Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Ain't Afraid of No SPOOKED

Article originally published as TV Review: 'Spooked' - Series Premiere on Blogcritics.

Sp1Felicia Day (The Guild) and Bryan Singer (X-Men) have a brand new series on Hulu called Spooked, premiering next week. The half-hour comedy, which will post four episodes in its freshman run, follows a group of five wanna-be ghost hunters, spoofing paranormal “reality” shows in a live-action, modern-day Scooby-Doo. The Paranormal Investigation Team (or P.I.T. for short) tackles a new case each week, and through bumbling luck and raw talent, they manage to touch the other side of reality.

The P.I.T. crew isn’t just a bundle of stereotypes, as there are clearly layers for each visible in the very first episode. Piper (Shyloh Oostwald, In Time), who is merely a child, is deeply scarred by parental tragedy and shuts down, communing more easily with spirits than with people. She’s creepy, but the real deal. Her older brother, Connor (Julian Curtis, Dance Academy), is doing the best he can for her, trying to hone her talents, rather than shut her away in a mental institution. They find Lindsey (Neil Grayston, Eureka), a stated skeptic, but who is willing to fund their venture just in case actual evidence is discovered to be documented. And then there’s Elliot (Derek Mio, Greek), the goofy nerd, and Morgan (Ashley Johnson, The Killing, Growing Pains), the spiritual type who fancies herself in touch with the earth, both of whom we’ll likely learn more about in future installments, given the development of the first three in the pilot.

Spooked doesn’t take the time in the first episode to establish either an origin story or a foundation, but that’s a good thing. Instead, it drops the characters (and viewers) head-first into a case, which will likely be the weekly story structure, and then drips details of the past in when it makes sense to do so. In this way, there’s no boring exposition, and I came away still feeling satisfied that the writers had a solid grasp on what’s going on and that will be revealed in pieces, rather than all at once. This adds mystery when done right, which it is here.

While the series does feature the supernatural, and yes, ghosts and paranormal activities are real in Spooked, it’s not very scary. It’s definitely going to deliver more laughs than frights. The humor doesn’t come from clever one-liners (well, there are a few of those), but rather its inherent in the personalities that make up the scenarios and the cast. There’s a witty, dry tone underlying the production, and it throbs through every scene, giving an overall feeling of amusement to those who watch.

The first case does not feel like a canned procedural, taking a simple situation and adding an authenticity to it until its fresh. D.J. (Alison Haislip, Attack of the Show!) is convinced that her deceased father-in-law, who did not approve of D.J.’s marriage to his daughter, Carol (Dichen Lachman, Dollhouse), is tormenting them. The truth is not nearly so simple, and while it may end up being a tad predictable, it’s done in a manner sure to tug the heartstrings, too. It has just enough originality in the presentation, from how the lesbian couple interacts in a way that doesn’t scream gay stereotype at all, to the events that take us to the conclusion, to set itself apart from any would-be peers.

Day, who writes as well as produces, has clearly brought her own talent, honed on a very successful web series, and combined with what she has learned from Joss Whedon, tapping into his talent pool, as well as cast members from shows Day has been involved in, to create Spooked. The result is something that will be very welcome and enjoyed by Whedon geeks and Day fans alike, of whom there are many in the world, and the style is mainstream enough to be accessible to practically anyone, even as it keeps its cred and charm. I hope to see much more from Day in the future.

My overall impression of Spooked is that it should do well. I found little to complain about in the initial half hour, and I do plan to stream the other three episodes as soon as they become available. I suggest you do the same. Spooked will be available on Hulu and YouTube’s Geek & Sundry channel beginning June 4th.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Feel Free to Sleep Through THE NIGHT SHIFT

Article originally published as THE NIGHT SHIFT Review on Seat42F.

The Night Shift Cast NBC
NBC’s new medical drama, THE NIGHT SHIFT, will feel awfully familiar to regular TV viewers, and not just because one of its stars has already been a main character in a medical show. It’s just like ER and Grey’s Anatomy, albeit not nearly as well written and with much weaker characters. When a series is popular, studios will strive to copy it to capture that popularity. But this series proves just how hard it is for lightning to strike multiple times in the same vein, making it pretty much a waste of time for all but the most bored summer viewers, a descriptor which should apply to no one, given the plethora of excellent options on cable and streaming.

THE NIGHT SHIFT has a large ensemble of varying characters that are familiar types. TC (Eoin Macken, Merlin) is a brilliant surgeon struggling with inner demons that make him a man hard to get along with. His ex-girlfriend, Jordan (Jill Flint, Royal Pains), is now his boss, and is the only one with the slightest chance of controlling him. There’s a money-obsessed administrator, Ragosa (Freddy Rodriguez, Six Feet Under), and a couple of fresh, new interns, Paul (Robert Bailey Jr., The Happening) and Krista (Jeananne Goossen, Alcatraz). In short, there’s no one original in this group.

The intern angle is one that is not going away any time soon in such shows. After all, they are a part of the staff, just as surgeons and nurses are, and so will be seen over and over. But can we not have a scene of them being pranked and another scene of one of them green enough to be shocked by a common malady? These are overused tropes, and we already inherently understand this is part of the job without having to be shown it so blatantly.

The administrative side is one not brought up in every hospital-based series, but it’s common enough that it isn’t new. I guess the writers have an opinion they’d like to express about how medical care is more important that paying bills, with the money guy demonized. But what discerning viewers should know is that the world is more complicated than that, and a sympathetic accountant who tries to find a balance would make a much more welcome, interesting part than a cold villain. Sadly, THE NIGHT SHIFT chooses to cast the latter.

Of course THE NIGHT SHIFT has a TC. It has to have a flawed leading man; that’s practically a required rule for all new shows at this point. But does his ex-lover, who clearly still cares about him, have to interact with him constantly, too? Does THE NIGHT SHIFT have to check off every single conceit of the genre, leaving no stereotype alone? The pilot is downright painful for these reasons.

One of the other main characters, not mentioned above, is secretly gay, something that comes out late in the pilot. THE NIGHT SHIFT makes a big deal of this, like it could hurt the guy’s standing if he admitted to being homosexual, even if those closest to him don’t care. Admittedly, this character, like many in the show, are military, and he’s in a particular part of the armed forces that hasn’t really integrated much at all yet. But still, this is 2014, where acceptable is becoming the norm and the issue seems tired, so while there is still discrimination that should be fought in the real world, it seems ridiculous to be played up this way on a TV show, something we’ve already seen before many times over. At last take a new angle on it, taking into account society as it currently is, not as it was a few years ago.

There are quite a few elements in THE NIGHT SHIFT that are tired. Jordan wants everyone to switch over the tablet computer records, which is played up like an innovative fresh concept. Grey’s Anatomy already did that over a year ago. A patient in the first episode has an unborn twin living inside of her, a case so rare, she’s going to get a free surgery to remove it. Except, that’s already happened on other medical shows, too, so how rare can it be? Either the gluttony of such dramas has reached a point where there is nothing new to say, unlikely, given how Grey’s and Nurse Jackie continue to impress week after week, or THE NIGHT SHIFT is just too lazy to find untouched ground, making its existence completely unnecessary.

There’s also a sense of forced urgency. Jordan tries to protect TC by saying he’s not replaceable. Really? They can’t find any other good doctors in the entire world that can do what TC does, yet he’s in a little place, barely acknowledged for his skills except by his co-workers? And when arguing about keeping the hospital running, it is claimed there’s not another center in ten counties to help out the population. Yet, the show is set in San Antonio, which has lots of different hospitals. It’s a major city, for goodness sakes! This just doesn’t make sense.

I do like the cast, which also includes Ken Leung (Lost), Daniella Alonso (Revolution), JR Lemon (Shadow Love), and Brendan Fehr (Bones, Roswell), but anyone can put together a decent ensemble at this point. What’s more impressive is using them well, which THE NIGHT SHIFT fails to do. Were this summer 2006 and the warm months were filled with reruns and reality shtick, this series might work. In the modern age, there are just too many better choices around.

