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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

ONCE UPON A TIME, There Were "Two (Frozen) Sisters"

Article first published as ONCE UPON A TIME Review Season 4 Episode 1 A Tale of Two Sisters on Seat42F.

Once Upon A Time 4x01 09

WARNING: There are spoilers below, but as always for unaired episodes, I don’t give away anything too major.

ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME is back this weekend, kicking off a whole new arc related to the recent blockbuster movie Frozen, beginning with the episode “A Tale of Two Sisters.” While last spring’s Oz arc didn’t live up to expectations, the previous fall’s Neverland run was nothing short of spectacular. We’re only one episode in to the new story, but as far as first impressions go, this is a solid one, favoring the latter’s quality, rather than the former’s.

As some fans have been eagerly anticipating, “A Tale of Two Sisters” brings Elsa (Georgina Haig, Fringe) and her sibling, Anna (newcomer Elizabeth Lail), into ONCE UPON A TIME. And there is no shortage of the girls in the premiere. We see them in multiple time periods and get Elsa in both their home and in Storybrooke. Whatever this immediate plot entails, it will have plenty of them.

The main portion of Elsa and Anna’s scenes are set in their kingdom after the end of the movie. So if you haven’t seen Frozen, you may want to check it out this beforehand to catch you up on who these people are. ONCE UPON A TIME may eventually reveal enough to follow along without prior knowledge, but the scenes with Elsa, Anna, Kristoff (Scott Michael Foster, Greek), Sven (played by an actual reindeer, hilariously used!), and Pabbie the Troll (CGI, voiced by John Rhys Davies from The Lord of the Rings) may seem confusing to those who don’t already know them.

By beginning after the movie (spoiler for those who haven’t seen Frozen!), Elsa isn’t a villain the way she is for much of the film. She isn’t completely good either, though, as she is still struggling to control her powers. Suddenly dropped into a strange land, and likely on a very important mission viewers can guess at, it makes sense for her to panic and perhaps get a bit defensive. I’m not quite sure yet how she’ll fold in (or not) with the Storybrooke residents, but there is definitely the potential for conflict here, and I will say the earliest, indirect encounters don’t exactly go smoothly.

Some have criticized ONCE UPON A TIME in the past for periodically giving too much screen time to guest stars and not developing the core cast enough. While “A Tale of Two Sisters” definitely has a lot of Frozen fare, it does provide good, character-driven scenes to many of the primary players, too, striking what I feel is a respectable balance between the two camps.

Obviously, the biggest question after last spring’s finale is if Regina (Lana Parrilla) will slip back into her evil ways. This question is addressed a lot in the hour, but not answered this week. She is definitely tempted to smite Marian (Christie Laing), who is long believed dead until she suddenly shows back up to claim her husband, Regina’s boyfriend, Robin Hood (Sean Maguire). She even recruits an old henchman (yay!) to help her out. But Regina is no longer just the Evil Queen, and slipping back to her old ways doesn’t come as naturally as it once did. She also has a perhaps-unexpected ally trying to save her. Parrilla gives an as-usual fantastic performance as Regina struggles with her warring motivations.

Those who prefer the romantic side of things should be happy with “A Tale of Two Sisters.” There is some great stuff between Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), and some even better stuff between Rumple (Robert Carlyle) and Belle (Emilie de Ravin). The latter’s honeymoon becomes quite fairy tale-esque in a scene that will make many Beauty and the Beast fans smile.

Both Rumple and Regina also kick off some extremely interesting arcs, one relating to another familiar tale not yet covered in ONCE UPON A TIME, and the other diving deeper into the base mythology of the show, exploring something not dwelled upon for some time. These are promising, excellent threads that should hopefully pair nicely with the Frozen line, succeeding in keeping everyone important busy in the coming season.

As for the announced new main cast member, the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) from the spin-off Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, he’s completely MIA in the first episode back. But his name graces the opening credits, so I expect that won’t be the case for long, and there’s still time to hold out hope that he won’t be coming to Storybrooke alone.

In all, ONCE UPON A TIME has a great return to form, beginning a fascinating series of stories and doing justice to the best characters in the show, even while introducing yet another batch of new ones. It’s too early to tell if this fall will rival the show’s Neverland zenith, but it’s got the right ingredients in place to serve the show well, should they be mixed correctly and baked for the right amount of time.

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

No "Issues" With THE GOOD WIFE

Article first published as THE GOOD WIFE Review Season 6 Episode 2 Trust Issues on Seat42F.

Trust Issues

Florrick, Agos, & Associates, one of the law firms at the center of THE GOOD WIFE is quite messy right now. I guess that’s why, as this week’s episode title suggests, some are having “Trust Issues” with the company. With a named partner in jail, a couple of big clients become hard to hold onto, even while the staff is about to expand greatly, with some very good lawyers joining up. One wonders how this will all shake down, given the show’s penchant for not playing it safe, making stability a true uncertainty.

First, there’s Cary’s (Matt Czuchry) case. Despite a tape suggesting Cary’s guilt, he insists he never directly told clients how to do illegal things, meaning the tape is likely edited. The problem is, Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) can’t investigate because the firm’s drug kingpin client, Lemond Bishop (Mike Colter), will hurt someone and take his much-needed business away if she does. And when he does allow her to talk to some of his crew, supervised, she then has to make a decision to protect Cary’s case and condemn someone to death, or tell the truth and leave Cary locked up.

One guesses Kalinda will probably tell Bishop whom his mole is. We don’t see that in “Trust Issues,” but Kalinda’s OK with moral ambiguity, and she cares about Cary, who clearly isn’t doing well in jail. While Cary would never choose to let a person die for his freedom, Kalinda doesn’t have the same qualms. The question is, though, once Cary is out and knows what Kalinda has done, and that Kalinda is now an employee of his that he can’t fire, how will it change their relationship? This is sure to be an ongoing problem with far-reaching consequences.

At the same time Bishop is threatening to pull out, Deena Lampard (Megan Ketch), who has a considerable say in Chumhum’s future, is also losing faith in her team. Cary is supposed to be handling things for her, and Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Carey Zepps (Ben Rappaport) have to try to step into an ugly class action. They manage to pull it off and she’s satisfied for now, but they also expose something Deena would rather keep secret, and her confidence in the firm is surely shaken. Without Chumhum, there may be no Florrick, Agos, so her continued happiness is vital.

Into all of this come the newbies. Diane (Christine Baranski), voted in as new named partner against Cary’s wishes, asks a mentee at her old organization, Dean Levine-Wilkins (Taye Diggs, Private Practice), to come along. He is skeptical at first, visiting Florrick, Agos’ under-construction offices and seeing scrambling to cover for Cary, but Diane’s insistence that there is promise here prompts him to not only join up, but bring along six department heads.

This many veterans will definitely change the way business is done at the startup, and not everyone is going to like that. Many of the founding members left to escape the big firm and its stifling practices. Now, those former bosses have followed, and Dean, at least, has been told he can help direct the new business. I assume Dean is a good man or Diane would never have told him her secret before the move. But it still makes me extremely uneasy, again, mostly because of Cary’s lack of involvement in these decisions. There will be drama here.

“Trust Issues” doesn’t show how Cary reacts to all this yet, but he is out of jail and the episode ends with him giving Alicia a hug, a first for THE GOOD WIFE. These two have been through so much together, and it’s a testament to their continued bond that they hug. This is after Cary knows Diane has been voted in, but perhaps before learning of Dean and the others. Will that knowledge change things? Or does Cary know Alicia has the firm’s best interests at heart, even when he disagrees with her? Even if the relationship goes sour, it’s nice to see this moment now.

Will Alicia stick with this firm she, more than anyone, has created? The pressure mounts for her to run for State’s Attorney, mostly because of Eli (Alan Cumming) pulling strings behind her back. He even has Valerie Jarrett (herself, a good cameo get, but not a great actress) call Alicia! Alicia is insistent that she will not get involved in politics, but as this plot keeps coming back over and over again, and we know that Eli is good at his job, one wonders if he might finally find a way to get her to break. And if she does leave Cary with the things she has done against his will, will he resent her for it? He certainly would have a right to.

