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Thursday, January 30, 2014

STATE OF SYN A New State (Staite?) for TV

Article first published as STATE OF SYN A New State (Staite?) for TV on TheTVKing.

Television is in a transitional period. Young people are flocking away from the traditional cable model, cutting the cord and finding their programming online. At the same time, a variety of new content providers are seeking to bring original work to the masses in fresh ways. Without the limitations of the old model, there's a lot more room for experimentation and new perspectives, moving outside the box classic dramas and sitcoms seem stuck in.

Recently, Hulu launched the original series State of Syn, the first eight episodes of which are available on their site now. Set in 2043, it shows us a world where technology has developed into a primary focus of life. The rich have built a wall between themselves and the poor, yet those less fortunate still make time to go clubbing and try the latest fad, which is addictive tech altering their brain like a drug. It's a bleak picture of the future.

Enter into this world Annika Drake (Jewel Staite, Firefly), a young woman who can taste sounds and feel colors. Her father is the brain behind the latest developments, but his business partner, Aslin Kane (David Hewlett, Traders), has perverted his knowledge. Can Annika discover what is going on and stop it before Kane controls the world?

Each episode is only 6 or 7 minutes long, closer to a web series than the programs most of us are used to. What this means is that the initial batch of eight feels more like a pilot than a season. It introduces us to a group of characters, sets up the premise and world, and deals with one immediate problem. It doesn't resolve many of its threads, leaving the door open for much more story.

What is there is good, and I'm eager for more at the end. There is a lot going on, with different factions, including the Preacher (Rainbow Francks, The Listener), who have their own motivations. It's hard to know who to trust, and while there isn't time for much character exploration yet, it definitely feels like there is depth to the roles. Plus, it's interesting to see yet another dystopian version of the future, with unique developments that are intriguing.

The most jarring thing about State of Syn is that it appears to be a motion comic, with photos of the actors set in a CGI world. There's a lot of movement from panel to panel, so it's not boring, but the characters themselves are mostly static. If you've watched such a medium before, as some graphic novels these days are released in this format, you may be fine with it, but for the rest of us, it takes some getting used to.

The thing is, though, you can get used to it, even for those completely inexperienced. I watched the season in two batches, and both times I felt myself really drawn into the story. This style does allow for some cool visuals, and it fits the type of adventure that's portrayed. It's not exactly a mainstream conceit, but I think this could gain more popularity, especially with the 3D feel in a 2D presentation.

Some of the dialogue is cheesy, and Kane himself seems like a comic book villain. However, this matches the tone, so it doesn't seem so hokey. If you already feel like you're reading a comic, tropes of the genre aren't so unwelcome.

Overall, I enjoyed State of Syn, and while I don't think its appeal is broad enough to crack the new television arena wide open, I do think lots of people will like it if they take the time to check it out, probably more than would expect to. It'll serve comic book lovers, to be sure, but it should also be good enough for fans of sci-fi who crave the moral debates over technology and its use. By casting a bunch of Stargate: Atlantis vets, State of Syn is smart, as perhaps some of those fans will give it a chance.

State of Syn is available now on Hulu.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Abed Resorts to "Escapism" in COMMUNITY

Article first published as Abed Resorts to "Escapism" in COMMUNITY on TheTVKing.

The most recent installment of NBC's Community, "Geothermal Escapism," follows in the proud tradition of episodes such as the paintball wars and the pillow fort, turning the community college into a battleground where a hyper reality can play out. It brings some new, creative adaptations to sets, specific terminology to the situation, and some dramatic moments as friends and colleagues die in the lava that everyone pretends the floors of Greendale have morphed into. It's nothing short of fantastic.

The costumes, too, match this futuristic, post-apocalyptic landscape. From Britta's (Gillian Jacobs) black leather and frizzy hair to Shirley's (Yvette Nicole Brown) religious leader robes to Buzz Hickey's (Jonathan Banks) machine that seems to be a part of himself, the references are clear and the tone is firmly set. Chang (Ken Jeong) and his "locker boy" followers are entertaining, and most of the recurring players show up for at least one fun line. It's a total immersion in this new world.

My only real complaint is that the Dean (Jim Rash) disappears early in the episode, and we never seen him participating in the game. One must assume that there is a deleted scene somewhere, and with all of the things that must be served in the half hour, especially the Troy / Abed / Britta plot, there just wasn't room for him. Too bad. He's a character who consistently delivers, and rarely gets too heavily involved in these weird excursions.

"Geothermal Escapism" does make room to show Jeff (Joel McHale) and Annie (Alison Brie) teaming up once more. Is this a sign that they may be sleeping together again? Or forming a real relationship? Or do they just enjoy their games, and haven't been able to make a real commitment to one another yet?

Most importantly, "Geothermal Escapism," is the last one for the character of Troy (Donald Glover). A member of the study group from the beginning, Troy sets sail around the world to fulfill the terms of the inheritance bequeathed to him by Pierce. But before he can depart, his best friend, Abed (Danny Pudi), must let go, something easier said than done

Abed and Troy's friendship has been such an essential part of Community that it's hard to imagine what the show will be like without it. Will someone else replace Troy as Abed's bestie, or will Abed now be alone, as no one else understands him? Will it feel like an essential element of the series is missing, or will this finally give Abed the room he needs to grow and develop?

Abed is an emotionally stunted individual, and so dealing with the strong feelings of grief he has over losing Troy are not something he is equipped to do. As so often has been the case, Abed chooses to ignore reality, putting himself in a fantasy world, hoping that will give him the context he needs to process his sorrow. And, as has happened before, Abed drags the whole school down the rabbit hole with him.

With Abed broken again, the only person who can help him is Britta. Community fans and characters alike frequently make fun of Britta for her ineptitude; her name is even used as a verb meaning "to screw things up." Yet, in the past couple of years, we've seen her mature as a mental health professional. She may not understand how to diagnose and treat Abed, but she is the one that finds a loophole in his created realm that can be used to help him move forward, even if it's not a professional method. She saves the day.

After the action-packed installment of Lava World is mostly played out, Community does leave a few minutes for some very heartfelt goodbyes. Troy gets a moment with each of the study group in turn, and I can't think of a thing I'd change about the words they exchanged. Each player reveals something about themselves and offers at least a glimpse of the depth of their affection. It's a tear-inducing scene, played perfectly by all involved.

And then, icing on the cake, we learn that Troy is setting sail with his hero, LeVar Burton (himself). It's a call back to an earlier story, and one that gives us a hint that Troy won't be miserable and alone on his journey. It provides hope for a fun future for him, even as he leaves Greendale and his friends behind.

"Geothermal Escapism" is a near-perfect episode, serving Troy, Britta, and Abed, especially, but also squeezing in enough little bits and one-liners, such as Britta and Jeff's knock-knock argument, to make it feel authentically Community, avoiding being too narrowly focused. Let's hope if anyone else leaves, they get at least half the send-off Troy does. Better yet, let's hope Troy completes his voyage and comes back for a (not-yet-ordered) sixth season.

Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

PSYCH "Remake" Not Improvement

Article first published as PSYCH "Remake" Not Improvement on TheTVKing.

USA's Psych feels like its taking a victory lap as the series wraps up. I say this because, rather than delivering typical episodes, the writers are getting more creative more often and doing some zany things, from musicals to a European excursion. This week's latest installment, "Remake A.K.A. Cloudy... With a Chance of Improvement" is actually a redo of a season one episode, working off what is a very similar script and storyline, albeit with a different killer.

The original episode (which I re-watched this week) was the twelfth one that aired, "Cloudy... With a Chance of Murder," way back in February of 2007. It is a relatively normal entry in which Shawn (James Roday) and Gus (Dule Hill) help a bumbling defense attorney named Adam Hornstock (Michael Weston, House M.D.) clear his client of having murdered her lover, a newscaster. In the original version, the victim's jealous assistant (Keegan Connor Tracy, Once Upon a Time), is the culprit.

