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Thursday, April 30, 2015

MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Get "Dirty"

Article originally written for Seat42F.



“The Dirty Half Dozen” embark on a dangerous mission in this week’s MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC. Coulson (Clark Gregg) turns himself in to Gonzales (Edward James Olmos), but instead of locking Coulson up, Gonzales agrees to let Coulson and his people infiltrate a Hydra base in the Arctic to rescue their friends. The question remains, though: what will happen when Coulson gets back?

“The Dirty Half Dozen” who go on this mission are the original six members of the S.H.I.E.L.D. cast, Coulson’s hand-picked team: Coulson himself, May (Ming-Na Wen), Skye (Chloe Bennet), Ward (Brett Dalton), Fitz (Iain De Caestecker), and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge). There is a beautiful symmetry to see this group come back together after more than a year apart, their gang so short-lived, yet meaningful to them all (as well as viewers). They will never truly be a team again, but at least fans get this one hour to remember the great chemistry they share.

The main reason for the break up, as he admits, is Ward. Exposed as a secret Hyrda agent last spring, Ward has been an enemy of S.H.I.E.L.D. ever since, and this time is no different. He helps them get into the base, using Bakshi (Simon Kassianides) as his inside man, but he won’t be rejoining them full-time. At the close of the mission, he slips away, back on the run from the people he once considered friends.

Ward is appropriately apologetic, but I don’t know why he expects any amount of forgiveness. What he did, especially dropping FitzSimmons to the bottom of the ocean, is unforgiveable. His attempts to lighten the mood or buddy up to his comrades meet deaf ears. If Ward can ever earn some measure of respect or affection from any of them again, that is in the far, far distant future, and despite his olive branch-words, he just doesn’t seem to feel bad enough to dedicate himself to making up for his actions. He’s pretty much a psychopath.

The one bright sign for Ward is that he leaves Agent 33 (Maya Stojan) in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s care, asking Coulson to help her get her life back on track. He must actually have some sort of affection for her to put her interests first. That, or he doesn’t want her hanging around him and sees a convenient way to offload her, which is a cynical view, but again, he’s a psychopath.

What did surprise me in “The Dirty Half Dozen” is that it isn’t Fitz, who is still suffering lasting injuries because of Ward, or Skye, who recently shot him, that makes an attempt on Ward’s life. Instead, it’s Simmons, who takes her turn to try to murder the traitor. She has every reason to do so, but she is probably the least violent member of the team. She may also be the most emotionally weak, the others keeping their anger in check, but she has grown a lot in her ability to handle herself in a crisis.

Speaking of growing, it is awesome to watch Skye in action. She uses her powers sparingly, as she should because they can really hurt someone. Still, when necessary, she calls upon them, and also relies on the terrific martial arts skills that May taught her. If there was any doubt going into this episode of MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. that Skye was qualified to be a full-fledged agent, it is erased when we see her in action rescuing Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) and Mike (J. August Richards).

I’m not willing to give Bakshi the benefit of the doubt when he sacrifices himself for Ward. My guess is, he didn’t know he would die and is acting more for his own selfish interests than heroism. But I can’t say that I’m sorry that Simmons kills Bakshi, other than to hope there are no lasting repercussions on her psyche. Bakshi was evil and slimy and won’t be missed.

May and Coulson are still at odds, though they are both mature enough to set it aside for the mission. May doesn’t like that Coulson is keeping a bunch of secrets from her. Coulson has a point that she once spied on him for Fury and secrets are a part of their business. But since May followed Coulson into a brand-new S.H.I.E.L.D. and was his most trusted advisor, she feels he shouldn’t have continued to keep her out of the loop, which seems valid. I still don’t think May will choose Gonzales over Coulson, despite accepting a position on Gonzales’ board, but I wonder what it might take to resolve the issues between these two.

Thankfully, Fitz and Simmons’ relationship seems to be fully healed, besties again. As does Hunter (Nick Blood) and Mack’s (Henry Simmons), the former forgiving the latter because Mack was just doing what he thought was right and apologized for it. Might Mack join Hunter and Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) on the proposed spin-off?

Raina (Ruth Negga) remains the true unknown factor as, having taken out a Hydra base, a super-powered-concerned S.H.I.E.L.D. will likely turn itself towards the Inhumans next. Whose side is Raina on? What will she do with her ability to see the future? Cal (Kyle MacLachlan) tells Jiaying (Dichen Lachman) that Raina is dangerous and I have no doubt about that. Having no loyalties to either the Inhumans or S.H.I.E.L.D., look for her to be important again as the season rockets to a close.

