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Friday, February 28, 2014

Love Playing MIND GAMES

Article first published as MIND GAMES Review @Seat42F.

Mind Games ABC
ABC’s MIND GAMES is the network’s newest drama. Like most ABC shows, it isn’t really a procedural, much more focused on the drama between the characters, rather than a case of the week. However, there are some procedural elements to it, as the staff of Edwards and Associates will be working on a number of different projects as the weeks unfold.

Clark Edwards (Steve Zahn, Treme) is a bipolar genius who studies human behavior. Recently fired from his job as a college professor after having an affair with a student named Beth (Katherine Cunningham, The Playboy Club), Clark has been recruited by his brother, Ross (Christian Slater, Breaking In), to apply his skills to the real world, hoping to build a business that will make them both rich. The problem is, Clark is highly unstable, given to flights of exuberance that can turn potential clients off or ruin Clark’s own carefully planned scenarios, exacerbated by his inability to let Beth go. Only Ross’s ex-wife, Claire (Wynn Everett, The Newsroom), can keep Clark calm.

Now, for those wondering if having his former spouse around will drive Ross crazy, the answer is a resounding yes. After all, Ross has just spent two years in jail for fraud, and Claire is the one who turned him in, so to say their breakup is amiable would be a gross misrepresentation. Unfortunately, since Clark needs Claire, Ross is going to have to put up with her.

The dynamic and interactions between Ross and Clark are a highlight of the series. Zahn and Slater have been perfectly cast. Through the “Pilot,” viewers will be kept guessing if Ross is a good guy and if he really cares about Clark, or if he’s using him for financial gain, since we’re shown he’s a known liar and cheat. There are clues that point in both directions, and the simple truth of the matter is, perhaps both mindsets apply, which makes for a complex, interesting sibling relationship.

Claire’s insertion into the middle of this is explosive and very entertaining. Checking out the press website for the show, though, Claire is not listed among the main cast, worrying me that she isn’t long for the series. I think that would be a grave mistake, as even if the love triangle set up is familiar, it’s done in such an effecting way that it really makes the characters. Maybe she’ll be recurring throughout season one and then promoted if the show is renewed?

And renewed, it deserves to be. I’ve only seen a single episode, and I can still say that with certainty. Everything I’ve mentioned above is absolutely fantastic, well written and superbly acted. And there are other elements to the show, too.

For one, there will be individual clients, and since this isn’t a cop or lawyer drama, these stories can be new and different, taking a fresh approach to the scenarios. The “Pilot” opens with Clark and Ross in a meeting with a potential investor (Ron Rifkin, Alias) that is extremely amusing. Then it segues into the firm trying to help a boy whose insurance is denying him much needed care. This is a compelling narrative that will tug at the emotions of the viewers, and through helping him, fans will come to care about the characters.

It seems the ensemble is good, too. The Edwards brothers are joined by Megan (Megalyn Echikunwoke, The 4400), a wannabe actress, Latreel (Cedric Sanders, The Social Network), who has business acumen, and Miles (Gregory Marcel, Infinity Strategists), whose contribution isn’t fully defined in the premiere. The first two have a skillset that will certainly serve the firm’s mission well, and the entire trio have wonderful, character-defining moments that tell us who they are, very different personalities.

MIND GAMES doesn’t just have the makings of a good show, it already is one. It’s sort of like Scandal on a smaller scale with a little less soapiness. It’s intelligent and well produced, and I look forward to watching more.

MIND GAMES premieres this Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"Frenemies" Make for Drama-Filled GLEE

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

FOX’s Glee returns from hiatus this week with “Frenemies.” The episode revolves around three pairs of characters with very different relationships. Each work through something within the installment, providing great character moments and furthering of the larger plot arcs, as well as a couple of major shakeups. And, as usual, the New York scenes are much, much better than the McKinley story, which is heartening, since the show will soon become New York-centric.

G1The first pair, and the best in my opinion, is Santana (Naya Rivera) and Rachel (Lea Michele). The hour begins with them never having been closer, Santana regretting being mean to Rachel in high school, so viewers will quickly note there’s nowhere to go but down for them. After Rachel invites Santana to take part in a photo shoot, resulting in a fun “Brave” performance, Santana sees Rachel as rubbing success in the face of the former cheerleader who is now stuck waitressing. So Santana steals Rachel’s signature number, “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” and nails a Funny Girl audition, being cast as Rachel’s understudy. Rachel is so angry she calls off any relationship they have, while performing duet of a terrific “Every Breath You Take,” and moves out of the apartment.

First, for this plot to work, we must completely ignore the fact that Funny Girl is holding auditions specifically for an understudy, not having chosen one from among the ensemble or girls who previously auditioned for the lead. We also must set aside the surprise Rachel seems to exhibit when learning she will get an understudy, a staple of Broadway that she would surely have known about., Then, we have to forget that we see an absolutely terrible singer audition at a Broadway level in front of a Broadway director (Peter Facinelli). This is a completely unrealistic and dumb scenario. Almost as dumb as expecting up to believe Rachel has time to work, go to school, be in a band, and lead the musical.

But, where the characters are concerned, the episode soars. Rachel is being a stuck up pain in the butt. Starring in one show that isn’t even close to getting off the ground yet has gone to her head, something we’ve seen from her before, harkening back to the early days of her personality. It makes sense that Rachel would lose it here, and Santana being a convenient dumping ground to let off steam about her own insecurities, Rachel targets the doubts she has about herself and slays Santana. Plus, there is likely still lingering pain for the things Santana did in high school, and Rachel begins to lose trust in the other girl, if she ever truly had any.

Santana is not without blame for this feud. Choosing to try out without telling Rachel first is an understandable move, and one that can easily be forgiven. Picking Rachel’s song to sing is less so, a very personal blow. But Santana is just pushing Rachel’s buttons, not really launching a war. If their friendship is real, Rachel should be able to look past these things and rejoice to spend more time with her buddy.

The end of the episode is extremely sad. Santana only shows a bit of regret when its too late, and the feeling is not strong enough to spark an apology, nor should it be. Rachel is completely without remorse, storming out and burning the bridges. If things are ever to repair themselves, and they must because, as great as the drama is between them, their friendship is inspiring and an important element of these later seasons, Rachel has to swallow her pride, willingly or being humbled against her will, and say she’s sorry. This probably won’t be quick in coming, but that’s OK, as long as it does in the end.

Poor Kurt (Chris Colfer) is caught in the middle of the fight, but he does the absolute right thing by refusing to take a side, remaining completely neutral, which, given his history with Rachel, Rachel sees as betrayal. But Kurt recognizes that the bond they all share has grown too vital to turn on it, and since they’ll all still be in his band, he must play nice. Something tells me the next practice sessions is going to get ugly, if Rachel doesn’t just quit between episodes.

