Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

HUMANS Far From Obsolete

Article first published as HUMANS Review on Seat42F.

Humans AMC




Get ready for HUMANS, premiering soon on AMC. It is the story of a group of people who live in a world very much like ours, except that there has been heavy investment in android technology and Synths (synthetic humans) are now readily available to buy. They can be your friend, do your chores, serve as sex workers, and a variety of other things. But are they really as inhuman as they are purported to be, and are we close to The Singularity, in which mankind will no longer be needed?


I’d say AMC has done it again with HUMANS, but this series is not really made by AMC. Based on a Swedish drama whose title translates as Real Humans, HUMANS was created by Channel 4 (a UK company) and Xbox. When Xbox closed their production studios, then AMC got involved, so I don’t know how much of a hand the American network had in making this program.

Whoever made it, though, it’s fantastic, and will fit in just fine with AMC’s unique, high-quality brand. Set in London, the series unfurls a vast, complex tapestry of humans and Synths. There’s the Hawkins family, who bring home Anita (Gemma Chan, Secret Diary of a Call Girl) to help with the housework, but she might instead be what ends the marriage of Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill, Mr. Selfridge) and Laura (Katherine Parkinson, The IT Crowd). There’s George Millican (William Hurt, Damages), who thinks of his Synth, Odi (Will Tudor, Game of Thrones), as a son, one who can supply memories of his deceased wife. There’s Leo (Colin Morgan, Merlin), who tries to protect a group of self-aware Synths, and Professor Hobb (Danny Webb, Locke), who tries to protect us against The Singularity.

That is not close to a complete list of the cast. A large number of players come in and out of HUMANS, presenting a variety of stories. It gives us an overview of the world the story takes place in, but because of some absolutely brilliant acting and writing, the personal tales still get told in those short scenes, and the cast is easy to keep track of. There is some seriously moving work going on here, providing many entries through which viewers can be sucked in.

There are also a wide variety of social issues being explored. I’ve mentioned The Singularity, which is a theory put forth in the 1950s, and is a real concern in a world such as that which HUMANS takes place in. Laura worries about what it will do to her kids to have a Synth they can treat as a slave, making them cold towards others or not knowing how to take care of themselves. Mattie Hawkins (Lucy Carless) wonders if there’s any point in trying in life when most jobs, even that of, say, a brain surgeon, will soon be filled by Synths. Leo and George make us consider if we should have more respect for the things we create, and where the line is between man and machine.

The weird thing about HUMANS for me is that it’s supposed to be in the present day, with the androids being the lone major difference between this world and ours. Yes, many Americans are frightened of such technology and so may resist adoption of it, but a place like Japan is not, and they are nowhere close to this type of Synth. I’d love for such a product to be available in my lifetime, personally, but it doesn’t look close. It might have been better to place it further in the future, with other advances. As it is, the promise of what HUMANS has to offer teases, showing us something many of us want in such a way that it feels like we should be able to have it, but we can’t.

I guess that’s also a testament to just how real HUMANS feels, too. Because of the rich characters and the complex questions the series poses, it feels completely authentic to me. The special effects are great and the structure is well thought out. I can’t wait to view the other seven episodes of its first season, and hope this is a program that runs for many, many years, as there are a whole lot of possibilities to explore here and the writers seem wise enough to know what those are.

HUMANS premieres Sunday, June 28th at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Thank You Very Much, MR. ROBOT

Article originally published as MR. ROBOT Review on Seat42F.

Mr. Robot USA Network




USA’s latest series is MR. ROBOT, a conspiracy theory tale of the digital age. In a world where corporations can gobble up holdings, the rich at the top acquiring more and more wealth and control on a global scale, it’s hard to gauge the true range of the threat or mount a defense against it. Who stands up for the average person, unaware of their life being bought and sold out from under them, and without the tools to fight back? Why, MR. ROBOT, that’s who. Maybe.


The first hour begins by introducing us to Elliot (Rami Malek, The Pacific, Night at the Museum). He is not the title character, but he is the most important. Antisocial and not used to expressing himself, MR. ROBOT uses voice over a lot to have Elliot tell the viewer what he’s thinking. It’s an effective tool, really taking us into his head and letting events unfold from his perspective.

Elliot works for a company he dubs Evil Corp, which hilariously is what it is referred to by every other player and even signage because Elliot says he has adjusted his head to always think of it that way. Elliot doesn’t want to serve The Man, but he’s there for his best friend, Angela (Portia Doubleday, Mr. Sunshine). To ease his conscience, since he’s protecting the bad guys all day with his super cyber security skills, he moonlights as a vigilante, taking down one scumbag at a time.

Enter Mr. Robot (Christian Slater, Breaking In, Archer, etc.). Mr. Robot is a mysterious, smooth man who offers Elliot the chance to bring down the villain from the inside. In Elliot, Mr. Robot has found the perfect tool to accomplish his mission, and he seems to offer Elliot the perfect way to right the wrongs of the world.

But is Mr. Robot whom he says he is? Because the show is told purely through Elliot’s eyes, we only see what he sees, and Elliot’s impressions are skewed. Mr. Robot can certainly talk a good game, and the way he plays Elliot’s recruitment is with superb talent. But how much do we really know about him? His work is only hinted at, and while he has a cool lair and a delightfully abrasive sidekick, Darlene (Carly Chaikin, Suburgatory), is what he is offering genuine?

