough to minimize her contribution, and gives her the credit she has earned, even though she's a woman and women didn't get credit as freely at the time this story takes place.

Not that Masters is without assistance. His new helper, Jane (Helene Yorke), believes in him, as do cameraman Lester (Kevin Christy) and Bill's wife, Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald). But none of those three have Bill's ear or his professional respect the way that Virginia does. He likely appreciates them in some small way, but he doesn't consider them on the same level, and thus there is no one to tell him to temper himself.

Which is why the presentation is a disaster. Doctors and board members are shocked to see the inside of a vagina and the body of a woman masturbating, especially with women present in the room. They leave angrily, ignoring the statistics and invalidating Masters' work. In this instance, his data may be solid, but no one is going to pay attention to it because he screws up the initial conversation. He's his own worst enemy. Can he salvage anything from his efforts?

"Manhigh" ends with Bill standing on Virginia's door step in the rain telling Virginia that he needs her. This, more than her name on the work, leaves him bare and vulnerable, admitting something he didn't want to say out loud for the longest time. He swallows his pride and asks her to come back to him. This may be unhealthy, as he's missing the birth of his child, and he shows an obsession towards her with the use of footage of Virginia's body in the presentation. Knowing Bill is married and liking his wife, Virginia may be hesitant to return to the man who has few boundaries. But will she?

Virginia has a choice to make. She can stay in her home and work with Dr. DePaul and / or Masters. Or she can marry Ethan (Nicholas D'Agosto) and move away. This isn't as simple a decision as it may appear. Yes, Virginia loves her work, and with Dr. DePaul sick and Masters fired, both need extra help. But Ethan is really good to her kids, and they matter quite a bit to her, too, so she may want to put their needs ahead of hers.

Let's be honest, although "Manhigh" doesn't reveal Virginia's choice, she has to work with Bill. Otherwise, there's no show. Masters of Sex hinges on the relationship between the two of them, and as much as I enjoy the other characters, the rest are expendable. Thus, somehow, Bill and Virginia will end up working together again.

Besides this central plot, there are a lot of great supporting moments in "Manhigh." I love Barton's (Beau Bridges) struggle with his homosexuality, and his wife, Martha (Allison Janney), asking him not to undergo aversion therapy when she sees how bad it is. They are a couple I can't get enough of. I love Barton standing up for Masters, and Masters doing Barton a favor by saving the elder man's job. I love Lester and Jane's kiss. I love the masturbation conversation between Lester and Masters. I love seeing Libby hold her baby, someone that will surely bring her the joy her husband can't give her.

Masters of Sex is wonderful because of all of this. The two leads are fantastic, but the other players are terrific, too. The stories are well structured, with appropriate story for recurring parts without taking away from the whole, and layered, developed, authentic characters. There's commentary on the time and culture that doesn't feel preachy, and real questions that can't be quickly and easily answered are posed. It's definitely my new favorite Showtime series.

Masters of Sex has been renewed and will return next year to Showtime.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

SCANDAL Makes a Heck of an "Exit"

Article first published as SCANDAL Makes a Heck of an "Exit" on TheTVKing.

I am ashamed to say I fell behind on ABC's excellent Scandal this fall. But marathoning through the recent installments, culminating in "A Door Marked Exit" this past Thursday, I was very impressed. The entire run has been built expertly, stringing along various bits that mesh together in the most exciting and unexpected of ways, and ending with a number of absolutely stellar performances by several cast members.

The biggest shocker going into the finale is when Vice President Sally Langston (Kate Burton) kills her husband, Daniel Douglas Langston (Jack Coleman). Daniel has been cheating on Sally with James (Dan Bucatinsky) and is intent on leaving her, destroying her political career, but I think it's more Sally's personal pain that causes her to snap and lash out. She's been played for a fool by a man she loves and trusts, and she isn't the type to let him get away with it.

