Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Monday, June 30, 2014

GIRL MEETS WORLD, Too

Article originally written for Seat42F.




ABC’s popular Boy Meets World ended a seven season run just over fourteen years ago. Last night, Disney Channel continued the story with the premiere of GIRL MEETS WORLD. The series checks in with Cory (Ben Savage) and Topanga Matthews (Danielle Fisher), who now have a girl of their own, Riley (Rowan Blanchard, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World), whose turn it is to come into her own. This sounds like a recipe for success.

A lot of the familiar elements are there. Riley is well-cast in terms of looks, resembling both of her parents a bit, and echoing some of Cory’s traits and goofy faces. She has a best friend, Maya Hart (Sabrina Carpenter, The Goodwin Games, who looks a lot like Britt Robertson), not the best influence, providing opportunity for Riley to step up and save Maya, as Cory did Shawn. The setting is still split between the classroom and the home, and the writers seek to impart heart-warming, family-friendly messages.

The pilot, “Girl Meets Boy,” is genuinely funny. Scenes of Riley and Maya on the subway, bumping into cute-boy Lucas (Peyton Meyer, Dog with a Blog), are bolstered by guest star Jackée Harry. I chuckled through the sadly-few bits Topango gets, including choosing her daughter over her husband. And Blanchard definitely has stage presence, her cheese actually very right for this role.

The best part of “Girl Meets Boy” is the ending, in which Cory glances across the tunnel and sees Mr. Feeny (William Daniels) telling him he’s done well. It doesn’t make sense for Feeny to be on a poster, even an education-themed one, all the way across the country from where he taught, and Cory hasn’t done as well as he should have yet. But the emotion of that moment and the torch passing quality is undeniably moving.

Unfortunately, “Girl Meets Boy” also gets a lot wrong. Unlike the original, it hits us over the head with the moral point. Boy Meets World was not subtle, but it also didn’t go to extremes. When Cory wants to give his daughter some freedom, he gathers the entire clan, along with friends, including a boy Riley has just met, in the subway. It doesn’t make sense for this to happen, and building upon Cory too vehemently arguing his points earlier, ruins some of the hokey charm the first series relied upon.

The characters surrounding the energetic Cory in Boy Meets World tended to be toned down, a grounding factor that balances out the kid and keeps the series somewhat realistic. Now, Riley is in a classroom with her father as the teacher, and Cory still wants to act like adolescent Cory, enabling the students to be out of control. Cory shows hints of maturity in talking to his daughter, but mostly hasn’t grown up nearly as much as he should have, making the dynamic unstable.

The worst element of GIRL MEETS WORLD so far may be the inclusion of Farkle (Corey Fogelmanis). IMDB lists his last name as Minkus and I would not be surprised to learn he is the offspring of Cory and Topanga’s former classmate Stuart Minkus. Which is all the more reason why GIRL MEETS WORLD should not have shifted from the quiet suburbs to bustling New York because, even if you accept Minkus somehow got married and had a kid as quickly as Cory did, a stretch to be sure, why would they both move to the same neighborhood far away? However, that logic leap is not nearly as awful as Farkle’s personality, which is much, much worse than Minkus ever was, taking those annoying elements of the nerd to a teeth-jarring extreme.

Some of these grating elements could be a product of the age. The 2010s is quite removed from the 1990s and sensibilities have shifted. As an adult, I don’t want to watch anything on the Disney Channel, not being their target audience, and not enjoying pretty much any of their fare. GIRL MEETS WORLD is trying to play to nostalgia, though, like TNT’s Dallas continuation, and bring old viewers in with the new. However, GIRLS MEETS WORLD isn’t matching the previous style well enough yet, so while it might work for the kids tuning it, it provides little for the grown-ups looking to relive fond childhood memories.