THE NIGHT SHIFT premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

THE NORMAL HEART Beats Strong

Article first published as THE NORMAL HEART Review on Seat42F.

the-normal-heart-hbo
HBO’s THE NORMAL HEART is not only a great TV movie, one of the best the pay-cable network has made in years, and that’s a high bar, it’s also an important story that everyone should know about. This moving, frustrating, beautiful film tells the based-on-truth tale of gay rights activists in the 1980s fighting an epidemic that the government doesn’t want to acknowledge or investigate. It’s a dark chapter in our history, and only by remembering it can we try to prevent such a thing from happening again.

The picture of the gay community in New York City at the time is an interesting one, certainly something I never learned about growing up, and sex means something different to them than to most people. They fought hard for the right to love whoever they want, even if they don’t have legal protections that straight people do, and they see giving up this right as taking a step backward. Even when it becomes likely the virus is spread through sexual contact, many wonder if that’s a lie spread to tear them down. These are people who won a war but still justifiably feel persecuted, and can’t bear the thought that they might be pushed back into the past.

Because of this, they work against their own interests. As Dr. Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts, August: Osage County) pleads with them to stop screwing, many use the meetings to raise awareness as hookup spots. It’s a very slow crawl to even convince those affected that they must do something, let alone the powers in charge. If the gays won’t help themselves, what chance do they have of anyone else helping them?

The main character is Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers), an asshole writer who can’t keep his big mouth shut. He has earned the ire of many of his fellow homosexuals by complaining about how their rampant sexual activity prevents them from finding love, the one thing he desperately wants. But he also has friends, and once they begin falling ill to the mysterious “gay cancer,” he is convinced something must be done and begins a crusade to do so.

Along the way, Ned meets and falls in love with a New York Times reporter named Felix Turner (Matt Bomer, White Collar). Felix is supportive, but not part of the campaign, giving Ned a much-needed life apart from his work. As Ned’s colleagues, including good-looking, amiable Bruce Niles (Taylor Kitsch, Friday Night Lights), abrasive and inquisitive Tommy Boatwright (Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory, reprising his role from the stage production), and government employee who doesn’t want to make waves Mickey Marcus (Joe Mantello, who played Ned on Broadway), grow exhausted with Ned’s public rants, Felix is the only chance Ned has to calm down.

Which is why it probably won’t surprise you when Felix catches the disease.

THE NORMAL HEART, based on the Tony-winning play by Larry Kramer and directed by American Horror Story’s Ryan Murphy, is a very personal telling of the crisis. Through Ned, we see loved ones hurt and dying, feel the fear that overtakes him, and the desperation that he has to stop the virus. We experience his pain when his brother, Ben (Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 2), tries to help, but just can’t accept Ned as his equal. We connect with the horror and compassion, loving Ned even through his abrasiveness. Anyone not emotionally affected lacks a soul.

The sprawling cast, which also includes Jonathan Groff (Looking), Denis O’Hare (True Blood), Corey Stoll (House of Cards), Stephen Spinella (Milk), BD Wong (Law & Order: SVU), Finn Wittrock (Masters of Sex), Adam B. Shapiro, Danielle Ferland, and more, shows us many different individuals, and how each copes in a different way with the events. Some have small roles, but Murphy deftly lets the actors shine through, each conveying a lot in a limited amount of time, showing us many varying individuals. Not everyone agrees, but the variety of opinions and personalities are why THE NORMAL HEART feels so authentic.

I do think the opening of THE NORMAL HEART may hurt the film’s impact, immediately turning off conservatives by the open displays of gay love and promiscuity. These are the people who most need to watch, to begin to see the humanity and suffering they’ve ignored or ignorantly been disgusted by. But it also succeeds in dropping us into a world and mood that is merely the starting point of the story, giving the script a foundation to start from before it turns dark. Stick with the movie for ten minutes, and you’ll start to have your eyes opened.

THE NORMAL HEART is a moving masterpiece, a triumph for HBO and all involved, and one that will not soon be forgotten by any who witness it. 

If you missed last night’s premiere, please make sure to catch a rerun, as the network should be playing it often for some time to come.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Join DEREK and Friends Again

Article originally published as TV Review: 'Derek' - Season Two Premiere on Blogcritics.

derek_ps2_022_hNetflix’s Derek is back for a second season beginning this Friday, May 30. The sweet tale of the odd nursing home caretaker, Derek (series creator Ricky Gervais), is set some months after the finale, but for the most part, everything remains the same. The setting, the characters, and the situations all feel familiar, which is a good thing for a show that is both unique and thought-provoking. There will be some new developments, of course, but for now, it’s status quo.

The character of Derek is not easily pigeon-holed. Some have wondered if he has some sort of disability, but whether he does or not is beside the point. This is a guy who would be looked down upon by much of society, writing him off for a lack of intelligence and weird mannerisms. Yet, for those who spend time around him and the viewers who observe Derek, he’s also one of the best people to ever walk the earth, generous and caring, positive and supportive of others.

Derek is genuine and honest. He certainly does what he does because he loves the residents, not because he wants anything from them, and he considers himself lucky to do so, believing he has a pretty good life. In the premiere, he watches a DVD highlighting one those that passed away last season, and it’s impossible not to be moved by the emotion in Derek’s eyes. These are his family, those he most values, and its admirable that he’s so good to them.

I think Gervais created Derek (and this is my personal opinion here) to make us reconsider our preconceived notions. After all, just because racism and homophobia is slowly fading doesn’t mean that we don’t make judgments about other types of people based on a number of factors. It’s not a good thing to admit about oneself, but everyone has their hang ups and assumptions. Derek turns some of those on their heads, not only commenting on society, but also prompting introspection, which will hopefully make those who watch better people overall. Derek considers himself lucky, what right do we have to say any different?

The setting of the nursing home can parallel many of the same things I’ve said about Derek himself. It’s a place most people avoid if they can, and certainly not one anyone would consider fun. But watching the interactions of those who live there and the dedication that the employees, such as Hannah (Kerry Godliman), Dougie (Karl Pilkington), and Vicky (Holli Dempsey), exhibit, presents a whole different view. This is a home, and like your own home, it’s meant to be a place of warmth and love. Derek and his friends do their best to make the residents feel comfortable and happy, and this is an admirable spirit, perhaps one that may even infect a few of those who pay attention.

To make the building feel even more like a family place, Derek’s father, Anthony (Tony Rohr, Les Miserables), moves in during the premiere. Anthony did not raise Derek, and it shows because they are two completely different people. However, it will be very interesting to see if Derek can help Anthony turn over a new leaf at this late stage in life, or if Anthony will be the one person that finally shakes Derek and makes him show a part of himself that isn’t so light.

There is one thing that happens in the first episode back that is more of a threat to the tranquility and smooth operation of the place than Anthony’s arrival. I won’t spoil what it is, but I am quite disappointed and hope it doesn’t stick. It’s not that the development is unrealistic or unwarranted, it does make sense for the story, but it is regrettable.

Derek‘s second season premiere is a great return of a terrific series. While I have only watched the first episode thus far, I certainly look forward to binge-watching the rest this weekend. The entire season will be available streaming to Netflix subscribers this Friday.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

PETALS ON THE WIND Review

Article first published as PETALS ON THE WIND Review on Seat42F.

Petals-On-The-Wind-Cast
This weekend, Lifetime presents PETALS ON THE WIND, a television movie that serves as a sequel to last year’s Flowers in the Attic. It’s been ten years and the Dollanganger children are still trying to escape the secrets of their past. Their family is full of horrors that they haven’t shaken themselves of yet, and as the tale unfolds, they are drawn deeper into the web of incest and betrayal.

Each of the three surviving siblings have a large role to play in PETALS ON THE WIND, weaving three separate stories, even though they remain close, having been taken in by a kindly old man who has passed away as the film begins. Their current stories are built off of what came before, personalities shaped by neglect, abuse, and imprisonment, damaged people who will probably never be whole again.

All three kids have been recast, which makes sense, given their age differences in the two productions, while the adult actors reprise their roles. It’s a little weird at first to adjust, as there are very few through lines between the two, making the characters seem like completely different people. Then again, kids change a lot from teenagers into their twenties or childhood to teens, so I guess it makes sense that the newbies only bear a passing resemblance to the old.

