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Saturday, May 30, 2015

COMMUNITY Wrecks a "Wedding"

Article originally published as TV Review: 'Community' - "Wedding Videography" on Blogcritics.

C612In the penultimate episode of Community season six, “Wedding Videography,” Abed (Danny Pudi) makes a video record of the show’s second-most-seen-recurring-character, Garrett’s (Erik Charles Nielsen), wedding. The result is a half hour that highlights the main cast as individuals and as a group, and teeing up what could be the series finale next week.

Much of this episode is done in the style of The Office. Not only does Community have the sit-and-chat segments so familiar to modern sitcom audiences, but Abed also refers to ‘Jim-ing’ as a verb that basically means to gesture to the camera, letting the audience in on a joke at the expense of another character. I love this joke and the way this installment is presented.

I love how “Wedding Videography” reveals something about each main player, or at least reminds us of who they are. Elroy (Keith David) is addicted to encouraging white people. Jeff (Joel McHale) loves himself more than anyone else and has a hero complex that must be served. Britta (Gillian Jacobs) blames others for all of her problems and doesn’t see her own flaws, even when away from the distractions of her friends. The Dean (Jim Rash) just wants to be part of the gang, always the outsider. Abed isn’t seen, but he is heard, and staying behind the camera is exactly who his character is.

Annie (Alison Brie) and Frankie (Paget Brewster) have an interesting conversation because a bit of conflict crops up. Frankie reveals that she’d like to get Annie away from Jeff. Is that because Frankie wants Jeff for herself? Jeff and Frankie’s chemistry has been excellent this season. Or does Frankie think that Jeff is dragging Annie down and Annie will be better off without him? Or perhaps, given Frankie’s ambiguous nature (sexual as well as otherwise), Frankie is in love with Annie? I really hope this plot is served in the season finale.

Besides being about the individuals that make up the Save Greendale Committee, “Wedding Videography” is also about showing us the makeup of the group as a whole. Sometimes this is positive, such as when they are all having fun at Annie and Abed’s apartment, getting ready and playing games before hand, or when Chang (Ken Jeong), who has often made bad decisions on his own, saves the day because of the confidence he has as part of the gang. Other times, though, this is a negative, such as when the group shows up late and interrupts the ceremony, and then proceeds to ruin the reception. Other characters have commented before that this clique always makes things about themselves, and never is it more obvious than this week.

So, with a single episode of Community left, does that mean it’s time for everyone to go their separate ways? The negative aspects listed above are brought to their attention, and most of them (Chang excepted) begin to think that maybe they aren’t better off with their friends. Has the series been a tale of a bunch of people growing up with the help of one another, or has it just been showing us the stunted development that encasing oneself in a bubble causes? I believe it’s the former, but it will be interesting to see how this week’s revelations play into the finale.

The end is a bit disappointing. Since this is the “incest” episode of Community, the “writer” comes out to deliver a sort-of PSA about ignorance surrounding incest. Community has opted to have these stand-alone tags often in season six, and it really makes me miss Troy and Abed in the Morning and other in-story jokes that have been replaced. I think it makes for a more solid overall presentation when the last scene is part of the story, or gives us glimpses of other parts of the main characters’ lives, rather than something like this fake PSA. But it’s only about thirty seconds long, so it doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the episode much.

Community‘s sixth season finale can be found on Yahoo! Screen next Tuesday.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Every GAME OF THRONES Is a "Gift"

Article originally published as GAME OF THRONES Review Season 5 Episode 7 The Gift on Seat42F.

This week’s GAME OF THRONES gives us “The Gift” of great story, albeit one that is leaving the book series behind quite rapidly. Right now, there aren’t many big offensives sweeping the Seven Kingdoms, nor armies clashing on the field of battle. The characters are all mainly concerned with what is happening in their own locale. But this is important, resolving a number of smaller plots before the tale goes big picture again, as must inevitably happen.

Let’s start with, in my opinion, the most affecting thread this week, which involves Sansa (Sophie Turner) asking Theon (Alfie Allen) for help. Viewers may feel sympathy for Theon last week when he cries while he watches Sansa be assaulted, though he frustratingly does not act. When Sansa reminds him who he is and begs him to signal for help, he agrees, but quickly betrays her to Ramsay (Iwan Rheon).

Theon is truly Reek now, too terrified of Ramsay to act. Those tears may have been sympathy, but they were not a sign that he would turn on his master. As Theon tells Sansa, there are worse things that being killed and Theon has lived through them. Compared to his existence a year or two ago, Theon is relatively comfortable now. He doesn’t want to risk going back to the worse.

So how can Sansa escape? Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) remains outside of Winterfell, waiting for a sign that won’t be coming. Theon is Sansa’s only hope that she knows of, no one else being granted access to visit her locked room besides Ramsay himself, and Theon no longer seems a viable option. Sansa has shown more of a spine this season, and her grabbing the corkscrew in “The Gift” might prove she’s willing to take matters into her own hands. Not well experienced, though, can she be successful with such a venture?

Speaking of strong women, Tyene Sand (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers, Mia and Me) taunts Bronn (Jerome Flynn) through the bars of their respective prisons. Tyene reveals how dangerous she is when her scratch almost kills Bronn. But she’s not cruel enough to let him die, so I can’t hate her, at least not yet. GAME OF THRONES hasn’t given us enough of the Sand Snakes yet to really judge them, but this interaction is a fun, tense scene that makes for good entertainment.