Coming back to Diane, there is a beautiful scene in “Trust Issues” when she, Dean, and the others leave her former company. She steps into the elevator and whispers goodbye. There is a real sense of finality here. Diane is the last original main character left in this place, and her departure closes the door on the law firm that had been THE GOOD WIFE’s main setting for a very long time. David Lee (Zach Grenier), who was promoted to main character last season, remains behind, which implies that there could still be story left for Lockhart, Gardner, Canning. But it’ll never be the same, and for now, it feels more like an evil place than the warm home fans remember.

THE GOOD WIFE is excellent for its continued bold storytelling and its interesting characters, who have very different personalities, causing drama and strife even when no one is at fault. It’s an intense series, with many weeks seeing major developments, and an ongoing serial that is as engaging as anything on the broadcast networks. I continue to find it among the very best on the Big Four, and am glad it has managed to not only maintain quality, but get better with age.

THE GOOD WIFE airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

S.H.I.E.L.D. Comes Back From the "Shadows"

Article first published as MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Review Season 2 Episode 1 Shadows on Seat42F.

MING-NA WEN, LUCY LAWLESS, NICK BLOOD, WILMER CALDERON, HENRY SIMMONS, CHLOE BENNET, PATTON OSWALT

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. is back! Airing last night, the second season premiere, “Shadows,” picks up several months after the shocking events of last spring’s finale. Director Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) has stepped away from the team to run the entire new S.H.I.E.L.D. agency. Everyone, which includes quite a few more people than the original team, now works out of the secret base known as The Playground. And some characters are much-changed.

The episode begins with a glimpse of Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and the Howling Commandos in 1945, a welcome connection to the upcoming miniseries, Agent Carter, that will air when MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. goes on winter hiatus. Peggy and her crew are capturing an artifact from Hydra officer Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond, Franklin & Bash, Dollhouse). In the present day, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra (including a still-youthful Whitehall) hunt the same object, which is now controlled by the government and Brigadier General Glenn Talbot (Adrian Pasdar).

The dynamic between the three organizations, S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra, and the U.S. military, will definitely be giving the show plenty of legs to run on this season. As it stands now, Hydra is winning, with the larger, globally-expansive network, while S.H.I.E.L.D. is rebuilding desperately. One would think it makes sense for the American government to side with S.H.I.E.L.D., but those in charge of the troops, specifically petty Talbot, have been burned when S.H.I.E.L.D. collapsed, and are justifiably wary about getting in bed with them again, especially after such a public campaign against them. It’s an unstable mix, which can only result in entertaining showdowns.

Poor Coulson is stuck in a terrible situation. Not only is he struggling to recruit enough reliable people to help build the organization Fury has entrusted him with, but now he has to look at the bigger picture, which means weighing his personal feelings for his agents against what has to be done in the war game. This means he has to endanger people he cares about, as well as send them into extremely uncomfortable situations they don’t want to be in. Coulson still isn’t a bad guy, but he’s sure to tick off some of our heroes when putting the world ahead of them, which will spark good, authentic drama.

Skye (Chloe Bennet) is now a full-fledged agent, working under the tutelage of May (Ming-Na Wen). That doesn’t mean she’s ready, though, when Coulson sends her to pump Ward (Brett Dalton), imprisoned in The Playground, for information. She’s still deeply wounded by the turncoat, and can’t stomach to look at him long, even as he tries to promise her secrets on her origin. She’s much better at the physical stuff, surprisingly.

Ward is very different now. His driving purpose seems to be his love for Skye, which she is certainly not returning. His suicide attempts and unkempt appearance indicate he’s given up on rejoining Hydra and may not care about it at all, now that his mentor is dead. I’m not sure where MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. is going with him, but I’m very glad he’s been kept around and allowed to be a dynamic character. His psychosis is a delicious thing for the actor to play, and he’s doing a fine job of it so far.

Even more startling than the new Ward is Fitz’s (Iain De Caestecker) mental state. We know he’s injured, but for most of “Shadows,” it just seems like he stutters a bit. It isn’t until the end of the episode that viewers are clued in to the fact that Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) left the base some time ago, and her appearances in the hour are hallucinations. This indicates far deeper problems, with no one quite trusting Fitz to do his job any more, but still keeping him around out of loyalty. How long will it take Fitz to recover, or will he ever? (I’m going to guess he’ll return to form by mid-season.)

“Shadow” brings a lot of new blood into MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., and that’s a good thing. The structure of the show has changed, and by necessity, we need more faces to fill it. Lucy Lawless (Battlestar Galactica, Xena: Warrior Princess) is fantastic as Agent Hartley, and I’m very sad she is killed off so quickly. But we still get another appearance of a Koenig (Patton Oswalt), whom I hope sticks around as much as possible. Triplett (B.J. Britt) deserves a promotion to central cast, a full part of the team by this point. There’s also a mercenary named Lance Hunter (Nick Blood, Trollied) and a mechanic named Mac (Henry Simmons, Man Up, NYPD Blue) in the season premiere.

Interestingly, the ABC press site still only lists the six core main characters, while Blood’s name is in the Starring portion of the opening credits. The way all these new people are handled, it’s easy to be unsure about who’s a main character and who isn’t. However, given Joss Whedon’s connection to the project, I recommend not worrying about that, as he has a tendency to heavily use good performers over a long period of time, even if they are not added to the principal cast.

As you may have surmised from the above review, there’s a lot going on in MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. this year, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. Of note, we also got to see a man who can change his substance, a cool jet that can turn invisible, and more glimpses of the doodle lines crazy Coulson draws. With so many balls in the air, fans are sure to be in for a heck of a fall run, jam-packed with action, story, and continued character development in TV’s current best superhero series, and that’s saying something, given the suddenly-crowded field.

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

Friday, September 26, 2014

How to Get Away With HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER

Article first published as HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER Review on Seat42F.

HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER Cast ABC

The latest program from Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes, premiering this fall, is called HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER. Set at the University of Michigan (which makes for an opening scene sure to upset Buckeyes in my locale of Columbus, Ohio), it follows Professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis, The Help) and her employees and students as she conducts lessons both in and out of the classroom, as besides being a teacher, she’s also an active, successful lawyer. There’s also a dark, serial mystery wound through the more typical events.

HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER is pretty much a hybrid of what makes Shonda’s other two hits so well-received. It begins with a group of five, inexperienced, competitive hopefuls, just as Grey’s did, working in a power structure headed by Keating, but with a couple of her colleagues in between. There will definitely be sexual relations had between tiers. It also has the fast cuts and serious tone of Scandal, with a long-running story that will not be quickly tied up. This is a pretty solid formula, and one that serves the show well, at least in the pilot, familiar enough to feel comfortable, but definitely different in plot than its peers.

Davis is terrific, of course, showing both Keating’s toughness and her vulnerability, which may or may not be faked, as HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER doesn’t hold one’s hand in explaining itself. She isn’t really likeable, at least not initially. After all, she defends people who are probably guilty of murder, and she has little emotional warmth or compassion for her fellow men. She’s also not exactly monogamous, though her partners may believe otherwise, especially the one she’s married to.

But it’s not all Davis’ show. Equal time is given to the youngsters, making for a very balanced ensemble. Wes Gibbins (Alfred Enoch, the Harry Potter films) stands out as the naïve, ‘good’ guy whom viewers will root for. He is joined by bitchy Michaela Pratt (Aja Naomi King, Emily Owens M.D.), sleazy player Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee, Twisted), snobby Asher Millstone (Matt McGorry, Orange Is the New Black), and quiet Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza, Verano de amor). Besides Wes, only Laurel is sympathetic right off the bat, but it’s an interesting, drama-filled group dynamic that will keep audiences watching, whether or not they respect the characters.

Four of these five get a lot of screen time in a second setting, four months after the events of the rest of the pilot. HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER doesn’t do the lame, over-used thing a lot of series are doing these days of showing the climax of an arc first, then working up to it. Instead, it frequently jumps between the present and the future, with most of the hour in the former, but the latter picked up on consistently throughout. I do wish it had skipped this device, but it does provide a hook for viewers to keep tuning in, and isn’t as annoying as usual.