Besides serving our heroes, “The Dirty Dozen” is chock full of hints at what’s to come in this weekend’s Avengers: Age of Ultron film. The arctic base is clearly important, mentioning that The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were there. Loki’s scepter is brought up again, and Coulson speaks of Nick Fury and to Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), talking about calling on the Avengers again. I don’t know yet which of the television characters might cross over to the big screen, but given the number of obvious references to larger events this week, it would probably behoove fans to go see the movie before tuning into the next installment.

Whew! “The Dirty Half Dozen” is an intense episode with a lot going on. It’s also very entertaining and just plain good. I can’t wait for the approximately five hours Marvel will be delivering in these next two weeks, on the big screen and small.

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

COMMUNITY Doesn't "Recycle" Characters or Story

Article originally published as TV Review: 'Community' - 'Into to Recycled Cinema' on Blogcritics.

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“Ham, girl!” This week’s Community on Yahoo! Screen, “Intro to Recycled Cinema,” finds Chang (Ken Jeong) making a big name for himself in Hollywood after a memorable commercial. To capitalize on his success, the Save Greendale Committee decides to complete a film that Abed (Danny Pudi) started making starring Chang. Creative differences threaten to derail the project, but there are also deeper insecurities at work.

I admit, I did not see the twist coming in which Jeff (Joel McHale) admits to Abed that he fears being left behind by himself at Greendale as the others move on. This moment is great payoff for Jeff’s arc through the series, finally being comfortable enough to come to terms with his deepest emotions and share them with a trusted friend. This one scene explains pretty much everything you need to know about Jeff as a character, and makes up what I hope will be his arc into the end of the series.

Because of what Jeff says in “Intro to Recycled Cinema,” I’m kind of disappointed that Chang returns to the group at the end of the half hour. Jeff’s prediction that everyone is moving on could and probably should come true, though with Jeff included. Chang has his best chance to escape the community college this week and he blows it. This almost cheapens the dramatic parts of the episode.

On the other hand, Chang’s return could serve as reassurance that Jeff will not be left alone. While other members of the gang have gone away and not yet come back (though they have to for the ultimate conclusion), Chang’s absence is temporary, and the group numbers seven again at the end. Perhaps with all of the darkness present this season, this is a bit of comfort for Jeff and for the fans.

“Intro to Recycled Cinema” also highlights the growth of Abed as a character. At the start, it’s clear his vision will be steamrolled in favor of a quick release, which Maury (the Steve Guttenberg, Police Academy) promises will result in major money. Abed does resist some, his soul hurting, but Jeff helps Abed understand that one can let go and move on. The gym analogy is a little awkward, which works for “normal” Jeff trying to relate to the oddest co-star. Abed’s acceptance of it, though, shows that not only have his friends learned to understand him a bit, but that Abed is willing to expand his way of thinking as well.

Abed’s gradual grounding has led to much less weirdness on Community, which is often regrettable, but not in this case. “Intro to Recycled Cinema” is the most bizarre installment of the past season or two, our core group and several recurring players participating in a sci-fi film that is cheesy and hilarious, making good use of copious amounts of tin foil and Frisbees left over from the season premiere. The costumes and hastily constructed sets make this highly enjoyable.

The whole episode is great, to be honest. I’m not a big Star Wars fan, but I can appreciate the tributes stuck in here. Leonard (Richard Erdman) makes a great villain in the surprisingly moving climax. Elroy (Keith David) has some strong one-liners. Frankie (Paget Brewster) gets to show off her steel drum skills again, continuing a joke that deserves to have legs. And can we talk about how great it is that Annie (Alison Brie) can now toss “Pay your rent!” in Britta’s (Gillian Jacobs) face whenever Britta acts ridiculous? Genius!

Community has been my favorite sitcom for awhile primarily because of its originality and willingness to take chances. This episode kind of lacks both of those, with aping Star Wars and having Chang reset. Yet, in somewhat removing the elements I generally consider its best, the depth the characters have achieved is revealed and makes the show fantastic all over again for different reasons. I still think they should end after five more episodes and a film (unless Yahoo! orders what they could call a “second half” of season six), as the hashtag must be satisfied, but Community is on track for a fitting conclusion and a solid legacy.