This time around, the defense attorney is still played by Weston, but now the suspects are a plethora of recognizable faces, rather than the relative unknowns used last time. The guest cast includes Ralph Macchio (Ugly Betty, Eight is Enough), Janet Varney (Burning Love), Katharine Isabelle (Being Human), Carlos Jacott (Big Love), Lindsay Sloane (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch), Alan Ruck (Spin City, Ferris Bueller's Day Off), Ray Wise (Twin Peaks, and a previous Psych guest star twice over), and Dana Ashbrook (also Twin Peaks and Psych). This roster lends the whiff of a stunt episode to the mix.

It isn't surprising Psych would finally get around to a tribute to itself. It has, after all, paid homage to many other shows and movies in the past. With its offbeat sense of humor, it makes total sense to go in this direction, especially if the end is nigh.

That being said, "Remake A.J.A. Cloudy... With a Chance of Improvement" adds little to the series portfolio, and it would be hard to argue it's even a bit better than the first, no matter what the title suggests. I believe part of this is because it picks a very run-of-the-mill entry to play off of, and the other part is that it doesn't do much to change things. The one thing the new one has over the old is that in the original, it's very clear the team hasn't figure out what the show is yet, exactly, whereas here, there's a welcome level of comfort and confidence.

In fact, the character dynamics are much closer to the current relationships that the original chemistry, despite the insistence of text on screen that this takes place years ago. While Jules (Maggie Lawson) says she isn't amused by Shawn, we know it's not true. Lawson doesn't do enough to convince us of that, which, as funny as it is when Shawn insists they will be together, something that can be added to the story in hindsight, is too bad. Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) also goes too soft on the boys.

A couple of things that are nice additions is that Henry (Corbin Bernsen) talks to a baby at the beginning, rather than a child, and Woody (Kurt Fuller), now an important part of the ensemble, is a witness in the case. But even in this, they waste Woody, not even setting him up to be a pal or have his current job.

Overall, "Remake A.K.A. Cloudy... With a Chance of Improvement" is a disappointment. Not because it's not entertaining; it's about as much so as a mediocre, typical Psych episode. Instead, it's the missed opportunities like the jokes that weren't done (such as using an old theme song) that keep it from being memorable. It's a good idea, not executed as well as it could have been, though it does have some good references.

Psych airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on USA.

Monday, January 27, 2014

RAKE "Killer" New Character on FOX

Article first published as RAKE Review on Seat42F.

FOX’s latest drama is RAKE. The series title actually does not refer to a person’s name, but rather the old-fashioned term for a man who often acts in an immoral manner and causes all sorts of trouble. In the original Australian version, which this new series is based on, the main guy is named Rake. Credit this series for a bit of subtlety for not following in those ill-begotten footsteps.

Greg Kinnear (Little Miss Sunshine) is the lead, playing Keegan Deane, a defense attorney deeply in debt and who keeps digging his hole deeper. Forced to crash with his friends, former roomie Ben (John Ortiz, Luck), his wife, prosecutor Scarlet (Necar Zadegan, 24), and their three children, Keegan can’t even keep his driver’s license current of his car in his possession.

Things go from bad to worse very early in the pilot, “Serial Killer.” Playing poker in the hopes that he can use his winnings to pay off a bookie whose henchman, Roy (Omar J. Dorsey, Django Unchained), is pressuring him to fork over fifteen grand or else, Deane is rewarded with a loser case and a giant tuna fish that rates a ‘2,’ for those who know of such things. Toss in an ex-wife, Maddy (Miranda Otto, Cashmere Mafia), and a crooked cop (guest star Bill Smitrovich, The Practice), and Keegan has his hands full.

“Serial Killer” is hilarious. Every time you expect Keegan to get a break, just a toehold on getting by, he fails to do so. He is the world’s unluckiest man, and his behavior does not help, painting himself as his own worst enemy. The comedy of errors may be something difficult to keep up week after week, but for the first hour, it roars along as a brisk pace, getting wilder and more entertaining as it goes.

Kinnear is fantastic, as one would expect. A seasoned actor, he’s already earned his chops numerous times over. RAKE is a well-deserved showcase of his talent, giving him plenty of meaty material to devour in a part that could easily be very unlikeable if not delicately handled. He mines the pathos of the cad, and even when Keegan is making mistakes, which is often, one feels really bad for him.

Part of the reason viewers can be sympathetic to Keegan is the loyalty of his put-upon assistant, Leanne (Tara Summers, Boston Legal). He’s way overdue in paying her, too, but she sticks by him. She seems like a kind, decent woman who is not in love with him, so if she can find something noble and good in Keegan, it’s got to be there, buried deep, right? Plus, Ben, Scarlet, and their family keep forgiving him, so…

RAKE seems to be following the proud tradition of House and other, lesser dramas that bank on one character. The supporting players, while fine, are only there because they relate to the main guy, mainly in how he uses them for his own purposes. But like Hugh Laurie, Greg Kinnear has the ability to carry the show, and hopefully be a compelling character study in his own right, interesting because of, not despite, his flaws.

I do worry that RAKE will be a traditional procedural. There’s likely some element of that in the long-term plan, with Keegan finishing off his initial case by the end of “Serial Killer.” Luckily, there’s a lot more development for Keegan than his client here, which makes the episode better than the typical formulaic drama. We’ll have to see what kind of balance is struck, whether most weeks will rely more heavily on a fleeting story or long-term plot, before it can be determined if this is a show to watch.

Whether RAKE becomes a hit of a forgotten footnote, the first episode is very enjoyable, and that’s enough for now. I definitely recommend checking it out when it premieres this Thursday at 9 p.m. EST on FOX.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

SLEEPY HOLLOW Full Of "Indispensable" "Blood"

Article first published as SLEEPY HOLLOW Full Of "Indispensable" "Blood" on TheTVKing.

FOX's Sleepy Hollow has been an action-packed drama full of twists and turns throughout the course of its thirteen-episode freshman run. Abandoning the police procedural concept entirely, which is a surprise considering the set up of the pilot, instead it focuses on mythology and belief, bringing witches, Revolutionary soldiers, George Washington, the Masons, the Bible, including the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse and Revelations, and more together in a thrilling messy war.

The two-part season finale, "Indispensable Man" and "Bad Blood," tie a lot of the threads from past episodes into a neat bow. Little elements that didn't seem related suddenly are, and both of the main characters, also known as the Witnesses, are forced to confront their pasts. It's terrific character development, but also really cool storytelling that proves the writers had a plan going in for this tale.

Abbie (Nichole Beharie) realizes she's forgotten some of her past with the demon, Moloch (Derek Mears). Trapped in Purgatory, a fulfillment of a prophecy she tried to avoid, she wanders into a dollhouse, a safe haven where she finds her missing childhood experiences. It's clear why Moloch stole that part of Abbie, as it would have ruined one of Moloch's plots. But it's also a lot about Abbie, who turned her back on her sister, Jenny (Lyndie Greenwood), in the woods, and now faces her sins.

Abbie is a hero, one who is willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good. "Bad Blood" is the culmination of this, at least in regards to serving as redemption for the mistakes she has struggled with throughout this freshman year. Abbie will surely survive and emerge back into the real world, but this should make her a much more confident, tough person, helping to erase the self-doubt and regret that plagues her. Which is not to say she hasn't shown strength, but she does have vulnerabilities that this should help heal.

While in Purgatory, Abbie also runs into Andy (John Cho) and Sheriff Corbin (Clancy Brown). For two characters who died in the first part, they sure have been well-used in the past few months, returning again and again. It seems fitting that Abbie confronts them again now, probably the last time we'll see them (assuming Andy is crushed completely in Washington's tomb), at least for awhile. They are likely part of the first chapter, not the whole epic journey.

Ichabod (Tom Milson) also stares down his past in Purgatory when reunited with his father (the amazing Victor Garber, Alias). This is someone that Ichabod is estranged from, but someone whose approval the soldier desperately craves. Ichabod made some tough choices in his life, and when offered the chance to change things, even if it's not real, Ichabod reaffirms his stance, proving his mettle.