G2Besides his roommates’ falling out, Kurt has his own story in “Frenemies.” Convinced Elliott, a.k.a. Starchild (Adam Lambert), is out to take over the band, Kurt tries to be his closest friend, putting stock in the old adage about keeping your enemies closer. Blaine sees right through this and takes Kurt guitar shopping with a rousing “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” So Elliott does seem to be what he appears – a genuine, nice, supportive person who won’t stab Kurt in the back.

Sure, there’s a chance Elliott is putting on an act and will still turn out to be a villain, but I don’t think so. Glee has always been an optimistic, cheery show at heart, and I really, really dig the relationship between Kurt and Elliott. As upset as Blaine (Darren Criss) might be when he glimpses a too-chummy photo of the two, and as much as Elliott might provide to be an obstacle in that relationship going forward, he also seems like he’s good for Kurt, helping Kurt get past skepticism and find his potential. I hope he doesn’t just disappear one day without closure, a la Adam.

Back in Ohio, Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) and Artie (Kevin McHale) celebrate their continued friendship, despite their romantic break up years ago, with a sweet “Whenever I Call You Friend.” That lasts only until Sue (Jane Lynch) forces them to compete for the title of valedictorian. This sends Tina into another ugly spiral, sparring with Artie in the sadly under-charged “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It).” Tina goes too far, shoving Artie from his wheelchair, but they soon make up and celebrate their renewed happiness with “Breakaway,” though neither gets the speech at graduation.

I’ve said it before, much to the dismay of some Glee viewers, and I’ll say it again: Artie and Tina are lame, boring, unlikeable characters. Tina is a selfish jerk, as shown on numerous occasions, and Artie is a whiny pushover, forgiving Tina far too quickly for her very cruel comments about Artie’s girlfriend, Kitty (Becca Tobin). One assumes they’ll make up soon, which they do, because neither has the backbone for a continued battle. But their relationship lacks depth because how can two people who treat each other like this really be friends? It’s true that those who know you the best can wound the deepest, but I just don’t see Tina display real, sympathetic remorse when apologizing.

G3Their storyline drags “Frenemies” down, and they will likely continue to have an increased presence until at least graduation. I’d like to believe we’ll ditch them then, but signs point to at least Artie will be joining the New York contingent. I’ve never understood Glee‘s insistence to make the two of them continued main characters when ditching better players, but I guess we’ll probably be stuck with them til the end.

Sue is ridiculous in this episode. I like her meta-references, which point out completely real flaws in the show, but her silliness just does not make up for bad writing and story structure. Plus, there’s no way she can make the third place student valedictorian, as much as I enjoyed Blaine’s cheeky quote about getting everything just handed to him. She is not being a fit or realistic principal, and its time to get her back out of that office.

I also don’t buy that the judging panel of Will (Matthew Morrison), Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones), Figgins (Iqbal Therba), and Sue is deadlocked on choosing the valedictorian. For one, both Tina and Artie’s speeches (which start touching, and then veer off into terrible and inane) are basically identical, and knowing Will and Beiste, they’d argue to let both of them share the honor. The only way this result occurs is if Sue just declares that’s not an option and makes a unilateral decision, which is likely what happened, but I wish we’d seen it play out.

In short, “Frenemies” has some heartbreaking, but really great, drama in New York, and a weak, stupid sequence at McKinley. This unevenness has always bugged me about the show. I hope when they finally commit to the Big Apple, which has proven to exhibit some much higher-level storytelling, the series improves again before it comes to an end.

Glee now airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

THE WALKING DEAD "Claimed" My Love

Article first published as THE WALKING DEAD Review Episode 4.11 Claimed on Seat42F.

Walking Dead 4x11 4
This week’s installment of AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD, “Claimed,” bounced back and forth between two of the five groups of main characters. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) must deal with intruders while Michonne (Danai Gurira) is off getting supplies with Carl (Chandler Riggs), and trying to cheer him up in the process.

Meanwhile, Glenn (Steven Yeun) wakes up to discover he’s traveled hours from Maggie (Laure Cohan), but Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) isn’t willing to turn around, claiming they’re on a mission to save the world. It seems like, at this point, for every “good” group of humans our heroes come across, they find one equally bad. Most would say by now that Abraham, Rosita (Christian Serratos), and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) fall into the former category, while the men that Rick has to sneakily avoid are the latter. Yes, this world is one of shades of grey, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t those who can be friends, and those who definitely cannot.

Fans of the comic already know that Abrhama, Rosita, and Eugene are nice, but even if you only watch the show, “Claimed” seems to very strongly point in that direction, too. Abraham only hits Glenn when Glenn strikes first, and his earnest insistences to Tara (Alanna Masterson) that they are going to save the world seem sincere. Rosita chooses to go with Glenn and Tara when they leave, and Eugene only shoots at walkers and trucks, never pointing his gun at people.

The only sign that might worry some is that Abraham actually smiles while killing walkers, something that bothers Tara at first, but I feel like this can be explained away. Abraham is clearly a soldier, comfortable following orders and knowing what his job is. When he’s stopping the dead from hurting the living, he’s fulfilling a purpose, and thus, seems satisfied. Other moments, like when he follows Eugene’s directives as Eugene claims he’s smarter than Abraham, point to the same thing. So I don’t think we need to worry about Abraham turning out to be a psychopath, just dedicated to his quest, and it doesn’t look like he’ll really hurt anyone he doesn’t have to to fulfill it.

Eugene seems colder, but he never threatens our party, either, instead, following them after his ineptitude with a gun destroys their ride. He comes across as an anti-social braniac, sort of Sheldon Cooper with a mullet, which isn’t a bad thing. If he really knows what he claims to know (and comic book fans, let’s keep what we know about Eugene to ourselves because you never know which direction the show will go), then he is someone the protagonists should help out, once they find each other again.

The question posed in this half of the episode is, should Glenn help them stop the walker plague, or should he look for his wife? This is a tough decision, and one that has to be up to the individual. For Glenn, he has a very single-mindedness that Abraham doesn’t understand, even though Abraham is equally narrowly focused the other way. Abraham is right that the world is more important than one woman, but given everything Glenn has been through, he can be forgiven for not getting on board with the plan. Perhaps if the salvation was at hand, he might help, but his love for Maggie is too strong to travel several states away without any proof.

Alanna chooses to help Glenn, rather than go with Abraham and company, because she feels she owes him her life. She is a good person, as Abraham says she is, but she doesn’t believe it. She’s not approaching it from the standpoint that it’s what a good person will do. She just wants to repay the favor and try to make up for her part in the attack on the prison, which is fair.

Now the guys that Rick faces are, without question, evil. One strangles another for a better bed! I don’t think he killed the man, as there is definitely still breathing going on, but that’s still pretty awful. Their guns don’t look nice. And even if you argue the man Rick finds on the toilet only acts in self-defense when he grasps for scissors to stab Rick, the conversation overheard about terrorizing the woman who left the clean shirt in the house erase any doubts.