While Tyene and Sansa display their resolve, Cersei (Lena Headey) does the opposite. She thinks she is at the top of her game, reveling in the imprisonment of Margaery (Natalie Dormer) and rubbing the victory in the young queen’s face. (I believe Cersei is sincere about her devotion to Tommen (Dean Charles-Chapman) but not in her promise to help his wife.) However, that leaves Cersei vulnerable, too pleased with herself to watch her back. And so, as has been anticipated by fans for weeks, “The Gift” finds the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) locking Cersei herself up by the end of the hour.

The High Sparrow has quickly proven to be a very dangerous man. He’s not mean, but he has strong opinions and beliefs and lives by them fully. If he could be persuaded to compromise by anyone, Olenna (Diana Rigg) would have been the one to do it, but he remains completely unmoved by her pleas, logic, and threats alike. Being so rigid means the High Sparrow will give no credence to anyone’s advice but his own, and that means, righteous or not, he’s an enemy that cannot be reasoned with.

At the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) leaves, almost as stubborn in his mission, not convinced by the likes of his First Ranger and others to change course on the Wildlings. To be fair, Jon is in the right, but being in the right doesn’t help Samwell (John Bradley), who struggles to protect Gilly (Hannah Murray) from his own black brothers when he doesn’t have many friends left around to help him. Might it be time for Sam to break his vows, and could Jon ever forgive such an action, no matter how true Sam’s intentions, when the punishment for such is death?

These are just some of the plots in “The Gift,” as GAME OF THRONES has a lot of moving parts at all times. Other highlights of the hour include Sam’s touching eulogy for the departed Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan), Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) convincing someone to buy him, Jorah (Iain Glen) fighting for the attention of Daenerys (Emilie Clarke), Daario (Michiel Huisman) pointing out to Daenerys that she’s the only one in Mereen not free, and Stannis (Stephen Dillane) firmly shutting down Melisandre’s (Carice van Houten) suggestion that he sacrifice his daughter. There’s a lot going on, and as usual, it’s quite good.

My only complaint, and this is an ongoing one, is that GAME OF THRONES starts off very faithful to the books, and now has been completely disregarding them. It’s something I’ve decided I have to let go, taking the television show completely on its own from this point forward. There are likely to still be some similarities between the two, but now the differences vastly outnumber those. I still feel betrayed by those making the show, since this does not seem to be their game plan at the beginning, but I do still think the TV program is excellent.

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

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Modern" COMMUNITY

Article originally published as TV Review: 'Community' - 'Modern Espionage' on Blogcritics.

The paintball war episodes used to be an annual tradition on Community, but it’s been a few years since the students took up the game. As the series quickly approaches the end of its sixth (and most likely final) season, it seems fitting to bring back such an iconic part of the show’s makeup in this week’s installment, “Modern Espionage.” And probably to end it once and for all.

Another paintball war breaks out on Greendale’s campus just as Frankie (Paget Brewster) has banned such things and is presenting an award to Deputy Custodian Lapari (Kumail Nanjiani, Silicon Valley, Portlandia). She begs Jeff (Joel McHale) to help her set an example and call the game off, and Jeff wants to help her. But he also doesn’t want to be the stick in the mud, nor does he want to let rival City College manipulate his co-workers and students into a losing battle. So he agrees to help the rest of the Save Greendale Committee, who are all active in the secret game, figure out who is behind the most recent contest and put a stop to it.

commodespiThe result is a beautiful, stylized send-up of spy-type movies. Like past paintball outings, “Modern Espionage” doesn’t just tackle a specific film directly. Instead, it combines elements of a number of them such as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, James Bond, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Die Hard, and various incarnations of Batman, presenting a homage, not a parody. There’s also a great speech about Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man worked in. Yes, some of these are superheroes, but Community is focusing on the spy and detective elements of the costumed vigilantes, rather than their super powered parts, so it fits.

As usual, some of the references are obvious, while some get pretty deep. Abed (Danny Pudi) and Annie’s (Alison Brie) style of combat at the gala is definitely from Mr. and Mrs. Smith and The Dean’s (Jim Rash) ambush in the elevator feels lifted right from Winter Soldier, which in turn references Die Hard With a Vengeance. But did you catch the song playing in the elevator when the Dean is attacked, a melody used repeatedly in the show since season three? And while giving the Committee code names such as Bale, Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney, and West are obviously actors that played Batman, did you know that The Dean’s moniker, The Voice of Diedrich Bader, is because Bader lent vocals to The Dark Knight in Batman: The Brave and the Bold?

The plot of “Modern Espionage” is thoroughly entertaining, but also fully Community. The suspense of The Dean’s elevator scene is great, but the only way he can defeat his enemies, which he does, is accidentally, not because of any skills he possesses. Having Jeff and The Dean face Lapari in the hall of mannequins seems an obvious thing to do and is great on itself, but the twist in that showdown is a hallmark of the show, with ineptitude ruling the day. The story is predictable, but that doesn’t matter.

This half hour uses the recurring cast well. From Vicki (Danielle Kaplowitz) and Garrett’s (Erik Charles Nielsen) one-person shows, to Todd (David Neher) and Starburn’s (Dino Stamatopoulos) parking garage confrontation, to Koogler’s (Mitchell Hurwitz) Club Club, we get to see bit players get good material and nail it. This is always welcome.