Now, reportedly this show takes a few episodes to find its stride, and having re-watched season one of Boy Meets World this past week, I admit GIRL MEETS WORLD isn’t that many notches below, as distasteful as I find a few key elements. Plus, most of the central cast members from Boy Meets World have signed on to show up later. So I will keep viewing, at least for the next month or so, to see if it can settle into a worthy successor. It’s not a great show, but neither was the original, so if this program can hit ‘pretty good,’ it will have done its namesake proud.

GIRL MEETS WORLD will rerun the pilot many times over the next couple weeks and begins fresh installments Friday, July 11th at 8:30 p.m. ET.

DVD Review: ‘Teen Wolf – Season Three, Part Two’

Article originally published as DVD Review: ‘Teen Wolf – Season Three, Part Two’ on Blogcritics.

TW32MTV’s Teen Wolf did what a number of high-episode-count cable shows have done this year, splitting its season into two halves. The episodes that aired last summer have already been released on DVD, and now the most recent run has its own three-disc set with Teen Wolf Season 3, Part 2. These 12 installments aired from January through March of this year, and arrived in stores just ahead of season four, which premiered this past week.

For those unfamiliar with the show, well, you probably don’t want to jump in here. It’s a highly-serialized story, with long arcs and constant character development. It’s about a boy, in his teens, who becomes a werewolf, of course. But it’s also about growing up in general, accepting responsibility, and figuring out who you are. Plus, there are lots of battles and sneaky enemies and special effects and romantic interludes that satisfy the target audience of the network. It is much better than most MTV fare, and while not genre-busting, is good enough to watch, even if you’re past the typical demographic. So start at the beginning, not with this set.

The back half of season three focuses a lot on Scott (Tyler Posey), of course, now the Alpha of a pack.  It’s not a role he slips into easily, but it’s definitely one he’s been building towards for some time. We know Scott will make a fine Alpha, but I’m glad Teen Wolf decides to chronicle his rocky beginning in the job, as that’s only natural for someone so young stepping up into such a powerful position. As he tries to be a better person alongside this, one wonders how he will eventually prioritize his life and the warring parts of it.

This is not made easy when Scott’s best friend, Stiles (Dylan O’Brien), is turned against him. This makes it much harder for Scott to do what he needs to do, needing to stop a villain, but reluctant to hurt a friend. It also lets O’Brien play another side of the popular no-longer-just-a-sidekick kid, probably why his face is in the middle of the DVD cover, not Scott’s. It certainly makes for some very tense moments.

For those who’ve already seen these episodes, you will know a major death shakes up the end of this season. (I won’t spoil who it is, so if you haven’t seen it, you’re safe to keep reading.) It’s really unprecedented for Teen Wolf to take out someone so important, and if I didn’t know that the performer wanted to leave, I’d be shocked the writers would do such a thing. Creatively speaking, this will breathe new life into the narrative direction going forward, and really lets Teen Wolf dig into some deep emotion, but it’s also sad to lose a beloved part of the fabric.

Season 3B is a time of consequence. Often, in an action-based show, there are big developments, but the pacing is such that it quickly moves on. Teen Wolf Season 3, Part 2 tries, and often succeeds, in telling a tale where the ramifications of one’s choices are felt. This may not seem like a novel concept, and it isn’t completely, as the best TV shows always do this. But for a program like Teen Wolf, the inclusion is not a given, and I like how things come back to haunt our heroes. It makes them more well-rounded individuals.

If you’re not one of those that go for feelings, there’s still plenty of excitement and freaky-deaky stuff. These installments are full of supernatural powers and new races. Scott, Stiles, and Allison (Crystal Reed) have to deal with visions from their “open” minds. Were-coyotes join the fray, there’s a banshee to contend with now, and mass murderers pose a threat. Kira (Arden Cho, the recent Tomb Raider video game), a kitsune, which is a mythological Japanese trickster, is introduced, and she’s only part of the Asian lore in these episodes. So buckle in and enjoy the ride.