On the other hand, the face of the villains, Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom, Simple Simon), is as obviously slimy as Mr. Robot is cool. He is exactly the type of guy you would think heads up Evil Corp, and he is smart enough to be a fitting foe for our bold but naïve hero. Is this reality or just Elliot’s imaginative way of sorting the world?

Because MR. ROBOT lives in the world of conspiracies, there are bound to be many, many twists. With Elliot’s specific and unreliable guidance, the viewer is immersed in an individual, and subject to the limitations of such as well, which makes for an unpredictable ride.

I LOVE the MR. ROBOT pilot. It has the huge, almost mythological, arcs and a hero’s journey, coupled with a somewhat unique and very modern sensibility. The tone is incredibly consistent, the main character is much easier to relate to than one would think such a person would be because of the incredibly detailed way in which he is written and performed, and the story sucks you right in. It’s exciting, it’s entertaining, it’s smart, and it’s far from business as usual in the television landscape.

Will MR. ROBOT find an audience? I don’t know. It is offbeat and weird enough that it can’t possibly appeal to even a wide majority of people. Yet, it has quality in spades and seems extremely well done in pretty much every aspect, from score to casting to production design. I can’t imagine that most my friends won’t like it as much as I do. I hope you will give it a chance and be similarly drawn in.

MR. ROBOT premieres Wednesday, June 24th at 10 p.m. ET on USA.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

TRUE DETECTIVE Still True

Article originally written for Seat42F.




HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE wowed audiences in its inaugural season last year, so as season two premieres this week with a different cast and story, it has a lot to live up to, and will surely evoke comparisons (as happens in this article). In order to do the title proud, the new run doesn’t seek to copy its predecessor, but instead uses a different structure and approach, while keeping the same dark, gritty, authentic, complex types of characters. Even early in the premiere, “The Western Book of the Dead,” I feel that it is succeeding.

In “The Western Book of the Dead,” we are introduced to three officials in law enforcement. Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell, Total Recall) went off the rails after the rape of his wife, and now is a dirty cop who gets violent to protect the son (Trevor Larcom, Fresh Off the Boat) he raised but may not have fathered, biologically speaking. Knife-wielding Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams, Midnight in Paris) is a cop who doesn’t agree with the lifestyle choices of her family, sister, Athena (Leven Rambin, Grey’s Anatomy), being a solo porn actor, and her father (Treme’s David Morse) being a free-spirited hippie lecturer. Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch, Friday Night Lights) loves riding his motorcycle with a death wish, and is unhappy to be suspended (with pay) after an improper behavior accusation is lobbied against him.

None of these are heroes, at least not yet. Like last year’s Rust, they are deeply flawed. Except, unlike last year’s Rust, there’s no Marty to balance them out. Sure, Ani has a partner, Elvis (Michael Irby, Almost Human), but the scenes we see of the trio in the premiere are focused on showing us their bad behavior and it doesn’t look like any of them have anyone in their lives to pull them back from the brinks they are all rocketing towards.

In fact, the most stable character in this year’s TRUE DETECTIVE is not a cop, but a criminal, Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn, The Internship), who, along with his wife, Jordan (Kelly Reilly, Black Box), join the three above in the main cast. Frank is trying to go legit, having found a scheme that will make him lots of money above-board. Unlike the other leads, Frank seems to behave logically, not emotionally, and is trying to better himself, not self-destruct. Ironic, no?

Of course, there is a story that brings all five of these people (Jordan to a lesser extent, but definitely the other four) together. This isn’t done at the start of the hour, as happened last year, but is the ending climax of “The Western Book of the Dead,” and will surely lead to a lot more interaction, of which there is barely any between the leads here, over the next seven weeks (this season being another eight-installment run).

I like this delayed beginning, though. Because there are more characters, it takes a little longer to get to know them. Without the partner dynamic, it’s not as easy for TRUE DETECTIVE to let viewers be introduced through a single relationship. Since the entire make up has more complexity, meaning more moving parts, taking time with each individually in “The Western Book of the Dead” does much to prepare us for the rest of the season.

I really enjoyed this premiere. Is it as good as season one? I think it’s too early to make that call, as season one was a twisty, slow burn that started great and continued to be so week after week. This first episode back seems to have the same qualities as its predecessor, and it is easy to be fully engaged in this new story with these new characters, which is a hopeful sign. The next couple of months will show us whether that can be maintained or not.

TRUE DETECTIVE airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

Monday, June 22, 2015

KILLJOYS Not An Accurate Title

Article originally published as KILLJOYS Review on Seat42F.

Killjoys - Season 1

KILLJOYS is the latest SyFy drama. Following three bounty hunters who operate in a four-inhabited-planet system, it’s a post-apocalyptic look at humanity’s future. This system is owned and run by a corporation, and everyone works for them. If you don’t play by their rules, you get in trouble. The bounty hunters aren’t exactly company men, their order remaining unaffiliated, but operate as an independent, reliable body tasked with hunting down those who anger someone enough to buy a contract on their kill or capture. The company allows this, and gives them a wide reach with which to perform their duties.

At the start of the pilot, there’s a lot of action. Too much action. It gives the impression of a low-quality program that is going to rely on visual fast food to tell its story, and the characters and plot seem flat and uninteresting. It’s not the type of thing that will hook those looking for intelligent science fiction, but it will certainly appeal to a certain segment of the audience. For those who it does appeal to, I hope you also appreciate the more complex, layered, character-driven type of show, because that’s what KILLJOYS morphs into in the second half of its first hour.

Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen, The Hour) and John (Aaron Ashmore, Smallville, Warehouse 13) are partners, operating a small ship, and going after the less dangerous jobs. Enter D’Avin (Luke Macfarlane, Brothers & Sisters), John’s estranged brother and PTSD-sufferer that has a kill order out on him. John risks everything to save his sibling, who quickly takes an interest in Dutch, and the team is born.

Each of these three are developed individuals with their own secrets and backstories, all of which play a heavy role in the main arcs. KILLJOYS could be just a procedural, with the trio tracking new query all the time, but I don’t think it will be because the first hour sets up a lot of dense stuff to flesh out the world and the trouble already bubbling over in the political structure. It seems poised for a big rebellion adventure, a la the original Star Wars trilogy, more so than a science fiction version of Dog the Bounty Hunter.

This program could be set in the Firefly universe. The short-lived, still-popular Joss Whedon show is not the only one that presents an outlook such as this, but the themes present and the atmosphere are similar. KILLJOYS lacks much of the humor and the Western sensibilities, both hallmark traits of Firefly, but other than, I could see this being another part of the same world, with these bounty hunters fighting the same common company that seeks to control everyone and use them for its own gains, albeit in a smaller neighborhood.

This gets me quite excited about KILLJOYS. All three of the performers are fantastic in the pilot, each given a chance to shine, and the rapidly-deepening story is intriguing. While a certain amount of status quo is maintained for now, it can’t possibly stay that way, and they are poised to be on the front lines when all hell breaks loose, prepared more than most to make a difference for an oppressed people due to their unique skillset.

I admit, there’s a chance I could be wrong about where KILLJOYS is going, and the story I’m looking for may be teased out only slowly, over a long period of time. I don’t think so, though. The way the first episode unfolds is solid, and it just seems like there will be more. As long as too many of the hours don’t rely on combat rings and fist fights, both present early in the first installment, I’m on board.

KILLJOYS premieres Friday, June 19th at 9 p.m. ET on SyFy.

COMPLICATIONS Too Messy

Article first published as COMPLICATIONS Review on Seat42F.

Complications - Pilot

USA has a new drama from Matt Nix (the creator of Burn Notice) called COMPLICATIONS. It is the story of Dr. John Ellison (Jason O’Mara, star of Terra Nova and several other short-lived series) and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Well, it starts off as roughly a single day, but it quickly spirals into major ramifications for his entire life and he may be spending a long, long time trying to get things back on track. Sounds a bit like Nix’s previous project, no?

To be fair, COMPLICATIONS doesn’t feel much like Burn Notice, despite that central similarity. Both men are good people whom bad things happen to and who have major skills they use to help people, but they are also quite different. While Michael Weston was an emotionally challenged spy, John Ellison runs much, much hotter, his emotions boiling over, and he works in a hospital alongside a team, not operating solo for-hire in his apartment. Plus, there’s no chain-smoking mother in sight.

John is a good-hearted man, the type who will use his medical skills to try to heal a squirrel his dog gets a hold of. When he comes across a drive-by shooting and intervenes perhaps a little more than he should, that’s when things get rocky. He is soon drawn into gang wars and neither his home nor his workplace are an escape from this.

But does John even want to escape it? Part of the pilot involves him discussing what’s going on with a shrink (Constance Zimmer, UnReal, House of Cards) and this is where we get some insight into who John is. Maybe he isn’t happy with the calm, normal life he’s been living; he definitely has some deeper issues to deal with, and these events help bring those to the surface. The only thing that seems certain right now is that John is unstable and unpredictable.

O’Mara doesn’t really play the protagonist as an overly sympathetic character. Because of his wild mood swings and erratic behavior, it’s hard to tell if he’s someone that deserves to be rooted for. Yes, he saves lives, but that’s his job. He certainly has compassion for his patients, but as he goes to greater lengths to do what he thinks is right in the moment, one begins to wonder if the ends justify the means. He is not trustworthy right now.

John is surrounded by enough of a supporting cast to keep the story going for awhile. There’s: John’s wife, Samantha (Beth Riesgraf, Leverage), whom he’s not exactly open with; his straight-laced co-worker, Dr. Bridget O’Neill (Lauren Stamile, Burn Notice), who probably would not participate in John’s madness if she knew what was going on; Gretchen Polk (Jessica Szohr, Gossip Girl), an abuse survivor (I assume) who believes justice trumps rules; Darius Bishop (Chris Chalk, The Newsroom), John’s link to the criminal element; and Dr. Quentin Harper (Ronreaco Lee, Survivor’s Remorse), whom I didn’t get a good read on in the pilot. This is a decent ensemble, and with various people being out of the loop right now, there will be fodder for conflict as they find out more of John’s secrets.

The thing is, though, I don’t know if I want to stick around to see it. The first hour of COMPLICATIONS is a hot mess, not told linearly, no grounded character to view the world through, and no compelling hook to stick around and see what it catches. USA has been moving away from formula and taking some bold chances. I won’t say COMPLICATIONS is boring in the way programs of the past have been on the network, but this is one experiment that is failing because of a lack of direction or anchor, at least out of the gate, and I didn’t find anything in this pilot that makes me want to give it a second chance.

COMPLICATIONS premieres Thursday, June 18th at 9 p.m. ET on USA.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Join THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB

Article originally published as THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB Review on Seat42F.