I do have a couple of complaints about “Modern Espionage.” For one, I would have liked to have seen Lapari joined by other actors who have played custodians in the past (most notably Nathan Fillion), at least in cameos. That’s not a knock on Nanjiani, whom I absolutely love, but it would be nice if he didn’t shoulder the burden of representing the colorful group alone when it’s shown to be a deep bench in the past. I didn’t like Frankie making the Committee actual babies. I’m also disappointed we never learn who Silver Ballz is, a hanging thread unlikely to be followed up upon, sadly.

None of these is super important, though, because Community serves its main characters, and that’s what’s important. Not only do they have a fun playground to use this week, but we see Jeff standing up for Frankie and all of them being forced to grow up a bit, coming together for good. Paintball is part of who they used to be, and as they’ve evolved, it fits less and less into their personalities. Most of the group fully embraces it when it returns now, but it’s glaringly obvious that they have moved beyond such things and this is a reversion, one last bit of fun, before they become responsible adults. Plus, the conversation between Jeff, The Dean, and Lapari about what Greendale is feels very right.

We may be near Community‘s end, with only two more episodes and an as-yet unannounced movie (but there has to be one – #sixseasonsandamovie!) left in the story. I’m OK with that because of the arcs the show has gone through and the wonderful way these characters speak to audiences. “Modern Espionage” is an excellent episode that serves Community well in the larger scheme.

Community posts new episodes every Tuesday on Yahoo! Screen.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Made (Not) in America

Article originally published as Made (Not) in America on Blogcritics.

It seems like there’s nothing new any more. The number of old shows being rebooted has skyrocketed in the past year (Coach, The X-Files, The Muppet Show, Full House, Boy Meets World, and Twin Peaks, to name just a few). But while restarting canceled American series is the current fad, the lack of originality is not confined to this arena.

Not long before this trend, remaking foreign shows had been the rage, too. Some of the more famous examples are Homeland, which was adapted from the Israeli series Hatufim, American Idol, based on Britain’s Pop Idol, The Killing, from Denmark’s Forbrydelsen, The Office, which became The Office, and Gracepoint, a remake of Britain’s Broadchurch, which even starred the same actor. Less successful examples abound: Life On Mars, Skins, Kath & Kim, and multiple attempts at Coupling. Even the U.S. classic All in the Family can trace its roots overseas, as it owes its DNA to the UK’s Till Death Do Us Part, not to mention Sanford and Son!

Although conventional reboots tend to copy the source material pretty directly, with series of foreign origin creators often get a little more creative. Americans don’t tend to watch other countries’ broadcasts (although the rest of the world watches our shows), and those not in English acquire even smaller U.S. followings. When American shows adapt, it tends to be with an eye toward bringing the series in line with “our own sensibilities,” or whatever executives think those are this week.

A_cheeky_billboardThis has me wondering: what if other countries did the same thing? What if Lost was reset in Scandinavia? Or 24 in the Middle East?

So, without further ado (note: yes, these play on stereotypes, and no offense is intended.)

Lost: Denmark Style ~ A bunch of strangers are thrown together on an island. They don’t know each another, and their actions are steeped in mystery. The plot is often dense and confusing. Come to think of it, with darker lighting and slightly less humor (like, say, removing Hurley), the remake would be pretty much the same as the American version.

Law & Order: UK Style ~ This police and courtroom procedural is just like the American version, except with powdered wigs and fewer episodes per season. Each week, officers of the law work together to put a common criminal away. I don’t think anyone has done yet, right? I’d better run a Google search to make sure. (Oh, and fewer guns involved!)

Grey’s Anatomy: Mexico Style ~ At a hospital, a group of unnaturally hot doctors spend more time sleeping with one another than treating patients. Some of their number die in freaky, unbelievable accidents, and others learn of unknown siblings or hidden affairs at inconvenient times. Actually, just add a filter and some more dramatic music, and they can reuse the footage from ABC.

24: Israel Style ~ A single-minded hero goes after the enemies of the state, who are portrayed as flat, one-dimensional villains. Politicians get in the way, but the writers know what the viewers really want to see is action and torture in the name of patriotism. So it would differ from our 24 because, oh, um…

Hmm. Maybe we’re not so different after all.

All kidding aside, though, there are as many differences as similarities, if not more so. When Everybody Loves Raymond was sold internationally, changes had to be made to the material in order to make the laughs translate. Can you believe that the Russian writers didn’t even understand what a restaurant booth was because they don’t have them there?

American dramas tend to sell better than comedies overseas. Everyone can understand deep emotions, laughter, tears, and romance because these are universal concepts. Humor is much more subjective, and much of what we watch contains pop culture and societal references that aren’t echoed in other lands. If you’ve ever spent any time with British sitcoms, you’ll see what I mean. You may enjoy them, but it’s pretty obvious there are layers going on that we just don’t get with our frame of reference. Or, at least most of us don’t.

Globalization has started to blur or erase these lines. Every country has internet and every country has cell phones, at least to some extent. Developed, first-world nations have similar life styles, with shared technology and products. We are becoming more homogenous overall.

And yet, I Survived A Japanese Game Show, in which citizens of the U.S. underwent crazy challenges that would seem run-of-the-mill on Asian television, didn’t play well here. Residents of a country share a history that built world views a certain way and drives interests. As much as we may think we’re shaping our national conversation, its shaping us, too. People like the familiar, and if we’ve always done one thing a certain way and some place else has done it differently, there’s a fundamental chasm that must be bridged before understanding can happen.