The story this time around doesn’t feel as intense or moving as the first movie. I think a lot of this is because of the sprawling setting. In Flowers in the Attic, the children are confined to one place, with tension building over time. This is effective storytelling, and that element is now removed, the Dollangangers going out into the world. As such, I don’t feel that PETALS ON THE WIND is as effective as its predecessor.

That being said, there is a continued theme of being trapped. While no longer physically imprisoned, none of the three has been able to find their freedom. They are hemmed in, emotionally, sexually, and morally, by their mother, Corrine (Heather Graham), and grandmother, Olivia (Ellen Burstyn), even if they don’t see them. In this, there is a continuation of arrested development that is intriguing, even if the overall presentation is more melodramatic and less compelling.

Near the start, Cathy (Rose McIver, Once Upon a Time, Masters of Sex) moves to New York with new beau Julian Marquet (Will Kemp) to become a professional ballerina, only to find a life much departed from young girls’ fantasies of such. Of course, she keeps being drawn back to her siblings and her home. Cathy is the one most like Corrine and Olivia, I believe, which will be seen as the story plays out. It is up to the individual viewer to judge whether she is applying the harsh life lessons she learned justly or continuing a cycle of cruelty. I believe there is a case to be made for both.

Meanwhile, Christopher (Wyatt Nash, Hollywood Heights) is finishing medical school. His boss, Dr. Reeves (Nick Searcy, Justified), has a daughter, Sarah (Whitney Hoy, The Final), who is quite taken with Christopher, a good looking, intelligent young man. In the Reeves family, Christopher has the chance to leave his past behind and build a normal existence, with a respectable wife and kids. Can he get over his illicit feelings for Cathy and do it?

Then there’s Carrie (Bailey Buntain, a veteran of Bunheads, though she doesn’t play the dancer in this one), who was too young for personality in Flowers in the Attic, but is now being tormented at high school and feeling left out of her older siblings’ bond. She is desperate for attention from just about anyone, including her mother, and yet, her thread is the least developed of the three, sadly, as there is something interesting going on here.

I do feel like PETALS ON THE WIND needs more time to really get its message across. The pacing zooms through two years and it bounces between the three characters, never serving any of them enough to make it seem like there’s much depth. We see their actions, but missing are the scenes of self-doubt and struggling with damaged minds. This story has great potential, and perhaps should have been a two-night miniseries, rather than a quick TV movie.

It’s also regrettable that we get so much less of Graham and Burstyn this time. Burstyn, in particular, is a great actress, and while she does a lot with the little she’s given, she doesn’t really have her own plot in the sequel. With limited time, it makes sense to focus on the next generation, but I’d really like to see more of Corrine’s continued struggle against Olivia, as well as the chasm between the two women because of their shared misdeeds.

Overall, PETALS ON THE WIND is enjoyable, a bit better than most of what I’ve seen from Lifetime, but several steps below its potential. I don’t know if the network plans to continue making the other three books in the series, but I kind of hope so, provided they take steps to better care for the material the next time around.

PETALS ON THE WIND airs Monday at 9 p. m. ET on Lifetime.

Monday, May 26, 2014

HALT AND CATCH FIRE Flickers and Lights

Article originally published as HALT AND CATCH FIRE Review on Seat42F.

Halt And Catch Fire Cast AMC

WARNING: Since the pilot has already been released to the public online, this review does contain spoilers. If you’d rather not be spoiled, I recommend going to amc.com and watching the first hour, then returning to read this article.

AMC, known for well-developed dramas covering many eras and characters, is telling the story of the personal computer revolution of the 1980s with their latest series, HALT AND CATCH FIRE. It follows a handful of fictional people who push an unwitting company into funding and marketing their product, competing with behemoth IBM in developing an operating system that makes use of the machines’ potentials. And it’s pretty good.

The pilot, available streaming on AMC’s website now, ahead of the premiere date, is called “I/O.” Like the title of the series itself, this refers to a computer operation. Halt and Catch Fire is a command that has the various programs within the computer struggling for control, while I/O, or Input/Output, is about the computer interacting with the outside world or the people using it. Plus, I/O is central to BIOS, a component of the machine dealt with quite heavily in “I/O.” These both are pretty accurate descriptors to the general plot.

At the center of the show are Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace, Pushing Daisies, The Hobbit) and Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy, Argo). Joe is a fast-talker with big dreams, while Gordon is a brilliant mind who has been burned by chasing his own work before. Joe’s task of convincing Gordon to partner with him isn’t an easy one since Gordon has a family to support, but the show would be over awfully quick if Joe fails, so of course Gordon eventually agrees.

Gordon’s wife, Donna (Kerry Bishe, Argo, Scrubs: Med School), figures prominently as one of the five main characters, and while she is initially an obstacle, does not seem primed to be an ongoing antagonist. She is supportive but realistic and determined to protect her family, which includes two daughters (one of whom is played by the adorable Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who seems to pop up everywhere these days). Bishe is well cast in this.

The other female main cast member is Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis, That Awkward Moment), a programmer that Joe recruits to help with building the BIOS. She is connected to Joe in more than a casual way, but I don’t feel like she’s a love interest for him, which is refreshing, rather than having two couples at the center of the show. Not everyone needs to be constantly hooking up, and thankfully Joe doesn’t feel like someone concerned with that. We don’t know a lot about the rebellious Cameron yet, but I assume that will change in the weeks to come.

Rounding out the cast is John Bosworth (Toby Huss, King of the Hill), the man Joe tricks into hiring him, and then is stuck being Joe’s boss. Bosworth is, initially, the bad guy, if such a term can apply to anyone in the ensemble. I get his anger; anyone in his position would be furious with Joe. What I’m most interested in, though, is seeing where HALT AND CATCH FIRE takes him from here. Will he eventually be a champion for the computer, someone who gets involved and helps out, or even takes credit for their work, or will he always be trying to tear them down? The former would be far more interesting and fresh.

Much of “I/O” is concerned with the setup, introducing Joe, Gordon, and the other characters, and then building the foundation of what their arcs will be. We see a bit of their personalities, learn a smattering of backstory, and the project begins to move forward. While this is fairly standard for a pilot, HALT AND CATCH FIRE does this without obviously beating us over the head with the checklist, dropping us into a story and letting those details flesh themselves out as the story rockets ahead. It’s a good way to begin.

It seems like the pacing of HALT AND CATCH FIRE will be much faster than, say, Mad Men. While still taking time to get into the psyches of its leads, especially in examining self-doubt, there is also a lot of momentum to the primary thread. This bodes well, and considering the excitement the production is trying to build, it seems like a smart move.

Like most AMC period pieces, HALT AND CATCH FIRE looks good. It isn’t that far in the past, but still, the cars, costumes, and sets match the style and taste of a few decades ago in what appears to be an authentic manner. I didn’t see any obvious mistakes or shoddy workmanship, so the series should satisfy those who are interested in such things.

HALT AND CATCH FIRE is not immediately on the level of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, or The Walking Dead, the most popular series for the network so far. But it’s at least as good as Turn or Hell On Wheels, so well worth checking out when it airs Sundays starting June 1st.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

MODERN FAMILY Makes "Wedding" Unnecessarily Stunty

Article first published as TV Review: 'Modern Family' - Season Five Finale on Blogcritics.

MFABC’s Modern Family is a thoroughly charming, pretty funny, completely typical sitcom. For an example of the last descriptor, you only need to look at the recent season finale, “The Wedding, Part 2,” and its first half. Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) are finally able to get married because California has OK-ed gay marriage, but all manner of mishaps, from wildfire to a runaway bride returning, force multiple changes in venues. An event episode plagued by obstacles is a hallmark of sitcoms, and in this, Modern Family fails to distinguish itself.

