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Monday, March 31, 2014

PSYCH's "Breakup" With Us

Article first published as PSYCH's "Breakup" With Us on TheTVKing.

USA's Psych series finale, "The Breakup," is not what I was expecting at all, and yet feels completely perfect. This is a show that has its flaws, but also knows exactly what it is and satisfies both the characters and the viewers in its close. It keeps its story protected and gives the players about the happiest ending anyone could hope for.

A large part of the episode involves Shawn (James Roday) struggling to tell Gus (Dule Hill) that he's disbanding their detective agency and moving away to be with Juliet (Maggie Lawson). Shawn keeps talking to the camera, walking us through their final case together and all the times he almost manages to say the words, but can't. Then, two thirds of the way through the episode, we get the reveal - Shawn isn't talking to the viewers, he's making a goodbye DVD for Gus, and our "hero" slips away without confronting his best friend.

Shawn is emotionally stunted, but there are three people in his life he cares deeply for: his father, Henry (Corbin Bernsen), who will be fine if Shawn only visits sometimes, Juliet, the love of his life, and BFF Gus. Because Juliet takes a job in San Fransisco, Shawn is forced to make a choice: Gus or Juliet? It's an impossible task, but one can't stop romantic love, and so Shawn does what he has to do.

A lot of what Shawn says to Gus in the video makes sense. Maybe Shawn really has been holding Gus back, providing distractions from career and women and stopping Gus from reaching his potential. In Shawn's mind, he's actually doing right by Gus when he leaves, and one can understand that. In this way, Shawn's departure seems more like self-sacrifice than abandonment.

But Psych seeks to have it both ways. Gus, conflicted, and making a fool of himself with a woman one last time, decides to refuse "The Breakup" and moves to San Fran, too, so that he and Shawn can continue the life they've become accustomed to. Shawn gives Gus an out, and Gus says no, reaffirming their bond. That Gus doesn't make the decision lightly makes the outcome mean even more, Gus willing to sacrifice for Shawn, too. Their relationship, always the heart of the show, is served well.

This all culminates in an hilarious conversation over a dead body with Juliet and Vick (Kristen Nelson), a fine way to include the former and once again chief in the proceedings, and then Shawn and Gus's funny joint proposal to Juliet, which she gleefully accepts before her ring is stolen. This gets a little whacky and unrealistic, but only in the way Psych always has been. Things have changed a bit, Shawn has matured, but they've also stayed the same, the characters continuing what we've seen long after they leave our televisions.

There are many elements throughout the episode that also serve the plot well. Shawn finally calls his dad for help. The last murder case initially draws parallels to the ceasing of Gus and Shawn's partnership with their suspect (Billy Zane,  Back to the Future) having lost his childhood bestie. gus gets to work for Bud from The Cosby Show (Deon Richmond). New lead detective Brannigan (Mira Sorvino, Mimic) proves the department will be fine without our twosome. Woody (Kurt Fuller) has some nice bits, and Buzz (Sage Brocklebank) finally becomes a detective. We finally meet the oft-mentioned Dobson during the montage of Shawn's left-behind DVDs, and it's frequently referenced actor Val Kilmer (Top Gun, Batman Forever)! These are all excellent pay offs.

Psych would not be what it is without its resident stick in the mud, Carlton Lassiter (Timothy Omundson). Lassie has grown a lot, becoming a fine chief in Santa Barbara, now having a family. He's left without the rest of the cast, but in an awesome place. He also gets his own farewell from Shawn.

Shawn decides to confess that he's not a psychic to Lassiter in his DVD, but Lassie breaks the disc before Shawn can say it. It may be because Lassie would have to arrest Shawn for fraud if he heard the words, and Lassie has come to like Shawn. I think the policeman values the chaos Shawn brings into his life, helping to hone his skills and raise his game. They have a hug earlier, one Lassiter wants, as Lassie, brilliant detective that he is, knows that Shawn is leaving before Shawn says anything. This same skill set also implies that Lassiter already knew the truth about Shawn and chose to ignore it, cementing his likeability even more.

There's a comfort in knowing that Psych goes on, even if it's not being filmed. Some shows need closure and a finite ending; this one does not. Psych is more about laughter than tears, and it finds a way to bring that through. My complaints about the show have been that it's too light and too procedural, and yet those same elements are used to great effect in this last episode, only possible because the writers have been committed to them all along. It's the perfect, fitting end.

Thank you to the cast and crew of Psych for an entertaining eight years. I won't say it wasn't time to go, but you will absolutely be missed, and if you ever go for a continuation or comeback, count me in.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Surviving SURVIVING JACK

Article first published as SURVIVING JACK Review on Seat42F.

Surviving Jack FOX
With the ‘regular’ TV season almost over, if such a label is even still accurate, FOX pulls one of its hold-backs out of the closet and slaps it on screen this week. SURVIVING JACK is set in 1991 (does every decade need to be represented on television this year?) and tells the story of Dr. Jack Dunlevy (Christopher Meloni, Law & Order: SVU), who scales back his hours at work and takes over raising the kids so that his wife, Joanne (Rachael Harris, Suits), can go to law school.

SURVIVING JACK is another family sitcom about another wacky, yet relatable, clan. The parents argue with the teenagers, but unlike most real parents, sympathize with them in cheesy emotional moments meant to bridge the age gap with understanding. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, TV’s version of what a household looks like, one that falls a little short of reality, but it’s something we’ve seen done to death.