Why bring this up now? On recommendation, I recently checked out Smartling, a translation software company, and they have a very cool service for businesses and websites. (No, they're not paying me to say this.) Connecting with people the world over has never been more important. Even more than finding a way to translate a humorous point of view, it's vital that the customers you're communicating with understand the words you are saying. Smartling can help with this, and as we get more and more global, this is definitely the type of help we all need in order to bring our services and products to a variety of places and people. They help drive this incredibly pertinent conversation.

I look forward to international television enjoyed the world over, but we have a long way to go before we really reach that point. For now, American studios rarely even give us the chance to get used to foreign styles, preferring to just remake a solid story with a bend towards what is already popular and known in this country. I don’t think TV is the medium that will bring us together, but will be very helpful to spread artistic masterpieces once that common mindset is found.

For now, I’d just settle for BBC America airing more than a small number of British programs and more foreign networks joining my cable package. If our producers can’t find a new idea, let’s try looking else elsewhere in the world, not just for inspiration, but to actually see what other people think. I think this is the easiest path back to freshness, at least for awhile. And it would do some of us good to read a few more subtitles.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

GAME OF THRONES Remains "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken"

Article first written for Seat42F.



In the latest installment of HBO’s GAME OF THRONES, our heroes remain “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.” They sure have more than their share of challenges to overcome, so that’s quite impressive. Among the tribulations this week, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Jorah (Iain Glen) are captured by slavers, Arya (Maisie Williams) learns secrets in the House of Black and White, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) fail to execute a rescue, Margaery (Natalie Dormer) and Loras (Finn Jones) face trial, and Sansa (Sophie Turner) marries a monster.

Poor Sansa. She has worse luck than pretty much anyone else in GAME OF THRONES, and that’s saying something! Her marriage to Tyrion, the disfigured, older dwarf is probably the best thing that happens to her. But now, back in Winterfell, she must wed Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), arguably the most twisted individual in the Seven Kingdoms, and that is also saying something.

Yet, Sansa remains “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.” She doesn’t start out as strong as most Starks. She alone of Ned’s children seems fragile and easily manipulated. Throughout her travels, though, she has steadily found a solid core she can rely upon and a self-reliance that would do her parents proud as evidenced by her bearing throughout the hour. It’s quite surprising to see this, and while she certainly doesn’t have fun being raped by Ramsay in front of Theon (Alfie Allen), I don’t think this will completely destroy her, either. She will overcome.

Might Theon be able to assist Sansa by escaping with her? Theon did some very bad things early in GAME OF THRONES, but he has paid for his mistakes by now. Had he actually killed Sansa’s brothers, as she believes he did, there would be no redemption for him, but he did not. Mostly, he just played at war. While his actions did lead to the fall of Winterfell, the keep probably would have fallen anyway if he’d not acted, given the chaos around it.

Theon has been broken severely by Ramsay, and for awhile, it seems like who he is is gone forever. However, there’s something in his eyes in “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” even if those adjectives don’t describe him. Now that he must watch Sansa suffer, someone he feels deep regret for hurting and a older brotherly-type of protectiveness, he may find an inner motivation he could not muster to save himself. Let’s hope that’s what happens.

Half a world away, Arya is doing the opposite of Theon, not finding herself but losing herself. In order to join the Faceless Men, she must learn to lie and give up who she is. “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” sees her make significant progress on this, leading a girl to her death and being allowed into the chamber of faces. I can’t help but think Sansa may be her family’s future since Arya likely won’t be a Stark at all for much longer.

But is anyone ever truly not themselves? Jorah’s father was a part of the Night’s Watch, men who give up their families and former lives. Yet, when Jorah hears of his dad’s death via Tyrion this week, he looks pained. Even long after a patriarch leaves a clan, there are residual feelings from a bond forged too hard to even be completely severed. It’s a moving scene that reminds us of this.

In King’s Landing, Cersei (Lena Headey) believes she scores a major victory against the Tyrells when the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) arrests the queen and her brother. Cersei’s smug smirk, honestly telling Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) she cannot do anything for Olenna’s grandchildren, shows how victorious Cersei feels. Things are finally going her way.

I can’t help but feel Cersei doesn’t realize there’s another shoe to drop. She has granted the High Sparrow too much power, and by allowing him to take a queen, Cersei doing nothing as the ineffective child king Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) watches on in horror, she grants the High Sparrow even more. Yet, Cersei is one of the biggest sinners in the city. She doesn’t realize that she will probably be the next target, and she really should. Her impending downfall will be her own fault.

The one thing that didn’t sit right with me this week is that Lancel (Eugene Simon) and his fellow sparrows don’t arrest Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) when he returns to the capital. Littlefinger is a big offender and not nearly as powerful as Cersei. His crimes against the religion are known, his brothel having already been raided. Why do they hesitate? Is the High Sparrow just waiting to see how Cersei will react to Margaery’s arrest to gauge how far he can push the ruling body? I think Littlefinger should have been taken into custody.

Assuming Littlefinger flees the city before he is taken, I do fully believe that Littlefinger will kill Sansa in a heartbeat if it will advance his position. He isn’t just blowing smoke up Cersei’s skirt when he tells Cersei he agrees with the queen mother. However, he’s also a long-game guy, so it may be wise for him to agree with Cersei but not actually execute Sansa, as it would be awfully hard to rule over the rebellious north after murdering a daughter of such a respected house. Just know that he will do whatever best suits him, with no regard for anyone else, and that makes him dangerous.