There’s a very telling sequence in “The Wedding, Part 2″ for which I wish the writers had listened to themselves. Phil (Ty Burrell) is preparing to officiate the ceremony, replacing Sal (Elizabeth Banks), who has gone into labor, of course, and he tries to work a magic trick into his monologue. His wife, Claire (Julie Bowen), gives him sound advice, saying that he doesn’t need to be flashy, just let the emotion stand on its own. Phil does, and it’s a very moving moment, seeing the love between Phil and Claire, and among the family in general.

I think the rest of episode should have taken note of this bit and more widely applied it. Sure, it’s funny when Pepper (Nathan Lane) has butterfly issues and Sal claims she’s only four months pregnant as her water breaks, and even when Manny (Rico Rodriguez) and Luke (Nolan Gould) unintentionally have a faux marriage, but we don’t need natural disasters and such to get in the way of that. The smaller jokes, built on relationships and the dynamics of a loving clan, are much better than when the series goes to extremes in what seems to be an obvious ratings ploy. Did Modern Family really need two weeks to stage a wedding?

The best part of “The Wedding, Part 2″ by far is Jay (Ed O’Neill) trying not only to come to terms with Mitchell and Cam getting married (something with which he has made great progress), but also to make up with Mitch, who is miffed over an unintentional comment. Jay is old-school living in the modern era, and to his credit, he tries very hard to accept Mitchell for who he is. Jay is not 100% on board, but neither would he ever do anything to impede his son’s happiness. You can absolutely tell that this Jay is not the same one that has raised Mitchell, and it’s resonant for many older men today, struggling to adjust to an unfamiliar world. Some of the craziness of fleeing the fire could have been better spent further developing this relationship, which is well served, but should have been delved into deeper.

An interesting twist, which has built for some time is concerns Haley (Sarah Hyland) falling for Andy (Adam DeVine), who is not her typical type of guy. Andy is a lot like Phil, though, so viewers should see this coming, and Haley being attracted to this guy who reminds us so much of her father  (something she doesn’t see) doesn’t seem too creepy. Yes, Haley basically rejects him late in the season finale, but that may only be a temporary setback. She lets him go because her sister, Alex (Ariel Winter), asks her not to be cruel, and Haley is trying to do the right thing. But Andy could be her chance at not only a solid relationship, but also in maturing and growing as a person. I hope this thread is picked up next season.

Even with its stunts, I still love Modern Family. It does make me laugh, and it almost always nails the emotional stuff. I just wish it cared more about the feelings than the jokes. and let the humor flow more naturally. Much of the time it does, but often enough it seems to sell out. It is mostly watchable, but could be better than it is now, sliding in quality with age.

Modern Family has been renewed and will return to ABC next fall.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

HANNIBAL Season Finale Review

Article first published as TV Review: 'Hannibal' - 'Mizumono' on Blogcritics.

HNBC’s Hannibal ended its second season last night with “Mizumono.” It’s hard to find a direct translation for the word in English, but various sources I checked on Google call it a matter of chance, a final sweet dish of a meal, a liquid, and a fruit. All of these seem apt to the episode, which presents a final showdown between all of the main players, the last hour in which the familiar, fragile chemistry of the show’s leads is maintained as it has been thus far, signaling major changes for next season. It’s a simultaneously delicious and frustrating ending, with much left up in the air, literally and figuratively.

Viewers have known since the season two premiere that Jack (Laurence Fishburne) had been heading for a bloody run-in with Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen), though we don’t yet know how this war will end, even with the end of season two.

In the scenes leading up to the final confrontation, Jack and Hannibal each expect Will’s (Hugh Dancy) loyalty, but wonder whether he will fulfill those expectations, as the Will becomes the wild card in the outcome between the two mostly evenly matched opponents. There may even be a doubt in the minds the viewers, observing Will talking to both Jack and Hannibal, knowing he’s lied to both in the past, and wondering where Will’s inner intentions lie. Will is emotionally unstable, and although Jack and Hannibal both hold sway over him, he also has a will of his own that can’t exactly be controlled. Has Hannibal awakened in Will something dark that may win out over his nobility and morals?

The key to figuring out where Will’s heart lies is Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki). Keep in mind that Hannibal thinks Will has killed Freddie, leading Hannibal to see Will as more vicious and bloodthirsty than he is. Jack is in on this secret. And, with this important clue, the audience should have confidence in predicting Will’s true path. And when Hannibal catches a whiff of Freddie’s scent on Will, it signals to him that Freddie is still alive, giving him just the warning he needs.

Hannibal is not omnipotent, an undefeatable villain, but he is very, very intelligent, and the slightest mistake on the part of our heroes can cost them their lives. One former main character, Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park), figures that out earlier in the season, and she dies for it. Which means it’s not surprising when Hannibal surprises those who might take him down, removing the bullets from Alana’s (Caroline Dhavernas) gun, knowing she could come to Will and Jack’s aid, and having Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl), whom everyone believes dead, waiting in the house as Hannibal’s backup. Hannibal has them all set up perfectly, taking their predictable actions into account, and by doing so, he is able to not only (possible mortally on all counts) wound Alana, Will, and Jack, he is also able to hop a plane with the one woman who understands him, Dr. Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), and escape.

Why does Hannibal leave the trio alive? Abigail seems destined to die, but if the authorities get there soon, Will, Jack, and Alana could live. They could also perish, and things are not looking good for any of them, but there’s a chance (a very good one since they really are the stars of the show and need to hunt Hannibal down) that they will live. Does Hannibal possess so much confidence in himself that he doesn’t worry about them coming after him? Or does he still harbor soft spots for all three, people he really does seem to like and has cared about over these past two years? Could these feelings be his undoing? Because Hannibal is so smart, I’m inclined to chalk his mercy up to emotion.

Jack and company will have a hard time beginning their search, even assuming they all survive. Jack is suspended as Kade (Cynthia Nixon) investigates misconduct in “entrapping” Hannibal. The fact that Jack, Will, and Alana are injured following through on the plan Kade ordered Jack not to pursue will not help Jack’s case, even if it sort of proves him right. This could also be the reason law enforcement is slow slow to respond, even after both Alana and Will call for backup and ambulances. Will higher powers help our protagonists get back in the good graces of the feds, or will they be rebels, only working for themselves? The source material (Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, etc.), not always followed faithfully by the show’s creators, points to the former.

What if “Mizumono” had been the series finale, a possibility when it was filmed, since, at the time, Hannibal teetered on the edge of cancellation? It certainly would have been a highly disappointing end to the series. Yes, there is some sort of beauty in Hannibal defeating his enemies and getting away with it, and it’s cool that it would fly in the face of a fundamental television trope by allowing evil conquering good. But it would also suck that we wouldn’t even know if the main players lived. I guess we’d assume they’d died, losers in the dangerous game they play. The blue sky credits with the tag are cool, but ultimately not be satisfying as the end of the story, even if I grudgingly admit how unique and complete the episode would have seemed.

Hannibal is incredibly well crafted. I absolutely loathe that the Jack / Hannibal fight is revealed in the season premiere, the one glaring misstep the series has made in two seasons, but the way this hour unfolds is truly excellent. It maintains its artistic cred with slow shots of rain falling and a split Will, while still delivering action in the battles to the death. There are moving moments, such as Jack interacting with Bella (Gina Torres) and Bella talking about Jack, and there are shocking twists, such as learning Abigail is still alive, only to see her killed quickly after.

There isn’t a single wasted or boring moment, the dark motif bringing the characters more sharply into focus and letting the show rest on the talent of the actors and the rich dialogue. It’s definitely the best series on network television, and not just because it also pushes into both more bloody and more sophisticated territory than any predecessor, though that helps.

Hannibal, thank goodness, has been picked up, and will return in 2015 to NBC.

"Weird" GOOD WIFE is Very Good

Article first published as TV Review: 'The Good Wife' - 'A Weird Year' on Blogcritics.

GW1A lot happens in The Good Wife‘s season finale, “A Weird Year,” which aired this week on CBS. I say this even by the standards of this particular series, which has had its best run yet, creatively speaking, with dynamic changes among all the characters and their relationships over the last nine months. The season begins with Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Cary (Matt Czuchry) breaking off from Lockhart/Gardner to form their own firm, continues through the battles between the two groups, undergoes a jarring reset after the death of Will Gardner (Josh Charles), and ends with the futures of most of the players up in the air. What a heck of a ride! “A Weird Year” indeed.