138162_group03_726

The “Launch” of ABC’s THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB is just around the corner. Based on the novel by Lily Koppel, which is subtitled A True Story, the series follows the wives of the Mercury Seven, America’s first astronauts. Set at the beginning of the 1960s, this program focuses on the women behind the now-famous men who ventured above our planet and out into the unknown.

The Mercury program is well-known, but how much people know about the individuals involved may vary. Being from Ohio, I definitely know who John Glenn (Sam Reid, Hatfields & McCoys) is, and I’m also vaguely familiar with Alan Shepard (Desmond Harrington, Dexter) and Gus Grissom (Joel Johnstone, Getting On). But how many know the names Deke Slayton (Kenneth Mitchell, Ghost Whisperer), Scott Carpenter (Wilson Bethel, Hart of Dixie), Gordon Cooper (Bret Harrison, Reaper), and Wally Schirra (Aaron McCusker, Shameless)? (Unless you’re Matt Myra, of course.)

THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB isn’t really about the men, anyway, though, so while they do appear, they aren’t the focus. Instead of telling us a history story, it strives to show us the personal side, zeroing in on the wives who stayed home. They are as eclectic a bunch as their husbands, if not more so, but they are going through a shared experience no one else could possibly quite understand. And so, despite the varied personalities who wouldn’t necessarily be drawn to one another without this major influence, these woman come together to be profiled by Life magazine and to support one another.

The group is interesting, though it’s hard to get to know them all in a single hour. There’s flashy Rene Carpenter (Yvonne Strahovski, Chuck), who doesn’t pay much attention to the rules set out for the group. Trudy Cooper (Odette Annable, House M.D.) is hiding a divorce put on hold for the sake of her husband’s career, and is a pilot in her own right. Louise Shepard (Dominique McElligott, Hell On Wheels) doesn’t want her past to come out, likely part of the reason she resists the forced bonding. Annie Glenn (Azure Parsons, Salem) seeks to keep her severe stutter out of the public eye. Betty Grissom (JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Better With You) is loving the new attention. Marge Slayton (Erin Cummings, Detroit 1-8-7) and Jo Schirra (Zoe Boyle, Downton Abbey) seem less well defined in the pilot, “Launch,” but there’s plenty of time to get to know them later.

It’s very hard to do period pieces, and THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB struggles much of the time. When showing momentous events, it excels at capturing the gravity and the emotion, and makes one feel what the characters feel. But it’s very easy to take for granted the costumes and settings, which appear decent enough, and because of the way the roles are played, it doesn’t feel all that different from today, other than some surface, superficial, stereotypical things.

While this could be a good thing, helping an audience relate to what they’re watching, that’s not how it comes across here. THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB feels much more like Mistresses, or a lesser Desperate Housewives, than anything that would come from this era. There is much bickering and drama, conflict appearing to pop up just for the sake of conflict, rather than to advance the story. Maybe this is how things were between these gals, competing to sell their family as the best, and thus earn their husband a top spot; I couldn’t say for sure. But it feels purposely bent towards modern sensibilities, to its detriment.

Perhaps that’s why ABC is burning it off during the summer. While cable keeps chugging along with solid offerings year ‘round, the broadcast networks tend to use the warmest months to get rid of their junk they don’t think anyone wants to watch. Despite a few good qualities, I do feel like THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB just isn’t good enough for the regular season, and so belongs where it is.

THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB premieres Thursday, June 18th at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Friday, June 19, 2015

PROOF a Bit Flimsy

Article originally published as PROOF Review on Seat42F.

proof-tnt

TNT’s newest drama is PROOF. Dr. Carolyn Tyler (Jennifer Beals, The L Word) is a respected surgeon who has had a near-death experience and lost her teenage son. She’s found a way to go on, putting thoughts of an afterlife out of her head, until she is approached to study what comes after living from a scientific perspective. She’s fundamentally opposed to what she considers a waste of time, but for the right reasons, can be persuaded to try to find PROOF of what happens to us.

The thing that gets a grounded person like Carolyn to look into this is a little girl. Well, that and her own experiences. When billionaire Ivan Turing (Matthew Modine, Weeds, Full Metal Jacket) proposes the idea, Carolyn is quick to shoot it down. But appearances aside, she’s not a heartless person, and she softens when confronted with a kid who has recently visited the “other place.” It’s a bit too cheesy and done-before an event, and it doesn’t exactly start the show off on the right foot.

Carolyn is not alone in her quest, of course. She has an assistant, young intern Dr. Zed (Edi Gathegi, House M.D.), who brings a more open mind, and Janel Ramey (Caroline Rose Kaplan), who works for Turing and so is probably a spy in her midst. That’s it for now, Carolyn embarrassed for anyone to know what she’s doing, but swayed by the extraordinary amount of money Turing is offering (which of course will be used for charity because television archetype heroes cannot be the least bit selfish).

But she has other things pulling her attention, too. Her boss, Dr. Oliver Stanton (Joe Morton, Scandal, Eureka), doesn’t know about her extra-curricular activity, nor does Carolyn want him to, though I doubt she’ll be able to hide it since she’s doing her research at the hospital. At home, she has a daughter, Sophie (Annie Thurman, Dark Skies), and spanning the two worlds, an ex-husband, Dr. Len Barliss (David Sutcliffe, Gilmore Girls). There’s also a man who claims to be in touch with the other side, Peter Van Owen (Callum Blue, Dead Like Me, Smallville), whom Carolyn (no surprise!) distrusts.