The pilot ‘present’ also divides its time between introductions of the cast, a case-of-the-week, and a missing girl, whom threads through several people’s scenes, including those of Wes’ new neighbor, Rebecca Sutter (Katie Findlay, The Killing). The last of these is likely going to be the driving force in the initial run, and, I hope, even tie into the future scenes, though the connection is not obvious at the onset. This provides a true entrée for the series, ensuring it’ll go somewhere.

If I have one complaint about this first episode is that does not feature Bonnie Winterbottom (Liza Weil, Gilmore Girls) enough. As a fan of the actress, still sad about her relatively quick death on Scandal, I want to see more from her, and she’s probably the character with the least to do in this installment. Being among the principal cast, I’m sure that will change, as she and co-worker Frank Delfino (Charlie Weber, Buffy the Vampire Slayers) are the obvious bridge between the kids and their boss.

HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER isn’t perfect, but it’s enticing and seems to be heading in the right direction. Both of Rhimes’ previous series took some time to find their legs, and this one doesn’t score high right out of the park, either. However, the elements to make it a great show are all there, and I think it’s more about getting into the meat of the tale, rather than changing anything, that will kick it up a notch.

HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER premieres Thursday, September 25th at 10 p.m. ET.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

THE GOOD WIFE Crosses "The Line" Of Awesomeness

Article first published as THE GOOD WIFE Review Season 6 Episode 1 The Line on Seat42F.

The Line

Last season, CBS’s THE GOOD WIFE left some hanging questions. Will Diane (Christine Baranski) be joining Florrick, Agos, & Associates? Will Alicia (Julianna Margulies) run for State’s Attorney? Plus, who will be in a relationship with whom next? To say last night’s season six premiere, “The Line,” addresses those is fair, but they are only a few elements in a large story that certainly hits the ground running.

As “The Line” begins, Cary (Matt Czuchry) is arrested for charges related to drug conspiracy. This is, of course, connected to the firm’s client, Lemond Bishop (Mike Colter), the biggest drug dealer in town. Viewers will assume Cary is innocent, of course, knowing that while he pushes boundaries sometimes, he wouldn’t knowingly commit such an illegal act as telling a kingpin how to transport illicit substances. But as Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) finds out from her law enforcement ex, Sophia (Kelli Giddish), there is a recording, and the words on it may imply that Cary is guilty, even If his speech is being misconstrued. Who eventually tries to pay his bail might actually worsen matters, rather than help them, as the judge will be reviewing the source of the money, and while it doesn’t directly come from Bishop, it is connected.

Ever since Bishop is introduced on THE GOOD WIFE, there is always the possibility of a story like this one coming to fruition. The writers have danced around it before, and it totally makes sense and feels right to go for it now. Bishop is not a good man, and while the lawyers deal with him partly because of money and partly because of fear, keeping him on the client roster comes with dangers that are just now being realized. Bishop cutting Cary in prison to test his loyalty only makes him seem even scarier.

What’s most nerve-racking for the fans watching this on their television sets is the utter frustration of anyone’s ability to help Cary. We know he doesn’t deserve what’s happening to him, and it certainly isn’t fair that his rights are being sidelined or outright ignored. We feel his frustration, and Alicia’s frustration that she can’t get him out of this. THE GOOD WIFE does an excellent job of telling the story in such a way to really help viewers emphasize with the emotional component.

It sucks further that the DA assigned to prosecute Cary is Finn (Matthew Goode). Finn and Alicia have formed a pretty close friendship recently, and this case forces them onto opposing sides. Finn deals with this by having Alicia removed as Cary’s attorney. This will allow Finn to pursue what he thinks is a perfectly legitimate case, and it may just keep him on somewhat friendly terms with Alicia, if she can keep in mind that he’s just doing his job. So far, she seems to be able to, but we’ll see if that lasts.

Cary’s arrest also makes Diane vulnerable. She is hoping to join Florrick Agos, and agrees to represent Cary when Alicia cannot. She tells Louis Canning (Michael J. Fox) and David Lee (Zach Grenier) that she’s retiring, but they’re smart enough not to believe her. They can now user her connection to Cary to try to convince her clients to turn on her, which may actually threaten her move, since the payroll Diane brings with her might be the only reason Cary will agree to bringing her on. It’s all quite a big mess.

THE GOOD WIFE is brilliant at balancing clusterf***s such as these, tying all of the various threads together in unexpected and compelling ways. What happens to Cary influences just about everything else, story lines already happening as well as new ones. It’s tightly written, fast-paced stuff with some truly terrific characters at the center of it.

There is a side story in “The Line,” less bonded to the Cary thread than most, in which Eli tries to convince Peter (Chris Noth) that Alicia should run for State’s Attorney, which will surely be affected by how Cary’s case plays out, though isn’t yet. Throughout the hour, Eli’s daughter, Marissa (Sarah Steele), sits near him and engages with her father. Marissa isn’t strictly necessary to the episode, but she’s very welcome because of the level of humor she brings to bear, and how her presence changes her father. Perhaps changes is the wrong word, as Eli (with newly dyed hair) is still the shark fans love. But she does get to play with him, and it makes for a more entertaining episode.

THE GOOD WIFE is an example the Big Four networks should aspire to copy and repeat, though not exactly, of course. It’s far better than the procedural junk that most crime and legal shows go for, and its television-style drama seems higher quality than the primetime soaps. It’s both entertaining and smart, meaning viewers don’t have to feel guilty about watching it. And six seasons in, it’s somehow gotten better, despite being really good before.

THE GOOD WIFE airs Sunday evenings on CBS. The air time varies each week, though, because of CBS’s inability to properly schedule football, even after many years of practice. If THE GOOD WIFE were a lesser show, I’d say ignore it, but because it is what it is, please just set your DVR for multiple hours because it’s worth it not to miss this gem. Then write or tweet CBS and tell them to get their act together.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

BLACK-ISH is Good-ish

Article first published as BLACK-ISH Review on Seat42F.

Black-Ish Cast ABC TV Show ANTHONY ANDERSON, TRACEE ELLIS ROSS, YARA SHAHIDI, MILES BROWN, LAURENCE FISHBURNE, MARCUS SCRIBNER, MARSAI MARTIN

BLACK-ISH, as the title suggests, does not shy away from racial issues. In fact, it goes right to them in the pilot, and sets them up as themes for the show as a whole. Other series have touched on what BLACK-ISH does, but I can’t recall ever seeing the debate about what makes a modern African American family true to themselves and their culture as directly as this one does on one of the Big Four networks, at least not recently. And it’s decently, though not overly, funny.

I really like Anthony Anderson (Law & Order), who plays Andre, the main character. His humor comes from his suffering, and BLACK-ISH has plenty of that. Successful at his advertising agency, Andre is excited about being promoted until he finds out that he’s heading the new Urban department and feels like he’s being used for his skin tone. At the same time, he also deals with his kids acting “too white” with their upper-middle class peers, and tries to help them remember who they are. Basically, he’s beset on all sides, fighting multiple battles by himself.

It’s pretty cool that the rest of Andre’s family doesn’t worry nearly as much about race as he does. His wife, Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross, daughter of Diana, Girlfriends), is a successful surgeon, and she’d rather concentrate on her job than perceived slights or stereotyping. His kids (The First Family’s Yara Shahidi and lesser knowns Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown, and Marsai Martin) are hilariously cute in their ignorance about the simplest things pertaining to their skin color, such as that Obama is the first black president. For children raised in this type of community at this time, race just doesn’t seem an everyday factor for them. Even Andre’s dad, Pops (Laurence Fishburne, Hannibal), who marched in the Civil Rights Movement, or so he says, though I’m not sure I believe him, doesn’t care as much as Andre does about their place in the world.

Being a white man myself, I may not understand all of the complex emotions and motivations that are part of being a black person in America these days. But I do know humor, and Anderson usually has it. The topics covered here may be touchy in certain company, but by putting something like this on TV every week as a sitcom, it will surely contribute to the breaking down of barriers. It doesn’t trivialize anything, but it gets the conversation going through an accessible medium, something important in the less-diverse-than-it-should-be network television landscape.