I complained about the sparse extras in the first half of this season, and this latest release is even worse. The only thing included is a featurette called “Following the Pack: The Fans of Teen Wolf.” It’s eight-plus minutes of footage from the Supernatural Fan Expo, including brief clips of interviews with cast members talking about their audience. There is little substance, designed more to show us that people like the show. There’s also a booklet of some fan art included in the package. Some of it looks kind of cool, but it seems a bit amateurish for a hit show to include such things. I see this is completely unnecessary, and wish the production had put together something to give us more insight to the series, being deeply disappointed by the lack of extras here.

Teen Wolf Season 3, Part 2 is available now.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

No MYSTERY To These GIRLS

Article first published as MYSTERY GIRLS Review on Seat42F.

MYSTERY GIRLS Promo

ABC Family’s MYSTERY GIRLS is the story of two former actresses, Charlie (Jennie Garth, 90210) and Holly (Tori Spelling, A Carol Christmas), who form their own detective agency. See, they used to star in a series called Mystery Girls, and when a witness to a crime demands that he’ll speak only with them, being a fan of their show, they get the idea to apply what they learned making TV to the real world, starting a private detective agency. Get it?

This is pretty much one of the cheesiest, most horrible concepts for a television show ever. In no way does playing a detective on television prepare one to do so in actual life. One job involves reading scripts of visually entertaining cases and clever twists. The other is hours of observation and critical thinking skills. They involve two completely different sets of talents, and while going undercover might benefit from the ability to fake things, because Holly and Charlie are famous, it would be pretty hard for them to disguise themselves.

Setting aside a completely unrealistic and dumb premise, MYSTERY GIRLS is still pretty bad. The characters are two-dimensional, unlikeable, and uninspired. The antics are goofy, and not in a good way. The writing is trite and inauthentic. The set up doesn’t even work on the way the individuals are built into the structure. It’s a failure, all around.

Where MYSTERY GIRLS might find an audience is among the fans of the long-running drama Beverly Hills, 90210. Garth and Spelling are both alumni of that work, and they make sure to include references, such as name-dropping Shannen Doherty, in the pilot. For viewers nostalgic for the teen drama, some may be willing to sit through even this schlock for a reunion of two of the main characters.

I doubt they will be satisfied, though. MYSTERY GIRLS isn’t just bad, it misuses both of the actresses. Spelling has a natural abrasiveness that some find hard to get past, so rather than softening her, they make her character virtually crazy. It’s hard to sympathize with someone who does herself absolutely no favors and is completely self-absorbed. Garth, meanwhile, is charming and good-looking, so they make her a tired, slightly frumpy housewife, almost as if they are trying to hide her best qualities. These observations may be a bit harsh and superficial, but are meant to illustrate how the program can’t even use what strengths it does have to its advantage.

The third main player, Nick (Miguel Pinzon, A New York Love Story), is even worse. A lonely, young, gay man, Nick finds escape from his life in DVDs of the show within a show, becoming a huge fan of Holly and Charlie. He is so ridiculous, though, that he tells an actual police officer (Ryan McPartlin, Chuck) that he has to give his statement to TV personalities. Who in their right mind who possibly do that, and what law enforcement official would go along with it?

I have to admit that it does make sense for Holly to hire Nick, though. He feeds into her ego, which is starving for attention, so of course she likes him. Though it doesn’t quite make much sense that Nick insists on having Charlie present for his statement, too, then ends up ignoring her later in the episode, having turned against her completely. Even if he doesn’t like her personality as much as Holly’s, his hero worship of Charlie should carry over for a little longer.

MYSTERY GIRLS is lucky it’s on ABC Family because, for the most part, that network makes low-quality series that are fine for their target audience, even if they aren’t good enough to make it anywhere else. This series may just fit in with that brand, though it will be one of the lesser entries on the network.

MYSTERY GIRLS premieres Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC Family.

FALLING SKIES a "Machine"

Article originally written for Seat42F.
 