I won’t go into how much “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” differs from the books this week (see past my past reviews for that). At this point, GAME OF THRONES has made a number of huge departures from the source material, which makes the show unpredictable. Taken on its own, it remains a solid, engaging series, though, and one I enjoy. I do think what the current showrunners are doing is a despicable betrayal of the book fans, but at least they are making good television while they do it.

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

Monday, May 18, 2015

OUTLANDER Locked in "Wentworth Prison"

Article originally written for Seat42F.

The penultimate episode of OUTLANDER season one on Starz, which aired tonight, is called “Wentworth Prison.” Jamie (Sam Heughan) awaits execution there following his capture, but an unexpected visitor gives the Highlander at least a temporary stay. Meanwhile, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and her small band of recruits tries to figure out how to penetrate the jail, find Jamie, and get him out before it’s too late.

“Wentworth Prison” is the first episode of OUTLANDER that I didn’t enjoy much overall. This is not because the series is bad, the writing is weak, or the acting is wooden. None of those are true. Instead, it’s the constant brutal torture that permeates the hour. I haven’t read the books, so can only assume that the television program is being faithful to the source material. But all of the things Black Jack (Tobias Menzies) does to Jamie turn one’s stomach, and there are oh so many of them this week that it makes the episode hard to watch, and not in a good way.

I assume Jamie will be rescued. It doesn’t happen this week, but Claire plants the seeds that Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) and the others can follow to get past the walls and get to their clansman. Jamie is too essential a character to lose, and I think we see him in the 1940s in the pilot of the show, so he has to survive to get there.

The person that cannot survive is Black Jack. I do not know when he will die (though he himself now does), but I hope it’s sooner rather than later. OUTLANDER can bring in other villains to stay interesting. It doesn’t need this man who has been so ruthless and so awful to Claire and Jamie. I am ready for him to go down, and go down hard.

What I wonder is, how can Claire ever return to Frank after this? While Frank is not Black Jack and Claire has known him long enough to know this, there is no getting past that they look exactly the same (both played by the same actor). Any time Frank would get annoyed with her in the future, she’d have to see a bit of Black Jack in him. I don’t know much of what’s to come on OUTLANDER, but I’m pretty sure Claire gets home at some point long before the series finale (given some casting news that has been publicly released), so I wonder how her experiences in the past will affect her marriage.

Despite how much I didn’t much enjoy watching “Wentworth Prison,” there are some awesome parts worth praising. When Claire tells Black Jack she’s a witch and gives him the day of his death, I cheered. When Angus (Stephen Walters) gambles in the tavern and gleans valuable info, that’s a really fun scene. OUTLANDER maintains its layered, enjoyable characters and setting, even when the plot takes a dark turn.

There’s a bit of fun trivia that pertains to “Wentworth Prison.” The man running the place, Sir Fletcher Gordon, is played by Frazer Hines. Hines is famous for playing The Second Doctor’s (Patrick Troughton) companion in Doctor Who for several years, mostly during the late 1960s, and being the longest-running companion in the show. His character’s name was Jamie McCrimmon, and he was from 1746 Scotland. Diana Gabaldon, author of the OUTLANDER books, says her character and setting is inspired by this role. So, very cool to have him show up!

I don’t want to rag on “Wentworth Prison” too much. While I didn’t like it, it was the subject material, not the quality of the production, that sparked that opinion. I still think it sets up next week for a heck of a season finale, and I have no plans to lessen my admiration for the show as a whole.

OUTLANDER airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

GRIMM Makes Me "Cry"

Article originally written for Seat42F.

This year’s season finale of GRIMM is called “Cry Havoc.” Picking up from lack week’s cliffhanger, Nick (David Giuntoli) still reeling by the box containing its mother’s head, the hour features the showdown between our heroes and the royals who have plagued them this season. It also features the death of a main character.

“Cry Havoc” finally fully eliminates my frequent complaint that the show has become too procedural. Nothing about this installment is case-of-the-week. With Nick going after Kenneth (Nico Evers-Swindell) and Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch), and Renard (Sasha Roiz) dealing with the fall-out of his Jack the Ripper possession, the show only has time for serial arcs, not anything new.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough to save this season finale from being completely terrible, doing nothing to redeem a once-good series.

The opening of “Cry Havoc” is absolutely awful. The house is a “trap,” and yet a henchmen calls in to Kenneth to get permission to attack Nick, several minutes after Nick enters? Permission is given freely and without hesitation, so why wasn’t it pre-granted? Then, the bad guys all come across the street very obviously to the front door, leaving the back completely unguarded. If this is a trap, it is the worst trap ever. And Kenneth is surprised when it doesn’t work? Really? This from the scary group that policies the Wesen world. Guess they aren’t so scary, huh?

And why does Juliette look slightly concerned with hearing Nick’s death ordered but doesn’t say anything? Does she want him to do die or not? This isn’t clear even when she declines to flee Portland and returns for a final confrontation. First, she asks him to kill her, then she tries to kill him. Is she just drawn to him for some reason? I’m not saying the writers should hand us everything on a silver platter, but when a character is as back-and-forth as Juliette, we need some clue as to what her motivations are.

I hope Nick doesn’t hold it against Trubel (Jacqueline Toboni) that she kills Juliette. Juliette seems irredeemable at this point, and while Nick can’t bring himself to snuff the life out of the woman he once loved, which seems a little weird given how final he is when he says he’s done with her, the world is better off without Juliette. At least, without this version of her.