Unfortunately, it’s not as funny as it could and should be. As I’ve said, Anderson is good, but the material is weak-ish (hehe). BLACK-ISH has some great moments, to be sure, but there are also some weird ones. Anderson sometimes stretches just too far for a laugh, and it leaves the realm of believability. Luckily, there is heart and familial relationships to help push the show along when it lags between laughs. It could be better than it is with the ingredients it already has, and hopefully it will be.

I think the element of BLACK-ISH I like least is Rainbow. As a wife, she’s a stock character, the career woman aspect no longer being exceptional enough to rate attention, and lacking anything else to define her, at least in the first episode. Several times during the viewing, I found myself wishing Anderson’s Guys with Kids TV wife, Tempestt Bledsoe from The Cosby Show, had been cast instead. Not only did Bledsoe do something more interesting with a very similar character, but she had oodles more chemistry with Anderson. Sadly, it’s probably too late to correct that.

BLACK-ISH isn’t bad, and because it serves an important purpose, being the only current network sitcom with an all-black family, I hope it does well. The show’s take on current perceptions is sharp at times throughout. If the script could be cleaned up a bit, and often shows do improve past the pilot, it could definitely be a good addition to any DVR lineup.

BLACK-ISH premieres Wednesday, September 24th at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

SLEEPY HOLLOW Goes to "War"

Article first published SLEEPY HOLLOW Review Season 2 Episode 1 This Is War on Seat42F.

SLEEPY HOLLOW: Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison, L) and Abbie (Nicole Beharie R)

SPOILER ALERT! The following contains some spoilers, though not too much, about the upcoming season premiere. You have been warned.

FOX’s SLEEPY HOLLOW returns for its sophomore run this week with “This Is War.” Picking up a year after the events of last winter’s shocking cliffhanger, Ichabod (Tom Mison) and Abbie (Nicole Beharie) have been reunited, but they have both lost someone they loved. It’s a bittersweet pause in their war as they enjoy one another’s company before setting off on their next mission, which involves hunting down a lost key once tied to a kite by Benjamin Franklin (Timothy Busfield, The West Wing).

On one hand, “This Is War” starts off exactly how fans want it to. The bond between Ichabod and Abbie is a central element to the series, and it’s satisfying to see they both have made it out of the prisons we last view them in, Ichabod buried under the ground and Abbie in purgatory, rather than still being separated. Even learning that a couple of important characters have died in the interim is overshadowed by the image of the pair still fighting the good fight against Ichabod’s son, Henry Parrish (John Noble), and the other Horsemen.

On the other hand, though, I felt completely off balance by the start. Many people’s lives are left hanging when last SLEEPY HOLLOW aired, and it’s disconcerting to not get resolution to those threads, or learn how the main characters managed to escape their dire circumstances. It almost seems like an episode is missing, or like you skipped a stair going up to a second floor and stumbled.

Which is why, having watched as much television as I have, I was highly suspicious. It wasn’t until ten or fifteen minutes had passed before I could really settle into the story and accept the time jump had happened. I kept expecting the whole thing to be a dream or something. What eventually did make me change my mind was that the characters are so compelling and the story is written so tightly, that I just got sucked into what was going on, forgetting about lingering concerns to a certain extent.

I love SLEEPY HOLLOW, and this season premiere lives up expectations. It is smart, quick, and plenty full of action. We do eventually get to see Abbie and Ichabod escape their confinement, as they must, and while I cannot spoil the twist that shows up a little past a third of the way through, I can say the show does a good job of throwing even those who might suspect the truth early on off track enough that when the tale suddenly changes, it’s still a surprise.

The characters remain the best reason to watch. There is a truly earned fist bump in “This Is War.” We see some of the depths of Henry’s rottenness. A character known to be dead comes back for a moving scene that may be their last appearance, given other professional commitments. Abbie gets a chance to show just how perceptive she is. We see the strength of Jenny (Lyndie Greenwood). One main player is still MIA, but he’ll probably show up next week, and there’s plenty of other things happening so he isn’t missed yet. All of these combine to make a heck of a season premiere.

For those more concerned with the larger arcs, which I agree are very important, too, “This Is War” serves that. There is no doubt that the events depicted in season one are only the beginning of Molok’s (Derek Mears) plans. He has not slowed down in his quest, and things only get more dangerous for our heroes, if that’s possible. SLEEPY HOLLOW has definite direction and it is plunging forward, full speed ahead, on that path.

There are also glimmers of humor. Ichabod’s hatred for our founding father, Mr. Franklin, is not only justified, but amusing. SLEEPY HOLLOW is mostly a dark show, so to get those bits of light snuck in between bloodthirsty armies of demons is welcome.

I will be covering SLEEPY HOLLOW weekly for Seat42F this year, so join me again next week after watching the show, which airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

OUTLANDER At "The Wedding"

Article first published as OUTLANDER Review Season 1 Episode 7 The Wedding on Seat42F.

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This week’s installment of Starz’s OUTLANDER is called “The Wedding.” It begins with a parallel look at both of Claire’s (Caitriona Balfe) big days – a courthouse quickie with Frank (Tobias Menzies), and a more traditional ceremony involving Jamie (Sam Heughen). But the majority of the hour is focused on what comes immediately after the wedding, and being that the audience of OUTLANDER is made up of adults, I think we all know what that means. I’m talking about S-E-X.

Claire doesn’t fall into bed with Jamie immediately. This all happens quite quickly, and she’s still wrestling with the notion that she’s cheating on Frank. He may not be alive in this time, but he very much exists in the era Claire belongs to. Her goal is to get back to him. She doesn’t want to be spoiled when she does so, and she sees wedding Jamie as making her a bigamist.

It’s a shame Claire feels this way. Jamie is extremely earnest and sincere. Through flashback, Jamie tells Claire of the trouble he went to in arranging the perfect ceremony. Claire admits to drinking heavily in the hours leading up to the marriage. This is not a perfectly balanced couple, the affection being given in a very one-sided fashion. He gifts Claire his mother’s cherished pearls, and she gives him nothing, not even giving up Frank’s ring. Jamie is a good man and he doesn’t deserve a spouse who is not fully committed to him.

Yet, is Claire’s hesitation really her fault? She definitely cares for Jamie, and she enjoys their three love-making sessions in “The Wedding.” If she didn’t marry Frank, she’d be free to love Jamie, and it’s easy to imagine her doing so with all her heart. Her hesitance is not about Jamie himself. A night of talking and being together (and imbibing even more alcohol) is plenty enough to lower her defenses and allow her to give in to the feelings she harbors. It’s just a crappy situation.

The reason Claire goes through with “The Wedding” is to protect herself from Black Jack Randall (also Menzies), who is determined to learn her secrets, even through violent means, if necessary. Claire marries Jamie for protection, and he willingly steps forward to offer a safe haven. This does demonstrate some level of love between them, whether it’s fully sexual or not, and the wedding has to happen.

All of this begs the question, who will Claire choose: Frank and Jamie? If she has the opportunity to return to her time, will she? “The Wedding” certainly seems to indicate so. Even after coupling with Jamie, she still refuses to let go of Frank’s ring. Her gaze at both hands bearing a band does show a bit of conflict, but all of Claire’s actions in OUTLANDER point to her going back to Frank. This will mean abandoning Jamie and hurting him deeply.

Might there be a time when Claire’s allegiances shift? Will she stay in the past long enough to get to a point where she values Jamie ahead of Frank? I haven’t read the books, so have no prior knowledge of what’s to come. But it seems to me that, given time, she might not want to go home so desperately, though that time is not now.

Marrying Jamie does make Claire more valuable and accepted by the other Scots. We see several of them make efforts to prove their loyalty to her, and while they may be acting because of what Jamie means to them, it’s clear this community now extends to Claire as well. Nothing else she has done up to this point will ingrain her in with the MacKenzies as much as marrying Jamie does.