PROOF is an odd bird. It starts off with a very serial concept, the main character being tasked to find proof of life after death. The characters are decently well developed with some driving forces that would lend themselves well to an ongoing story. Yet, the way the first hour deals with a single patient indicates that it will be a repetitive procedural, Carolyn finding one person each week through which to continue her research, and the whole set up is rote. Doing this makes the program far less compelling.

If Carolyn ever solves the essential question at the heart of the series, it would be over. But I don’t think she will, which is disappointing, PROOF setting itself up for failure right from the beginning. No one knows what comes after death, and it’s unlikely that anyone ever will. Those who are spiritual enough to believe there is something don’t have a way to test that theory and report back on it, and anyone who thinks they do is considered to be on the fringe, possessing no concrete evidence. Yet, the pilot of PROOF, from the start, tells us there is more than life. So how can Carolyn’s project possibly end?

The idea at the heart of PROOF is an intriguing one and I like the pilot OK, I just have little confidence in this series going forward. The central premise is too flimsy and closed-ended, the procedural element is heavy, and the cast is just a bit too much structured like practically every other show in the genre, with no real surprises in the makeup. As such, I just don’t see this as a series to get excited about

PROOF premieres Tuesday, June 16th at 10 p.m. ET on TNT.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

No "Mercy" in the GAME OF THRONES

Article originally written for Seat42F.



Fans of GAME OF THRONES are used to bloodbaths, but rarely has a season finale on the show been as bloody as what HBO aired last night. In “Mother’s Mercy,” at least two characters who are still alive in the books meet their fate, and one of the most central figures lies bleeding to death. With a number of other cliffhangers and disturbing moments, season five ends with far less sense of closure than most past years have.

The biggest thing in “Mother’s Mercy” is Jon Snow (Kit Harington) being stabbed a la Caesar, with Olly (Brenock O’Connor) providing the “E tu Brute” moment. It makes sense for this band of unruly thugs to betray Jon, who is making wise but unpopular decisions, not realizing how vulnerable this will leave them. I’m surprised to see Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) participate, as he seems more honorable than most, but what happens to Jon is not unexpected, the most noble in GAME OF THRONEs always paying a steep price from people who aren’t smart enough to understand.

I don’t think Jon Snow is dead. Too much has been made over the mystery of his parentage for him to go now, without any resolution. Were Jon dead, then it wouldn’t matter who his mother or father are, and so the series has wasted time bringing them up repeatedly and allowing viewers to speculate over it. It’s possible the writers were misleading in the past by doing so, but I don’t believe that to be the case.

If I’m wrong and Jon does perish, there are two possibilities that might keep him around. One, Melisandre (Carice van Houten) could bring him back. We’ve already seen one who worships the Lord of Light do so, so it would not be unprecedented, though it would surely remove the importance of Jon’s parentage because he wouldn’t fully be Jon any more. Two, Jon could awake as a White Walker, giving us a peek into that world more fully. That would be interesting, but again, negate the affect his parentage would have, and so I find both possibilities intriguing but unlikely.

Stannis (Stephen Dillane) is probably dead. As much as it sucks to see Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) kill a defenseless, wounded man, she sees it as her duty to execute him for his unforgiveable crimes, so her actions make sense. It’s a lackluster end to the stubborn, would-be king, but one that feels deserved after the events of last week. I won’t be sad to see Stannis go.

This leaves the Boltons as the unchallenged leaders of the North. Even with Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Theon (Alfie Allen) unrealistically jumping off a wall into a not-nearly-high enough snowbank and escaping, there isn’t an army to challenge the Boltons’ claim on Winterfell. Sansa has already been married to Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) and the marriage consummated, so she personally doesn’t need to be there for Ramsay to claim ruling rights. A White Walker invasion may be the best one can hope for to wipe out those nasty Boltons.

Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) is likely dead, too, her heartbreaking death in her father’s arms finally proving the danger that Ellaria (Indira Varma) and the Sand Snakes pose. They have basically declared war on King’s Landing, defying their own leader to do so.

Not only is Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in no position to turn around and exact revenge, much as he might want to, but King’s Landing isn’t ready to respond either, their own leadership sorely lacking. Cersei (Lena Headey) loses any little respect the people have for her during her naked walk of shame (another Emmy-worthy performance from Headey, who just had her best season yet), and King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) is helpless to even control the faithful in his own city, let alone make outside war. It is likely Myrcella’s death will go unchallenged, possibly emboldening Dorne to make a larger play, assuming Ellaria dispatches her king as readily as she does Myrcella, a distinct possibility.

“Mother’s Mercy” leaves the Seven Kingdoms riper for invaders than ever. Except, who will invade them? Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is no position to do so, away from her people, surrounded by Dothraki. She’d have to get Mereen under control first, anyway.

Thankfully, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill) are reunited in Mereen. If anyone can fix the issues that place is going through, it’s them, both cunning and resourceful. By the time Daenerys gets home, her army might be ready to go. Which would make sense, since there are a mere two seasons of GAME OF THRONES left, and given the geographical distances and multitude of players, it takes awhile for anything significant to happen on the show.

We’re much closer to the end than the beginning, and it feels like it. Practically everyone with power has been removed from it, and those squabbling over the scraps are not holding onto their positions very solidly. The stage has been set for someone to come through and finally reunite the land, as well as save it from the White Walkers. I can’t wait to see how that will play out. In the meantime, the journey to get to that big ending is an entertaining one, and with episodes like “Mother’s Mercy,” which surprise and impress, I’m certainly not complaining about taking time to get there.