The “hook,” if you will, is that this is a period piece. Yet, even that doesn’t seem so fresh. With the 60s and the 80s so saturated on the tube and the 70s having been represented, too, it was only a matter of time before the 90s got their due, given that it’s been a full twenty-five years since the start of that decade. Reading Jurassic Park, seeing Christian Slater posters, and hearing some of the best music of the era might dredge up some nostalgia from the audience, but those are just details, not a reason in of themselves to watch a show.

And, of course, there’s an adult version of the main kid providing narration. On SURVIVING JACK, this role is filled by Kevin Rahm (Mad Men, Desperate Housewives). He does fine, but Rahm’s voice is so much less recognizable than, say, Patton Oswalt on The Goldbergs, that his casting could only work against this show.

As Jack Dunlevy is introduced, he’s all macho man, completely out of touch with who his teenagers, awkward, sex-obsessed Frankie (Connor Buckley, Deception) and pretty, sexually active Rachel (Claudia Lee, Hart of Dixie), are. This works for Meloni, who can play layered, but also excels at bonehead stupidity. Unfortunately, because the lead of a show can’t just be a stereotype, he softens before the first half hour is even over, finding ways to connect to Frankie.

I say unfortunately because I want to see a father on TV for once that acts like my father. My dad would never, ever open up enough to have a heart-to-heart with his child about feelings. That doesn’t make him a bad person, in my opinion, but every single patriarch on every single show is either an abusive, uncaring drunk (in the dramas) or a modern, sensitive man (in comedies), even when the show doesn’t take place in the modern day, that can get in touch with their inner self. Even the gruff ones allow that attitude to fall away from time to time, always revealing that hidden pussycat. Where is the realistic man who sticks to who he is and doesn’t play to the viewers’ heart-strings?

Of course, the premise of SURVIVNG JACK is that Jack finds a way to take over the household duties because he is a good husband and wants Joanne to have her life, and so he must grow and change to meet the needs of his new job. It isn’t easy for him, but we already see that he can do it, so the rest of his arc should be relatively predictable and not feature any more big jumps for him.

The show is also populated with friend characters who seem interchangeable, familiar types. The actors that play them, Kevin Hernandez (Get the Gringo) as Frankie’s Mexican friend George, Tyler Foden (Air Buddies) as the held-back-in-school Mikey, Lili Reinhart (The Kings of Summer) as Frankie’s crush Heather, Thomas Kasp (Dirty Teacher) as Rachel’s airhead boyfriend Doug, and Damaris Diaz (Maddoggin’) as slutty friend Alison, might be talented, but there’s no way to tell in their limited roles.

In general, I think the reason to watch SURVIVING JACK will be for the main family at the center. Meloni is always entertaining, and has solid chemistry with Harris, a wonderful actress with an extensive resume. The kids seem to do well enough in the parts, and whether viewers finds this foursome compelling enough will determine whether it can run past the initially-ordered eight-episode first season. For my part, I may watch, probably sometime in July after getting through most other regular season shows, but it’s certainly not at the top of my priorities list.

SURVIVING JACK premieres Thursday at 9:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

THE WALKING DEAD Is Good to "Us"

Article first written for Seat42F.
 

In the penultimate episode of AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD this season, “Us,” fans finally get to see almost the entire cast in a single hour. True, three sit out, but at least there’s a happy reunion, and some lighter moments for other survivors, too, as the group begins to reform and reach Terminus.

The start of “Us” is Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) goofing off on the railroad tracks, a smiling Rick (Andrew Lincoln) looking on. The relationship between Carl and Michonne, a sibling-like bond, is definitely one of the highlights of the show, and it’s gratifying to see it aired out here in such an amusing exchange. These three will have dark times ahead, which we’ll get to, but for now, they’re about as happy as we’ve ever seen them since THE WALKING DEAD began.

Then we flip to Daryl (Norman Reedus), who isn’t playing well with others in Harley’s (J.D. Evermore) group. A man named Len (Marcus Hester, Banshee) takes it upon himself to bait Daryl, and while Daryl won’t conform to the rules of the gang, he also won’t rise to violence is Harley is around, keeping the peace. In the end, Len oversteps, and Harley has the others kill him for it.

At first, these guys seem only like bad news. But as “Us” plays out and Daryl shares a few conversations with Harley, they begin to seem not so evil. Yes, many of the members are unruly and impolite, but they live by a code, and that has kept them mostly alive. Even Len’s death is a penalty for a crime, not some cruel, senseless thing. Daryl is used to a more compassionate make up of people, but he can readjust to this personality set, given time.

But then we get the bombshell – Harley’s guys are the ones Rick encountered in the house a few episodes ago, and they are tracking Rick down to get revenge. Rick doesn’t deserve it, from our perspective, having acted out of fear in a scary situation. Harley, however, thinks otherwise, and his man Tony (Davi Jay, Treme) is ready to identify Rick when they catch up. If only Daryl knew who they’re after, he could take out Tony and save Rick, as while Daryl may be adapting to these people, he hasn’t shown any sign of loyalty to them, and can’t possibly turn on his former leader.

This means that Harley may not be so agreeable as he pretends to be. After all, Rick only struck after overhearing some dastardly plans. It could have just been Len and others blowing off steam, but at the same time, it could also mean that Harley is just putting on a face to suck Daryl in. Plus, Harley will never fall in line between another leader, thinking his strong hand is needed to keep order, so when these men reach Terminus, it won’t be pretty. This plot leaves a nifty cliffhanger for next week’s big finale.