Sally calls Cyrus (Jeff Perry) to clean up the mess. Since James is Cyrus' husband and Cyrus is aware of the cheating, something he and Mellie (Bellamy Young) set up, though Cyrus hadn't expected James to go through with it, this may not be the best situation for Cyrus to go into. Cyrus keeps things together enough to get rid of the body in a non-suspicious way, using his power and influence. But he is also deeply affected, vomiting in a moment of weakness.

The performances by Burton and Perry are both amazing. Burton's shock and Cyrus's grief, both knowing that they bear direct responsibility for the circumstances and not being sure how to handle it, comes through. Both manage to capture all of the layers of the event, making them sympathetic, in spite of the despicable things they have done. Wow, they've come a long way since their days as Meredith Grey's parents!

The full weight of Douglas' death had not yet settled. Mellie Grant, at least, thinks she has Sally right where she wants her, blackmailed into not running against President Fitzgerald "Fitz" Grant (Tony Goldwyn) in the upcoming election. But once Sally starts thinking clearly again, she may decide revenge is the best strategy, as she has every reason to blame Mellie and Cyrus for pushing her into the deed. With the deliciously calculating Leo Bergen (Paul Adelstein, Private Practice) figuring out the truth and wanting to help Sally win, she might have a shot.

The more interesting question is, will Cyrus and James' marriage survive? They've been pushed to their limits before by one another, but unlike in the past, Cyrus is utterly broken when James leaves this time, a man who has lost the most precious thing in the world to him, and he's too upset to try to manipulate James back home. Instead, he offers James his dream job, something that could lead to professional trouble for Cyrus, and that only brings James back to the house, not doing anything towards repairing their emotional bond.

This raises the debate of when is a relationship dead? James has always used Cyrus for his own gain, but now it appears that's all that's left between them. Can Cyrus really be happy if James never forgives him, James only sticking around because he would have to give up the lifestyle to which he is accustomed if he left? I really hope they can move past this because, despite what Cyrus has done, he definitely cares about his partner.

Other relationships also remain broken. Huck (Guillermo Diaz) has no intention of welcoming Quinn (Katie Lowes) back into the fold, even though she can forgive him for torturing her, pushing her into the arms of Charlie (George Newbern), who would turn on her if ordered to do so. Jake (Scott Foley) has given up on having a relationship with Olivia (Kerry Washington), since Olivia is back to sleeping with Fitz. And Olivia isn't on good terms with either of her parents.

Olivia's mother, Marie (Khandi Alexander, Treme), is an escaped con who returns to D.C. with unknown motives. She may want to get even with her husband, Rowan (Joe Morton), for locking her up all of these years. She'll definitely want to get to know Olivia, and probably won't like it when Olivia turns less than receptive, now that Olivia knows how bad a person Marie is.

Rowan also can't be happy with his daughter, knowing Olivia's boyfriend has him removed from his post, with Jake taking over the shady organization.  Rowan surely has connections that can help him retake his position. And Jake's seat gives Fitz new powers no president should have. Time will tell if Jake can be a better leader than Rowan, with or without POTUS consent. It's all kind of a mess.

Not to mention, David Rosen (Joshua Malina) will now be on Sally and Cyrus' scent for the coverup of Daniel's death, even if lead James recants, now that a second person, Shelby Moss (Julia Cho, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries), has come forward with solid evidence.

Scandal delights at keeping every character off balance, each always scheming, forming alliances when it suits them, and working to take others down. It's not like Dallas, in which everyone vies for their own power, as some actually have noble intentions. But it is a well-written, well-performed Shakespearean drama of screwed up people, ripe with constant betrayals, murders, and secrets, making for a fast-paced, compelling series.

Scandal will return for its uninterrupted spring run on ABC in a couple of months.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

3D Blu-ray Review: ‘Doctor Who – The Day of the Doctor’

Article first published as 3D Blu-ray Review: ‘Doctor Who – The Day of the Doctor’ on Blogcritics.

DWJust a few short weeks ago, fans of Doctor Who were treated to a 50th anniversary special episode entitled “The Day of the Doctor.” The hour-plus-long special found three incarnations of The Doctor coming together to stop a Zygon invasion and face the toughest decision The Doctor ever made – committing the genocide of his own people. Now, that special has arrived in a Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD combo pack.