Except for how angry I am that the show has departed from the book series so dramatically after four years of sticking pretty close to it. That’s annoying, as is that this episode likely spoils a couple of deaths from the upcoming sixth book. But taken on its own, the show remains terrific.

GAME OF THORONES is already working on season six, so it will return next year to HBO.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

DARK MATTER Lightweight

Article originally published as DARK MATTER Review on Seat42F.

dark-matter-cast-syfy (1)

SyFy’s DARK MATTER, based on the graphic novel, begins this week feeling very much like a stand-alone episode of a science fiction anthology series. Six people wake up on a generic damaged spaceship with no memory of who they are and what they are doing. Working together, somewhat, they attempt to piece together their identities and mission, which may not be as good an idea as that sounds.

As we first meet the cast, self-named for the order in which they woke up, they seem pretty easy to pigeonhole. There’s One (Marc Bendavid, Hard Rock Medical), the pretty-boy peacemaker. Two (Canadian theatre star Melissa O’Neil) is a natural, fair-minded leader. Three (Anthony Lemke, Good Witch) is the angry one. Four (Alex Mallari Jr., True Justice) has some mad martial arts skills. Five (Jodelle Ferland, The Cabin in the Woods) is a weird, super-intelligent kid. Six (Roger R. Cross, Continuum, 24) is a gentle-leaning giant.

As they begin to figure out their personalities, if not their backstories, muscle memory taking over where they lack, they end up being a pretty bland group. Cross is the only very recognizable member of the ensemble, but in this case, going with unknowns does not pay off. It feels like a cast of second-stringers making a low-budget program that isn’t likely to garner a sizeable American audience.

The most impressive face on screen is that of Zoie Palmer (Lost Girl), who plays The Android that can connect directly with the ship. Aside from a few juicy bits for Ferland, Palmer is the only one who gets to show range and prove why she deserves to be a main player in this show. She brings a mix of coldness and sly humor that make her stand out in an otherwise mediocre group.

The story at the heart of the DARK MATTER pilot doesn’t help matters much. As I mentioned at the start, this feels like an anthology installment, basically a short story with not much momentum to keep it going. The ‘twist’ at the end of the episode could have been tweaked only slightly and this would have been a vaguely interesting, not very memorable, stand-alone hour. To keep this plot going for any length of time, the mystery at the heart of the piece needs to be grand and meaningful. Neither of those adjectives seem to apply here.

The best thing that DARK MATTER has going for it is that it’s on the SyFy channel. While low-quality shows don’t last long on the network (though high-quality ones don’t fare too much better), it is in the right place to find the small segment of the viewership that this will appeal to. Those attracted by the simple narrative, one familiar to the genre, may be interested in this example of it. Plus, given all the cheesy-on-purpose TV movies that will air around this, DARK MATTER may look good by comparison because at least it has a story that seems to make sense and there are no awful, gory effects.

Could DARK MATTER have been better? Absolutely. If it boasted a cast on the level of, say, Firefly, with its magnetic personalities and a deep mythology behind the story, the construct could remain the same and it would improve it a lot. What that means to me is that DARK MATTER itself is not an inherently bad idea, since I see a way it could be really good, but just comes across as poorly executed. That’s a shame, because no one involved seems to be doing a bad job; there’s just an overall blandness to most aspects of the production that cannot be overcome.

DARK MATTER premieres Friday, June 12th at 10 p.m. ET.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"Dragons" "Dance" in the GAME OF THRONES

Article originally written for Seat42F.



Given that HBO’s GAME OF THRONES has a penchant for making the penultimate episode of every season big (think: Ned Stark’s execution, The Red Wedding, The Battle of Blackwater), and given that last night’s episode is titled “The Dance of Dragons,” many assumed both splash and dragons would be served. Those people are likely not disappointed, then, with what GAME OF THRONES delivered.

The biggest thing by far in “The Dance of Dragons” is the sequence at the re-opened Mereen fighting pits. It starts off simple enough, with some charged interplay between Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) men, Daario (Michiel Huisman), Hizdahr zo Loraq (Joel Fry), and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). Daario and Hizdahr both want Daenerys’ heart, and Hizdahr and Tyrion both seek to advise her. Well, what Hizdahr really wants is likely to depose the queen and rule himself, but until that happens, things still don’t look like smooth sailing for this all-male council.

All of this goes on as the fighting happens in front of the dais, which is interesting. Brutality is happening right in front of them, but it’s at least partially ignored because it doesn’t directly concern this group. They can talk about it on an intellectual level, but not being in the pits themselves, they don’t have that person stake. This highlights the detachment of leadership, and probably why Daenerys is having trouble controlling her people.

Jorah (Iain Glen) reappears in the pit, and that does make things more personal, at least for Daenerys. I’m not sure why The Bear returns again, having twice been cast out. Does he think he will get a different reaction from Daenerys this time? I can’t see any reason why he would think so, nor does he at the start.

But then the Sons of the Harpy attack, and nothing is certain any more. Now the danger really does threaten our small contingent. Hizdahr, the one of the attacker’s own who sits with the despised ruler, dies first. Jorah re-earns a place by Daenerys’ side by defending her, which she accepts when she takes his hand. It’s a smartly staged attack, with only a few Unsullied around and our heroes trapped in a confined space. This coup is bloody and intense and viewers will not soon forget neither the unexpected way in which it happens, nor the desperation as Jorah, Tyrion, Daario, Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Daenerys cower in the center of the pit, becoming part of the fighting action themselves, no longer separate and above it. It’s a powerful image.