A huge chunk of “Us” follows another group on their journey. Glenn (Steven Yeun) and his four companions come across the signs Maggie (Lauren Cohan) has been leaving and, seeing that they’re catching up, Glenn makes a concerted effort to push ahead faster. This doesn’t sit well with Rosita (Christian Serratos), who sees that Tara (Alanna Masterson) needs to rest, but won’t stop blindly following Glenn, who saved her. It also doesn’t fly with Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) because rushing endangers his charge, Eugene (Josh McDermitt). And so, at the mouth of a dark, scary tunnel that clearly has walker sounds echoing from it, Glenn and Tara part ways with the other three.

Look, it’s easy to get Glenn’s single-mindedness, but it’s making him stupid. Going around the tunnel would only cost a day (which ends up happening anyway), and at least he knows he’s on Maggie’s trail. Why can’t he put safety ahead of this obsession, satisfied with the fact that Maggie is alive and he’s getting closer? It’s not like the tunnel may be dangerous; it definitely is!

Worse, Glenn is putting Tara in danger and doesn’t see it. Not until Tara gets stuck in the tunnel, that is, and then Glenn refuses to leave her, even though it might cost them both their lives. Glenn does the right thing by her, but only after it’s too late. This version of Glenn is way too stubborn to survive long in the post-apocalyptic world, so it’s a good thing he’s shed before the end of the hour.

While Glenn is stumbling in the dark, Eugene has a change of heart and manipulates the others to the end of the tunnel, hoping to find their friends again. It’s arguable whether this is because Eugene has come to care about anyone else or because he knows they need a bigger group. Ultimately, Eugene convinces the others to go to Terminus to recruit and restock, but again, we still don’t know the socially awkward man’s intentions. I don’t think Eugene is a bad guy, but he is calculating.

Eugene and the others find someone other than Glenn, though – Maggie, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), and Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.). We can assume, though we don’t see it, that Maggie is the one that insists Eugene’s van drive into the tunnel to save Glenn when he doesn’t come out. And just in the nick of time, they rescue Glenn and Tara from the walkers.

If this seems a little too easy a story twist, it is, but it’s hard to care when confronted with Glenn and Maggie in each other’s arms. They’ve both been so determined to find one another, and in this dark existence, every happiness is celebrated. Besides, sometimes coincidences do happen, right?

It’s also nice that Glenn claims to have met Tara along the road. Tara may feel the need to confess her real origins at some point, but Glenn is doing her a favor, not needing to explain herself for her actions at the prison, being only seen as a helpful savior. Tara, after everything she’s done for Glenn, deserves this break.

Then, this eight-member group (!) becomes the first to reach Terminus. It looks ideal, flower gardens and unlocked gates, and is staffed by a single woman named Mary (Denise Crosby, Ray Donovan, Star Trek: The Next Generation), who is welcoming. All this has to be too good to be true, though, right? A beautiful flower luring them in to a deadly trap? I mean, where are the guards and the barricades to stop the walkers? What is Mary’s agenda?

We have a lot left to get through in the final hour. Rick, Michonne, Carl, Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), and Carol (Melissa McBride), currently in two groups, have to get to Terminus. Harley and Rick must have a show down, which Daryl will likely play a part in. We need to find out what has happened to Beth (Emily Kinney), if she’s still alive. Something tells me the season ender won’t just involve a happy reunion party at the new settlement.

Terminus means “end of the line,” and this is definitely the end of the line for this arc of THE WALKING DEAD. Terminus was also the original name of Atlanta, around which the story has taken place so far, and is likely to move away from after season four. So it’s all a very neat, fitting tie up to a heck of a good tale. Though I am glad the show will continue after this, beginning a new volume.

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

BROOKLYN NINE-NINE "Charges" Into Season Finale

Article first published as BROOKLYN NINE-NINE "Charges" Into Season Finale on TheTVKing.

FOX's Brooklyn Nine-Nine has proven to be a very entertaining series, a conclusion that does not lessen going into the final episode of its freshman run, "Charges and Specs." Despite starting the story at the end, a terribly overused TV trope in recent years, this installment manages to tell a surprising and compelling story, taking several of our characters in new directions while allowing their fun, bumbling energy to come out along the way.

As "Charges and Specs" begins, Jake (Andy Samberg) is being pressured by his boss's boss, Deputy Commissioner Podolski (James Michael Connor), to stop investigating a rich donor. Jake continues anyway, even after Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) orders him not to. When Jake finds some evidence to support his theory, Holt and Santiago (Melissa Fumero) get on board. That is, until Holt asks Jake to trust him and get himself fired.

We all know what a great detective Jake is, in spite of his lackadaisical personality. If he says the man is dirty, he's dirty. And Jake continuing to pursue his case long after he's threatened only proves even more how dedicated he is to the badge. It's not a new thing for a hero cop to go off book and doggedly follow his leads, but this is a pure comedy, not the drama most police shows are made up of, and it's still integral to the character.

Holt likely thinks that Jake is right from the start, but as captain, has to play the politics of the department. As the man in charge, he can't just buck his superiors at will or none of the officers under his command would have jobs. To Holt's credit, he doesn't turn a blind eye when Jake brings him actionable evidence. But he's a sympathetic man, balancing the responsibilities of the job with justice.