As the story begins, The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) are called to London by UNIT’s Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) to investigate destruction in a secret gallery. Glass covering paintings has been smashed from the inside, and the figures in those portraits are gone. Before The Doctor can figure anything out, a fissure in space and time opens above him.

Meanwhile, The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) is fending off the advances of his would-be wife, Queen Elizabeth I (Joanna Page, Gavin & Stacey). He knows there are Zygons about, but is having trouble telling the difference between the real monarch and her imposter. The same fissure opens near this Doctor and a fez tumbles out, soon followed by The Eleventh.

Both of these are prompted by a device that appears to The War Doctor (John Hurt) in the form of Bad Wolf (Billie Piper). The machine is the one that The Doctor can use to destroy his race, but it has developed a sentient conscience and wants him to really think through his actions before he goes forward with the plan. Through the fissure, the three Doctors come together.

Any time more than one Doctor occupies a scene, it’s magical. There’s a spirit about the iconic character, no matter who plays him, that is multiplied exponentially when this occurs. Tennant and Smith have absolutely terrific chemistry, and Hurt, playing the part for the first time, feels both similar and different, he being his own unique sort of incarnation, having lived through great battle and strife.

The questions raised and the issues faced are really cool, and with appearances by other extremely familiar faces, including a surprise cameo that is nothing short of stunning, it’s a fitting tribute to the long-running show. For my in-depth review of the special, click here.

This release has a few special features that are pretty neat. Both of the webisodes that serve as prequels, one of them featuring The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) just prior to his regeneration as The War Doctor, are included. There’s a pleasing, but too-short, 13-minute “Making Of,” as well as the full forty-five minute TV special Doctor Who Explained. Also, a fun pack of twelve Doctor Who trading cards, featuring all the Doctors so far, is packaged in, too.

The only thing  lacking, besides a longer behind-the-scenes piece, is The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, a hilarious half hour of the Doctors missing from special itself. To complete your celebration, I highly recommend finding a copy online somewhere and viewing it, as it has not had an official disc release at this time.

The 3D on this disc is a little weird. Both the 3D and 2D blu-ray versions are the same disc, and unlike other 3D releases, the 3D doesn’t come on automatically when popping it into the player. There is no option on the menu itself to turn it on, either, so I switched to 3D the way I would normally do a conversion of a 2D video, through my TV remote.

I admit, it could be my lack of confidence that I was watching the real 3D version, but I felt like the 3D for The Day of the Doctor was a bit weaker than other 3D releases. Parts of the 2D version looked a bit 3D when I originally watched, so well done are the special effects animation. But I can’t say I noticed a really deep, full 3D. It was certainly much better than most conversions I’ve watched, but not as good as the Pixar or Marvel 3D releases I own. I fully admit, my confusion about starting the 3D may have led to my slightly-off experience, and maybe I was trying to study it too hard, but I expect others will face the same challenge. Even if I didn’t access the 3D as intended, though, which I’m still unsure about, it’s a great viewing experience.

That aside, the overall picture is quite clear and the special effects are impressive. It has a sweeping, full score, and the soundtrack is well mixed.  It’s one of the better Blu-ray qualities I’ve seen.

Doctor Who – The Day of the Doctor is available now.

"Stand Up" and Take a Bow, GREY'S ANATOMY

Article first published as "Stand Up" and Take a Bow, GREY'S ANATOMY on TheTVKing.

ABC's Grey's Anatomy completed the first half of its tenth season this week with "Get Up, Stand Up." It's the day of April's (Sarah Drew) wedding, but her co-workers and friends are distracted with their own problems. Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Cristina (Sandra Oh) are still fighting, Alex (Justin Chambers) isn't sure he can come to terms with his father, Jimmy (James Remar), Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) turns down yet another job offer, Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) is upset that Callie (Sara Ramirez) still doesn't understand her, Bailey (Chandra Wilson) and Ben (Jason George) bicker over why Bailey had issues at work, Ross (Gaius Charles) continues to overstep his boundaries, and Jackson (Jesse Williams) considers taking a big risk.