Then, Drogon appears. The best dragon of Daenerys’ trio, he comes when his mistress needs him, barbequing her would-be assassins. He’s not yet completely full grown, and spears do threaten him, but he startles the bad guys enough to rescue Daenerys and fly away. It’s slightly deus ex machina, but it’s also a pay-off for a long-simmering story, and a good way to reawaken the dormant ‘mother of dragons’ plot thread.

Does Daenerys not care about her fellows? Perhaps in the moment she can be forgiven for being so focused on her pet, a truly mesmerizing sight. But when she flies off, she leaves the others in the pit. I think, given the confusion and chaos the dragon causes, they can escape, but how does she know that? Would she really be so heartless as to leave the others who have protected her so bravely to fend for themselves? This is the one thing that seems out of step in this portion of “The Dance of Dragons.”

While Mereen is the setting of a large portion of the hour, it is not the only place where things are happening, of course. The second most affecting bit comes when Stannis (Stephen Dillance) gives in to Melisandre’s (Carice van Houten) request to sacrifice his daughter, Shireen (Kerry Ingram), burning her alive, which thankfully is not shown in graphic detail. Now, according to Melisandre, this will guarantee Stannis’ progress in taking control of the Seven Kingdoms.

I don’t think Stannis’ actions can just be chalked up to desperation. True, his army is decimated, the stores burned, and he’s out of options, which does lead him to consider the one he wouldn’t before, killing his beloved daughter. But I don’t see malice or regret in his eyes when he talks to Shireen beforehand, and he actually does a kindness when he gets Davos (Liam Cunningham) out of the way, as Davos would have died defending the girl. Instead, Stannis really believes he deserves the Iron Throne and must do whatever he can to get it. There’s no anger or grief or selfishness in his face; this just is, and he accepts it as the heavy price he must pay. This will likely make most viewers, myself included, turn against his ‘just’ cause, as he’s stubborn to a tragic fault.

In Bravos, Arya (Maisie Williams) also does what she thinks she must, abandoning the mission Jaqen (Tom Wlaschiha) gives her when she spots Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie), one of those she’s sworn vengeance against for what happened to her family. She follows him around instead of killing the heartless businessman, who has earned his own death.

There’s no denying Trant deserves death, especially when his whorehouse proclivities are exposed, but I don’t think Arya is ready to go after this man head-on. She’s still very early in her training, and clearly her motives are purely personal, making her emotional. Plus, if she goes against Jaqen’s orders now, and I suspect Jaqen already knows what Arya is considering and is waiting to see what will happen, she’s likely to be kicked out the program. Then what will she do? Is being a Faceless Man just something she tests out, or is it her calling? Would she be allowed to leave the church without penalty?

Other great moments include Jaime’s enlightening discussion with Doran Martell (Alexander Siddig), which shows us Doran’s character, Bronn’s (Jerome Flynn) penalty being paid for striking a prince, and the tense few moments until Alliser (Owen Teale) opens the gate to Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the Wildlings. “The Dance of Dragons” may be a big episode, but there are plenty left in these other sections for next week’s season finale, and many rich characters to keep playing with. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say Jon will be the one to watch next week, and maybe Cersei, who sits this episode out.

GAME OF THRONES airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

SENSE8 Insane

Article originally published as SENSE8 Review on Seat42F.

sense_s1_003_h




Netflix has a new drama by The Wachowskis (The Matrix) premiering this week. Entitled SENSE8, the story is truly global, following eight individuals in seven countries who are connected to one another somehow, being able to feel what the others feel and experience what they experience. There is a violent act that seems to somehow figure into forging their connection, and presumably there is a villain out there who will endanger them.


If that sounds murky, that is appropriate because SENSE8 is not clear in its intentions right out of the gate. Throughout the first hour, a LOT of characters are introduced, and each have their own plot lines threading the pilot, so there’s much to keep track of. This is not the type of show one can casually watch while cooking dinner; it takes total concentration and engagement to even begin to sort out who everyone is and what the settings are.

The central eight are: Will Gorski (Brian J. Smith, SGU Stargate Universe), a police officer in Chicago; Jamie Clayton (Nomi Marks, Transform Me), a transgender political blogger living in San Francisco with her girlfriend, Amanita (Freema Agyeman, Doctor Who); Riley (Tuppence Middleton, Spies of Warsaw), an Icelandic, drug-enjoying DJ who has immigrated to London; Wolfgang (Max Riemelt, In Face of the Crime), a locksmith-turned-safecracker in Berlin; Lito (Miguel Angel Silvestre, Velvet), a closeted gay actor in Mexico City; Sun (Bae Doona, Cloud Atlas), a businesswoman who has gotten herself into professional trouble in Seoul; Kala (Tina Desai, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), a woman considering marrying a man she doesn’t love in Mumbai; and Capheus (Aml Ameen, Harry’s Law), a failing bus driver in Nairobi.

As you can see, it is quite an international cast, much more so than most “international” ensembles that are at least half American. Each of these individuals very much inhabits a different part of the world and exists within a different culture, which should make their connection even more jarring than it already is. Though, for some reason, the show chooses to use English instead of subtitling, which might make it slightly more accessible, but feels a little weird.

SENSE8 doesn’t try to bring the group together geographically. In fact, the pilot barely brings them together in the story at all, with a few flashes of what will become their new state, but mostly focusing on their lives as they are now. What this means is, SENSE8 is telling many different stories at once, and how they will eventually all be brought into the same orbit remains quite a mystery.