One thing I’ve noticed about FALLING SKIES is that it has never quite figured out what it is. Every time it seems to settle into some sort of routine, the writers make sure to knock the characters out of their situation, sending them somewhere entirely new. This does keep the show interesting, even if it seems to lack depth. I do wish the pacing would slow down a bit and explore each scenario a little more before moving onto the next one, but for now, that doesn’t seem likely, so just buckle up and enjoy the ride.

As season four starts this week with “Ghost in the Machine,” it all changes again. Our band of heroes is walking along, enjoying a rare, happy day in the sun as they approach Charleston, until they are suddenly attacked. The group is fragmented and sent in various directions, and as the action picks up months later, many have settled into a ‘new normal’ that they have no wish to perpetuate.

So it seems this season, more than the others, won’t be about bringing down the aliens. The characters will be fighting the invaders, yes, but with short-term goals of finding missing loved ones and achieving freedom from captivity, not the long-term mission of taking back the planet. This changes the scope, even while trying to elicit more emotional responses from the viewers tuned in. Will FALLING SKIES take full advantage of this, or gloss over it as it has done other set ups?

In the current season, there are definitely some new and interesting developments involving the conquerors. For one, we finally know what they are doing with the children. Matt (Maxim Knight) is placed in a re-education school where kids are being brainwashed to fit into a new world run by those who are not native to Earth. Apparently, this has worked in other places, and it is the next phase of the invasion, which makes sense, because perpetual war or outright extinction don’t seem like outcomes that gel with what we’ve seen before.

Of course, not all of the youngsters fall in line. Matt is smart enough to realize that he should at least pretend to, biding his time until he has the opportunity to stage a coup. It’s the boy’s first major arc that he’s central to, and Knight seems to be doing a pretty good when faced with this challenge. Matt is likely to cause as much trouble as his father ever has, learning from the best.

Speaking of Tom (Noah Wyle), he has become the Batman of the slums, sneaking around in a mask, spying on their captors, and doling out vigilante justice when needed against low-lifes like Pope (Colin Cunningham). I feel like this is a natural next step for the character of Tom, but also feels almost as ridiculous as some of the other leaps he makes. Tom is best when he is being a father or a negotiator or a professor, and whenever he takes on the super leader persona, it always feels just a bit false.

I think Tom seems even more out of place when put in a cell next to Weaver (Will Patton). Weaver is distraught that his daughter has been taken, understandably so, but goes a little bit too far off the rails when dealing with it, to the point of almost committing suicide-by-cop. While Weaver has been pathetic in the past, that is when his character seems least authentic, and by putting an uneven Weaver and Tom side by side, “Ghost in the Machine” highlights something FALLING SKIES has never gotten quite right.

Anne (Moon Bloodgood) has a cool arc, though. Off in the woods with Anthony (Mpho Koaho) and some other soldiers, she is staging a military operation to rescue her family. This is a tougher side of Anne, stepping up to be a leader in a desperate situation, and it’s welcome. As a mother, she has a reason to turn hard, tasked with protecting those she is responsible for. This other side of her isn’t nearly as false as the men’s.

I also believe the reverted Pope. He’s not fully back to his old ways. He may be acting selfish again, but other than hoarding some supplies, he’s not actively trying to hurt anyone. I think he just doesn’t want to risk showing he cares, having been burnt before, as he’s locked up now. He thinks if he acts the old way, he’ll be left alone or get back to surviving as he did previously. But in the manner Pope refuses to beat on Hal (Drew Roy) too much, we see that it will just take some motivating factor to bring back the mostly redeemed Pope viewers love.

Finally, in the strangest twist in the premiere, Ben (Connor Jessup) wakes up after months of sleep to a tranquil garden staffed with body-snatcher-esque versions of Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel) and Maggie (Sarah Carter), seemingly run by a grown up version of his sister, Lexi (Scarlett Byrne, Harry Potter). I don’t know what’s going on here, but it’s weird and definitely not what it appears to be. Which just makes it all the more intriguing. Given what we know and don’t know about Lexi, it could very well be real, but as for what it means, that’s up for debate.