Well, except for the year of the gas leak, but that’s perfectly acceptable because of the in-canon explanation.

Community drops new installments every Tuesday on Yahoo! Screen.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

ONCE UPON A TIME Not as Fresh as a "Lily"

Article originally written for Seat42F.



This week’s episode of ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME, entitled “Lily,” should be an exciting, awesome, come-together moment for the season. Instead, it is a mess, with plot holes galore and lots of things that don’t make sense. The problem with ONCE UPON A TIME, and this has been an issue for awhile, is that they come up great stories but fail to think them through. “Lily” is a prime example of that.

As the hour begins, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) embarks on a road trip to find her childhood friend, Lily (Agnes Bruckner, The Returned), who turns out to be Maleficent’s (Kristin Bauer van Straten) daughter (is this Disney Channel’s new Descendants series?). But Emma is really, really angry, the darkness that sprouted when she killed Cruella (Victoria Smurfit) taking root. So Regina (Lana Parrilla) offers to come along, helping Emma and picking up her in-danger love, Robin Hood (Sean Maguire), on the way home.

The thing is, Emma doesn’t have anything prompting the darkness within her to grow. The villains on the show go dark because they do something really bad, and keep making poor choices or pay a magical price. Emma kills Cruella through magic, sure, but to save Henry (Jared Gilmore), and then has no other tempting factors to drive her further onto the wrong side. If there were some sort of explanation offered, such as Emma doing bad breaks the spell that is supposed to keep her good and draws in all the bad she avoided earlier in life to make up for it, leeching it from Lily, who would turn good at the same time, that might be OK, but there isn’t.

Lily has a similar issue with darkness, always making bad choices. In flashback, young Lily (Nicole Munoz) finds young Emma (Abby Ross) again, but because she can’t stop lying and stealing, Emma sends her away. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Timothy Webber) tells Lily the truth behind why she can’t stop doing bad, darkness has been put within her magically, which makes more sense than what is happening to Emma. But then Lily never tracks Emma down again, despite living close to her in Massachusetts and the two being drawn together by fate? What? Really?

Emma finds grown-up Lily, who runs away and steals Emma’s car. But when Emma doesn’t shoot Lily, a very low bar of goodness, Lily goes along with Emma and Regina on the second leg of their journey quite cooperatively. No double-cross or trying to sneak ahead to kill Emma’s parents? No simmering anger at Emma for getting the good side of the magical deal? Why is Lily being so friendly?

Then, ONCE UPON A TIME gets to New York, where Robin at first doesn’t believe Regina, a woman he supposedly loves and trusts, then willingly expresses a desire to stay with Zelena (Rebecca Mader) just because she tricked him into impregnating her. Zelena is completely evil, and Robin’s just going to keep shacking up with her and expose his children, both the already-born one and the unborn, to her? Shouldn’t he be for capturing Zelena and then taking away the baby after its birth?

Worse than all of this, Belle (Emilie de Ravin) seems to have no clue that Regina has possession of her heart, something Belle agreed to, and then softens on Gold (Robert Carlyle) just because he gives it back. After Will (Michael Socha), not Gold, retrieves and brings the heart home, no less. We’re expected to believe that Gold saying he wants Belle to be happy is just going to turn her around, even after knowing all of the bad things he has been doing?

I love the friendship between Regina and Emma, and that part of “Lily” feels real to me. Emma has earned Regina sticking by her when she errs, even if Regina has shown reluctance to being buddies prior to “Lily.” But that is the only thing that feels right in the hour, everything else playing out with typical ONCE UPON A TIME disregard for established characters and arcs. It is extremely disappointing, especially as the program proved for awhile in the past that it could do much, much better.

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

"The Deconstruction" of THE GOOD WIFE

Article originally written for Seat42F.



This week’s episode of THE GOOD WIFE, “The Deconstruction,” begins with a scene mirroring one from the pilot, this time with Alicia (Julianna Margulies) making an announcement in disgrace, Peter (Chris Noth) the supportive presence behind her. Remembering what a catalyst that event is for the entire series, it should come as no surprise that this hour marks another huge change for the show that refuses to stay stagnant, though somehow the ending still feels unexpected.

Much of “The Deconstruction” involves Alicia warring with Diane (Christine Baranski) and the firm, not because they actually have reason to go to war, but because David Lee (Zach Grenier) is playing them again, always the slimy one. It’s frustrating to watch two long-time friends who just want to be partners again furious with one another once more, and viewers will yearn for resolution. Thankfully, Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) ensures the errors are cleared up, just before R.D. (Oliver Platt) torpedoes resolution.