Juliette’s fall is a tragic tale, and I hope GRIMM follows up with this next season. Her being dead doesn’t erase the trauma Nick goes through. While he shouldn’t send Trubel away, he needs to struggle with his grief and pain. These last couple of weeks see Nick go through the worst things that could happen to him. One does not just bounce back from that.

Might GRIMM put Nick and Adalind (Claire Coffee) together, a silver lining in the dark cloud? Nick doesn’t want her in his house in “Cry Havoc,” even after the danger seems to be past, but everyone is much nicer to Adalind than they’ve ever been. She’s almost a friend to the group. This change has come too quickly, though, without enough consideration of the bad things Adalind has done in the past.

“Cry Havoc” leaves fans with plenty of unanswered questions. Renard looks to be ready to move past the Jack the Ripper stuff, but his involvement with the royals can’t be over. When his father is murdered by the rebels to steal back Adalind’s child, doesn’t that leave Renard in line for the throne? How might that affect the show next year, if Renard is offered the position?

While the possibilities raised above, Renard ascending and Nick dealing with stuff and Nick and Adalind’s new dynamic, there are strong paths that can be used to build a more serial fifth season. Unfortunately, after the (at best) mediocre fourth year, it makes me wonder if GRIMM will pursue such things, or give them only short snippets in episodes mostly involving yet another stupid murder case. Probably the latter.

GRIMM will return next fall to NBC.

WAYWARD PINES a Murky Place

Article originally published as WAYWARD PINES Review at Seat42F.

Matt Dillon Carla Gugino Wayward Pines
WAYWARD PINES, premiering this week on FOX, is the story of a Secret Service agent who, while looking into the appearance of two fellow agents, becomes trapped in a mystery-laden town. Produced by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) and based on the book series by Blake Crouch, it’s a dense thriller that poses far more questions than it answers, at least initially.

My first impression is that Wayward Pines is trying too hard. The pilot, “Where Paradise Is Home,” rips off the beginning of Lost; you’ll know immediately what I’m talking about when you see it. Except, instead of being set on an untethered island or trapped under a dome (like CBS’ Under The Dome, which it will compete with this summer), it takes place in the small town of Wayward Pines, Idaho – a place that is completely isolated in a valley, cut off from the rest of the world. So yeah, it’s just like those other two, at least in this one regard.

Our hero is Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon, Sunlight Jr., Wild Things), and “Where Paradise Is Home” revolves around him, telling a disjointed, nonlinear story. He’s married to a woman named Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon, Mistresses), but cheated on her with his former partner, Kate (Carla Gugino, Entourage, Watchmen), who shows up where you might not expect her. Almost immediately, he makes a connection with a bartender named Beverly (Juliette Lewis, Secrets and Lies, Christmas Vacation), so I guess perhaps hero is too strong a word. Let’s just call him the protagonist.

What does any of that have to do with the story? Well, something. There’s a Truman Show-esque twist that ties Ethan’s messy love life into the town, but to what end, I have no idea. Nor do I know why someone says Beverly isn’t really a bartender, nor why Nurse Pam (Melissa Leo, Treme, The Fighter) acts in such a sinister manner, nor why Sheriff Pope (Terrence Howard, Empire, Iron Man) won’t help, nor why Reed Diamond (Franklin & Bash, Moneyball) has been cast as a toymaker. The only thing that makes much sense is Toby Jones (Captain America) playing a psychiatrist, which seems perfectly natural.

I love dense, genre mystery shows. If you give me a solid cast and a well-thought out story, I couldn’t possibly be any happier watching television. I’m much more reticent to jump into WAYWARD PINES than others of its ilk, though. Part of it is that they are selling themselves as a “Twin Peaks-like” drama and stealing so much from other stories along the way. Now, some of that may come from the book; I haven’t read it so I don’t know. But the way the program is presented doesn’t even feel like those involved are trying to do something new.

It also concerns me to see the cast list. They’re almost universally strong performers, so that makes me think perhaps I should give the material a chance. But part of being so strong is that many of them have other jobs on currently running shows. Wayward Pines season one is announced to be only ten episodes, and presumably, subsequent seasons could be equally short to allow scheduling to work out. I just can’t see all of these people agreeing to stretch themselves so thin over any extended period of time, though.

WAYWARD PINES has a lot of good ingredients. The question will be, did the chefs take some liberty with the recipe, tossing in the unique spices that will make it a fresh and delicious dish (like Lost), or did they follow the book exactly, making something bland and derivative (like Under The Dome)? The answer to this will be what makes or breaks this show.

WAYWARD PINES premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

"Basic" COMMUNITY

Article first published as TV Review: 'Community' - "Basic RV Repair and Palmistry" on Blogcritics.


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In the latest episode of Community on Yahoo! Screen, “Basic RV Repair and Palmistry,” the Save Greendale Committee is riding in Elroy’s (Keith David) RV on their way to deliver a giant hand sold on eBay. Why is this happening, you may ask? Well, if Abed (Danny Pudi) ever gets his longed-for flashbacks, you just might find out. Or the characters eventually explain things.

Community has done “bottle” episodes before, where the entire cast is trapped in a single space together, and they’re always good. The reason for this is a large part of the show’s success hangs on the chemistry of the cast. Putting them in a tense situation and allowing their conflict to fester makes for great entertainment, delivering the definition of a situation comedy, or sitcom. “Basic RV Repair and Palmistry” is another example of this.