Any annoyance at Holt for not getting behind Jake sooner is tossed out as soon as the trio go undercover at a dance competition. "Charges and Specs" gives Holt a chance to show his lighter side, something glimpsed occasionally on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but never more so than in this episode. I do think if Holt were allowed to come out like this more often, the novelty would soon wear off and it wouldn't be half as amusing, so as much as I love this, it's good the writers dole it out in dribbles, rather than letting it flow.

In the end, their work takes them across an FBI case and Jake must get fired in order to go undercover for the feds. Holt does the right thing by not telling Jake the full story ahead of time, as Jake can be his own worst enemy, and could have spoiled a rich opportunity. It's telling how well Jake and Holt have come to know and trust each other when this plays out exactly the way it should, and it's gratifying they will have that bond going forward, their dynamic a centerpiece of the program.

Santiago gets to show a different side, too, bucking the rules to help Jake. Is it because she has feelings for him, as he does for her? Or does it just feel good for once to get caught up in the mission, forgetting about the rule book she usually worships? Whatever the reason, this version of Santiago feels a little awkward, as she hasn't been developed yet, but really works.

Jake confesses his feelings for Santiago in a very appropriate way just before he leaves. Setting aside Jake's public discussions of covert affairs, which is dumb, the scene between the two is sweet and perfect. Samberg doesn't abandon who Jake is, finding his own unique way to say what he wants to say, not going over the top or getting too gushy. And Amy is fittingly shocked, giving them both plenty of time to mull this confession over.

Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) has love troubles of his own. Dumped by Vivian (Marilu Henner), he settles into a Matrix costume and consumes only eggs for sustenance. It's pathetic, and it's a shame; the couple is so good together. However, they found one another at the wrong time in their lives, professional considerations pulling them apart.

Boyle's co-workers do their best to cheer him up, especially Terry (Terry Crews), Gina (Chelsea Peretti), and Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz). They don't make much headway, none quite getting the depth of what Charles is going through, but at least they offer companionship and drinks. I think that's all friends can really do in such a situation. Boyle needs time to heal.

One suggestion brought up repeatedly is that Boyle should engage in some meaningless sex to bounce back. For a time, it looks like Rosa is being encouraged to step up, but Boyle's emotions towards Rosa will come back, and it would be a shame to waste them now. Besides, Rosa has definitely developed some real compassion for the man, which could lead to her wanting something real, too, besides a one night fling. So Gina boinks Boyle.

As long as Gina and Boyle are one-and-done, this works. It will cause tension and an obstacle between Rosa and Boyle making a go of things, but it also serves the purpose for now. Gina isn't girlfriend material for someone as earnest as Boyle. Overall, the romance on Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been handled with care, not allowing Rosa to fall into stereotypical jealousy when Boyle is happy with Vivian, either. I'm impressed by the nuance in what is, on the surface, a broad comedy.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine has exceeded expectations. It's a whacky group of players, to be sure, but also a complex gang. It does the unexpected from time to time, and somehow puts forth a layer of authenticity over the goofball antics. A stellar cast and terrific writing combine to create a series I look forward to watching for years to come.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been renewed and will return on FOX next fall.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Rides" May Be Bumpy for GIRLS

Article first published as "Rides" May Be Bumpy for GIRLS on TheTVKing.

What will season four of HBO's Girls look like? As season three ends this week with "Two Plane Rides," Hannah (Lena Dunham), the lead of the series, without whom the show could not go on, is poised to accept a prestigious graduate school position in Iowa. Since Girls cannot exist without Hannah, nor would it work without the ensemble around her, what will the show do? Split its time between New York and Iowa, or skip a couple of years?

I would like to see the latter. While the females aren't always in a group, their interactions are the best parts of the show, more so than their individual stories. This is perfectly exemplified in "Two Plane Rides" when the gang goes to the theater, or even in the scene where Marnie (Allison Williams) drops by Shoshanna's (Zosia Mamet) apartment. Sure, Hannah could visit and call the others, but Girls would really lose something to fragment its cast in this manner. Jumping ahead now might not be ideal for everyone, but they could make it work, and that would also allow Hannah to have growth.

Hannah has a real problem with arrested development. She is her own worst enemy, fighting against the things that could better her, such as a job she quits. Her parents (Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari) have to talk her into continuing her education, even when this great opportunity comes along, but once they do, she seems to be into the idea. If she can develop herself and make connections, she might have a shot at a career instead of just bumbling around New York for the next few decades, relying on charity from others.

The biggest reason Hannah may stay in the Big Apple is Adam (Adam Driver). She convinces herself that he will be happy for her, as she is happy for him that he's finding success on Broadway. But, as usual, she's selfish and unthinking, giving him the news at the worst possible time, and as any normal person would expect, Adam doesn't take it well. Hannah's idea of them both being fulfilled creatively is nice, but, again as usual, her execution leaves much to be desired, and reality will probably never match the dream in her head.

Adam and Hannah have been through more than their share of ups and downs, but they've always prevailed because no one else really can stand to be with them. Oh, and they deeply love each other, in the ways that they can love, with is different for each. They're perfectly matched, and I think their relationship could totally survive another break or work long distance if that's what they decide to do. It's just a difficult situation when what you need to advance your career doesn't line up with where someone else needs to be.