“Claimed” does a good job setting up the tension as Rick sneaks through the dwelling, knowing that Carl and Michonne will be home soon and likely walk straight into an ambush. We all know Rick is going to make it out alive, but I was still on the edge of my seat for most of the sequence. And Rick leaving the bathroom guy as a “walker bomb” is brilliant, something hard to see coming until it happens. It’s well-structured suspense.

Michonne does let her guard down a little too much this week. She is usually quite vigilant, and while it’s sweet she drops her emotional barriers to Carl, helping him work through the loss of Judith (who they don’t know survived) while telling viewers enlightening things about herself, she should still be more alert when heading back to the house. The fact that Rick has to run out and meet them, so close, while Michonne is still casually walking home, is disturbing. We like softer Michonne, a woman that can be a friend, not just a soldier, but only if she can still defend the group.

Wandering an abandoned building, Michonne comes across a family who has killed themselves. Setting aside the fact that they did it in a creepy girl’s room, rather than some place more appropriate, this is a sad, tragic event. It’s likely many people chose this way out when all the bad stuff broke lose, and it’s understandable. But these are not who our people are. Our people are survivors. Michonne has chosen life, not suicide, and here she sees a graphic representation of the alternative. Disturbing!

I’d like to predict the plot of next week’s episode. Looking at the previews, it appears only Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Beth (Emily Kinney) will be featured, finding out that it’s extremely difficult to try to survive by themselves on the road. Once they successfully maneuver around many walkers, they’ll spot the bandage that Rick so obviously dropped near the railroad and begin to track their friends to Terminus. Which means the other two groups, who weren’t in “Claimed,” probably won’t be seen again until the following week.

Some have complained about this fractured set up, but I like it. It gives the players more focus in the episodes in which they star, and shows us things about them, more than just why they’re still alive. THE WALKING DEAD excels at character-driven moments, and this new format, as temporary as we all expect it to be, with everyone surely making it to Terminus by the season finale, is a nice way to spend half a season. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for the separation to be permanent. I’m just saying to enjoy it while it lasts.

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

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

MIXOLOGY A Bad Brew

Article first published MIXOLOGY Review on Seat42F.

Mixology ABC ANDREW SANTINO, BLAKE LEE, CRAIG FRANK
ABC’s MIXOLOGY, a new sitcom about ten single people spending one night in a bar, premieres this Wednesday. In the first half hour, “Tom & Maya,” we are introduced to most of the cast and the premise as Tom (Blake Lee, Parks and Recreation), recently dumped by his fiancé of eight years and dragged out by a couple of friends, hits on Maya (Ginger Gonzaga, Legit), a ruthless, ball-busting lawyer.

MIXOLOGY is a little bit of an anthology series with a tone similar to the quickly canceled Love Bites because it will jump around from person to person each week. But it’s not quite an anthology because the main story only takes up a little bit of the episode, with other players being featured throughout the half hour, too, even when their names aren’t in the title.

This structure is very confusing. The characters are easy enough to tell apart, to be sure, but there’s a lot of them for a sitcom, and the pacing is rapid enough to really prevent the viewer from learning even the names of the characters. After two installments, I’m still having to use the show’s website for help in telling you who these people are.

There’s Tom, of course, and his well-intentioned, but kind of douchey, friends, Cal (Craig Frank, 8.13) and Bruce (Andrew Santino, Crafty). Maya is there to meet her wishy-washy friend, Liv (Kate Simses, What’s Your Number?), who chooses the safe relationship over passion. Jessica (Alexis Carra, Incredible Girl) asks her sister, Janey (Sarah Bolger, Once Upon a Time), to go with her to meet a date she set up online. The man Jessica is meeting turns out to be Brit Ron (Adam Campbell, Touch), who is having the worst day of his life. And their waitress, Kacey (Vanessa Lengies, Glee), tries to break up with the jerk bartender, Dominic (Adan Canto, The Following).

To make matters more confusing, Janey disappears before episode two and is replaced by an annoying friend of Jessica’s, Fab (Frankie Shaw, Blue Mountain State), whom we don’t really get a read-on yet. This means a character who has a touching interaction with Janey has to immediately forget about her and turn his attentions elsewhere. Plus, flashbacks grow the cast even more, making MIXOLOGY one hard show to follow.

Not that viewers will be tempted to try to puzzle it out because there isn’t a single likable character in the whole group to connect through. Tom may be the stereotypical “nice guy,” but he’s a wimp and way too much of a pushover to be the hero. And will anyone really want him to get with Maya after they see just how cruel she can be? It’s not like she’s an obvious happy ending for him. The others are equally flawed and detestable, with horndog men and easily manipulated women who like being put down.

To be fair, the setting of MIXOLOGY, a bar where people come to hit on strangers and many of them just want to get laid, isn’t the ideal place to find good people. Good people go to bars, sure, but the types of friends we’re used to seeing portrayed are either frequenting those establishments while enjoying one another’s company, or are having a bad day and acting a bit out of character. Rarely do they make a habit of trolling. Now, this series asks us to see this as a viable place to find love and change one’s life for the better, and that just doesn’t work.

The premise also extremely limits the structure. As mentioned, the episodes do take time to show us other places and events, but the main story is confined to a single place and time. This will grow old week after week. How I Met Your Mother is getting mixed reviews doing its final season over the course of one weekend. Having multiple seasons, assuming the series goes on for any length of time, on one night is just not tenable. Either it needs some serious changes, or it can’t possibly last.

Two episodes was more than enough for me. I don’t think I’ll be checking back in on it again, assuming it even lasts beyond that pair of installments, which is not a certainty at this point.

MIXOLOGY premieres Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

GROWING UP FISHER Nice Way to Grow Up

GROWING UP FISHER Cast Peyton as Elvis, Eli Baker as Henry, Ava Deluca-Verley as Katie, Jenna Elfman as Joyce, J.K. Simmons as Mel
Article first published as GROWING UP FISHER Review on Seat42F.

Sunday night, after the Olympics, NBC will be previewing its new sitcom GROWING UP FISHER, which will regularly air on Tuesday nights. It’s the (based-on-a-true) story of Henry Fisher (Eli Baker) and the changes his family goes through when his parents divorce. They don’t have a good marriage, but living separately brings them closer together than ever, as both parents are dedicated to their children.

GROWING UP FISHER reminds me a lot of The Goldbergs. Both tell the tale of an actual family and have voice-over narration, with FISHER’s provided by Jason Bateman (Arrested Development). But FISHER is set in the modern era, adapting the details of the episode to today, rather than recreating an older period, as The Goldbergs do. Still, they both share the same sweet emotional bonds and feeling of authenticity, remixed for laughs.