It is a tad too easy how Ichabod and Abbie overcome their various obstacles. They are quickly tricked, and just as quickly break the spell. But there's a lot to get through in these two hours, and it's more important that they are shown grappling with a crucial element of their past than exploring a full story on how to escape said element. So it works for the story structure laid out, and it's a minor complaint in an otherwise stellar ending.

Abbie stays stuck in Purgatory, but this allows Ichabod to bring Katrina (Katia Winter) home. The lovers are reunited, and it seems like a happy ending for Ichabod, at least in the romantic department. After all, once Katrina's out, surely they can find some way to keep her out, even while saving Abbie.

There is a scene between Ichabod and Abbie in Purgatory that makes me think Katrina may not be long for this world, despite appearing in the show's opening credits. After all, she's always been a side part. Abbie and Ichabod have a bond that could easily be developed into something more, and even Katrina looks uncomfortable at their long goodbye hug. Might Sleepy Hollow be heading for a hook-up between the unlikely partners? I can't say I saw it coming until now, but it might be a good idea, given their excellent chemistry and total opposites attract mojo.

Ichabod and Katrina's bliss is cut short when Henry Parish (Fringe's John Noble) is revealed to be their lost son, Jeremy, and a servant of Moloch and the second Horseman. It's a deep betrayal, both from Henry, who has become a fast friend and assistant to the Witnesses, and from Jeremy, who will not hear his parents' explanations. It seems especially unfair that Jeremy buried Ichabod in the ground, since Ichabod never even knew of his existence, though it makes total sense when Jeremy hands Katrina over to the Headless Horseman (Richard Cetrone), whom loved her.

Leaving all of these players in a cliffhanger in not exactly welcome, but certainly makes for a tense, exciting ending. Ichabod is buried, Abbie is trapped, Katrina is captive, and Moloch and Jeremy / Henry are free to do their evil, a seal broken. Oh, and supporting player Jenny appears like she might be dead and Captain Irving (Orlando Jones) is arrested protecting his daughter, so there is really no one left to save the day. How will they come back from this?

There aren't really any hints in "Bad Blood" at a resolution, but that's OK. It feels like everything was poured into this finale, playing all the cards they still held at once, all while seamlessly tying it back to what came before. Now, the writers have months to figure out where to go next, and given the skill they've demonstrated thus far, they leave us with confidence that they can solve the puzzle by the time filming resumes.

Sleepy Hollow has been renewed and will return to FOX next fall.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Can Lightning Strike Twice for Cosby?

Article first published as Can Lightning Strike Twice for Cosby? on Blogcritics.

C1NBC and Bill Cosby are developing a family sitcom starring the legendary funnyman. With the success of The Cosby Show many years ago, the question remains, can lightning strike twice?

First of all, I find it very odd that NBC is the network doing this. Not too long ago, there was exciting buzz about that channel bringing back Michael J. Fox in a family sitcom, and NBC was so confident in the project that it ordered a full 24 episodes before the series made it to air. Roughly halfway through its freshman run, The Michael J. Fox Show is a ratings failure, sure to never get a sophomore season. With its last place numbers, especially on the night that was once Must See TV, it seems like NBC is doubling down on a failed idea.

But no two people are like, and so, too, will no two shows be exactly the same. Just because Fox couldn’t find something fresh and new (his sitcom, which I finally gave up on in November, definitely feels like one that would have worked well in days gone by, just not now) doesn’t mean the Cosby can’t. Judgment should be reserved.

Now, Cosby has already attempted and failed at a second go-round. Cosby, which began a few years after The Cosby Show ended (and also followed up the even more short-lived The Cosby Mysteries), ran for only four seasons. That may seem like a lot, and the death of series regular and comedy star Madeleine Kahn may have had something to do with it ending then. But that run is rarely remembered by anyone, a footnote in Cosby’s career despite its Emmy nominations and the return of Phylicia Rashad as Bill’s wife.

TV audiences crave a good new family sitcom. Modern Family is aging and The Middle and Raising Hope barely get by. Most of the popular comedies on television today don’t revolve around a mother, a father, and their children. Surely, everything clever about such a unit has not already been told? We just need a new style to tell it in.

However, this may be not be the direction NBC is going with the new show. One idea being bandied about is to bring back many of the actors from the original The Cosby Show, and making this new venture a continuation, a la Dallas. Dallas works, though, because it balances a new cast with the old. Since most viewers would tune in for Cosby himself, would this potential series be able to do that? Nostalgia can only carry things so far, and as great as The Cosby Show is, its era seems to be over. They might be better served doing something completely fresh.

C2It might not be a bad idea to try to provide other draws for the show besides Bill Cosby himself, if they go in that direction. He is getting up there in the years, and given that most successful comedies run for close to a decade, that should be taken into account when sketching out the premise.

Age has not weakened Cosby’s humor, though. Doing a fresh stand up (to be more accurate, sit-down) special for Comedy Central last fall, he landed joke after joke. The whole thing was hilarious. He doesn’t need to convince anyone who saw it that he can still deliver in the humor department. And he did so by mainly sticking to the type of material he’s known for.

So maybe I’m wrong that a traditional family program can’t succeed today. Maybe it just needs that special Bill Cosby touch. Maybe his brand is exactly the right one to catch that lightening again, and he can be a television legend once more. We’ll see.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Journey to KLONDIKE

Article first published as KLONDIKE Review on Seat42F.

Discovery Channel’s first scripted miniseries, KLONDIKE, tells the story of the gold rush in Alaska in the late 1890s. It paints a picture of many types of characters who just might make it in a frontier setting, where rules and laws give way to survival of the fittest and nature, as well as the hero who struggles to adjust his morality. Who will thrive and who will perish? Tune in to find out.

It’s good to see more cable networks getting into the scripted game. As someone who detests most reality programming, and even finds many of the so-called “educational” stuff on Discovery and History hokey and annoying, I don’t typically appreciate the offerings of these networks. But a good drama, which either tells a true story (in a fashion) or presents a period of time most people don’t know a lot about, is welcome. KLONDIKE may fit this category.

KLONDIKE reminds me a lot of AMC’s Hell on Wheels. It has a similar tone and wild spirit, and the players feel familiar. It took me awhile to get into Hell on Wheels, likely because the frame of reference is so far off between today and that era. KLONDIKE, too, begins a little slowly, but it has good enough cast that I’ll give it the same chance, hoping it will grow on me the way the AMC show has, though KLONDIKE is a limited-run piece. Plus, a twist late in Part One really got me excited about what’s happening.

After the obligatory, out-of-sequence hook, which nearly all shows seem to feel the need to include these days, though they really shouldn’t, the first part begins with two young men, Bill Haskell (Richard Madden, Game of Thrones) and Byron Epstein (Augustus Prew, The Borigas), setting out to make their fortune beyond The Wall in the snowy wilderness.. They have a spirit of adventure, brave souls, and a naivety that will definitely bring them more trouble than good. They’re familiar types, but not unwelcome ones.

Upon reaching their destination, the town of Klondike, Bill and Byron quickly learn that they are not at all prepared for the life they’ve embarked upon. They don’t understand the attitudes of the local Native Americans, and are surprised by the unscrupulous and selfish nature of their new neighbors. They get in over their heads in a compelling way, and by the end of the first part, viewers should care about them.

Among the characters they meet in their new home are mill owner Belinda Mulrooney (Abbie Cornish, Outriders), who is very protective of her business ventures, wise, kind priest Father Judge (Sam Shepard, The Right Stuff), whom the locals don’t care for nearly as much as Bill does, con-artist Soapy Smith (Ian Hart, Luck Dirt), who tries to seem harmless, The Count (Tim Roth, Lie To Me), the clear villain of the piece, and aspiring writer Jack London (Johnny Simmons, The Perks of Being a Wallflower).

Yes, that Jack London. For whatever reason, many historical tales feel the need to stick in real-life figures. London isn’t the only such person in KLONDIKE, but is the most famous one. I think they feel this gives the story some legitimacy, tying it to the real world by using a familiar name. But rarely do such projects care much about portraying the person in an authentic light, bending them to the whims of the script, instead, so London, like many that came before him in other shows, is a failed experiment, which KLONDIKE would be better off without.