Lucky for Adam, he has a nephew on the way to keep him occupied. It's funny that Caroline (Gaby Hoffman) and Laird (Jon Glaser), two people who are even more dysfunctional than any of our main cast, now seem to have the most stable, solid pairing. Since Adam's sister, Caroline, is pregnant and living in his building, that could take his mind off missing Hannah somewhat while she's gone. Or Adam could just take up with his cast mate, who appears very interested.

Love is also messed up for Shoshanna and Ray (Alex Karpovsky). Shoshanna wants Ray back, but even though he cares about her, he doesn't think it's a good idea. Ray is probably right, he seems to have his head squarely on his shoulders, but that doesn't cushion the blow of rejection for Shoshanna. This is a totally realistic and heart-breaking scenario, beautifully executed. I want them to be together, but I completely understand why Ray resists. Very well done, Ms. Dunham and your writers and actors.

Marnie is in a worse place. She wants Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who is with Clementine (Natalie Morales). I don't like Marnie in this pursuit. She's lying and sneaking around. We know Marnie is selfish, maybe more so than Hannah even, but never has she been so despicable as she is now. Her actions may be chalked up to desperation and depression, but that doesn't excuse her. I hope she finds a way to love herself first, and then maybe she can try to be in a healthy couple.

There are many varying arcs weaving through "Two Plane Rides," but one of the most interesting is the one completely isolated from everything else. Jessa (Jemima Kirke) reluctantly agrees to help Beadie (Louise Lasser) kill herself. Besides not wanting to be responsible for someone dying, Jessa is still struggling to stay clean and out of trouble, so it's probably not a good idea for her to participate. However, her compassionate side wins out, and Beadie's pleas sway her.

Then, Beadie changes her mind, after she's already taken the pills. There is no way this plot can not have consequences for Jessa. Whether she spends time locked up in jail, or feels like her life has changed through the experience, this will have an impact on her. Will it be enough to knock her from her flighty ways and finally make her confront life? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

If I can make one plea for Girls season four, besides a sizable time jump, I ask that they upgrade Elijah (Andrew Rannells) to full-time status. Whether he's photo-bombing Adam's cast photos or just hanging with Hannah, he always increases the enjoyability of every episode he appears in. He's fun, delivers great one-liners, and he has staked out a corner of the world none of the other players have yet. I'd love to see more of him, even apart from the others.

Girls is a polarizing show, and haters will find plenty to complain about. For my money, season three continues a compelling narrative, and I have every confidence Dunham and company will continue to deliver next year. I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

Friday, March 28, 2014

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER Reaches "The End of the Aisle"

Article first published as HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER Reaches "The End of the Aisle" on TheTVKing.

CBS's How I Met Your Mother finally gets us up to, and through, Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin's (Cobie Smulders) wedding this week in "The End of the Aisle." When it was announced that this last season of the show would take place entirely on the wedding weekend, I assumed a great many episodes would occur at the reception after the wedding. This turns out not to be the case, with only next week's hour-long series finale left, an installment that has to focus on so much more than a party. But after watching this episode, it seems the perfect way to end the regular season before going into the big conclusion.

Half an hour before the ceremony, Robin begins to have serious doubts. She knows Barney, with his initials B.S., is a big liar, and how can she trust someone like that? Besides, he didn't do the big romantic gesture of finding her missing locket. Does he really care?

Robin confides these things to her buddy, Ted (Josh Radnor), someone she has a very strong bond with, then, after some locket-resolving scenes, says that she and Ted should run away together. This is the moment Ted wanted going into this weekend, and for fans who have held a torch for the couple all these years, despite being told right at the beginning that they wouldn't end up together, this turn validates those feelings.

Of course Ted refuses. It's taken this long weekend, but he now knows he isn't in love with Robin any more, nor is she in love with him. Sure, they could be happy for awhile, but they aren't meant to be together, and it would eventually fall apart. With Barney, on the other hand, Robin has a future, a partner in crime, and someone who will make her life great. Ted is wise enough to advise this and take a step back, thus ending a major story arc in the perfect way.

This isn't enough to assuage Robin's doubts, however, and she flees, only to bump into The Mother (Cristin Milioti), then Barney. It's with her fiance that she finally calms down, seeing the love in his eyes and words, and assuring herself that she's making the right decision.

Barney, meanwhile, has been having his own crisis. Fretting over his vows, he points out to a would-be-helpful Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) that they are the best couple he knows, and even they can't keep the promises they made on their wedding day. If they cannot, how can he be expected to?

But that's just it. Despite breaking their words, they are still the best couple he knows. The only major trouble they run into is when Marshall lies to Lily. Lying may be a major part of Barney's character up 'til now, but he will gratefully give it up for Robin. She's worth everything to him. When he bumps into her, he tells her this (and soon after about the ring bear), and this fixes them. Though, minor gripe, he does lie about the flower gorilla, even if Robin may never know.

Then we're up on the altar, Marshall delivering the final slap bet slap, Robin walking down the aisle to strains of "Sandcastles in the Sand," and a final dig at Patrice (Ellen D. Williams). It's a wonderfully crafted moment, all five main characters having been given their due in "The End of the Aisle," reaffirming not only who they are, but who they will be. While next week will likely jump around, showing us what happens after this point, the ceremony itself feels like the official tie up of the show's threads, and it does it very effectively, redeeming many of the bad years of story when the series floundered.