On the whole, though, it is a pretty tame half hour. The tensions arise because The Dean (Jim Rash) does something stupid, purchasing a giant hand for the community college. Because the college really can’t afford the thing, the Save Greendale Committee decides they must sell it. The Dean is against this, but comes along anyway as they strap it to the roof of the RV and attempt to deliver it. Unfortunately, the RV gets a dead battery and cannot make it.

The logic behind why the entire Save Greendale Committee, except for Chang (Ken Jeong), must be on this trip escapes me, and is never discussed in the episode. I assume The Dean joins them because he doesn’t like to be left out and it’s his hand, but why just two or three of them couldn’t go is beyond me. I don’t mind this leap because, as I’ve said, I enjoy the chemistry of the cast, but “Basic RV Repair and Palmistry” would be a little better if it offered an explanation.

The details of the situation are revealed in snatches. Abed tries to set up a flashback to three weeks ago to establish the scenario, and later tries to save the day by going back in the flashback and changing things. Neither work. Abed’s delusions used to have real meaning that has slowly been drained away from them over the years as he becomes more and more grounded. In this installment, I think Abed is trying too hard to hang on to the device, as in most of season six he has a decently firm grasp on reality.

Typical parts of everyone’s personalities do come up in this episode, and I love how these things are pointed out and picked apart, a bit of tongue-in-cheek self-referencing that is always welcome. Britta (Gillian Jacobs) uses the word brittad as a verb and then acknowledges it. Jeff (Joel McHale) calls The Dean out on his non-apology apologies. Elroy wants to be helpful, but doesn’t want everyone looking at him too closely, preferring to remain a semi-private person. Jeff tries to act like he knows everything. Annie (Alison Brie) and Frankie (Paget Brewster) show their similarity when they both follow the same method to try to get roadside assistance. Chang shows up only at the end, covered in feathers, and no one has noticed his absence.

I can’t say “Basic RV Repair and Palmistry” is one of my favorite episodes, even just within this sixth season. It’s decently fun, but it feels unnecessary and not all that deep. Other episodes have explored character development more fully this year, whereas this one simply points out things we already know about the characters, not changing or deepening anything. It’s funny enough, but because there are only a few episodes left in the season, most likely the series, I do feel like this kind of wastes a half hour.

New episodes of Community post every Tuesday on Yahoo! Screen.

Friday, May 15, 2015

"My Name Is Oliver Queen," Not ARROW

Article originally written for Seat42F.



The CW’s ARROW tells us who its lead character is in the season finale, “My Name is Oliver Queen.” Still trying to trick Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable), Oliver’s cover is blown early in the hour, resulting in a scramble to stop Ra’s from releasing a deadly virus that could wipe out Starling City. Will Oliver’s friends, last seen being poisoned themselves by Ra’s, be able to help?

Oliver (Stephen Amell) has a rough go of things. In order to trick Ra’s, he must fully insulate himself into the League of Assassins, cutting himself off from those he cares about. Doing so requires making tough decisions and seemingly betraying people he would never betray. But not for one second did I believe, nor should any fan, that Oliver would allow Ra’s to murder all of Team Arrow, as appears to happen in last week’s “cliffhanger.”

Instead, Malcolm (John Barrowman) inoculates those captured, and The Flash (Grant Gustin) stops by to help them escape, with Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) inadvertently blowing his cover, something that could have ramifications later. Even though this is Oliver’s plan, this isn’t enough to assuage any hurt feelings, as he finds out when he returns to Palmer Technologies with Nyssa (Katrina Law) in tow and is greeted by stony silence, especially from Diggle (David Ramsey).

I understand why Diggle doesn’t approve of Oliver’s methods in “My Name is Oliver Queen.” When they first meet, Oliver does the wrong thing sometimes. Diggle sees Oliver’s latest actions as a backslide. Even with Oliver sparing lives, he crosses the line when he kidnaps Diggle’s wife. For Diggle, the ends do not always justify the means, and he thinks Oliver should have found another way. There’s no telling if another option would work, but that’s how Diggle feels.

Even by the end of “My Name is Oliver Queen,” after the virus has been stopped with minimal casualties, Diggle doesn’t forgive Oliver. The fact that Oliver leaves town might allow Diggle to continue on Team Arrow, hopefully finally adopting a secret identity, but their bond is broken. Is there anything Oliver can ever do to help Diggle understand what Oliver has done, or at least that Oliver regrets any pain caused? I just don’t know, and that seems a ripe question for season four.

Yes, Oliver will be back next season. As satisfying as it is to see him drive off with Felicity into the sunset, that’s series finale stuff, not the way ARROW will send off its titular character. The Arrow might be a blown cover that can’t be used any more, at least not for a bit, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be resurrected at some point, nor that Oliver can escape his mission, even if the voiceover indicates the mission is complete. It’s a bold choice to leave Oliver in this position, as it is really neat that the Arrow identity has been gone from the show for so long. However, this is just a part of the journey, not the conclusion.

The season also ends with Malcolm assuming the mantle of Ra’s. I assume this is something he demands in order to help Oliver, and Oliver did need his help. Still, I can’t help but wonder if this will end up being a huge mistake. Will Malcolm play nice with Team Arrow because Thea is a part of the group now? Or will his new position go to his head and make him more dangerous than ever? How will Nyssa try to take him down? This is an interesting development with many possibilities.
The last twist is that Ray (Brandon Routh) and Palmer Technologies blow up. He may be dead, at least temporarily. True, Ray is heading to the spin-off next January, but so is Sara, who is killed earlier this season. The fact of the matter is, though, Ray will return, so the stakes here are pretty low.