Dougal (Graham McTavish) remains the enigma, though. He seems sort of happy for the bride and groom, offering Jamie uncle-ly advice. But he makes a serious pass at Claire later. The drunken assault a few weeks ago is clearly not a one-time thing, and Dougal harbors some sort of attraction towards Claire. Since Claire keeps shutting down his advances, will he give up, or will he go to a darker place to get what he wants, which seems to be Claire’s body?

Fans of the romance element of OUTLANDER, and it’s a major part of the show, will surely love “The Wedding” because there is lots of sex and some real intimacy between Jamie and Claire. Fans of character development should also be happy with this entry. People who watch for the action or the time travel might be disappointed, but those are lesser things as far as OUTLANDER is concerned, so this week serves the majority of the viewership pretty well.

Only one episode left before the hiatus! OUTLANDER’s mid-season finale airs next Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.

"Time" For Better DOCTOR WHO

Article first published as TV Review: 'Doctor Who' - "Time Heist" on Blogcritics.

You may not have seen the latest Doctor Who episode, “Time Heist,” before it aired for the first time this weekend, but it sure feels like it’s a repeat! The plot is quite similar to other shows or films. The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) answer a mysterious phone call to the TARDIS, then wake up in a room with two other individuals, clueless about how they got there and why they’ve gathered. Before they’ve begun to digest their situation, though, law enforcement is upon them and they have no choice but to complete a mission given to them: break into the most secure bank in the universe.

It isn’t completely unbelievable that The Doctor and Clara would go along with the scenario, but it’s also not the most sensible thing, either. They both love adventure, and are liable to jump headlong into the unknown. They hear their own voices saying that their memories have been wiped at their own, freely-made choice, with the worms that erased the past hours or days sitting right in front of them. Being pursued, perhaps the only way to move is keep going forward. Yet, I question how not-suspicious the duo are in their participation.

If one can set that aside, “Time Heist” is not a bad episode, at least not for the action fans. It’s certainly fast-paced and quite a lot happens. It features our heroes running through tunnels pursued by dangerous enemies. There are mysteries and strange looking creatures. Viewers are transported to an alien world that feels very different from earth. These are all good things to have in a Doctor Who episode.

I also like the guest stars in “Time Heist” who play different variations on the human being. Psi (Jonathan Bailey, Broadchurch, Leonardo) has computer hardware embedded in his skull, allowing him to access his brain like a machine. However, he misses what’s been erased and wishes he could recover it. Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner, The Smoke) has a genetic mutation that makes her look like whomever she touches, making it impossible for anyone to get too close to her, as people don’t tend to trust someone who is staring back at them with their own eyes. This Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman, along for the adventure to get their brain and heart back, respectively, are interesting characters in their own right, and open up all kinds of ripe possibilities for the future of mankind, which I hope Doctor Who explores further someday, rather than just dropping the passing references to them it usually does.

The Teller (Ross Mullan, Bear Behaving Badly) is less well developed, but is a pretty cool looking alien.

But the way “Time Heist” skates over all of these things feels too quick. It’s like the writers only care about getting to the end of the hour with adrenaline still rushing, rather than exploring the potential of the story. From The Doctor’s callous reaction to Saibra and Psi’s deaths, an echo of his behavior in other recent episodes, but still not mulled over enough, to the incomplete explanation of how The Doctor and the central antagonist (Keeley Hawes, The Bank Job, Ashes to Ashes) set the whole thing up, something about the hour just doesn’t feel quite right. It’s an incomplete portrait, sketched in, but never fully realized.

“Time Heist” is not the worst episode of Doctor Who Season Eight so far; that distinction belongs to “Robot of Sherwood.” But it is the second-worst in my opinion, and with two such mediocre, uneven entries this early into the season, the year is not shaping up to be among Doctor Who‘s best. Hopefully, future weeks will salvage this and give us more stories along the lines of last week’s brilliant “Listen,” rather than another one like this, which isn’t bad, but isn’t great either.

Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

Monday, September 22, 2014

YOU'RE THE WORST Is About "Fists and Feet and Stuff"


‘You’re the Worst’ Season Finale Review

Article first published as 'You're the Worst' Season Finale Review on Blogcritics.


FX’s You’re the Worst stars the best four-man comedy team since Seinfeld went off the air. This week’s first season finale, “Fists and Feet and Stuff,” picks up not long after the group had imploded two weeks earlier (last week was mostly flashback), all four of them separate and alone and miserable. It is inevitable that they must come back together, as they all belong together, but the question is how it will happen and what their quartet will ultimately look like.

Becca (Janet Varney) and Vernon (Todd Robert Anderson) throw a party, the vehicle for the reunion. It’s funny that they are the two doing so because they sure want to be included in something, but aren’t a part of the main ensemble in You’re the Worst, nor does it look like they have a core gang of pals. Their wedding is also the setting of the pilot, the place our romantic leads, Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash), first meet, so there’s a beautiful symmetry in bringing us back to the kooky, recurring players now.

As viewers may remember, Gretchen breaks up with Jimmy because she finds an engagement ring in his drawer. She is terrified of commitment, and they haven’t been dating that long. She doesn’t feel like she knows Jimmy very well, and she probably doesn’t, though the audience won’t expect Jimmy to make such a gesture, and as one might surmise, it’s actually left over from when Jimmy dated Becca. But while the catalyst for the split may not be anything new, their relationship is a fresh take on the romantic comedy, so they must reunite.

The other two leads, Edgar (Desmin Borges) and Lindsay (Kether Donohue), are also in a bad place. Lindsay has found her sex addiction again, causing her to cheat on her boring husband, Paul (Allan McLeod), and Edgar, despite getting a job, is living in his car. Neither Edgar nor Lindsay are happy with Jimmy and Gretchen, respectively, so it’s all quite a big mess, that of course comes to a head with fisticuffs and secrets coming out and chaos.

At the end of the climax, most of the party-goers leave disgusted not only with the hosts, but also with our central foursome. That’s OK. At least three of them are the worst, as the title indicates, Edgar excepted. But while they may not be right for society at large, they are right for each other. That’s not say they treat one another the way they deserve be treated, but there is love there, and at the end of the day, they will each overcome their failings in order to make things right with their friends. This group can never be apart for long.

One wonders if Lindsay and Paul might reunite. She dumps on him for so long that he’s fully justified in calling things off. But Lindsay has never been good at letting go of things, even those she doesn’t really want in the first place. I could see You’re the Worst trying to get them back together, and I sort of hope this happens. “Fists and Feet and Stuff” dangles the possibility of a Lindsay / Edgar hook up instead, but I don’t think either character is anywhere near ready for that, a possibility best preserved until Jimmy and Gretchen work their stuff out first.

As the episode winds down, Gretchen turns down Jimmy’s offer to live together, only to be forced to take him up on it after burning her apartment down. This isn’t exactly the way things are supposed to happen, but it seems right for the two, an unconventional pair if ever there was one. Would it have taken something on the level of a fire to get them to ever move forward? Might one argue that Gretchen subconsciously started the flame in order to push herself along? One may never know, but it doesn’t matter. The last shot, their faces full of dread as the fantastic theme song starts up again, is ripe with promise. What matters is we get to see them take this messed up relationship to a whole new level, assuming the series is renewed, which I sure hope happens.

You’re the Worst is excellent from start to finish, without a single bad episode in the ten-week run. It is funny and smart and fresh, each half hour providing rich characters and new twists on classic situations. It’s hard to do the rom-com in any way that doesn’t seem tired these days, unless it just oozes charm and cheese, but You’re the Worst manages it. It may be called You’re the Worst, but it’s kind of the best.

Go Ahead and Squash SCORPION

Article first published as SCORPION Review on Seat42F.

Scorpion Cast CBS

CBS’s new drama SCORPION is labeled as ‘inspired by a true story.’ It tells the tale of Walter O’Brien (Elyes Gabel, Game of Thrones), a genius who was recruited by the government at a young age because of his superior hacking skills, then felt burned when they misused what he developed for them. Now, as an adult leading a group of social outcasts like himself, though each has their unique strengths, Walter is sucked back into the agency he abandoned.