The Fisher parents are played by Jenna Elfman (1600 Penn, Dharma & Greg) and J.K. Simmons (The Closer, Spiderman), two wonderful comedic actors. Both have been in failed sitcoms lately; it’s about time they get something that works. GROWING UP FISHER has the potential to be that vehicle, even though it’s not that original, because the charm and the love oozing from it are very enticing.

Elfman plays Joyce, a woman who lost out on her young, carefree days by getting pregnant with daughter Katie (Ava Deluca-Verley) on her second date with Mel (Simmons). Joyce is now suffering a mid-life crisis, and so wants to recapture those glory days, buying the same pants that her daughter has, and generally acting immature. It’s this behavior that instigates the divorce, or so it seems, as the series avoids placing blame on anyone, presumably to protect the real people that inspired the show.

The one glaring problem with GROWING UP FISHER stems from Joyce’s arc, though. Elfman is in her 40s, meaning she’s a bit too old to be playing someone who got pregnant too young and whose daughter is now only sixteen. Even if one sets that aside and decides to see Elfman as ten years younger than she is, there’s still the ick factor when one considers Simmons is fifteen years her senior, meaning he would have to have been a creepy old guy preying on a teenager. So this math simply does not work. But I’m willing to ignore that because I really like the performers, and they do do a great job building these parts.

Mel is immature, too, but in a different way. Completely blind since age twelve, Mel fakes his way through the world of people with vision. For years, he manages to trick many into thinking he can see, often with the help of his son, Henry, and he doesn’t let his disability stop him from doing anything, including cutting down trees and parallel parking. He’s inspiring, but also down to earth enough to let his flaws show, making him likeable, not ridiculous.

Some might say that Mel is not a realistic character because of the things he does. It’s true, the outrageous acts he commits make him seem like a cartoon. However, sometimes the least believable story is the most likely to have occurred, and even if the part if exaggerated, Simmons definitely communicates effectively the spirit of the man he is portraying.

Much of the first episode’s story stems from Henry feeling replaced when Mel gets a seeing-eye dog named Elvis. Mel couldn’t have Elvis before because Joyce is allergic to dogs, but now, the dog is guiding Mel in the way that Henry used to. It makes sense for Mel to get Elvis, since Henry won’t be around his dad full-time any more, but it also causes friction, which Mel finds a really neat way to solve, totally in keeping with his character.

I don’t know how many more installments can be built off of this established premise, but family sitcoms seem to have a way of working over time, and given the development that these characters are begging for from the start, GROWING UP FISHER has plenty of room to grow. The writing is witty and the players are entertaining. The end of the premiere even brought a few tears to my eyes. What more can you ask for in a family sitcom?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

It Almost Was a SUPER FUN NIGHT, Now Off to Bed

Article first published as It Almost Was a SUPER FUN NIGHT, Now Off to Bed on TheTVKing.

ABC's Super Fun Night was perhaps the most derided sitcom pilot produced in years. The criticisms before the show even launched were so bad that ABC held onto the first episode and aired the second instead. But over time, the show proved it could be amusing and touching, even if it never reached levels that would lead one to recommend it to a friend. This week, after seventeen episodes, "...Till the Fat Lady Sings" aired as the season, most likely series, finale.

"...Till the Fat Lady Sings" finds Kimmie (Rebel Wilson) torn between two men. Long-time crush Richard (Kevin Bishop) kisses her, and when she tells her boyfriend, James (Nate Torrence), about it, James dumps her. Should Kimmie try to repair things with the man she's spent so much time with, and whom she cares about deeply? Or should she take a chance on her dream guy, asking Richard not to take a promotion in Germany to stay for her?

Kimmie has come a long way from the woman who had never had a real relationship (or sex) to being someone two men want. This makes sense, though, because we've seen her growth and her personality. There are things that aren't attractive about her; she's over the top, awkward, clumsy, screws up a lot, and can be self-involved. But she's also sweet, earnest, funny, and compassionate. These are the sides of her Richard picks up on, and because they've already had such a close, established friendship, it does feel believable that Richard might want to be with Kimmie.

I can't say I ever came around to care about Kimmie as Richard does. There are still too many negatives. However, she tries hard, and for that, she deserves happiness. She's a good person.

Super Fun Night surprised me when Kimmie chooses James. It makes sense. Richard may just be acting out because he's going through something with his father (The Nanny's Charles Shaughnessy), and so their thing might not last. Kimmie also doesn't want to hurt James, who took awhile to agree to date Kimmie because he noticed her feelings for Richard, so it would be cruel to make the other choice now. Plus, James and Kimmie have a really good time together and have developed an attachment. But because Richard is a main character and is originally established as the guy Kimmie wants, it still came as a shock that she doesn't pick him.

Should the series somehow be renewed, I do think Kimmie and Richard will eventually end up together. That's basic TV formula. Though it would be way better if Kimmie stayed with James and had a happy ever after because it bucks the trend. If this is how the series stops, the ending is perfect for where the characters are. If it returns, it will take some real bravery to not do what people expect.

Super Fun Night hasn't always done what's expected, though. The musical numbers, my favorite part of the show, even when just done as a tag, are fantastic. The characters are more than one thing. Some of the basic plots are predictable, but others are not.

Take for instance the friendship between Kimmie and Kendall (Kate Jenkinson). One would never expect it to blossom so well, so fast. They still get at one another's throats from time to time, mostly on Kendall's end, but I like that they also get along a lot. Their closeness feels earned, Kimmie being there when Kendall has no one, and I really love the way Super Fun Night develops Kendall into more than jut a stereotypical character.

The one thing that feels rushed in "...Till the Fat Lady Sings" is Marika (Lauren Ash) coming out of the closet. Yes, the signs are there from the beginning, but Marika meets Frankie (Hana Mae Lee, Pitch Perfect) and, two weeks later, can admit she's a lesbian? I think Super Fun Night does this because they worry they won't get the chance, but a more drawn-out arc would have been more appropriate here.

Helen-Alice (Liza Lapira) and Benji (Paul Rust) are left in a bad place, having had sex, but he's still highly allergic to her. Again, this needs more time, and in the finale, there just couldn't realistically be a resolution to their story. Only so much fits in a half hour installment.

I don't know how much I will miss Super Fun Night, but I did enjoy it. Hopefully Wilson bounces back with an even-more musically influenced series in the near future. Not Pitch Perfect: The Series, mind you, but something that fits with her goofy sense of humor. And she should feel free to bring along her co-stars and recurring players, who really do form a nice ensemble over these few months of run time.

DVD Review: ‘Legit – The Complete First Season’

Article first published as DVD Review: ‘Legit – The Complete First Season’ on Blogcritics.