Surprisingly, “My Name is Oliver Queen” has quite a few moments that make me question the quality of the writing, something I don’t typically find with ARROW. I often complain about the flashbacks, the ones this week equally as useless as in other recent installments, but that isn’t the only problem here. The Flash leaves with a flimsy excuse. Oliver decides not to give Thea (Willa Holland) any gruff about becoming a costumed hero. Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) helps Oliver without complaint, something he has not shown a willingness to do lately, and the dialogue between he and Laurel (Katie Cassidy) when she confronts him about his drinking seems trite and cliché. Felicity learns to fly The Atom suit in moments.

Now, I’m not saying that the season finale is a bad episode; it is super exciting, and there is no denying how cool it is to see Felicity swoop in and catch Oliver, who then appears totally uninjured a short time later. I’m just saying that usually the writers don’t have so many plot holes or things that just don’t make sense. I feel much of this happens because they must wrap up a season in a single hour and want to end it happily and with a feeling of finality. These things aren’t enough to ruin the show, nor even the episode, but they do knock it down a few pegs from its usual perch.

ARROW has been renewed and will return for a fourth run next fall on the CW.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Send An "SOS"

Article originally written for Seat42F.



MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. ends its sophomore run on ABC last night with “S.O.S.,” a two-hour finale that is as surprising as it is intense. Lots of characters die, dynamics shift, a war is only narrowly avoided, and there are plenty of pathos and cliffhangers to go around. I don’t think I’ll be able to cover it all here, but I’ll try to focus on the most important things.

No sooner does Coulson (Clark Gregg) agree to an advisory council than those on that council begin dropping like flies. Gonzales (Edward James Olmos) is murdered last week, soon followed by Agent Oliver (Mark Allan Stewart) in “S.O.S.” Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) is kidnapped by Ward (Brett Dalton), while Weaver (Christine Adams) is held hostage by Jiaying (Dichen Lachman). By the end of the finale, a couple are left, but will Coulson replace those who perished? I hope so, because it still seems like a good idea to have his judgment balanced by others, and not just those on his team.

Coulson does earn back some lost respect, though. Mack (Henry Simmons) hasn’t quite left the agency when the battle begins, and decides to stick around and help Coulson prevent a war. Last week, it looked like Mack would be resigning for good, but he is too noble to walk away when he’s needed. Let’s hope MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t really have to say goodbye to him, signs being positive he will re-enlist at the end of the episode.

The battle Mack and Coulson are working to end is the one between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans. Jiaying, hardened and turned dark by the traumas she suffers through, doesn’t trust S.H.I.E.L.D., and so tries to force a war to wipe them out. This makes sense, given what we’ve seen of her character, but she brings along a lot of Inhumans who don’t realize what’s happening. As Lincoln (Luke Mitchell) says after learning the truth, they aren’t bad, just misled.

The struggle to stop Jiaying is not an easy one. While her plan isn’t perfect, she does have the element of surprise at first, and starts fighting before S.H.I.E.L.D. knows there’s anything to fight about, Coulson being the cool head that keeps the council for escalating things early. Jiaying also has Gordon (Jamie Harris), who believes in her scheme, and Cal (Kyle MacLachlan), who is set loose in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s base with super strength.

But Jiaying doesn’t have everything. Raina (Ruth Negga) sacrifices herself to expose the truth to Skye (Chloe Bennet), who turns on her mother and teams up with Mack, and Coulson talks Cal into switching sides to protect his daughter, appealing to the good man long buried deep inside of Skye’s father. What this means is that the war in “S.O.S.” really features a single villain and henchman (Jiaying and Gordon), with everyone else being essentially good, one may assume, manipulated by this leader. It should make for a more peaceful relationship between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Inhumans next season, with Jiaying and Gordon dead and Lincoln supporting Skye.

The casualties are rough, though. Besides the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that Jiaying kills, Coulson loses a hand. He would lose more if not for Mack’s quick thinking, and surely S.H.I.E.L.D. has the technology to give Coulson a really cool bionic replacement. Still, there’s a lot of destruction left to recover from.

Overcome it they must, though, as Ward is now heading up Hydra. After some disturbing scenes of torture, Ward making Bobbi suffer, Hunter (Nick Blood) and May (Ming-Na Wen) swing in to the rescue. In the chaos, Bobbi is badly wounded and Agent 33 (Maya Stojan) is killed, the latter sparking Ward’s embrace of the evil group, which he plans to use to take his revenge. Still, even with Ward remaining out there as a Big Bad, the outcome is as positive as one could hope for from such an encounter.

All of the above stuff makes for some really intense action and suspenseful moments. Emotion is served, too, especially in the relationship between Skye and Cal and the outcome of that, Cal’s memory being wiped and he being given a chance at a good life. The episode runs the gamut, being both big and small, and ending the season on an anticipatory note that should have fans on edge waiting for MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. return next fall.

There are also two huge cliffhangers, exemplifying the two arenas S.H.I.E.L.D. participates in. The personal has Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) finally planning a first date, something viewers have been waiting for at least a year, and then Simmons is sucked in by an alien artifact. The larger plot sees Jiaying’s crystals infect fish, whose oil is bottled and sold, thus potentially affecting a huge chunk of the population and activating more Inhumans.

And that’s why I love “S.O.S.” It really does have it all, presenting two hours that frequently shocked and constantly entertained.

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. will return for a third go ‘round next fall, and this pick-up pretty much guarantees them a fourth year because of syndication patterns. I look forward to seeing what they do with it.