SCORPION’s pilot is extremely entertaining, to say the least. The pacing is fast, the stakes are higher, and action sequences pump up the adrenaline. The characters are all fun and likeable, with a dynamic that is enticing and contains many amusing quirks. Lives are at stake, but as one might expect, the heroes will surely win the day. I would dare anyone to watch this initial hour and not enjoy it.

That being said, the pilot is riddled with holes. How many times can characters stop to talk as the clock ticks down? There are action pauses that don’t make sense, too. Why is Walter the only one who can fix LAX’s computer system when they surely have an IT staff? Why does it take someone with an IQ pushing 200 to think of rolling back a software update that doesn’t work? That’s troubleshooting 101! And don’t even get me started about the big airplane scene.

Which makes this basically summer, popcorn-style fluff. But it’s not airing during the summer; it’s attempting to be a regular-season weekly show that will pump out twenty-some episodes a year. With the current formula, that will get old pretty quick.

The acting is decent. SCORPION has put together a capable cast, a feat dozens of other crime shows have done, too, though this group may be just a bit better. This includes: Robert Patrick (True Blood) as Agent Gallo, the law enforcement representative who shares a past with Walter; Katharine McPhee (Smash) as the hot waitress, Paige, with the genius son who makes a connection with the usually anti-social Walter; Eddie Kaye Thomas (American Pie) as charmer Toby; Ari Stidham (Huge) as anal-retentive Sylvester; and Jadyn Wong (Being Erica) as Happy, who considers herself the ‘normal’ one of the group. I assume Paige’s son, who isn’t listed among the principal cast, isn’t important, though he should be if the series wants character development.

The ‘hook’ about the intelligence level of most of the characters is simply a gimmick. Without that, this is pretty much the same series as Bones, NCIS, The Mentalist, and plenty of others, lacking anything original. What this means is talent is being wasted on a repetitive procedural, though that seems to be CBS’s favorite kind of show, perhaps because of the large ratings the lucky ones garner, a phenomena I do not understand when so much higher-quality fare is readily available.

Now, SCORPION could be very good. I still watch Bones as my one allowed example of this type of series because the cast is so damn delightful that I can’t resist them. SCORPION actually has the potential to replace Bones for me when it goes off the air, presumably soon, if it fixes its writing. I like the characters, the tone, and the pacing. I just hope it allows itself to evolve and build upon its best parts. Even better would be if it goes serial, ditching the case-of-the-week stuff, but I think that’s probably too much to hope for.

Despite its flaws, I like SCORPION, which is not something I can say about all of its peers. Given time, it may grow into something worth watching, though it will never be the cream of the crop. It’s just not very watchable yet.

SCORPION airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.

Take a SELFIE

Article first published as SELFIE Review on Seat42F.

JOHN CHO, KAREN GILLAN SELFIE

ABC’s SELFIE is equal parts straight-up remake of My Fair Lady and a commentary on the current social media landscape. It is the story of a mess of a girl, obsessed with her online followers and ‘friends,’ and an uptight guy who wants to show her how to be what he deems ‘a real person.’ The two clash in predictable ways, and one assumes that eventually both will learn much from the other, whether they become romantically entangled or not (my money is on the former).

Karen Gillian (Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy, NTSF:SD:SUV) plays Eliza Dooley, the lead female at the center of SELFIE. Although from the UK, the actress takes an affected valley girl-esque accent that is super annoying at the start, though surely not the character’s real voice. Gillian is terrific with line delivery and sincerity, eliciting glimmers of sympathy for a person that should not be at all likeable, especially when you feel her pain and see the origin of her persona. While Eliza is awful in most of the pilot, she will grow into someone viewers can get behind, and has already started to do so.

John Cho (Sleepy Hollow, Harold & Kumar, American Pie) matches Gillian beat for beat as stuffy Henry, who takes on the task of remaking Eliza. He is successful and smart, but too judgmental to be truly likeable, either, even if he’s quite a bit more ‘normal’ than Eliza. He’s almost a bully to her at times, and one can tell that his obsession with fixing her is much more about the satisfying challenge it presents to him than helping the girl herself. In this way, Henry and Eliza are near-equals in the growth they need to undergo, and more similar than is immediately obvious.

The lead actors are terrific. The pilot is plagued by an uneven script, but they sell their parts, making sure the characters seem complex even if the language coming out of their mouths isn’t clever. They have immediate chemistry that seems fresh, and they are primarily the reason I plan to set a season pass for SELFIE, as surely it will improve over time.

Not that the pilot is bad. The opening is gross and a huge turn off, but as the story unfolds, it gets better and better. As a fan of the Audrey Hepburn / Rex Harrison film that is quite similar, I think the writers do a decent job of not only retelling the tale, but updating it for the modern age. It’s an interesting spin on an old classic.

The social commentary presented in the series is a reason to watch. Everyone knows at least one person that will remind them of Eliza, even if Eliza is exaggerated to nearly cartoonish proportions. We have become a people obsessed with being online, and Eliza could be the fate of many a girl in the next generation, those who grow up with devices in their hands at all times. Henry isn’t the best spokesman for the opposition, but his lambasting of Eliza’s habits speak to those who wish to keep human contact alive, and hopefully, while the internet is certainly not a trend, our ignorance of everyday life in favor of it will be. Having Eliza and Henry work at a pharmaceutical company is also ripe with as-yet-unexplored satirical possibilities.

SELFIE is buoyed by an excellent supporting cast which includes Da’Vine Joy Randolph (The Angriest Man in Brooklyn) as cheerful receptionist Charmonique, David Harewood (Homeland) as eccentric boss Sam, and Allyn Rachel (Weeds) as Eliza’s nerdy neighbor, Bryn. Each helps with the humor of the piece, and has moments to shine in the first episode, being well used.

This show is also genuinely funny. From instrumental jokes to sassy one-liners to a rhyming rap, it exudes a charm that will amuse many. I laughed out loud a few times, even on my second viewing, and may very well tune in again on premiere night.

Overall, SELFIE isn’t the best new sitcom of the season, but its cast and premise gives it a lot of potential that is barely scratched in the first installment. I have confidence that it will hew to its strengths, minimizing the elements that grate, as it goes on. For that reason, I recommend tuning in when SELFIE premieres Tuesday, September 30th at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Time to Get MARRIED

Article first published as 'Married' Season Finale Review on Blogcritics.

Married FXFX’s Married brings its freshman season to a close with “Family Day.” Everyone goes to visit AJ (Brett Gelman) in rehab for Family Day, where he is supposed to apologize for how he has wronged them. Instead, things devolve into a five-way bicker fest as the various adults who make up the cast begin taking out their frustrations with their own lives on those around them. Luckily, the venting actually helps them release their tension and get on track for a happy ending.

I have to be honest, I tolerated Married more than I enjoyed it for most of this season. FX is a terrific network, and Married is paired with the absolutely fantastic You’re the Worst, so I almost watched it out of reflex or default than any actual desire. Plus, I find it much more difficult to give up a half hour series than an hour-long one, as it just didn’t seem like a big commitment to stick with it through its ten episodes. But it’s depressing as hell and makes the viewer feel bad about themselves, so it’s much harder to get into than other fare. It can be barely be called a comedy.

Somewhere along the way, it slowly grew on me, though. It’s not that my marriage is anywhere near as bad as the one at the center of the series; I’m not beaten down. But there’s both a slight satisfaction in seeing a couple worse off than you, and the optimism sparked in select moments that prove even a seemingly-terrible union can still work, that makes Married eventually attractive.

The more I watch Married, the more I’m convinced that Russ (Nat Faxon) and Lina (Judy Greer) are actually much better off than they appear to be. They are in a very rough patch in their lives, struggling financially and stressed out because of their three young children. Russ wants his old life back, and so does Lina, but she’s the more responsible of the pair, soldiering on under the current circumstances, whereas Russ look for tiny outs, and frequently takes them. Because of the misery of dealing with these factors, they work out their anger on one another far too often, and that’s what makes them look like they’re falling apart. But every once in awhile, we get a glimmer of what brought them together in the first place, and it sure feels like that they’ll get back to that happiness once these outside influences are dealt with and go away.