All in all, while I’m sad FALLING SKIES just jumps into yet another something new, barely checking in with the most recent abandoned (for now) plot involving Cochise (Doug Jones), it’s still a pretty cool season opener, with a lot to tantalize, and some fresh settings and new aliens to keep audiences engaged. It may move a bit too fast, but I guess that’s better than getting bogged down in slowness, and during the summer, when people want explosions and special effects, this program serves that purpose well enough.

FALLING SKIES airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on TNT.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

YOUNG & HUNGRY & Safe

Article first published as YOUNG & HUNGRY Review on Seat42F.

Young & Hungry ABC Family

I don’t tend to watch the comedies (or many dramas) on ABC Family because they are full of stock characters and ‘classic,’ meaning tired, sitcom notions. I am slightly tempted by the new YOUNG & HUNGRY, though, because of the charm of the cast. It’s a light, frothy series that’s almost a remake of The Nanny, but with some great supporting players and a premise that will give it legs for at least a couple of seasons, even if the acting is a little over-the-top and the dialogue, at times, groan-inducing.

Emily Osment (Hannah Montana) stars as Gabi Diamond, a professional chef who is broke and having trouble finding work, much to the dismay of her roommate, Sofia (Aimee Carrero, Level Up). Then, Gabi interviews for a position as the personal cook of rich techie Josh Kaminski (Jonathan Sadowski, $#*! My Dad Says). It’s a dream job, and Gabi might just be on the road to comfort, until she screws it up by coming between Josh and his girlfriend, Caroline (Malory Jansen, Baby Daddy). Now, Gabi must stay in an uncomfortable position or risk not having the money she needs to buy groceries and pay rent.

Gabi herself is not a great character. Exhibiting the heightened emotional reactions Osment likely picked up from a certain former co-star, her character makes bad choices and isn’t good at dealing with awkward situations. But it’s her “aw, shucks” attitude and blatant innocence that keep her from being absolutely ridiculous. And her education and talents pull her away from the dumb blonde stereotype that would ruin her completely, Osment pulling off making Gabi seem competent, at least in the kitchen.

More enticing, though, are Rex Lee (Entourage, Suburgatory) and Kym Whitley (Rango, We Bought a Zoo) as Elliot and Yolanda, Josh’s other staff. Elliot is a yes-man butt-kisser who takes an immediate dislike to Gabi, mostly because she stands in the way of him hiring a gorgeous winner of Top Chef. Yolanda is sassy and smart in a very attractive style. They are my favorite parts of this pilot.

Elliot and Yolanda are nothing new, stock characters of the type I mentioned with distaste in the first sentence of this review. The thing is, though, Lee and Whitley are terrific entertainers. They know just how to deliver a line or milk a scene to make it land with humor and authenticity. Even if they never rise above predictability and superficial personalities, they are still enjoyable to watch, far more interesting than Josh or Gabi.

Now, the set up will grow stale after a season or two, with the tension between Josh and Gabi begging for some sort of balancing out sooner rather than later. Gabi can’t stay hungry, as the title indicates, for long. But that’s a problem for down the road, and I’m sure the writers will find a less-than-clever way to solve it, a la Melissa and Joey getting together.

YOUNG & HUNGRY will fit in well on ABC Family. It’s not too emotionally deep and it’s pretty tame in scope and material. There may just a tad too much sex to really call it ‘family’ fare, but most of its peers contain the same, and what sexuality is exhibited is highly sanitized for the modern era. It chooses easy laughs over growth and development, and establishes a sensibility that one would find on the broadcast networks in the 1990s.