As “A Weird Year” opens, Diane (Christine Baranski) is being challenged for control of the firm she and Will built by Louis Canning (Michael J. Fox), the new senior partner, and David Lee (Zach Grenier). This doesn’t seem fair at all, an interloper coming in and teaming up with a long-time partner to oust Diane while she’s still trying to get her bearings back, but that’s what makes Louis and David such vicious villains. Normally, Diane would be up to the challenge of fending them off, especially because she’d have Will in her corner. But isolated in the office and nearly alone, save Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), who is tough but not a political player, and Diane is looking at losing everything, as Louis promises to burn the firm down if she doesn’t concede.

This is Diane at her most vulnerable in a way we’ve never seen her before, even after the death of Will. There is absolutely nothing she can do. Bribing Howard Lyman (Jerry Adler), the swing vote, would help her hold onto power, but only temporarily. She sees no way out, and really struggles with the idea that she can’t overcome her latest challenges. This is defeated Diane, Diane who has no hope, and it’s a pivotal moment for the character, brilliantly played with nuance and poise by the amazing Baranski.

It’s very telling that Diane doesn’t roll over. She’s pragmatic and knows she can’t win against Canning and Lee, but neither does she take the easy out, running for State’s Attorney at the behest of the Governor (Chris Noth), seeing the offer as the slap in the face it is after the Governor dusts her for a seat on the state Supreme Court. No, that would be stepping down and admitting she’s done, retiring away from the defense attorney she is and loves being. Instead, she finds another option, one that could maintain her reputation and position, albeit in a new locale. She offers herself to Florrick, Agos, & Associates.

Now, we don’t know if they will accept or not (they’d be stupid not to), but let’s examine what it takes for Diane to do this. As much as Diane likes Alicia and their bond has been healed through the shared grief regarding Will, this start-up firm is full of people that have betrayed Diane and stolen her clients. This is not a return to friends, but a humbling. Yet, Diane knows she brings much value to the table, a huge amount of billable clients, so she is in a good place to negotiate from. Viewers will love the choice because it brings back beloved characters and helps fix rifts. But for Diane, this has to be a hard decision to make. Going to them, hat in hand, is not the same thing at all as absorbing them in a merger, which she previously considers.

GW2The big deciding factor in if Florrick, Agos, & Associates will take Diane in is Cary. He is the one vehemently opposed to the merger, but might he take Diane on her own, knowing he’ll keep his decision-making ability and not having to give up what he’s built? Cary likes Diane personally, even if they’ve had their differences in the past. I think Cary’s anger at Alicia for trying to force the merger earlier in “A Weird Year” could play a role in his thinking, though. All most fans want is to see Alicia, Cary, and Diane get along, really the three stars of the show now, but for drama’s sake, it may not be an easy coming together. If they do accept, though, at least they can finally afford an office with walls.

Another issue in allowing Diane to join Florrick, Agos, & Associates, besides adding her name to the letterhead, is that Kalinda is most likely part of the package. This would be difficult for Cary because, after overhearing what sounds like Kalinda playing him, his romance with her is soured. He doesn’t stop sleeping with her, but he does feel like she has done a huge, horrible thing to him. That alone might prompt Cary to reject Diane. It’s a shame Cary seems to be getting such a rough deal. He’s suffered enough, having been fired from Lockhart/Gardner previously, then being denied partnership by them, and having to fight his way back to the good place he is in now.

Amidst all of this, Alicia almost misses her son, Zach’s (Graham Phillips), graduation. She does miss the dinner and festivities surrounding it. The Good Wife could let Alicia spend time agonizing over this, but it’s far too fast-paced for that right now. The moves going on for Alicia professionally are important, and thankfully she’s gotten over that working mother’s constant guilt, making time when it’s important, but not always able to be there. The fact that she gets to the school in time to see Zach walk across the stage, and then shares a private goodbye at home afterward, is enough. She is present for the milestone, and he knows she loves him. There is no animosity between mother and son.

It is a little bit of a shame that Alicia doesn’t get home sooner, though, because what’s playing out in her absence is hilariously awesome. Any time Jackie (Mary Beth Peil) and Veronica (Stockard Channing) come into one another’s orbits, conflict erupts in the most entertaining of manners. They may not be central to the main story lines, but both add something really cool to the overall tone and the big picture, fully fleshing out the world into something engrossing and authentic, something that The Good Wife consistently does well. Its roster of recurring parts, second to none on any network, cable or broadcast, contributes to that.

GW3The style of the show is well illustrated in “A Weird Year.” There is a case and a client, but those matter only as far as they affect the main players. Instead, the focus is on the core cast. There are some neat conceits, such as when one law firm first accidentally, and then purposely, spies on the other after a camera is left on, showing that the series is up-to-date on incorporating technology, trends, and current events into the story. Overall, though, it’s the quick pacing, light style mixed with heavy emotions, and fantastic acting by a stellar cast that sells the show.

Speaking of the wonderful actors, Alan Cumming’s Eli Gold has little to do in “A Weird Year,” but he is nearly never wasted. Instead, he gets a small side bit about trying to find a State’s Attorney candidate to support, which he actually thinks Diane may accept because he misjudges his own actions so severely. But at the end, his search ties into a heck of a cliffhanger when he asks Alicia to run. I hope she doesn’t, but it’s cool that Cumming is still threaded into a plot he isn’t a major part of to start, and is instrumental in bringing it home perfectly.

“A Weird Year” is an accurate descriptor. The Good Wife is weird in that it defies the genre of legal procedurals on a network not known for pushing boundaries. This entire season has been a showcase of what happens when a broadcast network actually gives their writers free reign to develop a worthwhile series, and the finale is a great capper for that. I hope it runs for many years to come, definitely the best thing CBS has to offer, hands down, as well as one of the top three broadcast network shows currently running.

If only the network treated it as such, instead of letting the time slot constantly be pushed at the last minute because of inept scheduling of sports coverage. It deserves better.

The Good Wife has been renewed and will return in the fall on CBS.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Glad I'm Not GANG RELATED

Article originally published as GANG RELATED Review on Seat42F.

Gang Related FOX
FOX is getting into the original summer series game with the gritty new crime drama GANG RELATED. Sort of a cross between Southland and Graceland, the show centers on Ryan Lopez (Ramon Rodriguez, The Wire), a street-wise cop working as part of a new inter-agency, gang-focused task force. The problem for Ryan is that he is part of a gang, too, beholden to the man who raised him, and providing information about the unit’s activities on the sly.

Ryan is torn between two worlds, his old way of life and his new one. He loves Javier Acosta (Cliff Curtis, Missing), who is good to Ryan, like a father. But he’s also really liking being a part of the team led by Sam Chapel (Terry O’Quinn, Lost). The double dealing is taking its toll on Ryan, who seems like a good guy at heart, and who definitely doesn’t want to end up in jail. Which will he choose?

It would be one thing if GANG RELATED presented two completely different worlds, a good one and a bad one. Clearly, the law enforcement agency is noble, trying to clean up the streets. However, Sam is getting frustrated with their lack of progress, and starts to turn to methods not everyone will approve of. On the other hand, Javier, spurred on by his son, Daniel (Jay Hernandez, Nashville), a banker, is trying to take the organization onto the straight and narrow. So neither side operates as black or white.

One would assume that the blurred lines mean GANG RELATED is a deep show, not separating the characters into good and evil, presenting layers to all involved. In a way, that’s true. Ryan, Sam, and Javier are interesting people, shaped by circumstance, and vulnerable to shifting winds, should the status quo be upset. There is much that can be explored with this trio, all excellent performers, that will make GANG RELATED interesting.

On the other hand, it’s also stocked with tired stereotypes. Javier’s other son, Carlos (Reynaldo Gallegos, Sons of Anarchy), is an unapologetic son of a bitch. It’s easy to see that he will not get along well once Javier goes legit, and he needs to be removed from the equation if the family has a chance. Javier can’t cut off his own son, though, so we’re stuck with this unwinnable scenario that feels forced. How did Carlos become so bad while still being tied to this family that is not the same way?