The others are mostly types, too, to be honest. We’ve had plenty of woman who spur the traditional gender roles, or businessmen who are ruthless. Perhaps these archetypes work for a reason, but it still leaves one, who has already born witness to so many of them, yearning for something more fresh and original.

That being said, there is some strong casting here, and hopefully the actors will raise the parts above their starting position. I already like Bill, and the others have just enough potential that they might salvage the program, though in lesser hands than those currently guiding them, they would very much waste away.

KLONDIKE airs at 9 p.m. ET this week on Discovery Channel, starting Monday.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

COMMUNITY - Truths After the Funeral


Article first published as COMMUNITY - Truth After the Funeral on TheTVKing.

In the latest installment of NBC's Community, "Cooperative Polygraphy," the study group gathers in their usual hang out after Pierce's (Chevy Chase) funeral. Pierce's lawyer, Mr. Stone (Walton Goggins, Justified), shows up and tell them that Pierce has left them all something in his will, but to get the inheritance they must submit themselves to a polygraph to prove they didn't murder him. Chaos ensues as the questions Pierce leaves are as antagonistic as ever.

I love when Community does bubble episodes, just the main cast together in one place. It gives them a chance to show off their wonderful chemistry, usually resulting in fights, but also finding a stronger bond by the end of the half hour. "Cooperative Polygraphy" is no different in that regard, as it's a wonderful character-driven episode with moments of beauty for each of the group.

Most of the conversation is fraught with strife. Pierce reveals secrets about them all, such as Abed (Danny Pudi) having put tracking chips in his fellows. Yet, as always, they find a way to work through it. Jeff's (Joel McHale) voice of reason, constantly trying to prevent a schism, is totally expected, and it continues to work, even if there are bumps along the way

It almost feels like Piece is back, as Mr. Stone serves as his mouthpiece and sits in his seat. At times, Pierce was annoying, but Chase is a brilliant comic actor, and his presence is missed. The instructions he leaves behind are classic Pierce, and his voice comes through in the perfectly crafted dialogue. This the next best thing to having Pierce back, and a fitting way to send off his character.

It's a shame that Pierce won't be returning to Community. Chalk it up to contract junk from all the messiness last year. But at least the show addresses and serves him, even if Chase can't appear, except when filmed alone on an empty sound stage, as he was for the hologram scene in the premiere episode. This satisfactorily explains his absence, but the hologram leaves the door open for more guest appearances in the future.

In fact, given Community's track record, it would be simple enough to bring back Pierce, if the behind-the-scenes stuff could be worked out. Starburns faked his death, and for awhile, it looked like Pierce's father did the same. Why not Pierce himself? That would be a welcome development, indeed, sneaky, insecure Pierce spying on his friends to see if they cared about him or not, then being caught doing so. The viewers would accept it.

But for now, life goes on without Pierce, but his death affects each of the rest of the cast. The sincere moments at the end of the questioning tell us something that many suspected about Pierce, even if it was never obvious - he did care about his friends. And they care about him. His final praise for Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown), Annie (Alison Brie), and Britta (Gillian Jacobs), especially, is heartfelt and touching.

The character who is most changed by the experience, though, is Troy (Donald Glover). Pierce issues him a challenge to sail around the world before earning Pierce's millions of company stock. Troy accepts. The two always had a special bond, Troy even having lived with him for awhile. Plus, Troy has always seemed the most aimless character, never quite knowing what he's looking for. "Cooperative Polygraphy" serves as a continuation of this story, and gives Troy a launching point for his departure, one that makes sense and fits his character. He can always come back later, scheduling permitting.

Abed gets nothing from Pierce, other than the obligatory sperm, which is sad. Yes, Pierce says he never understood Abed, so perhaps he doesn't know what to leave him. It's easy enough to accept that they couldn't connect, the two being such drastically different people, representations of their generations taken to the extreme. This is a realistic choice, but one that does hurt, emotionally speaking.

The only weird thing about "Cooperative Polygraphy" is that Chang (Ken Jeong) is included in the questions,  but then walks out without Mr. Stone even trying to stop him. Did Pierce know Chang this well, too? Or did the writers just want to give Jeong a part in the episode and weren't sure how to do it? I feel like there's missed opportunity here, Chang could have been desperate to be part of their club, but it's a minor gripe in an otherwise fantastic episode.

Oh, and where was Gilbert (Giancarlo Esposito)? Esposito is starring in Revolution, which may have made his presence difficult to obtain, but a line mentioning him wouldn't have been too hard to include.

But overall, a terrific installment for an awesome series. Community airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

SHERLOCK Lives

Article first published as SHERLOCK Review on Seat42F.

The BBC’s SHERLOCK begins its third outing on PBS tonight with“The Empty Hearse.” Picking up two years after Sherlock’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) death, everyone has accepted the detective’s fate and begun to move on with their lives. Which makes it especially messy when Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) summons his brother home to help out on a new assignment, disrupting the lives of the people who missed Sherlock.

It’s not a spoiler to reveal that Sherlock did not, in fact, die in the previous season finale because there would be no SHERLOCK with Sherlock. That’s just simple logic, easy enough for even the most amateur sleuth to deduct, and it has been pretty clear is press materials and such leading up to this run that Cumberbatch would return.

The questions are, though, how did Sherlock fake his death, why did he not tell his partner, Watson (Martin Freeman), the truth, and what has he been up to while away? Speaking of them in no particular order, as PBS has asked us not to give this stuff away, at least one of these is answered in the initial installments, one is sort of left up to the viewer to decide, and one is played with in spectacular fashion, proving Sherlock is as much as a legend as he is a person. The last I refer to may never satisfactorily be answered, but that only adds to the mystique of the character.

SHERLOCK is as much about the mystery as it is about the answers. Yes, the titular character thrives on putting together the clues, but he doesn’t have to disseminate the information to everyone. He plays his cards close to his chest, and if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be Sherlock.
Not that Watson doesn’t have a few surprises of his own. While missing his buddy, he has met and fallen in love with Mary (Amanda Abbington, Mr. Selfridge), whom he intends to marry. This throws Sherlock for a loop, with his partner’s loyalties now split. Can Watson balance a spouse and the demanding detective? Or will he have to choose? Will that decision even be hard?

Watson isn’t the only one who has a strong reaction to Sherlock’s return. Among the familiar characters featured in “The Empty Hearse” whose reactions to Sherlock’s resurrection are revealed are Lestrade (Rupert Graves), Molly (Louise Brealey), and Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs). Sherlock does not live in a vacuum, and while he abhors a true community, he is not lonely as he accuses Mycroft of being. He has his friends, and they are happy to have him back, for the most part.

This episode is full of a number of hilarious, wonderful scenes. From Mrs. Hudson’s surprise at Watson’s heterosexuality, to a couple of outlandish theories played out, to an unexpected gay kiss that will make internet fan-fiction writers gasp, to multiple discussions of facial hair, to one-liners tossed into serious bits willy nilly, the writing is sharp and entertaining. Plus, the emotional stuff between Watson and Sherlock and Sherlock and Mycroft is very well done, deepening our understanding of these important bonds. There is a lot to appreciate and enjoy about the 90 minute installment.

There is also new danger afoot. Sherlock doesn’t re-emerge by chance, and what Mycroft wants him to do isn’t the only threat that London faces. Within the premiere, one of the main characters finds their life threatened in a very serious way. Then, Sherlock and Watson get right in the middle of a very large-scale plot that could result in hundreds of casualties, or more. As emotionally fulfilling as “The Empty Hearse” may be, it is also thrilling, too.

“The Empty Hearse” is a jolly good time, a return to form for the popular British programme. SHERLOCK premieres tonight at 9:58 p.m. ET on PBS as part of Masterpiece Mystery.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Still Following THE FOLLOWING

Article first published as THE FOLLOWING Review on Seat42F.