Because of this, I’ve become very fond of the characters. Faxon and Greer are great, as they have been in other projects, and they do an authentic job of developing two characters that are more realistic and complex than most on television. They make themselves sympathetic, even when you’re understanding why their spouse is ticked at them. They’re real people, in look and in action, and that sells the show.

The supporting cast of Married is much the same. Jess (Jenny Slate) and Shep (Paul Reiser) have complications in their own marriage for entirely different reasons, Jess almost trying to escape motherhood. “Family Day” is probably the most we’ve seen of them relating to one another, but while it’s not obvious, they are in a similar boat as Russ and Lina. AJ is mourning the loss of his wife, and he acts out because he wants back what his friends have. Even recurring Bernie (John Hodgman) shows off some good development in the season finale.

Funnily enough, the final scene of “Family Day” is the lightest of the season. After ten weeks of rough stuff, there’s a cookout and everyone is in good spirits. They talk about death, sure, but it’s in a joking manner. Married finally finds it’s heart, and because it waits so long to do so, it’s a well-earned pay-off.

When next season rolls around, I won’t be recording Married just for the heck of it. I will be eagerly anticipating the return of a series that I really like and is very well made. Assuming it’s renewed, of course, which sadly has not happened yet.

TV is FOREVER Making Procedurals (but this one's good!)

Article first published as FOREVER Review on Seat42F.

Forever Ioan Gruffudd ABC

Make no mistake about it; ABC’s new drama FOREVER is a crime-of-the-week procedural. Those of you who regularly read my reviews will now expect a scathing tear-down of the show. Yet, for some reason, I absolutely love it, or at least, I love the pilot. I expect I’ll probably turn on FOREVER at some point in its freshman season, as many episodes are likely to feel repetitive. However, it sucks me in with terrific characters and an extremely intriguing premise that I really want to know more about.

On the surface, FOREVER could be seen as Castle: Immortal Style. It features a very intelligent, charming non-law enforcement investigator, Dr. Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd, Ringer, Fantastic Four), who begins helping out a tough, independent, smart, at-times-annoyed-by-him female detective, Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza, Do No Harm, Law & Order). The hook is not that Henry is a writer; he’s an immortal that wakes up naked in the water every time he is killed. And it sure seems like he’s been killed a lot.

Now, Henry is a medical examiner, the type of man who looks at dead bodies and determines their cause of death. This makes him a little more relevant and his involvement a little more appropriate than his counterpart on sister show Castle, which airs on the same network. But I doubt many medical examiners are usually out walking the beat and hunting for clues. The ones shown in other TV shows are usually small, recurring parts, other than in Body of Proof, which is a unique case.

There is a third player who is equally important to the mix, Henry’s friend Abe (Judd Hirsch, Taxi, Numb3rs). The only person Henry has entrusted with his secret, they obviously have been close for a very long time. Abe encourages Henry to help the pretty Jo and tries to get him to engage in life, something Henry has struggled with since the death of his wife. Might now be the time and the place Henry will come out of his shell? Of course it is. Otherwise, there’d be no television show.

When considering why FOREVER stands out above the pack, this central trio, especially the two men, as Jo’s character is pretty stock at this point, are more interesting and colorful than in other programs. Henry has the brains of Sherlock Holmes, but is more centered and calm, having learned much through hard-won experience over hundreds of years. Abe’s role is a bit more murky, but who doesn’t love Hirsch? He brings to the table an engaging personality.

The larger arcs, Henry’s origin and a guy who keeps calling threatening to expose the secret, are dealt with in the first episode, quickly establishing there will be an ongoing story in addition to the procedural. It may just be because this is a pilot, but FOREVER seems to give almost as much weight to this as it does to the weekly case, which makes the hour go down better.

There’s also a heck of a twist at the end that I cannot spoil, and I’m surprised at how surprised I was to see it. But it’s very cool, and I cannot wait for the implications of it to be explored.

The supporting cast includes Joel David Moore (Bones, Avatar), Donnie Keshawarz (The Wolf of Wall Street), and Lorraine Toussaint (Orange Is the New Black). Each plays a co-worker of one of the two leads, and none really stand out much in the initial installment. But that’s par for this type of show. At least they’ve cast people who can handle better material, should it be given to them.

There are a great many crime shows on television, and there are very few I pay attention to, pretty much just Bones, Castle, and Elementary. Somehow, FOREVER seems at least on par with those, a couple of notches better than the Law & Order or NCIS franchises. It strikes a balance between the standardized format and something interesting, and as long as it keeps serious weight on the latter, it could be a show worth watching.

FOREVER premieres Tuesday, September 23rd at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

GOTHAM Still Gotham Without Batman

Article first published as GOTHAM Review on Seat42F.

Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue Gotham

FOX’s GOTHAM is one of the most anticipated new shows of the fall. Beginning with the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, the series follows young, noble detective James Gordon as he encounters the low-lives of the troubled titular town, including many who will become Batman’s greatest foes. What’s not to like in that premise?

DC has long been lagging behind Marvel in its quest to bring the superheroes of its comics to the screen. While Marvel began with some terrific movies, and is now branching out into pretty good shows, DC mostly successfully exists these past couple of decades on the small screen. The thing that strikes me about GOTHAM right off the bat is that it is similar in tone to other properties from this comic book company, and is at least as good as peers Smallville and Arrow.

GOTHAM is highly stylized, with lots of shadows and dark colors, which fits the character of the metropolis at the moment, a city being choked by organized crime and political corruption. If there is any doubt about how grim the show will be, it is immediately erased with the very first scene. This is appropriate, though, and matches other Batman stories before it.

Whatever else GOTHAM may be, it is a Batman story. While the main character may be Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie, Southland), young, orphaned Bruce (David Mazouz, Touch) and his butler, Alfred (Sean Pertwee, Elementary), are main characters, as well. The fact that so many of Batman’s recognizable antagonists, such as Oswald Cobblepot, a.k.a. The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor, Accepted), Edward Nygma, a.k.a. The Riddler (Cory Michael Smith, Dog Food), and a teenage Selina Kyla, a.k.a. Catwoman (Camren Bicondova, Battlefield America), are also among the stars makes it feel more like a part of that same franchise. Even a young Ivy Pepper (Clare Foley, Sinister), who will become Poison Ivy, puts in an appearance in the pilot. We may not get the Caped Crusader directly, but we’re definitely in his world.

That may make GOTHAM sound like it has a huge cast, and I’ve not even named half of the principals yet. One thing the series does well is balance all the various personalities and threads. Everyone seems connected somehow, and enough screen time is given to each to set them apart and help the audience define them. Obviously, some are more central than others for now, but the writers have done a terrific job crafting this large game board and the various pieces upon it.

Now, GOTHAM has non-traditional Batman elements. Gordon and his partner, the grizzled Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue, Vikings, Terriers), see the city from a perspective that our hero does not. They are on the ground, in the trenches, not lurking above it. They interact with others as normal people do, more or less, whereas young Bruce almost seems alien in his mannerisms, definitely the type of loner who will never fit into society quite right, though who can blame him after what he sees? Thus, perhaps Gordon is a little more relatable a protagonist, even though his courage and resolution not only set him apart from those around him, but make him a typical TV hero.

Besides Gordon’s familiarity, the other weaknesses GOTHAM faces are the dialogue and the main villain. The first half of the pilot has some extremely cringe-worthy lines, and when introducing each new face, the production hits the nail way too on the head in telegraphing who they will be known as. The primary bad guy Gordon runs up against, Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith, Hawthorne), is stylish, but lacks teeth, under the thumb of the more seemingly-reasonable Carmine Falcone (John Doman, The Wire). Both of these things feel very comic book-like, not in the best of ways, and keep the quality at a lower level than, say, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Still, overall, I enjoyed GOTHAM. There’s an intriguing story here, and it’s definitely a different take on the tale. I especially enjoyed the twist of who else, besides Bruce, witnesses the murders. By not tackling Batman head-on, GOTHAM avoids the comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, which can only help it, and it’s good enough to rank one of the major networks to carry it, raising DC’s profile more than another CW venture will. Working out a few of the gripes mentioned above, this could quickly become a must-see adventure; it’s not too far from getting it right.