If that sounds like a lot, it is, and I didn't even mention everyone in there. There are smaller stories about Owen (Kevin McKidd) urging Derek to serve his country, Bailey getting back to being a teacher, Webber (James Pickens Jr.) beautifully handling a staff member's break down, Alex pledging to spend his life with Jo (Camilla Luddington), Edwards (Jerrika Hinton) being out of sync with Jackson, and Leah (Tessa Ferrer) deciding to back away from Arizona, some of which tie into the more central bits, and some that don't, plus patient stuff, too.

Grey's Anatomy has built a tapestry of a lot of different strands, and in this structure, in which all of the arcs from the fall run must come together, they somehow manage to serve just about the entire cast without feeling rushed or crowded. It's a delicate feat, to balance so many varying plots, and yet, they do it expertly, delivering yet another fantastic installment.

April's wedding should be the focus. It's her big day, one that will potentially change her life forever. She does get a nice moment when Owen tells her how much of the staff showed up, but other than that, she's constantly battling for attention. April has learned to stand up for herself over time, and she attempts to in "Get Up, Stand Up." However, there are just too many things going on for her to grab the spotlight for more than a moment at a time, unfortunately, which means this is not her perfect wedding.

Jackson's proclamation, which almost doesn't happen, is inspired by his patient, who loses the ability to speak, as well as some advice he once received from Mark's mom. It's cool that these bits are tied together, with events in Grey's Anatomy rarely standing alone, built from much precedent. "Get Up, Stand Up" ends without April answering Jackson's declaration of love, but no matter which way she goes, at least Jackson made his feelings known. Which, consequently, surely destroys Edwards.

Arizona and Callie and Bailey and Ben have problems in their own relationships, and in both cases, it stems from not being on the same page. While this episode is one of revelations and discussions, neither member of either couple that is suffering manages to really make themselves understood in the hour. I want both unions to survive, but the only way they can do so is if Bailey and Arizona take some inspiration from Jackson and speak up for themselves. Then, their partners can decide if they can accept those feelings, or if it's time to move on.

Shepherd is likely going to throw a wrench into his own marriage when the President of the United States calls and asks him to accept an assignment. He has been the good husband, allowing Meredith a turn to be first, but how can one say no to the country's leader when he literally calls? Surely, Meredith will have to understand the extenuating circumstances, but something tells me she won't take it so well, especially with her study floundering.

At least Meredith should have Cristina again to fall back upon. Cristina and Meredith are best friends, so it's been rough watching them at odds. But it's also understandable, as their lives have diverged in important ways recently, forcing them to grow apart. I think they'll always have affection for one another, and now that they've aired their gripes, they can work past them. However, I don't think they'll ever be what they once were. They served purposes in one another's lives that they no longer can, and by necessity, that's going to change things.

Ross acts like a total jerk, speaking over Cristina at a press conference and insisting on doing a surgery that he can't handle. This pot has been brewing for quite awhile, ever since Heather's death in the season opener, as Ross becomes driven and overworks himself, and it cannot help but boil over. He's put too much stress on himself and he inevitably breaks. While we can see how this comes about, it's regretable and sad. Now, he needs rest and healing. Whether that happens with a reduced workload on the job or Ross being fired, he has to stop for awhile.

Is Ross finished being taken down, though? His mistake could very well cost Jimmy his life. Alex doesn't like Jimmy and is ready to be done with him, but Jimmy is still Alex's father. Alex will feel something about Jimmy's death, and should be angry at the man that killed him, or almost killed him, if that's how this plays out. Just as Alex thinks he's out of the family drama, this could very well pull him back in.

All of these things are wonderful character moments, expertly acted and extremely well written. I am constantly in awe of how the show maintains momentum and quality year after year, but it has. What's more, it has earned the right to tell stories that took a very long time to develop, paying off the fans who have stuck with it for a decade, and growing characters in ways shorter-running series do not have the opportunity to do. It does not squander this privilege.