FOX’S THE FOLLOWING returns at a special night and time tonight with “Resurrection.” It’s been a year since Joe Carroll’s (James Purefoy) death, as well as Claire Matthews’ (Natalie Zea) and Debra Parker’s (Annie Parisse). Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) has moved on, settling in to a teaching job, going through AA with the help of a sponsor (Keith Carradine, Dexter), and spending time with his niece, Max (Jessica Stroup, 90210), who is a cop. It seems the nightmare is over.

It’s nice to see Ryan happy and building a life for himself. He’s self-destructive by nature, and the Joe Carroll case did a number on him. He killed in cold blood and lost people he cared about. It will give fans hope for the future to see Ryan in a good place, not drinking, not dwelling on the past, finally finding an existence that he can be at peace with.

Of course, this lasts a scant ten minutes before the sinister happenings begin again. THE FOLLOWING is not a happy-ending show, and until the series finale’s credits role, no one has a chance at bliss. Followers of Carroll’s re-emerge on the anniversary of his death, beginning a new killing spree in New York City, where Ryan lives. They must be stopped.

Ryan is reluctant to get pulled back in, of course, and who can blame him? The damage done to his psyche won’t ever heal, and why would one want to put oneself back in those circumstances? Law enforcement pulls inactive agent Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) in to consult, so Ryan may not be technically needed, and while Mike certainly thinks Ryan could help, he won’t force the man.

But all is not as it seems. Much of what appears known about a couple of the main characters early in “Resurrection” simply isn’t true, and there are some cool twists in the premiere. Without giving anything away, it’s safe to say that Ryan will be back on the case quite soon, some people are just putting on a face, and at least one death may have been faked.

THE FOLLOWING continues to be scary and magnetic. A cult of serial killers who can hide among us and strike at any time is a frightening thought, and this show serves up a huge conspiracy of such. The danger lurks everywhere from many bodies, and there doesn’t seem to be any clear way to stop it. Every time one branch is dealt with, another takes its place.

This series is anything but boring. There’s action almost immediately, with an exciting chase, a number of victims killed, creepy masks, and someone gets hit by a car. The pacing is as break-neck as ever, with no one seeming safe, and a guarantee of much more blood as the season plays out. In short, year two promises to be just as good as year one, if this episode is consistent with the ones that follow.

“Resurrection” introduces us to some new murderers, the ranks of Carrollers (love that name!) having been depleted in season one. The most fascinating thus far are a pair of identical twins (Sam Underwood, Homeland), one of whom is very mentally unstable. The hideous things he’s responsible for in this first hour alone will make your skin crawl.

Of course, Emma (Valorie Curry) is still around, too. She isn’t involved in the events that play out in “Resurrection,” but if Carroll or his followers poke their heads up, she’s quickly drawn back to them like a moth to a flame. One never knows whether she will fall in line or slice the throat of the leader, taking over, but Emma is a compelling character, and an essential part of the show, so she’ll make her presence felt. At least until they decide to kill her off.

“Resurrection” is everything I was hoping for from the return of THE FOLLOWING, easily one of last year’s best network programs, and meets all expectations. It is back tonight after the NFC game, approximately 10:30 p.m. EST, and will take over its normal Mondays-at-9 p.m. timeslot starting next week.

Done LOOKING

Article first published as LOOKING Review on Seat42F.

HBO’s LOOKING reminds me of Girls and, to a slightly lesser extent, How To Make It In America. It’s a series about three guys, age thirty or a little older, looking for love and professional success in San Francisco. The episodes follows their individual plotlines, as well as how they interact as a group, so the structure is similar to other HBO half hour dramedy successes. And the voice behind the writing is specific and fresh.

All three of the main guys do happen to be gay, which provides a point of view that would be different than if they were straight. The homosexual scene in the city is one of hookups, threesomes, and trysts in the woods. But that isn’t necessarily what our three protagonists are looking for. Only some of the gays go for those things. Others are looking for love.

Patrick (Jonathan Groff, Glee, Boss) is a sweet and awkward video game developer. He desperately wants a relationship, made more earnest by the engagement of an ex, but isn’t sure how to negotiate the dating scene. Guys that are too forward weird him out, and guys that are more subtle confuse him. He is the central role, if there is one, someone to care about and root for, and he seems like a pretty darn good person.

I’m not sure I buy Groff as being in the gamer world because (and yes, this is a stereotype) he seems too neatly dressed and well-groomed. But I do feel like he’s done a good job developing the personal side of the part, a fitting protagonist for this very specific series.

Patrick’s pals are Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez, Smash), an artist’s assistant who is in a stable relationship, and Dom (Murray Bartlett, Guiding Light), who seems a bit older than the others, and who maybe hasn’t found what he expected to by now. All three are at very different points in their lives, and yet they definitely have bonded in a way that isn’t really explained in the “Pilot,” though we can see the affection between them.

While Patrick stumbles through dates, Agustin is moving in with his long-term partner and experimenting with more the one person in the bedroom at a time. Of course, Agustin is part of the arts scene, which is notoriously free-spirited, so it shouldn’t be surprising. But the situation has the makings of a disastrous combustion. And Dom has a different perspective, already gone through his 30s decade, and doesn’t view life the same way the younger man do. As such, we get several different experiences laid out, allowing for a fuller, richer tapestry.

It’s interesting that, although many very close friends tend to be pretty similar to one another in real life, those on television are quite a bit different. This isn’t a complaint, as these relationships do feel authentic, just an observation. It does make for more interesting storytelling, though I worry that it hurts the realism just a bit.

There are many other characters in LOOKING, but it’s hard to tell right now who will stick around and who will be one-shots. I assume Agustin’s boyfriend, Frank (O.T. Fagbenle, Breaking and Entering) will be involved, as will Dom’s roommate Dories (Lauren Weedman, Hung), but is the guy that Patrick flirted with on the subway a brief guest appearance, or someone destined to matter more? And will Agustin stay around his playmates, or will they split off? I feel like this is an ensemble that will develop over time, circling around the three leads, rather than one laid out explicitly, which lends a bit of uncertainty to the show that is pleasing. Though it does seem like they will have more friends hang around for a while than, say, Sex and the City did.

There will be inevitable comparisons of LOOKING to Queer as Folk, but not having seen that series, I can’t comment on those. I do think LOOKING is a compelling show on its own with good writing and wonderful acting, something that leaves me wanting to see more of the lives of the characters, the goal of any television show.

LOOKING airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. EST on HBO.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

PARKS AND REC Faces a "New Beginning"

Article first published as PARKS AND REC Faces a "New Beginning" on TheTVKing.

NBC's Parks and Recreation has made a lot of strides with its characters in the last year, many of them finding new purposes and new jobs, and some even planning to move away to start new lives. In "New Beginning," though, it's really only two characters who start something fresh, and one of them realizes that, while she thinks she can go back to her past, that past no longer exists.

Leslie (Amy Poehler) is the main character of Parks and Recreation, and most of the stories do revolve around her, with the rest of the cast supporting her. But that changed when Leslie when away and took a job on the City Council. Leaving the Parks Department behind, which she deserves credit for building into a functioning governing agency (according to Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), who is a harsh critic of such things), everyone else was forced to move on, too. Which throws Leslie for a loop when, recalled from the council, she resumes her former job.

It's a little odd that there is still a job for Leslie to come back to. I would think she should have been replaced by now or the position eliminated. But then, as Ron would surely point out, government moves slowly, and Ron is certainly in no hurry to replace her. So I guess it sort of does make sense.

When Leslie last held this seat, she had to push everyone along. Ron hired slackers like Tom (Aziz Ansari) and April (Aubrey Plaza) because he preferred that nothing get done. Leslie understood that those two needed to be forced into accomplishing work, and found a way to get them to do so. Having been out of the office, she doesn't see that they maintained the efforts she made them rise to, even without her behind them anymore. This is a big realization for Leslie, and one that she's slow to come to.

What this means is that Leslie isn't needed here any more. She did the job, and now that job no longer needs done. Ron will let her stay so she can collect a pay check and because he cares about her, but Leslie will soon grow very restless with this step back, not fitting in, and her personality necessitating projects to pour her passion into.