Just as bad is Sam’s estranged daughter, Jessica (Shantel VanSanten, One Tree Hill), who works for the D.A. and is often at odds with her dad. We understand why she might be, given the side of Sam revealed in GANG RELATED’s pilot, but their father-daughter relationship is not exactly new ground, and is set up solely to provide drama, coming across as unnatural, especially because of her job.

The premise itself has been done before, including quite recently. Because Mob Doctor, starring Jordana Spiro, was yanked off the air quickly, not many viewers may remember it. But apart from being a medical drama instead of a cop show, the two share a lot of the same DNA. GANG RELATED does not distinguish itself enough from this, and others in the crime genre.

Why is GANG RELATED full of police? Aren’t there enough shows like this on the air? Why not take a different tact, keeping the gang-going-straight story, and even including a cop or two on their tails, but giving prime focus to, say, Daniel, who has a job not seen on three dozen shows already airing? It’s this lack of originality that hurts the series in my eyes, as entertaining and compelling as its leads may be.

GANG RELATED premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

THE AMERICANS Season 2 Finale Review

Article originally published as TV Review: 'The Americans' - Season 2 Finale on Blogcritics.

TAFX’s The Americans has grown  steadily better over its first two seasons. The freshman run introduced us to the players and the situations; in its sophomore outing, the writers not only built upon that base, but added a season-long arc about another family of Russian spies. What happens to that clan directly affects how Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) see the world and their place in it. And now, with “Echo,” the season two finale, the structure is shaken up as our protagonists face their most difficult decision yet, possibly setting the stage to completely change the game.

Phillip and Elizabeth are loyal undercover KGB agents, but viewers are still likely to root for them because we get to know them on a very personal level. We see how they interact with their children, and that influences who they are on the job. The Americans presents a scenario where we understand these people and why they do what they do. It really gets into the heads of its leads.

They also have quite different personalities, despite the common cause. Phillip wavers previously in their mission, wondering if life as true Americans might not be better for their family. Elizabeth is much more the staunch nationalist. They are not tested too hard on these values, though, until “Echo.” Now, the KGB wants to recruit their daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), something the couple may not be able to control, and they have very different opinions on if this should happen.

Elizabeth’s stance is the harder one to swallow, yet there is sense in it. Paige flounders all year with finding a purpose and wanting to effect change in the world. Elizabeth feels very much the same way, but has her mission to fulfill these needs. She sees a way to connect with her daughter and bring someone she loves and cares deeply about into her life’s work. Who wouldn’t want their kid to follow in their footsteps? Elizabeth has had to keep part of herself hidden and this has hurt her relationship with Paige. Recruiting her might solve that issue, or at least improve the bond. Plus, it will get Paige away from those crazy religious nuts.

Elizabeth also has the backing of her government, whose plan makes sense for them. They need the second-generation spies because the background checks will hold up better than on more recent immigrants. In the eyes of the Russians, no individual is more important than the whole. Elizabeth gets this concept, and applies it to herself. Why not extend that to her daughter?

Phillip, on the other hand, is much more concerned about the risks. Paige is still a child. What the spies do is dangerous, multiple members of their team being killed in the line of duty in “Echo” alone. He has a paternal instinct to protect his daughter at all costs. He even goes so far as to threaten Arkady (Lev Gorn), telling him to leave their daughter alone. Phillip, at this point, is probably considering running, or turning his family into the Americans for witness protection. He is going to do everything he can to keep his daughter out of all of this.

He’s not wrong about the dangers. This year’s story involving Jared (Owen Campbell) and his family, especially the resolution in “Echo,” learning how Jared is the killer, would be scary to anyone. Jared’s group is an illustration why it’s a bad idea to let Paige in, especially as an unstable, unpredictable teenager. Perhaps the KGB should wait until later, though younger minds are more malleable. I don’t know what Paige’s reaction would be to learning the truth now, but it certainly won’t be good.

To make things more complicated for Phillip, Martha (Alison Wright) wants to have a baby with “Clark,” his cover identity. Phillip is already lying to Martha every day; he doesn’t want to have to betray a child. It’s one thing for his own family, but to push that world onto a kid whose mother he is fooling and will one day abandon would be quite damaging. Plus, Phillip doesn’t want to tie himself to Martha any more than he has to as Clark, as he’s just using her for information. The question is, will Phillip’s bosses order him to acquiesce to her demands in order to keep her as a source? And if they do so, will Phillip comply? Elizabeth probably would, were their positions reversed.

Stan’s (Noah Emmerich) loyalties are also questioned in “Echo.” He is faced with a tough choice: saving the life of Nina (Annet Mahendru), the woman he loves, by handing over state secrets, which would threaten national security, or let her die and stay true to his country and his job. He chooses the latter, of course, Stan being a flawed hero, but a hero nonetheless. However, “Echo” shows us the pain this causes him, the waffling he goes through, and how he even mans up to witness Nina’s departure, rather than hiding in shame. He will regret what happens to Nina, who is likely done on this series forever, but he would never be able to sleep again if his actions led to the deaths of countless Americans. He does the right thing but just about anyone’s measure.

It’s this examination of morals and choices that makes The Americans compelling. Any series can present us with characters like these, and many do, but this show finds a way to carve out its niche, showing us something new. It’s slow-paced and dreary, but it’s also engaging and tense. The more I watch, the more I want to watch. Especially if they find a way to keep Claudia (Margo Martindale) involved, as they do this year despite the actress’ other commitments, as her pain in breaking the news to Phillip and Elizabeth about the organization’s intentions for Paige is the best scene in a terrific episode.

The Americans has been renewed and will return to FX next year.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

WAREHOUSE 13 Not "Endless"

Article first published as TV Review: 'Warehouse 13' - Series Finale on Blogcritics.

WH13SyFy‘s Warehouse 13 is always a little cheesy, like most USA programs of the last decade, but with a science fiction bent to it. However, it has also always exhibits heart in the bond that holds the agents of the titular facility together. In its series finale, “Endless,” the writers decide to double down on the emotion instead of giving the team any more peril to overcome.

The conceit is that the Warehouse is reaching the end of its days, ready to move on to Warehouse 14, so the agents gather together to offer their defining moments to King Arthur’s round table, a gift to them as much as to the Warehouse. Instead of a clip show, however, the memories offered up are pretty much all new footage, showcasing some of the talents of those involved, without becoming repetitive.

I have to admit, I have a problem with this set up. I like that the series doesn’t just recycle old material in the end, but if the scenes shown are really that key to the characters, shouldn’t they have been fully fleshed out adventures we get to witness along the way? Instead, “Endless” feels like a forced conclusion, adding extra elements that are never mentioned before, in order to give the characters a sense of completeness not built into the established narrative arcs.

That being said, they are really good, if underdeveloped, scenes. We find out Artie (Saul Rubinek) has a son, whom he keeps in contact with, but never mentions to his co-workers. Artie also gets a personal goodbye from Warehouse 13, something definitely earned. Claudia (Allison Scagliotti) gets some fatherly advice from Artie when she has doubts about becoming the next caretaker, but in the end, she decides to fulfill her destiny and be forever tied to the place. And Jinks (Aaron Ashmore) and Mrs. Frederic (CCH Pounder) become bosom buddies through scenes we only catch the tail end of, except for a moving memorial to departed cast member Leena (Genelle Williams).

None of these things are explored fulled enough. Sure, the 42nd Street number is a fun sequence, and who doesn’t want to see Mrs. Frederic laugh or learn Artie still has another big secret? But all of this deserves to be delved into, not delivered last minute, when it’s too late to mean much. Warehouse 13 could have at least spent its final six episodes serving these plots, but it holds them until the final hour, not giving viewers time to see the ramifications.

Where this feels like the biggest loss is in the finally realized romance between Myka (Joanne Kelly) and Pete (Eddie McClintock). Pete already figures out his feelings in a previous hour, so it’s Myka’s turn to open her eyes while Pete freaks out about losing the life and people he loves. But, of course, it all comes together, far too late for anything but a couple of satisfying kisses. Now we’ll never seen how things work out between them as an actual couple.