L1Last year, FX presented an edgy new comedy called Legit. Starring Australian comedian Jim Jefferies as a version of himself, the show follows Jim as he tries to be a better person. This usually includes helping his roommate, Steve (Dan Bakkedahl,Veep), and Steve’s severely handicapped brother, Billy (DJ Qualls, Road Trip), with something their lives are lacking, inspired by Jefferies’ actual life. The results are always hilarious, if not rewarding for Jim. Beginning this Tuesday, just ahead of the second season premiere, Legit – The Complete First Season will be released on DVD and Blu-ray.

Billy is confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed below the neck due to muscular dystrophy, but he’s a normal guy who wants to party and get laid. Jim understands this, and does his best to help Billy out, taking him to Vegas and springing him from his home, much to Steve’s chagrin. Even more disapproving is Billy’s mother, Janice (Mindy Sterling, Austin Powers), though Billy’s father, Walter (John Ratzenberger, Cheers), doesn’t seem to mind, and Billy’s nurse, Ramona (Sonya Eddy, General Hospital), mostly comes around to Jim, seeing through his crap.

Right from the start, Legit sets itself apart because of its portrayal of those with disabilities, which has earned it a huge following from that community. Billy himself is a full developed character, seen as someone with the usual needs and dreams, not someone confined or limited by his challenges. Billy’s best friend, Rodney (Nick Daley), has Prader-Willi Syndrome, a genetic disorder, but Jim includes him in the fun, too, and others pop up throughout the season. These people are poked fun at, but only when they’re in on the joke, not at the expense of anyone, and if that line is ever crossed, there are consequences for the person that crosses it. If nothing else, Legit deserves praise for creating dynamic characters of this type, taking what Glee has done a (much raunchier) step forward.

Now, Jim isn’t completely altruistic, at times being downright selfish. He certainly doesn’t treat women nearly as respectfully as he treats his buddies. And his motivations are sometimes mixed. The results of his actions are often bad, at times bordering into gross or creepy. But he is a layered character, someone that is likeable enough, and earns respect because he gives it.

The show itself is told from a very unique perspective. I haven’t had the chance to catch much of Jefferies’ standup routine, so I don’t know how closely the material here hews to it. However, I can’t name another sitcom on television that really comes close to the story or tone of Legit. Like other FX shows such as Wilfred and Louie, the creator has a strong, guiding hand, allowing his voice to really shine through in a very satisfying way. You may not like Legit, it’s certainly not for everyone, especially the easily offended, but it should be easy enough to respect Jefferies and the work that he’s doing.

I mentioned that Legit might be offensive, and that’s very true. There is plenty of humor related to drugs, sex, prostitutes, masturbation, rape, and the like. It’s adult material, and it airs with a TV-MA rating for good reason. However, all of this fits the style and tone, and is used because of the people the show revolves around, not gratuitously. So if you don’t like that stuff, then stay away from Legit and leave it for the rest of us immature viewers to enjoy. Or, better yet, loosen up and give it a chance.

The two disc DVD set contains all 13 episodes of season one, plus a handful of bonus features. This includes a Director’s Cut of the “Pilot,” a gag reel, deleted scenes, commentaries for select episodes, a featurette on Jefferies, and some autotuned Rodney, It’s a good, appropriate mix.

Legit – The Complete First Season is available this coming Tuesday.

Monday, February 24, 2014

DVD Review: ‘Mama’s Family – The Complete Third Season’

Article first published as DVD Review: ‘Mama’s Family – The Complete Third Season’ on Blogcritics.

MF3Mama’s Family, a spin-off of The Carol Burnett Show was canceled by NBC after only two seasons. Remember it airing more than that? That’s because a short time after the original cancellation, the show was revived in first-run syndication (meaning someone else, not the network, made the show and sold it for broadcast) for another four seasons. The first year of that reboot will soon be available in a four-disc set from StarVista and Time Life.

Based on Carol Burnett Show sketches, this iteration of  Mama’s Family features some changes that set it apart from its first years. Mama (Vicky Lawrence), her son, Vinton (Ken Berry), and Vinton’s gal, Naomi (Dorothy Lyman), remain. But Vinton’s kids, briefly mentioned in season three, then never brought up again, are out of the house, as is Mama’s sister, Fran, after a “natural” death.

From a practicality stand point, Rue McClanahan, who played Fran, was not able to come back because she had accepted a role in a little show called The Golden Girls. Ellen, Mama’s sister, is played by Betty White, who only appears in one episode of the syndication reboot for the same reason. So it’s not like those ladies were not funny, or were unceremoniously kicked off the series. As for the kids, well, that’s a different matter, and rumors swirled over Ed and Eunice’s (Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett) departure.

To plug the hole in the cast, Bubba Higgins (Allan Kayser), Eunice and Ed’s son, joins the clan, fresh out of a stint in juvie. His parents are said to have moved to Florida, and Mama is left to straighten Bubba out. Luckily, Mama has Iola (Beverly Archer) to rely on for support, her best friend and the other new main cast member.

The focus of the series shifted more to Mama herself by season three. She became a much more dominant personality, with Vint and Naomi being more obedient, making for less bickering. Perhaps America didn’t want to see so much strife in a loving family, or maybe the writers just wanted to highlight the fantastic Lawrence even more, but whatever the reason, The Complete Third Season is a bit of a different show.

Make no mistake about it, though; Mama’s Family remains a funny, beloved classic in this third year. In fact, this version may be the one many fans are most familiar with, the early seasons running for a shorter length of time. So there’s no reason to shy away from The Complete Third Season.

Among the installments of note in this set are: “Farewell, Frannie,” containing Fran’s funeral and Bubba’s arrival; “Where There’s a Will,” where Mama is forced to keep her temper in order to inherit Fran’s money; “Best Medicine,” in which Ellen returns and apologizes for missing the funeral; “Mama and Dr. Brothers” features Dr. Joyce Brothers (herself) helping Naomi with her bedroom troubles; “The Love Letter,” a comedy of errors; “Where There’s Smoke,” in which Mama tries to charm herself a leadership position in the church league; “Santa Mama” finds Mama playing Santa Claus at the mall; “Mama’s Cousin” has Lawrence playing two roles; and “The Best Policy,” in which Naomi may be trying to kill Vinton.

Honestly, though, I could have easily added more titles to that list of episodes to watch. Most of the entries in this set are really funny, and the show holds up tremendously well. Combined with some special features including a classic “Family” sketch featuring Downton Abbey‘s Maggie Smith, a featurette on Bubba, an interview with the actor that plays Bubba, and a cast reunion, this is a good release.

Mama’s Family – The Complete Third Season will be available this coming Tuesday from StarVista.

MOZART Such Sweet Music

Article first published as MOZART Such Sweet Music on TheTVKing.