I was a little disappointed when, at the start of "New Beginning," Leslie returned to her office, believing the series was resetting everything back to a status quo of a year or so ago. It's pleasing then, to see that this is very clearly not the case, the plot existing to demonstrate the growth of the characters and as a way station until Leslie launches into her next arc. It's a touching pause and evaluation.

Ben (Adam Scott) is the other person starting a new job as he takes over as city manager. Used to being the "hammer," he now finds himself trying to fill Chris' (Rob Lowe) friendly shoes, and does have trouble being mean to the people under him who have come to be his friends. Which leaves him totally befuddled when Andy (Chris Pratt), April, and Donna (Retta) haze him with an elaborate prank.

It's fun to see Ben out of his element, struggling to find an equilibrium. Since he has worked for city government before, it isn't immediately obvious just how hard it will be for him to start this new position, it requiring things from him he hasn't given before, a fresh outlook rather than a repeat of past gigs. The prank stuff is not only funny, checking the laughter box for the sitcom this week (especially when he tries to retaliate), but also very revealing about Ben's character.

Lastly, Ann (Rashida Jones) and Chris debate whether to get married or not. They only start thinking about it because of a casual remark from Larry (Jim O'Heir), so should they really be jumping into something that neither was considering? "New Beginning" forces them to figure out how they belong together, something the audience may still have been puzzling themselves, and tells us who they are as a couple. It's nice.

I am bothered that Jerry now seems to be permanently Larry. I admit, it was funny to learn that Jerry wasn't his real name and that the staff just calls him whatever they want. But I've gotten used to Jerry, and the changed name still throws me. I wish this had been the thing that Parks and Recreation recalled.

These wonderful character explorations are what makes Parks and Recreation more than just your average sitcom. While consistently struggling in the ratings, it has built itself into a beloved critical darling. These people are compelling, and their stories are authentic and entertaining. If you haven't been watching, please do. And if you have, encourage your friends to start tuning in, or we may not get a season six. This show deserves a season six. There's so much more that must be seen, especially concerning Leslie's career.

Parks and Recreation airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

Blu-ray Review: ‘Archer – The Complete Season Four’

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘Archer – The Complete Season Four’ on Blogcritics.


A4Archer is FX’s hilarious animated series about the employees of ISIS. Part James Bond spoof, part workplace comedy, it follows the zany adventures of some moronic people who, somehow, always seem to get the job done, despite being constantly sidetracked by their inane and selfish whims. It’s fantastic.

Season Four, recently released on Blu-ray and DVD, begins with “Fugue and Riffs.” Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) ran away on his mother’s wedding day, months ago, and hasn’t been seen since. Lana (Aisha Tyler) finally finds him living with a wife and kids and running a burger joint.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Benjamin also is the titular character on the FOX series Bob’s Burgers, and “Fugue and Riffs” seems to be a demented, ultra-meta crossover, with Archer having become Bob (albeit with the children being his step kids) and John Roberts reprising his role as Linda, Bob’s wife. The fact that Archer would do something like this should tell you just about everything you need to know about the tone of the series.

“Fugue and Riffs” isn’t the only great installment in this two-disc set, which comprises 13 episodes. “Once Bitten” has Archer dying in the desert as Cyril (Chris Parnell) and Ray (Adam Reed) ineptly try to save him. “Live and Let Dine” features the spies undercover at a restaurant working for a mean chef, Lance Casteau (voiced by real celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain). And in the two-part season finale, “Sea Tunt,” the gang goes with Cheryl’s brother and his girlfriend (Bob’s Burgers stars Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal) to Sealab to stop the crazy Captain Murphy (Jon Hamm, Mad Men, playing the character from the Adult Swim series Sealab 2021).

This stuff is outrageous and will make you laugh out loud, but honestly, my favorite parts of Archer usually just involve the cast hanging around together. Malory’s (Jessica Walter) alcoholism, Pam’s (Amber Nash) crazy sex and danger obsessions, Cheryl’s (Judy Greer) twisted fantasies, Krieger’s (Lucky Yates) creepy experiments, and the rest blend together for a very pleasing batch of witty dialogue and humorous conflicts.

Archer is great because it knows what it is and wants to be and allows the characters to develop. It is a goofy animated sitcom, to be sure, but the players are much better fleshed out and dynamic than on, say, Family Guy. There are serial arcs and many recurring actors who pop up from time to time. What happens in one episode may have consequences down the road. It’s a show that should be watched in order, not just a random episode here and there, which is a rare thing for a cartoon.

There are, sadly, only two special features in this set. “Fisherman’s Daughter” is a movie that Krieger and Pam are making. Don’t worry, it isn’t tentacle porn, though it probably would be if we got to see all of it (only three minutes or so are present), and it does come awfully close to that line.  “Archer Live” features twenty-minutes edited out of a live stage show, which includes scene readings and goofing off with the audience.

Both of these extras are great. My complaint isn’t with the content itself, just that there isn’t enough of it. It seems there’s been a trend recently to slim down the bonuses on DVD sets, as I’ve commented on many being sparse this year, and while not every fan wants this stuff, it is valuable to some who could just digitally download a set if the draw for the physical media isn’t there.

Oh, and Archer has a mustache on the cover that you can take on and off, which sounds simple, but is much more fun than you’d expect.

Overall, this is a good release because the episodes are fantastic and the featurettes are enjoyable. Archer The Complete Season Four is available now.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Amazon "In The" (ALPHA) HOUSE

Article first published as Amazon "In The" (ALPHA) HOUSE on TheTVKing.

Amazon's first original series, Alpha House, brought its freshman run to a close this past week with "In the Saddle." For a company initially known as an online book and media store, this is a triumphant moment, an accomplishment of original programming. After viewing all eleven episodes, it seems to me that Alpha House would have comfortably fit on Showtime or the like, proving Amazon can produce quality content.

Created by Doonesbury comic strip scribe Garry Trudeau, the show follows four Republican senators who share a house when they're in Washington D.C. These guys battle Tea Party upstarts, scandals, and re-election campaigns as they try to hold onto their positions and who they are.

Although Doonesbury can be seen to have a liberal bend, Alpha House does a good job at humanizing the Republican side of the aisle. Sure, some of the characters aren't that likeable, but that's true for both political parties that are displayed, and each of those featured in the show are seldom defined by only one thing, the good mixed with the bad. Perhaps the person may be selfish or a phoney, but they may also be someone who has values, even if they've forgotten them, or someone who can be counted on as a friend.

Gil John Biggs (John Goodman) represents everything a GOP leader should be in "In the House" and the episodes leading up to it. He laments the loss of bi-partisan cooperation, and to make up for it, instigates an enjoyable lunch with an opponent, Carly Armiston (Cynthia Nixon). Then he plans for a funeral for a colleague he can't stand, doing his best to stage a touching tribute, which turns out to be not be very easy.

If only our actual representatives were more like Gil John. He has his faults, but at the end of the day, he does want to help people, and feels best when making a difference. He is willing to play nicely with others and compromise. He hangs onto lost morality, such as supporting communities and infrastructure. And he stands up to those who would besmirch the party he's proud to be a part of. If there were a Republican presidential candidate like Gil John, the GOP would quickly gain back some of the lost youth vote.

Of course, actual lawmakers from both parties made cameos at the funeral scene, so that's showing that they can work together for a TV show, if nothing else.

But reality is much more ridiculous, and that still bleeds through to Alpha House. For instance, Senator Robert Bettencourt (Clark Johnson) is attending a debate on the road to re-election. All of his primary challengers are insane, with stereotypes poking fun at Herman Cain and others. Bettencourt just sits back and lets them talk, knowing his best chance at winning is to give the public the chance to see just how crazy the others are.

The sad thing is, this doesn't always work. We've got real-life examples of those with extreme beliefs stealing away positions after rough primaries. If Bettencourt's strategy were full-proof, we'd be in good shape, but it's not. I think he's unlikely to lose because he's one of the four main characters, but that's the only reason for his job security.