What this means it that YOUNG & HUNGRY won’t be any serious TV viewer’s favorite show. However, like a candy bar, it can be delicious in the moment, even if it does you no favors in the long-term. It’s a good mix of nuts and sweetness, a bit soft in the center, but still tasty, even if it’s not gourmet. This puts it several notches better than its peers like Baby Daddy and Melissa & Joey, and miles above its weekly pairing, Mystery Girls.

YOUNG & HUNGRY premieres Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC Family.

WILFRED Gets More Serial in Final Season

Article originally written for Seat42F.




FX’s WILFRED, which is beginning its final season on sister network FXX this week, is a show about a man who sees a dog as a man in a dog costume. It’s a weird concept, to be sure, that allows the writers to explore not only mental illness and fantasy scenarios, but also some primal human emotions. After four years, the program is wrapping up with a ten episode run, the first two of which air this coming Wednesday.

As a quicker refresher, season three ends with Ryan (Elijah Wood) mourning the death of his father, Henry (James Remar), who sought to get Ryan help, then fell down some stairs. Following a clue discovered in his late dad’s office, Ryan goes out to the woods where he discovers a statue of Wilfred (Jason Gann) on the ground.

Season four picks up right at the moment where Ryan is looking at the statue, and only gets weirder from there. WILFRED occasionally does trippy, reality-bending episodes where fans can’t take anything they’ve seen for granted, breaking the rules of even this rule-lite world. The season premiere, “Amends,” is one such installment, being one of the more confusing, weird installments of the series to date.

I can’t go into the specifics of “Amends” without spoiling anything, but suffice it to say, this not only gives Ryan pause, bringing into question the reliability of the show through his perspective and his health, but also touches on the greater mythology. WILFRED has long avoided stating exactly what is going on, but prefers to drop obtuse hints on a fairly rare basis, hinting at the promise of a full explanation in the end, but never bringing us anywhere close.

The good news is, both “Amends,” which is mythology-heavy, and the second episode, “Consequences,” begin tackling that larger mystery. WILFRED is not the type of series that can reveal some cosmic explanation at the last minute and leave anyone satisfied. These first two episodes back promise a season-long journey of discovery, something we’ll get a piece of in each fresh adventure, likely culminating in the master plan WILFRED has kept hidden all along. Viewers who have been yearning for those secrets will probably get them.

But there is another camp of WILFRED viewers, those who don’t value the bigger picture so much and just prefer the give-and-take between Ryan and Wilfred. That type of fan should be satisfied with “Amends” and “Consequences,” too. Admittedly, “Amends” does spend a lot of time on brain-bending, but there are still some rich, obnoxious exchanges between the leads. “Consequences” has more of that as Wilfred sets himself up to be the god Ryan should turn to and obey, while Ryan resists such a rearrangement of their relationship.

And for those who consider themselves ‘shippers,’ wanting desperately for Ryan to end up with the literal girl-next-door, Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann), well, there’s some movement on that front, too. “Consequences” finds Drew (Chris Klein), Jenna’s husband, yearning to spend some time with his buddy Ryan. Not only does Drew consider Ryan a good friend, but he thinks Ryan might be able to shed some light on what’s going on between Drew and Jenna, with Jenna pulling away after kissing Ryan last season, which Drew does not yet know about.

I won’t reveal how “Consequences” ends, of course, but I really like the Drew / Ryan scenes, in this episode and others. Drew has an ugly streak, but he’s almost always been good to Ryan. Ryan never quite feels comfortable with Drew because he can’t be honest about his feelings for Jenna, making for a tension-filled chemistry. Thus, one never quite knows what will happen when the two get together, and that’s sort of a shame because they could have a solid friendship if only Jenna were not between them, but it’s a positive when building an entertaining half hour of television.

“Amends” and “Consequences” are two terrific, very different installments of a pretty good show. They check off the various boxes that differing viewers want, while staying true to the themes and story of the show itself. With only ten episodes left for the program, it’s off to a strong start, and it should leave viewers very curious to see how it all will end.

WILFRED now airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FXX.