After having watched thee of the five new Amazon drama and comedy pilots, I was very disappointed with this year's crop. Luckily, the last two in the line up have been quite good, redeeming the website a bit for its content. The final pilot I viewed, Mozart in the Jungle, is a look "behind-the-scenes" at symphony members in New York, certainly something not seen before in a television show. Add to that the promise of great music and some really good casting, and I'm sold.

The central character of Mozart in the Jungle is Hailey (Lola Kirke, sister of Girls' Jemima Kirke). She's an oboist stuck teaching music lessons to pervy kids and filling in for pit orchestras, such as the one she is currently doing for Oedipus (American Idol's Constantine Maroulis). At that gig, she befriends Cynthia (Saffron Burrows, Boston Legal, The Bank Job), an experienced musician happily willing to give advice to the younger girl, and whom even gets Hailey an audition with the New York Symphony, the dream job.

It's easy to see the relation between Lola and Jemima, especially when Hailey has to deal with her student, whom she forgives for his dirty text messages about her when he helps her out. But Lola also stands on her own, finding a fun, soulful quality to the role. She plays Hailey in a very realistic, fully-formed way, someone we can relate to, but also someone unique. This is a good protagonist to have.

I was disappointed that Burrows is stuck doing an American accent. It's not that she's bad at it, it's just that it's so much more satisfying to hear her in her native tone, and it seems like an English lilt would match a sophisticated musician quite well. Either way, though, she excels at playing the kind diva, someone hard to pigeonhole, but who does not disappoint.

Hailey is going to have a lot of adjustment joining the group because the symphony itself is undergoing change. Seasoned conductor Thomas (Malcolm McDowell, Franklin & Bash, A Clockwork Orange) is pushed into an emeritus position by Gloria (Broadway star Bernadette Peters), a post that is supposed to give him continued influence, but allows her to steamroll him a bit. The new conductor, Rodrigo (Gael García Bernal, The Motorcycle Diaries), intends to clean house, much to Thomas' dismay. At least Thomas still has Cynthia, for sex anyway.

These power struggles are familiar, but like the canceled Smash, it seems novel to see them unfold in this new setting. It could be that the stars inhabiting these parts are just so good, but this dynamic does not seem stale. This will be a driving drama factor, should the pilot be ordered to series, that should make the plot quite compelling, above and beyond the story of Hailey herself.

Hailey should still figure prominently, though. Besides the new job, she also has a new beau, dancer Joshua (Peter Vack, I Just Want My Pants Back), which causes friction between Hailey and her roommate, Lizzie (Hannah Dunne, Frances Ha). This is a young-person problem, and Hailey is still a young person, allowing herself to be pulled out of bed to get drunk and party, though she knows she shouldn't. Mozart in the Jungle should chronicle her growth into adulthood, a necessary development as a symphony member, and that will be interesting, too.

These types of different facets to the characters make Mozart in the Jungle more than just one thing, which is always a plus when developing a TV show. On one hand, we have the silly party scene with the shot-and-play competition. On the other, Joshua Bell guest stars as himself, playing with the symphony. And, to someone who was music minor in college and who participated in bands and ensembles for a decade, it appears McDowell and Kirke can fake it quite well as professionals in the field, which lends credibility. Overall, Mozart in the Jungle seems to be the total package.

Mozart in the Jungle's "Pilot" is available now for streaming on Amazon.com.

DVD Review: ‘Family Guy – Volume Twelve’

Article first published as DVD Review: ‘Family Guy – Volume Twelve’ on Blogcritics.

FG12FOX recently released Family Guy Volume Twelve on DVD. Unlike earlier sets, Family Guy is now releasing its episodes by season, though they still bear the volume moniker, probably because the season and volume numbers don’t match up. Volume Twelve has all 22 episodes that aired last year, the show’s 11th season, spread across three discs.

Over the past few seasons, Family Guy has definitely started to show its age, and overall the episodes on this release are certainly of lesser quality than those of its early years. This is actually the first Family Guy release in a long time where I can’t link to specific episodes I previously reviewed. It’s not that the batch is necessarily worse than the last couple; Family Guy has just settled into a very comfortable routine, so it’s rarely necessary to check in with it for review. I would be repeating myself a lot. That being said, the show isn’t completely without life left in it. It’s just not the must-see, oft-discussed program that it used to be.

The episodes are stand-alones, and although the series has always had some serial elements to it, only rare episodes really changing anything for the characters. Some of the inclusions on Volume Twelve include: “Into Fat Air,” in which Peter (Seth MacFarlane) jealously forces the family to compete with Lois’s ex-boyfriend’s clan while climbing Mt. Everest; “Ratings Guy,” a fun lambasting of the Nielsen rating system, on which the longevity of TV shows is (some would argue unfairly) decided; “Yug Ylimaf,” the 200th episode, where Brian (also MacFarlane) tampers with time and Stewie (MacFarlane again) is never born; “The Giggity Wife,” in which Quagmire (um, MacFarlane), the ultimate bachelor, gets married; “Turban Cowboy,” where Peter accidentally becomes a Muslim terrorist, and yes, you read that correctly; and “Roads to Vegas,” in which Stewie and Brian are copied and the two versions have very different vacations in Law Vegas.

“Roads to Vegas” and “Ratings Guy” are my favorite inclusions, for completely different reasons. Family Guy is best when it ventures into satire, and their commentary on the way renewals are decided is way more witty than most of the other installments. “Roads to Vegas” is the latest in a recurring road trip series, a la the old Bob Hope-Bing Crosby films, always much more enjoyable than when the show parodies more modern movies, as it does in a couple of episodes on this set that I didn’t mention above.

It’s interesting that a quick rundown of the episodes I best remember all feature characters MacFarlane voices. One might think, looking at that list, he’s the only actor in the show. There are actually a number of other very talented performers in Family Guy including Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Mila Kunis, Patrick Warburton, and Mike Henry. This season, more than most, made Peter, Brian, and Stewie the center of it all, though. They are popular and reliable characters, but it would be nice to see the others get some more screen time.

There are decent extras included on Volume Twelve. “200 Episodes Later” is the special that aired in conjunction with the 200th episode. There’s also a table read from that installment, as well a portion of the show’s 2012 Comic-Con panel, always enjoyable. Deleted scenes, animatics, and audio commentaries are present for select episodes.

At the end of the day, Family Guy Volume Twelve is a very average release of what has become a very average show. But if you need some mindless laughs, Family Guy still delivers those pretty consistently, like The Simpsons, so it’s reliable for that. If you’re someone that only picks up an occasional Family Guy DVD, this one might not be at the top of the list of those recommended, but if you’re a completionist or an irregular viewer who’d like to catch a few fresh entries, then Volume Twelve should satisfy.

Family Guy Volume Twelve is available now.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

STAR-CROSSED Not Worth Crossing Over To

Article first published as STAR-CROSSED Review on Seat42F.