One cannot blame for Diane for choosing R.D. over Alicia, nor R.D. for not wanting the stink surrounding Alicia, justified or not. R.D. is making the firm huge amounts of money, and Alicia could drive away clients in her current state, not attract them. I’m just grateful Diane and Alicia can still be friends, not holding a grudge from an ugly death match. It’s too bad that David Lee gets away with his secrets intact, as he will probably cause more trouble in the firm, but the situation is wrapped up as satisfyingly as it can be with Alicia still on the outs.

Any other show would have returned the cast to status quo. THE GOOD WIFE makes the opposite choice, casting Alicia adrift with no idea as to what she wants to do next, and only two hours left in the season. One might assume she’ll be a public defender, given how she is attracted to the passion in the movie she is watching and how much she respects Prady (David Hyde Pierce), who will take the job she vacated. But Alicia is also a pragmatist, needing to make more money than that position offers, and while she offered Prady a job, there is no guarantee he will do the same. Since her exit package with the firm is void, though, she may be able to negotiate enough of a pay out to do what she wants, when she figures out what that is.

One person not around to help her any more is Kalinda. Kalinda tries to put Lemond (Mike Colter) away and pin it on Dexter (JD Williams). This seems neat in her mind, as even if Lemond kills Dexter, Dexter is a criminal who won’t be missed much. But Cary (Matt Czuchry), not realizing her plan and ever playing the noble knight, nixes that idea by telling Dexter he himself is the rat, which causes Kalinda to flee, presumably after letting Lemond know that she is responsible.

Kalinda’s goodbye in “The Deconstruction” is a sad, yet fitting, one. She gets to say her farewell to Cary, Diane, and, in a note, to Alicia, even as none of them realize what she’s doing. She’s always been a bit of a shady character, but her last act before exiting is to engage in self-sacrifice, giving up her life and her love to protect the people she cares about. Her lingering over Alicia’s photographs reveals the depths of her feeling, and Panjabi sells the moment. I hope one day we’ll see what happens to Kalinda, but I’m relieved she isn’t dead, at least not yet, and leaves on her own terms.

I don’t think Lemond will come through Cary to get to Kalinda. He should be smart enough to know that if Kalinda is going to disappear, she’s going to do it thoroughly and hurting Cary won’t bring her back. Besides, with the evidence that Kalinda gives Geneva Pine (Renee Elise Goldsberry), Lemond will be in jail. Who knows how much influence he’ll have left from behind bars?

As all this happens, THE GOOD WIFE makes time to have Diane help out a grandmother (The Big C’s Phyllis Somerville) caught with E, bringing back Joy (Linda Lavin) and introducing Reg E. Cathey (House of Cards) as a judge. This subplot is not huge, but it highlights how deep THE GOOD WIFE’s bench is and the supreme talents they can bring in, even for one-offs. Plus, the case is thoroughly engaging and exposes yet another part of the judicial system that is just not fair.

I can’t believe only two episodes remain in THE GOOD WIFE’s sixth season. It has not been renewed yet, but signs are positive that it will be. I can’t imagine the story stopping now, and would mourn it greatly if it did not come back. Every single installment, “The Deconstruction” included, is excellent and inspiring.

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

Monday, April 27, 2015

"High Sparrow" Doesn't Play the GAME OF THRONES

Article originally written for Seat42F.



As usual, a lot happens to many different people in this week’s GAME OF THRONES on HBO. I could write a sprawling introduction, but that seems a little pointless for an hour like this, so let’s just get to it.

First, the episode is called “High Sparrow,” so as one might expect, we meet the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce, Wolf Hall, Pirates of the Caribbean), a mild-mannered individual who truly lives his faith. His followers are terrorizing the High Septon (Paul Bentley) and his ilk as punishment for their hypocrisy. When the Septon asks the High Council to put a stop to the group, Cersei (Lena Headey) jails him and elevates the High Sparrow as a replacement.

This seems very short-sighted of Cersei. She is guilty of at least as many sins as the Septon is. Who is to say that the group won’t come after her next? Cersei is likely trying to do what she always does, buy loyalty by giving status, but that doesn’t seem like the type of thing that will work on the High Sparrow, a man who gives away even his shoes to those in need. A person like that cannot be bought, and Cersei is certainly setting herself up for punishment.