It's one of the few shows I make effort to try to keep up with on a weekly basis, rather than marathoning it some weekend right before a finale. "Get Up, Stand Up" proves just why Grey's deserves this type of devotion, just as most of the episodes throughout the past couple of seasons have done, too. Series should go out on top, but this one still seems like it has a lot of life left in it.

Grey's Anatomy will return in February on ABC to air sans reruns through the spring.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Why ‘Once Upon a Time’ Is the New ‘Lost’ : Part Deux

Article first published as Why ‘Once Upon a Time’ Is the New ‘Lost’ : Part Deux on Blogcritics.

I began my Jerome-ing the TV Landscape column just about a year ago, and for my 25th column, I decided to go back and revisit the very first. Entitled Why Once Upon a Time Is the New Lost, it examines the similarities between the ABC shows, which share writers and producers. After watching last night’s Once Upon a Time mid-season finale, the parallels are even more striking, providing new fodder to muse over, without repeating the same points as before.

J1At the end of season three of Lost, the Oceanic Six left the island. This was a huge deal because it took many of the main characters home and turned a corner in the storytelling, focusing less on the characters’ pasts and more on the present and future. In fact, when talking about the series as a whole, this makes a very specific break, and Lost can be discussed as two separate halves that fit together nicely.

Once Upon a Time is only midway through its third year, but something very similar has happened. As the most recent episode ends, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Henry (Jared Gilmore) leave Storybrooke, their memories wiped, and everyone else returns to the Enchant Forest. This effectively find the characters split up and returning home, which obviously ruins the premise of the show.

“We have to go back!”

Those words, echoed repeatedly by Jack (Matthew Fox) on Lost apply. The aforementioned episode doesn’t even close out before Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) is knocking on Emma’s door, trying to tell her that the family she doesn’t remember is in danger. Emma is the Savior, as Jack was, and they have to be where the action is in order to save the day. I don’t know how Emma will get back and if that journey will be quick (it’s likely to be a great deal easier for her than it was for Jack, though both south places not on any map), but that has to be an immediate focus when the show is next on the air.

A hero’s accomplishments are not just given, they must be earned. Emma has done a few notable things, such as breaking the original curse, but she hasn’t really lived up to her power or potential yet. I do not know if this will be her moment, but it seems an opportune time, based on the tiny bit of magic we’ve seen her produce before now and her being in a unique position, outside of the Enchanted Forest, to do things those within surely cannot.

Plus, Emma’s choice between Hook and Neal (Michael Raymond-James) is eerily similar to Kate’s (Evangeline Lilly) decision of Jack or Sawyer (Josh Holloway). You could compare Emma to Jack, who had Kate or Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell), but the swarthy, smarmy Hook is absolutely a Sawyer, so I like the first triangle better.

This entire fall run, in which a number of main characters were in Neverland instead of Storybrooke, feels like when several of the castaways went back in time and worked for the Dharma Initiative in the 1970s. They were separated from their friends, but their actions were still relevant to the normal setting. They were in an unfamiliar place, but adapted as they needed to in order to get by, biding their time until they could get home.

J2Of course, the daddy of all comparisons is that of daddy issues. Lost‘s Jack and Christian (John Terry) have nothing on Rumple (Robert Carlyle) and Peter Pan (Robbie Kay). There is some death and disapproval involved, but the most similar thing about both is that a father and son just can’t get along, since one show takes things to a whole other plane above the other. A plane that won’t crash like Oceanic 815 did.

Emilie de Ravin was benched twice. Granted, Lost left her out her for an entire season and Once Upon a Time just skipped most of the fall episodes, but still, she was missing and her absence was felt.

Lastly, as OUAT fans saw in the preview for the spring return, Rebecca Mader, a Lost alum, will be playing the Wicked Witch of the West. Funnily enough, Lost also contained Wizard of Oz references, with Ben (Michael Emerson) originally claiming his name was Henry Gale.

Sadly, Once Upon a Time still falls short of Lost. Even in the best of episodes, there are usually lots of places to poke holes in the writing or the continuity on OUAT. Yet, it remains an entertaining series, so should it never rise to Lost‘s lofty heights, it doesn’t shame its forefather, either.