Aimee Teegarden as Emery and Matt Lanter as Roman Star Crossed
The CW’s STAR-CROSSED is designed as a modern day Romeo & Juliet, especially evident by the tragedy at the end of the first hour, as well as the lead couple. Aliens known as Atrians crash land on Earth. Although the Atrians are peaceful, mankind doesn’t give them a chance and immediately slaughters or captures the survivors. One young Atrian boy escapes and hides in a shed where he meets a human girl. Ten years later, the two encounter each other once more when the Artian is integrated into the girl’s high school.

Poor Aimee Teegarden. After graduating high school after five seasons on Friday Night Lights, she’s now sent back at age twenty-five to repeat it, playing Emery Whitehill, the human lead in STAR-CROSSED. She passes for a teenager, I guess, but were there no talented fifteen-year olds around to handle the part? And why cast the adorable Maggie Elizabeth Jones (Ben and Kate, We Bought a Zoo) as Emery if they were just going to age the character early in the “Pilot,” ditching her red hair in the process?

Believe it or not, that’s just the least of STAR-CROSSED’s problems. The show gets the high school setting completely wrong. Most public institutions will be lucky to have today’s best technology in ten years’ time, let alone automated cafeterias, fully electronic lockers, and holo-projectors. Not to mention, the cell phones the kids use are thick and don’t roll or fold up at all. I suppose some of this could be explained in that there’s an alien ship in town, and so maybe this particular town has benefited in advancements from off world, but there’s certainly no indication in this pilot that that is the case.

The premise of the society portrayed also is beyond weak. We’re supposed to believe the aliens rolled over when humans slaughtered them, then gleefully learned English and our pop culture in only a decade? While, meanwhile, Americans brought back every bit of their racism in the way they treat the new residents of Earth? It’s District 9 on steroids, but without a full thinking through of the set up or players.

Worse still, when Roman (Matt Lanter, 90210), the lead alien, and his friends are brought to school, in a clear parallel to our history in the American south, armed guards are allowed to patrol the hallways, but don’t actually keep an eye on the extraterrestrial attendees. Setting aside the big guns that should not be in a place of education, humans are permitted to bully the aliens without repercussion, and the authorities offer no assistance when the aliens are harassed?

Basically, so much about the structure and execution of this world just plain sucks.

The question is, will the target audience of the CW be able to look past all of that and just enjoy the teen drama? Because in that, STAR-CROSSED delivers a pretty typical batch of characters with standard screen tropes. The popular girls are represented, and there’s the jock, Grayson (Grey Damon, also from Friday Night Lights), who is interested in Emery before she chooses Roman over him. There’s even a Twilight-vibe going on as Emery, who is an outsider that the cool kids are accepting of at first, meets Roman and his friends, who are the stranger loners segregated from everyone else. So there may be appeal here for a certain audience segment.

Plus, there are the “mysteries” designed to hook the viewer. One involves Emery’s terminally ill friend Julia (Malese Jow, The Vampire Diaries). I won’t spoil what happens for those who do want to check out this pilot, but suffice it to say, while the occurrence late in the hour does draw intrigue, it doesn’t make sense that it’s been kept a hidden secret so long, especially by those who want peace between the species.

The CW certainly knows its target audience, and STAR-CROSSED seems designed to grab both segments of the network’s viewers. Most of their series are either centered on angsty young people more concerned with romance than real problems, and a lot of the others are science fiction and super natural leaning, often with younger protagonists. STAR-CROSSED is combining both of those types of shows in what they surely hope is a perfect storm.

The thing is, even though I’m a thirty-year old man, I still like a lot of the CW’s stuff, from Arrow to The Vampire Diaries, and mourn the loss of Gossip Girl. However, STAR-CROSSED just has too many logistics issues to get past for it to join my season pass list. I’ll watch at least one more hour to see if it improves, but so much of the story is so unrealistic that it’s hard to be drawn in. Maybe next time they can do better.

STAR-CROSSED airs Monday at 8 p.m. ET on the CW.

Fire Goes Out On BURN NOTICE

BN7Article first published as DVD Review: 'Burn Notice - Season Seven' on Blogcritics.

USA’s Burn Notice came to an end last summer after seven seasons. The story of Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan), a burned CIA spy, wrapped itself up relatively neatly as Michael and his friends faced some of their most difficult challenges yet. Now, those last thirteen episodes are available in a four-disc DVD set.

Season Seven begins with “New Deal.” Michael has negotiated the freedom of his compatriots in exchange for serving the government. Specifically, Agent Andrew Strong (Jack Coleman) tasks Michael with going undercover to report on an old friend, Randall Burke (Adrian Pasdar). These Heroes alum are Michael’s final mission, sort of, as doing this job will supposedly earn back the life Michael has longed for all these years, as well as protect the people he cares about.

Of course, Michael is strongest when he is with his friends. Season Seven begins with Mike off on his own, separated from those who love and ground him. It doesn’t take long for Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), Sam (Bruce Campbell), Jesse (Coby Bell), and Maddie (Sharon Gless) to find out what’s going on and get involved, but from the start, there’s a level of distance between Michael and the crew that is sure to make long-time fans uncomfortable and the plot unpredictable, especially as this new dynamic continues well past the first few hours.

Besides identifying and stopping the bad guys, Michael has some personal challenges to get past in season seven. Maddie is still angry at Michael for the death of his brother, Maddie herself taking on the responsibility of raising her grandson. And Fiona, Michael’s true love, has moved on with someone else, Carlos (Stephen Martines), who seems a good match for her. All of this makes coming home hard for Michael, and puts his loyalties in doubt, especially as he suffers the effects of long-term, deep-undercover work.

Unlike the first six season, the final season has a very serial format, trying up some loose ends and giving closure. However, given series format of serial chapters and mini-arcs, the final season isn’t really a culmination of the entire seven years. Only two returning guest stars, Tim Matheson and Garret Dillahunt, figure into this plot, and only in limited ways. But these 13 episodes do tell a tale that feels like a fitting ending for the characters.

The series finale itself, “Reckoning,” is fairly solid. There’s some disappointment, such as the unnecessary death of one of the main characters, and the very small, far-too-late role the great Alan Ruck is given, but overall, most Burn Notice viewers should nod and smile and anxiously await the rumored TV movie or movies that could continue the tale. Plus, Sharon Gless delivers another memorable moment, and Donovan surprises everyone by showing some real acting chops.

I watched Burn Notice from the beginning, and although I considered giving it up a few times in the middle of the series, I do think season seven is some of the best work the actors and writers delivered over the whole run. I did find the ending a little hollow, but no more so than fit the tone of the rest of the show. It’s popcorn entertainment, it never pretended to be anything else, and it ended in the same vein.