What feels even more like a cheat is the last scene, set “several decades later,” in which three new agents who clearly are stands-ins for Artie, Myka, and Pete interact with Claudia, now the caretaker. So Warehouse 13 didn’t move after all? A cheeky line is not an explanation. And what happened to the main cast? When did they leave? There is no mention about what they are doing now, or if they’re even still alive. I understand this is supposed to let fans known the mysteries and missions of the Warehouse are “Endless,” but instead it highlights what the show does wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, “Endless” is a feel-good hour, even carving out a natural bit for everyone’s favorite recurring character, H.G. Wells (Jaime Murray). The emotion it evokes is great. However, like the series itself, it falls far short of its potential, and comes across as shallow. I’d hoped Warehouse 13 would redeem itself with a perfect capper. In a way, this finale is what the show deserves, but on the other hand, there exists an opportunity to raise the game considerably, leaving a better legacy, and it is squandered.

Still, Warehouse 13 is entertaining, right to the end, and we can be grateful for that.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

DVD Review: ‘Doctor Who’ – ‘The Enemy of the World’

Article first published as DVD Review: ‘Doctor Who’ – ‘The Enemy of the World’ on Blogcritics.

DWThe BBC’s Doctor Who has seen many episodes lost in time, especially from the early seasons, due to studio practices that flew in the face of preservation. This is highly regrettable for the many fans of the franchise, especially those of us that came of age well after the original run, having never had the opportunity to see all of the adventures of the infamous Time Lord and his various companions. But from time to time, stories long missing have been recovered and restored, to the delight of viewers the world over. This month’s Doctor Who DVD release, “The Enemy of the World,” is one that benefits from just such a discovery.

“The Enemy of the World” is the fourth serial of the fifth season, originally airing in December, 1967 and January, 1968. Five of the six episodes had not been seen in some time, but were discovered in Nigeria last year, meaning the entire serial can be released as it was broadcast, unlike others which have been augmented with stills or animation to fill in the gaps. A departure from the typical Doctor Who story, “The Enemy of the World” pits The Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Frazer Hines), and Victoria (Deborah Watling) against a dictator bent on domination whom looks awfully familiar.

Yep, Troughton plays both the hero and the villain in “The Enemy of the World,” a science fiction trope that has been repeated over and over again, including on Star Trek at around the same time. Perhaps not highly original, and certainly the capability of showing two Troughtons on screen at the same time is primitive, it’s entertaining for the audience to see one of their favorite performers in a different light, and it gives the lead a chance to stretch their acting muscles. The writing here is a little weaker than some, with less care taken to explain away the physical similarities, but that could be a boon, as some shows went into cheesy territory in their desire to give answers. Thus, while the whole thing may seem a little stale from a modern perspective, if one keeps an open mind, one might find the project an enjoyable viewing experience. It’s a decent story, over all.

The story is set in Australia in 2018, not too far from our own era. It’s always enlightening to see how the people in the past expected the world to turn out. For instance, “The Enemy of the World” takes the stance that we would be further along in the globalization process, with more large-scale organizations ruling over huge swaths of the planet. Obviously, while there has been some progress on this front, especially in Europe, this is not the case. Though, events unfold differently on this version of Earth, so perhaps its not unrealistic, just not the outcome reached because of prior circumstances. It’s not the only thing that the story gets wrong, showing a 2018 far behind the technology spectrum than we are in 2014.

I think what is portrayed says something about the era in which it was written, more than where we currently are as a society. Part of this vision is a darkness. The people here live underground, convinced a nuclear war has made the surface uninhabitable, except for grotesque mutants. Whether this is the truth or not is irrelevant in pondering the larger themes, a window into how scared some were in the 1960s about the destruction of the world. Obviously, a third world war has yet to emerge, and personally, I doubt very much that it will any time soon. But it’s cool that the installments, set in the near future, have one thinking much more about the past.

Disappointingly, “The Enemy of the World” lacks any extras, a rarity for a Doctor Who title, as most are jam-packed with bonus material. It is similar to last month’s release, though, which also contains lost episodes found at the same time. Both were previously made available on iTunes, and a DVD may have been hurried along, though I do not have any facts to support that theory. The good news is, the BBC is not shy about releasing Special Editions down the road, so for now, fans can enjoy the serial for the first time in a very long time, and eventually, we’ll probably get an edition more to most buyers’ liking.

Doctor Who – “The Enemy of the World” will be available beginning this Tuesday on a single disc DVD.

Monday, May 19, 2014

"Fear" Not for GREY'S ANATOMY

Article originally published as TV Review: 'Grey's Anatomy' - 'Fear (of the Unknown)' on Blogcritics.

G1For Grey’s Anatomys 10th (!) season finale, “Fear (of the Unknown),” a mall explosion rocks Seattle, sparking fears of terrorism. On a more personal level, many of the doctors at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital find themselves at a crossroads. The theme is fear and how one deals with it. Whether you are concerned about death or afraid to leave your comfort zone, the emotion is the same. A variety of characters tackle this concept in a variety of ways as the hour plays out, culminating in some very good conclusions, as well as setting the stage for some interesting changes in the already-scheduled eleventh year. A decade on the air, and the constant character growth and development is what keeps this show just as engaging as ever.

The focus in this installment is mainly on Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), an original cast member who is leaving the series. Her job in Zurich awaits, but she just can’t seem to get on the plane and leave. She complains that she doesn’t feel like things are finished, and can’t bear to leave a job half done. But as Meredith (Ellen Pompeo), her best friend, points out to her, this is not Cristina’s end. This is the start of something new, an incredible opportunity that will stretch her far beyond where she is now. Yang eventually comes to realize this, and in the end, whether its an unfinished surgery for a family she has been taking care of, or a romance with a man she still loves but has trouble seeing a future with, she has to walk away from them.

This is a defining moment for the character, whom, even though she is no longer a main character, will surely be seen again. She is very comfortable in Seattle, but her ambitions have always been bigger. Eventually, she might be able to achieve what she wants, but she can do it so much faster elsewhere, with better resources, meaning she can pursue more dreams after. Friendship is one thing, but her career is Yang’s primary priority. “Fear (of the Unknown)” finds her sacrificing a lot in order to serve that purpose.

Which is not to say she leaves Grey’s Anatomy without accomplishing something. Her goodbye to Owen (Kevin McKidd) is weak, necessarily so, begging for a revisit before the series finale, quite possibly ending with the two of them together. But she gets to dance party with Meredith, imparting advice in the process, and have touching moments with Webber (James Pickens Jr.), Bailey (Chandra Wilson), and Derek (Patrick Dempsey). Best of all, she tells Alex (Justin Chambers) how she really feels about him, and gives him a push back towards the right path, from which he’s strayed. Strewn among these are many references to past season and events, ratcheting up the nostalgia and sadness of her departure even more.

G2Alex has the chance to make serious money in the private sector, something he never thought possible, so it makes sense for him to quit the hospital. Yet, ever since he changed jobs, he finds plenty of excuses to come back. He is good at surgery, and his skills are being squandered now. Yang, who has come to respect and care for him in a platonic way, sees this and gives Alex a way to both get back to what he loves and have wealth. She gifts him her shares of the hospital and her seat on the board, a generous and perfect solution, making for a neat story connection I didn’t see coming.

There’s just one problem with this. Webber has promised Bailey that seat. It’s not his to give, granted, but had Yang not left Alex her shares, it’s likely Webber’s plan would have worked out. Bailey is great at what she does and deserves the chance to push policy. She absolutely should be stripped of her lab after crossing the line, and honestly, that might mean she should be bench for awhile before stepping up into a leadership role. But Bailey has always been destined to have a say in what goes on at Grey Sloan Memorial, and eventually she will get there.