There's plenty of hypocrisy evident on the political stage today, and Alpha House tackles this with the part of Senator Louis Laffer (Matt Malloy). Obviously gay, but sticking to his religious beliefs, Laffer has a doting wife, Louise (Amy Sedaris), and a daughter, Lola (Willa Fitzgerald), who is a bit sex-obsessed after growing up in the nearly sex-less household. However, even as Laffer rallies against gay rights, it's hard to fully hate him because one feels bad for the situation he's in, not able to be true to himself.

The least likeable person on the show is Senator Andy Guzman (Mark Consuelos), who, funnily enough, is extremely true to himself. Meaning, he's really only in the profession to increase his own standing, willing to say whatever it will take to keep the spotlight and the love of the people. I'd like to see Guzman get his comeuppance, and it's likely he will in at least some small way should a season two be ordered.

Alpha House is populated with many more character - senators, wives, and their staffs. All of the screentime is split between a multitude of people, making for a very full story and a larger-scope view of the setting. The cast includes wonderful turns by Julie White, Wanda Sykes, Haley Joel Osment (yes, that Haley Joel Osment), Yara Martinez, Alicia Sable, Kobi Libii, Brooke Bloom, Ben Rameaka, and others. It's a very complete show that could easily fill many years of story if given the chance.

Most importantly, it's funny. If the funeral got a little too depressing for you, and it shouldn't after Armiston and Guzman's eulogies, "In the House" brings Bill Murray back from another bit at the end, his senator sitting behind bars. The final episode opens with a death, but one that will make you laugh. There's a cute scene of Gil John rolling on the floor with a dog, and an amusing one where he hides his laughter to make it seem like crying. This show is made by someone who loves politics, wants to fix it, knows how to poke fun at it, and just plain understands people. It's very well made, and I greatly look forward to further installments.

All eleven episodes of Alpha House's freshman run are currently available on Amazon.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Me Gusta" SUBURGATORY

Article first written for Seat42F.

ABC’s SUBURGATORY, a charming little comedy about a father and daughter who move from the Big Apple to the suburbs, returns for a third season this week with “No Me Gusta, Mami.” Season two ended on quite the cliffhanger, with Dallas (Cheryl Hines) dumping George (Jeremy Sisto), her daughter, Dalia (Carly Chaikin), moving in with George, and George’s daughter, Tessa (Jane Levy), running off to stay with her mother in the city. Now we finally get to see how that all turns out.

Well, it’s a bit of a letdown because order is restored before the opening credits roll. Dalia is still mad at Dallas, but she’s back in her mansion. It takes no time at all for Tessa’s mom, Alex (Malin Akerman), to abandon her, leaving Tessa back with George. George and Dallas don’t get back together, but other than that, everything seems to be back to normal in Chatwin. That’s not the end of their story, but it is a quick reset, too quick in my opinion.

This isn’t a complete disappointment; the chemistry of the principal cast, especially these four, is great the way it is. Shaking it up too much could have hurt the series, and the efforts of three of the four players to make up with their relations are sweet and touching. Thus, it’s an emotionally satisfying story, even if one might wish for a bolder plot twist, such as waiting a few episodes before sending the girls home.

SUBURGATORY is, by and large, a comedy, but it’s also pretty good at portraying the interactions between parents and children. George and Tessa have a unique relationship, as do Dalia and Dallas, and these are a major draw for the show. Their chemistries do shift and grow over time, but love always underlies them.

This may not completely carry over to the Shay household. With Ryan (Parker Young, now starring in Enlisted on FOX) off to college, Fred (Chris Parnell) and Sheila (Ana Gasteyer) are in full empty nest mode. That means Fred is on the couch reading magazines, but not an unhealthy amount of them, and Sheila is patrolling the neighborhood in camouflage, fervently hunting down an escaped dog. This might be a natural reaction for a couple to have, except their nest isn’t really empty, as daughter Lisa (Allie Grant) still resides at home.

Now, fans of SUBURGATORY will accept this as quite expected, but it’s a little sad. As loving as George and Dallas might be towards their offspring, the Shays have always treated their natural-born daughter far worse than their adopted son. It’s a shame, and explains many of Lisa’s neurosis, including her talent for emotional manipulation of her friends. Unfortunately for Lisa, her lot isn’t likely to improve anytime soon.

By and large, “No Me Gusta, Mami” is a funny episode. There are bits with a big pooch, a creepy baby, a tranquilizer gun, take-home accountants (Parenthood’s Phil Abrams, Better Off Ted’s Gary Rubenstein, and Arrested Development’s Bob Glouberman), a ditzy dog groomer (Natasha Leggero, Burning Love), a smoldering jersey, a tweaked theme song, and other vague references I won’t explain to avoid spoilers. Mostly, it’s quite good, and as amusing as ever.

There is a tense bit of “No Me Gusta, Mami” in which a couple of characters contemplate leaving the suburbs behind. But given the premise of the series, any such musings are purely hypothetical. The show may lose supporting characters like Noah (Alan Tudyk) and Mr. Wolfe (Rex Lee), who have been dropped from the main cast this year and will be missed, but the setting itself will remain, as will the core cast.

What would be the real shame, though, is if this series were canceled. It’s not highly rated, and the late start this year does not bode well for its long-term viability. Yet, the slightly hyper-realized world and charming, zany people that populate it would definitely leave a whole in the television landscape if it disappeared. So tune in and encourage your friends to do the same.

SUBURGATORY airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Not Quite the CHOZEN Series

Article published as CHOZEN Review on Seat42F.

FX’s newest animated series, originally announced for FXX, but reassigned to FX, is CHOZEN. CHOZEN follows the titular character (Bobby Moynihan, Saturday Night Live), a gay, white rapper just coming off of a ten-year prison stint he didn’t deserve. Now, Chozen is living with his sister, Tracy (Kathryn Hahn, Parks and Recreation), and determined to rebuild his musical career.

Chozen defies just about every stereotype rap music has to offer. He isn’t a minority, didn’t have a hard life, and isn’t into illegal activities, at least, not before he ended up behind bars. He’s a sweet boy who cares about people and loves men, something one does not expect to see in this world.

The question is, how long will that premise remain funny? Initial reactions will likely be of laughter because of the bizarre set up, but after several weeks of the show, that won’t be enough to maintain viewers. There must be a compelling story or characters that viewers want to spend time with. After watching only a single episode, I didn’t see that, but I’ll give it another chance before dismissing it, mostly because the voice cast, which also includes Hannibal Buress, Paul Iacono, Michael Pena, Nick Swardson, Gary Anthony Williams, and Danny McBride, is pretty good.

Part of the challenge CHOZEN faces is attracting fans that aren’t into rap music. I myself don’t appreciate the style for the most part, and the “Pilot” featured several interludes that I did not enjoy. CHOZEN doesn’t defy its source material enough to appeal outside of it from the start. The lyrics are amusing enough, and that helps some, but in order for the series to succeed, it needs a broad-ish base, or a way for its target audience to find it. I’m not sure FX provides that automatically, with Archer being the lead in, but I could be wrong.

I did enjoy several parts of the story that didn’t involve rapping. Chozen and Tracy have an interesting relationship that bears further exploration. Chozen is admirable for not being angry all the time. Jail has given him a taste for weed, made him care less about what others think, and he curses more, but at heart, he’s still a good guy. This is evidenced by the fact that he’s not obsessed with revenge, as many would be. He can grow up and move on, and that’s laudable.

Chozen is the type of guy you want to see do well, but while he does have talent for rapping, I’m not sure he has the personality to make it in such a public business. He has confidence, but lacks the ability to play the politics, so it would be unrealistic for him to go too far.

But it also makes a little bit of a pushover, when taken with the fact that he just quietly served his jail sentence and never appealed to the media or anyone to help him. Or maybe he did and that bit just isn’t included in the “Pilot.” If so, it really should have been. It’s frustrating that Chozen doesn’t just tell the truth. Surely, his body could be drug tested, and his friends and family could testify to his character. Is our justice system so broken we just have to accept that he served a long time for no good reason?