As far as extras go, there’s a great audio commentary for the episode “Forget Me Not,” which is the second episode of the season and the 100th episode of the series. A featurette about the ending of the show is present, and a gag reel and deleted scenes round out the bonuses. One could justifiably wish for more, but there’s enough here to avoid complaints that fans were robbed.

Burn Notice Season Seven is available now.

THE WALKING DEAD Catches Up With the "Inmates"



Article first written for Seat42F.

While the mid-season premiere of THE WALKING DEAD last week catches us up with three of the survivors, who eventually find one another, this week’s “Inmates” shows us what happens to everyone else in four separate vignettes. It doesn’t feel like everyone is shown tonight, but the hour really does get around to the entire remaining cast (save the ones that appeared last week), the holes being those who are dead and won’t be seen again.

First up is Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Beth (Emily Kinney). The opening narration is an entry from Beth’s journal, one of hope that the prison will be a permanent safe haven where the group can rebuild their lives. It’s heartbreaking to hear it now, Beth being apart from her sister, her father executed, and little protection to be found from the walkers and the elements. It’s a jarring juxtaposition, but one that reminds us of how great the loss they just suffered is.

Beth somehow hangs onto a little bit of hope, despite her grief, wanting to immediately go find the others. Daryl is less eager, having been hurt enough, likely still smarting from Carol’s (Melissa McBride) banishment. It’s up to Beth to spur Daryl on, though he seems more determined to protect her than eager to find anyone else as they trace what is very clearly a trail left by other humans.

Daryl and Beth’s differing attitudes, as well as those of the other players as the hour unfolds, show just how strong the character development is on THE WALKING DEAD. While in other stories most people would react in a similar manner to such a huge tragedy, and it’s hard for writers to always imagine those varying personalities, no two people in this show take the events the same. “Inmates” highlights this quality.

The second segment shows us those Daryl and Beth are following, backing up as they leave the clues the first two will find. Tyrese (Chad L. Coleman) has Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Kyla (Mika Samuels) with him, as well as baby Judith, whose cries are a magnet to walkers. It’s no wonder, with the challenge of keeping these young ones alive, that Tyreese misses how psychopathic Lizzie has become.

From the casual stabbing of rabbits to the nearly smothering Judith to death to quiet her, it seems pretty clear that THE WALKING DEAD has unmasked the secret of the dead rats this week. Lizzie may be able to handle herself around walkers, but she is a serious threat to the group if she can’t keep her heartless impulses under control. One has to wonder if Lizzie and Mika’s tale will echo those of twin boys in the comics, which gets really dark and tragic quite quickly after the prison story.

At one point in “Inmates,” Tyreese leaves the three girls alone because he hears screams nearby and, after some quick words of advice, runs off to help those in trouble. Is this forgivable? Abandoning the trio, even temporarily, is extremely dangerous. They’re too little to really fight off walkers. Yes, Tyreese could be concerned his sister, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), is one of those in trouble, or he could just realize he needs help and hopes those screams will lead to other compatriots. But is it really excusable to leave the kids on their own, and just how bad would he feel if something happened to them? In this instance, shouldn’t his duty to protect them outweigh anything else?

Luckily, before Judith is smothered and the others are eaten, Carol, who watched the prison fall from afar, likely trying to decide how she could get back into the group before it was attacked, finds them. She doesn’t scold Tyreese, probably nervous that Tyreese knows why Rick (Andrew Lincoln) banished her, which it turns out he doesn’t. But while the dread of what will happen when Tyreese learns the truth hangs over this group, it’s just so damn good to have Carol back, and heartening that no one else we care about dies.

At the end of this vignette, Carol and Tyreese learn about a settlement that is offering protection and decide to take the girls there. Shouldn’t they have learned their lesson after Woodbury and the prison that any safety is temporary? But I guess in a super dangerous world like this, any promise of peace, no matter how short-lived, is better than life on the run.

Is this place connected to the three new characters we meet at the very end of the episode? Abraham (Michael Cudlitz, Southland), Eugene (Josh McDermitt, Retired at 35), and Rosita (Christian Serratos, Twilight) are good guys in the comics who lead our heroes to a bunch of settlements near Washington D.C. However, the city Tyreese and Carol are hearing towards is much closer, near Atlanta. Will the show go a different direction, or will this promise of a home be an empty one, freeing the characters up to begin their journey north?

But I’m getting ahead of myself because those three don’t show up until the final moments.

The third section finds Maggie (Lauren Cohan) single-mindedly determined to find Glenn (Steven Yeun), a reckless mission that soon endangers her traveling companions, Sasha and Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), when she insists on boarding a bus full of walkers to see if Glenn is among them. It’s as much luck as skill that lets these three dispatch the contingent, confirming that Glenn is not on the bus, leading to a terrific acting moment for Cohan.

Having everyone on the bus die provides a convenient way to get rid of the unnamed extras, though it’s horrible that the first evacuated, who should have been the safest, have all perished. THE WALKING DEAD has had to, and will continue to, struggle with how to balance the core group of players with a larger number of extras. Not everyone can be featured, and with the cast currently in a growing phase, likely soon to get even larger, it’s challenging to keep these actors all straight. The bus massacre, while maybe not necessary, is a way to contain the population shown.

Finally, we see that Glenn made it off the bus and is now trapped in the prison. While his plight seems scary for a bit, Glenn does know how to handle himself, and has the riot gear to help him escape. What he doesn’t count on, though, is finding Tara (Alanna Masterson) amid the chaos, and after a bit of hesitation, decides to rescue her on his way out.

It seems certain that Glenn would not have been so generous had Tara not been crying and scared in a cage. And it helps Tara’s case that her gun was completely full, showing that she didn’t fire at Glenn’s friends when her group did. This should make everyone else accept her easily enough, as they did others of The Governor’s former followers before her. None of what happened is Tara’s fault, and her obvious regret works in her favor.

It’s a little disappointing, though convenient, to learn that Tara’s sister, Lilly (Audrey Marie Anderson), is among those who perished at the prison. I guess everyone can’t be saved, but I don’t feel like her story was through, and I wanted to see the sisters adjust to the group. Now, Tara has no one, really, and will have quite the difficult time as an outsider.

Glenn is just as obsessed with finding Maggie as she is him, which is touching, a couple truly in love. He might be sidetracked a little, as Glenn and Tara are the ones who happen upon Abraham and company. But we’ll see.

“Inmates” is a great way to reintroduce all the characters, giving each time to show a bit of who they are, and setting up the next part of the story, which will certainly be concerned with trying to get everyone back together. I kind of hope it takes all of this run to do so, as it wouldn’t be realistic for everyone to find each other quickly. But it’s also likely, for ease of storytelling if nothing else, that our heroes will begin to reassemble as early as next week, which will be gratifying, too, as they miss each other and we root for them to reunite.

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