GOTHAM premieres Monday, September 22nd on FOX.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Children Will "Listen" To DOCTOR WHO

Article first published as 'Doctor Who' TV Review - 'Listen' on Blogcritics.

Peter Capaldi in Doctor WhoThis week’s installment of the BBC’s Doctor Who is titled “Listen.” The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) has a theory that something lurks in the dark, the universe’s perfect race of hiders. Embarking on a quest with Clara (Jenna Coleman) to find them, the two are confronted with the pasts of a couple of individuals, including Clara’s new beau, Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). But they never quite find out whether The Doctor is right.

“Listen” is probably the scariest Doctor Who episode since “Blink,” which introduced us to the Weeping Angels. Written by series creator Steven Moffat, it ruminates on what lurks just beneath everyone’s notice, making this creature-of-the-week hit home. The story The Doctor tells, of a dream featuring something under the bed, is something every person watching can relate to. When Moffat brings the terror right into our own bedrooms, it evokes a primal fear that lands in a way fighting monsters in space and on alien worlds just doesn’t do.

It’s also one of the best stand-alone episodes in recent memory. I use them ‘stand-alone’ label loosely because there are a lot of connections to other Doctor Who episodes and continuity within the hour. But it can be enjoyed without knowing all that other stuff, as a story unto itself. Personally, I prefer large arcs and serial tales over case-of-the-week stuff, but it’s hard to argue with quality as strong as “Listen” exhibits, and if Doctor Who should become completely procedural with every installment on par with this one, I would still count myself a loyal fan and viewer.

The way the threads of “Listen” are worked together is nothing short of brilliant. There are lots of aspects, Clara on her first date with Danny, The Doctor and Clara visiting Danny as a boy (Remi Gooding), The Doctor and Clara meeting Danny’s grandson, Orson Pink (also played by Anderson), at the end of the universe, Clara calming The Doctor as a child, but they all tie together well, even without the monster. “Listen” crafts a cohesive vision of these three players and their interactions, setting up Danny to play a larger role this season, and cementing Clara’s place as The Doctor’s most important companion ever.

I admit, I do not like Clara all that much, my least favorite companion since Martha Jones. However, there is no denying that she is vital to the entire lifetime of The Doctor, not just the current and previous incarnations. She has traveled through time and encountered all his versions. She now is shown to have influenced him before he really becomes a Time Lord, saying words to him that will be (were?) echoed by the First Doctor near the start of the series. When she eventually leaves The Doctor’s side, it will be the end of a huge era, even if she doesn’t stay much longer, and no one else is likely to fill those kind of shoes anytime soon.

I’m guessing the seeds for Clara’s departure are already being planted. Doctor Who pushes her towards Danny quite strongly this week. Their date is disastrous, yet they keep coming back together. She has an instant bond with both the young version of him and his grandson, who seems to be holding something back from her. Might Clara soon be staying with Danny and becoming Orson’s grandmother? I don’t think she and Danny could have kept coming back together, much as they were screwing up their conversation, if they didn’t have a very solid, unspeakable bond. Not all of The Doctor’s companions have left on such peaceful, happy terms of late, and I think it’s time one did. Clara has served well on the battlefield, and it might be time to take an early retirement.

The Doctor himself is examined this week. We know he doesn’t travel well alone, and his obsession with the ‘thing in the dark’ is an illustration of that. This is what he’s up to when no one else is around. It’s a weakness and a vulnerability that make the Time Lord all the more relatable and human. In his dire hour, we see his mettle and how important his companions are to him. They allow him to get past the fear and persistently looming insanity and do the good things that he does.

I am slightly disappointed that we don’t find out about the creature. Surely it’s real, given the scenes with the young Danny Pink. Yet, later, when Clara talks to the boy Doctor, it seems like it’s not. I could have used just a bit more clarification here, but the fact that Doctor Who doesn’t answer those questions only leaves the menace the monster poses greater and more relevant, scary in its lack of explanation.

The one unnecessary thing in “Listen” may be the glimpse of the War Doctor (John Hurt) returning to the barn where Clara meets the boy Doctor. Yet, that moment will surely make fans happy, providing even more connection to past events and faces.

“Listen” is an excellent script with as-usual compelling performances by the show’s leads. It’s a fine addition to the favorite Doctor Who episodes list, and one not soon forgotten.

Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

‘Grey’s Anatomy – The Complete Tenth Season’ DVD Review

Article first published as ‘Grey’s Anatomy – The Complete Tenth Season’ DVD Review on Blogcritics.

Grey's AnatomyABC’s Grey’s Anatomy is one of those rare shows that somehow manages to only get better with age. It constantly reinvents itself, allowing for dynamic characters, and a slowly rotating cast. Those who were fresh-faced interns at the start, are now wizened veterans ten years later; others have moved on. New blood enters, but the series keeps focus on the long-time players, too. That’s why I’m happy that The Complete Tenth Season, which collects last year’s 24 installments, is now available to rewatch on DVD.

Season 10 begins in the aftermath of the previous year’s cliffhanger with an intense two-parter, which includes a notable death. But it also begins with life as Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) has just given birth. Grey’s always seems to force you take the good with the bad. There’s a split between Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw). Shane (Gaius Charles) feels responsible for his friend’s death, but there’s also relief in the knowledge that Richard (James Pickens Jr.) has survived, and Cristina (Sandra Oh) and Owen (Kevin McKidd) come back together, even if only temporarily.

Grey’s Anatomy is, first and foremost, a melodrama, occasionally stretching believability from time to time. But it’s the  actors bring authenticity to their roles, creating characters with whom we empathize. We root for them and cry for them. This keeps the series “must-see.” Is it soapy? Sure. However, it’s also consistently compelling, and it stays out of the realm of cheese, at least most of the time.

During the season ten journey, a lot happens. Arizona leaves Callie early on, but their coupling is far from over, and the two work through many obstacles as they try to recover what they once had–before a plane crash left it hard for them to connect as they once had. Meredith also faces marital woes, struggling with Derek (Patrick Dempsey) for control of her career. They are parents now, and there is only so much time in the day to work when children must be taken care of, meaning one of them needs to sacrifice professional goals. At the same time, Alex (Justin Chambers) is beginning a relationship with Jo (Camilla Luddington) and Cristina and Owen wonder if they can get past their opposing desires about children. Richard eventually recovers from his accident, Avery (Jesse Williams) makes one last play for soon-to-be-married April (Sarah Drew), and Bailey (Chandra Wilson) searches for joy in research.

The dynamic of peers being in charge gets stronger. In season nine, a group of doctors take over the hospital. In season ten, they learn what that means, trying to find money to fix things and fund projects. This is a little more difficult for these people than performing surgery, and it’s fun to see them out of their element. Yet, it still seems like a good idea to add this other layer to the show, giving us a view of yet another side of what makes a hospital tick.

Sadly, this is also Cristina Yang’s last year. The writers give her a big sendoff with a large story arc, getting her to the place where she can walk away from Grey Sloan Memorial at peace, and soar beyond what she could accomplish in their small pond. By the season finale, fans will be in tears to see her go, but happy for where she has ended up.

The departure of this pivotal original cast member is at the center of the DVD set’s longest special feature, a 25-minute retrospective as Sandra Oh chats with cast members and crew, recollecting pivotal moments for her character. It’ll make you cry almost as much as the final episode does, and is worth a watch. A shorter featurette, “Medical Medical,” isn’t anything new; it’s a featurette about how the show deals with medical jargon, but it’s light and enjoyable. The release also includes an extended episode, a blooper reel, and quite a few deleted scenes–a nice package of extras.

My only complaint is that as of this writing, the release is not available in Blu-ray. It looks so much better when it airs in HD than this DVD version can provide. Hopefully, Blu is on the near horizon for Grey’s.

Grey’s Anatomy – The Complete Tenth Season is available now.