The only real complaint I have about the entire episode involves the shots of the guests smiling up at the happy couple during the wedding. It's not that not enough characters are included; many familiar faces are likely seen for the last time, as they should be. But it's very clear in the wide shots that none of these people are in the room. I understand that, with so many actors, it would be nearly impossible to schedule such a shoot. However, it does feel hollow to realize that all the cameos are added in later, not part of the wedding scene itself, and it's obvious this is the case. How disappointing.

Overall, though, "The End of the Aisle" is a terrific entry, serving the purpose it needs to serve beautifully, and setting up a heck of a series finale. If next week is as good as this one, viewers should be left very satisfied.

How I Met Your Mother's series finale airs next Monday at 8 p.m. ET.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

THE GOOD WIFE Shocks With "Dramatics"

Article first published as THE GOOD WIFE Shocks With "Dramatics" on TheTVKing.

This week's installment of CBS's The Good Wife, "Dramatics, Your Honor," begins like any other. In fact, two thirds of the way through the hour, it sure seems like this will be one of the more boring episodes the series has produced, providing a few nice character moments, but focusing too heavily on Will's (Josh Charles) current case. Which is likely why it's so surprising when (SPOILER ALERT!) gunshots ring out and Will Gardner is killed.

Those behind the surprise twist, not even airing as a sweeps stunt or season finale event, should be commended for keeping this under wraps. No leakage occurred that I am aware of, making for a truly shocking turn of events for unsuspecting viewers. Especially considering that the show airs on CBS, a network not known for taking big chances, and coming during a stellar year when The Good Wife has already allowed so much upheaval, its impact is maximally delivered. If only CBS didn't screw up the air times with stupid sports overruns they apparently still haven't figured out how to schedule for despite having decades to solve the problem, this would be perfect.

Will Gardner's death comes at an opportune time for a major story arc. The ballot box stuffing scandal is in full swing and Nelson Dubeck (Eric Bogosian, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) is putting the pressure on Alicia (Julianna Margulies), Peter (Chris Noth), and others hard. His key witness, who he is trying to blackmail into stepping forward is Will. Will's demise might end up saving Peter's career and the Florricks' lives as they know them if Dubeck doesn't find a new trail to pursue.

More importantly, though, is the emotional impact losing Will will have on the cast. Will has not one significant woman left to mourn him, but three, each getting their own special scenes in "Dramatics, Your Honor," and each will need to deal with the punishing blow in their own manner.

Diane (Christine Baranski) is Will's partner. They haven't always seen eye to eye, but they are in a good place right now. They had to pull together when their employees rebelled and split off, and Will offers comfort and support when Diane loses a cherished career opportunity. Diane's role in this episode is to offer Will advice on his trial, but also to let him know that someone has his back.

Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) is Will's platonic close friend. She is pondering a change in jobs (again), and Will is sympathetic, but also knows Kalinda better than she may even know herself. The drink they share is warm and comfortable, showing there is much more than a professional relationship between them.

Both Kalinda and Diane happen to be in the courthouse when Will's client, Jeffery Grant (Hunter Parrish), pulls the weapon and fires. While I'd still like to see those events at some point, it's very effective to get the terror from the women's point of view, down the hall. We see the horror in their faces, subtle, because neither character would panic. And we see what this immediate danger does to them, especially when it becomes apparent that Will is not only in the room with the shooter, but a victim.

The third female whose boat is rocked is Alicia, the former lover. I won't say that either Will or Alicia still hold a torch for their relationship, especially after the ugliness of the past year, with Will feeling Alicia betrayed him, but neither are they just friends. They have a complicated bond that is hard to pin down, but it's clear that Alicia will take Will's demise roughly.

Thank goodness Alicia reaches out an olive branch to Will earlier in the episode. At the time, it seems like a small thing, the first step on a long road to reconciliation. In retrospect, it means everything, the thaw that will keep Alicia from being stricken immobile with regret, a lifeline to cling to. Kalinda and Diane's decision to call Alicia from the hospital proves that Alicia is still an important part of Will's life, no matter has happened between them, and this will come into play now more than ever. If nothing else, shared grief will help heal the lesser rift between Alicia and Diane.

The scene in which Alicia is called is a fantastic, though small, moment for Eli (Alan Cumming). He respects Kalinda enough to answer the phone when she calls twice, valuing someone who should be valued. His initial resistance to pull Alicia away from her event is expected, but the way Eli shrinks and becomes immediately obedient upon hearing Kalinda's words is not something he would have done a couple of years ago. This is the human, compassionate side of Eli, and it's very well displayed.

By the end of "Dramatics, Your Honor," one is left with a deep sense of unease and sadness. Will didn't do anything wrong and didn't deserve to die. Jeffery may have been innocent of murder before, but he's not now. His helplessness, an act of desperation leading to tragedy, only makes Will's passing more senseless and regrettable. There is no winner in this game, even when the perp is brought to justice. It's just a broken, messed up situation that will have far-reaching consequences, and one that is handled authentically.

This drama is anything but trivial, a dark tale with real emotion. The acting is superb, the set up is one of the most interesting and unique turns on network television, and the series continues its trend of delivering higher quality programming than its genre, channel, and premise would indicate. Terrific job by all involved.

The Good Wife airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET (when CBS isn't being stupid and screwing up their schedule at the last minute, so keep an eye out for this).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

ONCE UPON A TIME Climbs "The Tower"

Article first published as ONCE UPON A TIME Review Season 3 Episode 14 The Tower on Seat42F.