The catalyst for the series involves a woman named Angel (Daryl Hannah, Kill Bill, Steel Magnolias), trapped between her love, Jonas (Naveen Andrews, Lost), and the villainous Mr. Whispers (Terrence Mann, The Dresden Files), but this thread seems just as unconnected as the others at the start, so it’s hard to tell exactly how Angel will play a part in the other eight’s lives, with the end of hour one finally giving us a little info in that regard, but not much.

I can’t say that I enjoyed the first episode of SENSE8 all that much. It took me a good forty-five minutes of confusion and stress to even start to get a handle on what is happening. Generally, that’s not how I like to begin a series. I see that what is going on here is very complicated and I’m not sure there’s an easier way to introduce so much, but at the same time, so few of the characters start out with a compelling narrative that the barrier to entry is great. There are scenes later in the episode, especially for Jamie and Wolfgang, that get one interested and invested. But SENSE8 would work better if it began in that manner and then showed us more of their average lives, providing a more immediate way in.

Because of this, I’m not sure if I’m going to keep watching or not. The production is obviously very high-value, with a variety of interesting places (those with 4K televisions should appreciate this even more), and the acting seems sincere and solid. I certainly would not not recommend it. The question is, will the investment required, much more than your average TV show, be worth the payoff? That, I cannot tell you at this time.

SENSE8’s twelve-episode first season will be available on Netflix this Friday.

Friday, June 5, 2015

A STITCHERS In Time

Article originally published as STITCHERS Review on Seat42F.

STITCHERS - KYLE HARRIS, EMMA ISHTA (ABC Family/Adam Taylor)

ABC Family’s newest show, STITCHERS, is a bit of a departure for them. A young woman with no awareness of time is recruited by a shady organization to be “stitched” into the memories of dead people to try to solve their murders or learn secrets that died with them. Surrounded by a group of intelligent geeks, the team is government-sanctioned, but deeply buried. Doesn’t sound like the typical, soapy fare for this channel, does it?

Yet, there is something so inherently familiar about Stitchers that I found myself googling the name to see if it was a remake of a program that aired a decade or two ago. I didn’t find anything, but perhaps these feelings come because the title is similar enough to Sliders, the basic structure of the cast is one oft-repeated in (not just sci-fi) procedurals, and the behavior and look of the lead character begs comparison to SyFy’s Continuum.

Despite the feeling that Stitchers may not be entirely original, I am enjoying it immensely, and not just because it exceeds my expectations of what this network can put out, being the best program they’ve aired since Kyle XY was canceled. The pacing is quick, the dialogue is fun, and while not going too deep, the performances are serviceable for the product. I can easily see myself watching this for at least a season.

STITCHERS stars former model Emma Ishta as Kirsten. Kirsten has trouble feeling emotions because she can’t tell when time is passing, giving no context to her life. This means she doesn’t know if she’s been in a room one minute, one hour, or one day, so she can’t make sense of how long she’s known a person. She is highly intelligent, so she uses math, logic, and clues to build herself frameworks of reference, but one is left wondering how she functions in society at all. Someone with any fewer brains could not.

Ishta is fantastic as Kirsten, though I don’t yet know if that’s because she’s a great actress or this role is just perfectly suited for her. She’s cold and hot at the same time, being stand-offish, but not unsympathetic, and stuffed into a skintight cat suit. To STITCHER’s credit, Kirsten doesn’t appreciate the get up and acknowledges this fact, even if her new team insist there’s a scientific reason behind it, poking fun at an old trope. Sexuality is present in this show, as it is in so many others, but it’s also part of the story, not just set dressing, which feels like a slight step up.

In the job, the boss is Maggie Baptiste (Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Eureka), who is a very familiar type, being no-nonsense towards her team as she runs interference with the higher ups, straddling both worlds. Second in command seems to be Cameron Goodkin (Kyle Harris. The Carrie Diaries), who takes Kirsten under his wing. The head geek of those circling, mostly in the background, is Linus (Ritesh Rajan, The Last Airbender), who is a bit creepy in a lecherous sort of manner at the onset.

One could argue this ensemble echoes broadcast network procedurals, and there’s some truth to that. Comparing STITCHERS to say, Castle, Maggie is very much like Captain Gates, Cameron is a Beckett-type, and Linus is a combo of Ryan and Esposito, mostly Ryan, with Kirsten being the “out-there” type, even if she’s not much like Richard Castle on the surface.

What this means is, on paper, I shouldn’t like STITCHERS, as if you follow my reviews, I frequently complain about such repetitive formulas. Somehow, though, there’s a charm to this one, leaning heavily enough into its sci-fi genre to give it a pass, at least in the short-term. Should it be a total case-of-the-week, my love won’t last, but the story teed up for the second outing gives me hope that won’t be the case.

Also lending to its geek credit, STITCHERS has cast Allison Scagliotti as Kirsten’s roommate and classmate, Camille. It isn’t immediately apparent what role the Warehouse 13 star will serve in the show, but even if it’s just as someone to give Kirsten conflict at home, she works. My wish is that it will be more than that, Camille eventually stitched into the larger fabric. Yes, I know what I did there and I don’t apologize for it.

As you can probably tell, I like STITCHERS, and I recommend you give it a shot when it premieres this Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC Family. (The pilot is also already available to the public at: abcfamily.go.com/shows/stitchers)