That is, if she’s even still in King’s Landing. Margaery (Natalie Dormer) marries Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), and the first thing she does after cradle-robbing sex is slyly ‘suggest’ to her husband that his mother might be happier back in Casterly Rock. We haven’t seen a lot of Margaery’s conniving ways in GAME OF THRONES yet, but a woman that has married three kings in as many years is shrewd. Now that Cersei is all that stands between Margaery and the Iron Throne, Tommen being an easily influenced puppet, her claws are coming out.

All of this sets up a fantastic dynamic in King’s Landing. What I love about GAME OF THRONES is that it constantly tears down the people who have the power. From King Robert in season one, to those who grabbed various splinters of it after his fail, such as Robb Stark and Tywin Lannister, no one stays in charge for long. At this point, those left tend to be the lesser players, which makes the battles more messy and frequent, none as equipped to play the long strategy game. “High Sparrow” sets up what should be some very entertaining conflicts.

The one ruler in the land who does have a handle on things is Jon Snow (Kit Harington). In “High Sparrow,” Jon makes all the right moves. He promotes his nemesis that deserves respect, Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale), winning back over his detractors. He tries to promote Slynt (Dominic Carter), too, but when Slynt doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut, Jon executes him to solidify his position. He refuses Stannis’ (Stephen Dillane) offer to rule the North again because of his vow, as noble as his father was.

That last one is slightly troubling. Ned Stark was so noble that it got him killed. Will Jon be similarly short-sighted? I don’t think so. The reason being, Jon took up with a Wildling girl, indicating that he knows when to toe the line and when to diverge from it. I never bought that Ned is Jon’s biological father, as cheating on his wife would be totally out of character for Ned, so while Jon may have taken Ned’s values, I don’t think he’ll be as stringent as Ned was, not a clone of the dead man.

Now as for who Jon’s real parents are, well, that’s a topic of much debate, and if you want speculation, I recommend googling. I will say I think there is Stark blood there, and also another noble family lineage.

Winterfell’s new rulers seem much less established. Roose (Michael McElhatton) decides to wed his bastard, Ramsay (Iwan Rheon), to Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), which he thinks will win him over the North. But the Northerners are stubborn and are likely to see right through this. Either Sansa becomes worthy of her surname and takes out Ramsay to rule herself, or the other lords in the surrounding areas will think she’s a pawn not worth following. The marriage won’t last in the rebuilt Winterfell, which it’s sad to see again under these circumstances.

Might Theron (Alfie Allen) be off assistance to Sansa? Theon betrayed the Starks previously, but he’s clearly not happy in his new position under Ramsay. The question is whether all personality has been flayed from him, or if there’s still something within the lad that will allow him to fight back. If so, this man whom Sansa despises, with good reason, could end up being her most vital allay.

SPOILER! In the books, Ramsay weds a fake Sansa since no one knows where the real Sansa is and practically anyone that would recognize her as dead anyway. I kind of dig this change because Sansa’s plot in the page gets rather dull around here. It gives the struggle higher stakes to have Sana involved. I’m most interested to see where this is going, and if it continues to follow the books, with Sansa taking over her imposter’s role.

Sansa is also the last real Stark. Robb is dead, Jon is a bastard, Bran is with the Three-Eyed Crow and not likely to come home, Rickon is god-knows-where and still quite young, and Arya (Maisie Williams) is choosing to become No One. If a Stark is to play a role in the GAME OF THRONES again any time soon, it must be Sansa, though I assume Rickon will have to return at some point to carry on the name.

“High Sparrow” ends with a heck of a cliffhanger when Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) nabs Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) in a brothel. It’s a worlds-collide moment that is highly satisfying. Jorah says he’s taking Tyrion to ‘The Queen.’ Does that mean Cersei, who has offered a hefty reward? Or does he refer to Daenerys (Emilie Clarke), whom Jorah might hope to win back a position from with such a valuable hostage? Given Jorah’s status as a desperate, aimless cast-out, it could very well be either, though Tyrion should hope for the latter, the former meaning certain death.

As usual, I didn’t get to everything in the episode because GAME OF THRONES packs a lot into every hour. So far, the show been wisely choosing who to use and when, keeping enough tabs on the main players, while not forcing story where it doesn’t need to be. “High Sparrow” continues this trend, and is a very entertaining installment.

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