Once Upon A Time Season 3 Episode 14 2
ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME delivers a weaker installment than most this week in “The Tower.” There are some excellent character moments, especially for David (Josh Dallas), who is at the center of stories both in the fairy tale land nine months ago and in present day Storybrooke. But there are also glaring flaws, plot points that the writers didn’t seem to take the time to consider at all, leaving fans with a vague feeling of disappointment as the close of the hour.

In “The Tower,” David is forced to confront his deepest fears. This begins in his castle in the Enchanted Forest, where he dreams of Emma (Jennifer Morrison), a grown princess, who suddenly turns dark and blames him from destroying her life. This is a really cool scene, a vision of Emma that has never been realized, but could have been. No sooner does she tell him not to screw up the next one then David wakes up to find Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) revealing her pregnancy (as if everyone couldn’t tell by sight; the show doesn’t do well at hiding Goodwin’s baby bump.)

It’s no surprise that David is scared of being a bad father. He certainly did not do right by Emma, and while he had to do what he thought was necessary at the time to save her and their world, he has regrets. So he sets off to find a cure for those negative, nagging voices in his head, a root that Robin Hood (Sean Maguire) tells him about.

The Rapunzel story doesn’t do much for the girl at the center of it (Alexandra Metz, Chicago Fire), and the conclusion, where her parents just happen to be waiting for her at David’s castle, is hokey, but it does help highlight David’s emotional state. Rapunzel is trapped by a witch, but it’s not a real witch, simply a manifestation of her own hesitation about being a leader in her kingdom. And David does what he does best, helps someone find the stronger part of themselves, so Rapunzel defeats the witch. Though it is worth noting that David never even circle the tower looking for a way in, so how smart a hero is he really?

David is great at helping others, but so much at helping himself. Zelena takes advantage of that in Storybrooke by secretly feeding him some of Rapunzel’s root, which leads to David facing off in the woods against himself, or more specifically, the doubts that he can protect and take care of his family. David eventually overcomes this, of course, but Zelena achieves her goal – obtaining a sword fragment that holds David’s courage. Is David now the Cowardly Lion?

I do like how “The Tower” highlights both David’s weaknesses and the problems he has in dealing with them. I think he defeats that enemy a little too easily, which is part of the inherent problem with David (and Mary Margaret) in the first place – they are just too perfect. Still, it’s nice to see him struggle internally for a bit before winning the day, as we all know he will.

This also gets into Zelena’s head space a little more. At first, it appears she’s just trying to distract David and the others as they put together some (way too conveniently placed) clues that lead them to her farmhouse. She’s already moved sensitive, um, material from the premises, but at no point does it appear she has been taken by surprise. She knows what she is doing.

Early in the episode, we see Zelena (Rebecca Mader), a.k.a. The Wicked Witch, shaving Rumple (Robert Carlyle) with his dagger. Forgetting for a moment that the blade looks far too dull to do the fantastic job it seems to do, and that even the parts of Rumple’s face she doesn’t touch seem cleaned up, it’s a terrific scene. The tension between these two fine performers is excellent, Mader showing us her power, and Rumple exposing his vulnerabilities. We finally start to see why Rumple is back, and definitely find out that he’s under Zelena’s control, which is not a good thing. Though now that the good guys know about Rumple, it may even the playing field just a bit.

It still isn’t clear what Zelena’s ultimate goal is and how she plans to use Rumple to accomplish it (or Neal, for that matter, who is still MIA this week). What we know is she is several steps ahead of our heroes, having carefully planned a multi-step scheme, and she appears to still be on schedule in carrying it out. Every step closer they take to exposing her seems to be little bread crumbs that she means them to find.

There’s also a really sweet scene in “The Tower” between Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Henry (Jared Gilmore) in which Henry confesses some things about his mom, and Regina assures Henry that he will have family one day. It’s clear the two share an instant connection, which has to be gratifying for Regina, who still pines after this lost son, even if Henry doesn’t understand who Regina really is to him yet. I look forward to Henry getting his memories back because he is definitely lacking something valuable, not being able to fully appreciate having Regina in his life.

The scenes like the one mentioned above and the moments where David fights himself are terrific. It’s too bad the shaving and the berry clues and the lack of tower investigation and other small moments drag this episode down. When ONCE UPON A TIME is great, it’s great. It’s rare for it to have such unevenness nowadays, something rampant in the show’s early installments, but mostly filtered out by now. Hopefully, it will get its act together by next week.

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

No "Dungeons" for COMMUNITY

Article first published as No "Dungeons" for COMMUNITY on TheTVKing.

This week's installment of NBC's Community, "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons," is an excellent entry for the series. While avoiding many of the fantasy-heavy elements other, similar episodes show us, in some stellar acting (with choice sound effects tossed in), the cast paints a picture of a tale as personal as it is made up, luxuriating in the relationships between the players. Plus, there are oodles of the stuff that makes Community so charming.

The little touches that season five lacked are in almost every scene of "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons." It begins right off the bat as Jeff (Joel McHale) mentions Neil (Charley Koontz) as a background character - while Neil strolls through the background. The Dean (Jim Rash) says the school doesn't have insurance, Abed (Danny Pudi) is excited to tackle the challenge of making a good sequel, and Hickey (Jonthan Banks) doesn't know the game his son loves involving dungeons and dragons is called Dungeons & Dragons. All of these things kick the writing up a notch.