Perhaps I’m overthinking CHOZEN. It’s a comedy, and the most important thing is that it should make people laugh. Had I been laughing, I probably wouldn’t be asking so many questions. Humor is subjective, and I won’t say CHOZEN is a bad series, it’s just not my cup of tea. It is by the producers of Archer and Eastbound and Down, and while I love the former, the latter I can’t stand. Fans of that show, however, who enjoy that sensibility might like this one, too.

CHOZEN airs Mondays at 10:30 p.m. ET on FX.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

HOUSE OF LIES Begins to Emerge From the "Wreckage"

Article first published as HOUSE OF LIES Begins to Emerge From the "Wreckage" on TheTVKing.

Showtime's House of Lies premiere had a lot to address. When season two closed last year, The Pod had split apart, with the characters all on the outs with one another. Now, as some time has passed, the episode must catch up with each of the four, and give them all arcs to start things out on.

I love that "Wreckage," the first episode back, doesn't restore the status quo. It would be inauthentic for The Pod to easily come back together, either at their old firm or at Marty's (Don Cheadle) new one, though other shows do it all the time. Instead, this week shows where each of the individuals have ended up, and how unhappy they are with the situation, missing their former colleagues. Which means they probably will reunite, just not in episode one.

At least Marty's home life is going well so he's not fighting a battle on both fronts. A sweet scene between Marty, his son, Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.), and his father, Jeremiah (Glynn Turman), seems light and fun, especially compared to the rest of the half hour. Surely Marty can find some comfort in that.

Marty may just be the most miserable of the quartet. It's hard to tell because he's so good at hiding his feelings. On a trip to China to woo the head of a mid-size company (Daniel Stern, Home Alone), something that would have been beneath Marty at his height, he seems quite unimpressed with his new team (Ryan Gaul, Rob Gleeson, and Genevieve Angelson). But he's also resigned to them. This Marty is not too proud to claw his way back up to the top, even as he's definitely nowhere near that point at the start. He's broken, but not defeated.

Marty later tries to change his circumstance by forming an alliance with Jeannie (Kristen Bell). This could be good for business, two competitors working the competing companies they represent together, pushing both for more. However, in this instance, it seems more that Marty just wants to be with Jeannie. Otherwise, why not go for the bigger fish himself? At least Jeannie seems amenable, which means Marty didn't completely burn the bridge with her.

The relationship between Marty and Jeannie is key to House of Lies. Sure, the chemistry of the foursome is important, but these two share something more than that. They are the emotion-laden island in the middle of all the craziness. They have feelings for one another that may or may not turn into something real (my guess is they will), and Marty cares about her as so much more than the job she does, which is less obvious in how he treats the guys. Plus, if Marty can win Jeannie back to The Pod, the other two will follow easily enough, whether he wants them to or not.

Jeannie isn't in a bad place, professionally, but she doesn't seem happy. Working at her old job, leading a pod consisting of Doug (Josh Lawson) and some newbies (Brad Schmidt and Lauren Lapkus), she comes across as numb and disinterested. All three of these people are pretty annoying, Doug constantly talking about their glory days, and that could be what is bringing Jeannie down. But Doug was always annoying before, so it's more likely what she doesn't have that's affecting her, rather than what she does have.

I said before that Marty has it worse than anyone else, but it's possible that Clyde (Ben Schwartz) might edge him out. Working for Monica (Dawn Olivieri) turns out to be the hilarious hell viewers might have expected, and her management style sabotages any alliances Clyde might form with his new co-workers (Eugene Cordero and Milana Vayntrub). I think Clyde realizes this is an untenable position that he can't stay in, and will likely be the first of the main players to try to make a switch.

Clyde has always seemed cooler than cool, like nothing can upset him. Even as we realize that's an act, one must respect the way he plays the game, something that should serve him well. Seeing the frustration and disbelief on his face in "Wreckage" proves there are situations that can tip Clyde's balance, and there's new material for the talented Schwartz to chew in this premiere, which is welcome.

Nearly all of these new characters mentioned above have familiar faces, but likely no name recognition. Some of them were in House of Lies Live, and it's good to see them again. Others have been working the comedy scene, occasionally popping up in sitcoms. It's excellent that House of Lies gives this class of people work because they are often under-utlized on TV, and I think "Wreckage" proves there is fresh talent out there.

I don't know that any of them will prove lasting on this series, though. Any one of them could, but by necessity, the three pods as they exist now cannot last. And serving another seven new characters just isn't tenable. So sadly their presence will be short-lived, but at least they are all, across the board, making the best use of the time they have.

House of Lies has set up an interesting third year. Catch it Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime, and if you missed the first episode, it's currently streaming free on Showtime's website.

BITTEN In a Good Way



Article first written for Seat42F.

SyFy’s new BITTEN is a show about werewolves. OK, cue the groan about the gluttony of vampire, werewolves, and their ilk currently on television. And that frustration is understandable, as even though each story is different there are also some overwhelming similarities. But BITTEN does seem different, at least initially, more about a woman trying to define herself than about the creature she sometimes becomes.

Laura Vandervoort (V, Smallville) stars as Elena Michaels, the only female werewolf in the world. A year ago, she left her pack behind to try to make it on her own. Now, after she’s happily settled, living with a man named Philip McAdams (Paul Greene, Wicked Wicked Games) and getting to know his family, she’s called back to rejoin those she left behind.

It’s not that the pack imposes on her unnecessarily. Bodies are showing up in their area, bodies that are ripped apart, as if by an animal, and clearly killed only for sport, breaking one of the cardinal rules of the werewolf race. Elena is their best tracker, and with no one knowing who this new interloper is, they need her to help them find and stop the murderer.

And so Elena is torn. Should she return home to her pack leader, Jeremy Danvers (Greg Bryk, XIII: The Series), and his son, Clayton (Greyson Holt, Durham County), with whom she was once involved, or should she stay with the man she loves? Can she separate herself from the other wolves, or does she have a duty to those she once lived among?

It’s this primary crisis of conscience that makes up the series premiere, and while the outcome is a given, based on the premise of the show, it’s one that Elena doesn’t make easily, and certainly struggles with even after her mind is made up. In this, it’s a familiar story that is usually told having nothing to do with supernatural creatures, grounding the characters in a way that should be accessible to audiences.

While the cast is not that well known, Vandervoort has her share of followers in the science fiction genre. She is actually a good actress, despite her lackluster beginnings, and it was unfortunate V was canceled when she was just starting to show her chops. I do believe that BITTEN will be a good vehicle for her, and we’ll see some talent emerge that she hasn’t yet had a chance to show the world.

One thing that BITTEN may do differently than other werewolf stories, assuming it stays pretty close to the source material, which the network was kind enough to distribute along with the episodes, its werewolf population is very, very low. In the book, it is mentioned that only three dozen of them exist on the entire globe. This greatly limits the amount of characters that can be shown turning into animals, and shrinks the scope in a very manageable way.

It also means that there won’t constantly be more be more furry beasts showing up or exposing their race to the populace at large. Jeremy’s pack represents a significant chunk of all known werewolves, so they can control the story in a very finite manner.

I am anxious to see the development between Elena and Philip’s family. She has to hide who she is from them, and from Philip himself, which again, is something TV audiences have seen before. But the fact that multiple members of Philip’s family are a part of the cast, including his sister Diane (Natalie Brown, Sophie), whom introduced the couple, indicates Elena won’t be running away from the new life she’s established anytime soon.

Keeping a secret identity is likely to make BITTEN veer near the realm of comic book heroes, as much as it also serves the supernatural fans, and adds another layer to the proceedings. Will those normal characters learn about Elena’s nature and will they accept her? Or will she continue to be torn between the two realms, forever hiding, always on the brink of losing what she cares about?

I won’t claim BITTEN is the best new series on the air, or even a revelation for the genre. But I do think it has a strong structure and a great lead, with plenty of fresh elements to explore. In this, it could easily become a show worth watching, and I plan on setting a season pass for now.

BITTEN premieres Monday at 10 p.m. ET on SyFy.