I am not looking forward to a showdown between Bailey and Alex. They haven’t had a lot of intersecting plot in Grey’s Anatomy for awhile and it’ll be good to bring them back together, but at the same time, these are two beloved characters who both deserve to win. How can fans be expected to choose between the two, especially in the way they both get to where they are? They are also stubborn and I don’t see either backing down easily, which could tarnish their relationship in a very regrettable way.

One solution could be for Derek to give up his seat, too, thus creating a second opening. He seems bound and determined to take the job in D.C., even after Meredith puts her foot down, acting on Cristina’s sage wisdom, knowing Meredith wants to stay in Seattle. As much as Derek hates flying back and forth, he either has to continue it or give up one of the two sides of his life that he loves deeply – his wife and his career. Meredith is completely right to stand up for herself, refusing to live in Derek’s shadow and just go along with his decisions. It’ll be up to him to re-evaluate his desires, and giving up his seat on the board could allow him more time to try to commit to both family and job, shedding responsibilities he doesn’t need.

There are so many great, small moments in “Fear (of the Unknown),” too. Owen ripping apart the media for sensationalism and scare mongering could come back to bite him, but is very satisfying. Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) becoming interested in surrogacy seems a neat solution to their issue. April (Sarah Drew) has a touching moment with her mother-in-law, Catherine (Debbie Allen), the first time they’ve really connected. And departing cast members Gaius Charles and Tessa Ferrer are sent off right, Shane leaving with Yang and Murphy coming to an understanding about her limitations. It’s really a fantastic hour.

G3Besides Yang’s last moments, which are terrific and fitting, Grey’s Anatomy does manage to drop a huge bombshell on us at the most unexpected time. The new head of cardiology, Dr. Maggie Pierce (Kelly McCreary, Emily Owens M.D.), tells Webber that she is the daughter of Ellis Grey, whom Ellis secretly gave up for adoption. Maggie doesn’t realize she’s telling this to her own father, who didn’t know of her existence, and this also means Meredith, who lost her sister a few years ago, now has another one! I have to say, I did not see this coming, but I was already hoping that McCreary would stick around (along with Caterina Scorsone’s Amelia, of course), and this only makes it more likely that she will.

That fact that Grey’s Anatomy can still stun and impress after such a long run is quite an accomplishment. It remains one of my favorite shows currently on the air, a drama I can’t wait to devour each week. Sure, sometimes it gets into ridiculous unbelievability, such as the incredibly high disaster rate in the city and mortality rate of the docs, but it’s still entertaining television, a soapy drama of the highest order. This is, in large part, due to the talented cast who have created dynamic, layered individuals. The key to Grey’s success is the characters and their personal stories, not the events done for ratings, which the writers give just enough weight to to make them mean something to the players. Plus, the soundtrack is very fitting, including all the recent covers of songs pushing genres. Well done.

Grey’s Anatomy will return in the fall on ABC.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

ONCE UPON A TIME "Drifts" "Home"

Article originally written for Seat42F.



ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME ended their third season last night with two episodes: “Snow Drifts” and “There’s No Place Like Home.” While Zelena (Rebecca Mader) really is dead and is not coming back to cause more trouble, her passing has re-activated her time portal. When Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) get too close, they are sucked back into the past. They decide to seek Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) to help them return to the present, but before they find him, Emma accidentally disrupts the meeting of her parents, so that must be fixed before she can go home.

“Snow Drifts” and “There’s No Place Like Home” are really a stand-alone two-parter, much more than the wrap up of the Oz arc. Well, not stand-alone, because they culminate everything that has been building for Emma over the past three years, but they aren’t strongly tied to the rest of this half-season. It’s a really fun, reference-intensive journey for the central character, not a battle to the death with a powerful foe.

In a way, it’s good that Zelena doesn’t come back because the false defeat would ring very familiar, similar to the way Peter Pan’s fall story wraps up. On the other, this makes defeating Zelena way too simple, as I complained last week about how easily she is taken down. The trouble she causes in these episodes are purely accidental, and she herself is gone.

Emma’s tale is an Enchanted Forest remake of Back to the Future. Not only does ONCE UPON A TIME borrow the story and some of the conceits, it makes reference to the film via dialogue, just in case viewers couldn’t make the connection themselves. I assume Disney / ABC Studios doesn’t have the rights to the film, or else we might have seen a DeLorean in Rumple’s vault. Still, the parallels are obvious.

Which does not take away from how successful “Snow Drifts” and “There’s No Place Like Home” work. Emma has long been dealing with abandonment issues, and plans to leave Storybrooke now that the crisis is over. This tale wakes her up to the fact that she has a home and belongs with her family. Not only does she miss them when encountering younger versions of Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming (Josh Dallas) that don’t know her, but she becomes a princess herself and is permanently injected into their story. This is Emma belonging, once and for all.

Along the way, ONCE UPON A TIME includes a number of bits for the fans. Recurring players such as Granny (Beverly Elliott), the Blue Fairy (Keegan Connor Tracy), Marco (Tony Amendola), and lesser seen faces aren’t really needed, but pop up to help the world feel fully rounded out, something the series needs to do more of in the present day. Even better, the familiar characters of Snow, Charming, Rumple, Belle (Emilie de Ravine), Red (Meghan Ory), and even another Hook are trotted out and interacted with, putting Emma back in connection with who these people were, not just who they are.

The story itself is not too complex. Rumple helps Hook and Emma correct Snow and Charming’s path, disrupting Charming’s marriage to Abigail (Anastasia Griffith, a delight to see again after a long absence) by way of using younger Hook and a ball, then making a daring rescue. The individual elements that come together are far more important than the plot arc, yet it feels cohesive and without any glaring flaws, a triumph for a time travel story.

Emma’s flashbacks, at an orphanage and with Neal (Michael Raymond-James, who can’t seem to stay away, thankfully), enhance the main story. They aren’t strictly necessary, but make sense for what “Snow Drifts” and “There’s No Place Like Home” are trying to do. Plus, they are more fun glimpses of the characters of the past.

The seamless blending of past and present are very well done in these two episodes. Not only do the actors get back into hair, costumes, and makeup to match their former roles, but some scenes already seen before are viewed in a different way, especially difficult to film with a now-very-pregnant Goodwin. Yet, though a combination of body doubles and special affects magic, the visual presentation is solid in the finale.

Of course, this being ONCE UPON A TIME, nothing is without kinks. Emma’s bleeding heart results in saving the life of Maid Marian (Christie Laing, whom you may remember from last year’s “Lacey”), which interrupts the budding romance between Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Robin Hood (Sean Maguire). Regina’s first reaction to this is anger, thinking Emma is just like her mother, Snow, in ruining Regina’s life because Emma doesn’t think of consequences. Hopefully, cooler heads will eventually prevail. We don’t need a tame, domesticated Regina, but we do need one that shows how far she’s come, not ignoring all the growth she’s experienced.

The only real problem I have with these episodes are that Rumple drinks the forgetting potion after learning that Neal is dead. This Rumple of the past hasn’t gone good yet (nor has our present Rumple, apparently, tainting his wedding to Belle in an unpleasant way). This Rumple’s sole goal is to be reunited with his son. Why is he content to listen to Emma when she says that Neal’s death is for the best? And Emma is known to be a terrific liar. Why can’t she do it now, when it’s most necessary?

The slightly lesser issue is that of popping up recurring players for no reason, which should be happening all along, but because it doesn’t, it feels odd now. Why is Abigail / Kathryn at the Royal Baby party, even though we haven’t seen her in a very long time? Aurora (Sarah Bolger) is glimpsed, too, but not her husband, and still no talk about which flying monkeys our heroes might have murdered. It’s these cracks that remind us of the larger flaws in the show itself.

The cliffhanger ending is excellent. We see a blue form emerge from a container that is being kept in Rumple’s vault, now unleashed on Storybrooke. Though I haven’t seen the film Frozen myself, the internet seems to be abuzz that the new figure ties into that. It seems like perfect symmetry, bringing on characters from a very popular film onto ONCE UPON A TIME. I guess this means Carrie Fischer and Mark Hamill might want to clear their calendars in the near future?

ONCE UPON A TIME pretty much nailed the landing, after a few missteps in recent months, and now all that’s left is for fans to wait for its fall return.