Also, there are little references for Community fans to pick up. The names Abed comes up with for the characters within the game, from Joseph Gordon and Riggs Diehard to the troll, all mean something. And the Hawthorne Mountains are a clear tribute to Pierce.

There are also brilliant lines of dialogue sprinkled within. Hickey's son, Hank (David Cross, Arrested Development), whom the gang plans this activity to help Hickey reconnect with, calls Abed 'Aziz,' which sounds a little racist, but is a wonderful shout out to Aziz Ansari. When Hickey is asked what drew him to this game at age sixty, he responds with "Dungeons. It'd be the dungeons," delivered just beautifully. Chang wondering if Hank means Times Square when saying his father missed birthdays because he was somewhere rhyming with no there is so earnest it evokes a smile. Everything Abed says as a troll, either troll, is gold. And Shirley's (Yvette Nicole Brown) parting shot after dying in the game, "Just remember, whenever the wind whispers through the woods, you got me killed," is classic wit.

But beyond all of this, as usual, it's the character development that makes the installment a winner. Jeff's own relationship with his father colors his desire to help Hickey and Hank reconnect, and the tenuous bond, which a proud Hickey is willingly to do just about anything to heal, it very moving. This parent-child connection is one the show has explored before, and it really works well here.

Of course, Abed is outside of this, not being one who relates well to others. His role in "Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" is to take the game completely seriously, at the expense of all else. He even gets mad that Hickey treats some of the proceedings as a joke. We're reminded once more why Abed isn't normal, but there's also a vulnerability here that informs on who he is and still makes him sympathetic, and his detachment is what drives the great scenario.

Other, small moments are also worth noting. Hickey's instincts is to punch things in the heart, but that's because he's interested in setting his own rules and not feeling helpless, not because he's overly violent. Annie (Alison Brie) mourns Shirley for only a moment before rooting around in her gear, showing how she presents a nice facade to the world, but is ruthless enough to be a competitor. And the Dean's commitment to playing Jeff's son in the D&D world is not only sweet, but integral to who he is.

The ending of all this is great and realistic. Hank and Hickey aren't all smiles and hugs, but a door has been opened between them as efforts are made. They cannot repair such a broken relationship in one afternoon, but thanks to the Save Greendale organization, they have the opportunity to find common ground to start from. It may be just about the most perfectly constructed conclusion of a Community episode yet.

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

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

DOLL & EM Awkward Duo

Article first published as DOLL & EM Review on Seat42F.

DOLL & EM HBO Dolly Wells, Emily Mortimer
HBO’s latest sitcom is DOLL & EM, premiering soon. The story follows two women, Em, a British actress now working in Hollywood, and Doll, her best friend, who comes to the States to be Em’s assistant. They bicker, as friends do, as they struggle to adjust to their new roles as boss and employee, while trying to preserve the close friendship they’ve shared for many years.

It will be easy for some to think this is more documentary than scripted series, given that Em is played by Emily Mortimer and Doll is Dolly Wells, two real-life chums. However, as this conceit appears in more and more shows, it’s lost some of the novelty, and surely most viewers will be savvy enough to realize just how fake DOLL & EM is, even as they enjoy the mostly realistic jokes and happenstances that occur throughout.

Em and Doll are playing fictionalized version of themselves. It’s a delicate balance, letting in enough of their actual lives in order to feel authentic, and avoiding any serious rifts between them, as that would threaten the viability of the show. I would love to see a documentary or some special that goes behind the scenes of DOLL & EM or its like to reveal what dynamic exists between the stars as they work.

What plays out on screen is a dynamic portrait of two individuals. Em can be a bit self-centered, concentrating on her own work and issues at the expense of being there for Doll. But she also genuinely likes her friend and doesn’t want to seem bossy, even as she creeps into demanding territory at times. Doll, on the other hand, seems to want Em to set boundaries and guidelines, but also struggles with feelings of inadequacy, not believing herself up to the task. Em reassures her this is not the case, but viewers may disagree.

The result is a much more serious version of Entourage, one that actually explores the complexities of the relationship, more than focusing on the professions. It isn’t revealed what Em is filming in episode one; is it her HBO series The Newsroom or a movie? What’s much more important is what happens when Doll helps Em run lines. Or how Doll feels when Em forgets about her, leaving Doll in an awful position. Or the trouble Doll has learning to drive on Los Angeles roads.

DOLL & EM is charming, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it heart-warming. That’s because you feel bad for the characters, or at least awkward, way too often to fully lose yourself in the story. It might be that the actresses are so natural that viewers will feel voyeuristic, especially when they have a particularly raw emotional moment. Or maybe it’s because the flaws, including the ones that aren’t attractive, hang out so obviously. Whatever the reason, though, there are times when I absolutely feel uncomfortable watching it.

Which is not to say you should avoid the show. The quality is definitely high, both in believability and in cleverness. The women are terrific in the parts, even if they’re only playing a version of themselves, and the pacing is exactly what it should be. Sets are not elaborate, but that is only to match the style and tone of the piece. It has its share of drawbacks, to be sure, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

It does seem like HBO has ordered a number of short-run shows lately, and DOLL & EM is only slated to play for six weeks. This mirrors the British television model, and there’s something to be said for that. There isn’t a real clear story in the first installment, more of a focus on painting the world than a driving plot, and that could grow stale ten episodes in. By keeping it to six, it should whet viewers’ appetites without overdoing it.

DOLL & EM premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.